Bill Nye's creationism debate encore: Answering all the science questions kids weren't afraid to ask

SYCAMORE TWP. – Bill Nye, known as “The Science Guy,'' followed Tuesday night’s debate with a Kentucky creationist with a Wednesday morning grilling from school children who asked about life after death, the scariest explosion he’d ever heard and traveling faster than light speed.

Nye spoke to the 51-member student body of The Schilling School for Gifted Children and at least another 150 other children and adults about his belief that science is the key to solving the world’s biggest challenges.

“The reason the United States is still a player around the world even though we don’t manufacture nearly as much as we did… is our ability to innovate – new software, new ways to grow food,” Nye told the kids. “And what’s going to allow us to innovate is people who are scientifically literate. Everything you can see in this room owes its existence to science.”

Nye hosts “The 100 Greatest Discoveries” on the Science Channel, “The Eyes of Nye” on PBS stations and “Stuff Happens” on Planet Green. He rose to become one of the most recognized and popular scientists in the lead role of the television show, “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” which ran on several networks over five years, winning 18 Emmys during that span.

On Tuesday evening, Nye debated Ken Ham , the CEO of Answers in Genesis and director of the Creation Museum, in Petersburg, Ky. Nearly three million people watched the debate, which was streamed online. Nye was on the side of evolution and Ham was on the side of creationism. Ham contends the Earth is about 6,000 years old. 

“I think (Ham) will lose ground. I think his followers will have to stroke their chins a little bit. We’re not going to change the minds of the true believers, but I just want to galvanize the taxpayers and voters of that area to recognize what’s going on,” he told reporters, referring to the support of the museum through taxpayer-funded roads and infrastructure.

Asked by WCPO to address the perception that belief in evolution and religious faith are mutually exclusive, Nye said:

“There are billions of people in the world who are deeply religious who do not share Mr. Ham’s world view. Like here, we’re in a synagogue (adjacent to Schilling)…Most of the religious people in the world as I understand it accept and embrace the theory of evolution, the age of the universe and the age of the Earth, that the Earth is not the center of the universe, etc.”

Nye said the reaction to the debate has been positive. “This will be another brick in the (pyramid) of making people aware of the importance of science in our everyday lives and its importance for our future,” he said.

Nye reiterated some of those points to the crowd in the first few minutes of the more than hour long discussion before a succession of Schilling students took to the stage to ask whatever science-oriented questions were on their minds.

Anna, 10, understood that the universe is expanding but wondered what it is expanding into? What makes up the void? 

“I don’t know the answer,” Nye said. “We can see to the other end of the universe – 13.7 billion light years – but what’s on the other side? We don’t know! Figure it out for us and change the world,” he told her.

Eva, 10, asked what kind of career someone who loves animals but doesn’t like blood could pursue. Nye told her the answer was to get used to the blood.

“Humans, all animals, are kind of a mess,” he said. “If you’ve ever been around babies, they’re loud and they leak,” he said to a lot of laughs. Good doctors and veterinarians are too important to let aversion to the mess get in the way."

While Nye expressed respect for the positive aspects of religion, he pulled no punches when asked whether he thinks that there is life after death.  

“Right now, I think it’s like we’re never born. It (stinks). I’m the first to admit it,” he said. “What we’ve got to do to the extent possible is value life every day. Value the people you love, your community and try to leave the world a slightly better place than you found it.”

Illustrating his point, Nye said that 82 years comprises about 30,000 days. One could sit in one seat a day in Paul Brown Stadium, getting a slightly different perspective each day, and not sit in even half the stadium’s seats.

Nye told the students that he believes we’re not alone in the universe.

“The Kepler space observatory found that every star that we look at has planets, and most have earthlike planets – an estimated two trillion planets in our galaxy. If there’s not anyone else out there, it’s an awful waste of space.”

Asked what the best policy change would be to improve science education, Nye said schools should emphasize teaching algebra and do it earlier.

“Algebra is somehow this big turning point for us. If I were king of the forest, I would focus more on algebra. You have to think abstractly and that apparently affects you in a big way,” he said, adding that it’s cheap since it doesn’t require using computers or training teachers on things they don’t already know.

The chance to see Nye

in person drew Max Miglio, 11, despite the fact that he was off school for a snow day from Hopewell Elementary School in West Chester. “I thought it was really cool,” he said after Nye’s talk.

Nye told the crowd that his path to being a celebrity scientist was an odd one, full of small breaks, not one big one.

He won a Steve Martin look-alike contest in Seattle in 1978, he said, which inspired him to start doing standup comedy. He earned a mechanical engineering degree from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and later took a job at Boeing. In 1986, he quit his job to pursue his comedic science routine, which led to his first TV show in 1992.

Did he have any problems growing up as a smart guy, another student asked.

“I’m no smarter than the next guy,” he said.  “You guys go to a wonderful school. Do your best to embrace it and of course have fun!”

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