© Original content written by James R. Carlson
Bill Nye, an evolutionist, and Ken Ham, a creationist, had a debate in February 2014 in which they discussed the topic of whether or not Creationism could stand in the modern context of science. Nye has taken the liberty to write a book, Undeniable (2014), in which he attempts to present a concise view of evolution. Nye presents his thesis of evolution with philosophical zeal but as I read his book I was struck with the fact that he never offered solid empirical evidence of evolution’s reality. Future debates should discuss the question of whether or not Evolution can stand in the context of modern (empirical) science. This review of Bill Nye’s book explores just that question.
Philosophical Science – False Science
The Bible warns against following philosophical science calling it false science.
20 O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called:
21 Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen.
[1 Timothy 6:20-21 (KVJ)]
The word ‘science’ used here in the Bible comes from the Greek word ‘gnosis,’ which means ‘knowledge.’ The Latin word for ‘knowledge’ is ‘scientia,’ which is the root for the English word ‘science.’ Gnosis in the Bible is not referring to modern empirical science but to the ancient variety of science we call philosophical science. The Bible is not contrary to the notion of knowledge or of empirical science that developed after Galileo in the 17th century.
Billl Nye, however, is a student of the philosophy of science called evolution. His entire book is dedicated to presenting the thesis of evolution in philosophical terms. He is convinced that we all have Big Brains that can be used to understand anything. However, this is the root of philosophy and not modern science. Nye even said,
“The astonishing thing about nature and the universe is that we can understand any of it.” [Chapter 22]
This, however, is absolutely not true. ‘Science’ means ‘knowledge’ but only God is all knowing (omniscient) whereas scientists and science is partly knowing. Science speaks loudly to the fact that we don’t know everything. But it also says, let’s investigate, test what we think we know, and find out what we don’t know. That way we’ll really know what is real and what is false knowledge.
- Michael Faraday (Chapter 24)
Michael Faraday is one of Bill Nye’s scientific heroes. Here are a few quotes from Faraday concerning nature and science.
Nature is our kindest friend and best critic in experimental science if we only allow her intimations to fall unbiased on our minds. Nothing is so good as an experiment which, whilst it sets an error right, gives us (as a reward for our humility in being reproved) an absolute advancement in knowledge.
Without experiment I am nothing. But still try, for who knows what is possible? All our theories are fixed upon uncertain data, and all of them want alteration and support from facts. One thing, however, is fortunate, which is, that whatever our opinions, they do not alter nor derange the laws of nature.
ALL THIS IS A DREAM. Still examine it by a few experiments. Nothing is too wonderful to be true, if it be consistent with the laws of nature; and in such things as these experiment is the best test of such consistency.
Faraday was a very religious person who believed in God the Creator, the same God who put laws into nature that scientists discover and call science. He was also keenly aware that the philosophy of man was never perfect in explaining these laws of nature and was not real science. One’s big brain is not big enough to explain the design of nature from mere thought, which is what Nye hopes to do. Experiment is required to prove, alter, or dismiss the philosophy of nature so we can have true knowledge (science) about nature.
If we follow Faraday instead of Darwin and Nye, we should test the thesis that was established by Darwin instead of continually rehearsing the thesis. The problem with biological evolution (Neo-Darwinism, etc.) is that it has never been validated empirically. And it makes sense that Faraday had joy in discovering the laws of nature that God put into His creation. Darwin on the other hand had doubts that led to his bouts of depression. Darwin is even quoted as saying:
… thinking of the many cases of men pursuing an illusion for years, often & often a cold shudder has run through me & I have asked myself whether I may not have devoted my life to a phantasy.
[Letter from Charles Darwin to Charles Lyell, 23 November 1859]
Faraday’s science was empirical and filled with joy. Darwin’s science was philosophical and filled with despair.
- Induction – A Philosophical Tool of Science
Charles Darwin presented his thesis in 1859 using the philosophical tool of science called Induction. Induction was often used by natural theologians to support their arguments of theology. Darwin even quoted William Whewell, a natural theologian, in the opening of his book, Origins, as an example of the scientific method he would use in presenting his view on Origins. In other words, Darwin’s thesis in Origins was built upon a foundation of philosophical science, not empirical science.
