An open mind

How could you know if you had an open mind? If something disproves what you believe you know, could you change your opinion, or would you just ignore it?

I still debate with young-earth Creationists, mainly on Violet’s blog. I listened to this fascinating programme on the Paleocene/Eocene thermal maximum. About 56m years ago, over a period of about 1,000 to 20,000 years, vast amounts of CO2 were emitted into the atmosphere, by volcanoes and burning coal deposits, and the temperature of the planet increased. There were forests at the poles. Global temperatures increased by 5-8°C. Different assertions will have different levels of dispute or certainty, and for the educated layperson a scientist might elide certain details for ease of explication, but the broad outline is clear. I find it wonderful how the evidence is recovered and interpreted, the care and precision of the investigators, the wealth of evidence. So I recommended the programme to two YECs, hoping that they would be as inspired by it as I was.

Sadly, Tiribulus wasn’t. He did not intend “sneering derisive dismissal”, he said, but accused the scientists of “spectacular intellectual dishonesty”. He claimed to understand their “claims”, but also their “method bias and out of hand pre-conclusions”. All unbelievers have similar bias, he says.

His response makes me miserable. The language of “bias”, formulated to enable us to see how we misinterpret evidence and help us perceive more clearly, he uses to write off something which challenges his view. Unbelievers cannot think properly, he says, as Jesus quoting Isaiah predicted- He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn–and I would heal them.

He is defended against challenge to his falsehoods, because he has a great need to believe them- so that he can remain part of his community, so that he is not distressed by the falsehoods the community spouts, perhaps so that he can feel superior to outsiders, or ignore them, and possibly because he experienced his life before conversion as chaotic and “sinful”, and feels any backsliding from his current position means falling into similar sin.

He has threatened to recommend something to me, claiming “fairness” would oblige me to listen or read it. I might not spend fifty minutes on it.

How would I know if I were open minded? I am open minded on Creationism. I am aware of theories of the origin and development of the Bible, and how the story of the Flood was adapted from a Sumerian legend, part of the epic of Gilgamesh. As I pick up more about the detail and complexity of understanding of the geologic column, I am inspired by the beauty of it. But then my community does not require me to believe idiocies.

Why does he comment there? Because he sees unrepentant sinners, and wants God to “save us from our sin and give us a new heart”- Because you are fellow bearers of the image and likeness of our God and I care about you. 

Tiribulus believes he understands about the Bible and the errors of unbelievers, and that prevents him coming to the truth. I will not be open minded where I particularly need to believe something, or imagine I understand but do not. When I am not open minded I may imagine I am- for I could not know. I have sought out hints and subtle indications, and sometimes been rewarded.

Perhaps it is all a waste of energy. I grope for greater understanding, but perhaps those who are satisfied with their understanding are better off, devoting their attention to more important, worthwhile things. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. They might be more effectual.

A creationist

Meet Tim, a Young-Earth Creationist, who examines the scientific evidence and finds it supports his theory. How?

First, humanity is bad. He produces several bible verses to show this. For him, this presumably refutes my Creationism argument. We are to blame, not God, and by sending us a saviour God did more than we deserve. If life evolved, suffering entered the world other than through Adam’s sin, and so God must have designed it.

What does he think of the Bible? It is more reliable than science, because its account does not change. In 2011, he cited a 1995 article from Time magazine which discussed an observation that the Universe was expanding unevenly, to claim this. I was aware that a star cluster in our galaxy was calculated to be 16bn years old when the Universe was thought to be younger, and Tim points to estimates (in 1995) ranging from 8bn to 20bn years old, not acknowledging that by 2011 the consensus was for 13.7bn. Now, it is 13.8bn. The Bible is clear- the world was created in six days- but scientists disagree and keep changing. The oldest known star, according to current models of stellar evolution, is 14.46 ± 0.8bn years old. For Tim, all stars including the Sun were created on the fourth day, three days after Light was divided from the darkness.

Tim, why stop in the 1990s? At one point, some scientists believed in Phlogiston, and some disputed that theory. Come on, Tim: scientists dispute- Therefore Creationism!

Poor man. The delight of increasing knowledge through dispute, argument and evidence is lost to him.  Though how wonderful, to mock, and belittle, and feel superior to those who achieve far more than he!

He collects facts and articles and tries to make them fit his falsehoods. Often, he pretends that they do. For him almost any discovery can be pressed into that role, and his blog could be treated as an eclectic mix of scientific curiosities, if you could ignore the constant refrain of “Therefore Creationism!”

He believes that natural selection of the fittest, and slow change by genetic mutation, cannot work. To argue this he says humanity is degenerating genetically. Our random mutations generally make us less fit, but do not prevent us from breeding and maintaining those mutations. He asserts that if bears move into the arctic, and become white, that is a loss of information rather than a gain. Some strains of H5N1 flu are less effective at multiplying than others- Therefore Creationism!!- yet flu still infects people, and any flu vaccine is a gamble, a choice of which might be the most troublesome strains that winter.

He is incorrigible. Too much in love with his own cleverness, he will not listen to those who could free him from his folly. Like those opposing equal marriage, or climate change deniers, he can only change by realising how stupid he has been, which is so painful as to be unimaginable for him.

Creationism

Michelangelo- The torment of St AnthonyCreationism is incompatible with far more important beliefs in Christianity. How do I argue that, and what is the point of arguing it?

Consider strata, which creationism says formed in the Flood, but geologists say formed over billions of years through different processes of accretion and transformation; or the genome, which shows that each species analysed uses the same genetic code, making a single ancestor likely; or the size of the Universe and the speed of light, indicating a Universe billions of years old rather than thousands. All this evidence refutes creationism, and anyone studying physics, biology or geology to degree level will see that evidence. The vast majority of them agree that young earth creationism cannot be true.

Countering that evidence is a reading of the first two chapters of Genesis which ignores the differences between them, most notably that in chapter 1 God created humans last, on the sixth day, male and female; but that in chapter 2 God created a man, then plants, then animals, and finally a woman.

If young earth creationism is true, then God has created the evidence which these people use to refute it; or allowed Satan to deceive them, so that they imagine evidence shows what it does not. This is a particularly horrid trick for God or Satan to play; for the scientists seek truth, which is a good thing to do, and through their good impulse to seek truth God deceives them, to drive them from Creationism and Christianity alike, so that they will go to Hell.

That God would play such a trick may be seen in the words of Jesus: The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” However, Jesus also compares God to a father, and when we say the creed we affirm this: If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Ours is a God of love. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

How can we go out and make disciples of all nations, if God deliberately creates evidence to drive people away? My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples: How, if Satan ensnares them? God is Love, 1 John 4:16; For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, John 3:16.

What is the point of this argument? Could not the Creationists see the evidence of geology, physics or astronomy and realise they are wrong? Well, they do not. Rather, they deny the evidence. This argument takes something they believe, and respect, and uses it to persuade them. If you do not respect the Bible, the argument will be unpersuasive, but then you will not be a Creationist, and the argument will be unnecessary. If you do not understand its value, ask yourself how people can debate the character of King Lear- he never existed!

When I communicate, I seek to speak in such a way that my hearers will hear. The problem comes when someone is so benighted that s/he thinks humanity is simply evil, and “Love” means saving a few million, and sending billions to Hell.