© 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.
Empirical Science – Real Science
First, let’s establish what modern science is. Apart from philosophical science, modern science is testable science called empirical science. Nye’s view of modern science follows the path of, “Observe. Hypothesize. Predict. Experiment.” (Chapter 25) ‘Observe and hypothesize’ is nothing more than building a thesis, which is the work of philosophical science (also called speculative science). ‘Predicting’ is nothing more than falsifying a thesis; the question is asked, ‘what will nature do if the thesis is true?’ And ‘experimenting’ is where the real work of science begins.
The empirical method actually can be summarized as ‘present a thesis,’ ‘falsify a thesis,’ and ‘test the thesis.’ The work of empirical science is focused on the test, from which we gain empirical data. Data is the foundation of modern empirical science. Empirical data yields empirical formulas (math) that are simplified with philosophical mathematical expressions and these expressions become the laws of nature or principles of science.
Engineers are familiar with empirical science. As an engineer, I apply the principles of science that are expressed in mathematical terms to develop technology. Engineering is applied science and engineers are applied scientists who use the mathematical principles of science in their work. The benefits of science are the result of engineering and technology.
So from the modern context of science, we should expect to see 1) Data, 2) Math, and 3) Technology. Unfortunately, Bill Nye focuses exclusively on presenting the thesis in terms of 1) Observe, 2) Hypothesize, and 3) Predict. He fails to expand upon what is required from a test.
Nye’s concept of science is that it should predict discovery, which is not 100% accurate. He fails to present empirical science in the framework of data and math. Galileo taught us to connect the math with the experiment (data) hence beginning the exercise of modern empirical science. Nye is focused on philosophical science and predictions that lead to hopeful discoveries. As a result, Bill Nye is not the ‘science guy’ but has become a ‘philosopher guy.’
Bill Nye never follows the path of science discovery that comes from empirical tests. Instead of producing data and math from experiments that explain the laws of nature, which in turn produces modern technology, Nye presents an exhaustive rehearsal of philosophical ideas that he uses to build a thesis. And from the thesis, Nye presents what he calls ‘predictions’ that he thinks validates his philosophical viewpoint. As this misses the mark of real empirical science, we can review his long list of hopeful discoveries and see where they fall short of real empirical scientific investigation.
- Gila Topminnow (Chapter 9)
Nye presents the Gila Topminnow from Mexico (poeciliopsis occidentalis) and cites the work of Robert Vrijenhoek as his source. Nye is convinced that the topminnow can change its reproduction capability from sexual to asexual and then back again if need be. However, this is not the case.
Vrijenhoek explains that the grandchildren of the topminnow can produce sexually or asexually but not both [<http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/01/5/l_015_03.html>]. The Mexican topminnow always reproduces sexually but a hybrid offspring from the topminnow produces offspring that can then reproduce asexually. Nye should review the basic facts here.
Not-withstanding Nye’s initial error, the idea that species can produce sexually or asexually is not a prediction of evolution but a fact of nature. The Bible even says that all life will reproduce according to its own kind, which science has proven it does. There is no problem with sexual or asexual reproduction in a creationist perspective and the topminnow is just one more example of the veracity of God’s Word.
- Red Queen Principle (Chapter 9)
However, Nye thinks that the capability to improve upon the gene pool of a species is predicted by evolution as sexual reproduction is more capable of warding off disease than asexual reproduction. Nye uses the ‘Red Queen’ principle to explain his view.
Nye borrows the idea of the Red Queen principle, found in Alice in Wonderland, as a resource for his idea of sexual selection leading to a prevention of disease. In this fairy tale, the Red Queen said that it took a great deal of running just to stay in one place. He sees sexual reproduction as a continual exercise limiting disease whereas asexual reproduction does not. But this is not always the case when it comes to close siblings (as the Bible warns against).
The origin of the Red Queen principle came from biologist Leigh Van Valen in 1973, who proposed it as a principle in contrast to his law of extinction. It is used to present a treadmill view of genetic stability and not of evolution.
However, it is clear that God, who created organisms with DNA, provided for genetic stability as the treadmill effect is not a means of upward mobility but of keeping a species healthy. The idea of surviving in a rough environment is not unique to evolution and it is clear that genetics plays a role in keeping species healthy in any given environment. Unfortunately Nye is seeing things ‘through the looking glass.’
- Walking ‘Fishapod’ (Chapter 2)
Nye considers the ‘fishapod’ (tiktaalik) to be a transitional form between fish swimming in the water and creatures walking on the ground. This hopeful discovery, however, has long been refuted as the available fossils do not show any ability of the skeletal structure to support its weight on the ground.
The idea of transitional forms is certainly a part of the evolutionary tale. However, the Bible tells us that God made the fish that swim in the sea and the creatures that walk on the ground. There is no need for transitional organisms in a biblical world view. And as evolution requires them, there are many examples of such discoveries that lead to disappointment for evolutionists.
