Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Steelmanning Young Earth Creationism

1 Post author: ChrisHallquist 17 February 2014 07:17AM

In a recent discussion of steelmanning, I observed that few people around here seem interested in steelmanning young earth creationism. In the resulting subthread, someone suggested Yvain's steelman of the Time Cube as illustrating what a steelman of of young earth creationism might look like. But steelmanning the Time Cube may be too much of a stretch, it's a little too incoherent to steelman effectively without changing it into something else entirely. In contrast, once I thought about it it wasn't hard to come up with some ways to steelman young earth creationism in a way that was very much in keeping with the spirit of real young earth creationist writings.

The way to do it, I think, is to approach it from a philosophy of science angle. For example, here's a quote from an article titled "Creation: 'Where's the Proof?'" on Answers in Genesis, a website run by young earth creationist Ken Ham (who recently debated science guy Bill Nye):

Creationists and evolutionists, Christians and non-Christians all have the same evidence—the same facts. Think about it: we all have the same earth, the same fossil layers, the same animals and plants, the same stars—the facts are all the same.

The difference is in the way we all interpret the facts. And why do we interpret facts differently? Because we start with different presuppositions. These are things that are assumed to be true, without being able to prove them. These then become the basis for other conclusions. All reasoning is based on presuppositions (also called axioms). This becomes especially relevant when dealing with past events.

You find a lot of this kind of thing on Answers in Genesis. For example, they're willing to concede that on certain assumptions, radiometric dating is a strong argument that the earth is a lot more than 10,000 years old, but they deny that they need to accept those assumptions.

I honestly don't think it's much of a stretch to steelman this into something that would look a lot like some of the things the philosophers of science I studied in graduate school said. I started writing a long post spelling this out, but then I started worrying I was going too far in playing devil's advocacy for creationism (even for an exercise in exploring the weaknesses of steelmanning). So instead, I'll just mention some places too look for material in such a project: The Duhem-Quine thesis, confirmation holism, underdetermination of scientific theory. Fun fact: Pierre Duhem regarded the existence of atoms as a metaphysical question that could not be settled by experiment, and this has not stopped him from being regarded as an important contributor to philosophy of science. I suppose Feyerabend belongs on the list too, but that's almost too easy (even though, yes, I did have to study Feyerabend in grad school).

Oh, and I could even find material for my steelmanning of young earth creationism in the writings of Robert Pennock, a philosopher of science who testified against Intelligent Design at the Dover trial. Some philosophers, while thinking creationism is dead wrong, have criticized the reasoning used in that and other court decisions that have kept anti-evolutionism out of public schools in the US. Pennock wrote a response, titled "Can’t philosophers tell the difference between science and religion?" where he argued, among other things, that methodological naturalism (MN) is essential to science and supernatural claims are inherently untestable. A relevant quote:

The second misunderstanding arises in a different way, with ID proponents and even some opponents... claiming that science can indeed test the supernatural... For instance, both Laudan and Quinn cite the young-earth creationist view that God created the earth is 6,000 to 10,000 years ago as a hypothesis that is testable and found to be false. But this and other examples that are offered to show the possibility of tests of the supernatural invariably build in naturalistic assumptions that creationists do not share... The point here is that we cannot overlook or ignore, as Laudan and company regularly do, the fact that creationists have a fundamentally different notion from science of what constitutes proper evidential grounds for warranted belief. The young earth view is certainly disconfirmed if we are considering matters under MN, but if one takes the supernatural aspect of the claim seriously, then one loses any ground upon which to test the claim.

So on Pennock's view, testing young-earth creationism and thereby demonstrating it to be false is not possible without relying on naturalistic assumptions. This creates an opening for the creationist to question whether science needs to rely on naturalistic assumptions, and argue that one could create an equally valid version of science based on (fundamentalist) Christian assumptions.

You might conclude Pennock is wrong about this, and young-earth creationism really has been straightforwardly refuted by science, but this creates a different opening for the creationist: argue that if Pennock is wrong, his ideas really shouldn't be the basis of court decisions about whether creationism can be taught in public schools. Evolutionists could respond by arguing for some other philosophical basis for rejecting creationism, but then they'd probably have to make some contentious philosophical claims and we shouldn't be determining what children can learn based on contentious philosophical claims either.

