Bill Nye explains his disbelief

Is Bill Nye an atheist, an agnostic, or something else? He’s admitted what he is, but you’ll have to go to PuffHo to see his explanation.

I have to say that, although I never watched Nye’s “Science Guy” show, I don’t find him particularly articulate in this type of interview.  And that, of course, has implications for how well he does in the upcoming debate with Ken Ham.

Creationists are already inundating me with emails gloating about how my worries about Nye must mean that there’s something wrong with the argument for evolution. That’s nuts: the evidence for evolution is strong regardless of how well a science popularizer does in a rhetorical exercise, and debates aren’t the place to settle (or argue) this question. It is in fact already settled, except in the minds of blinkered religionists. Even if Ken Ham mops the floor with Nye during the debate, that wouldn’t chip away one bit at the scientific evidence for evolution, or add one mote to the intellectual lacuna that is creationism.


  1. gbjames
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 6:17 pm | Permalink


  2. Greg Esres
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Nye is probably more experienced in making canned presentations than in making extemporaneous remarks. This jumping into public controversies seems to be a new thing for him; perhaps he will get better.

  3. Pete Moulton
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Nye’s getting some one-on-one training with Don Prothero, and that makes me feel a little better about this ‘debate.’ He’s getting a good supply of actual facts, plus learning how to recognize and deal with Ham’s subterfuges.

  4. wildhog
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Watching that video was painful. I could probably have done better, and Im terrible at public speaking.
    He lurches forward, then back-pedals. Lurches forward again, then back-pedals again. The debate should provide some quotes and soundbites that the faith-heads will love.

  5. NewEnglandBob
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    His “Science Guy” show was targeted for teenagers or pre-teens even.

    This piece shown was dreadful. The interviewer articulated far better than Nye.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted January 22, 2014 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      I think I forgot to subscribe.

    • Brian Jeffs
      Posted January 22, 2014 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

      I agree. Unless he preps, he will do poorly.

  6. ssc44
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Excellent post and commentary – the final sentence tickled my brain. I thought we were in for a witty and entertaining confrontation, but now I’m not so sure about the true nature of this so-called debate. About 3 mins into the Puffho interview, Nye re-frames the event as an “appearance.”

  7. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    Why is it that Christians are so aggressive and outspoken….strident even. I highly doubt that atheists send emails taunting Ken Ham or others about the outcome of a debate. I could be wrong (I’m often naive about these things) but a culture of revelation seems to include corresponding smug and irrational behaviour.

    • Douglas
      Posted January 22, 2014 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

      That raises an interesting question. I wonder how many creationism supporters donreceive hate mail for their (unfortunate) views.

      Glen Beck aside.

      • Douglas
        Posted January 22, 2014 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

        *do receive

    • Posted January 22, 2014 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

      And yet Christians are the ones who are supposed to love their neighbor and not judge.

    • Greg Esres
      Posted January 23, 2014 at 7:12 am | Permalink

      “I highly doubt that atheists send emails taunting Ken Ham or others about the outcome of a debate.”

      I bet they do. But they probably run spell check first.

  8. Posted January 22, 2014 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on hitchens67 Atheism WOW!! Campaign.

  9. jwthomas
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    There’s absolutely no reason at all to “debate” creationists and evolution deniers. Debate is an art form, not a means of arriving at truth, and it only gives crackpots a forum for spreading their ideas. You can not change the minds of such people no matter how many facts you have at hand. You can only change the minds of those who already have doubts and you do that with straightforward presentations of the facts. Way too much of this is about personalities.

  10. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    …or add one mote to the intellectual lacuna that is creationism.

    I like the way you phrased that.

  11. peltonrandy
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    I certainly hope Nye does a better job of articulating his arguments in the upcoming debate than he did in articulating his view about God’s existence in this video. I thought his statement that he is an agnostic and his explanation of this position flimsy and muddled.

  12. Posted January 22, 2014 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    Creationists are already inundating me with emails gloating about how my worries about Nye must mean that there’s something wrong with the argument for evolution.

    The old problem. Believers think that because they won a discussion, god must exist. Rationalists think that because god doesn’t exist, they will win the discussion. Both wrong.

  13. Posted January 23, 2014 at 12:37 am | Permalink



  14. Posted January 23, 2014 at 2:30 am | Permalink

    Oh no, this will be a train wreck. Nye doesn’t have a clue what he’s up against and can barely make it through a sentence about his own ideas let alone counter anyone else’s.

    He’ll be fighting fire with a nicely constructed but completely empty water pistol.

  15. docbill1351
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    Nye is making it harder on himself by attempting to accommodate sensibilities.

    The short answer to the question of “belief” was “No” and Nye should have cut it off there, and waited for a follow up question.

    By soft-pedaling he don’t make no Mama happy! To rationalists he just copped out. To the faithful he moved, perhaps, from untrustworthy to suspicious, still not good. To the religious nuts he either made no difference (all scientists, even TV scientists, yes, even the Professor on Gilligan’s Island, are up to something no good!) or confirmed their preconceptions.

