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The term creationism is most often used to describe the belief that God created the world and all life within it; creationism usually further entails the belief that this occurred as literally described in the book of Genesis (for Jews and Christians) or as literally described in the Qur'an (for Muslims.) See, for example, the article on creation according to Genesis.

Such creationist beliefs usually conflict with the naturalistic theories and explanations of the origins and development of the universe, the Earth, and life, provided by science. In the United States, this has resulted in sustained conflict in the public arena known as the creation evolution controversy.

The term creationism may be used in a wider sense to refer to the belief that the universe and life was created by a deity, or by one or more powerful and intelligent beings through supernatural, theistic, or mythological means (see demiurge). Creationism as such can be linked to theistic interpretations of nature. The idea could equally be applied by Deists, who believe that there was a God who originally created the universe, and that God then either ceased to actively interfere with its operation, or simply ceased to exist. Similarly, proponents of an alternative type of creationism might rely on a belief that the universe was created by many deities, in accordance with a polytheistic faith, or by Vishnu, the Titans of Greek mythology or any of the host of other such beings.

Most of this article deals with the Abrahamic religions' views of creationism.


Types of creationism

There are many types of creationism. What is Creationism? attempts to categorise the wide range of beliefs in several broad types, as follows:

  • Flat Earth creationism: God created the world with a flat surface 6,000 years ago. All that modern science says about shape, size, and age of the Earth is wrong, and evolution does not occur. Very few people today maintain such a belief.
  • Modern geocentrism: God created a spherical world, and placed it in the center of the universe. The Sun, planets and everything else in the universe revolve around it. All science about age of the Earth are lies; evolution does not occur. Very few people today maintain such a belief. See, for example, the Creation Science Association for Mid-America, in Cleveland, MO, USA.
  • Young Earth made by God to appear as if it is old. This is a subgroup of Young Earth creationism is sometimes termed the Omphalos argument. This argument was first made by Philip Henry Gosse in 1857. He held that the universe is only about 6,000 years old, but that God faked the appearance of the world, and planted fake fossils, to fool humans into believing that the world is really much older. This, in his view, was done as a test of faith. This view is popular among some Ultra-Orthodox Jewish and Protestant Christian young earth creationists.
Old-Earth creationism itself comes in at least three types:
  • Gap creationism, also called Restitution creationism — the view that life was immediately created on a pre-existing old Earth. This group generally translates Genesis 1:2 as "The earth became without form and void," indicating a destruction of the original creation by some unspecified cataclysm. This was popularized in the Scofield Reference Bible, but has little support from Hebrew scholars.
  • Day-age creationism — the view that the "six days" of Genesis are not ordinary twenty-four-hour days, but rather much longer periods (for instance, each "day" could be the equivalent of millions of years of modern time). Another theory states that the Hebrew word was mistranslated, and it's supposed to be seven ages. Some adherents claim we are still living in the seventh age ("seventh day"), while opponents say that the seventh day of creation must be the same type of day as the Sabbath for the Sabbath command to make sense.
  • Progressive Creationism — the view that species have changed or evolved in a process continuously guided by God, with various ideas as to how the process operates. This accepts most of modern physical science including the age of the earth, but rejects much of modern biology or looks to it for evidence that evolution by natural selection is incorrect.
  • Evolutionary creationism/Theistic evolutionism, the general belief that some or all classical religious teachings about God and creation are compatible with some or all of the scientific theory of evolution, It views evolution as a tool used by God and can synthesize with gap or day-age creationism, although most adherents deny that Genesis was meant to be history at all. It can still be described as "creationism" in holding that divine intervention brought about the origin of life or that divine Laws govern formation of species, but in the creation-evolution controversy its proponents generally take the "evolutionist" side while disputing that some scientists' methodological assumption of materialism can be taken as ontological as well. Many creationists would deny that this is creationism at all, and should rather be called "theistic evolution", just as many scientists allow voice to their spiritual side.
  • Intelligent Design movement. The main proponents of Intelligent Design have intentionally distanced themselves from other forms of creationism, preferring to be known as wholly separate from creationism as a philosophy. Rather they claim to support an uncritical look at origins as a means to discover the inherent supernatural design of the natural and biological worlds. As this necessarily relies on a supernatural explanation for natural events, opponents claim it is another form of creationism redressed for a public relations show (see Wedge strategy).