Induction is a method of presenting various pieces of information (not the same as empirical data) into a mosaic that presents a picture of how nature may possibly work; this is one way in which a philosophical thesis is established. But after establishing a thesis, it has to be tested empirically. The problem with Induction as a tool of philosophical science is that it cannot refute an erroneous thesis; however, empirical science can refute an errant thesis of philosophical science.
The challenge presented by inductive reasoning is that if someone thinks they can present a better picture of reality based upon the available information, then go ahead and try. This is how the evolution vs creation debates began in the 19th century; and they continue to rage today (Ham v Nye 2014). One side can never fully refute the other as they compete with one another using inductive/philosophical science to back up their arguments. If one wants to win the debate, one must argue in the context of modern science and argue for empirical validation of theses or the lack thereof.
Induction and philosophy have been used repeated by evolutionists like Darwin and Nye but they have never presented an empirical validation of their thesis. As such, evolution is without empirical validation. Therefore, empirical science refutes evolution in the grand tradition of modern science explained by the great scientist Michael Faraday.
- Philosophical Patterns in Classification Systems (Chapter 11)
Bill Nye claims we have a big brain, big enough to recognize patterns in nature. He claims that classification systems developed from this ability to recognize patterns but he does not know the full story behind taxonomy.
Before there was a classification system, Greek philosophers argued that all matter, organized and unorganized (living and mineral), were ordered into a hierarchy. This hierarchy presented the idea of a chain of being, a ladder of life, or a scale of nature. From these ideas came the idea of taxonomy and classification systems. The idea of lower forms taking on higher forms was developed by people like Plato and Aristotle. Instead of recognizing patterns in nature we need to recognize the pattern of philosophy behind the idea of taxonomy and classification systems.
- Homology, Analogy, and Convergence (Chapter 11)
Nye continues to pursue the idea of patterns that led to a classification of species as he explores the ideas of homology, analogy, and convergence. He thinks that similarities between body parts (homology), body structures (analogy), and body function (convergence) provides evidence of evolution. However, as the philosophical tool of Induction can only be used to present a thesis (not prove it), an opposing thesis of Divine creation can also be presented on these same grounds (Induction vs Induction).
Nye appears to be misinformed about the principles of flight. Although he is a mechanical engineer who worked at Boeing, he does not present the basics of flight correctly. I am an aerospace engineer and I understand the basics of flight well enough. Nye assumes that all flight is derived by thrust where simply pushing air behind an aircraft, a bird, a bee is sufficient to provide lift. However, he misses the basic components of flight: 1) lift overcomes weight and 2) thrust overcomes drag. He has the thrust part down but that’s all.
Lift is the part of flight that Nye is missing. One scientific model of lift is based upon a principle called ‘simplified Bernoulli.’ This is an equation by Daniel Bernoulli who showed that if you take dynamic (parallel) pressure (Pd) and add it to static (perpendicular) pressure (Ps) you get a constant [Pd + Ps = C]. Increase the dynamic pressure and you reduce the static pressure; conversely, reduce the dynamic pressure and you increase the static pressure. Lift is based upon this simple concept of fluid dynamics. And as living species take advantage of this principle in various ways for flight, it presents a view of a creation designed by a Creator and not one of evolution.
A wing on a bird has a half teardrop cross-sectional shape. When a bird is propelled (thrust) through the air by their wing tips (homologous to fingers on a hand), the air over the wing moves faster (dynamic pressure) than under the wing. So the static pressure is lower above the wing compared to below and lift occurs. Nye totally failed to present this piece of scientific information in his explanation of the supposed evolution of flight.
Similarly, a bumblebee flies by moving air with its wings (a totally different wing design) over the top of its body, which is in the form of a lifting body. As air moves over the top of the lifting body of a bumblebee the dynamic pressure above is more than below and again lift occurs. This convergence of lift between two different creatures with wings that are not analogous, using the principle of science outlined by Bernoulli, points to a Divine Creator who knows about the principles of flight and can use them in any configuration.
