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 would 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 find ourselves placing our trust a source of information that is not reliable. Hence, one of the challenges we face comes when we are confronted with information that challenges what we thought we knew. How do we respond? Do we allow ourselves to examine new evidence or do we actively seek ways to ignore and explain-away that evidence so that we can avoid the hard work of reshaping our beliefs?
Typically new pieces of information we are confronted with will only challenge superficial belief but sometimes our deep-set convictions can be challenged by new data.The former beliefs are easily discarded and replaced with the new knowledge while the latter are often perceived to be 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 questions about the age of the earth are central to their faith but because they don’t understand the scientific evidence they seek experts to provide them with answers to a myriad of questions that arise about how to integrate the text of scripture with the observations we make of His creation. 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 nearly as much time investigating the source of our 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 well-known and studied phenomena known 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 an expert to shape his own beliefs. 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 (americanvision.org). The comment was 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 many outspoken supporters of young earth creationism 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! Ironically, without realizing it they may be putting their faith in science instead of the Bible.
Their confidence is placed—or misplaced as often the case—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, or possibly capacity, 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 wonder what would happen if he were to realize that Morris was not the expert he believes him to be. Would his faith jeopardized? Maybe not but thousands of Christians have been placed in this position and not all may successfully find their way through the cognitive dissonance the are experiencing.
Many Christians like Michael will never realize they have misplaced their faith. Michael 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 to 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 organizations are providing support for their 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 a strong foundation for their beliefs in the words of people like Ken Ham and Henry Morris and then discover that this foundation is weak at best and a fabrication at worst. Michael says, “The so-called modern science of geology can’t hold a candle to the real experts of the rocks.” This is a ridiculous statement. How can Michael evaluate who is an expert on rocks when he doesn’t know anything about the rocks or those experts himself? These types of statements are all too common among supporters of YEC who have little or no 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 possible way to understand general and special revelation.
Ironically, from my perspective, because Michael comes from the reformed Christian tradition he should 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 constantly 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 their words to see if they know what they are talking about.
Addendum: After posting this article to several FaceBook groups I immediately received a long response that included the following statement: “There is a reason Morris and Gish and others YEC “experts” run circles around the PhDs of the secular community and why said experts are now running away from such debates. I’ll never forget watching Kent Hovind slap around three PhDs at the same time.” These comments illustrate my very point quite well. An appeal to Kent Hovind, an outcast even among most YEC organizations, as an authority to which the person places their faith is a misplaced faith.
This post is an updated 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