An open letter to Bill Nye, the Science Guy

Dear Bill,                                                                                              Sunday 2nd Feb 2014

We’re sorry. We’re really sorry.

We know how you American rationalists think of us Aussies. You think we’re all so busy clinging on to the bottom of the world with our fingertips that we don’t have time to waste concerning ourselves with silly creationist ideas – that we’re a haven of straightforward logical thinking, secular education, free healthcare and good-looking half-clothed beach bunnies.

But we’re really sorry, Bill – Ken Ham is our fault, and it’s time we took responsibility for him. We, the people of Australia, have allowed our zealots to escape to your fair shores. It’s not just Ham, either. Fine specimens like Gary Bates, who left for the forgiving climes of Georgia, still manages to send his tentacled pods back over the Pacific and feed our kids rubbish about how the earth is only 6000 years old – a particular head-scratcher for our Indigenous population, whose families have been here since 50,000 BCE. I mean, talk about breathtakingly rude.

We’ve been slack, Bill. Our practically secular society let us get complacent; we didn’t notice years ago, when the scripture classes that had slid in sideways last century were commandeered by proselytising evangelicals who set about “making disciples” of our children. We let slide our government handing over of wads of tax dollars to create a raft of fundamentalist religious schools who teach kids the kind of hogwash that you will have to endure from Ken Ham in your debate.  In fact, Bill, just this week, when Professor Marion Maddox nailed a copy of her exemplary new book Taking God To School to our doors, it was a stark reminder of just how much we’d let our secular-ish, sunburnt paradise go.  And now, any attempt to reverse the process has been met with squealing about “our Christian heritage” from people who often don’t understand either Christianity OR heritage.

To our shame, decades of preoccupation with things like Olympic medal tallies and football players has made Australia into the “Typhoid Mary” of Creationism: we were rubbishing America for its anti-evolutionists and didn’t even notice that we were the ones exporting young-earth evangelism to your great nation, where unfortunately there is no tariff on craziness. We are so, so sorry.

So on Tuesday, when you’re roasting the Ham and his patently ridiculous ideas on the rotisserie of logic, tell him you’ve got a message from Australia. Tell him from us that we used his state-issued Akubra hat to cover a hole in the national chookhouse shed, that he is no longer entitled to use his formal Australian name (Kenno) and that he is now forbidden any Tim Tams – ever again. Also, that whenever his name comes up at Christmas, while we sit around drinking white wine in the sun, there will be a formal awkward silence of twenty to forty seconds, until someone brightly offers everyone pudding. And if you could manage to kick him in the shins and tell him and his ilk to leave our kids alone, Bill – we’d owe you one.

Best Regards,

Secular Coalition of Australia (SECOA)
on behalf of the sensible people of Australia.

P.S. We take no responsibility for Ray Comfort. He’s a Kiwi.

 

Why did we write this letter?

As Australians who value the proud secular heritage of our Commonwealth, and who, perhaps more than any peoples, owe our prosperity to the values of the Enlightenment and a passion for scientific discovery, we can no longer remain silent in the face of an increasingly obscene role Australians play in spreading the backward beliefs of “biblical creationism” and the insane idea that the earth is only 6,000 years old.

This apology, on the eve of the embarrassing spectacle of Bill Nye’s debate with Australian Ken Ham, is intended to admit the pernicious role Australians play in destroying children’s understanding of our world in favour of fundamentalist dogma based on the idea that the Bible is literally true and that the events described in Genesis hold scientific explanatory power.

Most educated people falsely assume that Americans are the primary source of the contagion of biblical literalism. However, the facts show that Australians are a major vector of this contagion, both at home and, even more inexcusably, in many other countries, including America.

The “Creation Museum” was founded by Ken Ham, who earned a Bachelor of Applied Science, with an emphasis in Environmental Biology, at Queensland Institute of Technology and a Diploma in Education from the University of Queensland.  This “museum” is by far the most embarrassing, but not the only, example of Australian “anti-knowledge” wrecking the public understanding of science by promulgating the absurd beliefs of creationism.

Equally baleful is “Creation Ministries International” (CMI), which maintains its headquarters in Brisbane, Queensland, but is run by Gary Bates from offices located in Georgia, where it produces a torrent of science denial aimed at children, and maintains the leading creationism website.

