This is a response to Critiquing the “Critique” and the “Critique of the Critique” of Bill Nye’s Video at UrbanAstro.org. In that post, FURYGuitar addresses both Critiquing the Critique of Bill Nye’s Video by me and Bill Nye’s “Don’t Teach Creationism…” Video Dissected by Business Communication Expert in which scientist and marketing expert Marc Kuchner writes in a guest blog for Scientific American Blogs an interview with communication expert Patrick Donadio.
The background is that Bill Nye made a video called Creationism is Not Appropriate for Children that some viewed as controversial because of Bill’s approach, which is a bit strong-sounding. In addition, Kyle Hill wrote, on Scientific American Blogs, Bill Nye is Not a Businessman). Additionally, this conversation has drawn a number of interesting comments on those blogs as well as on Google+ and Facebook.
First I want to thank my colleagues in the blogosphere for the simple fact that this conversation has two characteristics rarely found together: 1) People are saying things that are in potentially strong contrast with each other; 2) People are keeping the conversation very polite by any standards, especially Internet standards, even if the remarks made by various commenters are somewhat edgy at times.
Responding specifically to FURYGuitar’s comments about the audience, in which it is noted that Nye was speaking at Big Think, I’ll reiterate what I said on that blog with some additional information.
Big Think is a giant somewhat elite meta-blog that has a couple of thousand contributors that produce content that is culled based on the editor’s ideas of “significance, relevance, and application.” (see their about page.) The topics are diverse and the political views of those who’s work is highlighted is fairly broad. And, there is a certain amount of meta-blogging going on there, including this analysis of the reaction to Bill Nye’s video which oddly ignores all of the blogospheric discussion and focuses on sources such as The Onion. So much for “significance, relevance, and application”!
My contention is that Bill Nye is in part talking to a certain audience, which is a portion of the people who are most likely to pay attention to Big Think. These are people who are generally well educated, interested in learning, all that, but who also happen to be in professional (or other) areas that don’t focus on Life Sciences and happen to include a lot of people I would call “Casual Creationists.” I’m reminded for instance of several engineers I used to know fairly well (my sig-oth worked for their firm). These guys ranged from liberal to conservative politically (this is the context in which I attended various liberal-leaning fundraisers and it is also where I learned the phrase “a bullet costs nine cents” as an argument for skipping the appeals process in Death Penalty cases). The centrist-to-conservative among them probably got their political views from the usual places, and probably learned that it was appropriate to accept some form of creationism. Young Earth creationism would be absurd to them but a god-of-the-gaps variety, or a divine guidance or even mild Intelligent Design system might have worked for them as well, had they not thought about it much. So, if asked in a survey or in some other context what they felt about evolution, they would likely have been tallied in the database as “creationist” of some form or another. But they are also smart guys who are in fact in the business of “intelligently designing” things that are complicated, and are probably less woo’ed by the idea that some things are beyond imagination in complexity, and they have some sort of science background and above all, they don’t want to look stupid.
So, if the context they palpably live in when the question arises (the survey about evolution, for instance) they may well give creationist-sounding answers. But if prior to this they are primed by people like Bill Nye or some other thought-leader type person to take note of the fact that creationism has broader meaning than just some detail about evolution, that it is stupid and that it makes you look stupid when you embrace it, etc. etc. (all the stuff Bill Nye says or implies in his video), they may well come down on the other side, with answers to the surveyor’s questions that cause them to get tallied into the “not creationist” column.
Much of the conversation about this topic asks how we can most effectively speak to people who have this or that belief. But I don’t think that is the appropriate question. The appropriate question is how do we make “acceptance of evolution” something that is normal and desirable and not embarrassing to profess, and at the same time “belief in creationism” something that IS embarrassing to profess, and better left unspoken.
It is a little like racism. In large sectors of Western society, saying racists things is seen as a negative, so even people with racist thought learn to STFU, as it were. In this way, the next generation grows up with a larger percentage of people who don’t learn to be racists as completely and overtly as they otherwise might. We don’t rid a society of racism by convincing everyone it is wrong (though that would be nice). Rather, we rid a society of racism by using social pressure to make everyone who has racist thoughts keep them to themselves.
Bill Nye’s video, I think (but I’d love to hear is opinion on it!) serves the role of encouraging that middle ground of potential “casual creationists” to keep it to themselves more than they otherwise might, helping, potentially very significantly, to move the conversation in the right direction.