Bill Nye and the Breakdown of Reason

I finally got around to watching the four-and-a-half minute long Bill Nye “scientific defense” of abortion.  Surprisingly, it’s worse than I thought.  Most of the video has nothing to do with science.  What we are presented with is Bill Nye putting forward some of the most illogical arguments for abortion I’ve heard in a long time.  Were I a pro-abortion advocate I’d find Nye’s defense of the position an embarrassment.


Before we take a look at his arguments, let’s remind ourselves who Bill Nye is.  He was the host of the well-known children’s show Bill Nye the Science Guy that aired from 1993 to 1998 and won several Emmys.  It was a good show that taught a lot of kids some good things about science.  But being the host of a children’s show doesn’t make Bill Nye a real scientist.  Bill Nye has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.  That’s as far as his formal education goes.  He’s done some consultation in the aeronautics industry, but seems to have no special qualifications in the fields of biology or medicine.  Ironically, Pope Francis’s master’s degree in chemistry makes the Holy Father a more qualified scientist than “the Science Guy.”


Mindful of his background and qualifications, let’s take a look at what Bill Nye tells us about the science of reproduction and the implications for abortion rights.  In the first 27 seconds of the video, Nye tells us:


Many, many, many, many more hundreds of eggs are fertilized than become humans. Eggs get fertilized and by that I mean sperm get accepted by ova a lot. But that’s not all you need. You have to attach to the uterine wall, the inside of a womb, a woman’s womb.


This, right here, is the sum total of the “science” contained in the 4:37 video.  And it’s wrong.  Yes, many eggs are fertilized that don’t lead to successful pregnancies.  Miscarriages happen a lot.  But Bill Nye is wrong when he says many more eggs are fertilized than “become humans.”  Maybe he means to say, “fully developed humans,” which would be more accurate.  But as it is, he implies that when a human egg is fertilized by a human sperm, the product of conception is something non-human that later somehow becomes human.  


If the product of conception (zygote) is not human, then what is it?  It’s a fair question to ask.  Is it some other species?  Or is it some sort of non-differentiated generic life form?  If I took a zygote to a lab and said, “I don’t know what species this came from.  Can you do a DNA test on it for me?” would the lab technicians, after running the test, scratch their heads and say, “Sorry, we don’t know what species this is?”  No, of course not.  They’d easily detect human DNA and say, “It’s human.”  But Bill Nye and other abortion rights advocates insist in telling us it is something less than human, a potential-human perhaps.  So what, in their view, makes a zygote or embryo human?


According to Bill Nye, it’s like Real Estate.  It’s all about location, location, location.  Once the zygote attaches itself to the uterine wall, it becomes human.  But that’s ridiculous on the face of it.  Since when does location define a species?  Why would Bill Nye use implantation in the womb as the starting point of human life?  The answer has nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics and pharmaceutical profits.  It has to do with how we choose to define pregnancy.  


If you went back in time a few generations and asked any doctor (or just anybody in general) when pregnancy began, you’d get an answer something like how Webster’s Dictionary defined pregnancy in 1913: “The state of a female who has conceived.”  If you conceive a child, you are pregnant, right?  Seems pretty straightforward.


If you ask an average person that same question today, you’d likely be told the same thing.  Unless you asked a politician.  Or someone from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, or the American Medical Association, who define pregnancy as beginning when the zygote is implanted in the uterine wall.


Implantation in the womb is one of many milestones that a developing unborn human reaches before birth.  Why choose this one in particular to define the start of pregnancy?  Because it can take several days for the zygote to implant, and if a drug kills a zygote before implantation (such as “Plan B” and even most birth control pills), we can pretend that it’s not an abortion because “technically the mother isn’t pregnant yet.”  See how that works?


What Bill Nye does here is take it one step further and claim not only that pregnancy does not begin until implantation, but that human life doesn’t begin until then.  To be very clear, there is no scientific basis for this definition.  It is a definition of political expedience.   