In principle, creationism does not necessarily require the belief in a currently-existing deity. Deism conceives of a God who designed and created the universe, but then ceased to actively interfere in its operation, perhaps ceasing to exist at all. The related concept of pandeism suggests that God designed the universe and then became the universe through some kind of transference or transformation — again, possibly ceasing to exist as a separate entity apart from the universe. In practice, however, most creationists believe that God both created the universe, and still exists, and is still in process with the universe.

Creationism, scriptural literalism, and inerrancy

Creationist ideas in the context of the Abrahamic religions stem from the book of Genesis, the first book in the Hebrew Bible. This book is central to both Judaism and Christianity. During the eighth century AD, the founding of Islam led to the creation of the Qur'an, which has a creation account very similar to that of Genesis. Both recount nearly parallel accounts of a six-day creation, Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, Noah's flood, and the biblical patriarch Abraham.

There is a spectrum of views among believers regarding the degree to which these books should be taken as true. Some believe that the Bible is historically accurate and/or inerrant. Others believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but that Genesis should not be taken literally. Still others believe that the Bible is metaphorical. Likewise, there are different interpretations of the creation account in the Qu'ran, some scholars even pointing out that some passages are in concord with modern scientific discoveries regarding origins.

Some creationists (including many Roman Catholics and Protestants) accept Evolutionary Creationism. Young-Earth Creationists (including orthodox Muslims, Jews, and many Christians), on the other hand, believe their scriptures to be historically accurate and/or inerrant. Some of the most commonly cited sources for creationist views, the Institute for Creation Research and Answers in Genesis, both hold to a strict belief in inerrancy of the Bible. Other Young Earth creationists hold their scriptures to be substantively accurate, although not absolutely inerrant, although none of the YEC organizations dissents from inerrancy.

The Christian Critique of Creationism

The Roman Catholic Church and many Protestant demoninations reject creationism and accept the theory of Evolution. They do this not only in recognition of the validity of science, but also because they reject Creationism as theologically unsound. In "Intelligent Design as a Theological Problem," Episcopalian theologian George Murphy argues against the common Creationist view that life on Earth in all its forms is direct evidence of God's act of creation (Murphy quotes Phillip Johnson's claim that he is speaking "of a God who acted openly and left his fingerprints on all the evidence."). Murphy argues that this view of God is incompatable with the Christian understanding of God as "the one revealed in the cross and resurrection of Jesus." The basis of this theology is Isaiah 45:15, "Truly, thou art a God who hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Savior." This verse inspired Pascal to write, "What meets our eyes denotes neither a total absence nor a manifest presence of the divine, but the presence of a God who conceals himself." In The Heidelberg Disputation, Martin Luther refered to the same Biblical verse to propose his "theology of the cross": "That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened ... He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross."

Luther opposes his theology of the cross to what he called the "theology of glory:

A theologian of glory does not recognize, along with the Apostle, the crucified and hidden God alone [I Cor. 2:2]. He sees and speaks of God’s glorious manifestation among the heathen, how his invisible nature can be known from the things which are visible [Cf. Rom. 1:20] and how he is present and powerful in all things everywhere.

For Murphy, Creationists are modern-day theologians of glory. Following Luther, Murphy argues that a true Christian cannot discover God from clues in creation, but only from the crucified Christ.

Murphy observes that the execution of a Jewish carpenter by Roman authorities is in and of itself an ordinary event and did not require Divine action. On the contrary, for the crucifixion to occur, God had to limit or "empty" Himself. It was for this reason that Paul wrote, in Philippians 2:5-8,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

Murphy concludes that,

Just as the son of God limited himself by taking human form and dying on the cross, God limits divine action in the world to be in accord with rational laws God has chosen. This enables us to understand the world on its own terms, but it also means that natural processes hide God from scientific observation.

For Murphy, a theology of the cross riquires that Christians accept a methodological naturalism, meaning that one cannot invoke God to explain natural phenomena, while recognizing that such acceptance does not require one to accept a metaphysical naturalism, which proposes that nature is all that there is.

God is not to be found in the suffering, privation, and extinctions of the world, nor is He to be found in the beautiful and orderly things in the world mdash; according to theologian Emil Brunner, "God does not wish to occupy the whole of space Himself, but that He wills to make room for other forms of existence ... In so doing, He limits Himself." It is where God has limited Himself that humans must use their own intelligence to understand the world — to understand the laws of gravity as well as evolution – without relying on God as an explanation. It is only through the cross and the resurrection that one may find God.

Popular attitudes

In recent years, however, popular attitudes have been moving away from inerrancy to a more nuanced view of the Bible. According to a 1998 Gallup Poll, approximately half the population of the United States believes: "The Bible is the inspired word of God, not everything in it should be taken literally." This compares with a 1963 poll which found that two out of three Americans believed: "the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word."

