According to modern scientific research, Earth is some 4.5 billion years old. When talking about the whole universe, numbers grow much larger, though the notion of time may be subject to rather odd interpretations. This way or that, it’s pretty safe to say that Earth is not 5764 years old, or even close. “Of-course,” the believer may say (and he does – many times – I’ve heard it myself), “it was created 5764 years ago with all the evidence you just mentioned already built into it.”
This claim of retroactive creation is really equivalent to saying nothing (except perhaps supporting the scientists). For once, it could be argued that the whole universe was created twenty seconds ago, with all the evidence, including our memory, this book, all religions – everything already intact. There is no actual difference between this and the previous creationist statement.
Even if we accept the alleged fact that the world (the universe?) was created twenty seconds or six thousand years or even a million years ago, with all the evidence in it, it is absolutely irrelevant. We can only discuss and research the evidence that we can see and measure, and not the things that we cannot see and measure. Even if the world was created 5764 years ago with evidence of dinosaurs living some seventy million years ago, then the research of those dinosaurs is, for us, the only real thing that can (and should) be conducted. The other philosophical date of creation has no value in it, and has nothing to do with us.
A somewhat related argument was also raised during the famous Monkey Trial (Tennessee vs. John Scopes, 1925). Without getting into the history of the trial (which is interesting in itself), let’s examine certain excerpts of the famous dialogue between Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan, during that long-to-be-remembered hot day. You’ll figure out soon enough who is the good guy and who is the bad guy:
Darrow: Would you say that the Earth was only 4,000 years old?
Bryan: Oh, no, I think it is much older than that.
Darrow: How much?
Bryan: I couldn’t say.
Darrow: Do you say whether the Bible itself says it is older than that?
Bryan: I don’t think it is older or not.
Darrow: Do you think the Earth was made in six days?
Bryan: Not six days of twenty-four hours … my impression is they were periods …
Darrow: Now, if you call those periods, they may have been a very long time?
Bryan: They might have been.
Darrow: The creation might have been going on for a very long time?
Bryan: It might have continued for millions of years …
Similarly to William Jennings Bryan’s case, there is an undefined line in the minds of many religious people, between religious stories that should be taken literally vs. stories that should be considered metaphorically. The exact location of that line is probably derived from one’s education and knowledge. If a single day can stand for millions of years, than perhaps one ‘Adam’ and one ‘Eve’ can also stand for millions of people? Where does it end? Why then do you often hear religious authorities insist on literally following old rules that may be interpreted metaphorically as well?
So it’s not only believing in stories that defy the rules of physics. The religious mode is realized also in day-to-day behavior. We see a writer working on his third or fourth book while in reality mode, but caressing and kissing paper with antique works of other writers while in religious mode. We observe a reality-mode researcher of linguistics murmuring ancient words in religious mode – words that may not be even fully understood by the scientific community. We see a doctor cutting some skin off his own son’s penis in public, and feeling very happy about it. Some creative chefs have never even tasted bacon, and not necessarily because they’re personally disgusted with pigs or pork, and the list goes on.
In light of the above, it should be easier to get a grip on the following beautiful paragraph, quoted from A History of God by Karen Armstrong (published by Ballantine Books):
“Yet it is also true that even in Auschwitz some Jews continued to study the Talmud and observe the traditional festivals, not because they hoped that God would rescue them but because it made sense. There is a story that one day in Auschwitz, a group of Jews put God on trial. They charged him with cruelty and betrayal. Like Job, they found no consolation in the usual answers to the problem of evil and suffering in the midst of this current obscenity. They could find no excuse for God, no extenuating circumstances, so they found him guilty and, presumably, worthy of death. The Rabbi pronounced the verdict. Then he looked up and said that the trial was over: it was time for the evening prayer.”
This relates very well to the observation made by Benedict Baruch Spinoza, who lived in the Netherlands in the 17th century. Spinoza, considered by some as the greatest Jewish philosopher of all time, also described the nature of man. He made a clear distinction between things that are perceived by logic, and things that are perceived through feelings. “What is perceived with pure logic is defended with logic and reason,” he said, “but what is perceived with feelings and wonder is defended using feelings and wonder.”
Spinoza, by the way, was banned by the Jewish community of his time, and even survived an assassination attempt by a young Orthodox Jewish man.
Leon Festinger developed the theory of cognitive dissonance in the middle of the 20th century. It deals with our tendency to resist new learning that seems to contradict our commitment to prior knowledge. Learners use various methods to reduce dissonance and eliminate the unpleasant tension associated with it. Many of these methods have to do with rejecting new knowledge or reducing its importance. In many cases, people are ready to deny the known and clear reality in order not to change their opinion or belief. They defend by using feelings rather than pure logic and often name these feelings logic.