You may recall my thesis: some opinions and beliefs are based upon choice, while others are based upon evidence and reason; and that it is easier to adjust or alter those beliefs based upon evidence than those beliefs which are merely chosen sans evidence. This realization was somewhat counter-intuitive for me; and on a practical level, it has helped me to better understand my own struggle to influence the opinions of many friends.
Several of my readers confirmed the thesis in their comments:
I must agree with your position: to the extent that beliefs are credos not resulting from rational inquiry, to that same extent rational arguments will fail to dissuade. (Steve Douglas)
Yes you are demonstrably spot on. Evidence based beliefs change with the evidence. (Psiloiordinay)
Regarding the types of belief, when an opinion is choice and really not built on evidence at all, it is no wonder that evidence-based arguments are ignored or poorly received. (Tom)
And finally, this observation from Vance:
I struggle with the same issues and have come to the same conclusion—that this is a belief-based issue for the vast majority of the people that hold to YEC or anti-evolution beliefs.
As I have continued to reflect upon these ideas, I was led to a corollary observation. Perhaps for some of you, this has been obvious all along. Be patient with me! I’m still a little slow on the uptake. Here is the observation:
Evangelical Christians who have made the shift from Creationism to Evolution are, in almost all cases, people who were deeply into "creation science", so-called. That is to say that these individuals (of whom I am one) were once upon a time convinced of creationism, and their opinion was not merely driven by choice. They placed a high value upon what they considered to be the evidence for a young earth, a young cosmos, and the special creation of species. This is true of my internet friends including Steve Martin, Gordon Glover, Chris Tilling, Mike Beidler, Steve Douglas, and no doubt many others.
We were all Young Earth Creationists. Early on, our opinions may have been founded upon a choice to believe what we then understood the Bible to teach. But we went beyond mere chosen belief, and sought evidence to support our convictions. Thus, we came to base our Young Earth Creationism upon what we considered to be good evidence and reasoning. We understood the case for YEC quite well, in most cases far better than our Christian friends. And so, when we discovered the superiority of evidence supporting an ancient cosmos, and the evolutionary rise of life on earth, we found the shift relatively easy. As Psi points out, “Evidence based beliefs change with the evidence.”
This process, common to many of us, is documented well in Mike Beidler's excellent personal history, "The Creation of an Evolutionist" which begins with his first post.
But our friends, who may not understand the science supporting YEC nearly so well, will find it much more difficult to accept the notion of evolution. As Tom put it, “when an opinion is choice and really not built on evidence at all, it is no wonder that evidence-based arguments are ignored or poorly received.”
And if Vance is correct, that the "vast majority" of those who still cling to YEC do so on the basis of choice, then we may be in for a very long wait, as Vance goes on to suggest: “Regarding the inevitable paradigm shift, I think this will almost be a generational style transition, way slower than I would like.”
Indeed, a high percentage of my Christian friends who are finding evolution compatible with their faith are under 30.