However, leading Young Earth Creationists argue that they take the Bible plainly, i.e. in the meaning the author intended. So they take the poetic books (e.g. Psalms) poetically, and the historical books historically, arguing that Genesis has the structure of Hebrew narrative. This notion is within the classic statements of biblical inerrancy, e.g., the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy:

"Simply put, our bottom line is that the proper interpretation of Scripture is to take it 'plainly', meaning 'as the author intended it to be understood by the original audience'. This incorporates a literal interpretation of a literal context, poetic interpretation of poetic context, etc.
"E.g., with Genesis, we can tell it is meant to be historic narrative because it has all the grammatical features of Hebrew narrative, e.g., the first verb is a qatal (historic perfect), and the verbs that move the narrative forward are wayyiqtols (waw consecutives); it contains many 'accusative particles' that mark the objects of verbs; and terms are often carefully defined."

Jewish creationists

The majority of classical rabbis held that God created the world some 6,000 years ago, and created Adam and Eve from clay. This view is based on a literal reading of the book of Genesis. This view is still widely accepted among most Haredim today.

A minority of classical rabbis believed that the world is billions of years old, and that life as we know it today did not always exist. Rabbis who had this view based their conclusions on verses in the Talmud and works of Kabbalah (esoteric Jewish mysticism.) This is the view of Rabbi Yitzchak of Akko (a student of Maimonides in the 12th century), and today is the view of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.

The medieval philosophical rationalists such as Maimonides held that it was ignorant to read the book of Genesis in a literal fashion. In this view, one was obligated to understand Torah in a way that was compatible with the findings of science.

With the advent of Darwin's theory of evolution, the Jewish community found itself engaged in a conversation and argument over how to reconcile traditional Jewish principles of faith with modern scientific findings.

By the early 1900s the great majority of Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism came to accept the existence of evolution as a scientific fact. They then reinterpreted Genesis and related Jewish teachings in light of this fact. Orthodox Judaism offered significantly more resistance to this idea, with many Orthodox rabbis developing rejections of evolution that exactly paralleled the rejections in the Christian community. Orthodox Jews who rejected evolution held that the scientists were mistaken, were heretics, or were being deliberately misled by God.

In the late 1880s Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, an influential leader in the early opposition to non-Orthodox forms of Judaism, wrote on the topic. He did not fully embrace all the ideas of evolutionists, but concluded that the basic ideas that all life developed from one common organism through natural selection were valid for a religious Jew to hold, and may even cause one to be more reverent of God.

This will never change, not even if the latest scientific notion that the genesis of all the multitudes of organic forms on earth can be traced back to one single, most primitive, primeval form of life should ever appear to be anything more than what it is today, a vague hypothesis still unsupported by fact. Even if this notion were ever to gain complete acceptance by the scientific world, Jewish thought, unlike the reasoning of the high priest of that notion, would nonetheless never summon us to revere a still extant representative of this primal form as the supposed ancestor of us all. Rather, Judaism in that case would call upon its adherents to give even greater reverence than ever before to the one, sole God Who, in His boundless creative wisdom and eternal omnipotence, needed to bring into existence no more than one single, amorphous nucleus and one single law of "adaptation and heredity" in order to bring forth, from what seemed chaos but was in fact a very definite order, the infinite variety of species we know today, each with its unique characteristics that sets it apart from all other creatures. (Collected Writings, vol. 7 pp. 263-264)

Many other Orthodox rabbis, such as Abraham Isaac Kook, saw evolution as compatible with Jewish theology. Over time a growing minority of Orthodox rabbis and laypeople came to accept the existence of biological evolution as a fact. However, the majority of Orthodox rabbis and laypeople seem to have regarded the idea as false, heretical, and immoral. Rabbi Avi Shafran , director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America (Haredi Judaism), states that “If one teaches that the human being is just an evolved ape, and that our consciences and sense that we have a soul and free will are just phantasm — that road leads to amorality. It leads to it being impossible to say that any particular way of living is right or wrong."

In contrast, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president of the Union of Orthodox Congregations, holds that evolution is real and is compatible with Judaism.

