Today we discuss a viral video from Bill Nye the Science Guy, a pop-science leader, who wonders whether philosophy can provide any real answers to the questions of life. A listener asks whether Bishop Barron would accept an invitation to appear on HBO’s “Real Time” with religious skeptic Bill Maher.

Topics Discussed

  • 0:16 – Bishop Barron updates us on recent talks/events
  • 1:41 – Viral Bill Nye the Science YouTube video on science and philosophy
  • 3:42 – Is philosophy really dragging behind science or, worse, is it dead?
  • 8:19 – Does philosophy ever provide answers that overturn common sense?
  • 8:58 – Bill Nye’s most interesting philosophical questions
  • 12:03 – Does truth require consensus in either science or philosophy?
  • 14:17 – David Hume and hyper-skepticism
  • 15:44 – How skepticism toward philosophy erodes the foundation of science
  • 19:31 – Bill Nye comments on René Descartes
  • 21:13 – The problem of dismissing philosophy without understanding it
  • 23:34 – Bill Nye’s shift from philosophy’s ability to net you a job
  • 28:55 – Question from listener: Would Bishop Barron accept an invitation to appear on Bill Maher’s show?

Bonus Resources

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13 comments on “WOF 016: Bill Nye and Science vs. Philosophy

  1. CTomaszewski Mar 29, 2016

    Love this show segment! Regarding your discussion towards the end on Nye’s take on philosophy students getting a job– It occurred to me, the top degree all scientists aspire to is a PhD – Doctor of Philosophy. Can you explain how this level of learning in the sciences at some point separated itself from the Philosophical approach to knowledge? Why was this top degree called this in the first place?

    • Fairly straight forward how this happened: Science is only about 200 years old. Science didn’t exist when Plato, Aristotle and many great thinkers of the past lived. They were all Philosophers.

      At some point, you can’t just sit in your room and think about how the world/universe around you works. You have to actually go out and preform experiments, which are repeatable, testable and all the gloriously genius parts about Science.

      A Ph.D. is simply leftover coinage from our past.

  2. MikeW. Mar 30, 2016

    I’m a disciple of Bishop Barron’s ministry, as he usually brings clarity derived from both high-level theology and philosophy, and doesn’t dumb-down either when engaging the cultural debates of our era. So it is out of love and for the sake of truth that I must tell you: The Bill Nye episode bombed on multiple levels. In the end, you did exactly what we all dislike in Bill Maher’s routine — a straw man was propped up and slain.

    First, Brandon naively referred repeatedly to Bill Nye as a “great scientist.” (Really? It’s as if Maher is holding up Jim Baker as a great theologian.) Trained as a mechanical engineer (B.S), Nye is a smart fellow, but has fewer scientific credentials than your average high school physics teacher. Rather, Nye is a sketch comic who found a niche as a science entertainer/educator and who — puffed up by “Science Guy” celebrity — has become a poor man’s spokesman for scientism.

    Further, playing segments of Nye’s audio was clumsy and failed to provide either context or clarity. Nye’s incoherent ramblings about philosophy (a subject he probably can’t define) did not offer even the semblance of a position to argue against. It was … well … incoherent, and it simply left Bishop Barron to awkwardly keep pointing out Nye’s obvious incoherence. The result left the listener wondering why a figure of Bishop Barron’s intellect was needed at all.

    I applaud Bishop Barron’s taking on today’s mind-molders of ‘scientism’, but this episode mistakes Bill Nye as being among that movement’s vanguard, rather than simply an entertainer riding its wave. Don’t waste Bishop Barron’s gifts on going after low hanging fruit. The elite of this crowd (e.g. Hawking, deGrasse Tyson, Dawkins, etc.) are those, who after reaching the apex of their careers in the study of natural phenomena, feel the ego-driven urge to stretch their ‘brilliance’ into the philosophical and theological realm, carrying along their many scientific admirers. Concentrate on them and don’t waste time countering the musings of their many parrots.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Mike! Sorry you thought the episode bombed.