- Walking Whales (Chapter 20)
Nye also thinks whales once walked on the land before going into the sea. A whale has a horizontal tail, so it must have been above ground at one time, he thinks. Then it went into the sea and kept the shape of the horizontal tail. That is a foolish tale based on philosophy. Fossils, however, tell a different story.
Nye presents the species Ambulocetus as a transitional form leading to the evolution of whales from land to sea. However, fossil remains do not show a connection between the pelvis and the spine that could provide any support for the creature walking on the ground. The so-called missing link is missing bones just like the tiktaalik. Strike 2 for this type of hopeful discovery.
- Dino-to-Bird (Chapter 20)
Nye, like many evolutionists, believe that Archaeopteryx, discovered a few years after Darwin published his book, Origins (1859), was a discovery that validated the theory of evolution as a transitional form of bird from dinosaurs. It is dated at 150 million years old and is consider by some to be the first true bird to evolve from dinosaurs. Evolutionists claim that there were earlier transitional forms and Nye hopes to convince you that he has these hopeful discoveries ready for your review.
Nye’s first attempt at convincing the reader is with the fossil of velociraptor mongoliensis (meaning ‘fast thief from Mongolia’). However, this fossil is dated at 80 million years old and is younger than Archaeopteryx by 70 million years. How can the precursor to Archaeopteryx be younger?
Also, the supposed quill knobs of the raptor are found only on one fossil bone and are not clearly defined like quill knobs on other fossils of real birds [<http://creation.com/jurassic-park-feathers>]. The fact that this is the only evidence of raptors having anything to do with feathers is a poor foundation for the dino-to-bird thesis.
Another raptor to be mistaken as a bird was actually a bird that was presented with the tail of a dinosaur added to it. Archaeoraptor liaoningensis was a composite of two separate species. As told by Xu Xing:
Archaeoraptor appears to be composed of a dromaeosaur tail and a bird body.
[National Geographic, 2000]
The idea of transitional forms required by evolution is not required by creationists. The need for hopeful discoveries are driving people to extreme misinterpretations of fossil remains and at times to outright forgeries of fossils.
- Monkey-to-Man (Chapter 33)
Nye compares the DNA of man and monkey to find similarity in our makeup as a prediction of evolutionary thesis. Human DNA is 97% similar to mountain gorilla DNA and 98.8 % similar to chimpanzee DNA. This is no empirical proof but an association of data used to present a thesis. There is no conclusion of real science but a suggestion leading to hope for one.
Nye also speculates that modern man is only a fraction of a percent different from those who preceded him in the ancient past (Neanderthal Man, etc.). However, modern fossil evidence [Marvin L. Lubenow; Bones of Contention] proves that there is a unity of ancient mankind as the time periods in which various species of man lived are beginning to merge together into one time period. Nye misses this key element of the unity of mankind as ancient and modern man are one. Nye is likely to be familiar with the many hopeful discoveries of ancient man (Lucy, Peking Man, etc.) that are based on forgeries.
- Monkey-to-Man (Chapter 32)
Nye is also familiar with the inherent racism in evolutionary thinking. The idea that various races developed over time leads to some modern humans being lower on the scale of being closer to monkeys whereas others are higher on the scale. If Nye wants to believe in the descent of man from monkeys, he has to accept a degree of racism in his views.
However, Nye takes a page out of the creationist book to argue for an African Eve that will calm the storm of charges against evolution and its long past with scientific racism. Ironically, if not hypocritically, Nye dismisses the Biblical view of Adam and Eve and presents his own view of the unity of mankind. His lengthy argument for the distribution of color (aka race) is interesting but the unity of mankind cannot come from evolution; only racism can come from evolution. It is clear that the only true perspective that offers a non-racist view is creationism, not evolution. And the hopeful discovery here cannot be used to validate evolution but creationism.
- The Miller Urey Experiment (Chapter 35)
Nye is sparked over the famous Miller/Urey experiment, which for many evolutionists represents an empirical validation of a speculative thesis. An electric spark supposedly created life in a primitive ocean and atmosphere and was modeled by the famous experiment. Sadly, this type of evolutionary hype is typical of people who blindly accept the tenants of their faith without questioning the source. This hopeful discovery in the lab was not a unique experiment that validated a predictive theory but a repeat of an older experiment from which the theory was based.
Stanley Miller was a grad student of Harold Urey and conducted chemical experiments in which he was able to synthesize amino acids in a solution that resembled the evolutionist’s perspective of an ancient ocean and atmosphere. This experiment was based upon the Oparin/Haldane thesis. However, history records that Miller was not the first to conduct this type of experiment.
