Why do YECs believe silly things? The function of denialism (With new cartoon added)

The Ken-Cat explains
why most people in his
religion believe silly things
By Christadelphian Ken Gilmore

The Earth is around 4500 million years old. That's a fact, and anyone who asserts otherwise simply does not know what he is talking about. The evidence for this as I pointed out yesterday is considerable, and covers a wide range of areas from ice cores to radiometric dating.

Despite this, our community is filled with people who in all seriousness believe that the Earth is only 6000 years old, and when shown the evidence which refutes that position persist in maintaining this mistaken belief. As philosopher of science John Wilkins [1] has noted, psychological and sociological factors arguably play the main role in preserving beliefs as patently false as YEC in closed communities such as ours.

Wilkins cites the example of the Exclusive Brethren when developing his argument, recalling how his attempts to engage the member in conversation about beliefs met with failure. Apart from the need to earn a living, this person appeared to have withdrawn from all engagement with the outside world. Wilkins observes:
I wondered at how a clearly intelligent person could believe what he believed, and then it hit me: he couldn’t speak to outsiders, because they just looked at him with their jaw open and shaking their head. His beliefs isolated him from those outside his community, and therefore, by implication, strengthened his involvement within the community. If you believe silly crap, then the only people you can talk to are those who have the same silly beliefs.
Unlike the Exclusive Brethren, our community does engages with the outside world. However, there are not a few people for whom most - if not all - of their social networks and support comes from the ecclesial world, and if you are in an area infested by YEC beliefs, the subtle pressure to maintain YEC despite the evidence can be extreme. Wilkins continues:
This might help explain why it is that no amount of reasoned argument with evidence can sway such folk. Think of this as a kind of investment: one spends a long period developing one’s beliefs and social connections. If you are challenged in your beliefs, you put at risk your social networks with those who use the silly beliefs you hold as a test of inclusion, and therefore risk your social connections. To start again will cost you time, effort and resources that could be better spent. It takes a real crisis of faith to be forced to reconsider these core beliefs...In the case of climate denialism, or creationism, it is not the content or topic of the beliefs that matters, but the fact that in order to hold them and assert them, you have isolated yourself from the external community as a show of faith. To abandon them simply because they are false would cost too much. And so you face up to the cognitive dissonance and rationalise your beliefs and the facts that challenge them. (Emphasis mine)
It's a cold and lonely world out there, and if your social connections come from a community that is heavily into science denialism, your choice between the loneliness of intellectual honesty or rationalising away uncomfortable facts in order to maintain that social network is often quickly and unconsciously decided in favour of the latter. If the YEC / science denialist stance is also linked even implicitly with theological orthodoxy [1], then there is the added spur of the risk of jeopardising salvation to help the challenged YEC make the unconscious decision to rationalise away the evidence against YEC.
It's hard to get a person to change their mind when they fear loss of social networks and salvation as a consequence of such a decision. Wilkins observes that inculcation of critical thinking skills rather than the facts per se is a better path towards successfully challenging false beliefs:
A better, but longer term solution is to insist that education teaches not the facts, but the methods by which we understand those facts, in order that people can develop their cognitive stances appropriately. This denies the next generation of denialists their replacements, until they become at best an extremely small minority. Education is the solution, which the denialists well understand. This is why we have objections to even discussing these “controversial” matters in schools, and why the denialists (whether of evolution, global warming, or whatever) continuously try to insert their agenda into public education. An uneducated community is more easily controlled and manipulated. (Emphasis mine)
The parallels with sections of our community are fairly clear, and need no elaboration. If our community is to escape the YEC delusion, then one way is to show that such views were alien to the original community, and that the shift to YEC came as a result of a disastrous infiltration of fundamentalist nonsense into our community in the mid-20th century [3] from which we are still suffering.

