There has been quite an internet and media discussion about the YouTube video featuring the well-known children’s television-program host, Bill Nye of “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” in which the science enthusiast tells viewers that teaching children creationism is “inappropriate.” And he is absolutely correct. This is one thing about which both science and Christian theology agree: a literal reading of scripture, that which seemingly grounds views like creationism, is inaccurate and does not reflect an authentic theological interpretation of scripture or tradition.

Those who claim that Christian faith does not allow for a belief in evolution as a scientific theory or explanation for the diversity and complexity of life in this universe has probably never (a) understood the science itself or (b) studied theology in a formal setting. The truth is that the aphoristic response that many theologians, clergy, and members of the faithful give in response to questions about the compatibility of science and religion (as the question is generally put), is that they are not incompatible. One area of study deals with questions of “How” (science) and the other deals with questions of “Why” (theology/religion).

Those who are Roman Catholic should read the incredibly important document, “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church,” by the Pontifical Biblical Commission (1993). Like almost no other Vatican document, the PBC uses some direct and strong language in discussing the fundamentalist view or literal interpretation of scripture:

The fundamentalist approach is dangerous, for it is attractive to people who look to the Bible for ready answers to the problems of life. It can deceive these people, offering them interpretations that are pious but illusory, instead of telling them that the Bible does not necessarily contain an immediate answer to each and every problem. Without saying as much in so many words, fundamentalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide. It injects into life a false certitude, for it unwittingly confuses the divine substance of the biblical message with what are in fact its human limitations.

To claim that the scientific theory of evolution is untenable for Christians or to challenge the veracity of other dimensions of modern science on the grounds that the Bible and Christian faith prohibit it, is not supported by the church nor by sound theological research.

The late Pope John Paul II famously said, in a 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of Science, that scientific theories of evolution are not incompatible with Christian faith and theology and, that as rational human persons in the our current age, we need experimental and observational sciences to better understand God’s creation.

Bill Nye is correct. Teaching children creationism, whether expressed as such or couched under the name “intelligent design,” is inappropriate and, as the Pontifical Biblical Commission suggests, is dangerous! Good job, Bill Nye! I knew there was a reason I always liked his program as a kid.

Here’s an interview with Bill Nye on the HuffPo and Here’s the now-famous video:

Photo: Stock

8 Comments

  1. I have been telling catechists this for years. Thank you for saying it so well, and providing the appropriate background. Faith and reason are indeed not incompatible.

  2. Faith through understanding…agreed. However, since faith is apriori, and we receive the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit (i.e. Wisdom, etc), we need to also remember the mystery and faith, and not allow science to become a false “religion”. We should utilitize science more to understand the mystery, while getting to a certain point of accepting that mystery. By using science to “prove” ones faith or to devoid the Mystery (presence of God as part of the inexplicable), Man places his intellect before that of the Divine Wisdom and Plan. This is the crux of the many moral issues/challenges we face today. Science may tell us the exact means of how the Earth may be created, but it certainly cannot tell us the why, and it has yet to create life without the pure essence of a man and a woman, created Imago Dei, and a gift given only by God.

    1. Yes, Matthew — You’re correct on this point that science cannot replace religion nor scientifically verify faith, the converse is also true (and hence why the Church says fundamentalism is dangerous), you cannot replace science with faith or scripture. As an aside, I prefer to use “human,” “humanity,” or “men and women” instead of the more gender-exclusive term “man” and its associated male pronouns when referring to all of humanity. Surely you don’t mean to exclude more-than 50 percent of the human race when using “Man” :o)

      Peace and good!

      1. Great post! I have a couple quick thoughts: This also addresses Bill Mayer’s fundamental misrepresentation (I don’t think it is a misunderstanding, but deliberate distortion) of the bible in his attempt to win converts to atheism. In this discussion he asserts, “If any of the Bilble is bull—-, than it is all bull—-“. He argues that if the Bible is not literally true in every sense, than it is of no value. My other thought is that science and religion are certainly separate, but science exists because man experiences an order to the universe that we can know and understand. Here is the video I am talking about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gy5ngLMUmC0

      2. Understand that fundamentalism can be dangerous, but one has to admire to a certain extent their ability to “trust” in God’s plan and the Divine Will.

  3. I certainly agree that scientific theories of evolution may be compatible with Christian faith, and that creationism (literal interpretation of the Bible, suggesting that the Earth is only a few thousand years old) is false.

    However, while creationism is sometimes called intelligent design, the concept of intelligent design may or may not refer to creationism. Intelligent design may also refer to the scientific theory that evolution and natural selection exist but cannot account for all that we observe (in particular, that natural selection can explain the evolution of life but not its origin). Intelligent design infers from this that some sort of designer was necessary to bring about the origin of life (not necessarily God, but God would be an obvious answer for a Christian). It’s somewhat analogous to the cosmological argument and fine-tuning argument, but applied to the origin of life rather than the origin of the universe. Here is a good lecture on this theory of intelligent design: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbluTDb1Nfs (it’s long, but if you can’t watch the entire lecture the first 9 minutes or so is a good introduction).

  4. i agree with bill nye.
    i too loved mr wizard, i used too watch him with our 3 children back in the 80’s.
    i love science, i also love my bible and my faith. i wanted to believe both of them were right, but how could i , they seemed to be at odds or sometimes polar oppisites. i also read and loved jared diamonds books – collapsed,3rd chimppanzee, guns germs and steel . then i read “the city of god by st. augustine” and found the answer. .. to how both can be true.
    augustine says in his book ” the platonists have discovered that he meant a begenning, not of time, but of a cause”.
    when moses opens genesis with “in the beginning” i had always understood this to mean the beginning of -everything – as most fundamentalist do , but…
    there never was a beginning to GOD .. he always was and always will be. so by applying platos logic “in the beginning” means in the beginning of this time around.
    this was life changing to me. with this logic i could now believe the earth was 5 billion years old, there were dinosaurs here 50 million years ago…god was here and done these things…the earth went through ice ages… everything science says happened i could now believe and also believe everything and every word -literally- of the bible!
    like bill nye i want young people to love science. i have 2 grand-children in college, and recentley i read an article on the internet by a college girl who was struggling with her faith and what she was being taught, feeling she had to -choose- one or the other, this has disturbed me. i feel there are many young people who feel they can’t believe both are true but with plato’s logic we can.
    brother marvin hedge pastor of the first christian church of west point ky

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