An argument along the above lines could also be used for a different purpose, by someone who rejected creationism but wanted to make a show of being fair-minded towards their opponents and generally more rational than most of their peers. The thing to do is to say that while young earth creationism can be decisively refuted, most scientists and philosophers botch the philosophy required to do that, and this indicates their rejection of creationism is mostly tribalistic, and the young-earth creationists don't actually come out looking so bad by comparison.

Speaking as Chris Hallquist and not some hypothetical alter-ego, I think that if a philosophy of science makes young earth creationism come out looking good, that's a reductio for that philosophy. I think educated people who reject young earth creationism are generally rational to do so, even if their philosophy isn't that hot. Still, I'd be curious to know what else people on LessWrong can come up with in the way of steelmanning young earth creationism.

Comments (57)

Comment author: V_V 17 February 2014 11:28:31AM *  14 points [-]

I think that the flavour of young earth creationism you can get from Answers in Genesis is already as steelmanned as it gets. Notably they have a list of creationist arguments they consider weak and suggest not to use.
The fact that AiG young earth creationism is still quite weak despite all these efforts, is just evidence that young earth creationism is an inherently untenable position.

So on Pennock's view, testing young-earth creationism and thereby demonstrating it to be false is not possible without relying on naturalistic assumptions. This creates an opening for the creationist to question whether science needs to rely on naturalistic assumptions, and argue that one could create an equally valid version of science based on (fundamentalist) Christian assumptions.

Not quite. You don't really need naturalistic assumptions to falsify young earth creationism, you just need reasonable assumptions.
For instance, even if you don't outright assume that God couldn't have flooded the earth to punish mankind, magically creating water out of nothing and magically destroying it afterwards, you can't still explain the order in the fossil record, the geographical distribution of living species and fossils, the geological evidence of plate tectonics, and so on.
Young earth creationists resort to handwaving at this point, but they can never produce reasonable models explaining all this evidence.
The only real assumption that could explain all the available evidence consistently with young earth creationism is that God (or the Devil) forged evidence to make the earth appear much older than it is, but this assumption is not only theologically disturbing to theists, it is also epistemically nihilistic, since it can explain everything and therefore explains nothing.

Comment author: private_messaging 17 February 2014 11:07:23PM 1 point [-]

Well, what's about postulating that we live in a simulation which is presently at 6000 years by internal clock, and so on and so forth up until upcoming second coming of Christ and simulation shutdown?

One shouldn't believe in that kind of stuff if one rejects those beliefs in christian framework, because by postulating a specific mechanism (simulation) we only added to the conjunction, making it less likely to be true.

Comment author: V_V 17 February 2014 11:54:33PM *  0 points [-]

Well, of course one could hypothize that Christ was a space alien (as the Raelians do), or the avatar character of some bored kid running the simulation, etc.

All these hypotheses are largely undistinguishable from the traditional "magic" God.
I'm not sure whether we should consider them in a conjunction or in a disjunction, but either way their combined probability mass isn't going to be significant.

Comment author: Tedav 24 February 2014 02:52:36AM 1 point [-]

Hearing the Christian God referred to as "magic" reminds me of another apparent lexical gap in English. I think most theologians would be uncomfortably hesitant to call the purported miracles in their faith as the result of magic - although to my knowledge there is no better word to replace it.

I wish that our culture expressed the Divine Magic vs. Arcane Magic dichotomy that exists in Dungeons and Dragons.

Comment author: V_V 24 February 2014 03:11:39PM 0 points [-]

Hearing the Christian God referred to as "magic" reminds me of another apparent lexical gap in English. I think most theologians would be uncomfortably hesitant to call the purported miracles in their faith as the result of magic - although to my knowledge there is no better word to replace it.

Well, I've used "magic" as a synonym of "supernatural", which is a term that Christian theologians accept.
Christian theologians tend to define "magic" as anything supernatural that doesn't come from their god, that is "satanic".