Since its founding in 1977 by Adelaide’s Dr. Carl Wieland, CMI has worked tirelessly to destroy children’s conceptual understanding of the natural world.  Other Australians have also created epic works of ignorance, with profoundly negative impacts on education, such as the influential book, Evolution: A Theory In Crisis by Australian, Michael Denton, which inspired the founder of the Discovery Institute, Philip Johnson.

The truth is that Australians have been a kind of “Typhoid Mary”, spreading a disease which appears to not infect them (though that is changing) and which has virulent and debilitating impacts in other countries.  Even though our scientists raised a warning about the teaching of Intelligent Design in 2005 (in a brief moment of alertness before they dropped the ball again), our nation has effectively ignored this scourge or pretended it wasn’t our problem – or even a problem at all.

Perhaps least excusable, from the perspective of Australians, is that the beliefs of creationists deny the heritage of the original inhabitants of this continent, who science has discovered to have continuously lived here on the order of ten times longer than Australian creationists think the earth has existed!

No belief could be more insulting to the Indigenous people of Australia than denying children knowledge of the facts about the heritage of the first peoples of this land.  We acknowledge and give our respect to the elders past and present of these people whom Ken Ham erroneously interprets through the Mosaic account – as opposed to the scientific one.

Therefore, as Australians, we must admit the trespasses committed against science, both here and abroad, by Australian born vectors of this pernicious disease – and apologise for the vigour with which they work to destroy children’s understanding of our world.

We also recognise the revelations contained in Professor Marion Maddox’s new book:  Taking God to School  (Allen & Unwin Jan. 2014) which raises important questions about the role the Australian government plays in funding groups who seek to undermine the public understanding of science.  We call on our government to apologise for the disinformation spread in schools – both here and abroad – by those who are blinded by their dogmatic fervour into denying even the basic facts of existence of our first peoples.

We can only confess shame in causing Bill Nye and others to have to confront this in their own country due in large part to Australia’s carelessness in the provision of education that has produced and exported such horrific human ignorance.

We trust that Americans will not judge all Australians by the appalling spectacle Bill will be faced with in Kentucky, and we hope Bill will not allow Ken Ham to avoid atoning for his denial of our Aboriginal heritage or the rich biodiversity that is explained only by evolutionary science.

We are with Bill Nye and other American educationalists in solidarity, and will commit ourselves to working for better hygiene in our schools and in doing our part to stop the contagion so carelessly spread – and, until now, allowed to go largely denied.


36 Comments

    • Dr Meredith Doig

      Dear Bill,

      People like Ken Ham openly disdain the very thing that makes humans human – our rationality. It’s going to be embarrassing to hear his Australian accent spouting prehistoric nonsense — this time, we’ll be barracking for the Yank. On behalf of those who still value science and evidence rather than superstition and bigotry, give him hell!

      Meredith Doig
      President, Rationalist Society of Australia Inc.

      reply
  • Open Letter to Bill Nye | Secular Coalition of Australia

    • Cindy Gordon

      Brilliant! Simply brilliant!
      Team Nye!

      reply
    • Dave Musgrave

      A wonderful, witty and well-written letter! I have shared this on many, many Facebook pages so hopefully it’ll go viral!

      Dave Musgrave
      President
      Atheist Community of South-East Queensland Inc.

      reply
    • Dawn Baker

      Written in the best laconic, Aussie style – yes we let the secular ball drop – who knew that there was a new horde of wilful ignoramus wanting to take us back to the myths of Eden!

      reply
    • Marion Maddox

      Australia was a world pioneer of “free, compulsory and secular” education: a triumph of people with many different religious views working together for their children’s and their communities’ benefit; and a heritage to cherish.

      reply
    • Luke Spartalis

      Great letter that highlights the importance of a secular education system. I look forward to watching this debate.

      reply
    • Iris Vander Pluym

      “beach bunnies”? You really had to go there in an otherwise great letter?

      reply
      • JimJFox

        RELAX, Iris! Your strident feminism is showing.

        reply
    • ORAXX

      Bill, you’re a great guy, but you’re making a mistake. Debating a moron only lends the moron credibility. No scientific question, be it evolution or anything else, was ever resolved on the basis of a debate. Evidence is the only thing that matters in science.

      reply
      • Rick

        Couldn’t agree more. The best way to deal with these people is to not deal with them. No evidence equals no argument.

        reply
    • Rudy from Canada

      As an Atheist, I feel I must make fun of creationists because they’re so nucking stupid.
      Don’t worry Australia. The USA is still numero uno when it comes to idiots.

      reply
    • Pluto Animus

      On behalf of American rationalists, I cannot accept your apology.

