I met these Young Earth Creationists on campus. They're nice guys, but I figured they must be terribly misinformed to deny evolution (at this time, I was totally ignorant of how frequently evolution was denied in America.) So, after determining that they were willing to take a hard look at both sides of this issue (look they did, reason they did not) I wrote them an e-mail in the form of a rebuttal against the evolution page in Answersingenesis.c0m, which is a website they recommended. By the time I was done with the e-mail, it was just over twenty pages long and was bullet-proof (accepting the assumption that my information was accurate). Well, they weren't convinced - they weren't even sold on the age of the earth (not ~6000 yrs), which was the first section of my e-mail.
(By the way, if any of you are not as well informed about evolution as you should be and either believe it is false, are on the fence, or have no good justification for your belief that it is true, I will send you this e-mail happily).
I was more distraught about this than I perhaps should have been. It wasn't just that they wasted my time - it was frustrating in a different sense...in the same sense as someone denying the conclusion of a simple and sound deductive argument. It was perplexing.
It must be partially due to this interaction that I began reading the Bible. I was struck by its potential utility as a tool for spreading atheism. The claims made within are so utterly incredible that I would expect any reasonable person to demand massive amounts of corroborative documentation. There are simply a lot of problems with some of the claims made, and this should be readily evident, but I'm still going to make a couple comments on this, so bear with me for a moment.
Where'd the water go?
How did Noah and his family survive the incredible air pressure that would result from a world-wide flood?
How did a random catastrophe deposit all fossils all over the world in their proper strata, in the order that evolution would predict?
(By the way, Creationists account for the splitting of Pangea and other phenomena with a massive catastrophe, and a catastrophe is never even mentioned in Genesis - only rain.
How did eight people (Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives) feed and care for so many animals? I can't even imagine eight people running a zoo, which is a mere fraction of what would be required of them.
How did we get all of our genetic variation (hundreds of alleles) if all of our genetic information came from only a few people (the maximum number of alleles that can come from the offspring of eight individuals is sixteen). In the case of the animals, each specie should only have four alleles and there would be lots of genetic problems from inbreeding to boot.
You can go on and on in this fashion without difficulty.
Richard Dawkins has a quote which I don't exactly recall that says something along the lines of 'those who don't accept evolution are either stupid or ignorant.' This sounds about right to me - if you have the information, it is impossible to deny....right?
I thought about it, and it isn't true. People who accept the Bible literally are not necessarily stupid, even if they are informed about Biology. So what's the solution to this problem?
It is rational to hold a level of belief according to the amount of evidence in favor of a claim. That's the obvious objective standard. So how does a fairly intelligent person believe that Jesus walked around casting demons out of people left and right (rather than the more reasonable assumption that what were considered a result of demon-possession thousands of years ago were misdiagnoses and it was most likely sickness caused by germs, not spirits)?
The solution is simple: They get into a mindset in which evidence is no longer an important factor for their belief about what is true. When I tell you that I have a living great great grandfather who is over four hundred years old, an alarm sounds in your head which can be explained by a quote from Carl Sagan - "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
When I tell you of my great grandfather, the alarm sounds and you demand evidence. Yet, when these same people are told of generation after generation of people exceeding six and nine hundred years, as in Genesis, they don't demand evidence. This begs for an explanation - what can account for this discrepancy of standards?
I have one idea. These people don't demand evidence because they have found a way to live forever. How is it that I can imagine nothing more frightening in principle than the discontinuation of my consciousness, and yet the thought of death does not really scare me? It's not so comfortable to think about, but it certainly is not as horrifying as it should be. Perhaps the recognition of my mortality came coupled with a sort of subconscious block so that I may function without obsession? So, when I find a way to defy death, I tend to hold on to it so dearly as to subconsciously allow myself to lower my rational standard. This accounts for both the denial of Biology and the belief in sacred texts.
My reason for believing that this may be true comes from considering just what a religion is. A religion generally involves dogma - so it is a sort of crude government. It also involves morality - again, a crude government. It involves brotherhood. Those are the kinds of systems that I could see popping up all over the world - it makes sense.
But what is truly a mystery to me is that religions often have other similar traits which are very difficult to explain. In almost every religion - in fact, maybe in every religion that I have heard of - there is a way to escape death. It may be Nirvana or Valhalla, reincarnation or Heaven and Hell - but unrelated cultures all over the world have produced these death-defying religions. Further, the ways that death can be avoided are not only unsupported empirically, but they don't really make much sense. Reincarnation - you are in some way 'bad' and when you die, "you" (what does "you" mean if removed from your memories and experiences?) become a cockroach or something. Nobody has evidence of this or any reasonable explanation for why cosmic justice is to be served, and yet hundreds of millions of people believe that this is the way the universe really works.
In Christianity, EVERYBODY escapes death. If you were not taught this, (or did not live in a society influenced by it or something similar) just how long would it take you to figure out that people exist even after their brain becomes soil? Does a dog think? Yes, it probably does. But the idea of a dog that died a thousand years ago still thinking today, or still having the ability to see and smell today, is absolutely ludicrous. Yet the idea of a person thinking and seeing a BILLION years after he has died does not only appear reasonable to most people, but they are convinced that this is the way the world works.
So in short, it is the subconscious fear of death and the belief that we could possibly escape it that makes a person totally change his standards for what he considers reasonable.