Reflections on our Interview with Bill Nye | The BioLogos Forum


(system) #1

The debate last year was viewed by hundreds of thousands of people. Unfortunately, it reinforced the idea that science and biblical faith are at odds. As I wrote before the debate, we at BioLogos maintain that you don’t have to choose. You don’t have to give up Christian faith in order to accept the best, most rigorous science. We agree with what Bill Nye says about the science of evolution and the age of the earth. Dates based on nuclear decay, fossils, genetics, and other scientific evidences give a compelling case that all life on earth is related and developed over a very long time through natural processes. But we’re also brothers and sisters in Christ with Ken Ham and other creationists. We believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died for our sins and rose from the dead, and that the Bible is the authoritative word of God. (Read more of what we believe.)


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blog/reflections-on-our-interview-with-bill-nye

(Dr. Deborah Haarsma) #3

I’m available to respond to thoughtful, on-topic questions and comments about this post.


(Luke) #4

I was a little disappointed in the interview and this response. In particular, you say Bill Nye has been engaging in “troubling rhetoric against the Bible and Christian beliefs” and yet I didn’t feel either the interview or the response did a very clear job giving examples of those or pinpointing the types of things you take issue with. The fact that outspoken atheists are endorsing his book on the back of it hardly constitutes “troubling rhetoric”. If the book has examples of this, quote it and ask him specifically about those portions.

I think it’s easy to see why Bill Nye might be frustrated with religion. However, I feel that we can do a better job meeting him where he’s at and where we have common ground. For example, if you take issue with his rhetoric against Christians, then bring that up to him and show how that may alienate the sorts of people that BioLogos is trying to reach with the message of “Christianity and science are complementary, not competing sources of truth”. If Bill Nye and others like him can see folks like BioLogos as allies in the work of bringing science truths to the masses, then perhaps they’d take a slightly different approach when their discussions touch on aspects of religion.


(Lou Jost) #5

"But science is not equipped to answer questions about meaning, purpose,
love, and God, and we look to the Bible for the “who and why.” "

This response presupposes a religious worldview which does not appear to be true. If one is looking for a human-centered purpose for life, science is not equipped to answer that question because it does not have an answer (at least not in the form that believers expect). Not all questions have answers, and certain kinds of questions implicitly assume things that may not be true.

The last part of DH’s quotation shows why science and religion profoundly conflict. What evidence justifies looking to the Bible for answers to these questions? There is nothing scientific about assuming an old book (full of falsified assertions and self-contradictions, and written by humans) is authoritative about such questions, even if there really were a god or gods.


(Larry Bunce) #6

I think BioLogos should be proud that its position is open to attack on both sides of the religion/science debate. I believe we need a voice of reason and moderation on this issue-- not from a fear of causing offense, or fear of taking sides-- but from a firm conviction that science and religion are both required for humans to fully understand the world. Ken Ham and his followers can live in a make-believe world that they pretend hasn’t changed in 2,000 years, (except with the advances that modern science has afforded them,) and Bill Nye can pretend that a life absorbed in science can keep people from asking the basic questions about what it all means that prompted our ancestors to develop religion (except for odd moments in the middle of the night when no one else is around and the power and phone are out.)
I find myself more sympathetic to Bill Nye’s position, but was disappointed by his condescending attitude towards BioLogos, which he seemed to lump in with all religion.


(Mike Fleagle) #7

Your faith in the bible, mostly man-made fiction, literally makes me sick. My greatest hope is that disillusioned people such as yourselves don’t steer humanity off course in the long run. (If there is a God,) God help us.


(David Hume (nom de plume)) #8

Like another commenter, I was disappointed in the emphasis on the fact that atheists blurbed Nye’s book. BL seems generally anti-atheist. Maybe that’s a strategic choice but BL should not be surprised when atheists identify it as a mixed blessing or worse.

I agree with DH that Nye’s answers included some confusing use of the term ‘creationism’. But I am disappointed by her mischaracterization of some of Nye’s statements. For example, she claims that Nye “sees science as a replacement for any sort of traditional religious belief, and even as a more satisfactory way to answer questions than religion, including the largest questions of the meaning of life.” These are not reasonable summaries of what Nye said, unless she is referring to comments he made elsewhere.

Nye is of course right when he says “The claim that we would not have morals or ethics without religion is extraordinary; I see no evidence for it.” It would be interesting to hear his personal reflections on this–most atheists embrace some form of humanism, which should immediately create openings for cooperation and dialogue with many if not most Christians.


