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Posted by on Feb 18, 2014 in Environment, Science & Technology | 11 comments

Bill Nye and David Attenborough Respond To Science-Deniers on Evolution And Climate Change

Bill Nye the Science Guy and Sir David Attenborough have both worked hard to use the media to provide education on science. This task is especially important considering the vast ignorance of basic scientific concepts found in recent polls, and due to political groups intentionally spreading denial of science. Both Bill Nye and David Attenborough are now taking on attacks on science coming from creationists and climate change deniers.

There is a valid argument that the debate format is the wrong way to confront those who are intentionally giving arguments which are counter to fact, and Bill Nye is far more knowledgeable at science than in political debating. He still deserves credit for seeing the importance of confronting science-denial. I previously looked at Bill Nye’s debate against  Ken Ham on evolution. Over the weekend he confronted a Republican member of Congress on climate change. The video is above and the transcript is here. Coverage from Swampland:

Bill Nye “The Science Guy” told Republican Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee to stop questioning the facts behind climate change on Sunday morning, as the Congresswoman said the “engineer and actor” didn’t know enough about climate science to claim authority.

The two sparred over the the most appropriate response to extreme weather events and global warming on NBC’s Meet the Press, and disagreed on the scientific consensus regarding climate change.

Blackburn maintained that there is no consensus in the scientific community about global warming, pointing to two vocal dissenters, Richard Lindzen of MIT and Judith Curry of Georgia Tech, who claim that humans are not causing climate change.

“Neither [Bill Nye] nor I are a climate scientist. He is an engineer and actor, I am a member of Congress. And what we have to do is look at the information that we get from climate scientists,” said Blackburn. “There is not agreement around the fact of exactly what is causing this.”

Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, according to NASA. Experts say there is still some uncertainty in absolutely linking isolated extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy or bad droughts to global warming, but the vast majority of scientists ascribe climate change and the increase in extreme weather to human activity.

Nye responded harshly to the Congresswoman.

“We have overwhelming evidence that the climate is changing. That you cannot tie any one event to that is not the same as doubt about the whole thing,” said Nye. “There is no debate in the scientific community. I encourage the Congresswoman to really look at the facts. You are our leader. We need you to change things, not deny what’s happening.”

More at Climate Progress.


David Attenborough has typically stayed out of these debates in the past, but The Daily Beast reports that he is now speaking out:

In the U.S. Attenborough is perhaps best known for the Life on Earth series that was broadcast on PBS in the 1980s, on the other side of the Atlantic he is an institution, recently winning a BBC poll to find the greatest living British icon. His work has often been diluted for an American audience, with his masterful narrations for Planet Earth and Life re-recorded by Alec Baldwin and Oprah Winfrey before they were broadcast on the Discovery channel. There have also been accusations that the U.S. network sought to downplay climate change in the shows.In fact, Attenborough says he has finally grown sick of America’s attitude to climate change. “I think it’s very sad that people won’t accept evidence for what it says—it’s extraordinary that one of the wealthiest, materially advanced societies in the world can support irrational myths in that way,” he said. “That they should do it privately is up to them but since what they do effects that whole world it’s pretty serious that they should not accept that humanity has been responsible for these changes that are absolutely evident to everyone else.”

You could hardly describe the response as knee-jerk since Attenborough has made a career of resisting controversy, often describing himself as “a reporter” with no views of his own. He does also have sympathy for those who resist the prevailing science on climate change. “There are very good reasons why people should not wish to accept it, because it interferes with their business,” he said. “I would much prefer it wasn’t true—but it is true and unless we can do something about it we are going to be in trouble.”

He has less time for those who deny the existence of evolution, however. “Every society in the world has found it necessary to produce a story to account for the fact that humanity is on earth,” he said. “The Australian Aboriginals think that the first humans were regurgitated by a great rainbow serpent in the sky, the people in Thailand think the beginning of the world was a huge pool of milk and a snake was pulled by demons, and the milk coagulated and that formed human beings and there was a time, two and a half to three thousand years ago, when people on the east end of the Mediterranean thought woman was made from the rib of the first man.

“If somebody says to me I believe every word of the Bible is true, you can’t argue against that degree of irrationality…there is actually a way of looking at the natural world and seeing the evidence and it’s all there. And what’s more it’s the same evidence whether it’s in Australia or Northern Europe or wherever. It’s all the same—it all produces the same answer and you can all see the evidence—if you reject that then there’s nothing I can say.”