I wish that our culture expressed the Divine Magic vs. Arcane Magic dichotomy that exists in Dungeons and Dragons.

I suppose that Christians would be even more offended by having their belief system compared to a role playing game inspired by a mishmash of pre-Christian folklore. :D

Comment author: Tedav 24 February 2014 04:13:44PM 0 points [-]

Magic and supernatural might often work as synonyms, but I still think hearing God called "magic" is not generally accepted, even if "supernatural" is.

Your point is well taken about D&D - although I wasn't proposing that we actually use the D&D system to describe the belief system. I was expressing regret that a similar dichotomy doesn't exist within the language already.

Comment author: V_V 24 February 2014 07:00:01PM 0 points [-]

Your point is well taken about D&D - although I wasn't proposing that we actually use the D&D system to describe the belief system. I was expressing regret that a similar dichotomy doesn't exist within the language already.

I suppose that's because the concept of "arcane magic", is largely a modern invention of the fantasy genre, where it is portrayed essentially as a fictional science and technology.

Historically, some forms of mysticism such as alchemy and astrology, or more generally "natural philosophy", had some elements of what we could describe as "arcane magic", and in fact they eventually evolved into the modern sciences of chemistry, astronomy and physics.
However, what was traditionally regarded as "magic" or "sorcery" in Abrahamic religions, was always believed to involve some kind of deal with evil spirits or the devil.

Comment author: Desrtopa 20 February 2014 04:16:53AM 0 points [-]

For instance, even if you don't outright assume that God couldn't have flooded the earth to punish mankind, magically creating water out of nothing and magically destroying it afterwards, you can't still explain the order in the fossil record, the geographical distribution of living species and fossils, the geological evidence of plate tectonics, and so on.

In particular it's rather hard to explain sloths.

Comment author: Brillyant 17 February 2014 11:07:07PM 10 points [-]

I think the best steelman argument for YEC is that God simply created the world to seem old to science.

According to those who buy into a YEC interpetation of the BIble, God wrote it and indicated the earth is 6,000 years old and therefore it is 6,000 years old. It is inconsequential what sience has to say about it, since a sufficiently powerful God could easily make it seem as if the godless scientists and their fancy evidence are right.

The truly faithful will eschew "human knowledge" in favor of Godly Wisdom, trusting the Lord and having faith no matter the secular evidence says.

In my view, that is the only steelmanning that works for Creationism. Appeals to science and evidence by these folks always seem quite silly.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 17 February 2014 03:00:04PM *  7 points [-]

Is your original point that people are reluctant to steelman "LW-unpopular" positions? I have seen steelmen (of varying quality..) of frequentism, deathism, conservativism, etc.

I think the problem with young earth creationism is that it's just kind of a stupid position, along the lines of "pi is exactly 3!" Creationism you can steelman (I think smart Catholics try to).

Comment author: ChrisHallquist 17 February 2014 04:49:57PM 1 point [-]

I think the problem with young earth creationism is that it's just kind of a stupid position...

What do you mean by stupid position? And how to we tell which positions are stupid? Do you think deathism or conservatism are stupid? Why or why not?

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 17 February 2014 05:05:30PM *  3 points [-]

I am not sure what I mean. I don't think there is a sharp dividing line between a stupid and a non-stupid position, regardless of how generous you are willing to be.

An easy example of a stupid position is one that is logically inconsistent (pi=3). There are a number of reasons to think young earth creationism is stupid:

(a) Outside reason: no one remotely smart agrees.

(b) Bayesian reason: the posterior is tiny given our data, for any reasonable setup.

(c) Historical reason: looking at the origins and evolution ( :) ) of young earth creationism, what it's trying to get done, etc.


One kind of position that I think you should consider reasonable is one that differs from another one you consider reasonable but for questions of taste (e.g. if you think Everett interpretation is reasonable, you should also think Copenhagen is reasonable). Similarly for atheism vs certain kinds of Deism, etc.

I think arguments about taste are stupid (content-free) arguments to have.


