What is creationism?
We have divided this section into four pages:
1. What is Creationism? by Roger Stanyard (on this page).
2. What is Intelligent Design?
3. A short History of Christian Fundamentalism by Lenny Flank.
4. Science Explained, Pseudoscience Exposed which consists of abstracts from Associate-Professor Andrew Smith.
What is creationism?
By Roger Stanyard, Member of BCSE
The term “creationism” is broad, with young-earth creationism referring in common parlance to the set of extreme opinions that the universe and life were created within six days some 6000 years ago with major modifications as a result of a universal flood about 4,400 years ago (Noah’s flood). The view is based on a rigid literal interpretation of the bible. Such an extreme view on the inerrency of the bible is sometimes described as bibliolatry.
Its adherents believe that most sedimentary rocks were laid down in the course of Noah’s flood. Evolution as such does not exist except for occurrences they need to make up to fit with the story of Noah’s Ark. They believe that there was no death of animals before Adam’s fall. Dinosaurs (and, indeed all extinct species) once lived alongside and at the same time as anatomically modern humans.
The term “creationist” originated in the creationist movement in the 1960s to distinguish its adherents from other Christians who they described as compromisers.
Strictly speaker, in its accurate use, the term creationism is compatible with mainstream science. All Christians basically believe that God created the universe but most accept that this could, for example, have been at the time of the Big Bang. Others believe that God created the first living organism or organisms from which all life subsequently evolved along the lines explained by evolutionary theory and mainstream science. This is not, though, what is normally meant when by modern-day Creationists are referred to in the media and by scholars.
A detailed explanation of the different forms of creationism can be found on the Talk Origins web site at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/wic.html and at http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/9213_the_creationevolution_continu_12_7_2000.asp . Some believe that the earth is indeed very old as explained by science but life itself was not formed until 6,000 years ago. Others believe that each of the “six days” when God created everything were, in fact, periods of time each millions of years long.
The leading exponents of creationism have consistently claimed that creationism has nothing to do with religion, that it is justified solely on scientific evidence. Two landmark legal cases in the United States have shown the fallacy of this argument.
In 1987, in Edwards v. Aguillard, the Supreme Court of the United States held that a requirement that public schools teach young-earth creationism alongside evolution as an alternative theory violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Likewise the attempt to get Intelligent Design into the science classroom suffered a major blow in 2005 for the same reason. The case was Kitzmiller v. The Dover Area School District. Dover is a small rural town in Pennsylvania.
Both decisions were based on the courts' findings that creationism is religion, not science. Judge Jones, in the Dover trial, also ruled that Intelligent Design was creationism in a tux. Indeed, in the United States, where it originated in its modern form, it is nearly entirely the product of fundamentalist evangelical Christians.
It is necessary to point out that not only are many evangelicals neither creationists nor religious fundamentalists but are also deeply worried that the creationists are doing serious damage to the evangelical movement. However, it is clear that creationism is a product of the evangelical movement as is Christian fundamentalism.
The major exception to this is in the Islamic world but even then the Islamic creationists have received considerable assistance from US creationists (notably the Institute for Creation Research) and have drawn heavily on their thinking, material and promotional techniques.
Mainstream biblical scholars have long and widely accepted that much of the Old Testament, including Genesis, is metaphorical and allegorical and reflects the culture and knowledge of the days when it was written. Little of it referring to events before 600 BC has any historical accuracy whatsoever.
In contrast, the creationists wholly reject this. They believe that the creation of the universe, life and mankind can be dated at approximately 6,000 BC because the Old Testament provides genealogies which they believe are accurate. Moreover, they total reject any and all knowledge, evidence and interpretation, which contradict anything as literally written in the bible. That means they reject anything that contradicts their belief that the world was created in six days and life, including mankind, was formed in the same brief span. Those Christians who agree with the mainstream findings from archaeology and textual analyses are labelled as “compromisers” or Chinos (Christians in Name Only). The underlying position of the creationists is that if anything in the Bible is doubted, then the whole document is suspect and therefore their religious belief is unsustainable.
