An Introduction to Creationism

Creationism is the religious belief that the universe and everything within it is the result of special creation by a supernatural entity. Creationists hold that the diversity of life did not result from natural processes such as evolution, but that human beings and other animals were explicitly created by one or more deities.

Proponents of creationism commonly propose that educators should “teach the controversy” between evolution and creationism, or that students should learn the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories—but evolution is scientifically uncontroversial. According to a 2009 Pew Research poll, “nearly all scientists (97%) say humans and other living things have evolved over time – 87% say evolution is due to natural processes, such as natural selection. The dominant position among scientists – that living things have evolved due to natural processes – is shared by only about third (32%) of the public.” Scientific acceptance of evolution is even higher among biologists and others trained in the life sciences.

Creationists typically belong to one of two groups:

  • Young Earth Creationists hold that the planet and all living things were created within the last 6,000–10,000 years, usually in accordance with a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis.
  • Old Earth Creationists generally accept the scientific consensus with regard to the age of the Earth, but maintain that the theory of evolution is insufficient to explain the diversity of life.

Until the middle of the twentieth century, teaching the theory of evolution was forbidden by law in many states. When challenged on First Amendment grounds, these laws were found to be in violation of the establishment clause and were rescinded. After a series of unsuccessful attempts to reinstate the teaching of creationism in American public schools, many Old Earth Creationists re-branded themselves proponents of “Intelligent Design”, intending to mask their religious agenda.

Kitzmiller v. Dover was the first court case to test the teaching Intelligent Design in the classroom. Judge John E. Jones III ruled that “Intelligent Design is not science, and … cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious antecedents.” This ruling was based on testimony from leading scientists in the field and in part on the Discovery Institute’s “Wedge Document”, whose stated goal was “to defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies” and “to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God”.

More recent creationist tactics have focused on “academic freedom”, proposing that creationists are oppressed by mainstream science. This was the theme of the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which also attempted to link the theory of evolution to fascism and genocide. The National Center for Science Education put together the excellent Expelled Exposed website which addressed the film’s many gross misstatements of fact.

Support and Opposition

The leading modern proponents of Young Earth Creationism include Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, who runs Kentucky’s Creation Museum, Kent Hovind of Creation Science Evangelism, who ran the now-defunct Dinosaur Adventure Land, Ray Comfort of The Way of the Master, and the Institute for Creation Research. Intelligent Design Creationism is promoted primarily by the Washington-based Discovery Institute.

The leading modern opponents of creationism include Dr. Eugenie Scott and The National Center for Science Education, popular blogger and evolutionary biologist Professor PZ Myers, Yale neurologist Dr. Steven Novella, and scientists and skeptics around the world.

Creationist Claims Refuted

As no persuasive scientific evidence exists that supports creationism, creationists commonly attempt to advance their cause by proposing problems with evolution—this attempts to leverage a false dichotomy between creationism and evolution: any problems that exist with the current formulation of the theory of evolution do not provide evidence for creationism.

The Index to Creationist Claims is an indispensable reference site that provides refutations of many of the most common creationist attacks on evolution. Here is a small sample:

Creation Museums

Private museums that promote a literal biblical view of history can be found in several cities across North America. PZ Myers and the Secular Student Alliance toured Kentucky’s Creation Museum run by Answers in Genesis in 2009. (You can find an account of the trip written by Jen McCreight here.) In 2010 the Winnipeg Skeptics visited Manitoba’s much smaller Dinosaur Discovery Zone Kids Club & Creation Museum run by CARE Ministries. (You can find an account of the trip here.)

References and Suggested Reading:

Center for the Renewal of Science & Culture. “The Wedge”. Discovery Institute. Accessed 3 July 2011.

Theobald, Douglas. 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent. Version 2.87. Updated 19 June 2007, accessed 3 July 2011.

Isaak, Mark (editor). An Index to Creationist Claims. Updated 5 November 2006, accessed 3 July 2011.

The National Center for Science Eductation. Expelled Exposed: Why Expelled Flunks. Accessed 3 July 2011.

The National Center for Science Eductation. “Kitzmiller v. Dover: Intelligent Design on Trial”. 17 October 2008, accessed 3 July 2011.

The National Center for Science Eductation. Reports of the National Center for Science Education. Volume 26, Issues 1–2. January–April 2006, accessed 3 July 2011. (Some articles not available online.)

Pew Research Center. “Section 5: Evolution, Climate Change and Other Issues”. Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media: Scientific Achievements Less Prominent Than a Decade Ago. 9 July 2009, accessed 3 July 2011.