"Creationism," "conservativism", etc. are so broad that they are reasonable, I think.

Comment author: komponisto 20 February 2014 06:45:58AM *  0 points [-]

Outside reason: no one remotely smart agrees.

I have been told that William R. Wade, a mathematician at the University of Tennessee and the author of a well-regarded textbook on analysis, is a young-earth creationist who believes that the evidence supporting the standard scientific view of geology, biology etc. was planted by the devil to test our faith.

My source for this is admittedly not a public one, but note that on his homepage, Wade states that he teaches a Sunday school class in an evangelical church, which should increase the plausibility. (Not all evangelicals are YECs, but most YECs, at least in the U.S., are evangelicals.)

Comment author: Desrtopa 20 February 2014 04:21:26AM *  0 points [-]

(a) Outside reason: no one remotely smart agrees.

Actually, I wouldn't say that this is correct. Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Musem, I would say is considerably smarter than the great majority of the population.

In that light, Young Earth Creationism makes a somewhat interesting case study in how wrong fairly intelligent people can be given enough motivated reasoning.

Comment author: shminux 17 February 2014 08:22:43PM -1 points [-]

I am not sure what I mean.

Trying to steelman your "just kind of a stupid position" point :)

As I mention elsewhere, YEC stems from an extreme level of motivated cognition, uncompartmentalized belief in biblical literalism. A "smart" YEC follower would argue for taking the Bible as literally true in every way, or at least selecting the parts of the scripture which must be taken literally and argue why they should be. Pushing one single consequence of just one implicit idea in the whole text is not a smart way to convince others. Of course, a smart (and honest) YEC follower would probably abandon YEC pretty quickly.

Comment author: ChrisHallquist 17 February 2014 05:14:17PM -1 points [-]

Similarly for atheism vs certain kinds of Deism

Which kinds of deism?

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 17 February 2014 05:14:56PM 0 points [-]

The kind that does not disagree with atheism on any substantive testable question.

Comment author: ChrisHallquist 17 February 2014 05:34:23PM 0 points [-]

Not disagreeing with atheism on any substantive testable question, I think, includes some forms of YECism.

(If so, you may have just suggested a better way to steelman YECism than I ever could've come up with...)

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 17 February 2014 06:07:04PM *  1 point [-]

I don't know, the kinds of YECists I see say things like "dinosaurs did not evolve into birds." I don't think these folks understand testability well enough to avoid looking silly (unlike smart Catholics, who understand testability very well indeed).

The kinds of Deists I had in mind aren't really opposed to the scientific method, and will generally go about establishing "theories" in a way no scientist would find objectionable. They just prefer to live in a world with a God. This, to me, is a question of taste, and I am willing to respect their tastes enough to not press them on this.

YECists don't really understand what science is about, I think. There is an enormous gap between deists and YECists.

Comment author: RowanE 17 February 2014 06:55:19PM 1 point [-]

The most obvious example of YECism that doesn't disagree with atheism on substantive testable questions is coming up with a philosophical or theological justification for God creating a universe 6,000 years ago that in every measurable way looks like it began to exist with a big bang 15 billion years ago, and that hypothesis would say "dinosaurs did not evolve into birds" because the only dinosaurs that ever existed were created as fossils 6,000 years ago.

Comment author: Nornagest 18 February 2014 07:56:12PM *  0 points [-]

The problem with that is that YEC of the biblical literalist type (e.g. most of "Answers in Genesis") doesn't limit itself to the claim that the earth is 6,000 years old. It has to argue that the entire Genesis creation narrative -- spirit of God walked upon the face of the waters, Adam and Eve, global flood, and so forth -- is at least accurate enough that a tortured but in some sense literal interpretation of the Bible can be said to describe factual events. That's a much taller order, and rules out a lot of reasoning of the "God added dinosaur fossils as a test of faith" type.

Comment author: ChrisHallquist 17 February 2014 06:35:51PM -2 points [-]

I don't know, the kinds of YECists I see...

But if we're steelmanning, couldn't we build a better YEC?

