File this away in your pigeonhole

I ran across this on the internet, and thought it interesting. The part that really struck me was this paragraph:

… creationists cannot understand evolutionary biology even if you show them the hard evidence, because they have no pigeonholes where any of its ideas could fit. Atheist scientists like Dawkins cannot see God because they don’t have a pigeonhole labeled “Evidence for God”, or even one with a less specific label such as “Is there a God?” Dawkins, living in Oxford, is surrounded by evidence of genuine sanctity, but the only pigeonhole he can file his observation of it is labeled “Evidence for delusions about God”.

We have had essentially the same conversation with many different YEC folk over the years, and it helped me understand their position a bit better. It also means we have to find the pigeonholes we have in common to better communicate both with them and the secular world. Link to entire blog:


Pigeonholes are a feature of ideology and how the ideologue oversimplifies the world to force square pegs into round holes. I am not sure that finding pigeonholes in common is a way forward… It reminds me more of the nonaggression pact between Hitler and Stalin as an example of the fact that even ideologies which are fundamentally opposed can agree with regards to their destructive conclusions. I often see this happening between fundamentalists and atheists, neither of whom want any consideration of the possibility of a compatibility between science and Christianity.

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So, where do we go from here? Would it be best just to “live and let live” and avoid interaction, or should we explore ways of seeing the issues that allow for common understanding, which in this case might be focusing on the theology rather than the scientific observations?

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Yes, this. I was caught by surprise the first time I showed up (many years ago) on The Panda’s Thumb. I naively thought the atheists would be delighted to encounter a believing scientist. Boy was I wrong. Later it became Rule #11 in a list of 32 that i put together and named the Internet Atheists Facts O’ Fun:

11. The Law of “When Ken Ham is right, he is really right!” (Also known as the “Use the Desired Effect to Generate the Proper Cause Law”): Atheists frequently assert that YECs like Ken Ham are the dumbest jacka**es in the world. Except when they [YECs like Ham] interpret Genesis One . For that single chapter in the bible they are exegetical savants. Atheists know that the only proper way to interpret Genesis One is with literal 24-hour creation days and a young earth. Because science and the bible are incompatible.


Live and let live may be the only peaceful response to stubborn willful ignorance but I doubt that is actually a way forward. I see more progress in the fact that unrealistic ideologies eventually collapse under the weight of their own incoherence and endless justifications. I think there is always hope in dialog even if the benefits are far slower than we might like. There is reason to have some faith that the truth will eventually be victorious, even if the ideologues continue to shout that the “sky is falling” as it does so.

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I’ve witnessed this too on atheists sites. I find that many claim to know the bible better than believers and that they became atheists when they actually read the bible carefully. But it always seemed to me that they invariably interpreted the bible in the least charitable way possible. Most also avoid acknowledging points of agreement with believers the way a pre-adolescent boy avoids cooties.

As someone who doesn’t believe in any gods as popularly understood myself, I could never understand the lack of interest in the formative role religion has played in our cultural evolution. Do they really believe that religion was an unmitigated disadvantage which saddled mankind for ages? Why wouldn’t it have died out quickly if there was nothing of value in it?

From my perspective the thing that most puzzles me about believers is how they can be so adamantly sure of God’s nature. The decision to base those kinds of conclusions on the bible looks to me like the fellow who looks for his fallen watch near the lamppost. On another thread recently, @Christy said something to the effect that she was content to abide with the mystery. I believe we all would do better to adopt that stance. Where we profoundly do not know we shouldn’t rush to judgement and then badger others to do the same.

Now you have me curious to know all 32 rules of Internet Atheists Facts O’Fun.


Oh YES! I have experienced this in spades. I went on a Dawkins site to commiserate with their outrage over the treatment of Dawkins in some outrageous interviews. I met with considerable hostility over the fact that I was a Christian even so – and especially over the fact that I was both a Christian and a scientist! That was apparently a possibility they did not want to acknowledge.


It is the freedom to believe when there is no objective evidence. The result is that they can at least be sure of what kind of God they are willing believe in, usually derived from the reasons why they believe in the first place.

That is something which I at least make explicit. I am perfectly willing to consider the possibility of the existence of the God of the fundamentalists and simply respond that I would be joining the atheists, Camus, and Prometheus/Sisyphus in that case.

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I think we have peers on both sides of the belief divide who are disappointing and difficult. I remind myself that as the only chimp species learning to manage abstract thinking and propositional language and still fairly new at it, maybe we should just be grateful that some find their way.

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Weird. I was a member of the crew for a few years, and wrote several posts on PT. I was a believing scientist, and my experience was the opposite. Maybe you are talking about commenters.

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I often wonder about the people that show up here in the forum and engage in lengthy conversations … one is happening right now. Then at some point they go away, unconvinced it appears to me. So what happens to them over time, what do they think of the engagement? Do any of them ever come back?

