Slacktivist blog-thought provoking ( and pretty plain old provoking, too)

Here is a link to a recent Slacktivist blog by Fred Clark. I don’t agree with a lot of his positions, leaning more to the traditional than the progressive side, but find his writing thought provoking and entertaining, and in this case, pretty much on track. I hesitate in a way to post it, as it is more confrontational than we like to get here, but the human side of how the discussion affects people is compelling. Some of the comments are as sobering as the article.

One quote from his article got my attention, as I had just read on a creationist site about how bloody evolution was: “This if/then construct is cruel to those indoctrinated into it and slanderous to everyone else. It presents a false binary between young-Earth creationism and nihilism.”

What do you think? Do you feel young earth creationism lead to widespread angst and atheism? Any other thoughts? Again, try to avoid attacks, but share your observations.


It may be worth noting that atheists accuse Christians generally of a same kind of “cruel” dichotomy; i.e. you could take some of these statements and replace “YEC” with “Christianity”. E.g. “It presents a false binary between Christianity and nihilism.”

I tend to think there is some wider, long-term societal truth in that accusation which makes me at least partially guilty as charged, while yet acknowledging that in any individual case there is no necessary immediate equivalence between atheism and nihilism, as many respectful, articulate, and moral atheists here have been at pains to show.

I raise this, not to sidetrack your point, but as a reminder of what this feels like when what you consider to be your very core beliefs are challenged or for some perhaps even overthrown. Are there times when stark dichotomization is appropriate? Or is it always a cruelty in the end? Many of us here easily identify it as an eventual cruelty if the thing so advocated is demonstrably false. But what if the thing so advocated is something you still hold to be [important] truth?

Thanks for posting this, @jpm. I think Clark raises some valid points.

The quote that jumped out at me was this one:" But because accepting those other possibilities threatens the “evangelical worldview” just as much as trilobites and the light from distant stars, the reality of all those other people — those billions who are neither nihilists nor creationists — has to be denied."

I think Clark is right to say that the inevitable endpoint of the YEC algorithm is denial – denial of the reality of all those other people. This endpoint is very troubling, because it’s polar opposite of what Jesus taught us about love.

I’m not surprised about the disorientation of the young woman who suddenly “gets it” (the “it” being the true age and majesty of the planet). The brain will respond with some pretty strange sensations whenever a core belief system is penetrated by the arrowhead of insight. But the brain will respond this way to any core belief that’s suddenly turned on its head, so it’s not an experience unique to YEC proponents who suddenly see the flaws in the algorithm they’ve been taught.

The physical sensations can be painful and upsetting, but this is to be expected when the brain is faced with the biological challenge of taking apart a lot of its networks and building new networks to accommodate the new understanding. It’s a lot of work, as far as the brain is concerned. But that’s the beauty of neuroplasticity and neurogenesis – the brain can and will rewire itself if the insight is strong and clear enough. Insight rules the roost, so to speak.

The experience of sudden insight that challenges your unchallenged beliefs and forces you to go more deeply into your relationship with God than you ever thought possible is the experience of redemption. It breaks open your heart, makes you feel humble (probably for the first time in your life), and forces you to ask questions you were afraid to ask in the past. It hurts. It hurts like heck. It takes time and patience and humbleness to work your way through all the implications of the insight. But you realize that all the hard work is helping you get closer to God, which is the very thing the old algorithm was trying with all its might to prevent you from doing.

So in the end, the struggle of dealing with the insight is more than worth it.

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One of the comments made on the blog said something to the effect the what caused them to doubt their faith when confronted with the truth about the age of the earth etc was not the science and scientific knowledge, as that could be reconciled, but rather it was the realization that people they trusted had been lying to them, and thus nothing they said could be believed.

I thought that was key the thought process and why it is so traumatic a transition.


I will say I seldom hear atheists credit previously held YEC beliefs as a factor in their atheism or transition to atheism. That should make a lot of sense in one way here–it’s obviously entirely possible to be a theist without subscribing to YEC. I guess if you are suddenly shocked out of YEC as is described in the article, there are a few ways you could wind up going. One would be the start of a path to atheism, but I doubt many people at all will have some kind of sudden anti-Damascus moment over it :slight_smile:

@John_Dalton (and @jpm)

I think it is asking too much to expect people who were raised as Evangelicals to consistently become self-proclaimed Atheists should they become disillusioned with the extreme Evangelical world view.

For those folks, I would actually expect that they would be relatively quiet about it … partly to avoid family drama and friend drama and co-worker drama - - but partly because they will probably try to find some part of their religious faith to hang onto for the rest of their life.

If it was sooooooo logical to be an Atheist, and sooooooooo therapeutic to drop religion, most of humanity would have done so. In fact, it is sooooooo easy to be Religious, even average amounts of logic really isn’t enough to sway many people.