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 17 February 2014 06:50:51PM *  1 point [-]

I don't think so, because to approximate how YECists behave out in the wild you would have to, for instance, create a "YECist Bayesian" with a prior so strong it effectively ignored arbitrary mountains of data. This is not how, for instance, the Catholic Church behaved historically.

The problem is this: "the stupid is conserved under sensible transformations."

If you are not concerned with approximating the YECist behavior, you will set up an actual Bayesian who will just move away from their weird prior fairly quickly (many folks from that background do precisely this, it's called "deconversion.")

Comment author: Aleksander 19 February 2014 06:14:51PM 1 point [-]

Catholics accept the theory of evolution and have for a long time now.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 19 February 2014 07:08:12PM *  0 points [-]

Yes, but Catholics have no problem with the idea that God can manifest his will via seemingly natural processes that play out over a long timespan.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 17 February 2014 08:51:50PM 4 points [-]

What was the point of this exercise? Did you learn anything from it? I'm not sure I understood your essay, but I think you wound up retreating to general-purpose skepticism. That's an important topic, but the YEC doesn't seem to have contributed. Did you at least learn something about steelmanning, a topic you recently asked about?

Comment author: ChrisHallquist 17 February 2014 09:19:24PM *  2 points [-]

I learned that there seems to be general agreement on LW that you shouldn't bother steelmanning stupid positions, but I left wondering under what circumstances I'm allowed to reply to "You should steelman X before criticizing it" with "X is a stupid position, so no."

Comment author: Benito 17 February 2014 10:41:43PM 1 point [-]

This should've been in the post - I suspected you were meta-trolling or something, for a while.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 17 February 2014 10:52:43PM 1 point [-]

Huh? What he learned about LW appears to be learned from the responses, so how could he have put it in the post ahead of time?

Comment author: Benito 18 February 2014 12:39:58AM 1 point [-]

Oops, I misread. What I intended to communicate was that I didn't understand the point of the post - I kept trying to reply to comments, but there was an inferential silence where I kept stopping, thinking 'What is the point of this post and discussion?'. There seems to be no reason to steelman creationism like this.

Admittedly, it would be nice to have an explanation of what Chris is thinking at the top, about when it is okay to not bother steelmanning, because otherwise people may be really confused about what's going on. I certainly was.

(Not that I'm sure not-steelmanning is the correct position, but while it feels so intuitively, I didn't realise that was being questioned here. It just felt unnecessary.)

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 17 February 2014 09:33:28PM 0 points [-]

Was the point to learn about LW?

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 17 February 2014 09:25:54PM 0 points [-]

Concepts are fuzzy. Do you have a hard time seeing the difference between a YECist and a deist, in terms of stupidity level?

Comment author: Brillyant 18 February 2014 03:37:30PM -1 points [-]

It sounds like you are implying there is a necessarily large gap—and I don't think so.

In both cases, at some level, the almost-athiest deist and YECist are simply unwilling or unable to rule out the possibility of a hyper-poweful entity. The more sophisticated YECist tends to believe the nature of that entity is such that humans do not posess the capability to derive the reality of the universe, rather they must use faith to find the Truth.

A deist is more willing to use reason in their assessment of the nature and character of the Entity. In that way, you may say they are more rational according to LW's definition of the word. But the fundamental axiom both deists and YECists is the same: I'm too little and God is too big for me to settle on atheism.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 17 February 2014 10:08:10AM *  5 points [-]

Steelmanning anything:

A witch did it, using logically unexplainable magic. Therefore, you cannot logically explain it, and I win!

What? That doesn't even make sense...

It might not make sense using your paradigms (such as science, evidence, or logic), but I am using a different paradigm (unexplainable magic defined by my whim), and I don't accept any refutations coming from your paradigm. In democracy, all paradigms are equal, and emotionally, I prefer my paradigm. Therefore, I win!

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 17 February 2014 03:55:19PM 4 points [-]

That's made of straw, not steel.

Comment author: JQuinton 18 February 2014 07:17:31PM 2 points [-]

Not really...