      We’re still waiting for an apology for Crocodile Dundee!

      reply
      • Eric Waggle

        I don’t know… we might owe THEM the apology for that one…

        reply
        • Eric Waggle

          After a bit of research, nope, I was wrong.

          reply
      • JimJFox

        Nah! That’s not a knife!

        reply
        • JimJFox

          And this ain’t an apology!

          reply
    • AronRa

      Bill, do explain to Ham’s audience how science really works, and why it is that creationism always fails in the realm of peer review. Many of us who couldn’t tickets will see the live stream at debate watching parties. The Dogma Debate crew will be watching together, and we’d like to have you on our show soon after.

      reply
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    • Roger M

      Lovely, well written and much welcomed.
      A heartfelt thank you to every single secular Aussie.
      Keep speaking up!

      All the best from the biblical beltish Alabama, USA
      Roger

      reply
    • John Lennox

      Bill Nye will be facing a stacked audience in his depate with Ken Ham. With the “debate” taking place in the antiscience propaganda mill they call a museum any vote on the results will be of no value. I hope that others, news outlets, student groups, science classes etc. will watch the spectacle and discuss the results. I don’t propose that truth is determined by vote, but perhaps a few non-selected groups reporting their opinions will help to redress the expected landslide of creationist applause. In the unexpcted event that a sizable proportion of the debates audience supports Bill Nye’s position, this might be considered a minor miracle in itself.

      reply
    • Steve C

      As a kiwi ,living in San Francisco, I’ll appologize for letting Ray Comfort escape,we should have been more careful.
      He is about my age,and from my part of the country.I actually wrote to his website email and asked him what happened.I mean we both went through the same school system,about the same time,shit he may have even been in class with me. I asked that,as a fellow kiwi,was there something I could do to help get back on track.
      I didn’t get a reply,didn’t expect one,but I did get a lot of nice emails telling me how wonderful things could be if I just listened to what Ray had to say.I ignored them but was tempted to send him some bananas.

      reply
      • Rod Bower

        Thanks for your efforts Steve! We know the Kiwis are fighting the same battles as us, and doing it well.
        Rod Bower, SECOA.

        reply
    • Alysia

      Very well written, makes me proud to be an Australian Secular Humanist knowing that some of us have most certainly evolved :)

      reply
    • Beccs

      Absolutely brilliant. I love it.

      To be fair, it’s inevitable that the likes of Ham and his Kiwi counterpart Comfort should end up in the US. Of all Western nations, only in the US can they make money pushing creationism on the unsuspecting public. And only in the US is there already a captive audience who have been brought up with this ignorance of science.

      If they tried it in Australia or New Zealand or, indeed, any other Western nation, they would likely be laughed out of the country.

      reply
  • Stop kicking yourselves, Australians » Pharyngula

    • Shane Vaughn

      AUSTRALIA! AUSTRALIA!AUSTRALIA! We love you! You may have stuck us with Ken, but we fired back with a certain anti-vaxer whom shall remain nameless. You brilliant people have been able to reign in that scourge somewhat. At least she’s on the ropes. We in the US can only stare in amazement at the work you’ve done. I don’t know if Bill’s doing the right thing by confronting the stupid, but at least he’s got people talking. Now if we can just follow your example and move past the talking stage.

      reply
  • Bill Nye, Ken Ham, and aborigines | Conservative News and Views

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    • Eric Silverman

      This letter was very well written, and very much appreciated.

      reply
  • SCA’s Morning Read for 2/4/14 | Secular News Daily

    • Clive Bond

      Oh fair crack of the whip! They gave us Mel Gibson. why cant we send them Hammo?

      reply
    • sophistre

      Dear Australia,

      Please, think nothing of it. I can think of a laundry list of embarrassing things that I’ve hoped the world would forgive US for. If you guys can see past our crazies to the good souls who outnumber them, then I’m sure we’re perfectly happy to do the same thing for you. :)

      Love,
      A random American.

      reply

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