Creationism (also Intelligent Design): the view that the various existing forms of life could not be explained on the basis of the ►laws of nature but only on the basis of ►miracles► performed by ►God or by an ►extraterrestrial intelligence.

Creationism emerged in the 19th century in response to evolutionary theory as developed by Charles Darwin in 1859. The latter theory explains the development of species in terms of the heredity transmission of genetic mutations. Religious officials were dismayed at Darwin's theory — not necessarily because of its implicit claim that humans and apes were genetically related, but because of the corollary rejection of the teleological ►proof of the existence of God (also known as the Argument from Design) endorsed by Thomas Aquinas and others and given its most influential modern articulation by the 18th-century philosopher William Paley.

Evolutionary theory was the last missing piece in a complete scientific worldview. Though it does not refute the existence of God, it does render God redundant as an explanation for the features of living organisms (complexity and coordination of their parts, suitability of those parts to the preservation of the organism, and the happy fit between organisms and their natural environments) that had long been claimed inexplicable except on the assumption of an intelligent and benevolent Creator. It thereby completes the process of rendering the God hypothesis redundant for causal explanation of the nature of the world and the things within it generally. To uproot this heresy, creationism represented itself not as a religion, but rather as an ideology-free counter theory. Nonetheless, given that modern times no longer consider explanations in terms of miracles as sufficiently scientific, creationism has few followers among scientists.

Though creationists consider evolutionary theory as a major evil, the majority of them also reject the standard model of the ►universe including the ►big bang. There are three main creationist schools:

  • Young Earth Creationists — the most dominant group of Creationists — believe that the Earth and the various forms of life came into being by divine creation 6000 years ago. This precise age of the Earth* was determined in the 17th century by Bishop James Ussher, who retraced all generations mentioned in the Bible back to Adam.
  • Old Earth Creationists accept the natural development of the Earth and its scientific age of 4.55 billion years, which is calculated on the basis of isotope measurements of uranium-lead decay, but believe that God created the biological species.
  • Intelligent Design Creationists in principle believe the same as either of the previous groups, but replace the concept of God with that of "higher intelligence" in order to emphasize their independence from religion. In addition, whereas the members of the first two groups are more inclined to represent themselves as fighting for the right interpretation of the Bible, IDers are more likely to represent themselves as offering scientifically sound correctives to a flawed, albeit dominant, scientific orthodoxy stubbornly defended by rigid and doctrinaire institutions. These differences are clearly related, and may have to do with the American Constitution, which prohibits the establishment of religion by the federal government and, by extension (at least on currently prevailing interpretations), the teaching of explicitly religion-based views at truth in federally-funded schools.

To support their theories, creationists often offer not just bible quotations but also, and to varying degrees, quasi-scientific arguments. Young Earth Creationists, for example, point to the presence of crude oil in underground deposits or the annual growth of the Mississippi delta. Thus, if the Earth were older than 6000 years, all crude oil (so the argument goes) would have drained away long ago and the Mississippi delta would extend up to Africa by now. Old Earth Creationists point to the faint likelihood for DNA-modules (nucleotides) to arrange themselves in such a manner that a life form is generated. When confronted with the overwhelming evidence in nature that contradicts creationist claims — for example, the age of ►fossils, the similarities in genetic codes of life forms on Earth, or the life spans of stars — creationists will typically retreat to the claim that all those observations are wrongly interpreted by mainstream science, and have to be reinterpreted in terms of the Bible.

For this, creationists distinguish between two kinds of science. Operational science is ok, as it does not contradict the Bible and has produced useful things such as steam engines, TV, and microwaves. Historical science is not ok, as it makes statements about the unobservable past and thus is in conflict with the creationist's interpretation of the Bible. Historical science in that sense means not only history and archeology, but also physics (►radiometric dating), astronomy (►Big Bang) and of course biology with its evolutionary theory. A detailed outline of the typical Creationist arguments is included below in the links related to the topic.

Evolutionary theory established itself in the early 20th century not only in science but also as a general worldview. At least among Western nations, it encountered its stiffest resistance in the ►USA. Here, opposition to evolutionary theory (particularly in the South), encouraged by an emerging class of charismatic Evangelical preachers with large followings, led in the 1920s to attempts — some successful, some not — in several Southern states to enact laws forbidding the teaching of evolution in those states' public schools. One of the successful attempts produced Tennessee's Butler Act, the law that was challenged and upheld in the famous Scopes "Monkey Trial" of 1925. But while that trial brought widespread ridicule upon Creationists in the American press, in fact it did little to set back the Creationist cause. Increasingly relying on protest and public pressure rather than legislation, Creationists pushed on in their efforts to drive Darwin out of school textbooks and in this way managed to intimidate the teaching of evolutionary theory almost entirely out of American schools until the 1960s.

For some time afterward, evolution's place in the American public school curriculum may have seemed relatively secure, particularly with the Supreme Court's ruling (in 1968) that evolutionary theory may be taught in public schools even if this violates local laws. However, with the re-emergence of Protestant fundamentalist Christianity as a major social and political force in the 1970s and 80s — accompanied and aided by a second wave of Evangelical preachers with massive followings — the battles were renewed. In 2005, the Kansas Board of Education (which had previously voted to remove all mention of the age of the Earth and of the origin of the universe from its science curriculum) earned national and international notoriety by approving the teaching of Intelligent Design in all but name as an alternative to evolutionary theory. True, this led to the responsible boardmembers' removal from office in the next election, and the subsequent reversal of the decision; but that is small encouragement. After all, in a 2007 USA Today Gallup Poll, 66% of respondents said that Creationism — described in the poll as "the idea that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years" — is either definitely true or probably true.** That the same poll showed 53% saying the same of evolution — described as "the idea that human beings developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life" — is perhaps an even more depressing indication of the general state of mental clarity on these issues in the US right now.

In the meantime, evolutionary theory has been adopted as the majority view even by the major world religions. Even Pope John Paul II, who certainly could not be accused of excessively progressive views, accepted evolutionary theory in 1996 as the official view of the Catholic Church.*** Nowadays Creationism is gaining new supporters among ►Islamic fundamentalists, though its significance has dwindled elsewhere — with one notable exception discussed at length above.

* More precisely: On Sunday, October 23 4004 B.C. at 10 am.

** Jill Lawrence, "Poll shows belief in evolution, creationism," USA Today, June 7, 2007.

*** John Paul II,Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 10/22/1996

Links Related to the Topic

■ Evolutionary Theory and Anti-Evolutionism
Answers In Genesis (Young Earth Creationism)
Answers In Creation (Old Earth Creationism, ID)
■ Talk.Origins (comprehensive discussion of all Creationist arguments)
■ Mayr, Das ist Evolution ("This is Evolution")


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