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Bill Nye on Scientific Literacy

Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of the National Center for Science Education. Branch is co-editor, with Eugenie Scott, of Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools, and the author or coauthor of numerous articles on creationism and evolution in such publications as Scientific American, The American Biology Teacher, and Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics. This post originally appeared on the NCSE blog.

3278A two-and-a-half-minute video with Bill Nye discussing the creationism/evolution controversy went viral, garnering over 2.5 million views in its first week on-line. Posted on August 23, 2012, on the YouTube channel of Big Think, under the title "Creationism is not appropriate for children," the video reiterates the centrality of evolution to the life sciences and laments the prevalence of evolution denial in the United States. In it, Nye remarked, "And I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that's completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that's fine, but don't make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future."

Nye later told CBS This Morning (August 28, 2012), "My concern is you don't want people growing up not believing in radioactivity, not believing in geology and deep time. You don't want people in the United States growing up without the expectation that we can land spacecraft on Mars. You want people to believe in science, this process, this great idea that humans had to discover more about the universe and our place in it, our place in space. And I really want to emphasize, I'm not attacking anybody's religion, but science, if you go to a museum and you see fossil dinosaur bones, they came from somewhere, and we have by diligent investigation have determined that the earth is 4.54 billion years old."

NCSE's Steven Newton was interviewed on KPCC (August 29, 2012) for its story about Nye's video. Nye's remarks were fully in step with the views of the scientific community, Newton explained, adding, "Science teachers around the country are pretty much in sync with scientists around this country in understanding that evolution is the foundation of the biological sciences, and as such, it should be part of the curriculum and it should be taught," citing the courageous teachers in Dover, Pennsylvania, who in 2005 refused to read the evolution disclaimer mandated by the school board there. "Intelligent design or overtly biblical Creationism — all of them have the same root [in] a denial of evolution and how science works," Newton commented.

A Supporter of NCSE, Bill Nye "The Science Guy" was the host of the popular science education television programs Bill Nye the Science Guy— which won eighteen Emmys — and The Eyes of Nye; he is currently the executive director of the Planetary Society, the world's large space interest organization. The video was by no means Nye's first excursion into defending the teaching of evolution: in 2011, for example, he told Popular Mechanics, "it's fine if you as an adult want to run around pretending or claiming that you don't believe in evolution, but if we educate a generation of people who don't believe in science, that's a recipe for disaster. ... the main idea in all of biology is evolution. To not teach it to our young people is wrong."