That all known life shares a common ancestor is just about as well-established a scientific observation as you're going to get. It's right up there with ice floating on water and the moon not being made of cheese. And the scientific explanation for all the complexity and diversity of life on Earth – first outlined by Charles Darwin some 150 years ago and continually refined since then – remains the linchpin of the life sciences.
Of course none of this prevents staggering numbers of Americans from rejecting evolution. According to a 2007 Gallup survey, about four in 10 Americans believe that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so," an assertion that is, by any reasonable standard of evidence, nonsense.
But creationism isn't just ordinary nonsense. It's politicized nonsense. Nonsense that prompts TV shouting matches and comment-thread flame wars. Nonsense that bids rise to multimillion-dollar think tanks. Nonsense that makes journalists see a scientific controversy where none exists. Nonsense that ruins Thanksgiving dinner, causes childhood pals to defriend each other on Facebook, and eventually leads someone to stand up and make an exasperated call to Think Of The Children.
Which is what Bill Nye did. In a video for the Big Think, an online knowledge forum, the popular science educator notes that Darwin's theory is essential for anyone who wants to make sense of the natural world, and that it is vitally important that kids accept it.
"We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future," he says. "We need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems."
Nye says: "I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that's completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that's fine, but don't make your kids do it because we need them."
But simply asking people to stop passing their beliefs on to their kids probably isn't going to do the trick. Even as scientists are busily mapping the genomes of humankind's closest relatives, creationists are only getting more brazen. Witness the taxpayer-financed Christian schools in Louisiana whose biology textbooks cite the Loch Ness Monster as 'evidence' against Darwin.
Nye predicts that creationism will be dead in a few hundred years. But, as he is surely aware, that's pure conjecture. Nobody knows what people living centuries from now will think of Darwin, natural selection, and the hexameron. It's far too early in the game to start placing bets against nonsense.