In 1913, 40 years before the experiment conducted by Stanley Miller, Walther Loeb conducted a similar experiment in Germany in which he synthesized amino acids in solution. Loeb, however, was not searching of the origins of life. Miller later gave Loeb credit for his work in producing amino acids, although it is rarely touched upon by those reviewing this topic.
In 1927, E.C.C. Baly of Liverpool England published his work in which he produced amino acids in a solution of NH3 and H20 and an atmosphere of CO2. J.B.S. Haldane read this paper and 2 years later (1929) published an article on the “Origin of Life,” citing Baly’s work. Haldane speculated that from a reduced (CO2) atmosphere amino acids could be generated that might produce life. The Oparin/Haldane thesis was based on experiments already conducted long before Miller did his work in 1953.
The truth is that the Miller/Urey experiment did not validate a speculative thesis but was based upon earlier experiments that subsequent theses were based upon. Experiment leading to thesis and then leading to experiment is not the process of predictive theories being validated. This is neither an example of empirical science or a hopeful discovery.
This hopeful discovery is more like grandma making chicken soup, daughter writing down the recipe, and granddaughter following the recipe to make soup that tastes just like grandma used to make. Miller just followed a recipe for amino acid soup (Umm Umm Good).
The experiment is simple enough. Of the 20 naturally occurring amino acids, 18 amino acids are composed of the 4 basic elements of H, N, O, C. So to begin making amino acid soup, you use need to start with a basic stock of atoms for amino acid soup (H, N, O, C) in the form of molecules (NH3, H20, H2, and CH4). Then cook (add energy to) this stock of soup (temperature and cooking times may vary). As a result of the added energy, the atoms will split off of the molecule when hot and after cooling they will randomly recombine with other atoms into new molecular combinations. This process is called ‘dissociation and recombination.’ Nothing spectacular here.
The Miller/Urey experiment did not create life from non-life but amino acid (prebiotic) soup. This is the soup that emergent life would need to eat for breakfast if it emerged or it would die of starvation. Subsequent proof has been presented by creationists that life cannot start from amino acid first theory or even protein first theory [<http://creation.com/origin-of-life>]. And because the Miller/Urey experiment synthesized both right and left handed amino acids, these amino acids could not produce proteins that are based only on right handed amino acids.
So there are numerous flaws to the idea of life coming from non-life that were never addressed by this famous experiment in 1953. And far from being an empirical validation of a predictive thesis, it is an example of experiment leading to theory leading to experiment. A hopeful discovery that is more wishful thinking than anything else.
- The Penzias and Wilson Discovery (Chapter 2)
Nye claims he personally met Robert Wilson, who along with Arno Penzias, made the modern discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB, CBR, or CMBR). This is another hopeful discovery that Nye presents thinking it establishes the origin of the universe and validates the Big Bang theory. However, upon closer scrutiny, we can see another picture of predictions based in part upon earlier measurements of data that only seem to be validated by later measurements of data.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, scientists like Walter S. Adams and Andrew McKellar were studying the phenomena of background radiation in space. In 1941, McKellar used Adams’ data to derive a background temperature of 2.3 K in the microwave band of 2.6 mm. This was the first time the microwave background radiation was accurately recorded; and it was more than 20 years before the famous Penzias and Wilson discoveries.
Although McKellar’s discovery went largely unknown, Fred Hoyle used McKellar’s information in 1950 when refuting George Gamow’s work [The Observatory (Vol. 70, p. 194-197 (1950)), a review of a book coauthored by George Gamow and C. L. Critchfield titled, “Theory of Atomic Nucleus and Nuclear Energy-Sources” (1949)] on predicting the background temperature along with his speculations about the cosmic expansion of the universe.
All of the major researchers in the field of cosmology, Gammow, Alpher, Herman, Dicke, etc. would have been familiar with McKellar’s work through Hoyle’s review. As a result, work on the Big Bang theory led to predictions of a temperature from 5 K to 50 K in the microwave band in several publications over the course of several years following.
The measurements made by Penzias and Wilson in 1964 were not an attempt to verify the Big Bang theory or cosmic expansion; Wilson didn’t even accept the idea of cosmic expansion. Penzias and Wilson were working at Bell Labs when they made their measurement of 3 K for the CBR that was a constant source of noise in the background. A friend of Penzias and Wilson, who knew the cosmologist Robert Dicke, made the connection between discovery and prediction. Since then, the cosmologists have hailed the Penzias/Wilson discovery as their own hopeful discovery.
The association of measurements with the Big Bang theory is a hopeful discovery that has yet to prove anything. Although claimed as a proof of the Big Bang and cosmic evolution, the discovery of Penzias and Wilson was nothing more than a later measurement similar to an earlier measurement, with a set of predictive theories in between the measurements. Evolution is not a predictive theory as much as a hopeful one; one of faith.
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.
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