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Bill Nye's Philistine Materialism

If parading vulgarity is cause for looking askance at someone's wisdom in other areas of life, why not in science? Watch this video from Bill Nye, answering a question from a college philosophy student on whether philosophy is a "meaningless" pursuit, as some other brilliant scientific minds have suggested (Stephen Hawking, Neil deGrasse Tyson). Nye doesn't employ any bathroom vulgarities but his answer reflects a thoroughly philistine materialism.

Olivia Goldhill at Quartz examines the brief video in detail, cataloging Nye's errors and misunderstandings. She asks, "Why are so many smart people such idiots about philosophy?"

Nye says, for instance, at one point, "The idea that reality is not real, that what you sense and feel is not authentic, is something I'm very skeptical of." Goldhill:

Nye's skepticism is an empty response to the question of whether we can trust our senses. "If you drop a hammer on your foot, is it real?" he asks. "Or is it just your imagination?" Then he goes on to suggest that the young philosophy student explore the question by dropping a hammer on his own foot. But such a painful experiment would not actually address the underlying question, and this approach -- simply mocking the argument rather than addressing it -- is so infamous that, as CUNY philosophy professor Kaikhosrov Irani points out on his blog, it has its own name: argumentum ad lapidem -- "appeal to a stone."

Just watch and see if you don't crack up when the credit in huge letters, BIG THINK (referring to the website that produced the video), comes on at the end. It's a like parody of a low brow dismissing something he is too shallow to appreciate -- to realize even dimly how much he doesn't understand.

Over at Uncommon Descent, Barry Arrington observes, "Nye sounds like old Uncle John discoursing on the 'big issues' after six beers, except he is stone sober." The same Bill Nye, celebrity science educator, regularly presumes to instruct us on other "big issues." You may remember, from the opening of our video Privileged Species, his pronouncement about how "I'm a speck on a speck orbiting a speck among other specks among still other specks in the middle of specklessness. I suck." (That last is a vulgarity that even my kids know they're not supposed to say.) Big Think also produced his viral video from a few years back on why kids need to believe in evolution.

Atheists like Nye, Tyson, or Hawking should be more circumspect if they want to retain any credibility in their public statements. When it comes to discussing all but the most technical questions in science, this kind of philistinism should be grounds for dismissal.