One can find an array of Orthodox views on the age of the universe, the age of the earth, and views on evolution, in Challenge: Torah Views on Science and Its Problems edited by Aryeh Carmell and Cyril Domb, and in Gerald Schroeder's "Genesis and the Big Bang". These works attempt to reconcile traditional Jewish texts with modern scientific findings concerning evolution, the age of the earth and the age of the Universe. Prominent Orthodox rabbis who affirm the veracity of scientific findings in these areas include Aryeh Kaplan, Israel Lipschitz, Sholom Mordechai Schwadron (the MaHaRSHaM), Zvi H. Chajes, and Abraham Isaac Kook. To be sure, these rabbis do not accept the views of strict evolutionists, such as Richard Dawkins, who hold that evolution has no need for God. Rather, each proposes their own understanding of theistic evolution, in which the world is billions of years old, and that life does evolve over time in accord with natural law, but also holding that God has a role in this process. Resistance to any form of evolution is strong within much of Haredi Judaism.

As recently as 2005 some Orthodox rabbis who wrote about evolution have had their books banned and have been labeled as a heretic. Rabbi Nosson Slifkin , popularly known as the "Zoo rabbi" for his writings about animals in Jewish thought, wrote a number of books including "The Camel, the Hare & the Hyrax," and "The Science of Torah", in which he states that science has proven that the world is billions of years old, and that rabbis who hold that it literally is only 6,000 years old have erred.

One of the most prominent writers on this subject in the Orthodox Jewish community is Gerald Schroeder, an Israeli physicist. He has written a number of articles and popular books attempting to reconcile Jewish theology with modern scientific findings that the world is billions of years old and that life has evolved over time. (Genesis and the Big Bang: The Discovery of Harmony Between Modern Science and the Bible) His work has received approbations from a number of Orthodox rabbinic authorities. Until recently his work was featured on the official website of Aish Hatorah , an Orthodox Jewish outreach group. However the group recently deleted his essay. After complaints from the author, Aish HaTorah put the essay back on their website, but only after the author was forced to partially recant; he was forced so say that perhaps the world is really only 6,000 years, and that God is testing the faith of Jews by deliberately deceiving them as to the age of the world.

Islamic creationism

In the Islamic world, due to the continued prevalence of religious belief, the theory of evolution has not yet taken hold, and traditional Islamic beliefs regarding creation remain dominant. However, several liberal movements within Islam, which are generally partial to secular scientific thought, subscribe to evolution.

The center of the Islamic creationist movement is Turkey where polemics against the theory of evolution have been waged by the Nur movement since the late 1970s. At present its main exponent is the writer Harun Yahya (pseudonym of Adnan Oktar, b. 1956) who uses the internet for the propagation of his ideas. His BAV (Bilim Araştırma Vakfı/ Science Research Foundation) organizes conferences with leading American creationists. Another leading Turkish advocate of Islamic creationism is Fethullah Gülen (b. 1941). Moreover creationist ideas appear to have a considerable appeal in Indonesia, Malaysia and among Muslim minorities in the West. As in the Christian context, the theory of evolution is typically held to be responsible for a materialistic and atheistic world-view and their alleged social and political consequences, especially the spread of Marxism. Due to the lack of a detailed account of creation in the Qur'an, other aspects than the literal truth of the scripture are emphasised in the Islamic debate. The most important one is the idea that there is no such thing as random but that everything happens according to God's will. Hence the ideas of Islamic creationists are closer to those of the Intelligent Design school than to Young Earth Creationism.

Islam also has its own school of evolutionary creationism, which holds that mainstream scientific analysis of the origin of the universe is supported by the Qur'an: [1].

Dissemination of creationist views

The dissemination of creationist and evolutionist views varies widely with geography. In some areas, such as Europe, evolution has achieved near-universality. In other areas, such as the Middle East, a type of creationism based on the locally accepted religious faith is nearly universal. Finally, in places such as the United States, opinions are widely mixed, and the debate rages in educational, political, and some academic circles.

United States

In the United States, creationism remains popular among the general population, and unpopular in the academic and scientific communities. According to a 2001 Gallup evolution poll on the origins of humans, 72% of Americans believe in some form of creationism (as defined above). About 45% of Americans ascribe to the more Biblically literal creationism, believing that "God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.".

Among the scientific community, the Big Bang, abiogenesis, and biological evolution are overwhelmingly considered to be the correct description of the origins of the universe and life on Earth. According to a 1997 Gallup poll, 55% of scientists ascribe to a completely atheistic evolution, with a total rejection of any deistic involvement. In 1987, Newsweek reported: "By one count there are some 700 scientists with respectable academic credentials (out of a total of 480,000 U.S. earth and life scientists) who ascribed to Biblically literal creationism".

