Bill Nye: Science Guy is a good and interesting documentary film by two relatively new documentarians, David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg. Bill Nye is one of those on-screen personalities that gives young twenty-thirty somethings and science teachers the warm fuzzies. His gentle voice, his kind smile, his bow ties, his passion and zany excitement for science education are all pieces of what makes Bill Nye the “Science Guy” we know and love from 90’s television.
I am eternally grateful that my parents allowed me to watch Bill Nye the Science Guy on PBS when I was a munchkin, because I honestly would never have given a flying crap about science if it weren’t for Mr. Nye. It was nothing short of a miracle, in fact, that I was allowed to watch Nye’s show as a kid because the fundamentalist Christian community I grew up in had been upset, for many years, about Nye’s insistence on using evolution as a teaching tool for children. Somehow, my parents overlooked it, or maybe they just didn’t notice.
What I find truly interesting about this film, in particular, is that, although the filmmakers do their best to focus on Nye’s impact on the science teacher community and on twenty and thirty something adults, they push his defense against fundamentalist Christian creationists front and center. This film is not really about Nye’s Science Guy days but rather about the time he agreed to a debate with Ken Ham, CEO and founder of creationist organization Answers in Genesis and the curator of the Creation Museum in Kentucky. I was raised listening to Mr. Ham on the radio and many years later, watching him debate the seemingly gentle Bill Nye on live television; my illusions of both men were completely shattered.
As a progressive thinker myself, I find Ham’s arguments completely absurd, unfounded, and unscientific, but as a former fundamentalist, I totally understand where he’s coming from. When I was in high school, I made many of the same arguments Ham makes.
I agree with Nye in almost every argument he and his colleagues make in Bill Nye: Science Guy for human evolution and climate change education. Where I find myself frustrated time and again is how Nye and his colleagues treat Ham and his eager, simple disciples. Nye makes reasonable arguments, but he does it by attacking Ham’s deepest held, sacred belief system. As ordained Christian clergy, I struggle with Nye’s treatment of Ham and his community. The film itself reads as an attack on all fundamentalist Christians. My ongoing, frustrated question is: is it not obvious to both progressives and fundamentalists that “attack mode” has never worked?
I found it very refreshing when, during my viewing of this film, the filmmakers introduced Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health. Collins is a respected physician and geneticist who calmly explains that he is both a Christian theist and an evolutionist. The problem with Nye and Ham’s debate is that it pits one against the other as if by virtue of being theists, Christians are incapable of holding reasonable scientific beliefs in climate change and evolution. Much like Dr. Collins, I am a Christian theist with a deep sense of personal faith in God and I am also a believer in climate change and evolution. What Nye and his friends don’t realize is: they are losing entire swaths of support from Christian theists when they deem them, essentially, too unintelligent and steeped in their archaic systems of belief to learn the value of the study of evolution and climate change. They seem completely unaware that there are large communities of progressive Christians who are science believers and wish to offer Nye and his fight for the truth a strong sense of support.
Nye is depicted as a good family man, but an opinionated one. His siblings, both facing serious genetic illnesses, rely on Nye a great deal for support and care. Although I appreciate Nye’s compassion and contagious excitement for science, he is just not the same guy I grew up watching on TV. I am disheartened by the way he treats people who disagree with him, even if I do wholeheartedly support him.
Bill Nye: Science Guy was a conflicting viewing experience for me. I want to love Nye but akin to the current #MeToo campaign on social media, maybe it is time for my image of Nye to be shattered. He’s not the character he created on 90’s television. He’s not always safe. He’s actually a little prickly and harsh at times and, the rub is, it’s totally fine. Bill Nye is Bill Nye, a man who made science happen for many others and me. Although I am relearning who he actually is, I remain grateful for him.