However, in order to sustain their literalist position, the creationists are faced with a vast amount of scientific and historical evidence that contradicts creationism. They have thus developed a whole body of unsustainable alternative science, usually known as “creation science”, which flies straight in the face of vast areas of mainstream science.
Nobody should be under any illusion that this “creation science” is written by people unqualified in scientific subjects. They usually are qualified – many up to PhD level. That is why they are so dangerous. It is exceedingly difficult for the non-scientifically educated public to see through their arguments.
Moreover, the movement is backed by its own “research” organisations such as the Institute for Creation Research in the USA (which even awards degrees in the creationist science it teaches), Answers in Genesis and, in the UK, specifically, the Biblical Creation Society. These organisations have their own, exclusive “creation science” journals and publishing arms, alternative “creation science museums”, sophisticated web sites and so on. Their “creation scientists” are authors of numerous books pushing “creation science” some of which have been serious and influential best sellers in the USA.
However, the issue goes beyond this. The movement is basically evangelical and is therefore dedicated to not only proselytising Christianity to the rest of the world but, specifically, its own version as superior. That perhaps half the population of the USA is creationists speaks for the effectiveness of their efforts.
In effect, the movement justifies itself because, its adherents believe, that God is going to inflict infinite unbearable punishment on anyone who they fail to convert and they will be held responsible.
Indeed, creationism is probably now central to the culture wars in the United States – wars that divide Republican from Democrat, rural and exurban America from urban America, intellect from non-intellect, the North East and West Coast from the deep South and so on.
Central to the creationist attack on mainstream religion and science is their opposition Darwin’s theory of natural selection which later became incorporated into the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis: all species have evolved from other species through a process of genetic mutation, genetic drift and natural selection. Creationists have therefore attempted to re-write the whole of the biological sciences and attack other scientific disciplines which contradict their religious beliefs. Indeed, they attack the whole body of what they describe as the standard scientific view of the history of the universe.
This includes geology (where the central paradigm is the old age of the earth), physics (particularly Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, cosmology and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics), chemistry (where radiometric techniques show rocks and organic material to be more than 6,000 years old), archaeology, paleoanthropology, history, applied mathematics and even naval architecture (which easily pulls apart the creationist’s religious beliefs about Noah’s Ark).
How Successful Have the Creationists Been?
In terms of influence, brilliantly in the United States where they have succeeded in politicising science in the public domain. Their influence is also growing strongly elsewhere in the world including Australia, the United Kingdom, Africa and the Islamic world.
“The politicization of science in the name of religion and political partisanship is not new to the United States, but transformation of traditional geographically and economically based political parties into religiously oriented ideological coalitions marks the beginning of a new era for science policy. The broad public acceptance of the benefits of science and technology in the second half of the 20th century allowed science to develop a nonpartisan identification that largely protected it from overt partisanship. That era appears to have closed.” – From The Public Acceptance of Science by Jon D. Miller, Eugenie C. Scott, Shinji Okamoto, Science magazine, August 11th 2006.
In terms of providing any credible alternatives to mainstream science, however, the creationists are total failures. In its near 50-year history, the modern creation science movement has contributed precisely nothing to the world’s scientific knowledge. Indeed, it has consistently opted out of mainstream science altogether. Its proponents virtually never participate in the scientific conference rounds, they block all open peer-reviewing of articles in their “creation science” journals, they have never ever had a single creation science paper published in a mainstream peer-reviewed scientific journal (not one), virtually every piece of “creation science” they have had published elsewhere has been thoroughly pulled to pieces and apart from Intelligent Design, they have had nothing at all new to say for thirty years.
For a comprehensive and systematic debunking of “creation science”, visit the web sites of Talk Origins (http://www.talkorigins.org) and Talk Reason (http://www.talkreason.org).
Almost without exception, “creation science” is nothing more that a series of books and articles and associated rhetoric which attempt to find weakness in areas of science that contradict fundamentalist religious beliefs. It contains nothing as a viable alternative explanation.
