If there’s a lot of pessimism among evolutionists about the productivity of trying to talk to creationists, there’s at least as much pessimism among creationists. Many times I’ve heard (or made, in my YEC days) comments about how such discussions with those of us who have “drunk the evolution kool-aid” are a waste of time. But why should conversation about a topic important to all parties involved ever be a waste of time? I’m an optimist here: I think the only limit to productive conversation is lack of love and charity for one another. That shouldn’t be too hard for Christians, right? Well, here are some thoughts for how creationists can help make that happen.
1. Ask Questions Earnestly
Things like “10 Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher About Evolution” are a staple of YEC rhetoric. Asking questions can be a great way of probing the validity of an idea, and of learning more about it. Unfortunately, a lot of the time these questions are just asked to try to stump an evolutionist in order to jump to a preferred conclusion. If there is an answer, the person trying to stump the other isn’t really interested in it, or learning at all, and just jumps to the next attempt at stumping. This is frustrating for everyone involved. Only ask questions if you want to know the answers.
2. Do Proper Research Before Making an Argument
There is a tendency among some YEC folks to basically copy and paste arguments from their favorite YEC website. This is done without taking the time to actually understand the argument they are making thoroughly, or checking for how the broader scientific community would answer the argument. This type of arguing is a rude waste of time, but can be easily spotted in just about any online forum by probably most YEC folks participating. Doing proper research is hard work, and if someone doesn’t do any of that hard work before making an argument, other people are forced to do ALL of that hard work in order to have a conversation. Rude, dude.
3. Know How Much You Don’t Know
There’s nothing wrong with not being an expert in something. At best, each of us is an expert in a few things. I personally know quite a bit about biology, and even a thing or two about chemistry. However, it would be somewhat silly if I were to go about confidently disagreeing with physicists about something like the validity of Cosmic Inflation Theory when I don’t even have a high-school level physics understanding. It is unfortunately a human tendency to think we know more than we do, so let’s always work hard to maintain our humility.
4. Know You Are Honestly Seeking The Truth
Great! Good for you. So are most other people. There certainly are some dishonest folks around, but I can’t have much of a productive conversation with someone bent on thinking I disagree with them because I’m too proud/not listening/not committed to seeking the truth/etc. You can’t have a productive conversation about anything with that attitude. You can have a productive conversation about everything if we start with “I think you are honestly mistaken” instead of “I think you’re evil.”
5. Don’t Wast Time Talking with Uncharitable People
Not everyone can have a conversation on the basis of thinking you are honestly mistaken. I wouldn’t waste time disagreeing about Theism with someone as caustic as Richard Dawkins, and YEC people shouldn’t waste time disagreeing with folks like that about evolution or the age of the Earth.
6. Disagreeing with Scientific Consensus is Fine. Being A Jerk Is Not.
Just because you disagree with the vast majority of experts doesn’t necessarily make you wrong. Disagreement is encouraged in science, so if you think you’ve got a great (yet unpopular) idea, then by all means pursue it. For example: creationists have been welcome to present their research at the annual conference of the American Geophysical Union. On the other hand, being a jerk about disagreeing is not welcome in academia, and it shouldn’t be welcome in the church either. It’s never okay to make accusations about the integrity or faith of another person just for having a different perspective.
7. Making Accusations Can Be Fine, But It’s Tough to Do.
Let’s be honest, there are dishonest people out there, and the cause of love and charity does not tie our hands against calling that out. However, we need to always keep in mind the threat of bearing false witness against one another. There are certainly some YEC scientists that I have no problem calling liars, because a) they repeatedly misrepresent facts I can easily verify and b) they have enough education that I have strong reason to believe they know better than what they are saying. The same can be said about some scientists representing just about any perspective. That isn’t an easy standard of evidence to reach in all cases, but it’s necessary to keep oneself honest.
8. Stay On Topic
There is an unfortunate tendency in YEC rhetoric to jump from one topic to the next very quickly without fully addressing anything. This is sort of like point #2 (above) on steroids. This technique, dubbed the Gish Gallop, is nothing to be proud of in YEC history. To have a productive conversation, pick something specific to argue about and then stick to that until it’s been fully discussed.
9. Good Conversations Take Time
Unlike the Gish Gallop, have a good, productive, respectful conversation takes time. A lot of time. If you don’t have a lot of time for it, maybe skip out on discussing this sort of thing at all. There are plenty of other valuable things to do, so there’s no reason to feel bad about skipping this one. But if you do take the time to make the long trip from one perspective to another, even if only for an intellectual visit, it can certainly be well worth your while.