Creation-evolution controversy

Part of the series on

History of creationism
Creation in Genesis
Genesis as an allegory

Types of creationism:
Creation science
Intelligent design
Islamic creationism
Modern geocentrism
Omphalos creationism
Old Earth creationism
Progressive creationism
Theistic evolution
Young Earth creationism

Creation vs. evolution
... in public education
Associated articles
Teach the Controversy

The creation-evolution controversy (also termed the creation vs. evolution debate or the origins debate) is a recurring dispute about the origins of the Earth, humanity, life, and the universe,[1] a debate most prevalent in certain regions of the United States, where the mass media often portrays it as part of the culture wars or a supposed dispute between religion and science. The debate primarily concerns what should be taught as science in schools.

The key contention of creationists is that evolution is not sufficient to account for diversity of life. This view is overwhelmingly rejected by the scientific community and academia,[2] who point to the strong correspondence of reality with the theory,[3] and how, as in the title of a famous essay by Theodosius Dobzhansky, Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.[4]

Evolution is often expanded by creationists to include such things as the Big Bang Theory, abiogenesis, and the formation of stars. For example, Kent Hovind defines evolution to include the creation of time, space, matter, the creation of planets and stars from dust, spontaneous generation of life from matter, the creation of reproduction in life forms, and major changes of life forms such as speciation.[5] However, although the word evolution is used as part of several astronomical terms such as stellar evolution, none of these are implied by the term evolution alone.[6] Whether the term "evolution" in used in the standard sense or expanded to include other theories which conflict with their concept of creation varies from creationist to creationist.

A new school of creationism that has become well known as part of the controversy in American schools is the Intelligent Design movement and its associated arguments. Intelligent Design proponents assert that science inappropriately excludes the idea that origins of the biological and physical worlds could derive from an intelligent designer and have advocated a program named Teach the Controversy, while many opponents claim Intelligent Design is simply creationism under a different name.



History of the controversy

Antecedents to the controversy can be seen in the challenges made by various religious people and organizations to the legitimacy of certain scientific ideas since the Age of Enlightenment (see Galileo and his advocacy of "natural philosophy" in relation to the Inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church). The Creation-Evolution controversy itself originated in Europe and North America in the late eighteenth century, when scientific geological observations indicated that the earth is much older than was suggested by a literal interpretation of the Judeo-Christian Bible. When evolution by the theory of natural selection was introduced and published by English naturalist Charles Darwin in his mid nineteenth century book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, many theologians attacked the book, believing it to be in conflict with their interpretations of the biblical account of life's, especially humanity's, origin and development. For example, in his 1874 work What is Darwinism? the theologian Charles Hodge argued that Darwin's theories were tantamount to atheism.[7]

Theologian Charles Hodge, a critic of Darwin's theories, also praised Darwin for his intellectual honesty.
Theologian Charles Hodge, a critic of Darwin's theories, also praised Darwin for his intellectual honesty.

The controversy was fueled in part by one of Darwin's most vigorous defenders, Thomas Henry Huxley, who opined that Christianity is "a compound of some of the best and some of the worst elements of Paganism and Judaism, moulded in practice by the innate character of certain people of the Western World."[8] Perhaps the most uncompromising of the evolutionary philosophers was the German, Ernst Heinrick Haeckel, a professor of biology, who dogmatically affirmed that nothing spiritual exists.[9]

The controversy became political in the United States of America when public schools began teaching that man evolved from earlier forms of life per Darwin's theory of Natural Selection. In response, the State of Tennessee passed a law (the Butler Act) prohibiting the teaching of any theory of the origins of humans that contradicted the teachings of the Bible. This law was tested in the highly publicized Scopes Trial of 1925. The law was upheld by the Tennessee Supreme Court, and remained on the books until 1967 when it was repealed. However, the next year, 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Epperson v. Arkansas 393 U.S. 97 (1968) that such bans contravened the Establishment Clause because their primary purpose was religious.

Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan chat in court during the Scopes trial.
Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan chat in court during the Scopes trial.

By the mid-twentieth century, most neo-Darwinists either repudiated or dismissed earlier Lamarckian and theistic theories of evolution.[10] Neo-darwinists including paleontologist George Simpson and Julian Huxley evangelized for Darwinism and urged that the public schools teach the "fact of evolution".[11] Their desires were fulfilled in the late 1960s, with the introduction of federally supported BSCS (Biological Sciences Curriculum Study) biology text books that promoted evolution.[12] Meanwhile, public opinion polls suggested that most Americans either believed that God specially created human beings or guided evolution.[13] Membership in churches favoring increasingly literal interpreations of Scripture continued to rise, with the Southern Baptist Convention and Luthern Church--Missouri Synod outpacing all other denominations.[14] With growth, these churches became better equipped to carry a creationsit messge, with their own colleges, schools, publishing houses, and broadcast media.[15]

With decreasing church membership among evolutionary scientists, the role of opposing the anti-BSCS textbook movement passed from prominent scientists in liberal churches to secular scientists less equiped to reach Christian audiences.[16] Anti-evolutionary forces were able to reduce the number of school districts utilizing BSCS biology text books, but courts continued to prevent religious instruction in public schools.[17]

Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb Jr.'s influential The Genesis Flood argued that creation was literally 6 days long, humans lived concurrently with dinosaurs, and that God created each kind of life.[18] With publication, Henry M. Morris became a popular speaker, spreading anti-evolutionary ideas at fundamentalist churches, colleges, and conferences.[19] Morris also founded the Institute for Creation Research, and promolgated scientific sounding scientific creationism and creation science, "coopting the generic creationist label for their hyperliteralist views".[20]

The controversy continues to this day, with the mainstream scientific consensus on the origins and evolution of life actively attacked by creationist organizations and religious groups who desire to uphold some form of creationism (usually young earth creationism, creation science, old earth creationism or intelligent design) as an alternative. Most of these groups are explicitly Christian, and more than one sees the debate as part of the Christian mandate to evangelize.[21] Some see science and religion as being diametrically opposed views which cannot be reconciled (see section on the false dichotomy in Creation-evolution controversy). More accommodating viewpoints, held by mainstream churches and many scientists, consider science and religion to be separate categories of thought, which ask fundamentally different questions about reality and posit different avenues for investigating it.

More recently, the Intelligent Design movement has taken an anti-evolution position which avoids any direct appeal to religion. However, Leonard Krishtalka, a paleontologist and an opponent of the movement, has called intelligent design "nothing more than creationism in a cheap tuxedo", [22] and, in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (2005) United States District Judge John E. Jones III ruled that intelligent design is not science and is essentially religious in nature.[23] Intelligent design does not represent any research program within the mainstream scientific community, and is opposed by most of the same groups who oppose creationism.


Common venues for debate

Conflict occurs mostly in the public arena. Indeed, controversy has existed since the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859, with Thomas H Huxleys 1861 working-man's lectures promoting Darwin's evolutionary ideas, about which Huxley boasted: "My working men stick by me wonderfully, the house being fuller than ever last night. By next Friday evening they will all be convinced that they are monkeys."[24]

Books and articles targeting the mainstream public have been published on both sides of the issue. For example, Creationists publish works intended to cast doubts about evolution, and biological scientists and similiarly minded individuals publish works casting doubts about creationism. These publications, and numerous public debates have been sponsored by churches, universities, and scientific clubs.

With the rise of the Internet, the battle between antagonists has also been waged on-line. One of the first Usenet newsgroups,, was created in 1986, and became a hotbed for debating the controversy. Since then, the newsgroup has been a forum for sundry discussions of nearly every topic and issue ever conceived on both sides of the controversy.

In 1994, Evolutionary proponents created a archive website, archiving responses of relevent scientists to Creationist's objections. Subsequently, Creationists websites followed suit with their own clearinghouses, the most famous of which are Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research website. Chatrooms, message boards, and blogs continue on both sides of the controversy to promote their views with many arguments printed and reprinted.


Differing religious positions

Almost all churches teach that God created the cosmos. Most contemporary Christian leaders and scholars from mainstream churches, such as Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran, reject reading the Bible as though it could shed light on the physics of creation instead of the spiritual meaning of creation. According to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, "[for] most of the history of Christianity there's been an awareness that a belief that everything depends on the creative act of God, is quite compatible with a degree of uncertainty or latitude about how precisely that unfolds in creative time. "[25]
The Roman Catholic Church now explicitly accepts the theory of Evolution [26], as do Anglican scholars of which Rev Dr John Polkinghorne FRS is a prime example, arguing that evolution is one of the principles through which God created living beings. Earlier examples of this attitude include Frederick Temple, Asa Gray and Charles Kingsley who were enthusiastic supporters of Darwin's theories on publication[27], and the French Jesuit priest and geologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, saw evolution as confirmation of his Christian beliefs, despite condemnation from Church authorities for his more speculative theories. Another example is that of Liberal theology, which assumes that Genesis is a poetic work, and that just as human understanding of God increases gradually over time, so does the understanding of His creation. In fact, both Jews and Christians have been considering the idea of the creation history as an allegory (instead of an historical description) long before the development of Darwin's theory of evolution. Two notable examples are Saint Augustine (4th century) that, on theological grounds, argued that everything in the universe was created by God in the same instant, (and not in seven days as a plain account of Genesis would require) [28]; and the 1st century Jewish scholar Philo of Alexandria, who wrote that it would be a mistake to think that creation happened in six days, or in any set amount of time. [29]

In the U.S. many Protestant denominations promote creationism, preach against evolution from the pulpits, and sponsor lectures and debates on the subject. A list of denominations that explicitly advocate creationism instead of Darwinism or evolution include:

  • Assemblies of God[30]
  • Evangelical Presbyterian Church[31]
  • Free Methodist Church
  • Jehovah's Witnesses
  • Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod
  • Pentecostal Churches
  • Seventh-day Adventist Churches[32]
  • Southern Baptist Convention Churches
  • Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod
  • Christian Reformed Church
  • Pentecostal Oneness churches.[33]

Conflicts inherent to the controversy

While debate on the details of scientific theories and their philosophical or religious implications are often the most intense parts of the controversy, ultimately the conflict comes down to opposing definitions of all or parts of science, reality, and religion. Accusations of misleading formulations, incorrect or false statements, and inappropriate mixing of ideas are fundamental points of disagreement.[opinion needs balancing]


Accusations involving science

Many creationists vehemently oppose certain scientific theories in a number of ways, including opposition to specific applications of scientific processes, accusations of bias within the scientific community, and claims that discussions within the scientific community reveal or imply a crisis. In response to perceived crises in modern science, creationists claim to have an alternative, typically based on faith, "creation science," and/or intelligent design. Opponents of creationism spend much of their participation in the controversy defending against these accusations. Some of the more common creationist claims involving science are listed below, together with their associated debates.