Even then, time and time again such publications are full of scientific errors, mis-interpretations, misquotes and plain ignorance about mainstream science. The authors and their apologists are frequently unwilling to admit even to their most obvious errors and mistakes. All too often, years after such errors have been pointed out, the creationists go on repeating them.
Not surprisingly, there is much acrimony towards the creationists. Many "creation scientists" are seen as dishonest and incompetent. When they have scientific credentials, they fail to use them and turn to proselytising and preaching, often involving some nasty vendettas against those that disagree with them. All too often they seem to have no intuitive sense when they breach the ninth commandment.
Yet this is despite the staggering resources they have had available to them. The Institute for Creation Research has a budget of some US$4m a year. Answers in Genesis has an income of around US$12m a year. The movement and its protagonists own and control numerous US “universities” big enough to be quite capable of undertaking research – Loma Linda University, Andrews University, Bob Jones University, Regent University, Liberty University and Biola University to name some leading examples.
Indeed, so bad is the performance of creation science that its protagonists have had, for the last decade or so, to hide behind the smokescreen of Intelligent Design.
Intelligent Design is basically another attempt by creationists (some of who are Old Earth Creationists) to delude the public, the courts, public policy makers and politicians that creationism has nothing to do with religion. It is creationism shorn of any possible direct reference to the bible coupled to an attempt to show that an unnamed supernatural being (God – but they don’t normally admit that in public) must have created life at unspecified times and in unspecified ways but, at the same time, not openly contradicting a literal interpretation of the Bible.
In the United Kingdom, it is similarly being used to hoodwink the public that its protagonists in such organisations as Truth in Science have a scientific agenda rather than the blatantly obvious agenda – to get mainstream science out of the science classroom in favour of creationism and proselytising they own fundamentalist religious beliefs.
As far as we are aware, every single member of Truth in Science is a young earth creationist. Their public rhetoric about Intelligent Design is therefore utterly dishonest.
The Origins of Creationism
The modern creationist movement dates back to 1961 when a couple of American crackpots, Henry Morris, a civil (hydraulics) engineer, and John Whitcomb, a cleric, published a book called The Genesis Flood. However, that development did not occur in a social and historical vacuum and it is thus necessary to look at what came before it to understand the context which made it subsequently so influential.
There is a commonly held urban myth amongst many creationists which suggest that the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859 led Christianity away from a literal belief in the Genesis myth of six day creation.
At the time of publication, Genesis was already largely accepted in the Western World as mythology (or, at least, as near-myth), as distinct from accurate history. Acceptance of the old age of the earth based on geological evidence was pretty well universal, for example, amongst Anglican (Episcopalian) clergy by 1859. Indeed, it had largely been accepted by the end of the 18th century. In 1859 Gregor Mendel, a Roman Catholic monk, was already working on genetics which later were to provide the intellectual underpinnings of Darwin’s understanding of Evolution.
However, the revival of creationism in its modern form dates back to developments in the United States during its civil war. The catalyst was the Seventh Day Adventist church.
In 1864 the founder of the Church, Ellen G White, claimed she had had a vision from God who showed here how he created the universe, earth and life in six 24 hour days as stated in Genesis. The vision apparently explained how fossils were later created by Noah’s Flood.
One of the people who was to follow this up was George McCready Price. Price, also a Seventh Day Adventist, was an amateur armchair geologist and pseudo-scientist but that didn’t stop his book, The New Geology, being published in 1923. It was widely ridiculed and dismissed by professional geologists and scientists.
Unfortunately, though, some fundamentalists loved it. The book provided a simple explanation which was in accordance with a literal interpretation of the bible and, from a fundamentalist viewpoint, tidied up a load of lose ends. One of the people who took to it was Henry Morris who was later to re-establish the modern young earth creationist movement.
In essence Price was claiming that the world (indeed, universe) was only 6,000-10,000 years old (based on the work of Archbishop Ussher) and that 4,400 years or so ago (in 2,349 BC according to Ussher) there was a catastrophic flood (Noah’s Flood) which accounted for all of the fossil record. However, until the early 1960s this belief was largely limited to the Seventh Day Adventist movement.
