Creationism is the belief that the universe and all species of living organisms were created individually and purposefully by God or another intelligent being, not through natural processes like evolution. The majority of creationists are Christians, but creationism includes a variety of religious, scientific, and political views. The one thing they share in common is their rejection of the theory of evolution.
The theory of evolution, the idea that species develop and change over time, was first advanced by naturalists Lamarck, Darwin, and Wallace in the 19th century. Those ideas immediately met with a great deal of opposition, as they seemed clearly incompatible with long-held beliefs about the divine origins of biological life and especially humankind. But the theory of evolution soon became the established scientific consensus and, with many adjustments and expansions, remains so today. As such, evolution is taught in public schools and textbooks throughout the world.
While some creationists are content with purely religious reasons for rejecting evolution, most believe their position can be supported by modern science as well. These creationists argue that there are many scientific problems with evolution, as well as evidence that points to an intelligent designer, so creationism is a valid scientific theory. Non-creationists object to this on the grounds that creationism is not supported by scientific consensus, "pseudo-scientific," and ultimately religious in nature, and therefore has no place in mainstream science. Creationists consider this reaction to be evidence of a secular bias and contrary to freedom.
It is this issue of public policy that makes creationism more significant than most other minority religious doctrines. Especially in the United States - which combines an especially religious population with especially strong laws on religious freedom - the question of what should be taught in schools about science has brought creationism out of a purely religious context and into politics, the media, multimillion-dollar policy campaigns, and high-profile courtrooms.
While there are advocates on both sides that are cordial, the debate can become emotionally charged as individuals and institutions locate this subject within a worldview they are passionate about and seek to defend. This passion also frequently leads to misunderstandings, propaganda, and even willful ignorance of the other side's perspective. This section of ReligionFacts is intended to introduce the reader to the history, concepts, arguments, and varieties of creationism. As always, our goal is to cut through propaganda and unsupported claims to focus on the known facts as objectively as possible.
Biblical Arguments for Creationism
Conservative Christians believe that the Bible is God's infalliable message to humankind and so must be taken as literal truth (except when clearly intended to be metaphorical or poetic). So any human ideas that contradict the Bible, no matter how popular, cannot be accurate. After all, the all-knowing creator and ruler of the universe knows more about it than fallible humans with limited human minds and perspectives ever can.
The Bible's very first chapters (Genesis 1-2) provide a fairly specific account of how different species came to exist; one that is quite different from the theory of evolution. Some Christians interpret this story metaphorically, but creationists accept it as a literal historical account. Genesis states that God created the universe and the planets, followed by all living creatures, "each according to their kind," and finally the first man, Adam, and the first woman, Eve.
In the case of Adam and Eve, God formed them directly from dust. Implied in this is that Adam and Eve did not evolve from lower life forms nor did they have any earthly ancestry. When Adam and Eve were created they were "mature," meaning they were adults. Bible verses used to support this idea include: Genesis 2:7, 21-23 and 1 Corinthians 11:8-9.
Although creationism is often associated with Christianity, the doctrine exists in other religions as well.
Hinduism and Creationism
Hindu creationism can be called a form of Old Earth Creationism, which posits that the universe may be billions of years old, according to their sacred writings called the Vedas. Hinduism further teaches that humanity has not evolved but devolved, having been produced by state of pure consciousness. The first humans in this view were made “mature,” similar to Adam and Eve. They further state that plants and animals are the by product of pure consciousness, which are contained in an endless cycle of births and rebirths.
Islam and Creationism
Many Muslims are creationists. There is not, however, the existence of various positions regarding the age of the Earth like there is in Christianity. Most Muslims accept the scientific consensus regarding the age of the Earth and a minority adopt Darwinian evolution.
There are a variety of views in Judaism with regard to creationism. Many Orthodox Jews accept Darwinian evolution while many Conservative Jews reject it. The other major branch of present-day Judaism, Reformed Judaism, does not subscribe to a literal interpretation of the Torah, including Genesis 1, so they welcome scientific consensus.
A much smaller group, but interesting for its entirely different religious perspective on creationism, is the Raelians. Raelians do not believe in God, but believe that all living species on Earth were created purposefully by scientists from another planet. Therefore they also reject the theory of evolution as an incorrect explanation.
Arguments for Creationism
Arguments for creationism aim to use science to show that the nature of the universe and complexities of life cannot be adequately explained by natural processes such as evolution. While different creationists, or schools of creationism, may emphasize different points for rejecting evolution, the following reasons are commonly cited among various adherents. Phillip E. Johnson, in his book Darwin on Trial, lists the following points:
- After a century of intentionally breeding animals and plants, the variation that has been produced is limited; for example, dogs that are selectively bred are still dogs. Furthermore, when allowed to return to a wild state, bred characteristics experience a reversion suggesting that natural forces are less progressive than Darwin posited.
- Certain items in the universe, like the eye, could not have operated in a lesser form. To accept that the eye evolved would mean believing that for thousands of generations the individual parts that make up the eye as its now known continued to evolve into greater degrees of complexity although it was without function.
- The absence of "intermediate types" of fossils pose a problem for evolution according to many creationists. Darwin himself acknowledge this absence and believed it was because not enough fossils had been discovered yet. Creationists also believe that "statis" - the fact that fossils look essentially the same over long periods of time - argues against Darwinian evolution. Also, "sudden appearance" - the fact that species appear suddenly in certain areas, rather than gradual - is also believed to argue against Darwinian evolution.
- Creationists do not believe adequate explanations have been given for the differences in molecular structures of living organisms. Furthermore, it's held that the argument of "similarities means common ancestry" has been overstated. While similarity suggests common ancestry to many Darwinian evolutionists, creationists argue that it could also mean the life forms have the same Creator.
- The greatest problem for evolution, according to many creationists, is that the theory does not explain how the universe began. Creationists often look to the metaphor offered by Fred Hoyle to articulate this argument: The chances that a living organism emerged by chance is the same as a tornado sweeping through a junk yard and assembling a Boeing 747." It is concluded that such a "chance assembly" is another way of saying "miracle."