Howard J. Van Till (110661.1365@compuserve.com)
Mon, 13 Apr 1998 12:13:19 -0400

Lloyd Eby asked:

"A simple question: Why do people persist in believing in and arguing for
things that are so clearly false, namely (1) the young-earth theory and (2)
the theory that (all, most of -- the particulars of the view are unclear to
me) the fossils that we find were laid down in Noah's Flood?"

One answer to this question would be that this phenomenon of holding to a
particular set beliefs is characteristic of common human behavior.

1. A belief system is experienced by any one of us as a part of our
identity, both individually and communally. A change in the elements of
one's core belief system may well be experienced as a change in one's
identity as an individual and as a member of a particular community.

2. Belief systems are commonly perceived as being "package deals." Some of
these beliefs are about our spiritual identiity and destiny. Others are
about our physical identity and how we came to have it. Some of these
beliefs are about the world of which we are a part here and now. Others are
about the ultimate sources of knowledge about both this physical world and
the larger reality that defines us.

Many of these beliefs were given to us by authority figures for whom we
wish to maintain respect--parents, teachers, pastors, etc. In many cases
our beliefs about our spiritual identity, our physical identity, and our
sources of knowledge were all given to us by the same set of authority
figures. Hence to challenge or question any one member of this package is
experienced as a threat to the whole "package" of beliefs given to us by
our respected teachers and held by our community as definitive.

3. In this context it may be useful to employ Jerome Ravetz's concept of
"folk science" -- a set of beliefs about the world that functions mostly to
reassure us that other elements in our belief system package are OK and
will survive the challenges and uncertainties presented by the world of our
experience. That "folk science" might be well-informed by the natural
sciences performed with competence and integrity by a professional
scholarly community, or it might be informed by other sources, such as by a
revered text whose particular interpretations constitute portions of the
received "package" of beliefs.

4. For some people a revered text is honestly believed to be a proper
source of beliefs about the particulars of the formational history of the
universe (including a 6000-year chronology and a global flood catastrophe,
for instance), even though it was written in a conceptual vocabulary
remarkably different from the modern Western scientifically-informed
conceptual vocabulary. In that case, elements of a textually derived folk
science will be difficult to displace, even by appeal to substantial
empirical evidence.

Lloyd, those elements of a folk science that you and I find to be
incredible by the standards of intellectual integrity will persist as long
as the community that holds them continues to hold its particular (and I
believe unrealistic) concept of the character and the proper use of the
biblical text.

Howard J. Van Till