Hey Bill Nye! Would the world be better without religion?

This week, Bill Nye tackles one of the most complicated hypotheticals of all time.

Wendy: Hey Bill. My name is Wendy and my question is: would the world be a better place if everyone was an atheist or had no beliefs in god or religion?

Bill Nye: Wendy, this is a great question. Practically, I don’t know. People get a lot of community out of religions. They get a lot of friendship and they have extended families as a result of religion. And my atheist friends—and, you know the old saying: “some of my best friends are atheists”—I mean I do have a large circle of atheist friends. We’re all very supportive. We have our own community in a different way.

So I think what we want is to transcend families, extended families and tribes to an understanding that everybody in the world is in this together. That all of our tribes are in this together. People from different religious traditions, we’re all in this together.

And whether or not there is one god that makes decisions for you, whether or not there is one god that influences your life based on what you’ve done in past lives, whether or not there is no god, these are all questions that are very important to ponder individually. But in the bigger picture I’m not going to claim the world would be better with or without communities. I think the communities and interactions of tribes, or tribal-style nations and groups, is very important to the future of humankind.

So as you may know, I am not a believer. I’m a non-believer. I spend a lot of time trying to understand my place in the cosmos and I’ve reached my own conclusions. But I’m the first to say that ultimately we are all agnostic. This is to say you can’t know whether or not there is a giant entity running the show or choosing to not run the show. You can’t know. So we all are, I believe, best served by just living good lives. Trying to leave the world better than we found it. That’s a great question. Whew.

Would a world full of atheists be best? Some people dream of the day religion fades away, but for others the mere hypothetical is a form of blasphemy. Imagine, just like John Lennon asked us to: would it be heaven on Earth? Would it be complete chaos? No one can accurately answer this question, just as no one can really know whether or not there is a god—technically speaking, we're all agnostics, explains Bill Nye. What we do know is that community underpins religion, and communities are essential for humanity's progress and existence. God or no god, we need to understand that we're all in this together, urges Nye. Communities—whether they're anchored in faith, science, art, or altruism—are essential to the future of humankind. Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.

Greenland loses 4 trillion pounds of ice in one day

Normally, the landscape in this photo would be a white ice sheet.

Surprising Science
  • Climate scientists say that Greenland is experiencing ice losses that are unusually early and heavy.
  • Two main weather factors are fueling the losses: a high-pressure system and the resulting low cloud cover.
  • Greenland is a major contributor to sea-level rise.
Keep reading Show less

Has a black hole made of sound confirmed Hawking radiation?

One of Stephen Hawking's predictions seems to have been borne out in a man-made "black hole".

Image source: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Surprising Science
  • Stephen Hawking predicted virtual particles splitting in two from the gravitational pull of black holes.
  • Black holes, he also said, would eventually evaporate due to the absorption of negatively charged virtual particles.
  • A scientist has built a black hole analogue based on sound instead of light.
Keep reading Show less

Permafrost is melting 70 years earlier than expected in Arctic Canada

It's a "canary in the coalmine," said one climate scientist.


MARK RALSTON/Contributor
Surprising Science
  • A team of researchers discovered that permafrost in Northern Canada is melting at unusually fast rates.
  • This could causes dangerous and costly erosion, and it's likely speeding up climate change because thawing permafrost releases heat-trapping gasses into the atmosphere.
  • This week, Canada's House of Commons declared a national climate emergency.
Keep reading Show less