While pioneering figures such as CC Walker, Robert Roberts, and John Thomas differed in their views on the literality of a six day creation period, they were united in their rejection of a young Earth:
Instead of six thousand, they can avail themselves of sixty thousand; for the scriptures reveal no length of time during which the terrene angels dwelt upon our globe. [4] 
Fragments, however, of the wreck of this pre-Adamic world have been brought to light by geological research, to the records of which we refer the reader, for a detailed account of its discoveries, with this remark, that its organic remains, coal fields, and strata, belong to the ages before the formation of man, rather than to the era of the creation, or the Noachic flood. [5]  
It is a demonstrable fact that the earth has existed for ages. To adopt a view that appears to make it begin only 6,000 years ago would create a difficulty. There is no need for adopting such a view. [6]  
I have not the slightest doubt concerning the truths revealed in the strata of the earth’s crust. There can be no reasonable doubt that long ages have passed away since the matter of the earth first took existences by the fiat of its Almighty Creator. … The facts of old mother earth’s storehouse are too convincingly inscribed upon her crust to allow me to doubt. [7]
Ten years ago the average scientist would have asserted that our habitable globe had not existed for more than a hundred million years. Now it would be hard to find a competent physical specialist who would fix a definite maximum below a thousand million years: [8] 
Far from representing a 'capitulation' to 'secular science', these views represented the careful thoughts of a generation that unlike the current generation of YEC science denialists in our community actively engaged with the best of contemporary scholarship, and were therefore well aware of the evidence which even in the 19th and early 20th centuries overwhelmingly confirmed the great antiquity of the Earth. Contemporary YEC science denialists in our community who pompously chide an earlier generation for 'compromising' on the subject of the age of the Earth have themselves done just the same by uncritically accepting evangelical Christian nonsense on the subject of the age of the Earth, or by isolating themselves in a fundamentalist bubble and consulting nothing more authoritative than their own ignorance.

Barbie and Ken
Weaning those in our community off the YEC delusion will be difficult, but showing them that at the very least, belief in an old Earth was normative for our community and those that endorse YEC are endorsing an aberrant view that owes everything to the apocalyptic visions of Seventh Day Adventist founder Ellen G White (which found their way into the evangelical community via Whitcomb and Morris' The Genesis Flood and then into ours) and little if anything to the Bible will serve as an excellent beginning.

Editor's Note:

Later in the John Wilkins article quoted by Ken at the start of this article John writes:

"We do not just acquire our beliefs in one step, but accrue them as we develop into adults. There is a cost to this, and so to move someone from their core beliefs and values, you have to make it something that would outweigh the costs involved in acquiring and maintaining those beliefs."

That is our problem as Ex-Christadelphians seeking to deconvert Christadelphians; we can't give them something that will outweigh the emotional costs and pain of abandoning their silly beliefs. We can't offer eternal life and all of the other magical nonsense that they have cemented into their brains as core beliefs. Our message that you only live once and that there is no paranormal god overseeing everything seems to be despair and depression to Christadelphians. They don't share our love of rational, critical thinking. They are not willing to seek real Truth if it does not come sprinkled with magic dust and sugar. They dare not face life outside the sect because they are not mentally strong enough to cope outside the Christadelphian community. Even Ex-Christadelphians who are evicted from the sect find this to be a hugely traumatic experience. Why would any one want to suffer that pain voluntarily?

And so the Christadelphian self-delusion bolstered by Confirmation Bias continues. They call it "the Truth"; but an individual requires an unusually strong love of truth before they realise that the Truth lies outside Christadelphian dogma. 


1. Wilkins J "Why do believers believe silly things? The function of denialism" Evolving Thoughts Jan 26th 2014

2. When YECs discuss this subject, not infrequently emotional words such as 'wisdom of man' and 'science falsely so called' are dog-whistle words are used which are calculated to evoke just the right non-rational response.

3. Hayward A "Letter: Flood Geology - A Note of Caution" The Christadelphian (1977) 114:268

4. Thomas J., ‘Elpis Israel’, p. 11 (1990 ed.)

5. ibid

6. Roberts R, ‘In the Beginning’, The Christadelphian (1885) 22:141

7. Welch., 'Knowledge.- No., 12 Geology', The Christadelphian (1891) 28:416

8. Walker C.C., ‘The Age of the Earth’, The Christadelphian (1911) 48:450

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