Presuppositionalism is a school of Christian apologetics that believes the Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought. It presupposes that the Bible is divine revelation and attempts to expose flaws in other worldviews. It claims that apart from presuppositions, one could not make sense of any human experience, and there can be no set of neutral assumptions from which to reason with a non-Christian.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 18 February 2014 07:33:30PM *  0 points [-]

That's not the best monster you can make out of hacked off pieces of "anything", sorry. That's just him mocking "anything".

Comment author: JQuinton 18 February 2014 09:32:08PM 0 points [-]

Well I agree that it's not a steelmanning, but it's also not a strawman either.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 17 February 2014 07:23:43PM 0 points [-]

For some it's an improvement in honesty, if not logical validity

Comment author: private_messaging 17 February 2014 10:23:47AM *  3 points [-]

One could take various simulation hypotheses as examples of modernized young universe creationism.

I don't think you can really "refute" that kind of hypotheses. They just stay right where they start, at their priors, not predicting any distinct experiences until a future date.

At most there may be good reasons for the priors to be very low, albeit you won't get very far with the complexity of gods in general - if our universe can plausibly culminate in creation of a super-intelligence, then the complexity of a god is at most not much higher than that of our universe; and for all we know it might well be lower.

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 23 February 2014 10:46:08AM *  4 points [-]

Young Earth Simulationism (YES) could find supporters here... (And it can be contrasted with Natural Origins - NO.)

Comment author: shminux 17 February 2014 08:09:37PM 1 point [-]

I doubt that this particular idea is worth steelmanning. As far as I understand, the whole point of steelmanning is to learn something new by analyzing a perspective vastly different from "ours". Steelmanning is hard and the payoff is uncertain. Steelmanning something you know to be nonsense is very hard to do, given that you don't expect any payoff whatsoever.

Why is Young Earth Creationism not a good candidate for steelmanning? Because you know where these people come from: they have a severe case of motivated cognition due to their literal interpretation of a specific religious text. Given all the other problems with literalism, all the contradictions one has to overlook to believe it, what are the odds that their house of cards contains an element of a sound structure?

If your goal is to learn steelmanning, then it is best to start with an idea or a position which might contain a seed of new and useful information or ideas. Steelmanning deathism is something I've been trying to do here on occasion. Homeopathy might be another good candidate.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 18 February 2014 11:44:26AM 2 points [-]

Steelmanning means finding and extracting a rational core inside the other person's argument, even if other parts of the argument are irrational. The goal is to use this salvaged piece in constructing our map that matches the territory.

And sometimes... the rational core just isn't there. You dig through the mud, and there is only the mud, no hidden treasure.

Comment author: shminux 18 February 2014 05:20:16PM -1 points [-]

... I didn't realize my comment was so unclear as to need summarizing.

Comment author: Randy_M 18 February 2014 08:36:39PM -1 points [-]

In other words, he didn't think your comment added much to his original.

Comment author: ThisSpaceAvailable 18 February 2014 05:58:43AM *  1 point [-]

YEC on its face is false, and YEC steelmanned into something that could be true, for some tortured definition of "true", simply doesn't pay rent. Ham has basically admitted that his belief in YEC is not entangled with reality. Any attempt to steelman his position into a philosophical position by which YEC can be "true" leads directly into solipsism. To believe that there is such a thing as reality, and reality can be perceived by humans, is to reject YEC.

Creationists and evolutionists, Christians and non-Christians all have the same evidence—the same facts.

It's hard to come up with an interpretation of that that is true. Clearly, Ken Ham does not have the same facts in his head as I do. Perhaps in some sense he has the same facts available to him as I do. Putting his claim in LW terms, he seems to be saying that he simply has a prior of P(Bible is true) = 1. But it's simply a flat-out lie that YEC is just a matter of different priors. For instance, look at this page: http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-thermodynamics.html . This is not merely a matter of "I agree with science about the facts", it's "I'm going to write a bunch of bullshit to make a claim that quite simply is not true". As just one example, Ham presents the case of a dead plant not being able to use sunlight. He purports to prove a universal quantifier (in no case can energy being added to a system increase complexity) by presenting a existential quantifier (there is a case where energy being added doesn't increase complexity). This is both invalid logic (you can't prove a universal quantifier by proving a particular instance) and based on a false premise (even a dead plant, when exposed to sunlight, increases in entropy [ETA: I didn't phrase that quite right. A dead plat, when exposed to sunlight, increases in "complexity", at least for some meanings of "complexity". Part of Ham's strategy is to use words with contradictory definitions]). Ken Ham doesn't disagree with scientists about what 2LOT says because he has different priors, he disagrees because he's a liar.

