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Why Aren’t People Convinced by Facts?

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An article recently appeared on Scientific American titled “How To Convince Someone When Facts Fail: Why Worldview Threats Undermine Evidence.”1 The author, Michael Shermer, writes,

Have you ever noticed that when you present people with facts that are contrary to their deepest held beliefs they always change their minds? Me neither. In fact, people seem to double down on their beliefs in the teeth of overwhelming evidence against them. The reason is related to the worldview perceived to be under threat by the conflicting data.2

He provides several examples of what he means by this, including,

Creationists, for example, dispute the evidence for evolution in fossils and DNA because they are concerned about secular forces encroaching on religious faith.3

He says “proponents' deepest held worldviews were perceived to be threatened by skeptics, making facts the enemy to be slayed.” But do creationists really view facts as the “enemy to be slayed”? Well, let’s turn this thinking around on him. What about those who hold to evolutionary ideas? Do evolutionists listen to facts when they are presented by creationists? Or do they “double down on their beliefs” and “dispute the evidence?” Of course they dispute the evidence because it goes against their deeply held worldview.

It’s Not About the Facts!

Shermer argues that facts fail to convince people because of their deeply held beliefs. But he doesn’t apply this same thinking to himself. He doesn’t acknowledge that his interpretation of the facts could be wrong, but just assumes the other group is obstinate and wrong.

In reality it is not about the facts. When it comes to creation vs. evolution, the age of the earth, or climate change, the issue is not the facts because these facts (just the observable evidence) don’t speak for themselves. They must be interpreted. Because we were not there at the beginning of the universe, we must interpret the evidence from the past to determine what happened. And we interpret the evidence through our worldview.

Evolutionists start with man’s ideas about the past and assume everything is the result of natural processes over time (even though they cannot directly observe, test, or repeat such an idea). Biblical creationists start with God’s Word, the eyewitness account of creation, and use the history provided in God’s Word as a framework for interpreting the past.

Creationists don’t ignore facts. We interpret them in light of the history from God’s Word. Because we have a different starting point, we come to conclusions different from those of evolutionists looking at the same evidence. And, because God’s Word is true, the evidence we see in the world confirms God’s Word.

So How Can We Convince People?

Shermer asks, “If corrective facts only make matters worse, what can we do to convince people of the error of their beliefs?” He then answers this question:

  1. keep emotions out of the exchange
  2. discuss, don’t attack (no ad hominem and no ad Hitlerum)
  3. listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately
  4. show respect
  5. acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion
  6. try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews.4

It’s unfortunate that most evolutionists aren’t willing to use any of these tactics when debating creationists. All too often they lob emotional, ad hominem attacks at creationists, refuse to listen, have no idea what we actually believe (thankfully Shermer’s only major inconsistency in this article), are disrespectful and mocking, and don’t understand why we refuse to accept evolution and the naturalistic, atheistic thinking it entails.

Now, due to the worldview nature of evolution vs. creation and the age of the earth, “changing facts” (i.e., changing interpretations) does mean changing worldviews. It means a completely different starting point. And creationists don’t just want to convince people of a young earth or special creation. We want people to come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior—and that’s a big switch of worldviews!

It’s a Spiritual Problem

We’re often asked why more people, especially scientists, aren’t creationists since the evidence confirming a young earth and creation, as described in Genesis, is overwhelming. The Bible even tells us that creation itself testifies to the Creator (Psalm 19) so that “[we] are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). So why don’t more people believe the Bible and creation? The Bible gives us the answer:

And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19)
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:18–23)
Whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. (2 Corinthians 4:4)

One thing Shermer doesn’t acknowledge is that, at its core, this is a spiritual problem. The facts aren’t the problem at all. The real issue is that man is at enmity with God and suppresses the truth in unrighteousness. That’s why, ultimately, facts don’t convince anyone, though those who do seek the Lord and truth will be rewarded (Jeremiah 29:13) The Holy Spirit must work in the heart of unbelievers to free them from their blindness so they can see the light of Christ and the truth of His Word.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3–5)
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Footnotes

  1. Michael Shermer, “How To Convince Someone When Facts Fail: Why Worldview Threats Undermine Evidence,” Scientific American, January 1, 2017, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-convince-someone-when-facts-fail/.
  2. Ibid., emphasis added.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.

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