      As noted several times, though, the point wasn’t necessarily to focus on Bill Nye, but to use his viral video response as a launching point for discussing the general relationship between science and philosophy. Hopefully you found some value in that! Don’t lose the forest for the trees.

    • Nick S. Mar 30, 2016

      I have to agree that calling Mr Nye a “great scientist” is a bit of a stretch for exactly the reasons you stated. However, I disagree with your assessment that Bishop Barron shouldn’t waste his time with someone who is merely “an entertainer riding its [scientism] wave.” People listen to Bill Nye. He has a great impact and therefore should be subject to scrutiny.

      I will also admit that I much prefer Bishop Barron’s videos to podcasts, but that’s my preference. You can’t become a “king of all media” if you only stick to one format. :-)

  3. Jenny Mar 30, 2016

    So happy to have just found these podcasts through Bishop Robert Barron’s Twitter! I can’t tell you how many times I have watched and rewatched the Bishop’s inspiring videos on YouTube and I love learning about philosophy. I too grew up watching Bill Nye videos in school and I think many people take his word without question since they are used to viewing him as a teacher. Therefore I am thankful to the Bishop for analyzing the actual *substance* of Nye’s argument. Thank you, also, to the whole Word on Fire team for putting these podcasts together–I look forward to hearing more!

  4. Simonas Mar 30, 2016

    A small correction. Brandon mentions several times that Bill Nye is a “famous scientist”. I would not call him a scientist, if one defines a scientist as someone who has a Ph.D. and/or has published in peer-reviewed outlets in some scientific field. He is a science educator.

  5. Robert Apr 4, 2016

    I kind of take issue with classifying Bill Nye as a scientist, his background is industrial engineering and he made his name as a science educator. That being said, I agree with the point that all of these folks try to make themselves experts in fields they are not. I find Dr. Tyson’s positions particularly egregious because he skewers those without credentials, yet his credentials are in astrophysics which gives him a relatively narrow area of expertise. He can discuss astronomy, physics and related fields. I don’t think he can discuss neurobiology, paleontology, philosophy, theology or climatology, all areas he addresses and pontificates on. The question of what is reality and our perception of it is a hot topic among neurobiologists. I also take issue on the fact that science does not answer any of the real big questions such as how should we live. It gives us answers as to how we can die really quickly, but now on how we should live or treat each other. It is devoid of morality and ethics. Those answers have to come from somewhere else.

  6. Very much enjoyed this program. One thing that crossed my mind as I listened was that some of the disdain for philosophy results from what CS Lewis called “chronological snobbery” – the rejection of ideas not on the merits but simply because they are “old.” It seems to me that in addition to scientism, this bias is very much a part of the present culture. If you look you’ll see it everywhere (including how the elderly are treated). Science is loved by the culture because it’s always producing something new. Mention Aristotle or Wiggenstein and the eyes of the millennials glaze over with the “that’s so yesterday” look. Would love to hear Brandon and Bishop Barron discuss this topic.

  7. Sam Kendrick Apr 8, 2016

    My family and I really liked the podcast. Poor Bill Nye; he seems lost and unhappy.

    Thanks Brandon and Bishop B.

  8. God she is annoying…but he doesn’t really have good credentials so on that one I can’t really knock her….wish she would stop lecturing…people will believe what they want to believe just like you do.

  9. James McDonald Jan 6, 2017

    I know this is nearly a year old. but I just got around to listening to it.

    Bishop Barron several times says that he cannot understand what Bill Nye is saying. But I think that is because when Bill Nye talks about philosophy, it is not the same thing as classical philosophy.

    What Nye is talking about (because he hasn’t ever really read true philosophy) is simply how he would talk to a typical American (usually), Fundamentalist, Evangelical–who likely also has never studied philosophy. Nye makes the mistake of thinking that all religion is philosophy and he is talking about the scientific irrationality of Fundamentalists (mainly regarding the literal 6-day creation view) and equating that irrationality with their philosophy.

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