Furthermore, look at how this debate came to be in the first place. There was a video on YouTube of Nye saying that YEC shouldn't be taught to children. AiG replied with a video saying that YEC should be taught to children. You can't "teach" priors. Either someone has the same prior as you, or they don't. If you give an argument for your position, you aren't changing their priors, you are changing their posteriors. The very fact that Ham believes that YEC can be transmitted from one person to another shows that he has implicitly admitted that this is not a matter of priors, or "presuppositions", or whatever he wants to call it. You can't debate priors, Ham agreed to a debate, ergo Ham's YEC is not a matter of priors.

Comment author: nigerweiss 24 February 2014 01:57:36AM 0 points [-]

It's going to be really hard to come up with any models that don't run deeply and profoundly afoul of the Occam prior.

Comment author: christopherj 23 February 2014 03:51:50AM 0 points [-]

The problem with steelmanning YEC is that you can't do so without converting it into something that YECists would vehemently disagree with. For example, you could state that God created the world via an evolutionary algorithm, then implemented it recently, and either the Flood was a small local event or the layer in question was deleted from the record. This however would seem more like entirely rejecting YEC. You could say that God made it seem like evolution was true as a test of faith, but such is a universal explanation that has no predictive power, plus the bit about calling God a liar.

You could also reject the data -- claim that there is a massive conspiracy among all scientists to pretend that the fossil record looks like millions of years of evolution, migration, extinction, etc., instead of looking like ~2000 years of land and marine life covered with a year of massive flood sediment covered by ~4000 years of land and marine life, and also a conspiracy in the genetics community to cover up the fact that there was a genetic bottleneck of all species down to one or seven pairs of animals ~4000 years ago, and also that the rate of evolution is actually millions of times faster than scientists say it is, and a few others like that. Notable creationists like Ken Ham are obviously ringleaders of the conspiracy, else they would be decrying the conspiracy instead of acknowledging that data and pretending that a flood is really good at sorting by species things like pollen.

Some things are just really hard to steelman. The most convincing arguments for YEC, and most pleasing to its adherents, are those that argue as though science was about explanations, rather than predictions.

Note: for much of my life, I believed (gave roughly equal credence to vs evolution) in YEC. I maintained this via privilaging the hypothesis, motivated skepticism and related reading from AIG, until one day I made the "mistake" of saying I would change my mind if someone would provide <list of facts>, which someone did. Contrary to Bill Nye's fears that this belief would somehow cripple me in science or technology, it was compartmentalized into irrelevance, and in fact I was usually considered one of the smart kids in class. In fact, it was because of people from Ken Ham's group that I had in the same compartment as YEC not science, but religious belief (and therefore also many moral and political beliefs). As such, the fact that I'd have to restructure my core beliefs made me hold on to YEC for a couple more years. However, I think others don't take their beliefs as seriously as I do. Ken Ham, for example, doesn't actually believe YEC because it does not constrain his expectations (nothing would change his mind, as he has admitted).

Comment author: Trevor_Blake 17 February 2014 03:24:56PM *  0 points [-]

If steelmaning in is to take the presumed weak idea to be refuted as serious as one can, the Sagan / Velikovski debate is instructional in general and the Talk Origins site is instructional in particular.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 17 February 2014 05:04:15PM 0 points [-]

Where did you read the debate and what did you learn from it? Most coverage I find is pretty negative about Sagan.

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 17 February 2014 07:34:16PM -3 points [-]

My computer crashed before I finished my post. When I reloaded it was grayed out and disappeared after being clicked on. Is there anyway I can retrieve posts like that?

