Tom Gilson

The Biggest Problem With It: Bill Nye Isn’t a Stoned College Student

The video is just fine; it’s just the setting that’s off. He doesn’t look like a college freshman, and he’s not even trying to look like one. He’s not stretched out on a dorm room futon, there’s no sitar music in the background, there’s no smoke in the air from incense and weed, and no one’s going, “Heavy, man. Heavy.”

Other than that, it’s a perfect replay of philosophy discussions I used to hear long ago. In that kind of setting, that is.

I wonder whether he’s ever cautioned anyone not to display their ignorance by answering questions in fields of which they know nothing.

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16 thoughts on “The Biggest Problem With It: Bill Nye Isn’t a Stoned College Student

  1. On a similar theme:


    Wanda: But you think you’re an intellectual, don’t you, ape?

    Otto: Apes don’t read philosophy.

    Wanda: Yes, they do, Otto. They just don’t understand it.

    A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

    One cannot help but think of A Fish Called Wanda when one reads Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion; or at least I can’t. You might think this is because the movie prominently features a snobbish Englishman or two, but that isn’t the reason. It’s rather (of all people) Otto, Kevin Kline’s boorish American diamond thief, who most brings to mind the good professor.

    Dawkins may well be a fine biologist – I really have no idea, though I suppose the fact that he teaches at Oxford might say something in his favor. But then, I teach at a community college, so what the hell do I know? Well, this for starters: that where philosophy is concerned, Richard Dawkins evidently knows about as much as Richard Dawson, though I admit that this may be an insult to Mr. Dawson. The one certain difference between them is that Dawson has never had the temerity to think his proficiency in his own field – hosting television game shows – qualified him to speak on philosophical matters. Yet the ideas on which Professor Dawkins’s reputation with the general public rests are not biological ones, but philosophical ones – even if, in some cases, they are philosophical ideas disguised as biological ones.

    Which brings us back to A Fish Called Wanda. Otto fancies himself a thinker; in particular, a philosopher. The trouble is, he is absolutely innocent of any real understanding of philosophy, though also clueless about his own cluelessness, which is where the comedy comes in. It is left to Jamie Lee Curtis’s character Wanda to disabuse him of his delusions of competence. “Aristotle was not Belgian,” she informs him; “the central teaching of Buddhism is not ‘Every man for himself’”; and so on.

    Had Wanda been looking over Dawkins’s shoulder as he wrote The God Delusion, she might have let him in on a few things too: “Aquinas never rested any of his arguments for God’s existence on the claim that ‘There must have been a time when no physical things existed’; indeed, rather famously, he deliberately refrains from doing so”; “It isn’t true that Aquinas gives ‘absolutely no reason’ to think that the First Cause of the universe is omnipotent, omniscient, good, etc.; in fact he devotes many hundreds of pages, across several works, to proving just this”; “The Fifth Way has nothing to do with Paley’s ‘watchmaker’ argument; actually, even the most traditional followers of Aquinas often reject Paley with as much scorn as evolutionists do”; “St. Anselm was not trying to prove God’s existence to God Himself”; and so on. And on, and on. Indeed, Ms. Curtis could have filmed a whole sequel to her movie, filled with nothing but philosophy jokes of which Dawkins and his ridiculous book are the butt. Let us hope that she would have been kinder to Dawkins than she was to poor, dumb Otto. Anyway, devout evolutionist that he is, Dawkins, like his hero T.H. Huxley, would presumably not take too great offense at being compared to an ape.

    Among the delusions of Richard Dawkins, then, is that he has anything of any interest whatsoever to say about philosophical matters, such as: whether talk about biological functions can be reduced to talk about patterns of efficient causation; what the nature of the human mind is; or in this case, whether God exists. (We will be looking at the first two questions ourselves in later chapters, and at the last one in this chapter.) One is almost tempted to think Dawkins’s research for the philosophical chapters of his book consisted entirely of a quick thumbing through of Philosophy for Dummies. Almost, except for this: Though I haven’t read Philosophy for Dummies, I would not want to insult its author, Thomas Morris, who is a very capable philosopher indeed, and the author of several rigorous and widely esteemed academic works on technical philosophical subjects. In recent years he has turned to writing for a popular audience. But since even the work in question seems not to have been “dumbed down” enough for the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, Dr. Morris might want to consider a simplified sequel aimed at the “New Atheist” audience. He could call it Philosophy for Dawkins.

    End quote.

