On Facebook someone asked why some people still believe the Earth was created as recently as only 10,000 years ago. As a general rule, these people are referred to as Creationists. I and others provided answers. In my opinion, the best short answer is simply: fundamentalism, religious literalism. One respondent, Matthew, summed it up:
The largest reason I believe that people accept the 10,000 year old world theory is because they believe the bible is infallible.
There are family lineages in the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. the Old Testament to Christians) that go back to Adam, who the Scriptures say is the first person ever to exist and was created by God. Also, the Bible says God created the universe in six days. Fundamentalists believe the Bible is without error and take what it says as literally true.
Back to Matthew's answer about those who "believe the bible is infallible":
They believe their faith will crumble if the bible crumbles. This forces them to rigidly hold on to ideas that seem to be ludicrous when looking at the evidence. These faiths cannot hold their current views and...the new science. They must decide one or the other is wrong. They chose science because they cannot deny feelings in their hearts that they know come from a spiritual experience. People believe that the world is 10,000 years old because it is more convenient than believing otherwise and less devastating to the reality they have created for themselves.
One respondent, Kevin, answered:
Scientific inquiry has shown the speed of light to be 299,792,458m/s and to be a constant. Based on this single fact I can certainly prove the galaxy and the universe to be far older than 10,000 year by orders of magnitude. Geometry and physics very quickly and irrefutably shows us stars hundreds or millions of light years away. So the universe certainly was not made in six days (using Andrew's literal interpretation). A universe created only 10,000 years ago would leave us a dark sky as few other stars' light would be able to reach our eyes in such a short time. The Bible was written by men (and as some Bible scholars believe at least two women). It was not laid down in one evening of divine transcription, but cobbled together over four centuries out of stories from many authors. Men even decided which books would be considered "canon" and would be included in the Bible and which would not. Even the collected texts contradict each other in several places. There is nothing infallible about it.
Well, bless. The problem with Kevin's answer is that it really doesn't answer the question. What answers it more directly may be a quotation by yet another respondent of Dr. Kurt Wise, a Creationist to be applauded for his intellectual honesty to be sure:
"Although there are scientific reasons for accepting a young earth, I am a young-age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scriptures. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand."
Well, there you are. Scientific evidence be damned. Literally.
(Respondent Patrick chimed in:
I have had the pleasure conversing with Dr. Wise a few times. He is a brilliant scientist and with great stories and a passionate Christian. However I have to respectfully disagree with his view of creation. I believe it's bad hermeneutics to ignore relevant facts discovered in science.)
The reasoning of Kurt Wise is many things, but it is certainy a way to resolve the sort of internal intellectual conflict that's known as cognitive dissonance, something nearly everyone will experience in life to some degree. To quote the term's Wikipedia entry as of this post's date:
Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying. It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.
Now, a bit from part of my own answer that, like this post, rambles.
As Karen Armstrong argues in The Battle for God (2001) and A History of God (2004), Christian, Muslim, and Jewish fundamentalism are each basically a reaction against modernity. It's important to realize that not all religious adherents are fundamentalists--are literalists relative to a book with bronze- and/or iron-age origins claiming for itself divine inspiration. Consider that fundamentalists understand evolution as a threat while at the same time millions of Muslims, Jews, and Christians, even millions of evangelical Christians (not to mention official Roman Catholic teaching), recognize biological evolution as the only scientific explanation that exists for the origin of species.
The Creationists who insist that the Earth is not extremely old often point to supposed evidence against evolution. But, it often rests on:
- Misunderstanding or ignorance about scientific precepts in the field in question (usually evolution, but sometimes specifics in fields which evolution ties together, such as genetics, geology, cosmology, astronomy, and chemistry), or
- Misunderstanding or ignorance about the scientific method itself. One misunderstanding is simply that the scientific method is easily--in fact routinely--subverted by scientists' bias, their "worldview" (or "groupthink") or even conspiracy. Another is the mistaken notion that scientific disagreements or conflicting findings must indicate some larger problem with the basic validity of evolution, when in fact such things are vital and ultimately strengthening dynmics of the scientific process. An imperfect analogy of this misunderstanding about scientific dispute: it is a bit like finding an instance of two mechanics disagreeing about why a car isn't starting and treating the episode as evidence that engines don't actually exist or, perhaps, that the flammability of fuel is a result of wishful thinking or conspiracy, simply because two experts disagree about a specific think, albeit an important one, within the larger concept of what for the purposes of this analogy, we might call The Theory of Automobiles.
Some of the misunderstandings common among Creationists are addressed in the pamphlet "Top 10 Myths About Evolution," albeit very briefly and with one perhaps poorly-worded sentence in "Myth #7".*
A more in-depth source of investigation into Creationist claims is the website, The Panda's Thumb.
*Strictly speaking, it is not the case that "If you can find fossil mammals in the same geological strata as trilobites then evolution would be falsified," since it's technically plausible--though almost certainly impossible--to, for instance, find trilobites in post-Devonian rock. It would mean that scientific consensus was wrong, based on incomplete data, about what would be the staggeringly impressive ability of trilobites to survive. The sentence might better have been written, "If you can find fossil mammals in pre-Devonian strata then evolution would be falsified." Or it might have been better to simply repeat the answer that Richard Dawkins frequently offers and attributes to J. B. S. Haldane--that is, the answer Haldane gave when asked what empirical finding might falsify evolution: "Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian!” To muddy the waters further, I suspect that even Haldane would admit that such a discovery would not automatically falsify evolution, but would do so only after the scientific method was allowed to run its course--that is, the discovery of the "Precambrian rabbit" would itself need to pass the rigors of peer review, the process by which scientists achieve great glee by trying to prove each other wrong!