This is the extent of the “science” Bill Nye addresses — four sentences in a four-and-a-half minute long video.  From this point forward, he doesn’t even attempt to address matters of science.  Instead he gives us his opinion based on deeply flawed logic.


But if you’re going to hold that as a standard, that is to say if you’re going to say when an egg is fertilized it’s therefore has the same rights as an individual, then whom are you going to sue? Whom are you going to imprison? Every woman who’s had a fertilized egg pass through her? Every guy who’s sperm has fertilized an egg and then it didn’t become a human? Have all these people failed you?


Um.  Sometimes you hear arguments so unhinged from the real world that they stun you for a while.  You are unsure how to respond because sure, surely, you are missing something.  Surely he’s not saying what it sounds like he’s saying.  But then you listen to it again and realize, yes, he is saying just that.  


Bill.  Dear, dear, Bill.  There is a difference between someone dying by natural causes or by accident, and someone being intentionally killed.  Your argument basically amounts to, “Since some babies die before birth anyway, it’s OK to go ahead and kill them if you want to.”  Would you use this argument for infants?  Toddlers?  How about teenagers (some of whom really have their moments)?  Or older people in nursing homes?  Lots of them die of natural causes.  And that would really save us on medical costs.


The fact that you think this is a good argument frightens me more than a little bit.


It’s just a reflection of a deep scientific lack of understanding, and you literally or apparently literally don’t know what you’re talking about.


Remind me again what is the science I’m not understanding here?  And how do I “apparently literally” do something?


This is really – you cannot help but notice, I’m not the first guy to observe this — you have a lot of men of European descent passing these extraordinary laws based on ignorance.


Nye doesn’t tell us what “extraordinary laws” he’s talking about.  I assume he means laws meant to prohibit or limit abortion — such as the laws that existed in every state in America before 1973.  But assuming he means laws that limit abortion, those laws exist mainly in places such as South America or Africa or the Middle East — you know, places where brown people live.  It’s in Europe and places Europeans have colonized, such as US, Canada and Australia, where you find permissive abortion laws.  I look around the globe and I see a lot of men of European descent passing extraordinary laws based on ignorance that allow the killing of unborn children in the womb.  Is that what you’re talking about here, Bill?


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 mean it’s hard not to get frustrated with this, everybody.


Bill Nye here seems to think that the only conceivable (ha!) reason to be against abortion is because the Bible tells us so.  I’m presuming he means the Bible, even though the oldest books in the Old Testament were written about 3500 years ago, not 5000 years ago.  But if we can’t trust Bill Nye to get his scientific facts right, why expect any different when it comes to historic facts?  


Leaving that aside, Bill Nye’s assumption doesn’t address why Muslims oppose abortion, or why you have groups like Atheists Against Abortion, Secular Pro-Life, Atheist and Agnostic Pro-Life League, or Pro-Life Humanists (all of which are non-religious pro-life groups that I found in about five seconds on the first page of a Google search).  


But what is Bill Nye actually saying here?  He claims that our (presumably the average pro-life Christian) interpretation of the Bible leads us to believe that sexual intercourse always leads to a baby.  Who believes that?  I know no one who believes this.  It’s certainly not taught by my church, the Catholic Church, that actually makes use of the fact that for most of her cycle a woman is not fertile to naturally help husbands and wives space pregnancies.  It’s called Natural Family Planning.  Any “Science Guy” should like NFP; it’s very scientific.  


You can’t tell somebody what to do.


This is the kind of argument made by a spoiled child on the playground, not by someone purporting himself to be an exemplar of reason.  One of my college students currently doing a semester of student teaching at a local elementary school told me just yesterday about a little boy in the class who got in trouble for telling his teacher, “This is a free country, you can’t tell me what to do!”  That child was disciplined because he was wrong.  


Laws in general tell us what we can and cannot do in a civilized society.  Pro-lifers believe that abortion is one of those things what we cannot do, because it denies the most innocent and vulnerable among us — the unborn — of the fundamental right to life.  Bill Nye has yet to come close to addressing this argument.


