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Bill Nye, The Not So Great At Science Guy


I have a confession: I never liked Bill Nye the Science Guy. I like science and consider it a creative pursuit, but Nye always seemed cloying and condescending, as if, somehow, his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering were enough to give anyone an expanded view of the scientific universe.

I was a cynical child, what can I say?

In recent months, Nye has remade himself into something of a political know-it-all, engaging those with whom he substantially disagrees on politics in a manner designed to send shivers of excitement up the spine of, say, Reddit’s burgeoning atheist community. He’s taken on creationists and “global warming deniers” with reckless abandon, occasionally using facts to dispel cultural narratives, but mostly browbeating his opponents with sarcastic language in the age-old tradition of public shaming.

This time around, he’s partnered with National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) to show us pro-lifers how “anti-science” we really are by releasing a video “instructing” those who oppose abortion on the “real facts” of human embryology.

In a meandering statement that only briefly touches on any actual science and only rarely attempts to understand any actual pro-life position, Nye tells his viewers that those who seek to “tell women what to do with their bodies” based on declarations made in a “5,000-year-old book” aren’t grasping important distinctions that have almost nothing to do with the practice of abortion. To wit:

You have a lot of men of European descent passing these extraordinary laws based on ignorance. Sorry you guys. I know it was written or your interpretation of a book written 5,000 years ago, 50 centuries ago, makes you think that when a man and a woman have sexual intercourse they always have a baby. That’s wrong and so to pass laws based on that belief is inconsistent with nature.

I’ve been in the pro-life movement for more than a decade, and I have literally never met a single person who thinks this. Even as a Catholic who opposes the use of chemical birth control, the entire practice of Catholicism’s Natural Family Planning (or NFP) is based around the idea that the window of fertilization through sexual intercourse is fantastically small. It’s barely a 24- to 36-hour period.

Try Learning Some Actual Human Biology

While the belief that human beings created through sexual intercourse are worthy of dignity and protection underlies the teachings of Humanae Vitae and its ban on birth control, such a belief has little to do with opposition to abortion, outside of the basic idea that a human being is a human being from the moment of conception. After all, a woman has to find out she’s pregnant before she can elect to terminate a pregnancy—meaning the embryo has long since implanted, and so has begun to stimulate the release of the pregnancy hormones that trigger that little “plus sign” on the pregnancy test.

A woman has to find out she’s pregnant before she can elect to terminate a pregnancy—meaning the embryo has long since implanted.

But knowing that pro-lifers understand the distinction between fertilization and implantation (and, therefore, see no conflict between religion and science) requires meeting a pro-lifer and possibly speaking to one, something neither Nye nor his compatriots at NARAL have ever bothered to do (except, of course, for that one time they threw condoms at Carly Fiorina). Nye assumes that everyone who holds a pro-life position failed even a rudimentary course in biology, probably because we’re so backwards and uncultured that our tiny brains simply couldn’t comprehend a world outside of the literal translation of Genesis.

Or something. At any rate, Nye goes on to explain that science-y stuff is a real thing, and people smarter than you, pro-lifers, are hard at work so you don’t have to worry your pretty little heads.

You wouldn’t know how big a human egg was if it weren’t for microscopes. If it weren’t for scientists, medical researchers looking diligently. You wouldn’t know the process. You wouldn’t have that shot—the famous shot or shots where the sperm are bumping up against the egg. You wouldn’t have that without science. So then to claim that you know the next step when you obviously don’t… okay let me do that [take] again.

I’m certain plenty of pro-lifers are absolutely relieved that someone of Bill’s caliber is unraveling the mysteries of the universe that they simply cannot comprehend. It, perhaps, never occurred to Nye that plenty of scientists (who actually have advanced degrees, unlike Nye) hold pro-life viewpoints, or that those who believe abortion takes the life of an unborn child understand human reproduction.

Strangely, Nye doesn’t seem to have a complete grasp of human embryology, even though he’s tasked himself with presenting a “scientific” argument against the pro-life position. As I stated, his argument centers around the idea that not all fertilized eggs eventually implant, and, by extension, that not all implanted eggs eventually form into human embryos.

Size Doesn’t Negate Individuality

While that’s all true and unlikely to be challenged even by an ardent pro-lifer, abortion is the practice of intentionally ending a human life well after the whole implantation process has initiated. The practical pro-life argument is that a developing fetus subject to surgical or chemical abortion between 4 and 12 weeks gestation (or even further along), is a separate human life, with a dignity and destination all its own. Pro-lifers believe that such a developing life—all developing life—is worthy of protection, and that its size matters little compared to its individuality.

No single word Nye utters challenges the inherent humanity of a developing fetus.

Even if Nye happened to be pulling back the curtain on the reproductive process in a way pro-lifers had yet to grasp, he’d be making barely a dent in the political argument he claims to destroy. No single word Nye utters challenges the inherent humanity of a developing fetus, and no argument about the natural death of a human in the womb “lays waste” to the idea that an elective death for the same human is justified. Natural death, of course, can happen at any moment outside the womb. It certainly doesn’t give us the right to take lives of former fetuses.

So while Nye may have a lot of philosophical disagreements with the anti-abortion movement, he doesn’t seem to have many scientific ones (other than the ones he makes up, of course). He doesn’t like people defunding Planned Parenthood (although he probably opposes corporate welfare in other scenarios), he takes issue with the pro-life characterization of “unborn people,” and makes the logical leap that such beliefs make him more adept at understanding the abortion process than those who disagree with him politically. It may be masked as science, but it’s really just existential philosophy in a bow tie.

It’s too bad that “Bill Nye the Existential Philosophy Guy” doesn’t have the same ring to it.