In 2000, a People for the American Way poll found that:

20% of Americans believe public schools should teach evolution only;
17% of Americans believe that only evolution should be taught in science classes — religious explanations should be taught in another class;
29% of Americans believe that Creationism should be discussed in science class as a 'belief,' not a scientific theory;
13% of Americans believe that Creationism and evolution should be taught as 'scientific theories' in science class;
16% of Americans believe that only Creationism should be taught;

Less-direct anecdotal evidence of the popularity of creationism is reflected in the response of IMAX theaters to the availability of Volcanoes of the Deep Sea , an IMAX film which makes a connection between human DNA and microbes inside undersea volcanoes. The film's distributor reported that the only U.S. states with theaters which chose not to show the film were Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina:

We've got to pick a film that's going to sell in our area. If it's not going to sell, we're not going to take it," said the director of an IMAX theater in Charleston that is not showing the movie. "Many people here believe in creationism, not evolution." [2]

The western world outside the United States

Most vocal creationists are from the United States, and creationist views are much less common elsewhere in the Western World.

According to a PBS documentary on evolution, Australian Young Earth Creationists claimed that "five percent of the Australian population now believe that Earth is thousands, rather than billions, of years old." The documentary further states that "Australia is a particular stronghold of the creationist movement." Taking these claims at face value, Young Earth Creationism is very much a minority position in Western countries.

In Europe, creationism is a less well-defined phenomenon, and regular polls are not available. However, evolution is taught as scientific fact in most schools. In countries with a Roman Catholic majority, papal acceptance of evolution as worthy of study has essentially ended debate on the matter for many people. Nevertheless, creationist groups such as the German Studiengemeinschaft Wort und Wissen (Study group 'word and knowing')[3] are actively lobbying in Germany. In the United Kingdom the Emmanuel Schools Foundation (previously the Vardy Foundation), which owns two colleges in the north of England (out of several thousand in the country) and plans to open several more, teaches that creationism and evolution are equally valid "faith positions". In Italy, the prime minister Silvio Berlusconi wanted to retire evolution from schools in the middle level; after one week of massive protests, he reversed his opinion. [4]

Of particular note for Eastern Europe, Serbia suspended the teaching of evolution for one week in 2004, under education minister Ljiljana Colic, only allowing schools to reintroduce evolution into the curriculum if they also taught creationism. [5] "After a deluge of protest from scientists, teachers and opposition parties," says the BBC report, Ms Colic's deputy made the statement, "I have come here to confirm Charles Darwin is still alive," and announced that the decision was reversed. [6] Ms. Colic resigned after the government said that she had caused "problems that had started to reflect on the work of the entire government". [7]

See also

References (general)

  • Ian Barbour When Science Meets Religion, 2000, Harper SanFrancisco
  • Ian Barbour Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues, 1997, Harper SanFrancisco.
  • Stephen Jay Gould Rock of Ages: Science and Religion in the fullness of life, Ballantine Books, 1999
  • Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham Leading scientists still reject God in Nature, Vol. 394, No. 6691 (1998), p. 313. Online at
  • Scott, Eugenie C., 1999 (Jul/Aug). The creation/evolution continuum. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 19(4): 16-17,21-23.

References (historical)

  • Gosse, Henry Philip, 1857. Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot. J. Van Voorst, London

References (Christian)

  • Murphy, George L., 2002, "Intelligent Design as a Theological Problem," in Covalence: the Bulletin of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Alliance for Faith, Science, and Technology 4(2)

References (Jewish)

  • Aviezer, Nathan. In the Beginning: Biblical Creation and Science. Ktav, 1990. Hardcover. ISBN 0-881253-28-6
  • Carmell, Aryeh and Domb, Cyril, eds. Challenge: Torah Views on Science New York: Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists/Feldheim Publishers, 1976. ISBN 0873061748
  • Aryeh Kaplan, Immortality, Resurrection, and the Age of the Universe: A Kabbalistic View, Ktav, NJ, in association with the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists, NY, 1993
  • Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams In a Beginning...: Quantum Cosmology and Kabbalah, Tikkun, Vol. 10, No. 1, pp. 66-73
  • Schroeder, Gerald L. The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom Broadway Books, 1998, ISBN 0-767903-03-X
  • Jeffrey H. Tigay, Genesis, Science, and "Scientific Creationism", Conservative Judaism, Vol. 40(2), Winter 1987/1988, p.20-27, The Rabbinical Assembly

External links

Websites Supporting Creationism

Creationist links

Links to Jewish sites

Websites Opposing Creationism

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