Bill Nye may not be a scientist. But he used to play one on TV. Now he is an honorary co-chair and speaker for the “March for Science” in Washington D.C. and elsewhere on April 22.
The choice of Nye as one of the faces of the March is revealing. March organizers have paid lip service to critical thinking and “diverse perspectives” in science. However, Nye is a good example of someone who promotes science as a close-minded ideology, not an open search for truth.
He attacks those who disagree with him on climate change or evolution as science “deniers.” He wouldn’t even rule out criminal prosecution as a tool. Asked last year whether he supported efforts to jail climate skeptics as war criminals, he replied: “Well, we’ll see what happens. Was it appropriate to jail the guys from ENRON?”
Real science encourages debate. It doesn’t insist that scientists march in lockstep. Or that they speak with one voice. In fact, scientists disagree on far more issues than the March organizers admit.
Models Vs. Evidence
Take global warming. Many marchers will wear their belief in climate change on their sleeves. On their signs, too. They, like Nye and others who claim to speak for science, equate belief in man-made climate disaster with science itself. If you disagree, you’re “anti-science.”
Yet there are strong reasons to doubt the so-called “consensus” on warming. But the popular media rarely cite them.
From 1890 to 1990, records show only a .45 degree C rise in global temperature as measured from near-surface thermometers around the Earth. Yet about 75 percent of the increase occurred before World War II, while most of the increase in human produced greenhouse gases occurred after World War II. So, human industrial activity doesn’t really correlate with the main effect of interest. Meanwhile, after a few warmer than usual years in the early 1990s, global temperatures have flat-lined. They show no net increase over the last two decades.
Most warmists’ models have predicted steep rises. But these models don’t match the real global temperatures collected after the fact. So why believe the dire predictions that those same models make about future temperatures before the fact?
Bill Nye, Al Gore, and former President Obama have said we must accept what “the scientists” say. To listen to the skeptics would be to reject “settled science.” But skeptics of extreme warming include many top scientists: physicists, biologists, earth and atmospheric scientists like Richard Lindzen (MIT), Freeman Dyson and William Happer (Princeton), Roy Spencer (University of Alabama, formerly NASA), John Christy (Earth System Science Center, University of Alabama), and Matt Ridley (DPhil, Oxford). How strong can the “consensus” be if such stars of science question the idea?
What About Neo-Darwinism?
But let’s say widespread agreement did exist on the question. Has such an agreement served as an error-free guide to truth in the past? The history of science says no.
Here’s another scientific issue to ponder. Nye claims the evidence for evolution is “Undeniable.” That’s how he put it in the title of his recent book. By “evolution” he means textbook neo-Darwinism. So the case for evolution is “undeniable”? In truth, many leading scientists, including evolutionary biologists, reject neo-Darwinism. Many biologists now doubt the creative power of random mutation with natural selection. But that is the core idea of the theory.
This past November I attended a conference of the prestigious Royal Society of London. The meeting was called to address this problem. Speaking first, biologist Gerd Müller listed the “explanatory deficits” of neo-Darwinism. He said those include its failure to explain the “origin of biological complexity” and the origin of major morphological “novelties.” It also doesn’t predict their abrupt appearance in the fossil record.
Other biologists echo his concerns. They argue that mutation and selection can account for “the survival, but not the arrival of the fittest.” That is, minor, but not major, changes in the history of life.
I say more on this in my book Darwin’s Doubt. For instance, neo-Darwinism fails to explain the origin of the new genetic information needed to build new forms of life.
Our own experience with computer code helps to explain why. Random changes to the digital characters in a section of functioning software code will degrade the information in a program and destroy its function. That will happen long before those changes can generate a new program or operating system. Yet, neo-Darwinists invoke just such random changes to the characters in the genetic text to explain where new genetic information comes from. Mathematicians who know biology say “not a chance.”
What Do You Mean By “Evolution”?
In any case, the textbook examples of natural selection and random mutations do not involve creating new genetic information. Many biology texts tell about the famous finches in the Galápagos Islands whose beaks have waxed and waned in shape and length over time. These books also recall how moths in England got darker and lighter as levels of industrial pollution changed. Darwinists present such cases as knockdown evidence for evolution. But that depends on what you mean by “evolution.”
That term has many meanings. “Evolution” can refer to anything from minor change within the limits of a gene pool to the creation of wholly new genetic information and structures.
Yet, as a host of biologists have argued in recent papers, small-scale “micro-evolutionary” changes can’t explain large-scale “macro-evolution.” Mostly, micro-evolution (such as changes in color or shape) just uses pre-existing genetic information. But the large changes needed to build new organs or whole body plans need entirely new sources of information. This explains the growing doubts about the power of natural selection and random mutation.
It also explains why many biologists are seeking new theories of evolution. As yet, though, nothing like a consensus is emerging.
March for Conformist Science
Don’t expect Nye or the others “marching for science” to breath a word about any of this. And that’s a shame. A real “March for Science” would celebrate scientific puzzles, disagreements, and competing ideas rather than fear them.
Just ask Italian philosopher of science Marcello Pera. In his book The Discourses of Science, he writes that science advances as scientists argue about how to interpret the evidence. They can only do that, though, if they are free to challenge established ideas and advance new ones.
Those who truly want to support science should defend the right of all scientists — including dissenters — to express their views. Those who stigmatize dissent do not protect science from its enemies. Instead, they subvert the process of scientific discovery they claim to revere. (For more from the author of “Bill Nye: The Perfect Talking Head for a March against Science” please click HERE)