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The Creationists Are Right

Entry 1979, on 2019-05-17 at 12:32:56 (Rating 3, Skepticism)

I often reach a point of total consternation regarding the weird things some people believe. And then I might get into a debate with them assuming it will be easy to show them where they are wrong. And then, several hundred comments later, I have made no progress towards improving their ideas at all. What has gone wrong?

My initial assumption is that they are just so disconnected from reality that they simply can't see the truth in what I am saying. But after a while I realise that it's not that they have no reality, it is more that they have a "reality" that is different from mine. Within their model of reality, their worldview is entirely consistent and logical. So they aren't wrong at all within their own epistemological framework.

For example, if I debate creationism (sorry to pick the low hanging fruit, but it is the most egregious example of the phenomenon) with someone I often get to the point where I realise there's nothing I can tell them which will make any difference. It's not that they don't know the facts or can't use information to reach conclusions, it's more that their entire way of acquiring and processing knowledge is different.

I would claim that an empirical approach is the best. Using this approach I decide how to gather information about a phenomenon which is neutral and potentially available to anyone, then I devise a way that the information could be used to answer a question, then I check to see if the information fits. I don't expect that every test of this type will support or contradict the reality of what I am testing because there could be small errors in my protocols. But I will look at the balance of evidence and then reach an interim conclusion.

A creationist will have a totally different approach. They will claim that revealed knowledge, even if it has no supporting evidence, is best. What the Bible says can be trusted because it has always turned out to be true on other subjects, and any situation where it appears wrong can be easily explained. Plus, there are people who share a similar worldview who have independent evidence supporting it, even though that is unnecessary.

Let's look at a common argument involving creationism: the age of the Earth (and the rest of the universe). Science has many independent sources of information showing that the true age of the Earth is about 4.5 billion years, and the age of the universe about 13.7 billion. Young Earth creationists usually claim the age is about 6,000 years (or sometimes 10,000).

This is not a minor discrepancy. The "true" age (let's assume science is right) is over 2 million times longer than the creationists claimed age. It is like asking someone how long it takes them to walk home and they say 1 second instead of 1 month!

So the only defence the creationists have is to discredit science. Because they are generally only defending their beliefs for the benefit of other believers they don't have to be too rigorous. In fact, all that is required is some "plausible deniability" (note that this isn't quite the real meaning of that phrase, but it's close enough).

If I say that dating of fossils indicates an old Earth, all they have to do is to is find some fossils which weren't properly dated and this will throw some doubt on the dating process. There are errors in every scientific procedure, especially with extremely difficult cases and in the early days of the technique being used, so finding an error isn't difficult.

Then they throw out the 99% of cases where there are no errors or anomalies on the basis of the inaccuracy of a small number of problematic cases.

The same could happen with measurements of the time it takes light to travel from stars (see my blog post "Do It Yourself" from 2017-03-03). I pointed out possible objections there: that light might have travelled faster in the past or that the light was created already in transit. Both of these are absurd ideas but they introduce enough doubt that a creationist can use them to reject the old light argument.

In fact, there is even a name for this argument: the Omphalos Hypothesis. One major objection is that if this sort of deception is possible, were does the real history of the universe begin? It could have been 5 minutes ago, or last Thursday, hence the ironic name often used to discredit it: "Last Thursdayism". And most believers say that God would not deliberately deceive us this way. If a belief in God is important why would he deliberate;y make it look like he doesn't exist by discrediting the creation myth associated with him?

But although the idea seems absurd to most people who really think about it, it still does provide a way to doubt the scientific findings. And there is no way to disprove an hypothesis like this, because any evidence against it could be part of the deliberate deception. It's like the ultimate conspiracy theory!

And so it goes on. The hundreds of independent sources that science has can all be questioned if the person is sufficiently motivated to do that. At no point do they look at the big picture and realise that the total sum of their objections looks ridiculous.

And even if that point is reached there are two strategies which are like "get out of jail free" cards for any situation the creationist finds themself in. The first is the conspiracy theory: that all scientists are just following their own worldview and ignoring contrary evidence, and the second is faith which allows the believer to follow an idea with no evidence.

So if a person's standard of truth is that evidence must be totally accurate and with no errors then they can reject anything they want to because there are always errors and inconsistencies. And once they get to that point another source of information, like a religious text, is really just as good, or better.

It's simple. Creationism, within that logical framework, is totally true.

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Comment 2 (5029) by OJB on 2019-05-18 at 13:33:31: (view earlier comments)

Well, yes. I could feel myself being persuaded by the creationist arguments - they were so compelling. But my refusal to admit the existence of God saved me in the end! [Just to be clear, this is sarcasm]

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Comment 3 (5031) by Archons Den on 2019-05-22 at 11:55:38:

There’s no sense arguing with a conspiracy theorist. If you question their claims, you’re obviously part of the oppressing conspiracy. If you agree with them…. SEE!!

I recently asked a Bible-thumper if he was going to do as good a job of researching Atheists’ morals, as he had with the (piece of biased trash) article he’d just published. I got back 3 500-word flamethrower replies.

First he did ad hominem insults, comparing my intelligence to that of the cat in my gravatar – or maybe I was the cat in the gravatar.

Then he casually dismissed the claims I had made about Atheists having morals – although I made no claims. All I’d done, was ask a question.

Lastly, he insisted that I must provide proof of the claims I hadn’t made, but he didn’t, because he just knew that all Atheists were evil and sinful.

It would be entertaining and amusing - but these idiots want to enact legislation. Didn’t Alabama just outlaw abortion, and claim that their laws couldn’t be challenged by Federal courts??! :)

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Comment 4 (5032) by OJB on 2019-05-22 at 11:56:01:

Yes, I realize there will not be any obvious sign of success against conspiracy theorists. I still debate them for these reasons: first, it just might be a small step in their journey away from believing nonsense and unless I try there is no hope; second, it gives me a chance to test my own beliefs and debating techniques; and third, in a public debate situation it can convince other people who are watching.

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Comment 5 (5033) by Archons Den on 2019-05-22 at 11:56:22:

Those are all good reasons. As you can see from the second portion of my comment, I also engage them from time to time for those same reasons. It’s just that my levels of tolerance and frustration are often quickly reached.

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Comment 6 (5034) by OJB on 2019-05-22 at 11:56:41:

Yes, I just see it as a challenge to remain calm and rational no matter how insanely illogical my opposition’s comments become!

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