    (From E. Feser, “The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism”)

  2. At about 2:10. Transcript (maybe not word for word, but close enough):

    “Where you start arguing in a circle. Where ‘I Think therefore I am’. What if you don’t think about it, you don’t exist anymore? You probably still exist. [smile at your own cleverness]”

    The whole video is pure comedy gold. Pure comedy gold, I tell you. It is just so hilariously funny (although probably not in the way Mr. Nye intended).

  3. I downloaded a copy because I fear that when Mr. Nye becomes sober again he will remove it from YouTube.

  4. Sadly, there are no doubt many young naive atheists trolling the internet who look up to this self-appointed defender of science as their guru. A lot of them, from time to time, even show up here.

  5. Here is a brief bio of Bill Nye.

    [Nye attended] Cornell University, where he studied mechanical engineering… [he began] his career at The Boeing Company in Seattle… [He] developed a hydraulic pressure resonance suppressor that is still used in the Boeing 747.

    Nye got his start in comedy after winning a Steve Martin look-alike contest, and [worked as] a stand-up comic by night. He eventually quit his day job and became a comedy writer and performer on the show Almost Live… Soon after, Seattle’s PBS KCTS-TV produced the show Bill Nye the Science Guy, an educational television program that aired from September 10, 1993, to June 20, 1998.

    So for all of you who have been cracks about what he says. He is a comedian! So we probably shouldn’t take him all that seriously.

    Here coincidently is the bio of another Cornell University Alum. Dr. Michael Guillen (Ph.D.).

    A native of East Los Angeles, Dr. Guillen earned his B.S. from UCLA and his Ph.D. in physics, mathematics and astronomy from Cornell University. For eight years thereafter, he distinguished himself as an award-winning physics instructor at Harvard University.

    A three-time Emmy Award winner, best-selling author… Dr. Michael Guillen is known and loved by millions as the ABC News Science Editor, a post he filled for fourteen years (1988-2002). In that capacity, he appeared regularly on Good Morning America, 20/20, Nightline and World News Tonight. He is host of “Where Did It Come From?” a popular, weekly, one-hour primetime series for The History Channel that debuted in Fall 2006.

    Before yesterday (3/9/15) I had never heard of this guy.

    However, recently he wrote a book, Amazing Truths: How Science and the Bible Agree.

    Unlike his fellow alumnus Bill Nye, Dr. Guillen has a profound respect for not only science, but philosophy, theology and religion as well.

    Here is an interview where he discusses his book at length:

    Like Nye, he also has a sense of humor. However, I don’t think he has done comedy clubs.

  6. I disagree. I think he is stoned. He doesn’t finish a thought, let alone reply to a question. I’m in awe of the arrogance which records this meandering babble and sends it out to the entire world.

  7. I’ll have to agree with you on everything there, Mad — except for the record, I don’t believe he’s literally stoned, and I don’t think you’re making that literal charge either. Otherwise, yes. It’s quite an amazing “big think” he’s recorded for us to see here. I’d hate to see a medium-sized think.

  8. No, Stephen Hawking said, “Philosophy is dead.”

    Anyway, Nye, and I am saying loosely, is a bit more coherent than the definition Lawrence Krauss gave on philosophy and nothing. From the transcript of the debate he had with Dr. Craig:

    Well, let me just say that philosophy and “nothing”—when we talk what nothing is—to go back, it’s something I think it’s important—I want to go back to what I was going to say before. That nothing—Philosophy has taught us something about “nothing.” What it’s taught us of is the definition of “nothing” is that which philosophy has taught us about “nothing.” Because what we learned to understand, when it comes to nothingness is not what we think in our minds but what the world tells us. This is one kind of nothing. The nothingness in Hawking’s theory is another kind of nothing. And then nothingness in which there’s no laws of nature, they’re random, they occur with different laws everywhere and physics is an environmental accident, is another kind of nothing; another kind of universe without cause, multiverse without cause, without beginning, without end. We don’t know what the right answer is. But we’re willing to look at all the possibilities. But none of them require anything supernatural. (Then you’re not looking at ALL the possibilities.)

  9. Well spotter Richard:

    “…But we’re willing to look at all the possibilities. But none of them require anything supernatural…”

    You are exactly right.

    Reminds me of the new atheist “reject all gods but one; we just reject one more” line. In this case Krauss “accepts all possibilities but one; we just reject that one” — and that is based not on science that follows the evidence wherever it leads, but on bias. LOL

  10. Well spotted Richard:

    “…But we’re willing to look at all the possibilities. But none of them require anything supernatural…”

    You are exactly right.

