Friday, November 30, 2007

Creationism - how to respond?


If you have ever had a conversation with a creationist of the "young earth" variety (who believe the entire universe is less than 10K years old, with all species created by God as described in Genesis), you'll know it is a frustrating experience.

Point to the fossil record, say, or light from distant stars, or carbon dating, or tectonic plate movement, etc. as evidence of a much older universe, and you will find they have prepared answers, supplied, for example, by the multi-million dollar funded Institute for Creation Research.

There are also innumerable creationist resources on the web, such as at www.christiananswers.net.

I'd like to discuss how best to respond to young earth creationists when you come across them (I've come across quite a few in British Schools, recently - including one teaching science in a leading public school).

26 comments:

Mike N said...

I'd love to know too. I've talked to a number (online mostly) and their refutations of my arguments always come down to a number of things:

- It's a faith issue
- There's a big conspiracy in the scientific community to suppress evidence
- Yes, but scientists don't know _everything_ (God of the gaps...)
- God made it that way so that unbelievers would be fooled (I'm paraphrasing, but that's about what it amounts to).

It's next to impossible to put up a decent argument when documented evidence is dismissed out of hand. This is the real problem - you cannot argue with fanatics and expect a rational response.

K. Szklenski said...

I'll respond to Mike's post because it has specifics.

1) It's a faith issue (or personal "experience", for that matter)

- I will almost always respond to this with, "Is that so? In that case, I have faith that you are wrong (or experiences that show no god exists, etc). How are we to decide whose faith is actually right? I have the book of science, so to speak, and they have. . .the buy-bull. Not much in the way of argumentation from their side.

2) There's a big conspiracy in the scientific community to suppress evidence

- If that's the case, then you must know of some actual evidence that is being suppressed. What is it? Then just show why it's blatantly wrong/fallacious/whatever.

3) Yes, but scientists don't know _everything_

- Neither do theologians, if it really matters. (Is that tu quoque?)

4) God made it that way so that unbelievers would be fooled

- My normal response is something along the lines of, "Isn't that equivalent to god not being all-good? Would an all-good father tell his son not to eat candy bars, but then eat a whole bunch in front of you and wave them around in front of your face? Come on now.

I agree that it's incredibly difficult, but you kinda have to play their game. Think of a fallacy and go with it.

Mike N said...

Hi K.S. - yes, I think I've used something similar to all those arguments before.

The problem is that you just tend to end up going round in circles with "true believers" and as there really is no way I'd expect to be able to change their mind by reasonable debate I normally get tired of refuting ridiculous arguments long before they get tired of throwing them out there ;)

Here are some common responses to your responses (just for fun):

1. But then you admit that atheism is just as much a faith position as religion.

2. How can anybody know about evidence if it is suppressed? (Fair question, but in response to a ridiculous statement in the first place).

3. Science cannot explain religion, but religion can explain the parts of the universe that science cannot. Religion can also explain all of science because god made it that way.

4. I usually play the all-good, all-knowing etc. card to other arguments so I haven't had a response to it under these circumstances but I'd say that it would be something along the lines of working in ineffable ways ...

I keep trying though in the hope that one day I'll find that one elusive argument that fanatics will respond to ;)

Cheers

Mike

Skippyx said...

I have a friend who appears to be completely convinced of Creationism and the literal word of the Bible. I suspect my discussions with him have not really persuaded him away from his beliefs one inch as I suspect I have been ‘tuned-out’ by his belief. Religion has an excellent way of protecting itself by representing any thoughts that might harm it as the work of the Devil and therefore to be immediately ruled out of court. This presents a real problem to atheists like me who would dearly love to leave doubt in the minds of religious folk. My feeling is that we have to choose those we engage with care; they have to already have a questioning and somewhat skeptical approach and believe to a good extent in the power of rational thought. If not I suspect your well thought out and logical approach will be just noise to them.

Having said all that, talking to my friend is like a trip to Alice’s Wonderland and rather thrilling and concerning all at the same time. How can someone who works in insurance fall for something like this I wonder. He wouldn’t take a client’s word that they’ve had an accident and want some money please, he would send the loss-adjuster out. Why? Because he wants to be sure that there’s been an accident. Why doesn’t he believe his client? Well, some people lie. So, the spirit of inquiry is there and must be readily available in most aspects of his life.

Why won’t the car start?
a) Because God doesn’t want it to.
b) Because there’s a spaceship buried under the driveway that is jamming the starter motor?
c) Because the battery is flat?

I’m convinced that my friend would quickly plump for option C. Question his belief about other testable and observable elements of the world (e.g. the extensive and much examined fossil record or the night sky) and the shutters come down - you can almost see it happen. This cognitive dissonance must have a cost to the individual and is surely dangerous for society.

