Bill Nye is best known as “The Science Guy.” But the onetime Boeing engineer captured the spotlight in a new way last month when he performed on “Dancing With the Stars” and tore a tendon in his leg.
Before he became a national name, Nye’s career and persona were launched in the Puget Sound area on the TV comedy show “Almost Live” in the ’80s and ’90s.
Nye, a self-described skeptic and agnostic, is returning to his Puget Sound roots. He’s coming to Tacoma to give the keynote address Oct. 25 for a national conference bringing together skeptics, humanists and atheists.
More than 200 people are expected to attend the Center for Inquiry Summit at the Hotel Murano.
Nye, 57, hosted the PBS program, “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” in the 1990s, wearing his trademark blue lab coat and bow tie. Two decades later, he continues to bring science to a mass audience through several television series.
As a science educator and entertainer, Nye has amassed a large fan base with more than one million followers on Twitter.
We caught up with him over the phone from his home in Studio City in the Los Angeles area to talk about his part in the conference for skeptics and get an update on his dancing injury. (Yes, his left leg still hurts.)
Question: Why are you speaking at the Center For Inquiry Summit in Tacoma?
Answer: I’ve been a member of skeptic organizations since I got out of engineering. … We are living in a time when science is being marginalized politically in the United States. This is in no one’s best interest.
Q: Can you give me an example?
A: These people in Texas want (science) textbooks to use creationism, to spend tax dollars on something breathtakingly silly. That’s absolutely wrong. That is at one level an outrage. At another, extraordinary silly. At the most important level, it is bad for the economy. You can’t raise a generation of students who don’t understand science. We will not have engineers. We will not have innovation.
Q: What do you plan to focus on in your keynote address?
A: We have to include people. … People in religious communities commonly interpret this (opposition to creationism in textbooks) as an attack on their religion, their beliefs and their faiths. We in the skeptical (community) have to maintain discipline. We have to focus on the claims. The Earth is not 10,000 years old, for example.
Q: How does the Center for Inquiry fit with your own beliefs?
A: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. We want everybody in the world to be aware of that message. … The Earth is round. The universe is not only expanding, it’s accelerating. … These are extraordinary things, and they can be proven. When someone says I can determine your personality by the date of your birth, that can be shown to be absolutely not true in any way.
Q: How do you describe your view regarding the existence of a higher power: agnostic, atheist or something else?
A: Everyone is reasonably an agnostic. You can’t know. For me, I’ve come across no evidence of a higher power. I was raised in a religious family. I attended church regularly (was an acolyte in the Episcopal Church). I am what the president calls a nonbeliever. That works for me. When you have people running for president insist the United States is a Christian nation, that’s wrong.
Q: Are science and religion opponents, friends or neither?
A: They’re different things. Science deals with this process by which we know nature, by which we understand our place in space. Religion deals with how we feel. Evolutionary biology deals with how we feel also. There’s a lot in common.
If it turns out there’s a God and there’s a plan for my life and it was his plan to tear my quadricep tendon on an international dancing show, I would be surprised.
It hurts like heck today.
Q: When were you last in Tacoma?
A: I have friends in Gig Harbor. I was there last spring.
Q: What was it like for you to perform on “Dancing With the Stars”?
A: It was cool. It was the greatest thing. I’m just really sorry I hurt my leg.
Q: Are you walking with a cane?
A: I have three canes depending on my outfit.
Q: Do you keep in touch with John Keister and your old “Almost Live” buddies?
A: I just took Steve Wilson (who directed every episode of “Almost Live”) and his wife, Julie, to the airport. The Cal Ripken of “Almost Live”. … We had the 20th anniversary of “The Science Guy” show last summer. John (Keister) was there.Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647 steve.maynard@ thenewstribune.com @TNTstevemaynard