This is NOT YET a blog article per se. Yet, I’ve had several parties ask questions or request my notes on several topics related to helping Young Earth Creationists embrace an old earth and evolutionary processes. Posting a link to this blog-page provides a simple means for people on various forums to read them without bothering with email traffic.
** Strategies for Defeating Evolution-Denialism **
A Guide to De-YEC-ification
(Getting rid of the YECism, not the YECists.)
I think I’ve made this appeal before. Has anyone any idea of what arguments would actually make creationists change their minds?
In my experience there are three routes out of Young Earth Creationism which I will classify by their respective “destinations.” That is, the YEC denier of evolution and billions of years abandons that position and becomes a(n):
(A) From YEC to Evolution-Affirming Christian
This transformation requires:
1) Hermeneutical Help & Overhaul.
I’m tempted to say Never start with the science. Yet, chances are that’s what has already transpired. Try wrapping up whatever scientific points you were making and then see if you can get them to tell you their answer(s) to this question: “Suppose someone addressed all of the scientific issues and evidence so that you could honestly say that all of that evidence you’ve seen points to an old earth where evolutionary processes explain how life on earth diversified into all of the species we have observed. Would that be enough to convince you that God used evolution over many many millions of years?…or would their be specific scriptures which you think rule out that possibility entirely? Could you name the scriptures which would be ranked at the very top of your list of evolution-denying and billions-of-years-denying verses of the Bible?
The passages cited will in no way describe the last hurdle you must clear to de-YEC-ify them. Yet, in my experience, if someone can successfully convince them that there are valid non-YEC alternative interpretations of those formidable passages, the YEC may be genuinely convinced that they need to revisit and rethink their present interpretations of those scriptures. Most will tend to immerse themselves in YEC commentaries so that they are simply “digging in” and filling their YEC trenches with additional ammunition gleaned from Bible commentaries written by like-minded YEC scholars and pseudo-scholars. (Of course, many YECs will simply search the AIG and Creation.com websites.) Therefore, you must be ready to supply some specific articles and webpages, although if you know they have access to major libraries, you might want to consider primary sources.
With probably 99% of Young Earth Creationists, you will find that no superlative quantity and quality of scientific evidence will be enough to convince them to abandon their Young Earth Creationism. To better understand this phenomenon, the YEC hero, geologist Dr. Kurt Wise, provides not just a fascinating demonstration of cognitive dissonance but an extreme confidence in the utter superiority of his unassailable Bible interpretation skills—despite his lack of academic training and skills in Biblical studies. Dr. Wise provided considerable technical consulting for the exhibits of the Creation Museum and mutual friends have told me that he remains frustrated that he was unable to restrain various of the overt propaganda, right-wing politics, and poorly supported science for which Ken Ham is famous. Anybody interested in understanding the YEC worldview should get to know Dr. Wise:
If I were to interview Dr. Wise, he would most likely cite the agreement of his favorite, like-minded Biblical scholars and that would be sufficient confirmation to justify his confidence in his interpretations of the Bible.
But if pressed, most YECs cite the Doctrine of Bible Perspicuity as ample divine affirmation of YECism. This Perspicuity dogma deserves its own chapter in any study of YEC hermeneutics [Bible interpretations], though most YECs don’t know of its Protestant Reformation origins. YECs almost always apply the perspicuity of scriptures well beyond its original definition and applications. To reformers, the perspicuity of the scriptures simply means that the major themes of the scriptures, especially those pertaining to individual salvation through the Gospel message, are sufficiently clear to all Bible readers such that they do not require the clergy or some church hierarchy to serve as sole interpreter. Some call it “the clarity of the scriptures”, though in discussions of systematic theology, even among YECs, I find perspicuity the most common term. Here’s an historical and theological overview:
Many YECs tend to over-apply and even misapply the perspicuity of the scriptures to claim that the simplest and “most obvious” interpretation of a scripture passage should usually be assumed to be the correct one. As a result, perspicuity dogma has become a kind of Christian Ockham’s Razor, where many of the best hermeneutical insights provided by careful study of the cultural contexts and the grammatical/syntactical gleanings are rejected outright because “God doesn’t expect a 10-year old Bible reader to understand _________ when reading the passage.” Thus, many YECs will appeal to perspicuity dogma to dismiss the various definitions of YOM (“day”) in Genesis 1. Obviously, that mindset often leads YECs to assume that what is “obvious” to English Bible translation readers today would have seemed just as obvious and the same to Bible readers of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament thousands of years ago.
