Sunday, June 21, 2009

The False Dilemma

Calvin's unique beverage stand will succeed only to the degree that folks buy into the false dilemma: Either you drink my brew, or you pay me $1.00. Of course, there is a third choice: just walk away. "The informal fallacy of false dilemma (also called false dichotomy, the either-or fallacy)," says Wikipedia, "involves a situation in which only two alternatives are considered, when in fact there are other options. Closely related are failing to consider a range of options and the tendency to think in extremes, called black-and-white thinking."

It seems just such a false dilemma has firmly entrenched itself in American Conservative Christianity. Only two choices are presented from many pulpits: Either we evolved and there is no God, or God created each species.

People who sat under my teaching over the years know that I did not always subscribe to evolutionary theory.  For most of my life, I was convinced that the earth was young, and that God created each species of life by direct fiat. I was a subscriber to ICR publications, and read everything supporting Young Earth theory I could find. And, I taught Young  Earth Creationism in our church fellowship. Many of the young people who came through our fellowship have since gone on to university. There they encounter evidence that overwhelmingly supports the widely accepted theories of evolution. Hopefully these young people are not caught up in the irresolvable and false dilemma that Vance referred to in the comment thread of my previous post, in which he wrote,
“... kids being brought up in the church get the message that they need to choose God or choose science. Even if they are exposed to YEC 'science' they are still going to get massive exposure to the alternate view. It’s great that people have worked hard to create stuff like Gordon Glover’s series, but until the parents come around it is going to be an uphill climb to get exposure to these resources.”
Once such young person emailed me this week, recalling the days of my YEC misadventures:
I have read a little of your blog off and on, and find your discussions very interesting and challenging.   I am delighted to see you delving into the topic of creation/evolution/biology from a scientific standpoint as these thoughts have been on my mind since freshman year Biology class when a professor announced her belief in evolution and God.  As I continued my studies and work in research science, I found I could no longer equate the creation "science" I had grown up believing with the evolutionary-based cutting edge science I was being exposed to in college.  That, and a few other things pushed me to start reading different books on various viewpoints on the topic.   I haven't read as much as I'd like to...maybe you can give me some more good book titles to get me started again!   The Language of God was definitely a wonderful book that gave voice to a lot of the thoughts I'd had over the years. 

“I'm humored by the memory that I have discussing this topic with you as a kid.  I remember you describing in great detail how Young Earth Creationism was the absolute truth for many reasons.  For years, throughout college, whenever I thought about Creationism I thought of you. Imagine my surprise when I heard that you'd changed your stance!”
She may have been "humored" by those memories. I find them troubling, and slightly embarrassing! But I am relieved that my earlier teachings did not cause a crisis in her faith.

Today, when I make my views known among friends who still cling to YEC, I gently inform them that their children will likely confront the well-supported claims of science in college. And when they do, perhaps they will avoid the false dilemma trap when they recall that Cliff accepts evolutionary science, and has not abandoned his Christian faith.


Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

I like to point out to YEC's that the huge majority of christians do indeed take the middle way.

I like to mention a couple by name/title i.e.;

The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Very occasionally they will say that these folks aren't proper christians but most often they just ignore me.

Once again we see that logical argument hardly ever works in changing someone from a position that they have attained without it's use.

How about a post on your position regarding the rights of parents versus the rights of children in terms of religious education?



Psiloiordinary said...

How ironic that mine is the only comment ;-)

thomas said...

Thanks for writing this post. As a former YEC, I too could see only two possibilities: evolution or God. Now, I groan when I hear about the "plain reading" of Genesis 1. The truth of the matter is, the more I look into Genesis 1, the more I see that the plain reading is symbolic and mythological (in the most positive sense of that word).