Creative Challenge #64: Make a Creationist Think

Most of you know your Curmudgeon’s position on creationist debates: Debating Creationists is Dumber Than Creationism.

But it could sometimes happen that you’re briefly stuck with a creationist, and before you can disengage, he raises the subject and asks you why you’re an evolutionist. Is there a reasonably polite response one make that could actually be effective? After giving this some thought, we might have something.

Although the bible is very clear that The Earth Is Flat!, most creationists somehow aren’t flat earthers. If the creationist you’re confronted with isn’t a flat-earther there might be something that you could do.

Simply ask him why — in spite of what the bible says in several passages — he’s not a flat-earther.

If the person you’re talking to is a flat-earther, then the situation is clearly hopeless and you should swiftly disengage. But if, like most people — even creationists — he’s not a flat-earther, then how could he respond to your question? He’ll probably say something like: “It looks like a sphere. You can travel around it. You can see photos of it taken from space. You can talk with people in the other hemisphere and they’ll tell you that when it’s night time for them they see different stars than you do when it’s night time here.”

If he responds with any of that, he’s actually giving you a factual, rational reason for believing the earth is a sphere. You could — briefly — say to him that the same kind of thinking — fact based and rational — is what prevents you from being a creationist.

That’s how we would handle it, and at that point we would quit the conversation and leave as quickly and politely as possible.

Will the creationist ponder the situation and then change his thinking about creationism? Probably not. That would require him to think: “Hey, despite what the bible says, we can actually see that the Earth is a sphere. Therefore …” Assuming the typical creationist will never have a train of thought like that, what have you accomplished? Probably nothing.

Can you think of anything else that might have potential for waking up a creationist? Anything at all? The form of today’s challenge is that you must tell us, with reasonable brevity:

What could be briefly said to a creationist that might make him reconsider his belief?

You know the rules: You may enter the contest as many times as you wish, but you must avoid profanity, vulgarity, childish anatomical analogies, etc. Also, avoid slanderous statements about individuals. Feel free to comment on the entries submitted by others — with praise, criticism, or whatever — but you must do so tastefully.

There may not be a winner of this contest, but if there is, your Curmudgeon will decide, and whenever we get around to it we’ll announce who the winner is. There is no tangible prize — as always in life’s great challenges, the accomplishment is its own reward. We now throw open the comments section, dear reader. Go for it!

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25 responses to “Creative Challenge #64: Make a Creationist Think

  1. I haven’t had much success with this, probably it’s too complicated, but i like to bring up the heiiocentric model of the Solar System. ISTM that one can fairly say that “nothing in astronomy makes sense except in the light of heliocentrism”: the distances to the stars are based on the parallaxes of the
    the nearest stars, and that makes sense of the knowledge of how the stars shine; and the knowlege that the planets of the Solar System are made of the same kind of elemental material; etc. All of this is solid science, not what the creationists want to restrict science to; and totally unexpected to the authors and the audience of the Bible for a couple of thousands of years, from the earliest Biblical writings of hundreds of years BCE to about 1500+ CE.
    It takes a different concept of what we can have confidence in knowing. Matbe, even, that different concept is necessary to accept modern science.

  2. Theodore J Lawry

    How could a God, who faked all the evidence for an old earth/universe, be more honest than a God who used the word “day” metaphorically in a few verses of Genesis?

  3. Michael Fugate

    Why would good evangelical Christians like the scholars at BioLogos accept the evidence for evolution?

    If you can trace ancestry by shared DNA sequences within humans, then why not between humans and other species?

  4. A couple of points which the prosecutors of Galileo brought up:
    There was no one in the history of Bible reading who suggested that passages like the Sun standing still for Joshua might be meant other than literally. One can not plausibly say that it was obviously meant figuratively.
    Galileo did not have direct physical evidence for the motion of the Earth. There was no such evidence until well after everyone had given up defending geocentrism.

  5. Dave Luckett

    Depends. If it’s coming from a creationist of the “God said it, I believe it” school, I’d ask by what authority in Scripture the creationist holds that Genesis is a literal account.

    TomS notes, correctly, that in the early seventeenth century conservative Catholic scholars could hold that nobody had ever called the Joshua sun-standing-still miracle other than an actual event. In the first place this is not an argument from authority, but from silence. In the second there were many, from St Augustine on, who could treat the creation stories as figurative.

    There is nothing in Genesis to say that its writers were doing anything other than relaying oral tradition. Even if you add to Scripture by saying that it was written by Moses – a tradition that has no scriptural authority, either – by definition the account is not from an eyewitness. Were they there?