Generally speaking until Morris came along and popularised “flood geology”, fundamentalists had three alternative opinions on creationism based on the Book of Genesis; Gap Theory, Day Age Creationism and Flood Geology:
1. Gap Theory argued that the first chapter of Genesis described two creations, the first "in the beginning," at some unspecified time in the distant past. The second was about 6,000 years ago, when God created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. This, roughly speaking, is the position that appears to be held by the Geoscience Research Institute (located at Loma Linda University, owned by the Seventh Day Adventists).
2. Day Age Creationism argued that the length of the seven days in the Genesis account were not 24 hours each but millions of years.
3. Flood Geology. Morris and Whitcomb basically rehashed McCready’s rubbish (and, in the process, producing more rubbish) and got it to largely over-ride the other two in acceptance by and amongst American fundamentalists.
In practice, until Morris and Whitcomb came along, fundamentalists tended to go for either Gap “theory” or Day Age “theory”. It was no big deal because creationism had been blown out of the water anyway by the 1925 Scopes Trial.
All this was to change when Morris co-authored ‘The Genesis Flood’ with Whitcomb.
Published in 1961, this basically not only popularised Price’s “flood geology” crackpottery but was the foundation upon which the whole of today’s creationist movement is based. Morris went on to create what became the Institute for Creation Research which, in turn spawned Ken Ham’s presence in America and later Answers in Genesis. Others, such as the now convicted criminal Kent Hovind, jumped on the band wagon.
The book wasn’t published in the UK until 1969. However, it appears that it had a significant impact amongst certain circles. The UK already had a creationist organisation – the Creation Science Movement – founded as far back as 1932. However, it appears that by the early 1970s the book had impacted on some elements in the Church of England. Conferences began to be organised to discuss and debate the issues.
By the 1980s the various interested individuals and groups started to get themselves organised. The Biblical Creation Society had been formed in 1976 and John Mackay started to proselytise in the UK in the late 1980s. By the 1990s Answers in Genesis had opened up shop in the UK and the creationists were organising themselves to get their scientific hocus pocus into state education. Indeed, it appears that the latter effort started as far back as 1987 when John Burn of the Christian Institute approached Peter Vardy to set up what was to become Emmanuel College.
These developments were largely unnoticed by the public. However early in the current decade British universities began to notice that an increasing number of their students were seriously confused about basic science as a result of exposure to creationism. The matter really came into the public domain in 2002 when the quality press found that Emmanuel College, a publicly financed city academy in Gateshead, was teaching young earth creationism to its pupils.
Are the Creationists Honest?
One of the questions that the author has heard time and time again is how these people can possibly believe that the word is only 6,000 years old and all that stuff about Noah’s Ark as well. It is probably correct to say that in the USA at least the average creationist in the congregation probably does believe it all.
However, from conversations we have had with creationists in the UK, it appears that many do not consider it important whether other members of their church or their pastor believe in creationism. It is not seen as that central to their beliefs.
Put another way, it doesn’t appear to concern them, or occur to them, that creationism brings their church, and religion, into disrepute and ridicule.
Moreover, most of the population are basically scientifically illiterate – they are simply in no position to argue against expensively produced and slick creationist media or experienced proselytisers.
In debating with what we can only call rank and file creationists in the USA (and, to a lesser extent, the UK), it is also desperately obvious that not only are they clueless about even the basic science taught at school up until the age of 18, they are also equally, if not more so, clueless about the “creation science” they are trying to put forward. Their entire knowledge appears to consist of watching a handful of creationist tracts or videos or reading the web site of Answers in Genesis.
There is a cultural thing here. At lot of the fundamentalist churches in the USA are focused on religious experience. That’s a euphemism for saying that believers don’t have to know very much – about the bible, science or anything else – it’s their religious experience that counts most.
No doubt too, the easy sell prosperity theology coupled to punitive tithings pushed by charismatics doesn’t sit easily with the idea of learning by hard work and questioning.