Nye also believes that flying fish evolved to include flight with the wings they have. However, their wings (actually fins) do not provide for sustained flight but take advantage of a principle called ‘ground effect’ where the lift over drag ratio is better near the surface of the water for gliding. Also, the shape of the flying fish’s body is flattened on the bottom like a lifting body that causes lift when it moves through the air. The tail of the flying fish occasionally contacts the water and is used to add another jump to the fish’s flight. There is no direct analogy between the wings of the bird, the bee, or the flying fish but lift can be clearly explained by Bernoulli’s principles of fluid flow in each case.
The study of aerodynamics has also shed light on shedding vortices, which Nye doesn’t present in his view of homology, analogy, and convergence. Vortex shedding doesn’t just occur at the tip of the wing but also at the root. This helps explain how some insects, bats, etc. who do not have a ‘proper wings’ or a ‘lifting body’ can fly.
There are many species that can fly and have similarities in their parts or structures of their bodies but there are differences as well in how flight is achieved. Homology and analogy do not provide a consistent view of flight’s so-called evolution. And as the method of aerodynamic lift is not always the same from one species to another, there is no convergence of flight for all flying species, which refutes the argument of convergent evolution.
The lack of convergence between each method of flight does not point to the evolution of flight but to Nye’s imagination. Instead of pattern recognition, Nye falls victim to pattern borrowing using the ideas of classification systems that came from philosophical science. These same patterns of taxonomy and classification persist within the fossil record and evolutionary theory and are another example of philosophical science.
- Fossil Record (Chapter 12)
The fossil record has long been a speculation of science. One interpretation of the fossil record borrows from the ideas of philosophy to present patterns in the context of classification systems. Another interpretation borrows the record presented in the Bible of Noah’s Flood. Both ideas have one pattern that is easily recognized and that is the use of the geological record to define the biological record of organic species fossilized within the geologic layers. The debate between evolutionists and creationists over the fossil record is another example of inductive thinking vs inductive thinking.
Evolutionists and creationists use competing theories of geology to establish their complementary views of biology. Given the uniformitarian view of geology where the slow layering of the earth’s surface led to the slow evolution of species found within the earth and we have a complementary view of uniformitarian geology supporting an uniformitarian view of biology – evolution.
Taken from a creationist perspective, the geological record can be viewed from a perspective of catastrophes (catastrophism). With the sudden engulfing of the earth in a worldwide flood, came the layering of the various strata in the fossil record and the deposition of life forms within these layers. Here again, we have a complementary view of catastrophic geology supporting a catastrophic view of biology – creationism.
Induction vs Induction cannot solve this riddle of whether the fossil record is a record successive events or a record of just one event. We have to turn to empirical science to find a solution.
- Absolute Dating Methods (Chapter 5)
Nye presents his view about millions and billions of years of earth geology/biology using absolute dating methods that he thinks provide an empirical foundation for his view of the fossil record. His presentation of dating methods presents nothing new, however; the debate of deep time has been going on for a long time.
Three basic questions shed light on this topic of dating methods [see CMI article in Creation: 14(2):43–47 March 1992 on this topic].
- Are the initial conditions known?
- Has the system remained closed? and
- Has the radioactive decay rate remained constant?
Nye naively assumes that the clock started after the molten rock solidified (1), he assumes the rock has not been subject to its environment (2), and he assumes that radioactive decay has been constant for billions of years (3). These assumptions cannot be tested or proven and therefore empirical science cannot establish a foundation for deep time in the fossil record.
- Genetic Dating Methods 2 (Chapter 5)
Nye attempts to refute the Flood thesis by suggesting that there was not enough time for species who survived on Noah’s Ark to change genetically to produce the diversity of life we see today. However, Nye is more than willing to give enough time for evolution to occur from molecules-to-man.
Nye claims that mats of fossilized bacteria spontaneously generated 3.5 billion years ago and are the origin all the diversity of life we see on the earth today. Nye thinks there was enough time for simple cells to evolve into mankind but not enough time for species from the Ark to develop genetically diverse as we see them today. This again is an argument of Induction vs Induction.
Nye praises the work of geochemists as superior to geologists in helping establish this idea of molecules-to-man evolution. However, one such geochemist explained the problem of deep time in that it wasn’t possible for life to develop as fast as Nye thinks.