    Ah, says the creationist, but the Genesis accounts are inspired! All scripture is. Yes indeed. But “inspired”, which is the most that Scripture claims for itself, does not mean the same as “literal”. The parables of Jesus were inspired, were they not? Was the Parable of the Talents a literal account of real events? The Parable of the King’s Feast? Was the Parable of the Good Samaritan a quote from the Jericho police blotter? If not, why must the Genesis stories must be read literally?

    If the creationist is of the “There is no scientific evidence for evolution” school, the task is actually harder. There are, of course, endless amounts of good scientific evidence for evolution, but laying it out is lengthy, by definition. By that time the creationist has Gishgalloped to pastures new; and practically anyone who is bored by a recital of fact has long switched off. We saw an example of this happening a thread or so ago, with genuinemoron.

    Most doctinaire creationists I have grappled with are of both schools, by turns, though. That is a pretty strong indication that their unreason and intractible ignorance are essential to their self-image. I simply don’t know how that could be dealt with.

  6. @Dave Luckett
    There are those who deal with the tough cases for literalism with the rule: if it is obviously not meant literally. (A good example is the “legend of the trees” Judges 9:8-16. There are people who take many of the NT parables literally.) But no one, for thousands of years, had pointed out that the Sun standing still for Joshua might be not literally true. How can one claim now
    that it is “obviously” so? On the other hand, there are several examples, from the earliest days, of people who
    suggested non-literal readings of the
    six days of creation: The Epistle of
    Barnabas (1st or 2nd century) etc.
    As far as the proof-text about “inspiration”, it does not say that scripture is literally true, but that it
    Is “useful” for certain tasks, like for
    teaching. 2 Timothy 3:16.

  7. “Is there a reasonably polite response one make that could actually be effective?”
    Then you first have to specify what you mean with effective.
    Me having fun by making creationists feel uneasy is an effect. In this regard I’ve given reasonably polite responses quite often.
    You operationalize your question with

    “Simply ask him why — in spite of what the bible says in several passages — he’s not a flat-earther.”
    This won’t work. Creationists simply deny this – they’ve learned their stereotypal answers by heart and will stick to them.

    “he’s actually giving you a factual, rational reason for believing the earth is a sphere”
    Like all human beings (including you and me) creationists are perfectly capable of being factual and rational in one department and alternative-factual and irrational in another.

    “You could — briefly — say to him that the same kind of thinking — fact based and rational — is what prevents you from being a creationist.”
    OK. Let’s do a little test. The same kind of thinking you use to defend evolution theory and to combat creationism prevents me from adhering to free market ideology as promoted by you.
    It would highly surprise me if this made you rethink your ideology, especially because you have deluded yourself with the thought it’s scientifically justified as creationists (DaveL is another typical example – totally immune to facts when it comes to Brexit ao).

    “What could be briefly said to a creationist that might make him reconsider his belief?”
    Imo there is no good, let alone a simple answer on this question.
    Being cured from such misconcepts (I know from first hand experience) is a long, painful process. So brief answers will never do.

  8. Reformulation: “you have deluded yourself with the thought it’s scientifically justified like creationists have.”

  9. @TomS: “one can fairly say that “nothing in astronomy makes sense except in the light of heliocentrism”
    This is simply wrong. Our universe doesn’t have a centre; the only reason we put the Sun there is convenience. Let me refer to the first sentence of the Wikipedia article History of the center of the universe:

    “The center of the Universe is a concept that lacks a coherent definition in modern astronomy; according to standard cosmological theories on the shape of the universe, it has no center.”
    This is a simple, brief and polite answer – and as I’ve told you this several times before it’s another nice example of what I argued in my first comment.

    The biblical texts most often cited in the claim that the Bible teaches a flat Earth are Job 38:5, 12-14, Isaiah 11:12, 40:22, and Revelation 7:1, 20:7. Of these passages, the most cited is Isaiah 40:22. The relevant part of Isaiah 40:22, referring to God, states, “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.” Whether the “circle of the earth” refers to a human on Earth or God looking down on Earth from above, in both cases the phrase would be consistent with a spherically shaped Earth. It is worth noting that only a sphere always looks like a circle when seen from above.

    The Isaiah 11:12 and Revelation 7:1, 20:7 verses all refer to the “four corners of the earth.” However, even today, astronomers, physicists, and educated people around the world recognize and use the “four corners of the earth” as phenomenalogical language referring to the most distant parts of Earth from the standpoint of an observer at a specific location on Earth. It is clear from an examination of the context for all three of these passages that the most distant parts of Earth is the intent implied by the use of the idiom, the four corners of the earth. As the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament points out, the Hebrew word for “corners” used in Isaiah 11:12, kanap, in most of its appearances in the Old Testament is used figuratively.

