April 11, 2006

On the Role of Intuition in Creationism

Henry Neufeld at Threads of Henry has an interesting post that challenges a long held belief of mine (and his) in a very interesting way. The belief is that some kind of naive intuition lies near the base of much creationist thought.

Henry uses a simple, interesting example and shows how young earth and old earth creationists deal with a simple problem in the Bible: the fact that Cainan appears in Luke's genealogy (Luke 3:36) and not in the Hebrew of Genesis 11:10-13. As he points out, Cainan also appears in the LXX. Henry notes that young earth creationists like Creation Science Evangelism (CSE) and Answers in Geneses (AiG) and old earth creationist all resolve this issue in different ways. Each is driven by his or her own theological commitments.

What does any of this have to do with intuition in the context of evolution? Well, you'll need to read Henry's post to get his complete argument. But here is his conclusion.

So is it that evolution is counterintuitive? It seems rather intuitive to me, especially common descent. There is simply so much about the animal world that suggests a genetic relationship. I think it is not common sense, or our intuition that is the problem, but rather a prior commitment to treat a certain document as historical no matter what the evidence suggests. This results in a backwards methodology. A source is accurate not because one has checked it and found it so to the best of one’s abilities, but rather because it supports the position that already must be true.

So one stray patriarch tells the story.

I find myself in agreement with the simple point of his post, it is not "intuition that is the problem, but rather a prior commitment to treat a certain document as historical no matter what the evidence suggests."

In the light of this certain fact, his earlier observation is also correct.

I do think that most creationist thoroughly and systematically misunderstand the basics of evolutionary theory. But I’m going to suggest that the misunderstandings result from the need to reject it, and not the other way around. Most of these folks could understand, but at the most fundamental level they don’t want to [emphasis in original].

Yes they could understand evolution, but here is the rub. Creationists tend to call upon those exact intuitions when they argue their points. I give one example from a proponent of intelligent design creationism, Michael Behe, who has a background in science, another from a creationist who is a politician, Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky and John Morris from the Institute of Creation Research.

Besides, whatever special restrictions scientists adopt for themselves don't bind the public, which polls show, overwhelmingly, and sensibly, thinks that life was designed. [Behe, emphasis added]
From my perspective, it is not a matter of faith, or religion, or theory. It is similar to basic self-evident objective truths that are the basis of knowledge. [Fletcher, emphasis added]
Thankfully, most people are not hopelessly deceived. Polls in America show that the majority believes in creation, and many more want it taught. Less than 10% are confirmed evolutionists, yet they seemingly control education. They may teach that evolution is well proven, but we don't have to believe them [Morris, emphasis added].

Many more and perhaps better examples could be found. I selected these three because they were easy for me to find and document. If fact, the article from which I took the Morris quote is actually very supportive of Henry's position but it still appeals to the intuition of the masses or at least the majority of Americans. Henry may be right that the "thinking" creationists do not base their creationism on intuition but they sure rely on it to support their own views and to propagate their message.

Posted by DuaneSmith at April 11, 2006 09:23 AM | Read more on Evolution |

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This is why I've always said that creationism is willful ignorance. Creationists do a sort of "reverse science" in that they start with a theory and work backwards to find support for it. With this in mind, the only real way to stamp out this lunacy is education, and at an extremely young age. We need to be teaching strong science skills at the elementary school level. The beginnings of critical thinking skills are not beyond the average eight year old.

Posted by: Coralius at April 11, 2006 10:06 AM

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