Ruben said...

Steve,

I would highly recommend reading the following highly exceptional web resources that discuss creationism's shortcomings:

- By far the best website that covers everything one needs to shatter a creationist's obtuse arguments is Talk Origins

-Web sites that approach the creation/evolution controversy from an evolutionary perspective

Hope this helps

G Felis said...

You cannot offer any rational, evidence-based argument which will convince someone who has arrived at their beliefs by means that blatantly reject evidence and defy reason. Someone who has found the b.s. of intelligent design plausible might, perhaps, be amenable to being shown that it really isn't - although unlikely, because that's usually born from dogmatic faith as well. But Young Earth Creationists have a great deal of their identity invested in rejecting the world as it is: They simply aren't going to listen, so why waste your time and energy engaging them at all? Shake your head slowly and sadly, maybe issuing a sigh as well for emphasis, to convey the pity you feel for their sorry mental state. Then walk away.

I'm serious. The contribution to global warming made by the extra energy you expend on speech with a YEC true believer may be immeasurably miniscule, but even that pseudo-harm is greater than any good you can do arguing with a Young Earther.

Richard W. Symonds said...

Again Joad : "It all depends what you mean by...creationist".

How do you respond to 'crackpot creationist" you seem to be talking about? Ignore them - like most crackpots.

I personally don't have a Faith or Reason problem with accommodating "In the beginning God" and Darwinian Evolution Theory...

Am I therefore a "crackpot" ? No more so than believers in 'The Big Bang' Theory.

Chris said...

YAWN.

As a Christian I have no problem pointing them in the direction of Job 38 and telling them to chill out.

Timmo said...

Stephen,

I think the appropriate response is this.

As Quine maintained, we can always hold fast to a belief in the face of contrary experience so long as we make suitable adjustments throughout our "web" of beliefs. In this case, the creationists have shown that they can maintain their position in the face of contrary scientific evidence by holding suitable, unflattering views about "unbelieving scientists" and the results of empirical inquiry.

However, this does not mean that such adjustments will always be rationally justified. The "prepared answers" young-earth creationists have up their sleeves are nearly always ad hoc: they have no independent motivation beyond saving the creationist viewpoint from refutation. Because it takes so many ad hoc hypotheses to consistently maintain young-earth creationism, it is clear that it is a dead-end.

I hope that helps.

Tea said...

Timmo, I agree with you, but do you honestly suggest that we might be able to convert a creationist by referring to Quine?

I think you're on to something, but those people need references that are easier to digest. Maybe make them watch Monty Python's Parrot Sketch, then ask them what they think the difference is between their arguments and those made by Michael Palin. They may end up admitting that they're pining for the fyords after all.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Dont know if you have seen Ken Miller's video on creationism/ID
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVRsWAjvQSg

I have come across a few creationist - mainly on Richard Dawkins's site. It seems the the mentality is one of denial. They have trouble dealing with the fusion of human chromosome 2 and fossilised genes though. The problem as well is that a lot of these creationist sites basically like about the way evolution works. You often see them say things like you need lots of new genetic information to evolve an eye - presumably in one step. How do you dea with lies. I was unfortunate enough to see Ken Ham talk in Glasgow, and there is a definate attempt to make people mistrust science. He was saying that Darwinism is the creation of Satan and the cause of society's deterioration. How do you break this submission to authority?

Billy Sands

PS, enjoyed your talk on wednesday

John said...

Some interesting comments, but I think most miss the crux of the problem. Debate itself may not be the answer - as others have noted, there are no end of people willing to debate on the internet, but (validity of arguments aside) very few appear to be persuaded by such confrontational measures.

Not that confrontation is itself the problem - in fact I think it is crucial that people with mistaken ideas are confronted with alternative viewpoints as often as possible, if only to disabuse them of the notion that everyone else thinks like them (a commonly held and oft times erroneous assumption; try asking your colleagues, rather than friends, what their views are on a divisive topic).

Believers identities are sometimes so intertwined with their beliefs the best one can hope to do is, rather than trying to persuade outright, plant seeds of doubt.

