Willing to Learn?

Willing to Learn? March 24, 2013

The heart of the matter, when it comes to evolution and young-earth creationism, is this:

If you think that young-earth creationism offers cogent and insightful criticisms of mainstream science, then you do not know enough about science to evaluate things that you hear.

If that is your situation, then I would encourage you to learn more about biology, genetics, paleontology, geology, and other relevant fields.

But there is more learning you should do. because, if you genuinely think that it is likely that a handful of people who do not do scientific research understand science better than the professional scientists, then you do not merely need to learn about evolution.

You need to learn about critical thinking and fact checking. In short, you need to learn to be less gullible.



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  • Gary

    I think it does not have anything to do with being gullible. After having seen many people living with these ideas in church (thank goodness not everyone), I think there is only one motivation. They are not gullible. They are so wrapped up in their church life, and the hope that there is something better than their current conditions (whether death of loved ones, bad health, poverty, problems with kids, etc), that they have a deep fear that their faith may be wrong. So they get wrapped in the in bible as their only hope. So fear trumps logic. Fear only feeds into more group fear, as each individual reinforces the others. So arguing with logic does no good.

    • I would say that things like fear, pride, etc., are contributory factors to their gullibility. More specifically, they are selectively gullible. They too easily believe YEC and other “Christian” nonsense, and too easily disbelieve the truth that’s out there!

  • Gary makes a good point. When your entire reason for life is Christianity, you can’t listen to anything that could disprove it. If you have ever talked to a Christian using logic and facts they just shut down and block out everything you say as a giant conspiracy of the Jesus hating scientists of the world.

    • Correct analysis of some (a large proportion of) “Christians”! Worse than that, they tend to dismiss contrary evidence as the work of the devil …

  • I think that much of it goes back to The Myth of Persecution, but contrary to Dr. Moss, I suspect that the myth was essential from the very beginning.

    In the ancient world, when people suffered, it was usually seen as a sign that they had failed to do whatever was necessary to keep the gods on their side. I’ve always suspected that Christianity’s success was the result of turning this understanding on its head. The downtrodden and disenfranchised no longer needed to accept their suffering as a sign that they were on the wrong side of the heavenly powers, but could see it as a sign that they were right with God. People learned that the reason their lives sucked was because God’s enemies had targeted them. Suddenly, their suffering had meaning as part of the great cosmic battle between good and evil, and hence, their lives had meaning.

    For the creationist/anti-evolutionist, an essential element to their world view is that the enemies of God are out to get them and anyone who challenges their understanding of their holy book is necessarily in league with the devil. These people cannot even acknowledge the possibility that they might be able to learn something from atheistic scientists.

    • Gary

      I agree. Most YEC’s buy into “Spiritual Warfare” as well. Motivation in Spiritual Warfare is obvious fear. I see no other way to explain it. Cosmic battle with good and evil. As soon as people equate religion with war, “Houston, we have a problem”.

  • I’m only partly persuaded by some of the comments here. There are plenty of Christians for whom what science discovers is exciting rather than threatening. And so it may be that their gullibility in simply accepting the claim that they must choose between science and Christianity precedes their further gullibility with respect to other details.

    But their fear is not consistent. They accept all sorts of scientific information at odds with the Biblical depiction of the cosmos and of people, without so much as batting an eyelid. Their fear regarding evolution is based on ignorance and the acceptance of what they were told by people that they have trusted without warrant.

    • But it’s not gullibility in the same sense that a child is gullible to believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy because most children do not shun the truth and make the transition fairly easily when they learn it. In the case of the creationists, they have internalized a world view in which anything contrary to the stories they have already accepted is viewed as a threat. There is an element of gullibility, but there is more to it than that.

      • I would say that those who refuse to grow out of childish beliefs, or adopt them as adults, are more gullible than children whose developing minds and understanding are inherently less well poised to discern when parents or society are telling them stories that are not true.

