Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Answers for Creationists

Last night Bill Nye faced off with Ken Ham (of Answers in Genesis fame) in a lengthy debate over creationism and science.  I caught only the last half hour or so, and unfortunately I found it to be less-than-illuminating.  Perhaps it was the sheer exhaustion of such a long debate, but by the time I tuned in I found Nye's answers to be a bit rambling and failing to adequately address the implications of the questions (he gave an admirable explanation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, for instance, but he failed to point out the fallacy of the question's crux).  Nevertheless, I admire Nye for his willingness to go into the lion's den and speak science to those who would ordinarily have no interest in it.  

This morning BuzzFeed provided a photo series of creationists with their questions for Bill Nye.  Obviously I am not Bill Nye, but as a scientist I thought I could try to answer them.  It's interesting looking at these photographs... none of these people strike you as unintelligent, back woods people with their heads in the sand.  They appear perfectly capable of listening to rational arguments, so it isn't necessarily a fool's errand trying to answer their questions.  Anyway, here goes:

1. Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way?
Science education is unambiguously positive for children, even in cases where the science curriculum may be at odds with your personal beliefs.  We live in a complicated world, where people hold a wide variety of views, and it is no service at all to shield children from such disagreements.  As Carl Sagan once said, "science is more than a body of knowledge, it's a way of thinking."  The idea is, we look at the world and question it, try to make sense of it, refuse to take things at face value or blindly follow authority.  The great thing about science is, it's open to everyone.  If you think a scientific theory is in error, you have every right to test it and try to overturn it.  But for your work to be accepted by the scientific community, it must be rigorously tested, independently verified, and shown to be in good accordance with the facts.

Science is not about indoctrination.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Skepticism is crucial for the process, so there is absolutely no problem at all with students who do not fully trust a science teacher simply because he or she says something is true.  The key is, though, this sort of skepticism must be brought equally to every assertion about the origin of our Universe, or the origin of species.  It is not good science to be skeptical of what is taught in the science classroom and then to turn around and not show equal skepticism of what is taught in the church.  If you are truly interested in finding the answers, you must question boldly even your most cherished beliefs.