This perspicuity of scriptures dogma is just one of dozens of major factors one must be prepared to engage if expecting to challenge the Young Earth Creationists interpretations of relevant passages of the Bible.
Yes,The denialist needs someone to explain how the relevant Bible passages can justifiably be interpreted in such as way as to allow evolutionary processes and billions of years—all without compromising the denialist’s high view of scripture. In most cases this “high view of scripture” will mean respecting and preserving the Doctrine of Scripture Inerrancy. Otherwise, you will find yourself perpetually mired in a debate taking you further and further from your objective. Plus, all you will succeed in doing is reinforcing the YEC’s suspicions of your ulterior motives and their being taught for many years that “evolution=atheism.”
If you are confident that you can “Kill two birds with one stone” (i.e., destroy his/her faith in the Bible as well as eradicate his evolution-denialism) by using those “undeniable Bible errors & contradictions” you found at websites such as the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, the YEC will quickly decide that you are as gullible and ignorant as you consider him/her to be. Seriously. The Internet meme which boasts that “the average atheist knows far more about the Bible than the average Christian” depends upon one’s definition of “Christian” and is as irrelevant as it is pointless. If you are the rare individual who truly is prepared to take on their confidence in the Bible, postpone that battle until a later date, after you’ve freed them from their Young Earth Creationism mire. Otherwise, you will only make your undertaking exponentially more difficult—not just for you but for anyone in the future who tries to help the person escape from YECism.
In many cases, the denialist may need to be shown that some of their respected Bible scholars define “inerrancy” somewhat differently than they have presumed previously.)
2) Show Scientific Evidence for Old Earth.
Show the many types of evidence for an old earth.
Define and explain the importance of CONSILIENCE.
Show how consilience destroys the lame and dishonest YEC argument that “Fossils are dated by the rocks in which they are found. The rocks are dated by the fossils in them. That’s circular reasoning.” Explain how fossils and rock are indeed helpful in dating because the reliability of all dating methodologies have already been established by consilience.
Biologos provides an excellent summary of the many types of evidence establishing an old earth in this infographic:
Be prepared for these typical rebuttals YECs may throw at you:
(3) Scientific Evidence of Evolutionary Processes
I’ve not created an outline for this yet because of the obvious complexity and the fact that one has to assist most YECs in “unlearning” a lot of misconceptions in wrong terminology. Explain the difference between the evolutionary processes we observe versus the explanation of that evolution: The Theory of Evolution.
Be prepared to explain to Hamites that even Ken Ham understands that his post-flood diversification of each KIND (which he generally defines as roughly equivalent to the taxonomic family) into all of the species we observe today happened in the first 200 or so after they walked off the ark. If they deny this, show them the Creation Museum poster explaining the “hyper-evolution” of a single pair of the cat-kind into lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, panthers, house cats, and every other cat-family species. (Always be prepared to show that real scientists have copious evidence for their claims while Ham has zilch.)
B) From YEC to Old Earth Creationism
Many would confess from personal experience that YEC-to-OEC is an excellent first step on the way to affirming The Theory of Evolution. In my experience this is especially common among those who forged their own path out of Young Earth Creationism without the aid of friends or colleagues. Obviously, the outline for YEC-to-Evolution-affirming Christian can be a wise route because there’s no particular necessity of an all-or-nothing or hasty transformation.
C) From YEC to an Evolution-Affirming ___?___
While I’ve certainly met ex-YECs who now call themselves agnostics/atheists/non-Christian-others, I’ve not had much experience hearing and learning about the routes they took and what issues mattered to them most. Yet, what struck me in all of my one-on-one conversations with a few such individuals is how they had basically accepted Ken Ham’s false dichotomy of “You must choose between “the authority of God in His Infallible Word or the authority of fallible man and his fallible science.” Everyone will obviously make their own free will decisions based upon absolutely any priority or process they wish—but it does concern me when someone has been led to make a decision based upon faulty or incomplete information. Obviously, Ken Ham is either lying or is far more ignorant than he pretends to be. [OK. I admit it: I thought it would be mildly humorous to defy Ken Ham by objecting to his position through a false dichotomy of my own.]