Limitations of the scientific endeavor

Creationists who use the controversy as an opportunity for apologetics and evangelism will often refer to scientific theories as being incomplete, incorrect, or inherently flawed due to the infinite regression nature of questions of origins. Typical of these challenges are the somewhat rhetorical questions asked by creationists "What caused the Big Bang?" or "What was the nature of the first lifeform?" These questions are in principle subject to scientific investigation, but if and when answers are provided it is likely that the answers will themselves be subject to similar kinds of regressive inquiry.[34] These first cause arguments are invoked as a means to point to the existence of a deity (and often, in particular, the Judeo-Christian God). Creationists argue that science cannot supply such answers, and that their religious discourse is more complete, more reliable, and surpasses the naturalistic descriptions that science provides. However, these same infinite regression problems are just as problematic when applied to a supreme being.

Science is indeed limited in its inquiry of causes, as the scientific method yields descriptive explanations rather than explaining why nature exists in such a way, and is generally limited to the independently observable evidence. However such critiques of the limits of science and rational inquiry in general have no single philosophical resolution and are often seen as problems for theistic claims as well. The pronouncement by creationists that such limitations point to the existence of a creator god is criticized by many skeptics as a God of the gaps argument where religious argumentation is reduced to a placeholder for gaps in human knowledge.

Dawkins goes further. In chapter 4 of The God Delusion, Why there almost certainly is no God, he says that evolution by natural selection can be used to demonstrate that the argument from design is wrong. He argues that a hypothetical cosmic designer would require an even greater explanation than the phenomena s/he/it was intended to explain, and that any theory that explains the existence of the universe must be a “crane”, something equivalent to natural selection, rather than a “skyhook” that merely postpones the problem. Dawkins holds out hope for a cosmological equivalent to Darwinism that would explain why the universe exists in all its amazing complexity. He uses the argument from improbability, for which he introduced the term "Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit", to argue that "God almost certainly does not exist":

Creation-evolution controversy
However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. God is the Ultimate Boeing 747.[35]
Creation-evolution controversy

The "Boeing 747" reference alludes to a statement reportedly made by Fred Hoyle arguing in favor of panspermia: the "probability of life originating on earth is no greater than the chance that a hurricane sweeping through a scrap-yard would have the luck to assemble a Boeing 747."[36] Dawkins objects to this argument on the grounds that it is made " somebody who doesn't understand the first thing about natural selection". A common theme in Dawkins' books is that natural selection, not chance, is responsible for the evolution of life, and that the apparent improbability of life's complexity does not imply evidence of design or a designer. He goes further in this chapter by presenting examples of apparent design. Dawkins concludes the chapter by arguing that his "Ultimate 747" gambit is a very serious argument against the existence of God, and that he has yet to hear "a theologian give a convincing answer despite numerous opportunities and invitations to do so."[37] Dawkins reports that Dan Dennett, calls it "an unrebuttable refutation" dating back two centuries.[38]

Examples of open questions in origins research within their associated scientific fields include:

Research into understanding these subjects is ongoing.


Defining evolution

Many creationists argue that since scientists cannot fully explain origins, evolution as a whole is flawed. Such critiques effectively recast "evolution" as a broader statement than the one typically accepted by mainstream science. Young Earth Creationists, such as Kent Hovind, count no fewer than six different aspects to "evolution" despite the formal scientific definition, which applies only to the modern synthesis. These aspects, as defined by Hovind, are:

  1. Cosmic evolution — origin of time, space and matter (essentially referring to the Big Bang).
  2. Stellar and planetary evolution — origin of stars and planets.
  3. Chemical evolution — origin of other elements from hydrogen.
  4. Organic evolution — origin of animate life from inanimate matter.
  5. Macroevolution — origin of major 'kinds'
  6. Microevolution — origin of variations within 'kinds'.[39]

Such a broad-based grouping of topics from disparate fields of science including cosmology, astronomy, geology, and chemistry expands the controversy well beyond the confines of biological evolution as per the modern synthesis. For example, while almost all biologists consider it a matter of fact that life was formed through natural means, evolutionary theory in and of itself does not necessarily include abiogenesis, the formation of life out of non-living matter.


Theory vs. fact

See also: Theory and Fact

The argument that evolution is a theory, not a fact, has often been made against the exclusive teaching of evolution.[40] However, a large part of the difficulty is actually a linguistic problem and some confusion. Scientists use many specialized terms, frequently incorporating terminology that may have different meanings to the lay-person. In defining "fact" and "theory", scientists ascribe to them very distinct meanings.