Comment author: ChristianKl 17 February 2014 11:42:25AM -3 points [-]

I think a good steelman would investigate the concept of faith.

Even when you live in a country with statistics that show a high divorce rate it can still make sense to have faith that your partner keeps their weeding vow. If you don't have that faith and your partner knows that you don't have that faith that will damage your marriage.

If you look of the entomology of believe at webster you see that it comes from a word having something to do with "to allow". Choosing to believe is an active act of allowing something instead of rejecting it.

Having strong belief in your own religion makes the things that your religion provides better. Mormons are a religion with relatively strong believe compared to some other Christian sects and the happen to be healthier as a result. Enough healthier that there's a published paper that says that one Mormon can tell whether another person is a Mormon by looking at characteristics that correlate with that person being healthy.

If that's your idea of what beliefs are about it just makes sense to trust what your church says and not seek for evidence for empirical evidence. If you are operating in that frame Young Earth Creationism might make sense if your Church preaches it.

*I'm a German and I have never meet a Young Earth Creationist to argue with him about his beliefs, so I might be wrong about what their frame actually entails. In particular Young Earth Creationism isn't a old framework but a modern one.

Comment author: Creutzer 17 February 2014 03:54:28PM 0 points [-]

If you look of the entomology of believe at webster you see that it comes from a word having something to do with "to allow". Choosing to believe is an active act of allowing something instead of rejecting it.

Etymological fallacy, anyone? Or perhaps we should call it entomological fallacy from now on? :)

What you're proposing is not a steelman of Young Earth Creationism. It's a steelman of the claim that people should believe in Young Earth Creationism, which is the same only if you presuppose a desire for truth - but that's precisely something you're not assuming once you start talking about faith.

Comment author: ChristianKl 17 February 2014 04:13:54PM 0 points [-]

Part of Young Earth Creationism is to handle the term belief in a certain way.

If you switch out that definition of belief into another definition of belief than the thing you end up isn't really authentic Young Earth Creationism anymore.

As Nietzsche said, God is in the grammar and to the extend that you now have a concept of belief that's different from the one"s of Christians it's a sign to have eliminated God from one part of the grammar.

You take certain ontological claims about the nature about of reality and therefore beliefs for granted in which you differ with Young Earth Creationism.

The difference between the frame of looking at the world between a Young Earth Creationist and the average rationalist is a lot more profound than just a number of when the world happens to come into place.

Comment author: Creutzer 17 February 2014 06:13:14PM *  0 points [-]

Part of Young Earth Creationism is to handle the term belief in a certain way.

I'm not following. You're just redifining the position from "the earth is 6000 years old" to "people should believe that the earth is 6000 years old". I take Young Earth Creationism to be the first position - and the notion of "belief" doesn't feature there.

Comment author: ChristianKl 17 February 2014 10:13:03PM -1 points [-]

I think you are fooling yourself when you think you can summarize the position of someone with a substantial different worldview than your own like that Young Earth Creationists take in a single sentence.

In particular "is" can be interpreted differently.

If you look at the Wikipedia page for the Ussher chronology which is sort of the basis of modern Young Earth Creationism you find the sentence: "In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth, Gen. 1, v. 1. Which beginning of time, according to our Chronologie, fell upon the entrance of the night preceding the twenty third day of Octob[er] in the year of the Julian [Period] 710. The year before Christ 4004. The Julian Period 710." There no is or be in that sentence.

It just defines the beginning of the earth through the Chronologie. Just like part of the Gregorian chronology is that it happens to be the year 2014 at the moment, the beginning of the earth falls in the year before Christ 4004.

If I go and claim that you don't have any real evidence that it happens to be the year 2014 and that the number is just an arbitrary human invention I might be right, but that doesn't invalidate the calendar.

Comment author: Creutzer 17 February 2014 10:36:53PM 0 points [-]

What on earth are you talking about? It's not about summarising the position. My point is that Young Earth Creationism is a position about the world, not about what people "should believe".