The following link leads to a post by a former Evangelical Fundamentalist giving advice on how to 'witness' to believers:

Link


His strategy appears to Socratic, without the annoying smugness :-)

stafarella said...

as a teenager, i was a young earth creationist. i think, in retrospect, what drove my literalism was fear and the appeal of simplicity and comprehensibility. evolution and the great big complex world are scary things. biblical literalism is a form of nostalgia and comfort for the frightened. i think that the more complex and challenging the world becomes, the greater is the temptation to regress into the comforts of absolutist fundamentalist movements and communities. i think that global capitalism, and science, because of their social disruptiveness, will always leave in their wake a great mass of fundamentalists. the current wave of fundamentalist monotheism worldwide is not the product of science and secular modernity's retreat, but of their relentless advance. as for me, i didn't read evolutionists directly, but only through the filter of creationist writers. it was a tormenting couple of years thinking my way through fundamentalism and literalism, and i'm glad that, late in my teens, i became a free thinker. i've never regretted it, and i feel sorry for some of my fellow teenage travellers who, over twenty years later, are still fundamentalists. i talk to them occasionally, and they feel sorry for me too. but i'm thankful for free thought literature, because once i marshalled the courage to read such material directly, and with openness, i saw that i could not sustain my youthful literalism. but rationalists, who have never known religious literalism from the inside, should realize that your rationality will only work on people who aren't afraid, and most fundamentalist are afraid.

Ken said...

Glenn Morton's site is an excellent resource by a Christian petroleum geologist who was once a YEC. He has a rather surprising take on how he himself reconciles Genesis with geology, but the bulk of his site consists of massive, empirical disproofs of Flood Geology and a young Earth.

Scott said...

I don't have time to write as much as I'd like...

...fortunately Christian Answer.net has already done so for me:

http://www.christiananswers.net/
evangelism/beliefs/
test-mindcontrol.html

(Sorry about having to break down the link.)

The irony is of biblical proportions.

Scott said...


This text
is a link to the page mentioned above.

Stephen Law said...

Scott
Interesting link - thanks. What's particularly interesting is that while you and I would think this organization is at least sometimes guilty of something like mind-control, they deny it, and in fact point the finger at others. Things they take to be indicative of mind control include discouragement to think and question.

Of course, it's true that they do encourage thinking and questioning. Why, then, are they guilty of mind-control? Obviously I need to answer this. Shall post on this shortly...

William Hawthorne said...
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William Hawthorne said...
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William Hawthorne said...
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The Exterminator said...

If a young earth creationist insists that his or her position represents science, you can pretty easily dismiss that by asking for a definition of science, and then riffing from there. You should probably look at Judge Jones's decision in the famous Dover, Pennsylvania case. (Google "Kitzmiller," the name of the plaintiff, and you'll see plenty of links.) In Jones's opinion, you'll find a very nice series of arguments why creationism (in its guise of Intelligent Design) is not science. If you don't feel like working your way through the full opinion -- and I can't say I'd blame you -- there's a wonderful excerpt from it appearing as the Appendix in Intelligent Thought edited by John Brockman.

On the other hand, if a young earther insists that creationism is not science, but that the bible (and faith) should trump science, you could probably pull out that old standby: Why would god have purposely misled so many intelligent people? The smug answer will usually come back in some variant of: he's testing their faith. At which point, you ask: How do you know god is testing their faith with all the overwhelming evidence, and not your faith through what is written in the bible? Where do you get your authority to read god's mind? Maybe he wanted people slowly to discover his four-billion-year plan.

You won't win any arguments, but you might get the other side to shut up.

Anonymous said...

Have you tried 'The Counter-Creationism Handbook 'by Mark Isaak?

Anonymous said...

The scientific method demands
1. demonstration,
2. prediction and
3. evidence.
The theory of evolution has no evidence, has never been demonstrated and cannot predict what will happen in the future. With all the hype of its promoters it signifies noting but that they (as the Bible says) are fools.
David Butler, Chelmsford, Essex.

Tony Lloyd said...

Tell them its lies. Tell them its viscious, evil, depraved lies designed to foist an oppressive system on us.

Most of the creationist arguments are justificationist/sceptical attacks on your position. ("How can you prove Darwinism", "What created the big bang").

Turn the tables. Sit with folded arms and get them to try and justify their position. They won't be able to.

Scott in Tampa said...

1st...FAITH occurs on both sides of this issue. Both sides start with Faith presuppositions. Your presupposition is "All things that exist always existed, and our universe as we know it is impersonal [no God], and the incredible unity in complexity we see everywhere came about simply by time and chance." That takes incredible FAITH!

2nd...You misrepresent the "Intelligent Design" argument as unintelligent Faith in order to debunk it.

3rd...Bible believing people say God probably created the earth in one of 2 ways; a) with age [meaning, He created it as if it was millions of years old]; or b) He created it millions of years ago just as it states in Genesis 1:1 and there is a gap between when He created it and when he started the 6 day process of creating life on Earth.

4th...re: "can't argue with fanatics" comment, try me. Let's see who actually has a problem having a rational response: s.rephsr@gmail.com

Stephen Law said...

I'll get round to it Scott.

Try reading some of the very many posts on creationism etc. first though as I gets a bit dull going over same old ground...

What sort of creationist are you, then?