    Reminds me of the new atheist “reject all gods but one; we just reject one more” line. In this case Krauss “accepts all possibilities but one; we just reject that one” — and that is based not on science that follows the evidence wherever it leads, but on bias. LOL

  11. Here are a couple of minor corrections that I was not able to make at #8 because the edit feature timed out on me.

    First, I had left the italicized word out of the following statement.

    “So for all of you who have been making cracks about what he says. He is a comedian! So we probably shouldn’t take him all that seriously.”

    It’s not a big deal. It’s just that I thought it was worth repeating. 

    Also, I accidently double posted the link to Guillen’s interview on the Eric Metaxas Show. However, I had meant for the link after the book title to be to Amazon. Here is that link:

    Please take a look at the free preview chapter and the table of contents. It should be obvious that Guillen’s main argument is that there are fundamental philosophical assumptions we need to make in order to even be able to do science. These assumptions are not self-evidently true and are not themselves scientifically provable. But furthermore, they are very consistent with a Christian-theist worldview.

    In other words, Bill Nye doesn’t know what he is talking about.

  12. The book JAD touched on is helpful.


    Random FYI here:

    Always a fan of a library and books, of late the Kindle versions have helped out in these “blog” settings as it makes searching / finding / quoting much more streamlined.

    You’ll have to convert it all to HTML and, like copying text from THIS blog it does not initially paste into Word etc. very smoothly.

    The page helps with converting…… just pasting into the box and not converting it gets it straight to “normal” word format (just paste it, then copy it, then go back to Word or whatever). Also, if you convert it in their box, it does the HTML thing…… although you have to watch out for paragraph breaks (the HTML) which you have to remove one space from etc… Buying an official version would be easier (there are many out there, this one is mentioned simply b/c it’s free etc.) as that little snag will go away.

    If you use the “HTML Compression” option (on the right) it will get rid of all of those paragraph-breaks and etc. and make it more streamlined.

  13. If something cannot come into existence uncaused form nothing (and by nothing I don’t mean Krauss’ phony something-nothing) then something must have always existed. For the naturalist or materialist that something must be contingent matter-energy. Which means he must be committed to an infinite regress of natural causes. Such a regress is unproven and scientifically unprovable. Therefore, the naturalist/materialist is positing a non-scientific philosophical assumption. Right there we have proven that Bill Nye’s views on philosophy are either dishonest or very much uninformed. Is there another option? Maybe but I can’t think of one.

    The late Cornell university astronomer Carl Sagan didn’t seem be quite as uniformed as Nye. However, he also made a number of blunders. For example, in his book Broca’s Brain, in a chapter titled, “A Sunday Sermon,” Sagan appears to vacillate about the relationship of science and religion. At times he seems to be sounding a conciliatory note, but then, at other times, he’s confrontational. For example, he writes, “A universe that is infinitely old and a God who is infinitely old are, I think, equally deep mysteries.” But a few pages earlier he praises a book by Cornell universities’ founder and first president, Andrew Dickson White, entitled A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. However, despite Sagan’s enthusiastic endorsement, White’s book has almost universally been discredited by historians of science as being more an anti-religious propaganda piece, rather than a work of serious scholarship. Most of them reject the so-called warfare thesis put forth in White’s book as a myth. The relationship between science and the Christian faith is much more complicated and nuanced than White implies. Sagan, however, appears to uncritically swallow White’s thesis hook-line-and-sinker.

    Nevertheless to his credit, because he was committed to a naturalistic worldview, Sagan argued that his world view required an infinite regress of causes. However, is such an infinite regress something that is scientifically provable? Sagan dodges this by simply assuming that if the regress of causes are natural then such a position is scientific. Never mind the subtle sleight of hand bait and switch. However, even if it is not provable is it at least possible?

    Sagan thought it was at least possible. He thought it was possible we lived in an oscillating universe that has gone through an infinite number of cycles, each cycle beginning with a new Big Bang which then ultimately collapses on itself. However that idea has since been discredited. It is now known that the universe is expanding too quickly to ever collapse back on itself. So, we do not live in an oscillating universe.

    I suspect that if Sagan were alive today, he would believe some version of the multiverse hypothesis. Why? Because he had an a priori commitment to naturalism. That means the explanation for our existence has to be ABG (anything but God.) However, such a view is neither logically nor metaphysically necessary.

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