Friday, March 6, 2015

Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation- Bill Nye

Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of CreationUndeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation by Bill Nye
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having recently finished The Origin of Species I figured a book on a similar theme for my science book would be a good choice. My wife and I watched the Bill Nye & Ken Ham debate live when it happened- streaming on a laptop on the couch. I think that I come from a unique perspective in that I was a self-taught Creationist who went to a conservative, private Christian college that taught Creationism and Intelligent Design as literal science and who claimed to teach evolution so that you would be well prepared to argue against the enemy. At one point I was a member of the Creation Research Society and I have visited the Creation Museum. I then went on to teach at a public high school in a rural community and was questioned on my Creationist beliefs during one of my two interviews. As I have taught science I have always encouraged my students to question and to learn and I myself have done the same. As I did so my own understanding of the overwhelming evidence began to convince me that I needed to strongly reconsider my position. This eventually became a major existential crisis in my life as I sought information from both sides. All the while, at church I professed and even taught a literal 6-day, young-Earth creation. However, as time went on I became convinced that I must find some other way to make the scientific evidence that I see and the faith that I hold come to agreement or to abandon my faith. I kept the crisis from my wife for a while, but eventually this debate led me to the opportunity to be confidence enough to talk with her about my doubts. She had already started moving towards the conclusion herself that the two systems must find a way to work together because the science is pretty staggering. I don't agree 100% with my wife's position, I'll write about it another time, but she was instrumental in helping guide me to an understanding of faith and science. I don't know that I have been as critical about my beliefs as I need to be, but it will come.
Honestly, until recently all the evidence for old Earth and Universe made sense to me, except for evolution. Part of that was willful blindness and part of that is honestly just a lack of understanding due to incomplete education. My high school biology teacher barely taught the subject as was so afraid of the can of worms of discussing criticisms that he simply didn't take any questions that week, taught the material, and told us that we had to know if for the test, but that was it. My university taught some archaic, twisted version of it as essentially a cheery-picked and straw-man argument. The debate itself was a bit of a debacle. Both sides have claimed victory. However, and this might be bias, I think Ken Ham was smoked. In the end that is what led to his book.
To summarize the book quickly Bill Nye wanted a chance to elaborate on some of the points he made during the debate, as well as a chance to refute some of the other crazy ideas that Ken Ham tossed out. The audiobook version of this book was read by Nye himself and although books read the the authors are frequently bad, Nye with his performance background, pulled this book off wonderfully. There were plenty of enjoyable puns throughout the book, although at times they got irritating because they became distracting [although the recurring joke of his former boss being unevolved was hilarious- it just lacked the rimshot after each telling]. The book didn't teach me a lot, but it was enjoyable and easy to understand. It would be a great book to give a non-scientist who is sitting on the fence about the issues, or to a student who is learning the science and wants to dive deeper. There are a lot of examples that I had previously been unaware of and could see being useful for a teacher.
I have two criticisms of the book: first, I'm not sure that it will convince a Creationist/Intelligent Designer because although it does do a good job of presenting the science, Nye frequently oversimplifies the creationist perspective and that in the end will not win him any battles. Honestly, that is part of why the two sides disagree is because they talk past each other and because they focus on the weak spots of each other's theories, rather than on foundation positions. The other criticism is that Nye seemed to at times (especially at the end of the book) promote scientific hypothesizes that are not well tested, supported, or that he agreed with, just to make the point that science is testable and that there are other arguments, that if proven true, would argue against Creationism.
The one other point I want to address before concluding, is that I was surprised about Nye's position on GMOs. He is against them because as he points out there are untested, potential environmental consequences. I'm not sure how these could be tested without doing what we are doing already, but I do understand the concern.
Overall, I really liked the book. Bill Nye was more than able to explain the scientific view in an easy to approach and understand way. It would can serve as a great springboard to anyway wanting to learn more.

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