Attenborough and his fellow naturalists have been demonstrating the science behind evolution and the fossils that show the development of animal species for decades, and yet recent years have seen an uptick in the number of Americans who believe God put humans directly on earth. One suggested explanation, has been the surge of unchecked disinformation available online. “Never before in history has the entire world been able to speak to one another. We are at the beginning of an extraordinary evolution as a species—one species is able to communicate instantly with every member,” Attenborough said. “I’m not so cynical as to think that ignorance will always win.”

Cross posted from Liberal Values

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  • slamfu

    The GOP and conservatives in general are only making themselves weaker with this kind of silliness. The world always moves forward on things like this. Always. They and their ignorant opinions on major issues like this will be relegated to the dustbin of history soon enough.

  • sheknows

    “We have overwhelming evidence that the climate is changing. That you cannot tie any one event to that is not the same as doubt about the whole thing,” said Nye. “There is no debate in the scientific community. I encourage the Congresswoman to really look at the facts. You are our leader. We need you to change things, not deny what’s happening.”

    To which she responded..” deny what? ”

    I would like to know where they get these so called” climate scientists” who are refuting the mountain of evidence. They always seem to produce one or two in every argument.

  • Quite often the “climate scientists” quoted by the deniers aren’t actually climate scientists. If scientists at all they are in a different field, or sometimes weathermen, which is quite different from a climate scientist.

  • cjjack

    I would like to know where they get these so called” climate scientists” who are refuting the mountain of evidence.

    I would like to know when strident denial of science became synonymous with conservatism, and why there are so few on that side of the political fence who will stand up and defend scientific discoveries no matter what their implications.

    Mind you, there are plenty of nominally “lefty” folks out there promoting anti-scientific garbage, but most of it has to do with diet, nutrition, and the value of organic juicing or “cleanses.”

    Yet when it comes to large scale stuff – like science that might mean we’re going to have to stop pumping pollution into the air – somehow self styled conservatives imagine it is all part of a vast conspiracy. Is it because of Al Gore and that movie?

    I mean, it is settled science that we can if we so choose inflict tremendous harm upon our environment. Chernobyl. Love Canal. The Cuyahoga River. The notion that we can harm our planet isn’t some bogeyman invented by the left wing, so why are these folks on the right acting as such?

  • JSpencer

    The video has been removed. And yes, I think a lot of residual Al Gore Derangement Syndrome continues to wreak damage on the mental processes of climate change deniers.

  • Video has been replaced with one from a different source.

  • petew

    I saw the side by side interviews between Bill Nye and Congresswoman Blackburn on Meet the press last weekend, but had to leave when she started repeating the myth that an abundance of CO2 in the atmosphere would be beneficial to plants, some of which are produced agriculturally. But, what many of us don’t know is that, plants taking in CO2 and giving off Oxygen as part of their metabolic cycle has never been unknown or denied by scientists. However, the research concerning its benefits, have concluded that such effects would be minimal and, when combined with deforesting the rain forest, and increasing CO2 resulting from unregulated industrial activity, would actually increase CO2 to dangerous levels. This is actually happening now.

    I also viewed parts of the Nye–Ham debate online and commented on it, on the Psychology Today website where I was amazed by the large amount of false “facts” and misinformation that Ham injected into his talking points, and, which really made no sense when held up and compared to valid scientific knowledge. And, I was amazed by the responses my comments received—mostly from Creationist deniers who are also filled with false knowledge and misconceptions about global warming.

    The YEC (Young Earth Christians) only endorse the 7 day creation story in Genesis and I was amazed to discover how many of them actually bought Ham’s bizarre and nonsensical claims about scientists who are “hijacking” religion when merely disputing his clearly unproven and unprovable fact. And, while Mr. Ham’s main criticism of science seemed to be the notion that since analytical and deductive reasoning,plus the use of fossil records and dating techniques, are only concerned with past events, they are therefore unwitnessed and unfactual—even though the Geological, Biological, and Genetic evidence that is often used by real scientists, comes from direct observations concerning the results of geological events, and the use of solid knowledge to interpret them—yet somehow this doesn’t stop Ham from endorsing Biblical creation claims that no one has obviously witnessed either. And, besides being contradictory, His entire rationalizations about scientific facts which supposedly can’t support Darwin’s theory of evolution, are entirely false, and ridiculously untrue!

    In my responses I made sure to state that I was not trying to deny christianity or the teachings of Jesus, just refusing to accept the bizarre notion that we must accept every bit of the Bible as true, because of the preconceived notion that God dictated it all unerringly to men.

    Many scientist are believers in creation—just not the 7 day biblical notion that Ham’s fans insists on believing, along with the notion that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. To maintain this attitude Young Earth creationists, deny that any transitional fossils have been found, and that dating techniques are based on assumptions. Both of theses ideas are completely untrue.

