Is it possible to rationally believe YEC?

Here’s a quick argument:

I can think of some possible objections and other interesting issues here, but I’d like to start off as simple as possible and see what kind of push back I might get.

What does rationality mean? “Rational” seems to have something to do with “reason”. So maybe we can start by defining rationally believing something as follows:

Definition 1. S rationally believes in P if and only if:

  1. S believes that P is true.
  2. S believes that the relevant evidence E is in a state M.
  3. E can only be in state M if P is true.
  4. S believes in proposition 3.

To clarify, E refers to the entirety of relevant data which are relevant to ascertain the truth of X. It can thought of as a list of N propositions (such as “Humans and chimpanzees share 98% of their genomes.”) that you can each assign a true or false value to. M is then the vector of length N containing the T/F assignments to each of the members of E.

Now, under this definition, it is possible for someone to believe in something that is false because they believe that E is in a state M, whereas it’s actually in a different state M’, which would undermine the truth of 3). An example of this is where someone is misled by certain people about E. Or they might have been brought up reading only creationist literature and was never exposed to the evidence for evolution. Then I would call them ignorant, but not irrational. If upon learning about the evidence (i.e. proposition 2 no longer applies to them), they still maintain belief in P, then they would become irrational.

I have purposely left out other propositions:

  1. Evidence E is [actually] in a state M. This is to differentiate between ignorance and irrationality.
  2. S is rational in believing that E is in a state M. This is to prevent recursion in the definition above.

First question: what does “rationally believe” mean to you? How would we tell if a belief fits that criterion?

To me, a rational belief must follow from valid argument based on evidence, sufficient that we may conclude that the belief is likely to be true. I don’t see evidence that the bible is the word of God, but I do see evidence that the bible teaches YEC. I’m also not sure that the conclusion follows from those two premises. Could one not conclude that the bible teaches YEC and is the word of God while not considering that to be evidence for YEC? I think so.


I don’t see how that definition allows for rationally believing something that is false since 3 is basically “If E is M then P”, right? And you stipulate that S rationally believes P iff … 3. But if someone has a false belief condition 3 isn’t met.

Anyway, I’m not sure we need to nail down a detailed definition of rationality for my argument to be convincing. Do you agree with the argument but want to say all sincere YEC are ignorant (of some evidence)?

Unfortunately, those who want to deny 1 or 1 and 2 are probably outside the scope of my intended audience right now as we would need to go too far into other issues before we could get back to the argument at hand.

I guess there are some who might say that the Bible is the word of God and the Bible affirms some things that are false. I’m not sure if they would say that it is not possible to rationally believe those parts that are false. Maybe I could add something like If it is possible to rationally believe that the Bible is the word of God, then it is possible to rationally believe all that it is rational to believe the Bible teaches… I’ll have to think about it :slight_smile:

We may have to look carefully at what we mean by “rational”, as I said before, but we may also have to look at what we mean by “teaches” here. Certainly, many people who believe 1 don’t believe 2 in the literal sense of YEC, yet still believe that, taken literally, it supports YEC. We might also wonder what “word of God” means. Must he be responsible for the exact text, word for word, and intend every story to be taken as historically true? There’s room for doubt.


The only way for YEC to be embraced “rationally” is if the underlying presupposition is that world is full of what would be called miracles… which others would call magical processes.

Yes. The truth of “If E is M then P” doesn’t change regardless of whether S believes in it or not. For example, if we had evidence that radioactive decay rates change drastically over time, then that could support the truth of some YEC claims. Someone who was ignorant might have a false belief that we actually had evidence of radioactive decay rates. Such a person could then be justified in believing the YEC claim that the Earth is young, and thus be rational, even if he is ignorant and mistaken about whether the evidence says that.

(Of course, I’m simplifying a fair amount since the evaluation of scientific evidence is usually done in a cumulative way, not based on single bits here and there.)

I support the basic contention that people can be rational but ignorant of the evidence. Rationality refers to how a person would cognitively given a certain situation. For example, a rational person would revise her beliefs when confronted with new evidence. But perhaps that confrontation has never happened yet. Thus, in principle there could be YECs who fit this criterion. Rationality should not be associated with simply holding the right, true beliefs. To be rational is not necessarily to be knowledgeable.