(David Hume (nom de plume)) #9

I too would like to see DH provide examples of this “troubling rhetoric.” I haven’t seen it. Like Nye, I find the religious beliefs of BL to be silly, and when we say this we should not be bullied with accusations of using “troubling rhetoric.” The only thing that BL mentioned specifically was Nye’s claim that “it’s unreasonable to see any sort of divine “plan” in nature.” I think Nye is correct about that, but I don’t think that believers who somehow see God’s “hand” should be attacked for it. I respect BL’s disagreement with Nye on that subject, but if they think this makes him “anti-Christian” or anything like it, they need some quiet thinking time.


(Lou Jost) #10

I think I can put my finger on one big reason why many scientists are troubled by organizations like BioLogos, Reasons to Believe, and Answers in Genesis. All of them have rather specific creeds, or statements about what they believe. These statements do not seem to be treated as working hypotheses, nor do they seem to be subject to correction as knowledge advances. These kinds of creeds are not compatible with a genuine interest in reaching truth.


(David Hume (nom de plume)) #11

Loujost, I think that’s right. But I would be keen to see more scientists (biologists especially) count BL as an ally. I know the BL people want to find work for their god, and it seems they are truly convinced that he provides moral guidance and credible answers to “big questions.” But they have no open disagreement with any scientific conclusion, on religious grounds, that I have seen. Those other two organisations that you mention are explicitly anti-science, both proposing supernatural stories based on different readings of Christian scriptures. I think the difference between BL and those creationist outfits is that BL has not (yet) put its foot down about some claim that is not “subject to correction as knowledge advances.”

I admit that I have not been following BL carefully for very long, and that my previous visits came via Jerry Coyne or Richard Dawkins (so I presume I did not see a representative sample of BL work). I’m keen to know whether you or other commenters think BL should be viewed with moderate suspicion by biologists. I hope not, because I like these BL people (esp. the geneticist, who knows his sh*t) and I want to see religious people become friends of science again.

Can I end with a shameless plug for my blog? I promise that’s not why I’m here.


(Brad Kramer) #12

I moved 9 posts to a new topic: Is is rational or scientific to believe in things like the Resurrection?


(Dr. Ted Davis) #13

I agree with both DH and Lou that science can’t really answer questions about meaning, purpose, love, and God. However, I think science can rule some potential answers false, while leaving others on the table as genuine possibilities. For example, science clearly denies the specific claim that humans were directly created by God a few thousand years ago–a claim that is loaded with meaning and purpose, but it’s just not true.

At the same time, aspects of the universe and our own existence do not (IMO) rule out the possibility that our universe–the only universe we actually know about, for sure–was intended to become the home of carbon-based life forms, such as (but hardly limited to) ourselves. Science could never prove such a claim–again, I agree with DH and Lou. However, aspects of science do indeed suggest that possibility. That is, they are consistent with the prior religious claim that we do live in just such a place.

For more on this, see the series starting with http://biologos.org/blog/belief-in-god-in-an-age-of-science-john-polkinghorne-part-one


(Dr. Ted Davis) #14

Actually, Lou, the history of Christian doctrine is more fluid than you seem to think. I also think you’re making the wrong comparison, when you look to the fluidity of science for your standard of acceptability. I suspect you might harbor some (non-scientific) beliefs that you would not surrender under any circumstances–and certainly not in the face of scientific facts, whatever those facts might be.

For example, consider the Jeffersonian claim, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, …”

I don’t know whether you believe that (perhaps with “Nature” substituted for “their Creator”), or not. I suspect that many American scientists agree with it, and hold it as a fundamental value that shouldn’t be abandoned, even when genetics contradicts the assertion that we are “created equal.”

Many religious claims are of this type: that A is good and B is bad, or that person A has the same intrinsic value as person B, even when person B is far more gifted by nature. Religious claims are much more like political claims than scientific claims. We shouldn’t expect them to have a similar degree of fluidity. Values are more important than facts.


(Dr. Ted Davis) #15

I appreciate, very much, Larry_Bunce’s attitude toward conversations like this. I recently read something provcative by MIT physicist Alan Lightman that I’d like to quote in this context: “Several years ago, I thought that the writings and arguments of such people as Dawkins and Aczel, attempting to disprove or prove the existence of God, were a terrible waste of calories. I have changed my mind. I now believe that the discussions of science and religion, even the attempts of one side to disprove the other, are part of the continuing and restorative conversation of humanity with itself. In the end, all of our art, our science and our theological beliefs are an attempt to make sense of this fabulous and fleeting existence we find ourselves in.”

