Denial  by Bill Nye, the Science Guy ...and my riposte (Roger Callow)

QUOTE: '...If nothing else school teaches that there is an answer to every question: only in the real world do young people discover that many aspects of life are uncertain, mysterious, and even unknowable....' Interacting with the natural world, we are denied certainty. And always will be.' Micro Michael Crichton  2008


1) Both the scientist and the religious figure whom Nye would discount, both base their theories on the organization apparent in nature. The scientist would depend heavily on open-ended mathematical applications while the religionist would focus on the ephemeral Prime Mover behind such applications in what Nye would label a closed system dependent on human views apart from scientific evidence which in many cases disproves Biblical assertions.

2) First to empirical science in which during the Renaissance, the math of the early astronomers was applied to such as locating a place anywhere on the earth or, more importantly, the open ocean. Latitude and longitude - distance and time - with the latter being formulated 150 years later than the former to give pinpoint accuracy through applicable grid patterns. While the lines of latitude are parallel with different lengths as they circumnavigate the globe, the lines of longitude are all of the same length converging at the poles with the broadest distance between them at the equator. Hence we do not have a perfect mathematical grid pattern. That is of no concern for either the scientist or the religionist here.

3) What is of concern is that the above scheme produces an anomaly in that while we live in time, there is no rationale for the 'passing of time' hence rationalized by claiming we live in a kind of time called 'sun time'. For example, if I take off in a plane in Ottawa at 12 noon Friday (meridian means noon from pole to pole) and fly West for 4 hours, I will be over Vancouver where it is 12 noon on the ground and in my aircraft. Two hours later, I could be in Honolulu in a very fast missile; again, 12 noon on the ground and in the plane still on Friday whereas the evening is beginning in Ottawa. A third hour later brings me to New Zealand time but there is a hitch here to which I will return. Eventually I circumnavigate the globe and land back in Ottawa 24 hours later with no change of time on the plane ergo it is still Friday while on the ground it is noon Saturday. We can't explain that anomaly but we draw an artificial line down the Pacific Ocean so that while New Zealand is one hour behind Hawaii, it is on the next calendar day due to this artifice of accounting for the 'passing of time'. This is a blow to those wedded to science

4) By convention, time has two dimensions; the past and the future as the 'here and now' is as short as a synapse in our brain...did it really happen? A bee has a definable bone structure which permits wing movement at 230 beats per second according to Nye in defiance of the first law of aerodynamics. Does it really happen? Our instruments say so but not in a convincing manner with regards to our perception of reality. Perhaps the closest we come to the 'here and now' is a photograph. Two photos, one of our 'live' selves and another of our 'deceased' grandmother look - like Schroedingers Cat - as both being either dead or not dead  until we verify the matter through further investigation which does not require a scientific bent of mind.

5) As to the source of human existence, Rene Descarte opined that 'I think, therefore I am', a precursor to either scientific or religionist thinking. In short, perception is all important although the religionist perceives that an Unknown Prime Mover labeled 'God' creates a world completely apart from human control and one in which we can never expect to identify everything known to God. The scientist has no views on a Prime Mover as his scope is to add to the wealth of knowledge through scientific discoveries in an 'open-ended' universe.

6) The scientific method is a highly suspect system belonging to elementary school textbooks as the procedure of hypothesis, materials, procedure, observations and conclusions is highly suspect on all levels. For example the dictionary states that we do not conduct experiments on matter of religious faith (only scientific faith). Why not? Also science is expected to predict future conditions which are forever changing as new scientific evidence becomes available. In 1774, two scientists, Priestley in England and Lavoisier in France working in an age where scientific work consisted of changing lead into gold, came up with the first of what became known as the order of the gases in nature. Priestley produced a waste substance which he labeled 'dephlogisticated air' (how often have scientists produced discoveries through mistakes?) while Lavoisier in France labeled the same substance 'oxygen' predicting the existence of a whole order of gases which later became the atomic table. Was it just a lucky guess? In short, science is far more random in its operation than one would believe.

7) In the early 1600's, Galileo did battle with the Pope over the sun, and not the earth,as being the centre of the universe, a notion from Greek times. Galileo, however, sought mathematical proof for his theory which was erroneous in that the planets do not move in circles around the sun; rather in ellipses. His successor Kepler provided the correct mathematics. Newton's Universe was near perfect...for his time...as was Einstein's...for his time. One physicist in a University class of mine told us that until they disproved some of Einstein's work, they could not proceed further in physics. Light, it seems, does bend at certain speeds according to some computer models. Perhaps it is not the fastest speed available as I am going to posit in my definition  of 'the here and now'.

8) The 'here and now' in my definition is timed and timeless. In that synapse exists all the human emotions and their extensions which underlay religious thinking. For example, we may read romance magazines and dream of a future romantic attachment but until we experience that epiphany known as 'falling in love' ourselves, the experience has no meaning. It would seem to be a timed and yet timeless experience. So, I submit are these other experiences such as believing in the existence of God. These are matters of the mind quite apart from science. We have a 'timeless' nightmare of falling, falling down a cliff in a never ending experience (rarely do we hit bottom in such dreams) which, it turns out took all the time for us to fall out of a bed. People with near-death experiences report under strange contradictory notions of time and space as our minds drift away from bodily functions which control us while awake. In the late novelist Morris West (former priest), the experience of a priest is enunciated thus: 'A belief I hold to is this...we go from contradiction to contradiction forever seeking certainty only to find another contradiction...What separates us from the feral beasts is the love of mankind through our faith in a loving God.'

9) Nye would draw much attention to our evolution from the animal world without being able to pinpoint where a human intelligence distinguished itself from those animals with their 'instincts' (a label really defining that we do not know a lot about the impetus  behind animal behaviour). While there appears to be a growth pattern, the end results are radically different. For example, animal communication appears limited to their physical environment while that of man, through language and the written word, may extend their contact right around the world as well as be a product of past experience. Humans have an observable history of human actions; the animal kingdom does not.

10) 'Faith can move mountains' and at times defies the laws of nature; science does not as it merely seeks the 'fastest water route', for example, down that mountain.

11) Trying to plot the future such as in good ecological practices consistent with nature is a desirable scientific goal which must be conducted in the 'here and now' by people living in an oftentimes contradictory world which would deny such progress. The destruction of wars, for example, due to human temperament goes counter to such aims.

12) So it all comes down to the individual and to this biblical message: 'know thyself' for 'man is the measure of all things'. Religionists may refer to a higher power to guide that search but without a human receptacle, nothing happens.

13) 'Denial' as Nye uses the term appears rooted to the physical universe where science has the edge over religion due to new discoveries. But all these discoveries have to be filtered through the experiences of mankind and denial is actually the first step in advancing any alternative theory. While I find his book most readable, I find it long on science and short on philosophy.  Roger Callow February 2018