So really … where does the conversation go from here? Is there any point to these long discussions? I certainly learn a lot from being a hanger on in these parts. What do the rest of you say? Are these discussions worthwhile?


Good questions, and I have periods where I retreat and avoid posting awhile for that reason. I see some of those same people on other sites, apparently unchanged, but there are some that are genuinely open and interested in integrating faith with their understanding of science, and it is a process that is unlikely to be completed on a discussion forum, but perhaps the seeds planted here will allow them to avoid crisis as their understanding increases.
While I am not a Biologos insider, my thought is that we are really not here to change anyone’s mind, but if they are changing their mind, we are here to support them in that process. Certainly, that may only apply to a few.
That is sort of what the article addresses, in that if you get a fact or chunk of information, but your worldview does not offer a place to file it that makes sense, the tendency is either to chunk it, or squish it somewhere it doesn’t fit. The answer is not more information in most cases, but rather adapting the filing system.

Thanks for posting that article, Phil. I definitely had a spacious pigeonhole ready and waiting to receive what the author said! I would compare it back to another thread where we discussed Daniel Kahneman and his work on fast and slow thinking. He called it system 1 (fast, reactionary, intuitive) and system 2 thinking (slow, deliberative, evaluating). Our pigeon holes seem to me to be the author’s equivalent for Kahneman’s system 1 thinking. And lest people try to pop these into a simplistic dichotomy where system 1 = “bad” / system 2 = “good”, Kahneman did not go that way at all. We could not carry on our daily lives without our primary “system 1” pigeon-holing in high gear, doing what it does best. And besides that our “system 2” is incredibly lazy and is often happy just to run with what “system 1” already came up with, contenting itself to provide any needed post-hoc justification [and does it ever excel at that!]. But we can use our system 2 to cultivate our system 1 thinking toward more accurate and higher quality intuitions. The trick is for us to know when to switch away from system 1 into system 2. Some people may want to pretend they always live in “system 2” and don’t even have a system 1. To think that would be delusional. Nobody can live there any more than they could do a 1-mile sprint.

Longitudinal studies could be interesting on that, I suppose. More than once in my several years on this forum, I’ve encountered a post by somebody that provokes a mental double-take on my part. “What!? …I could have sworn that so-and-so used to log in here sounding very differently about that same issue!” But I’m never quite so interested so as to do the research to catch them in their apparent mind-change. (And for the record, it’s always been in the direction of being more accepting of science in the context of belief, at least according to my vague recollections.) If at all accurate, that’s a good thing, and what we’re all about here, after all! Besides, we don’t need to search for such evidence of change when we have no shortage of people here and now who regularly fess up with: “I used to think like that… and now I don’t.” But of course, maybe this is because I have a “pigeon hole” for those sorts of changes and don’t have one for the others.

I do think, however, there is tremendous cause for optimism, and that these conversations are not in vain!

Sort a parallel thought is that this is how the Bible was written also, with ideas presented that could be filed into the framework of the day, teaching theology through a 3 layered cosmos with a dome and waters above and below. As we learn more about the universe, those lessons remain the same but we have to integrate them into a new way of organization that makes sense to us.

I think there is value to these sorts of conversations - but often, the value is for the onlookers.


Definitely – I’ve learned a lot from such conversations, even ones I didn’t engage in.


A lot of them probably never change their minds. On the other hand multiple people have written to BioLogos and said that reading those type of conversations over a period of time was what did change their minds. So, I try to remember, when engagement seems like a total waste of time, that the silent audience is often the most affected party. There are far more readers here than posters.


How about evolutionists who became creationists? Did they once have the evo pigeonholes and then lost them? Is a form of evolution?
Conversely what about creationists who went over to the dark side. What happened to their pigeonholes?

Or maybe this is just another one of those rubbish ideas you find on the internet. Perhaps the truth is that some creationists really do understand evolution.

Mostly the cesspool of commenters, but not exclusively. For example, PZ Myers was/is not noted for his tolerance (of anything).

No doubt, but understanding the concept really has little to do with it. I would bet Todd Wood could teach me a lot about evolution, as well as other things. But, it still does not fit in his worldview filing system, and has to be put aside or trimmed up to fit in the slot. Likewise, literalism in early Genesis does not fit in the filing system of the usual EC person, and has to be set aside. It is sort of like the Lock Ness monster in the article, you have to believe it before you can see it.
As to people who make the change either way, I would hold that it is not an intellectual decision on the validity of the evidence, but rather a decision to change the “filing system” and then to see what fits, although the evidence may make you consider changing the system. Of course, here we are talking theology and interpretation.
(By the way, the quote you used, Chris, was from the article, not from me, but no big deal. It just confused me and I had to go back and look to see if I really said that.)

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