    Watch Ham on video. His only position is that the Bible is the word of God, therefore the Bible is true and, therefore, the Bible is the starting point for all interaction in the world.

    Nye has to destroy that. Nye has to stone-cold destroy Ham’s platform in no uncertain terms, Hitchen’s style, with facts delivered relentlessly with no let up, no accommodation, no wiggle room and no mercy. Over and over and over Nye has to tell Ham to his face that he is wrong, wrong, wrong and back up each wrong with a fact.

    I doubt that Nye has the guts to pull the pin on that nuclear hand grenade because it would also destroy Nye’s reputation as a “nice guy” but you can’t have it both ways. You can either attack creationism at its roots or stop complaining about having to prune the growth.

    Hitchens would have done it. AronRa certainly would. Nye won’t because he’s a TV personality and that’s too important a bridge for him to burn.

    • Scientifik
      Posted January 23, 2014 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      If Bill Nye did what you suggest, he would very likely be portrayed in the soon-to-be-released edited DVD from the debate as an aggressive and arrogant scientist, or worse, an elitist or an intellectualist.

      But still, it would be better if he went by your advice, because otherwise, he will be immortalized in the creationist DVD as a closet believer not sure of his scientific facts.

    • colnago80
      Posted January 23, 2014 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      Ham already refused to debate Aron Ra, knowing he would be buried.

  16. Gracebaddog
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    What I’m hoping for is a kind of rope-a-dope. I always thought Sam Harris did this to WLC at Notre Dame. I thought Harris took advantage of the fact he was speaking to students at a religious school and didn’t really care about addressing the squeaks from WCL. Nye should start by saying .. “I’m not here to debate. I’m here to educate. I will use all of my time to educate this audience on the basics of evolution. I will not respond to, or acknowledge Mr. Ham in any way. What he is saying is 100% wrong, it’s not worth our time discussing anything he puts forward. If you feel you are not getting your monies worth I’d be happy to refund your $5. See me after class.

    Another upside is it would make the DVD nearly impossible to sell.

    • Posted January 23, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      Unfortunately, it also is vulnerable to “naughty scientist elitist atheist scum can’t play by the rules”.

  17. Karl Boyd
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Where oh where is Carl Sagan when you need him?!

    I bet Neil deGrasse Tyson could do the job.

  18. Caleb Jablonicky
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    It doesn’t matter if “you can’t KNOW,” either way. The point is whether there is any REASON to believe an “extraordinary claim” in the first place. Given that Nye obviously denies this being the case, it comes down to a matter of practicality – and functionally speaking, Nye is an atheist. His attempts at downplaying this either come from a lack of such understanding, or potentially misguided accommodationism.

  19. Vaal
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    The religious come with an almost automatic “leg-up” in debates with scientists.

    A religion, being fantasy, has nothing BUT rhetoric through which to perpetuate. It’s very vehicle for survival is the rhetorical skills of believers.

    It’s not for nothing that it tends to be those with the best rhetorical skills, or story-telling/public speaking skills, are the ones standing in front of all the congregants, re-enforcing the story with as much skill, passion and persuasion as they can muster. It’s all they’ve got.

    A scientist can be a spotty-faced, stutter-afflicted, anti-social mess. But in science, when you can still come up with the scientific goods in terms of real world repeatable results, your contribution plays a part.

    So there’s already a sort of selection-bias toward public speaking and rhetorical skill
    for religious representatives, not quite in play for science, or even atheists in general.

    That said, one would think Nye is used to public speaking and persuasion. But he’s also used to a form of interaction where you have to check your thoughts and claims against the larger base of scientific reality. In other words: no bullshit allowed and you better know what you are talking about.

    Religion isn’t checked this way, and it’s speakers can move smoothly from one unchecked
    claim, to making up whatever bit you need, to bridge ideas. And especially with the confidence of literalists like Ken Ham, there’s no caveats or doubts tugging him back: claims can just spew forth with confidence and logical abandon.

    Least ways, that’s how it often seems to me.


  20. Posted January 23, 2014 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Permit me to refer to the immortal words of George Lucas.


  21. gbjames
    Posted January 24, 2014 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    I just learned Bill Nye is giving a lecture here in Milwaukee in a few weeks. It is already sold out.

    Old guys like me underestimate his popularity. Among younger adults, those in their 20s now (like my own kids) who grew up watching his science TV shows, he is a big draw.

  22. lisa parker
    Posted January 24, 2014 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    I saw Nye’s show a few times when my kids were of the appropriate age. I don’t recall his being too inarticulate (he wouldn’t have lasted this long if he was, I suppose.) But since I grew up watching ‘Mr. Wizard’, Nye comes up as Emmy material. I liked Mr. Wizard, anyway; he was all that was available. Of course, none of them can hold a candle to Kermit (back when he was an educational tool), but his audience was a little young for much science. It wasn’t easy being green.

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