Needless to say, most of the world’s Christians have no conflict with The Theory of Evolution. Moreover, lot of scientists works in fields which require an understanding of evolutionary processes and/or millions and billions of our earth’s history–and they have no difficulty seeing evolution as a part of the Creator’s plan for his Creation. Perhaps most of all, we only need to look to history to see that some Christians dragged their feet for a few generations before accepting various scientific discoveries as fully in harmony with God’s will for his created world. For years I’ve asked Young Earth Creationist leaders why they think The Theory of Evolution will be any different in that regard. I still await their response. (I don’t consider excuses and denials a valid response.)
A YEC-to-atheist transformation which captured my attention in media reports and Youtube not so long ago was the case of Rachel Slick, daughter of Christian apologist Matt Slick. Her reasons for her change of mind struck me as much more complex (or should I say much simpler) than what she articulated. Yet, it is not for me to judge why or for what reason(s) she left not just Young Earth Creationism but theism entirely. So I won’t bother to explain any of my speculations. I will say that I found very interesting the conundrum she described as having led her to dig more deeply into why she had considered herself a follower of Jesus Christ. She said it was that particular “problem” with the Bible led her out the Exit Here door of her Christian faith. I’ll not append the series of paragraphs which expand upon it, but this was the starting point:
If God was absolutely moral, because morality was absolute, and if the nature of “right” and “wrong” surpassed space, time, and existence, and if it was as much a fundamental property of reality as math, then why were some things a sin in the Old Testament but not a sin in the New Testament?”
Even if I ignore a number of questionable presumptions and classifications, I find it incredible that the daughter of a Christian apologists who continuously drilled her on quite technical theological terminology and various Christian doctrines of every sort—according to her own descriptions of her childhood—how could she possibly have been stumped by such a trivially simple question? Even a OT-201 “Introduction to Old Testament” student at any state university learns how the Torah Law was basically the national constitution of the Children of Israel and was based upon the Suzerainty treaties common in the Ancient Near East. It includes a great many detailed regulations which specifically target, deny, and prohibit all sorts of religious practices found in the neighboring cultures which signified loyalty to and worship of those pantheons of pagan deities. No wonder God YHWH Elohim had forbidden them in the Promised Land. The national constitution (the Torah), which specified how the Israelites were to live, established rules of conduct which expressed the citizens loyalty to YHWH God and prohibited all treasonous behaviors and signs of devotion to other gods. Thus, while modern readers may be baffled at why the Torah Law forbid tattoos, trimming beards in a certain way, and many other painfully detailed prohibitions, those ancients for whom the Torah Law applied knew that these banned practices were rituals of devotion to those pagan Gods. They were similar in those regards to provisions in some present day national constitutions in Europe, where wearing or displaying a Nazi swastika is strictly prohibited. Is that an absolute moral standard? Why don’t all nations have such a prohibition? One doesn’t have to be a citizen of Germany or Austria to understand why they considered such bans to be appropriate.
Of course, this contrast between the Old Testament and the New Testament is underscored by their titles. “Testament” is just an old word for “contract”. Thus, the Bible generally consists of the Old Contract and the New Testament, where the former applied to the ancient nation of Israel and the latter was clearly described as a new covenant based upon the ultimate Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, being sacrificed on the cross—at which time the Gospel author says the sacred curtain to the Holy of Holies was torn, pointing to a change of contracts: Gentiles as well as Jews could have direct access to God and the priesthood became the reality for all who had faith in God’s provision.
Matt Slick and anyone familiar with his teaching ministry would understand these fundamentals from the Bible. Rachel Slick surely had known them since her earliest days. So I remain baffled as to why this question would have stumped her. Therefore, I’m quite willing to say that I’m no authority on the various reasons people leave behind their Christian faith along with their YECism. Clearly such decisions involve much more than simply not knowing the answer to a Bible question.
Never forget this important truth:
For most YECs, these issues are ultimately about feelings not facts.
(c) 2015. Professor Tertius & the Bible.and.Science.Forum at Gmail.com.
All rights reserved. Email us at Gmail.com address for permissions on reposting and publication.