Hey Bill Nye! Can Science Eradicate Religion and Myth from Politics?
Religious practices run deep in many cultures and their influence will be slow to fade away. But this shouldn't deter a scientific outlook from helping us make practical decisions in life.
Bill Nye, scientist, engineer, comedian, author, and inventor, is a man with a mission: to help foster a scientifically literate society, to help people everywhere understand and appreciate the science that makes our world work. Making science entertaining and accessible is something Bill has been doing most of his life.
In Seattle Nye began to combine his love of science with his flair for comedy, when he won the Steve Martin look-alike contest and developed dual careers as an engineer by day and a stand-up comic by night. Nye then quit his day engineering day job and made the transition to a night job as a comedy writer and performer on Seattle’s home-grown ensemble comedy show “Almost Live.” This is where “Bill Nye the Science Guy®” was born. The show appeared before Saturday Night Live and later on Comedy Central, originating at KING-TV, Seattle’s NBC affiliate.
While working on the Science Guy show, Nye won seven national Emmy Awards for writing, performing, and producing. The show won 18 Emmys in five years. In between creating the shows, he wrote five children’s books about science, including his latest title, “Bill Nye’s Great Big Book of Tiny Germs.”
Nye is the host of three currently-running television series. “The 100 Greatest Discoveries” airs on the Science Channel. “The Eyes of Nye” airs on PBS stations across the country.
Bill’s latest project is hosting a show on Planet Green called “Stuff Happens.” It’s about environmentally responsible choices that consumers can make as they go about their day and their shopping. Also, you’ll see Nye in his good-natured rivalry with his neighbor Ed Begley. They compete to see who can save the most energy and produce the smallest carbon footprint. Nye has 4,000 watts of solar power and a solar-boosted hot water system. There’s also the low water use garden and underground watering system. It’s fun for him; he’s an engineer with an energy conservation hobby.
Nye is currently the Executive Director of The Planetary Society, the world’s largest space interest organization.
Aditya Bakshi: Hey Bill. This is Aditya Bakshi. I'm a mechanical engineer graduate from India. My question to you is why are so many people attracted to pseudoscience and what can we as a society do to stop pseudoscience if it has the support of religious fundamentalists and hyper nationalist? For example, the recently concluded Indian Science Congress was criticized heavily for featuring a lot of pseudoscience and mythology. Thank you.
Bill Nye: Greetings Aditya. I'm saying it as best I can. Aditya? I'm saying it as best I can. I have spent just about two weeks in India and I got to say I was very impressed with how much pseudoscience there is, how much spiritualism there is. I guess those aren't the same thing. And a lot of people - it's very common for people from my country, from the United States to go to India to get a new way of looking at life, to get a new spiritual prospective. And as you suggested these things, pseudoscience and the spiritual perspective seem to be tied together. But science, this process that humans have come up with where you make an observation; you come up with a hypothesis, a reason you think this observation happen, this phenomenon occurred, and then you come up with a way to test it. An experiment. You test it. You see what happened. You compare that to what you thought would happen and you know nature and this extraordinary way that enables us to have cars and trucks and the green revolution and feed everybody and clean water for a lot of people and electricity and spaceflight and putting things in orbit around Mars, the Mars Orbiting Mission, ISRO, Indian Space Research Organization's mission. Very cool. This is a great concern. All I can say is, well not all I can say, but something I will say about pseudoscience. Well, in the United States it's very common to use the phrase critical thinking, being critical of claims is that it's a process.
When you first, for example, when someone says that he or she spiritually prepares himself or herself to walk across hot coals, which is a fabulous phenomenon, it's very easy for an audience member, someone unfamiliar with the science involved, to think that it does require spiritual preparedness. But I've walked on hot coals without being spiritually prepared at all. It just turns out that there's a few things that happen. Generally fire walkers get their feet wet, they get the grass around the fire very wet so your feet are wet so that turns to steam. Then the big thing is your foot is just like a piece of meat, it soaks up a lot of heat before your skin burns. It's really amazing. I always tell people wrap a piece of paper around an empty soda can and hold it over a candle flame, the paper doesn't burn for quite a while because the heat passes right through it into the can, the same as the skin of your foot. So, along this line you have to show people that it was not spiritual preparedness that enabled them to walk on fire. And at first, in my experience, the audience will reject that. No, no you have to be spiritually prepared. No, no, no you don't. And after they try it or review it they'll start to change their minds. If you quiz people about the influence of astrology, the position of the stars with respect to their personality characteristics, at first quite often they'll reject it. They'll say no the stars are very influential. But after a while they'll think about it. People who believe they can communicate with the dead or get the audience to believe that they can communicate with the dead, at first it seems reasonable, but after a while you can show that it's not true. So what I would say is you've got to stick with it. You just got to keep nudging people against the pseudoscientific beliefs.
As far as the Indian Science Conference, this spiritualism, at least when I was in India, it was deep within your culture, deep within the Indian culture. So it's not something that's going to change right away. But I claim that it's in everyone's best interest to embrace the process of science so that Indian agriculture continues to feed your billion people – your, our billion people and continue to explore space because it brings out the best in us, brings out the best in people. When a country has its own space program, it just inherently produces more graduates in more advanced science, which then enriches technology for everyone. And soon everybody in India will have access to phone calls. Everybody in India will have access to higher more advanced transportation systems. What we all in the developed world very much want is for Indian nation to skip these fossil fuel steps that we all went through and produced all the greenhouse gas, which has given this extraordinary quality of life in the West to be sure, but we want, by we the world wants Indian mechanical engineers such as your self to get right to renewable energy and become world leaders in renewable energy. And this to me is very closely related to eschewing or setting aside spiritualism and pseudoscientific beliefs and embracing science to solve these actual technical problems. Spiritualism is a separate thing. If people are enriched by that it's great, but to have spiritualism or believe in psychic powers or psychic preparedness influence agriculture, for example, or influence electricity production is inappropriate and is going to hold you all back and that's why, hold us all back and that's why I think you've asked the question. But if you're a mechanical engineer you are using science to make things and solve problems and we appreciate your work. Carry on sir. Carry on!
Religious practices run deep in many cultures and their influence will be slow to fade away. Bill Nye the Science Guy says that while religion can help make individuals deeper human beings, belief systems become counterproductive when they declare pseudoscience to be inviolable. But this shouldn't deter us from making practical decision with a scientific outlook. In fact, all claims worth investigating should be subjected to the scientific method. We've just got to keep nudging people in that direction, says Nye.
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