Exploring this issue, the paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote that "evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered.".[41]


Philosophical arguments

Critiques such as those based on the distinction between theory and fact are often leveled against unifying concepts within scientific disciplines. For example, uniformitarianism, Occam's Razor/parsimony, and the Copernican principle are claimed to be the result of a bias within science toward philosophical naturalism, which is equated by creationists to atheism.[42] In countering this claim, philosophers of science use the term methodological naturalism to refer to the long standing convention in science of the scientific method which makes the methodological assumption that observable events in nature are explained only by natural causes, without assuming the existence or non-existence of the supernatural, and so considers supernatural explanations for such events to be outside science. Creationists claim that supernatural explanations should not be excluded and that scientific work is paradigmatically close-minded.[43]

Because modern science tries to rely on the minimization of a priori assumptions, error, and subjectivity, as well as on avoidance of Baconian idols, it remains neutral on subjective subjects such as religion or morality.[44] Mainstream proponents accuse the creationists of conflating the two in a form of pseudoscience.[45]

A satirical image of Charles Darwin as an ape from 1871 reflects part of the social controversy over whether humans and apes share a common lineage.
A satirical image of Charles Darwin as an ape from 1871 reflects part of the social controversy over whether humans and apes share a common lineage.

Arguments against evolution

Creationists are best known for their claims that evolutionary theory is incorrect and that evidence contradicting it has been discovered. These claims are not taken seriously by the overwhelming majority of the scientific community, where the evidence of evolution is considered to be overwhelming in quality and amount. Richard Dawkins, a prominent biologist and professor at Oxford University, explains that evolution "is a theory of gradual, incremental change over millions of years, which starts with something very simple and works up along slow, gradual gradients to greater complexity. ... If there were a single hippo or rabbit in the Precambrian, that would completely blow evolution out of the water. None have ever been found."[46] Similarly, the evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane when asked what hypothetical evidence would disprove evolution in exchange for a creationist concept replied "fossil rabbits in the Precambrian era", a period more than 540 million years ago, a time when life on Earth consisted largely of bacteria, algae, and plankton. The absence of such evidence against evolution serves as one of the primary criticisms of creationism.

Creationist's car in Athens, Georgia
Creationist's car in Athens, Georgia

A famous instance of creationist evidence against evolution was the supposed human and dinosaur tracks found in Paluxy riverbed near Glen Rose, Texas which was allegedly evidence that showed dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth at the same time. Another example was an argument relating to the accumulation of lunar dust indicating an age for the moon of a few thousand years. These claims have been thoroughly discounted now and many creationists disavow them.[47]

Creationists have also criticized the scientific evidence used to support evolution as being based on faulty assumptions, unjustified jumping to conclusions, or even outright lies.[48] Such criticism typically involves the most often cited pieces of evidence in favor of mainstream science. This includes the fossil record, which creationists claim has significant gaps that cast doubt on evolution,[49] the emergence of new species, which creationists claim hasn't been observed directly,[50] and radiometric dating, which creationists claim is inaccurate due to an inappropriate reliance on assumptions of uniformitarianism.[51] Creationists have also claimed that because Piltdown Man and other paleontology hoaxes were fabricated, all of the pieces of evidence for human evolution were questionable. Certain creationist organizations have, over time, modified or distanced themselves completely from these claims, moving to more sophisticated arguments. In debates, the back-and-forth criticism has a tendency to degenerate into arguments over details of the major ideas, creationists claiming that the problems they point out represent significant "holes" while their opponents respond that the holes are either due to a lack of understanding by creationists or are not detrimental to the paradigm.

Some creationist organizations have recently tried to reposition their criticism against mainstream science by using more subtle critiques involving information science and the laws of thermodynamics.[52] In particular, creationists have adopted many of the arguments of the intelligent design movement such as that specified complexity and irreducible complexity either has not had enough time to develop naturally (see intelligent design) or is impossible to develop due to the second law of thermodynamics. Most of the largest creationist organizations now discourage using the idea that entropy prevents evolution, but similar types of arguments continue to be made in the controversy.

Most scientists do not spend a great deal of time debunking such claims, and some outright refuse to participate so as not to lend the creationists any legitimacy, including the late Stephen J. Gould (1941-2002) and Richard Dawkins. The latest instance of this was in 2005, when mainstream science organizations boycotted hearings held by the Kansas Board of Education that evolution pundits described as a "kangaroo court" over whether new science standards should be designed with the "Teach the Controversy" model in mind.[53] The committee members had already stated their positions ahead of time and evolutionary scientists believed that no amount of testimony would be likely to change the outcome.


