Hey Bill Nye! Would the world be better without religion?
This week, Bill Nye tackles one of the most complicated hypotheticals of all time.
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.
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.
Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.
- Polarization and extreme partisanships have been on the rise in the United States.
- Political psychologist Diana Mutz argues that we need more deliberation, not political activism, to keep our democracy robust.
- Despite increased polarization, Americans still have more in common than we appear to.
An amateur astronomer discovers an interstellar comet on its way to our Sun.
Take the circumstances in your life seriously, but not literally. Here's why.
- Galileo was quite controversial, in part, because he argued that Earth moved around the sun, despite people's senses deluding them that the world was static.
- Evolution may have primed us to see the world in terms of payoffs rather than absolute reality — this has actually helped us survive. Those who win payoffs are more likely to pass on their genes, which encode these strategies to get to the "next level" of life.
- It's important to listen to people's objections because they may bring something to your attention outside your ken. Learn from them to make your ideas sharper.