There exists a belief that everything — the entire universe — was created exactly twenty minutes ago. What’s more, it is completely impossible to prove that this belief is incorrect.
For the sake of argument, I’ll assume, temporarily, that this belief is true. You might then object that you’ve been sitting at your computer for over an hour, and remember events that happened yesterday, and have memories of your childhood, years ago. Are these objections a problem? Absolutely not! All I have to do, in order to nullify these objections, is explain that, when the universe was created twenty minutes ago, each of us was carefully created with a lifetime of false memories of an existence we believe we remember, but which is actually completely unreal — except for the last twenty minutes, of course.
Of course, this belief — while irrefutable — is also completely ridiculous. Could it be true? Yes, but there’s no reason to accept it as valid. Why? That’s simple: lack of evidence. It makes no sense to accept any proposition when no real evidence exists to support it.
Now, please compare Twenty-Minuteism, an extremely rare belief system, to Young-Earth Creationism, a set of beliefs firmly held by millions of people. These two points of view are basically the same, differing only in the amount of time involved. Young-Earth Creationists hold the view that everything was created fewer than ten thousand years ago, and most have a particular fondness for a period of time of approximately six thousand years, based on certain passages from the Bible.
The objections to Young-Earth Creationism are numerous, but its adherents have an answer for all of them. Take, for example, the existence of ancient fossils. It’s easy to claim that the earth was created with intact fossils underground, and then explain why this was done, in one of several ways. One such method is to claim that the creator of the universe placed these fossils underground, deliberately, as a test of our faith. Another explanation invokes an evil, supernatural being, and then blames this entity for placing these fossils underground, in order to deceive us, and lead us astray. My favorite version, though, is one I actually heard, many years ago, from a card-carrying, professional Creationist. He focused, in his work, on the fossils of large dinosaurs, and even had a dinosaur-silhouette on his slick, professional-looking business card, which he was proud to show me. As he explained it, dinosaurs were alive until the Great Flood described in the Book of Genesis drowned them all — and all that water mixed with soil to make vast amounts of mud. Since dinosaurs were large, heavy animals, he explained, their dead bodies sank further down into this mud, which later became rock — and that explains why dinosaur fossils are found further down than, say, fossilized mice, birds, or people. For someone so incredibly dense (in one sense of the word), this man had very little understanding of density — for it is density (not mass, nor volume, nor weight) which governs whether objects float or sink, in any fluid, as well as how far down they sink (if they sink at all), and he said nothing whatsoever about dinosaur density. I will give this man credit for two things: he was certainly memorable, as well as entertaining.
Another objection to Young-Earth Creationism is based on radioactive dating of rocks, but here’s how Creationists deal with that: they sometimes claim that radioactive-dating doesn’t actually work as scientists explain it, and sometimes even claim that scientists conspire to hide this “truth” from the public — and, of course, these Creationists also throw in just enough scientific-sounding jargon to fool a lot of gullible people. There is another way to “explain away” the radioactive-dating objection to Young-Earth Creationism, of course: just claim that radioisotope-ratios in rocks were created that way, by either a good or evil supernatural being, as a test of faith, or an act of deception — take your pick. This is, of course, the same chicanery usually used when dismissing fossils as evidence that their claims are wrong.
Astronomy provides yet another mountain of evidence to refute Young-Earth Creationism. A prime example of this is the nearest large galaxy, M31, known also as the Andromeda Galaxy — the most distant object which can be seen without a telescope. Scientists have used a variety of methods to calculate the distance to M31, and the current best-estimate of this distance is ~2.5 million light years. Since a light year is defined as the distance light travels in one year, this means we see Andromeda as it existed 2.5 million years ago. How can this be reconciled with the belief that the universe was created less than 10,000 years ago? Why, that’s simple — all you have to do is claim that the light we now see when we look at Andromeda didn’t actually originate there, but was created, at the same time as the rest of the universe, in such a way as to make it appear that this light has been in transit between galaxies. Question this assertion, and you’ll be introduced, once more, to the supernatural beings who are said to be testing us, or trying to deceive us.
The fact is that (except for the heavy-dinosaurs-sinking-further-down silliness described above) no one can disprove any of this nonsense. There is no evidence that supernatural beings have, in fact, not placed fossils underground, nor carefully arranged tricky isotope-ratios in rocks, nor created light in space, nearby, to make it appear that other galaxies existed millions, or even billions, of years ago. However, there is also a complete lack of evidence to support any of these extraordinary claims — just as there is no evidence for, or against, the equally-absurd, but less popular, beliefs of the Twenty-Minuteists. These two belief systems are not only equally absurd, but also equally valid, for zero, like all numbers, is equal to itself.
I have no intention of abandoning my skeptical, scientific approach to understanding as much as I can about reality, as it actually exists. However, if I do lose my mind, some time in the future, and abandon scientific skepticism, I still won’t join forces with the Young-Earth Creationists. After all, if one is going to embrace, and adopt, a irrational way of thinking, why choose one with which millions of people already agree? I much prefer to be different from other people, especially people in large groups, and have always been this way. It’s a core part of my personality.
I have no desire to be “normal,” and, where I live (in the Southern part of the United States), Young-Earth Creationism is (sadly) quite normal, in the sense that a great many people agree with it, despite the total lack of empirical evidence to support it. If I were to become a Twenty-Minuteist, by contrast, I would, at least, get to continue being different from nearly everyone else, rather than being just another normal person, lost in the crowd. To me, that’s at least worth something — something that Young-Earth Creationism simply cannot offer.