Accusations of bias

Creationists argue that the scientific community's methodological naturalism "could just as well be called atheism, and is really a religion to be accepted on faith."[54] Creationists claim that their ideas are unfairly dismissed as pseudoscience so as to stifle the debate. This claim is hotly disputed by scientists in the relevant fields who point out that creationist ideas about scientific topics have fundamental flaws, misconceptions, errors, and a lack of substantiating facts, rendering them unworthy of inclusion in academic discussion. Creationists tend to respond at length to such criticisms, sometimes to the point of responding line-by-line to anti-creationist articles, though it is disputed whether these succeed in addressing the issues.[55]

Many creationist organizations have tried to address criticism from the scientific establishment by recruiting religious scientists and academics who are sympathetic to their cause. The Institute for Creation Research, the Intelligent Design think-tank Discovery Institute, and Answers in Genesis all employ people with doctoral degrees in scientific or related fields. The use of credentials by some of the creationist experts (notably Kent Hovind) that rely on their non-biological and/or non-accredited doctoral degrees to argue from authority has been criticized as being fraudulent or misleading. Some creationists (for example, the Old Earth creationist astronomer Hugh Ross, who accepts the scientifically calculated age of the Earth but questions macroevolution), raise objections to scientific theories outside of their field of expertise.



Creationists, notably Kent Hovind, have made a living debating scientists regarding creationism (intelligent design) and evolution. Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, claimed debates are not the sort of arena to promote science to creationists.[6] Scott says that "Evolution is not on trial in the world of science," and "the topic of the discussion should not be the scientific legitimacy of evolution." Rather the issue should be on the lack of evidence in creationism. Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould took public stances against appearing to give legitimacy to creationism by debating its proponents. Stephen Jay Gould noted during the McLean v. Arkansas trial:

"Debate is an art form. It is about the winning of arguments. It is not about the discovery of truth. There are certain rules and procedures to debate that really have nothing to do with establishing fact — which creationists have mastered. Some of those rules are: never say anything positive about your own position because it can be attacked, but chip away at what appear to be the weaknesses in your opponent's position. They are good at that. I don't think I could beat the creationists at debate. I can tie them. But in courtrooms they are terrible, because in courtrooms you cannot give speeches. In a courtroom you have to answer direct questions about the positive status of your belief. We destroyed them in Arkansas. On the second day of the two-week trial we had our victory party!"


Quote mining

As a means to criticise mainstream science, creationists have been known to quote, at length, scientists who ostensibly support the mainstream theories, but appear to acknowledge criticisms similar to those of creationists.[56] However, almost universally these have been shown to be quote mines (lists of out of context or misleading quotations) that do not accurately reflect the evidence for evolution or the mainstream scientific community's opinion of it, or highly out-of-date.[57] Many of the same quotes used by creationists have appeared so frequently in Internet discussions due to the availability of cut and paste functions, that the TalkOrigins Archive has created "The Quote Mine Project" for quick reference to the original context of these quotations.[58]


Conflation of science and religion

The controversy is usually portrayed in the mass media as being between scientists, in particular evolutionary biologists, and creationists, but as almost all scientists do not consider the debate to have any academic legitimacy,[59][60] it may be more correctly described as a conflict over a conflation of science and religion.[citation needed] Many of the most vocal creationists rely heavily on their criticisms of modern science, philosophy, and culture as a means of Christian apologetics. For example, as a way of justifying the struggle against "evolution", one prominent creationist has declared "the Lord has not just called us to knock down evolution, but to help in restoring the foundation of the gospel in our society. We believe that if the churches took up the tool of Creation Evangelism in society, not only would we see a stemming of the tide of humanistic philosophy, but we would also see the seeds of revival sown in a culture which is becoming increasingly more pagan each day."[61]


Religion and historical scientists

Creationists often butress their arguments arguing that Christianity and belief in a literal Bible are either foundationally significant or directly responsible for scientific progress.[62] To that end, creationists have been known to list scientists such as Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Pascal, and Mendel as believers in a biblical creation narrative. [7]

Since most of the scientists creationists tend to list as supporters were not aware of evolution because they were either no longer alive when it was proposed or the idea was outside their field of study, this kind of argument is generally rejected as being specious by those who oppose creationism. [8]

In many cases, the context for the scientist in question opposing evolution was historically situated differently than it would be today, and usually involved early work on the mechanisms of evolution. Though biological evolution of some sort became the primary mode of discussing speciation within science since the late 19th century, it was not until the mid-20th century that evolutionary theories stabilized into the modern synthesis. Some of the historical scientists marshalled by creationists were dealing with quite different issues than any are engaged with today: Louis Pasteur, for example, opposed the theory of spontaneous generation with biogenesis, an advocacy which some creationists describe as a critique on chemical evolution and abiogenesis. Pasteur also accepted that some form of evolution had occured and that the Earth was millions of years old. [9]

The relationship between science and religion was not portrayed in antagonistic terms until the late-19th century, and even then there have been many examples of the two being reconcileable for evolutionary scientists.[citation needed] Many historical scientists wrote books explaining how pursuit of science was seen by them as fulfillment of spiritual duty in line with their religious beliefs. Even so, such professions of faith were not insurance against dogmatic opposition by certain religious people.

Some extensions to the creationist argument have included suggesting that Einstein's deism was a tacit endorsement of creationism and incorrectly suggesting that Charles Darwin converted on his deathbed and recanted evolutionary theory.