If Earth was the cradle for life, the time interval between its origin and the existence of the LCC [Last Common Community] appears incomprehensibly short. In view of the apparent complexity of the LCC, particularly in terms of biochemistry, it would be reasonable to allow perhaps 4 gigayears for its evolution from the primordial cell.
[Fenchel, T. and Finlay, B.J., Anaerobic environments; in: Ecology and Evolution in Anoxic Worlds. pp. 1–31. Ed. May R.M. and Harvey, P.H., Oxford University Pres, 1995; cited in Line, Ref; cited in CMI article, “Science, Creation and Evolutionism…,” by Dr Jonathan Sarfati, 8 February 2008, on this topic]
Nye’s estimate of time for evolution to occur is off by just a few orders of magnitude. Here again, there is no empirical foundation for the estimate that Nye uses for deep time and the fossil record.
- Philosophical Dating Methods
The dating of layers in the geologic record is based upon philosophy and not empirical science. The theory of floral and faunal succession that came from the old ideas of classification philosophy are based upon the idea of a scale of nature. The dates of rock layers in the fossil record are supposedly based on the species that are found within them. Various anchor species date each layer of rock as they are defined by the scale of nature. Here we find a cyclical (sic) argument where the layers dated by certain organic species are then used to date other organic species in these same layers.
As a test engineer, I work with data routinely. We use timecode servers to put timestamps onto data we collect so we can render the data (raw data, metadata, calibrations) into proper engineering units for presentation and publication. As such, I recognize the need for an empirical time stamp in testing and science. Without an empirical timestamp there is no empirical data; just a bunch of disjointed information.
There is no empirical dating method associated with the fossil record and the supposed data found within the fossil record is not empirical data. Using a philosophical time stamp instead of an empirical one (witnessed by an individual in real time) then returns a philosophical set of information that is used in an argument of inductive reasoning.
Without empirical data we cannot use the fossil record in a modern context of empirical science. No data means no math and no math means no scientific principle established by empirical tests. The evolutionist at this point is left only with the parameter of time to explain the functions of evolution over time. However time is not a function. It is a parameter in an equation and the equation is missing. Again, no data, no math, no science.
Although Bill Nye presents a mountain of information to support his thesis of evolution, his arguments are primarily philosophical. In the end, Nye fails to validate his thesis empirically. Far from being the ‘science guy,’ Bill Nye has now become the ‘philosopher guy.’
Bill Nye is a graduate of Cornell University with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. While at Cornell, he attended an astronomy class taught by Carl Sagan. Nye later worked with Boeing in Seattle, Washington where he produced training films that he starred in. Bill Nye has enjoyed his lengthy career as a science educator working in many television comedy roles and even Dancing with the Stars. His experience with ‘edutainment’ includes his role as the ‘science guy’ in his popular TV series.
Nye has recently become the Executive Director of The Planetary Society, an organization dedicated to exploring planets in our solar system. Nye is also involved in the popular science of Global Warming and has his own Climate Lab at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, California. Nye is also involved in the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, a secular humanist organization attempting to expose scientific errors. Nye’s recent book, Undeniable, has drawn praise from people whose skepticism runs against the ideas of Creation Science. Nye continues to appear on TV and write on subjects of interest.
James Carlson is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a BS in Aerospace Engineering. He was a student of Hans Mark, former Deputy Director of NASA (mentor of Sagan), who recommended Carlson for an internship with NASA Ames. Carlson is currently a test engineer with the White Sands Missile Range and tests military hardware. He uses the test process to capture data, reduce data, and present data in reports.
Prior to earning his bachelor’s degree in engineering, Carlson was a History major with a minor in Religious Studies. The history of ideas is his passion. He has studied the evolutionist creationist debate for more than 30 years and his writing background includes research into the long history of ideas that led to evolution. His 1,000 page manuscript, The Evolution of Evolution: A Theory in Chaos, presents the extant record of history to prove that evolution is an idea born of ancient myth. Carlson’s subsequent work, The Alchemy of Evolution, proves that evolution is an idea born of medieval European alchemy.
Purchase this book online.