Not surprisingly a lot of the creationists we have debated with are also utterly clueless on religion and also often pretty hostile towards other Christians whose views they don’t share. Catholics are one of their frequent bête noires.
The big issue though is whether the people at the top – those that have the power, money and influence – actually believe what they are saying when it comes to creationism. There we keep a very open mind whether, or not, they do.
By and large, they have the intellectual power to understand both science and theology. All too often it seems difficult to not conclude that they are wilfully and knowingly dismissing science - not least because just about everything they have written on “creation science” has been shown to be wrong time and time again.
Likewise it is difficult to believe that many of them will have not recognised that “creation science” has never contributed one iota of knowledge to science. Fifty years is a long time to have produced nothing at all in, not least given that “creation scientists” cover not just the biological sciences but also physics, chemistry, mathematics, cosmology, archaeology, history and so on. The lack of evidence for their position is truly staggering given their efforts.
What is very clear, time and time again, is that many creationists believe that the means justifies the end. They play hard and fast with the facts. Insofar that this is dishonesty, there is no doubt that those at the top are responsible for the systematic and endemic lying and deception.
It should not surprise anyone that the lying and deception are endemic in the creationist movement. Once a literal interpretation of the bible is accepted, all evidence that contradicts it must be taken as wrong and, indeed, anyone who argues on the basis of evidence must also be wrong.
It’s worse that that, though. Because creationism is, in essence, an evangelical movement, those that oppose creationism are therefore, according to its spurious logic, leading the world away from accepting religion and into sin. Indeed, as extreme evangelicals, the fundamentalists behind creationism believe that they themselves are sinning if they don’t try to save souls – shorthand for converting people to their own religious beliefs. Proselytising is central to the creationist movement.
This is, in essence, the reason why creationists want to take control of education. Science is their initial target because it is so threatening to their basic beliefs. But the real reason is to use the education system to proselytise and to re-engineer society. How do we know? The Wedge Document and the Emmanuel Schools Foundation.
Readers will have their own opinions on religion. What is clear, though, is that creationism is deeply divisive of Christianity. As essentiality a fundamentalist movement, it is deeply illiberal and abhorrent to vast swaths of mainstream Christianity including much of the evangelical movement. Indeed, mainstream evangelicals appear to be amongst its strongest critics – they have the most to lose.
The evidence from the UK is that creationism is centred on a limited number of denominations and sub-denominations. It is widely accepted in independent evangelical churches and parts of the Baptist movement – mostly independent Baptist churches. It is rampant in Northern Ireland Protestant churches including the mainstream Presbyterian Church. It also appears to be very prevalent amongst the Plymouth Brethren.
However, most worrying is its growth in the evangelical wing of the Church of England. This seems to be a case of mainstream religion failing to stand up to extremism – much may also be said of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
Culturally, though, the United Kingdom is very different from the United States. In the USA, practising religious belief is the norm – in the UK it is the exception. The de facto British position on religious belief is probably a woolly minded indifference overlapping with agnosticism and atheism. Most people couldn’t really care less about religion.
There is also a widespread perception that for at least 350 years, if not longer, the Anglican Church has protected the English from religious fundamentalism and extremism through those deep seated of English virtues – compromise and reasonableness.
Some see that era as now coming to an end as church attendance continues to plummet and the extremists fill a religious vacuum.
What deeply concerns many of the mainstream clergy is that they have to pick up the pieces after people have been exposed to creationism and fundamentalism. In a sense, they are at the front line in fighting the consequences. Many are also concerned that people are being pushed into the extremism because of the backlash against religion (in general) arising from the antics of the creationists and fundamentalists.
The astonishing popularity of recent anti-religious books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett undoubtedly reflects growing polarisation of opinion about religion fuelled by religious extremism, creationism and the involvement in politics of the religious right in the USA.
There are a wide range of books which discuss creationism or pull creation science to pieces.