Science as religion

The Darwin fish is a parody of the ichthys, a symbol often used to self-identify Christians and sometimes creationists.
The Darwin fish is a parody of the ichthys, a symbol often used to self-identify Christians and sometimes creationists.
The Truth fish, one of the many creationist responses to the Darwin fish.
The Truth fish, one of the many creationist responses to the Darwin fish.
T-Rex eating the ichthus, motivated by the challenge posed by scientific facts to literal interpretations of the Bible.
T-Rex eating the ichthus, motivated by the challenge posed by scientific facts to literal interpretations of the Bible.

A popular accusation among creationists is that evolution is itself a religion based on secular humanism, scientific materialism, or philosophical naturalism.[10][11] Creationists argue that there is an atheistic bias in the scientific community that systematically discriminates against their religious views. Creationists involved in the controversy often do not believe distinction can be made between science and religion, and hold that the modern philosophy of science is informed inappropriately by rejection of a deity. They do not accept a priori rejection of claims of supernatural events or miracles. Martin Nowak, a Harvard professor of mathematics and evolutionary biology "who describes himself as a person of faith," argues that science and religion are not mutually exclusive: "Science does not produce evidence against God. Science and religion ask different questions."[63] The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the leader of the world's Anglicans, comes to a similar conclusion, albeit from a completely different perspective. In March 2006, he stated his discomfort about to teaching creationism, saying that creationism was "a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories." He also said: "My worry is creationism can end up reducing the doctrine of creation rather than enhancing it."[64]

The Episcopal Church, the American branch of the Anglican Communion, teaching on creationism is also the same as Williams.[citation needed]

Creationists and their supporters use neologisms such as evolutionism and Darwinism to refer to the modern theory of evolution, and evolutionists and Darwinists to those who accept it, often pejoritively. In the context of the evolution/creation controversy, many evolution proponents object to such usage as inaccurate and misleading. In particular, the -ist/-ists/-ism suffixes evoke similarity to religious or philosophical rather than scientific ideas (e.g. creationist, fundamentalist, Calvinist, Communist). It is claimed that in the case of evolutionism the label implies that evolution is a belief system akin to religion, while in the case of Darwinism, the implication is that modern evolutionary theory is the static work of just one individual, Charles Darwin, as though he were not a scientist but rather the founder of a religious sect. However, these terms are also commonly used without pejorative intent by others, including scientists, historians, and commentators, e.g., scientist, evolutionist, Neo-Darwinism, etc.[65]


False dichotomy

Many supporters of evolution (especially religious ones) disagree with the claim made by creationists and some evolutionists[66] that there exists an inherent, irresolvable conflict between religion and evolutionary theory. Since many, if not most religious people do accept evolution (see evolutionary creationism), they argue that this is a false dichotomy. Views on this subject cover a very wide spectrum, from strict Biblical literalism (which implies Young Earth creationism) to atheism.

Strict (Intelligent Design, Old Earth, and Young Earth) creationists strenuously reject evolutionary creationism on two grounds:

  1. Strict creationists claim that "evolution" is an attempt to remove God from the natural world. "Evolution as understood by its ablest advocates is an inherently atheistic explanation," claims one.[67] Such creationists claim that, because probability, chance, and randomness are used as explanations for mutations and genetic drift, God is necessarily excluded from the mechanisms of evolution. Creationists who are actively involved in the conflict tend to criticize those who advocate theistic evolution as having missed a claimed fundamental disparity between the naturalistic mechanisms described as explanations for the natural sciences and the theistic action inherent to the doctrine of creation.
  2. Strict creationists claim that there are two and only two positions that can possibly be correct: creation science (or intelligent design) and the scientific mainstream (evolution). This automatically precludes discussions of other origin beliefs and allows such advocates to claim that the only plausible explanation of origins that permits God is that which they are advocating. On this basis they claim that science itself is inherently atheistic, and lobby for a reversion to faith based natural philosophy.

A point concerning this apparent Dichotomy is provided by some Christian apologists, notably Stanley Jaki and Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), that God in his omnipotence, is fully capable of creating a universe which would bring forth the desired result - that is, humanity - as a consequence of the Laws of Creation inherent in it. Also, the literal view of creationism therefore propounds a "small" view of God's greatness. They qualify this theory with the assumption that after evolution brought forth the biology of humans, God breathed the Spirit into them to give them Life in His image. Furthermore they promote the idea that there is no contradiction between the biblical account of creation and the latest scientific understanding.


Beyond the dichotomy

Opponents of creationist argumentation claim that there is no way to distinguish between creationism's objection to mainstream science and objections to mainstream science that are derived from groups that are not followers of creationism. The following list gives an idea of the many diverse views on origins beyond the creation-evolution dichotomy:

Parodies of creationism include:


Ramifications of the controversy


Public education in the United States

Evolution and creationism in public education in the United States have been the subjects of often acrimonious contention since the Scopes trial. Locally controlled school boards in regions of the country dominated by creationists have made numerous and varied attempts over the years to undermine evolution and/or promote creationism in public school science classrooms.

Those who do not consider creationism to be legitimate science oppose having children taught these beliefs as science, though most do not object to objective discussions about these beliefs in humanities classes, e.g., in a comparative religions course. On the other hand, religious fundamentalists often consider the teaching of evolution as a threat to their beliefs and prerogatives as parents and clergy.