Here’s the long URL for the whole piece: http://r.search.yahoo.com/_ylt=A0LEVvKyCNhULwsAwlgnnIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTEzM2pkdDNiBHNlYwNzcgRwb3MDMQRjb2xvA2JmMQR2dGlkA1lIUzAwMl8x/RV=2/RE=1423472947/RO=10/RU=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.washingtonpost.com%2Fopinions%2Fbook-review-why-science-does-not-disprove-god-by-amir-d-aczel%2F2014%2F04%2F10%2F4ee476ec-a49e-11e3-a5fa-55f0c77bf39c_story.html/RK=0/RS=WsQGmSgx6z75nbaqLRDJS5KiB5U-

From my point of view as a Christian, it’s not the unbelief of Dawkins or Coyne that troubles me. People disagree fundamentally about fundamental things, all the time, and this is no exception. What troubles me is the attitude that religious people just don’t belong in the conversation. We do indeed have a fabulous and fleeting existence, and I fail to see why the answers and non-answers offered by Dawkins or Coyne should be privileged over religious answers and non-answers.


(Lou Jost) #16

Thanks for your reply, Ted. I agree with you (and with IDers) that science could in theory support the idea that this universe was designed to produce carbon-based life forms. I think it does not support that idea, but we can’t definitely rule it out either. However, even if we accept this, we only get to deism, not the Christian god.


(Lou Jost) #18
What troubles me is the attitude that religious people just don't belong in the conversation.
But Ted, where should one draw the line? Do Scientologists need to be in the conversation? Jehovah's Witnesses? Breatharians? Moonies? ISIS? Don't you think that people need to earn a place at the table by at least being open-minded about the tentative nature of their own beliefs? If they insist on reserving some of their own empirical beliefs as sacrosanct regardless of evidence, as suggested by these dogmatic "We believe..." statements, then what kind of conversation can one really have? The moment someone insists that their particular holy book is directly inspired by a god or gods, regardless of evidence to the contrary, the conversation ends (and in some cases, the shooting begins).

(Dr. Ted Davis) #19

Anyone who shares Lou’s view that religious believers don’t treat basic beliefs as working hypotheses is invited to read my current series: http://biologos.org/blog/series/evolution-and-original-sin-by-robin-collins.
The whole point of Robin Collins’ essay is to examine the basic truth that all humans are capable of wicked acts (that particular belief is fundamental to Christianity and more than a hypothesis) in light of modern knowledge, in order to arrive at a hypothesis about how to relate the basic truth to current knowledge.

I don’t see scientists treating certain fundamental truths as working hypotheses, either, Lou. When faced (e.g.) with an apparent contradiction between conservation of mass (a philosophical notion ultimately related to Greek ideas) and special relativity, a way is found to negotiate the situation, by redefining what counts as “mass.”


(Dr. Ted Davis) #20

Of course, Lou, places at the table have to be earned, not simply granted. What must be granted (IMO), however, is that conversations about ultimate meaning and purpose are not scientific in nature–they are humanistic, and far more pluralistic (in a philosophical sense) than science normally is or can be.

As for being “open-minded about the tentative nature of [one’s] beliefs,” I doubt that most of us in the West are willing to be “open-minded” about our condemnation of ISIS. Our revulsion is more than a gut-level reaction, of course–it’s based on a prior commitment to certain values that doesn’t look very negotiable to me, but (at the same time) doesn’t appear to be a necessary consequence of “science” or “reason”–both of which were elevated to semi-divine status in modern regimes that tried to stamp out all religion and committed atrocities comparable to those of ISIS on a vast scale.


(Lou Jost) #22

Ted, please look at what I wrote. I was complaining about the “What we believe” credos of BioLogos, Answers in Genesis, and Reasons to Believe. I did not say that all details of all religious people’s beliefs are immune to reflection. All religious people I know (including myself when I was religious) have doubts about many details of their beliefs, and allow their thinking to evolve with reflection and examination.

If BioLogos said “We will treat the inspiration of the Bible as a working hypothesis and examine it carefully and skeptically in the light of current knowledge”, I’d commend them. Instead you have what amount to credos. That is what I object to.

Scientists (especially physicists) put everything on the table. Scientific revolutions do often have to buck entrenched preconceptions, but they happen nevertheless. Your own example of mass is a good one. We didn’t just redefine mass to keep preconcieved views. We rejected the original, deeply fundamental concept that mass was a fixed property of matter independent of potential energy and state of motion. That was a huge conceptual shift, one of many that physicists have made over the years. Each of these revolutions was practically like rejecting the Resurrection. We actually LIKE to do that, and we try hard to find evidence to reject the current worldview. Finding such evidence is the best thing that could happen to a scientist.


(Lou Jost) #23

This was in response to Ted’s comment starting “Anyone who shares Lou’s view that religious believers don’t treat basic beliefs as working hypotheses is invited to read my current series…”