Thursday, November 26, 2009

Todd Wood and the Problem of Cognitive Dissonance

Todd Wood is a creationist, and has a blog where he comments on science and religion. He seems to have grasped the meaning of evolutionary theory, though. Consequently, a few months back, he rattled more than a few cages by writing the following:

Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.

I say these things not because I'm crazy or because I've "converted" to evolution. I say these things because they are true. I'm motivated this morning by reading yet another clueless, well-meaning person pompously declaring that evolution is a failure. People who say that are either unacquainted with the inner workings of science or unacquainted with the evidence for evolution. (Technically, they could also be deluded or lying, but that seems rather uncharitable to say. Oops.)

To quote Slim Pickens: "What in the Wide World of Sports is a-Goin' on here??" For those of us that have a background in evolutionary theory and palaeontology, the usual creationist arguments present little in the way of difficulty and can be dispensed with quite easily. Todd Wood, clearly, has an unusual creationist position. He claims that he really is a creationist and really does believe in the YEC model. He writes in another post:

I believe that God created everything that you see in six consecutive days around 6000 years ago.
I believe that Adam and Eve were the very first humans and were directly created by God.
I believe Adam and Eve sinned, and that sin brought death, carnivory, disease, and suffering into the world.
I believe that people really lived to be 900+ years back then.
I believe that there was a truly global Flood that inundated the entire planet.
I believe that humans and land animals were preserved on an Ark (approximately 450 feet long for those keeping score).
A reader wrote the following about him:
For a while I kind of felt sorry for Wood as I read his posts and what he was trying to do with the science, and kind of respected him for his honesty.However, what I see as the real problem is that if he, as someone who really understands the evidence, can still reject it, then what chance do we have of convincing unqualified creationists who don't understand the evidence and just believe what they are told by AIG and ICR?
Very little, it seems, because it is a faith position and those that hold it think that if they accept the findings of modern science, the jig is up and there really is no God, after all. It is this thin line between science and faith that results in a false dichotomy: One can accept evolution as the truth (in a scientific sense) and be an atheist or one can reject evolution, no matter how much explanatory power it has and believe in God.

The problem is that by embracing the YEC model and all of its warts, he is not just saying he accepts that evolution is good science but doesn't believe it, he is saying that all of modern science is good but his faith demands that he reject all of it. This makes him no more enlightened than your average creationist. In a sense, because he knows the evidence that your average creationist doesn't, his position is perhaps even more pathetic.

It raises an interesting theological question as well, one that is applicable to all creationists, enlightened or not. If the God of the universe is the same God that created the heavens and the earth and who created a universe that is knowable, and if we reject the clear evidence that the heavens and the earth teach us, are we not rejecting God's testimony about his creation?

Furthermore, given that the traditional and historical interpretation of the scriptures that cover the creation of the universe— the Primeval History—has not been literal but rather symbolic, and therefore, the modern (1930s) YEC model is not an orthodox interpretation, does this constitute heresy? I am not quite willing to go that far and am inclined to think of it as a radical misinterpretation of scripture. Ask me tomorrow, though. The more I see people lie and be willing to distort the evidence for the purpose of the YEC model, the more I am inclined to think of it as heresy. Someone needs to talk me out of this perspective.

It is obvious from reading Todd Wood's blog that he is a very articulate, intelligent and well-thought individual who has thought long and hard about some of these issues. He addresses the science as though he believes it, which is truly strange, given what he actually believes. I think that probably I need to read more to really get a sense of how deep the cognitive dissonance runs. I keep coming back to the same problem, though: the rocks don't lie.

Hat tip to Ben

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  1. "he is saying that all of modern science is good but his faith demands that he reject all of it."

    Where did you see that in what Todd wrote? Are you just being hyperbolic? If so, why? Why not be accurate, and explain what Wood has right, and what he has wrong?

    Let's be frank: if all the creationists spoke like Wood, I wouldn't have followed ID for as long as I did, if at all. I would have immediately seen its hollowness.

    And I think a lot more people would have been ABLE to compare the value of the false definition of faith Wood offers (see my answer to Ben's comment) to the value of following the evidence.


  2. Todd Wood writes that he believes that the earth was created six thousand years ago and that there was a global flood that inundated the entire planet. What about that doesn't scream "rejection of modern science?" That is the YEC position and it explicitly rejects the modern scientific fields of astronomy, cosmology, biology, geology and palaeontology, just to name the ones I can think of off the top of my head. There is no hyperbole here. If he believes in the YEC position, he rejects the findings of those fields outright.

  3. The 27th Comrade11:17 AM

    I think Jimpithecus' biggest problem, a very big problem, is attacking creationists as young-earth creationists.

    That, of course, and thinking that evolution has been put so far beyond being wrong by the evidence. In as much as it is supported by evidence, the evidence can support about sixty other conclusions better at this point in time, space, and knowledge.

  4. When Todd Wood says "I am a creationist," he means "young earth creationist." He doesn't mean "Old earth creationist" like I am. When most people see the term "creationist," they interpret it to mean someone who assumes the YEC model to be correct. It has become, for better or worse, common parlance. It is certainly true that I need to be more careful in the future about using those terms. Hand duly slapped.

    I accept evolution because, as I wrote in a recent post, the nature of science is to provisionally accept a theory and to test it until a better one comes along. If a better one does not come along, we incorporate it into our understanding of the universe. So far (150 years and counting) a better one has not come along. I would be more than happy to entertain evidence to the contrary.

  5. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. I.D. doesn't count. It has no theoretical constructs.