Last week, we published an interview with Bill Nye. In the time since it was posted, the interview, as well as president Haarsma’s response, have engendered a wide range of strong reactions on social media and in our comment boards. We were criticized almost in equal measure for impiously endorsing Bill Nye and unfairly attacking him. This curious combination of feedback is a sign that the interview hit nerves across the spectrum of perspectives on science and faith.
One of the signs of a highly contentious conversation is that simply speaking to someone in the other trench is seen as an endorsement on their perspective. To suggest that we can learn from other perspectives is seen as a betrayal of one’s own position. Bill Nye himself has experienced this. He has received a lot of flak from fellow skeptics over his debate with Ham, and I’m sure his interview with us will not be viewed positively by some of our atheist critics. Nye deserves credit for his efforts to talk with Christians about origins—whether Ken Ham or BioLogos. He also has made it clear that he harbors no ill will towards people of faith, which sets him apart from many other outspoken skeptics, who would rather see religion eradicated completely.
Yet for all these positive signs, Bill Nye’s rhetoric on Christianity and science still reflects a debate badly in need of more mutual understanding—and the problem is hardly unique to Nye. A constant feature of many conflicts between conservative Christians and science-minded skeptics is that both sides can be so busy expressing astonishment at the obvious stupidity and ignorance of the other side that they rarely consider how listening to another perspective could genuinely help both. In their debate, Ken Ham and Bill Nye both made it extremely clear that they are awed by the ignorance and closed-mindedness of the other, and this made it nearly impossible for them to actually engage each other’s views during the debate (or any time since then).
But just as we think Ken Ham and his followers are often attacking a caricature of evolution, Bill Nye’s view of Christianity (and religion in general) is also a caricature, as the interview showed. His understanding of Christian theology, as it relates to creationism of any sort, would be foreign to the overwhelming majority of Christians (in fact, I have never heard any Christian of any position claim that their creationist views are only drawn from the Old Testament, as Nye implied). He also does not seem aware of the significant category of “Old Earth Creationists”—who affirm the great age of the earth but not evolution—and how they fit in the origins debate. Most troublingly, he clearly thinks that religious and scientific answers to the big questions of life are necessarily in competition with each other, as if the meaning of life cannot accommodate faith and genetics at the same time.
It is disturbing that the person most quoted in the past year around the Western world on the subject of creationism has such a one-dimensional perspective on what creationists actually believe. I don’t think Nye is intentionally ignorant, but his insulation from religious perspectives has seemingly left him with an incomplete picture of what Christians believe and why they believe it, especially as it relates to scientific issues. However, it is no less disturbing that Christians often display an equal ignorance about the nature of science and the motives of scientists—and again, the problems often come when Christians are insulated inside a single perspective. This mutual insulation virtually guarantees the perpetuation of the gridlock that defines the faith/science conflict.
The only possible solution is for both sides to step outside the trenches and try to learn from each other. It is not enough that, as Nye said, “your community and mine can live and work together without conflict.” While we appreciate his words, we want to help people realize that the Christian community and the scientific community are not mutually exclusive. A better dialogue between science and faith, as Deb Haarsma wrote, starts with accepting that science and faith are complementary, not competing. To be sure, they approach the big questions from different angles, but they are not doomed to competition with each other (as we attempted to point out in our mention of Michael Faraday). BioLogos passionately believes that science and faith can mutually enrich each other, and that Christians can be people of faith and science without sacrificing either.
My greatest regret about the interview is that the email format left it too short and impersonal. I would love to sit down with Nye over a cup of coffee and talk further about his views, and share more of my faith. I want to know more about why he thinks religious explanations are so boring and unsatisfactory, and I would like to help Nye understand why many Christians are so hostile to mainstream science. For the record, this invitation is completely sincere—any of us at BioLogos would love to continue the conversation with Nye, and the lattes are on us.