The matter gets even more complicated when we take into account different epistemological structures. I tend to assess people who believe in YEC based on Scripture alone differently than those who claim to believe it based on scientific evidence. Now even the latter case allows for some cases of rational-yet-ignorant (see the above paragraph). I think there is even more room for rationality in the case of the former.

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One of the reasons I like leaving that part out of the argument is that it allows others who don’t accept 1, 2, or all 3 to clarify why. If I simply stipulated a definition, then I suspect we would just start arguing over whether it’s a good definition. Plug in whatever definition of “rational” you want. You offered a definition of rational along the lines of a belief based on a valid, evidence based argument likely to be sound, right? And you said that on that definition, you don’t think there is evidence for 1. So you reject 1-3.

I’m not using the terms in any special sense. We can say “affirms” if that helps.

Not sure this effects anything since the question is whether those people believe it’s possible to rationally believe the literal take.

God’s act of communication.

Not sure this effects the argument.

I’m sure it does. The connection between “word of God” and “teaches YEC” must be that God intends us to believe YEC on the basis of the bible if the bible teaches YEC; however you phrase it, that must be an additional premise. You may think it’s self-evident, but I don’t think so

Spelling flame (sorry, but I teach grammar): the word is “affects”, not “effects”.

Do you mean a new set of evidence or a single piece of evidence of a particular quality? Individual pieces of evidence are both weighed and counted against the person’s prior beliefs. One piece of contrary evidence (or many, if lightly weighted) doesn’t necessarily overturn a prior belief.

Other than that, I think we’re in agreement.

A set of evidence. A rational person evaluates evidence cumulatively. There is this related problem too: if one holds one’s past beliefs and experiences too strongly to the point that no amount of new cumulative evidence could result in a revision of their beliefs, then that would also be an irrational attitude. (Especially with regards to empirical, scientific matters like the age of the Earth.)

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It’s already a premise that it’s possible to rationally believe the Bible teaches…

What sort or amount of evidence might it take to convince you that omphalism is true? Is your belief that the world wasn’t created last Thursday irrational?

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My belief that the world wasn’t created last Thursday is basic (as Plantinga would say), just like the belief that you are a real person who typed the above sentence, instead of a figment of my imagination. The kind of rationality I have been talking about doesn’t apply to basic beliefs, since it is virtually impossible to assess empirical evidence without invoking some basic beliefs. To really, seriously accept that the world was created last Thursday and still function as a rational person would require such an upheaval of my cognitive system that I can’t even imagine it. It would basically short-circuit my brain.

This is also why for me, omphalism doesn’t make sense. Omphalism is slightly less alarming than Last Thursdayism, I guess, since I could probably still trust my memories were not falsely implanted a week ago. But it is still anti-realist - denying what the empirical evidence seems to be clearly saying.

So would you also agree that some nonPBBs are indefeasible (or at least highly resistant to defeaters) from some types of evidence? For instance, some moral beliefs might be highly resistant to scientific defeaters?

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Yes, I don’t see how moral beliefs (especially foundational ones) are subject at all to scientific defeaters, given that we never used science to believe them in the first place.

I would agree that some basic beliefs other than moral beliefs are highly resistant to defeaters. For example, to convince me to YEC Omphalism would require more than just a really convincing argument about how to interpret Genesis 1-2. It would require a very convincing argument that a certain style of hermeneutics must be adopted by all Christians. It would also require someone to convince me that scientific realism is not an epistemologically desirable thing. That’s even harder, I think, because I feel there is an aesthetic beauty in knowing that what the scientific evidence says is actually true to reality. You basically have to convince me to go against my gut feeling, and really investigate the web of inferences and basic beliefs that holds my cognitive system together.

Whether that makes the connection depends, as I said, on just what “teaches” means. You may think my additional premise is superfluous, but I don’t agree.

No, there is nothing rational about that, unless “word of God” is taken to be a metaphor.

It could be rational to believe that the Bible was inspired by God. But that would require that God inspired people with ideas, and then those people described the ideas in their own words.

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I already gave another definition of what I meant and still don’t see how it affects the point. But I can see why, maybe if you’re not working with something like a classical theist definition of God, you feel there is a missing premise.

You might be taking it like this:

You can add the relevant sort of premise into my earlier argument:

P.S. If we say cause and effect, why wouldn’t “effect” be appropriate where a change is being brought about?

And I appreciate the responses from others. Will try to interact with them tomorrow.