Atheists, “take due notice and govern yourselves accordingly!” :smiley:

True George. As one of the comments on the article mentioned, there are several different paths people take when exposed to science facts that threaten their YEC beliefs. Not everyone reacts the same way. Here are a few ways, and feel free to add others or expound:

  1. They double down, denying the evidence and retreating into their belief system.
  2. They transition into another Christian view, perhaps even having a transitional phase of progressive OEC or ID, before moving to EC.
  3. They reject Christianity and move to atheism or an agnostic view.
  4. They compartmentalize and accept old earth views when away from church, but stick with YEC ideas at church.
  5. They simply ignore the issue and live their Christian life in a state of denial as though it does not exist as an issue. (Lots of people seem to be here in my local church, as well as #4)

While I have had an EC view long enough to have a hard time remembering what I thought about things as a teenager, and it really was not a big issue in the 1960’s, I did go through the progressive thought process described in #2 before landing in EC.


I agree of course that YEC is incompatible with a competent grasp of science and I suspect it does create a wedge that drives some people away from religion.

As a non believer myself I’ve had numerous discussions with my believing brother trying to convince him there are perfectly good stances a Christian could take short of believing everything literally.

Mostly I’ve talked about the necessity of deciding how to interpret a book, any book. Stories are the classic way of passing along understanding. Some speculate that dreaming serves the function of knitting new observations into story format as an aid to memory. So the bible is full of stories whose meaning must be interpreted. There is no reason to think that the bible was assembled in order to provide a comprehensive empirical reference for mankind. Nor was it provided as a kind of contract from God to enumerate His terms of service.


I agree, and I don’t.

For those folks, I would actually expect that they would be relatively quiet about it … partly to avoid family drama and friend drama and co-worker drama

I have no doubt you’re right. It often occurs to me that for such reasons, the number of actual atheists throughout history has probably been much larger than is generally recognized.

but partly because they will probably try to find some part of their religious faith to hang onto for the rest of their life.

I’m also pretty confident this would be true for most such people. I’m not sure I would characterize it that way though. I would imagine that most people will tend (perhaps after an initial period of shock, dissonance, and reflection) to more or less naturally transition to other forms of religious belief.

[my emphasis added above]

It would be interesting to know how many go toward agnosticism. I’m guessing that number would be a lot smaller than those who go toward outright atheism because the sets of folks who are heavily enough invested in YECism that they can’t separate it out from their Christianity are often the same kinds of folks who like certainty. They aren’t the type who can be comfortable with mystery or wiggle room on any of these all-important fronts. So while their faith may get shipwrecked, their fundamentalism rarely is. They will desperately cling to that fundamentalism far more strongly than they cling to Christian faith itself. Hence the wild oscillations between one so-called “certainty” to the opposite pole (and still just as certain as ever!). So it seems to me anecdotally at least.

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I do find a lot of black and white thinking among atheists though it is hard to tell if those are the ones who emerge from a more fundamentalist Christian household or not. But by far, most atheists I’ve met on line have been agnostic.

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That is good to hear as a balancing observation. Perhaps it just seems to me that most non-believers lean more atheistic because those may be the noisier ones.

Good points. Many of them are touched on in this article on interpreting the Bible, if such a thing would be useful to your brother:

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I have met a few agnostic believers, but they are one of the rarest of birds. Most agnostics I have met online would also describe themselves as atheist, as I do myself but only in relationship to God understood as something supernatural. Most online atheists I meet have a very limited concept of God as being an independent, powerful creator who judges over his creations.

But to my thinking, starting not with popular definitions of God but only with the phenomenon of god belief as we find it, I think that definition is suspect. God, if it is anything at all, is deeply mysterious, ineffable and unknowable in any comprehensive sense. So long as God can be interpreted as something onboard every human being, independent of our conscious machinations but still an aspect of our totality, then I can’t deny the existence of that.

It seems to me there are potentialities within which are deserving of veneration. I’d describe myself as a person of faith in that sense even though I am an atheist toward simplistic notions of God as an all powerful, all knowing, external entity which communicates with people telepathically. God as an internal other -proabably largely the same across individuals- makes more sense to me and I would not accept the atheist label in relation to a God so defined.

One element of this article is reassuring. The author’s plea to mollify YEC position is to YECers’ compassion. He recognizes that at base, we are all looking to God, who is not, at base, cruel. It also seems to imply the realization that God, at base, cares more about how we relate to him than the small details of what we believe. I think we all recognize that, really, no matter how strongly we feel about a given topic. I’m grateful that there is this empathy:).


I will share that article with my brother. Thank you.

I don’t personally choose to make the bible central in my life. But I can see how doing so could be a way to unify a group of people who acknowledge value in the mystery they call God. I prefer to keep my faith in the mystery itself and not trade that in for any particular cultural elaboration. So, from my perspective, the bible is on par with any other tradition whose purpose is to provide a unified way to speak of the value the mystery has in ones life. What really matters is that we not to begin to doubt that there is more wisdom and knowing available than that which we can cobble together by our own devices. In silence and humility answers can come for which we know we can’t truly claim authorship.

Amen. (The rest is just to fit the minimum character requirement.)

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