Scientists opposed to the teaching of faith-based origins argue that science and religion are wholly separate realms, and that teaching creationism as science confuses students about the proper nature of science.

Controversy also surfaces frequently in school textbook/curriculum reviews. Creationists lobby for equal time, Teach the Controversy, or replacement of science curriculum with creation "science" or intelligent design. They allege science textbooks are biased, out of date and contain factual errors. A perennial hot-spot is Kansas, where the school board favors creationism whenever its proponents command a majority.

Some creationists seek to redefine Constitutional limitations on religious advocacy in public school by lending their support to school voucher programs. They endorse those voucher programs that allow parents to send their children to private religiously-affiliated schools that teach creationism or intelligent design in science classes. Opponents say this violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, but the Supreme Court had not yet ruled decisively on the matter as of 2006.


Controversy in education world-wide

Education in the United Kingdom comes under different systems in its four countries, all of which provide schools with a particular religious ethos as part of the state system alongside essentially secular schools. Both types of schools teach evolution by natural selection in their biology curricula, not creationism. An exception has arisen with the introduction in England of private sponsorship of state schools, known as city academies, which were introduced by Tony Blair’s government in 2000. This has allowed, for example, millionaire car dealer Peter Vardy to introduce the teaching of creationism alongside evolution in city academies accepting sponsorship from his fund, which is called the Emmanuel Schools Foundation.[68]

This resulted in public controversy which drew attention to one private Seventh-day Adventist school and a few private Muslim schools teaching creationism.[69] Despite protests by scientists, bishops and politicians, the government has so far not prohibited the teaching of creationism or intelligent design as long as National Curriculum guidelines on teaching evolution are met. Independent schools, which teach around 10 per cent of the population, are free to choose what they teach. Further clarification was given after it was found that a group called Truth in Science had distributed DVDs produced in America featuring figures linked to the Discovery Institute to promote Intelligent Design, and claimed that they were being used by 59 schools.[70] The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) stated that "Neither creationism nor intelligent design are taught as a subject in schools, and are not specified in the science curriculum. The national curriculum for science clearly sets down that pupils should be taught that the fossil record is evidence for evolution, and how variation and selection may lead to evolution or extinction."[71] Teaching about Intelligent Design Creationism can be included in Religious Education as part of developing an understanding of different beliefs,[72] including secular humanism.[73]

In September 2004, the teaching of evolution in primary schools was briefly banned in Serbia, but the ban was lifted days later after an outcry from scientists and even Serbian Orthodox bishops. The incident led to the resignation of education minister Ljiljana Čolić.[12]

In May 2005, the Netherlands education minister Maria van der Hoeven suggested that discussion of Intelligent design in schools might promote dialogue between religious groups. Widespread opposition from scientists led to proposals for a conference on the plan being dropped.[13]

In Australia religious education occurs in both private and public schools. In 2005, when the Federal Education Minister, Brendan Nelson, raised the notion of ID being taught in science classes, the public outcry caused the minister to quickly concede that the correct forum for ID, if it were to be taught, is in religious or philosophy classes. "Intelligent design not science: experts"

Turkey, a secular state, has a small creationist movement, initiated after contact with creationists from the USA. However, members of the Turkish scientific community strongly oppose creationism, and only evolution is taught in universities. There is an ongoing debate on including intelligent design in high school text books.[14]

In Pakistan, evolution is no longer taught in universities.

Brazilian scientists protested in 2004 when the education department of Rio de Janeiro started teaching creationism in religious education classes. Since then, most Christian colleges have taught evolution as science, while teaching creationism as religion only in special, non-curricular classes. Public schools teach only evolution.[15][16]

In Japan, evolution is taught at all senior high schools (15-18 years of age). The regulation ("Gakushuu shidou youryou") states: "Explain (to the pupils) that the various forms of life on the earth have come to their present forms through evolution. Mention too the examples of evolution and explain the debates and processes that led to the theory of evolution." This means that no educational institutions can be officially run as senior high schools without teaching evolution. However, private schools are free to teach alternative views along with evolution. Creationism can be used as a supporting material in the non-science modules, such as National Language ("Kokugo").

In December 2006, a schoolgirl in St. Petersburg, Russia and her father decided to take the teaching of Darwinism in Russian schools to court. The position of the Russian Ministry of Education supports the theory of evolution. The suit has been backed by representatives of Russian Orthodox Church.[17][18]


