Confirmed: Bill Nye is our kind of guy. A science guy. An ethics guy. A wildly entertaining kind of guy (both comically and intellectually). Accepting the 2010 Humanist of the Year award at the 69th Annual Conference of the American Humanist Association in June, Nye had the audience rolling in the aisles and roundly applauding his clarion call to spread the PB&J of science (the passion, beauty, and joy). He signed autographs, posed for pictures, and graciously considered all manner of cocktail napkin sketches providing diagnostics for capping the BP oil well, which, at that time, was still gushing out of control. But the best thing he did was he quite genuinely embraced the HotY award, given out each year since 1953 to a person who’s made a “significant contribution to the improvement of the human condition through the application of humanist values.”
In the midst of a highly successful career as a science educator, entertainer, and commentator, Nye has undoubtedly improved the human condition by increasing science literacy. And he’s done that by making science fun. Joining him in these pages of the Humanist are fellow humanist ambassadors and 2010 awardees Meg Bowman and Annie Laurie Gaylor (co-recipients of the Humanist Heroine award bestowed by the Feminist Caucus of the American Humanist Association), Wendy Liu (Humanist Pioneer), and Sebastian Velez (Distinguished Service award).
Each of them sets an example of what a humanist might look like, might sound like, might think about (rights, ideology, poverty) and, most importantly, what a humanist does in the world. The fact that they all reject the idea that a supernatural creator informs their actions is just icing on the cake.
“If you tell people that their religion is inherently wrong or inherently bad, you’re not going to win them over, ever,” Bill Nye said in an interview on the Humanist Hour podcast. “In the same way they’re not going to win me over by saying I’m a sinner, I’m a loser, that I was born a loser.” He went on to stress how humans are so much more alike than different (spoken like a true science guy). His advice: “Be positive. Embrace people. Emphasize the things you have in common rather than the things you have apart. Easy to say, hard to do.”
Hard indeed. But the tide in humanist circles, as close as I can judge it, seems to be turning toward civility in matters concerning religion. I for one still appreciate those who take a hard line when it comes to religious intolerance and hypocrisy (don’t we all?) but it can be advantageous to act nice in gray areas. Ah, but there’s the catch—you must then acknowledge that such murky waters do in fact exist.
It was in this vein that I envisioned an issue of the Humanist devoted to women’s choices. Women face myriad dilemmas in the twenty-first century, including how to raise and support their children (or, if given a choice, about whether to have them at all), but also to realize the freedom and power we’re always told we now have. Judging from the letters we received in response to the September/October issue it’s fair to say that, just as greater public opinion reveals disparity on so many issues, so are humanists divided. Is that a bad thing? No. But I am reminded of a friend who once joked about a certain professional situation in which the disagreements were so fierce because the stakes were so low. Let’s raise the stakes. Let’s be reasonable.
And to the anonymous reader in Jacksonville, Florida, who asked where the libertarian, conservative, pro-military, nationalistic, hetero-centric, anti-porn, atheist voices were in the Humanist—I can only say that if you don’t have the fortitude to give your name I can’t in good conscience give you a voice.
Jennifer Bardi is the editor of the Humanist.