Bill Nye
Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite (file)
Bill Nye

Poetic tone-deafness


The Screwtape Letters is author C.S. Lewis’ fictitious correspondences from a demon to his demonic underling, giving advice on how to damn mortals. I state this as plainly as possible because of the following misunderstanding: When the book was first serialized during World War II in a British periodical called the Guardian, an apoplectic pastor canceled his subscription with a letter stating that “much of the advice given in these letters seemed to him not only erroneous but positively diabolical.” There are some among us who have a tin ear to literature.

Next to Mister Rogers, there has been no more trusted name in America’s households than “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” Mothers across the fruited plain have happily let the Mr. Green Jeans–lookalike babysit their formative fifth graders since his avuncular voice first filled the airwaves in 1993, demystifying arcane mysteries like gravity, wind, digestion, and dinosaurs.

But the ever lurking danger of science unmoored from Christianity reared its head in Waco, Texas, in 2006 when the bow-tied Pied Piper of all things biological and astronomical spoke at a college, ridiculing Bible believers for their view of creation as the work of God. His gotcha evidence? Genesis 1:16:

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“And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.”

Thinking to score big points against religion—which he called the “enemy of science”—Nye explained to his audience that the sun is not a “greater light” but only one of many stars, and that the moon is not a light at all, not even a “lesser light,” but merely a reflection of the light of the sun.

There is nothing to say to this kind of poetic tone-deafness. It calls up another C.S. Lewis moment, in which a sage old professor groans to himself after listening to Peter and Susan Pevensie’s honeycombed reasoning: “Logic! Why don’t they teach logic at these schools?” Except that in the Waco case, the educational deficiency is not logic so much as an elementary introduction to poetry.

I take Genesis literally (and that is because I feel it is always safest to put the Word of God above the word of man). But even the dullest or most diehard literalist would not mistake Genesis 1:16 to be saying there is a trillion-watt light bulb inside the moon. Nor would the most poorly schooled among the children of God take the verse to insist that the sun is not one of many stars.

So just a word to mothers of sponge-minded grammar school children regarding their darlings’ TV viewing habits (and a larger caution about education in general!): Beware of lanky men in bow ties peddling science with a spoonful of sugar. If the teacher cannot tell a simile from a centipede, how is he fit to hold the secrets of the universe? If he has not the recognition of lyrical imagery we would expect from a high school freshman, how can he make judgments about the origins of man?

Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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