Lenny Flank, who has given BCSE considerable advice and moral support, has just published his new book on the fundamentalist movement – Deception by Design: The Intelligent Design Movement in the USA. Deception by Design is currently available on Amazon. The basic details are: Hardcover: 244 pages Publisher: Red and Black Publishers (February 2, 2007) Language: English ISBN-10: 0979181305 ISBN-13: 978-0979181306. Lenny describes his book as follows: “The thing that makes "Deception by Design" different from all the other anti-ID books is precisely that it doesn't focus on the "science" or even the "religion" -- it focuses directly on the *political* agenda of the fundies. Back when I started posting on the Net about creationism and, later, ID, all the discussions were about "transitional fossils" and "mutations" and "flood geology" -- but nobody was talking about the Christian Reconstructionists or Howard Ahmanson or the POLITICAL agenda behind the creationist/IDers (most people didn't even know who Ahmanson was, or what Reconstructionists believed). That has now changed, and I'd like to at least THINK that I helped play a small role in that."
Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction (Paperback), by Eugenie Scott (Author), Niles Eldredge (Foreword), published by University of California Press; 1st edition October 2005). ISBN-10: 0520246500 ISBN-13: 978-0520246508. Eugenie Scott is head of the National Center for Science Education in the USA. The book is an overview of the key issues involved in handling creationism and Intelligent Design. These include-the scientific evidence for evolution, the (US) legal and educational basis for its teaching, and the various religious points of view--as well as a concise history of the evolution-creationism controversy.
The Counter-Creationism Handbook (Paperback) by Mark Isaak, published by the University of California Press; 1st edition (January 12, 2007) ISBN-10: 0520249267 ISBN-13: 978-0520249264. This is essentially the paperback version of Talk Origin’s online database which debunks just about every scientific claim creationists have ever made. It’s pretty comprehensive. It presents hundreds of common, creationist arguments, each one followed by a brief counter-argument or series of counter-arguments showing why the creationist argument is wrong or illogical. The book includes arguments in philosophy, theology, epistemology, abiogenesis, genetics, molecular biology, anatomy, cognition, behavior, botany, embryology, systematics, transitional fossils, macroevolution, geology -- including plate tectonics -- cosmology, physics, mathematics, Biblical creationism, flood geology, Intelligent Design -- including Dembski`s complex specified information and Behe`s irreducible complexity -- and other topics. Most of the arguments presented are pretty easy to follow, even for those with a relatively limited knowledge of science.
Finding Darwin’s God by Professor Ken Miller. Miller, a biologist at Brown University in the USA, is a staunch critic of creationism and Intelligent Design and was an expert witness at the Dover court case (Kitzmiller v. The Dover Area School District). He is a practising Roman Catholic and sees no conflict between his religious beliefs and science. His personal web site is well worth a visit.
The Creationists – From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, Ronald L Numbers, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0674023390. If you want to read this, make sure you get hold of the latest edition (published in the UK in late 2006). It is basically the definitive work on the creationist movement and was first published in 1992.
Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul by Edward Humes. Published January 2007 in hardcover by Ecco. ISBN-10: 0060885483 ISBN-13: 978-0060885489. This is the first book to cover the issues in and surrounding the Kitzmiller vs. Dover School Board legal case. Humes comes down firmly on the side of the evolutionists, and paints the ID/creationists as religious zealots proselytizing their perspective.
Perhaps the most controversial and worrying of recent books is American Fascists – The Christian right and the War on America. (Publisher: Free Press, January 9, 2007, ISBN-10: 0743284437, ISBN-13: 978-0743284431) Written by a former and very notable war correspondent, Chris Hedges, it argues that extreme, fundamentalist forms of American Christianity now share many features with totalitarian movements, including suppression of individuality, a belief in magic, a shifting ideology, a "binary" good-or-evil view of the world, and a deep intolerance of people outside the movement. Here are some reviews and articles which refer to the book:
Bill Bryson’s popular science book, A Short History of Nearly Everything, is a very useful primer on science, not least because he is very good at showing the limits of scientific knowledge. Published in paperback in the UK by Black Swan – ISBN-13 number 9780552997041.
© Roger Stanyard, 2007