I mean, she has rights over this, especially if she doesn’t like the guy that got her pregnant.


So an unborn baby’s right to life is dependent upon whether and to what extent the mother “likes” the father.  Is there a way to scientifically measure this?


So it’s very frustrating on the outside, on the other side.


Imagine the view from the inside — inside the womb, that is — with your very life hanging in the balance based on whether your mom likes your dad.  I imagine that’s rather frustrating, too.


We have so many more important things to be dealing with. We have so many more problems — to squander resources on this argument based on bad science, on just lack of understanding.


So far I haven’t squandered anything but a Saturday afternoon arguing against Bill Nye’s bad science.  I wonder how much time was squandered making his video?  But this seems to be an attempt to basically say, “abortion’s no big deal anyway, so let’s just not talk about it anymore.”  This sounds like the sentiment of someone who knows they are losing an argument.  1.5 million babies die per year through abortion in our country alone.  If you don’t think that’s a big deal, you must not even bat an eye over war casualties, school shootings, or terrorist attacks.


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.


Yes.  All very true.  Science is good.  Hooray.  I’m not sure how this backs up the arguments for abortion presented so far, however.  If anything, scientific advances as described have helped us to see more clearly the humanity of the unborn.  


So then to claim that you know the next step when you obviously don’t is trouble.


The next step in what?  Did I miss something?  I am guessing that Bill Nye is meaning to say the next step for a woman who learns that she is pregnant.  In that case, he is correct, it would be impertinent for me or anyone else to claim to know what the “next step” is for her.  What’s best for her to do at that point depends on a whole host of factors in her life.  But I do know that what’s best for the baby at that point is not be killed.  Killing an innocent human is never “the next step.”


Let me just pull back. At some point we have to respect the facts. Recommending or insisting on abstinence has been completely ineffective. Just being objective here. Closing abortion clinics. Closing — not giving women access to birth control has not been an effective way to lead to healthier societies. I mean, I think we all know that.


Here Bill Nye shifts from talking directly about abortion to talking about abstinence education and the availability of contraception.  I would argue with him against both of these claims (that abstinence education is ineffective and that access to birth control leads to healthier societies).  But then this article would be even longer than it is, and these are not really Nye’s main points, anyway.  Suffice to say, these issues are not nearly as cut and dry as Bill Nye makes them out to be.  So no, Bill, we don’t “all know that.”


And I understand that you have deeply held beliefs, and it really is ultimately out of respect for people, in this case your perception of unborn people. I understand that. But I really encourage you to look at the facts. And I know people are now critical of the expression “fact-based,” but what’s wrong with that?


I’m glad that Bill Nye at least concedes that the pro-life cause is ultimately about respecting all people — even unborn people.  Because that is really true.  Pro-lifers want to make sure that everyone enjoys their unalienable right to life.  We stand against any attempt by our government to legislate away someone’s humanity, be they the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, the infirm, black people, Jewish people, or whomever.  We all have a right to life.  


Bill Nye encourages us to be “fact based.”  But here we are at the tail end of this video and so far Nye has not presented us with any “facts” to support the continued practice of abortion.  What we have been given are his opinions, which have not been based on science or sound reason.  


Nye ends his video with a plea for unity.  “Come on, come on, let’s all work together.”  But the question is, work together to what end?  Because I’m not going to work together with anyone to encourage the practice of killing the unborn.  That’s what abortion is.  And that’s what Bill Nye is advocating is permissible in this video.  So I am sorry, Bill, but I cannot work together with you on that.  


Now, if you want to put your knowledge, talent and notoriety to work helping to make sure that no expectant mother feels like abortion is her only option, to make sure that every unborn child is given a chance at life, and to make sure that big companies like Planned Parenthood are no longer able to take advantage of vulnerable young mothers, then yes, I will gladly work together with you toward that end.