There can be an awful lot of pessimism about talking to creationists. Young Earth Creationism (YEC) is a fairly common view in North America, and unfortunately conversation on the topic often generates more heat than light. There are tons of articles out there discussing the validity of the YEC view, but it seems there is precious little said about the business of people actually talking to creationists. Unfortunately, talking to creationists often involves quite a bit of uncharitable things being said. I’ve spent about a decade thinking and talking about the issue (half of that as a YEC myself), and have noticed a few things I find helpful for increasing the light and decreasing the heat. Here are 10 things to keep in mind if you’re a non-YEC person who wants talking to creationists to not be a waste of time:
1. Creationists are usually good, honest, intelligent people.
Most creationists are not dishonest or unintelligent, and probably have about as good a grasp on things like evolution as the average non-YEC person. A few even have post-secondary science education. Your conversation partner is probably just an honest person the same as you only with a different set of facts; treat them like you would want to be treated. Love your neighbor as yourself.
2. Understand the underlying epistemology.
How can honest educated people be YEC? It’s because of their epistemological balance. Science is one way of knowing things, and faith is understood as another. If YEC is the only possible conclusion to your faith, it’s entirely possible to value that above even the most obvious scientific conclusions; remember that science is not capable of achieving 100% certainty, even though 99.99% is pretty good. That might be hard to understand if you’ve never been a YEC person, but it can definitely be a rational conclusion. YEC Biologist Dr. Todd Wood is a great example of this.
3. Be honest about your perspective.
I personally have enough education to see quite clearly that we can be as scientifically certain about common descent as we can be about the Earth orbiting the Sun. Most YEC people disagree with that assessment. There’s no sense beating around the bush here; I see what I see, and they see what they see. It would be disingenuous for any of us to pretend otherwise.
4. Make the conversation goal about learning instead of converting.
Because of the epistemological balance, someone can understand how unequivocally science points to an old Earth and common descent and still conclude as a YEC. Don’t be surprised if their mind isn’t changed. Unless a Christian can see a rational way of understanding the Bible in a non-young Earth way, they might just never change their mind. But if one or both of you get a better understanding of the scientific evidence or scripture in the process of talking, that’s still a great thing. There’s lots to learn, and learning is a lot more fun for everyone than being frustrated that someone doesn’t agree with you.
5. Know that a good conversation is a time commitment.
Most people don’t have significant training in Biology, Geology, or other relevant topics, including people who accept an old Earth and common descent. Any productive conversation may be long and require careful study and long explanations. There is an awful lot of ground to cover. Productive conversation on this topic requires some time commitment, so know that going into conversation. If you don’t have time for it, don’t waste what time you have. Doing drive-by’s on blogs is likely not going to change anyone’s mind.
6. Be a good friend and listen.
Listen to them. I know how clear the evidence is. I know that the chances of a YEC person having some evidence or question that actually shows a young Earth is as likely as someone showing that geocentricism is true. You still need to be a good friend and listen carefully to their points and questions. YEC people often have some great interesting questions that you may have never thought of! Talking to creationists can be a chance to learn something new and interesting.
7. Choose your conversation medium carefully.
Choose your medium carefully; blowing up a blog comment section is probably not a way to easily have an in-depth conversation. Maybe a Facebook PM, email, or in-person conversation would give the proper space for this. Also remember that many people are much stronger at communicating either in-person or in writing. Play to your strengths, and respect other peoples’ strengths too.
8. Focus on being specific.
It’s easy for conversations to be a waste of time if every topic is only gets a shallow treatment. Evidence is very easily dismissed when it is very poorly understood. Don’t leave a topic until it’s well understood. If someone isn’t willing to be specific and try to understand things well, don’t waste your time talking to them.
9. Not everyone is ready to talk or think about this issue.
Even if you’re up to having this sort of conversation, not everyone else is. A lot of the rhetoric of YEC leaders is extremely polarizing and involves all kinds of uncharitable accusations about the honesty and faith of scientists and other Christians interpreting the scientific and scriptural evidence in a non-YEC way. It’s such a part of that sub-culture that many otherwise charitable people will talk this way without necessarily realizing what sort of rhetoric they are using. Don’t waste your time. You (hopefully) are trying your best to understand the truth about scripture and science with the knowledge you have. Anyone who can’t accept that can’t have a conversation about this. It’s OK to just end a conversation if you aren’t being treated fairly.
10. Try to be gracious.
You’ll probably get treated unfairly some of the time, even by great people. That’s just part of the subculture, and the Dunning-Kruger effect doesn’t help. We all fall for that sort of thing sometimes, so let’s try hard to be self-aware and give the benefit of the doubt where you can. Hopefully others will do the same for you.
If you keep those 10 things in mind, hopefully talking to creationists can be a good experience for everyone involved. Talking to creationists productively can be done, as long as it can be done peacefully and charitably. Sometimes that means turning down a lot of unpromising conversation opportunities. Stay tuned for an upcoming post for YEC folks talking with us Evolution types!