See also



  1. See Hovind 2006, for example.
  2. Myers 2006; NSTA 2003; IAP 2006; AAAS 2006; Pinholster 2006
  3. Theobald 2006
  4. Dobzhansky 1973
  5. Hovind 2006
  6. One such expansion is rebutted here
  7. Hodge 1874, p. 177
  8. Burns, Ralph, Lerner, & Standish 1982, p. 965, Huxley 1902
  9. Burns, Ralph, Lerner, & Standish 1982, p. 965
  10. Larson 2004, p. 253
  11. Larson 2004, p. 250
  12. Larson 2004, p. 252
  13. Larson 2004, p. 251
  14. Larson 2004, p. 251
  15. Larson 2004, p. 252
  16. Larson 2004, p. 252
  17. Larson 2004, p. 253
  18. Larson 2004, p. 255
  19. Larson 2004, p. 255
  20. Larson 2004, p. 254-255, Numbers 1998, p. 5-6
  21. [1][2]
  22. As reported in the 4 May 2005 edition of the Washington Post
  23. Ruling, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, Case No. 04cv2688. December 20 2005
  24. Huxley and Huxley 1874, Chapter 1.15
  25. Williams 2006
  26. see eg John Paul II address here [3]
  27. see eg John Polkinghorne's Science and Theology pp6-7
  28. Davis A. Young, "THE CONTEMPORARY RELEVANCE OF AUGUSTINE'S VIEW OF CREATION" (From: Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 40.1:42-45 (3/1988)), The American Scientific Affiliation
  29. The Works of Philo Judaeus, Chapter 2, translated by Charles Duke Yonge
  30. GCAG 1977, General Council of the Assemblies of Godofficial assertion of creationism
  31. Evangelical Presbyterian Church position that Bible is "infallible"
  32. Official Seventh-day Adventist belief statement advocating creationism
  33. Prof. Michael J. Ghedotti, "Evolutionary Biology at Regis, a Jesuit Catholic School.
  34. Winston 2006
  35. Dawkins 2006, p. 114
  36. Dawkins 2006, p. 113
  37. Dawkins 2006, p. 157
  38. Dawkins 2006, p. 157, referring to Dennett 2005, p. 155
  39. Hovind 2006
  40. Tolson 2005; Selman v. Cobb County School District. US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia (2005); Evolution is a Fact and a Theory Talk. Origins; Bill Moyers et al, 2004. "Now with Bill Moyers." PBS. Accessed 2006-01-29. Interview with Richard Dawkins
  41. Gould 1981
  42. Johnson 1998, Hodge 1874, p. 177
  43. Johnson 1998
  44. Einstein, Albert (November 9 1930). "Religion and Science". New York Times Magazine: 1-4.
  45. Dawkins, Richard (January/February 1997). "Is Science a Religion?". Humanist.
  46. As quoted by Wallis, Claudia. The Evolution Wars. Time Magazine, 15 August 2005, page 32 [4]. Also see Dawkins, Richard (1995). River Out of Eden. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-06990-8. and Dawkins, Richard (1986). The Blind Watchmaker. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.. ISBN 0-393-31570-3.
  47. Schadewald, Robert J. 1986. Scientific creationism and error. Creation/Evolution 6(1): 1-9, [5]
  48. See for example the Christian tract written by creationist Donald G. Scott entitled The Fantasy of Organic Evolution, A Pagan Religion at
  49. Morris, Henry M., 1974. Scientific Creationism, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, pp. 78-90.
  50. Morris, Henry M., 1986. The vanishing case for evolution. Impact 156 (Jun.).
  51. Morris, Henry M., 1974. Scientific Creationism, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, p. 139.
  52. For a comparison see Kofahl, Robert E., and Kelly L. Segraves, 1975. The Creation Explanation: A scientific alternative to evolution. Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw, p. 37 as an older argument involving the second law of thermodynamics compared to creationist Jonathan Safarti's exposition on current creationist thought regarding these issues
  53. See for example the transcripts described on
  54. Morris 2001, p. a, Hodge 1874, p. 177
  55. Gura 2002
  56. Dobzhansky 1973
  57. TalkOrigins comment; The TalkOrigins Quote Mine project, Articles on the Panda's Thumb about quote mines, PZ Myers briefly comments on a famous quote mining of Darwin, etc.
  59. Myers 2006
  60. IAP 2006,AAAS 2006
  61. Ham, Ken. Creation Evangelism (Part II of Relevance of Creation). Creation Magazine 6(2):17, November 1983.
  62. Woods 2005, p. 67-114, Chapter Five: The Church and Science
  63. As quoted by Wallis, Claudia. The Evolution Wars. Time Magazine, 15 August 2005, page 32.,9171,1090909-6,00.html
  64. Williams 2006
  65. For example, Ruse 1999, p. 55-80, Burns, Ralph, Lerner, & Standish 1982, p. 962-965
  66. "Evolution is the greatest engine of atheism ever invented." (Provine W.B., "Evolution: Free will and punishment and meaning in life." Slide from Prof. William B. Provine's 1998 "Darwin's Day" address, "Darwin Day" website, University of Tennessee Knoxville TN, 1998)
  67. Woodmorappe, John. 1999. New Educational Activities for Home Schooling Science: A Hands-on Science Activity that Demonstrates the Atheism and Nihilism of Evolution.
  68. Taylor 2006
  69. Toynbee 2006
  70. Revealed: rise of creationism in UK schools – "PR packs spread controversial theory", James Randerson, The Guardian science correspondent, November 27, 2006, retrieved 2007-06-01
  71. BBC News-Education-'Design' attack on school science
  72. Lords Hansard text for 18 Dec 2006 retrieved 2007-06-01
  73. British Humanist Association



Published books and other resources


External links


Analysis of Creationist claims


Comments on Creationism as Social Policy


Theistic Evolution (a mixture of religious belief and science)


Examples of Creationist Beliefs

Young Earth Creationists

Old Earth Creationists

In the News


Formal debates

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