    But like Ham States, to argue with those who simply refuse to believe scientific facts, and who will not accept established knowledge, ultimately is foolish. One can only hope that eventually people will have the courage to think for themselves and not misrepresent geological, Chemical, and archaeological facts in any way that assists their adamant denial of all real evidence.

    This is all such a silly and circular game, that one cannot help but believe it is all based on the fear and uncertainty of being wrong, or having too many unanswered and urgent questions.

    ultimately none of us know exactly how the universe began, or what it all means, but we do know that Biblical history is not an infallible account of God’s wishes. So, to encourage other commenters to really think critically and decide for themselves,I listed this biblical passage at Deuteronomy 20:14-3.
    It reads as follows:

    “When the lord your God hands the town over to you, use your swords to kill every man in the town. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourself.”

    Apparently this passage informs us that a malicious and belligerent God regards the spoils of war very similarly as the vikings and barbarians who pillaged and plundered their enemies violently, and at will. Those of us who prefer the loving and non-violent account of Jesus’s teachings, can only doubt that this is the type of God that we need to follow.

    Its much better to discover reality and then adjust one’s spiritual beliefs in response to that knowledge—not the other way around. Unfortunately our current political and social reality includes many who deny fact checkers and are intent on making supposed “facts,” subservient to their own beliefs and effectively irrelevant. This is all very unfortunate, because when holding onto our own conceptions of the facts, despite all proof the contrary, we are only shooting ourselves in the feet in order to cure our bunions. And, the consequences of our denial will hurt not only ourselves, but all of Ham’s believers as well! Welcome to a Rod Serling dimension—made not of sights and sounds, but of mind!

  • sheknows

    Thanks Petew, the religious aspect also plays into this thinking..that “man shall have dominion blah, blah”.
    Sorry, I do not wish to be disrespectful to those who understand the bible as spiritual teachings, but as I have said before, only to those that view the bible as an instruction manual ( when convenient).
    Money also figures prominently into it. A lot of deals with the devil have been made to keep the largest, most controlling, powerful and influential industry exactly where it wants to be.” Oil runs the world” as they say.

    Reducing carbon emissions by other industries….money. Delayed development of hydrogen and fully electric cars for decades…money.
    Whenever you have money involved…you have conservatives taking a HUGE interest in their own interests.

  • slamfu

    One of my favorite lines in literature is from HP Lovecraft’s story, “The Silver Key”.

    In the first days of his bondage he had turned to the gentle churchly faith endeared to him by the naive trust of his fathers, for thence stretched mystic avenues which seemed to promise escape from life. Only on closer view did he mark the starved fancy and beauty, the stale and prosy triteness, and the owlish gravity and grotesque claims of solid truth which reigned boresomely and overwhelmingly among most of its professors; or feel to the full the awkwardness with which it sought to keep alive as literal fact the outgrown fears and guesses of a primal race confronting the unknown. It wearied Carter to see how solemnly people tried to make earthly reality out of old myths which every step of their boasted science confuted, and this misplaced seriousness killed the attachment he might have kept for the ancient creeds had they been content to offer the sonorous rites and emotional outlets in their true guise of ethereal fantasy.

  • roro80

    I truly hope that slamfu is correct that this is making the conservative cause weaker; I’m pessimistic on that, but that’s neither here nor there.

    In any case, I would think that some traditional conservatives would respect science and scientific fields. STEM fields are filled with people who are traditionally conservative in so many ways. STEM professionals are usually business-driven, economic conservatives with more than the average amount of money. Particularly high-tech industries would love laws that made it easier and more financially viable to hire American workers. Most STEM professionals have conservative-looking families, and the fields are dominated (in this country) by white men.

    As cjjack indicates in other words, the whole idea of conservatism has become so…weird. There’s a knee-jerk reaction to any tiny criticism of the USA, but an even stronger knee-jerk against anything that would make US business or people progress in power or stature. Science is one, but there’s also education, immigration, a million other topics. I don’t get it.

  • petew

    For what It’s worth;

    Is it just me or does anybody else think that the ramblings of Representative Blackburn were eerily similar to Sarah Palin’s confused and disjointed comments during her interview with Katie Couric during the 2008 Presidential campaign?

    Despite Blackburn’s “bird that swallowed the Canary” look, it was obvious to me that she had very little comprehension concerning Climate Change, and instead, may have received her PhD in conservative self-righteous posturing. Anyone who disagrees, please pardon me for saying this but, she looked like a Ditz, plain and simple!

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