By Brian Nixon, ASSIST News Service

Separating fantasy from reality


A recent poll conducted in Iceland found 0% of people under twenty-five believe the creation story as described in Genesis, yet, according to a separate poll, fifty-four percent of Icelandic people believe in elves.

A recent poll conducted in Iceland found 0% of people under twenty-five believe the creation story as described in Genesis1, yet, according to a separate poll, fifty-four percent of Icelandic people believe in elves2.

The contrast between the two belief systems seem odd to me. True, both beliefs require a semblance of faith. Yet it seems that one belief has a basis in reality: creation, pointing to a Creator (nothing can create something after all). And the other belief seems quirky (the reality of elves). To my knowledge there is no strong scientific substantiation for elves. Yet this fact doesn't seem to stop over half of the Icelandic population from believing elves exist.

Even more fascinating, there's been some environmental trouble in Iceland due to elves: a road project was put on hold. As the Atlantic reported, "Jónsdóttir, a greying and spectacled seer who also operates an 'elf garden' in nearby Hafnarfjörður, believes the field is highly populated by elves, huldufolk (hidden people), and dwarves, many of whom, she says, have recently fled the area while the matter is settled"3.

Yep, you read it. Folks fought the road because it would endanger elves in the area!

The atheist would decry both worldviews (God and elves) as examples of bad belief, not rooted in either reality or science. But the contrast between the two beliefs couldn't be more stark.

As an example, there are dozens of reasons to believe God exists, all requiring a type of evidence (logical, historical, scientific-archaeological, etc.).

Are we in an
anti evidence
Here's just a sampling: the ontological argument (being—why something rather than nothing), the cosmological argument (first cause), the teleological argument (design), the moral argument (ethics, right and wrong), and fine-tuning argument (why is nature conducive for life). Philosopher Peter Kreeft lists 20 arguments for the existence of God, all logical and based in reality4.

Compare this with belief in elves. To my understanding the belief is rooted in two major areas: culture and eyewitness accounts. Culture is concerned with what a people group stresses to be true, regardless of its scientific or actual basis (what Francis Beckwith and Greg Koukl call "cultural relativism"5). And though Iceland would not take an official stance on elves, there's been a deep cultural tradition in Iceland that gives elves a life outside of the evidence. Icelandic belief in elves could be likened to other cultural beliefs: Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, etc. But without any type of scientific or archaeological evidence for the tradition, a lack of sure footing for the belief is elusive.

Secondly, the eyewitness accounts. Just like people that have seen UFOs, there have been accounts of people seeing elves6. But eyewitness accounts, independent of other supporting evidence (consistent written documentation, multiple eyewitnesses, changes in history, scientific, archaeological, etc.), are not always a good gauge for the reality of an object. Just because a person says he or she saw something doesn't mean that they did. Other factors can influence sight (mental state, weather, atmospheric conditions, etc.). And sometimes someone may think they are seeing one thing when in fact they are seeing something else, a similar object or thing (e.g. an airplane, not a UFO). So sight, independent of supporting evidence, can lead to false ideas.

This being said, I'm intrigued why one set of beliefs is denied (Genesis 1) and another set of beliefs is upheld (elves), even when one holds greater historical, logical, and evidential strength (Genesis 1, when properly interpreted, that is). I think it is safe to ask: are we in an anti-evidence mindset in our world?

And don't get me wrong: I'm not an elf-hater. I, like so many other people, enjoy them as a product of our creative mind. But for my own sanity and to support an evidence-based existence, we must find a way to clearly demarcate the valid from the visionary.

  4. Handbook of Christian Apologetics, chapter 2.
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