        • I think you are asking “gullibility” to do more work than the word can fairly be asked to do. At some point I think we need to start talking in terms of willful ignorance, not simply want of capacity to think critically..

          • Perhaps I am, since I agree with what you wrote!

          • There are many kinds of spiritual (i.e. non-physical) forces that are at work. The psychological concept of cognitive dissonance explains how it’s painful for humans to consider that they may have been mistaken about their own beliefs (there are also other things, e.g. pride; too many to mention, but the point is that it’s often not within the honest individual’s control/choice). The bible has many expressions for this sorry state of humanity, e.g. “stiff-necked”, “hardened hearts”, “blind” …

            “Willful ignorance”, or even “willful, malicious dishonesty”, pertains more to the charlatans who peddle YEC falsehoods while cognizant of their falsity.

            I favour McGrath’s use of “gullible”, because it is an objective description of the “innocent” credulity through which many honest Christians have been deceived by YEC. This blog post is meant to help such people.

            As Christians, we continue in Jesus’ example of healing people from blindness. Nobody chooses to be blind, and that’s why describing such “blind” people as “willfully ignorant” is going too far.

            We are all willfully ignorant of many things. For example, I read my bible while willfully ignorant of (much of) the Hebrew and Greek languages (though my goal is to learn them some day), because I trust the good scholars to translate/interpret it for me (but I must undertake reasonable attempts to support/falsify my trust in the translation/interpretation). It is simply unfortunate that many people have placed their trust in the wrong places; many factors have prevented them from realising that YEC is not trustworthy (one of which is gullibility!). (I’m also willfully ignorant of evidences for the existence of UFOs and Santa Claus, and with good reason!)

  • Debra Baker

    Thanks to ORP for making me aware of this blog. Just about all of my favorite things to talk about are here and I look forward to exploring. I must note, however, that you are ambitious by making people think or learn how to think critically.
    And, to add to the conversation, there is no place for worrysome fear perfect love casts out fear. (not to be confused with healthy self-preservation type fear response.)

  • arcseconds

    I think one of the problems we face here is that there’s a big trope in Western culture, which dates back to the Reformation at least, if not to the Renaissance, whereby we’ve maintained the sovereignty of the individual reason over and against traditional authority.

    We still keep reinforcing this, even in science education and popular literature. The history of science is often presented as a Great Men narrative, where talented individuals trusted their instincts in spite of received wisdom and their peers (and
    often of social authorities).

    We still often talk about science as though it is possible and even desirable for an individual to replicate experiments, test hypotheses, and analyse the data themselves. Moreover, we also tell people to go and read the arguments and look at the evidence — it’s common for people on both sides of these kinds of debates to talks as if the evidence speaks for itself, and if you fail to draw the correct the conclusion it must be because you’re indoctrinated.

    ‘Critical thinking’ is often treated as being almost synonymous as disagreeing with some authority (science fanchildren often still speak as though believing in science is in courageous defiance of the authority of the Church, or even of popular muddle-headedness).

    These tropes are particularly strong in the USA, of course, you can see them at play in much of the history of the USA, of particular note are the European settlers who emigrated for religious reasons, and the Enlightenment attitudes of the Founders.

    So by suggesting that we trust the community of experts and accept their authority on these matters, you’re actually promoting something quite culturally difficult: to start suspecting the thinking of the individual, and start trusting in the doctrine of a community.

    That’s almost turning the clock back to the 15th century.

  • @jamesfmcgrath:disqus , I’ve been waiting for a post like this (which addresses the fundamental epistemological differences)! Indeed, it simply makes no sense for laypeople to debate evolution vs creationism in scientific terms, without having first studied and understood the relevant scientific literature.

    The epistemological approach of Critical Rationalism (coined by Karl Popper) has saved me from all kinds of utter nonsense (one of the worst of which is “penal substitution”).

    This post is really useful as a starting point for me to convince (Christian) friends that YEC should not be regarded as a legitimate perspective.