For many secular and liberal religious Americans, the term “creationism” refers to an attempt by conservative or fundamentalist Christians to impose upon the wider society (under what some would characterize as the “guise” of science) religious ideas about the source of the world and its life forms. For more conservative (and some liberal) religious Americans, the precious conviction that God created the world and all life forms is felt to be coming under increasing assault by an aggressively secularizing society whose belief in evolution is seen as no more rational or accessible to scientific inquiry than belief in a supernatural Creator.
Rather than a monolithic mindset, many distinct points of view exist on the topic of evolution and creation. For example:
- Young Earth Creationists believe that the earth is between 6,000 and 10,000 years old, and that the Bible is literally true in all aspects.
- Day-Age Creationists align the Bible’s story of creation with the apparent age of the earth by explaining that each day of creation actually covers many thousands or millions of years.
- Progressive Creationists account for the fossil record by describing it as a history of God’s creation of the various plants and animals, as described in Genesis. The fact that fossils appear around the world is taken as evidence of Noah’s flood.
- Intelligent Design adherents accept natural selection at the level of microevolution (changes within one species), but reject it as an explanation for macroevolutionary change (one species evolving into another species) - which is argued to require the hand of God, an intelligent designer.
- Believers in Theistic Evolution (sometimes called “evolutionary creation”) accept both the divine act of creation and the natural process of evolution, which they believe was put in place, and is still directed, by God. This is sometimes called the “creation by evolution” view.
- Mormons believe in a creation arising from pre-existing material that God organized - rather than creating “ex-nihilo” out of nothing.
- Advocates of Deistic Evolution believe that God created the universe with all of its natural laws in place, including natural selection, before stepping away, never to return (or at least never again to get heavily involved in the everyday running of things).
- Those who favor Atheistic Evolution believe that there is no God and that evolution has always proceeded without any design or designer (i.e. by “natural selection” alone).
- Some people take a more intellectually agnostic approach and, without philosophically rejecting the possibility of the existence of a supernatural Creator, simply leave the question of supernatural influence on evolution out of the practical picture, and focus instead on seeking (as far as is possible within the scientific parameters of “falsifiability,” “testability,” etc.) naturalistic explanations for the changes in life forms observed.
This all plays out in interesting ways in the school system.
On one hand, it is common for secular and liberal religious voices to argue that creationism (including Intelligent Design) is fundamentally “religion,” or at least outside the purview of science (seeing as it generally invokes the super-natural), and that, as such, it does not belong in science class (where science is understood to study nature and seek naturalistic explanations of observed phenomena). They argue that any advocacy in the public schools for one particular religious view violates the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state.
On the other hand, some believe that Intelligent Design (if not all forms of creationism per se) should be acknowledged as a scientific possibility alongside micro-evolution (which compared to macro-evolution has limited scientific support from this vantage point).
Furthermore, from this perspective there is abundant evidence for “intelligent design” all around and on many levels - but this evidence is almost entirely ignored by a society refusing to acknowledge the possibility of God.
And some believe that both evolutionary theory and intelligent design should be described in schools, and that students should be taught how to use the scientific method and all available evidence to evaluate both positions.While conservative religious folks see the essential evolution/creation conflict as arising from a strident secular activism happening over decades, secular folks portray the same conflict as arising from a strident Christian fundamentalist activism. Depending on one’s vantage point, there are accusations of selective interpretation of the evidence tied to a strong belief (or disbelief) in a Creator.
QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:
- What if you found out that your convictions on this issue were wrong? How would that change how you see the world?
- People often interpret evidence in line with their deeply held values and beliefs. Do you see that happening in your own reading on the question?
- How open are you to evidence that contradicts your convictions on the topic? Why is that? If you met someone who was as open (or closed) as you are on this point, what would you say to convey to them how you feel?
- What do the words “science” and “scientific” mean to you?
- What do the words “natural” and “supernatural” mean to you?
Arthur Peña, Jacob Hess, Cynthia Kurtz
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