  11. @FrankB
    I try to be careful not to say that the Sun is motionless at the center. The heliocentric model of the Solar System is what I specify. Of course, you should realize, I know about the Sun’s motion and position relative to the Milky Way Galaxy, as well as some of the major features of modern cosmology. That depends on the acceptance of the Heliocentric model of the Solar System.
    On another topic, we see how a creationist has the canned response to the Flat Earth, which requires no thinking: thinking being the desired result.

  12. genuinearticlex7, you are now on probation.

  13. Charles Deetz ;)

    The average person will default to ID as a bridge between science and the Bible story. I’d ask them when ID stopped, or has it?

  14. What anyone chooses to believe about the origins of life on earth isn’t of significance per se ; what matters IMHO is what implications those beliefs have (if any) on what their holders believe should be the structure of society and the system of government today. That is: it doesn’t matter a fig if one chooses to believe the earth was ‘created’ by a mystical being, still less if that even is supposed to be recent or not, but it matters enormously if, as a consequence of such a belief, one holds that, say, lippy teenagers should be stoned to death in accordance with religious decrees.

    So here is what I would briefly say to a creationist that might make him reconsider his belief:

    If not other possibilty existed other than the following, and you could choose which was correct, what would your choice be between:

    [1] The cosmos and life within it has arisen from entirely natural processes, as is held by science, or

    [2] The cosmos and life within it was magically created by an omnipotent deity–but NOT the deity your currently worship, but some other deity who regards your current religious beliefs as hideously blasphemous and worthy only of torture, death, and eternal damnation

  15. @Charles Deetz 😉
    There is the long standing question: what positive does “intelligent design” mean?
    It seems to say only that there is a better explanation than naturalistic evolution, without ever even attempting to give an alternative (let alone better) explanation. Why does the world of life have this variety? Answer that without using the words “naturalistic” or “evolution”, and why this variety rather than some other (something other than the pattern of taxonomy, or of biogeography, etc.).

  16. Any attempt to come up with the “killer question” for creationists runs into the exact same problem that creationists run into with their “killer questions” for evolutionists – humans aren’t robots, and they don’t follow scripts. You need to engage with the person on a personal level, and ask questions that challenge their assumptions, not the assumptions that you yourself have assumed they made. If you aren’t willing to do so, that’s honestly fine – there’s only so many hours in the day, after all – but that is what you need to do.

  17. Michael Fugate

    It is a mindset – I don’t know how you can help someone to escape the essentialism inherent in creationism. Many great thinkers fell into this trap of the existence of ideal forms. Change and variation versus constancy and perfection – there is no evidence of the latter other than that imposed by human minds. We want there to be Gods, Edens, Heavens, etc. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

  18. Michael Fugate

    Another book on the science-Christianity conflict – it is comic how religion becomes in the minds of many Christianity (as if). Such a parochial view. If Christianity were wrong, it would say nothing about whether the supernatural exists or evolution were true. It is like creationists trying to discredit Darwin – tilting at windmills. Like looking for your car keys under the streetlight when you know they couldn’t be there.

  19. @Michael Fugate
    IMHO, it isn’t a matter of adherence to
    essentialism, or any other abstraction. It is, in the first place, a matter of revulsion at the idea of being related to monkeys. The revulsion is particularly strong because it is so obvious.
    I think of teenagers who don’t like to be reminded of their parents because they realize how much like them they are.
    When “Origen of Species” came out, although the monkey-human link was not mentioned, the immediate, largest reaction was of the sort “was your grandmother a monkey”.

  20. Michael Fugate

    I think they are part of the same thing.

  21. Jim Roberts

    Yeah, there really isn’t much daylight between essentialism and, “I ain’t no monkey.” Despite its clear violation of everything we know about how animals work, and specifically primates, people will insist that humans are separate and distinct from animals, and that animals are separate and distinct from one another.

  22. Too bad your determinate thinking has become a disturbance of opinion that is unequal to your professed declarations of a grandeur of thought. I had no idea that your reflex of a contrary opinion is the small and mean conquest of a prejudice of a self-reflection in a mirror of deceit and grimaced ideals that beg the contrition of fact.

  23. Why do I think that Kae Quante is a sock puppet for genuinearticle?

  24. Jim Roberts

    They are separate people, based on the Google Machine and a little quick backtracing of certain unique bits of data I found.

  25. I think that Kae Quante is mostly some sort of automaton, though its comments are primed by an intelligence, and possibly seriously subnormal outputs are intelligently rejected. genuinearticle wouldn’t be technically competent to manage this.