Everyone is an expert in something but they can’t be an expert in everything. At some point we all have to rely on the expertise of others to guide us through our lives. I am a biologist, however, the vastness of the field of biology leaves me in the position of deferring to the knowledge of my colleagues on many topics because I don’t have time to do the research I need to do to answer all of my questions. How much more must I rely on experts in fields outside of biology?
Who we choose as experts and thus adopt – put our faith in – their positions will make a huge difference in our lives.
The reality is that all of us at some point will trust a source of information that is not reliable. The real challenge in our lives comes when we are confronted with information that challenges what we thought we knew. How do we respond? Do we allow ourselves to examine the new evidence or do we find ways to ignore that evidence and continue in our same beliefs? Usually new data only challenge superficial beliefs but sometimes our deep-set convictions can be challenged. The former beliefs are easily discarded and replaced with the new knowledge while the latter are often so important to our identity that it can be difficult to consider that we may be in error. As a result we may hold on to our beliefs even in the face of overwhelming data against our position.
For many Christians the origins of the Earth is one question for which they must rely on other experts to answer because so few are familiar with the evidence. As a result, the trustworthiness of the source is of utmost importance if one is not going to invest time in researching the topic personally. With so much importance placed on our choice of experts it seems to me that we need to choose who we place our faith in very carefully. It could be we should be spending as much time investigating the source of expert advice as we would have spent considering the topic itself.
When we are convinced a priori of the truth of something even before we have studied the topic we are prone to place our faith in experts who confirm our beliefs. This is referred to as confirmation bias (See: The Salty Sea and the Age of the Earth: Confirmation Bias?).
Recently I was directed to an example of one such person placing great faith in a particular expert. I believe this illustrates how many people, convinced the Earth is young, are placing their trust not where they think they are – i.e. The Bible – but rather in science.
This example comes from the comment stream on a post by Gary DeMaar on his site americanvision.org where I came across a comment by Michael Riemer, author of “It Was At Hand: A Biblical Response to Dispensationalist” (2002 Xulon press). Michael’s comment struck me as representative of the most ardent supports of young earth creationism. His views are not representative of the average creationists but they do represent the vocal minority of creationists that inhabit the internet and his logic is characteristic of leading advocates of young earth creationists.
His entire comment can be found HERE but I have copied the most relevant portion below:
Henry M. Morris wrote a hydraulics text book used in “secular” collages. He knew, very well, all about sedimentation and flood geology. One real expert, is worth a thousand modern so-called experts in geology. Do you know that studies in sedimentation have shown that many times the things we think were laid down first, the rocks at the bottom, were not, but were laid down at the same time as those on top. And as Morris and other experts believe, and have shown, the whole geologic column was laid down at one time, during a one time event, the flood in the days of Noah, about 4,500 years ago.
The overwhelming evidence for a world-wide flood helped my faith in the Word of God. The so-called science of modern geology can’t hold a candle to the real experts of the rocks. People like Morris. AIG has strengthened the faith of countless thousands. It has opened the eyes of many to the piffle that so many times passes for science.
There is a reason why many young people leave the church, and yes, proponents of theistic evolution, of which people like John Walton may have something to do with it.
What Michael has written captures the essence of where I think many Christians who have been told the Bible teaches the Earth must be young are putting their confidence: in the hands of what they think are expert scientists! And without even knowing it they may be putting their faith in science instead of the Bible.
Their confidence is placed in the belief that experts in scientific fields have provided them with not only enough evidence but overwhelming evidence that earth is young. Michael is putting his faith in experts which, he admits, have bolstered his faith in the Word of God. Having no desire to study the evidence himself he has relied upon what he believes are experts that are “worth a thousand modern so-called experts” to give him the confidence to ridicule (not in the quote above but in many other places) other Christians for even entertaining the thought that they Earth could be very old.
I have no doubt that Michael is convinced of a young earth and that he would claim that his confidence comes not from science but is derived from Scripture. However, he clearly feels that scientific evidence has rescued his faith. He is so reliant on the confidence he derives from the “scientific experts” such as Morris that one has to think that were he to come to realize that Morris was not the expert he believes him to be his faith would be severely jeopardized.
But he has placed Morris on a pedestal recognizing him as an expert among experts in his eyes. As a result and he isn’t likely even consider the words of other so-called experts thus insulating him from self-examination which could challenge his core beliefs.
While Michael will not likely ever experience any doubts about his own blind faith in Morris, many other Christians have found Morris hardly worthy of being called an expert. I am no expert in hydraulics but I don’t have to be to readily identify many misconceptions that Morris and others such as Ham have about science and where they are just outright wrong in their interpretations and reporting of the evidence. Even Morris’s ideas about sedimentation which Michael seems to be impressed with, are but fanciful ramblings and not based on evidence or sound reasoning making his supposed status as an expert highly doubtful.
I can readily conclude that Morris, Ham etc… are neither experts in any area of science nor are they even competent handlers of the scriptures because I have quite a bit of training in both areas but many Christians enamored by creation science are not equipped to assess the trustworthiness of Morris and Ham’s claims in the realm of science and may not be able to critique their use of scripture either.
Michael wants to believe that YEC provides support for faith and thus say that young people are leaving the faith because they are being weakened by other views. But what happens when young people are led to believe, by people like Michael, that they have strong foundation for their beliefs in the works of people like Ken Ham and Henry Morris and then discover that this foundation is an utter fabrication. “The so-called modern science of geology can’t hold a candle to the real experts of the rocks” – I have to say that this is a ridiculous statement. How can Michael evaluate who an expert on rocks is when he doesn’t know anything about them himself? These types of statements are all too common among supporters of YEC who have very little science background.
By their adamant and dogmatic insistence that creation science provides proof of a young earth, zealous advocates, who are themselves frequently not experts in science and thus unable to critically evaluate those that they are following, are demanding Christians believe that the creation science interpretation of the world is the only way to understand general revelation.
Ironically, from my perspective, because Michael comes from the reformed Christian tradition he would certainly be ready to test the word of pastors and elders against the Scriptures. A calling card of the reformation is the testing what we hear against the Word of God. To understand the Bible we need to meditate upon it, study it day and night and learn from other Biblical experts. But when it comes to understanding science Michael, like many other Christians, are perfectly willing to fawn over whoever tells them what they want to hear without testing them to see if they know what they are talking about.
This post is a re-edited version of a post from 2012.
Cover image credit: Joel Duff with Badlands National Park in South Dakota in the background. Photo by Joel Duff and tripod