Creation-evolution controversy

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Evolution and reproduction; Religious disputes

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Intelligent design

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Specified complexity
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Critical Analysis of Evolution
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Intelligent design in politics
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The creation-evolution controversy (also termed the creation vs. evolution debate or the origins debate) is a recurring dispute in the popular arena about the origins of the Earth, humanity, life, and the universe. The debate is most prevalent and visible in certain regions of the United States, where it is often portrayed in the mass media in the broader context of the culture wars or a supposed dispute between religion and science. The main opposing positions are held by those who hold religious origin beliefs and those who support naturalistic or scientific accounts provided by astrophysics, geology and biology. It should be noted, however, that, despite the controversy, many people believe that scientific ideas, including biological evolution, need not contradict their personal religious beliefs.

The conflict centers primarily on the defensibility of creationism (especially the forms of creationism derived from fundamentalist or religiously conservative Abrahamic accounts of origins), a view that regards scientific explanations of origins as antithetical to divine creation, and often, more specifically, Creation according to Genesis. The key contention of such creationists is that only a supernatural miracle and not "unguided evolution" can account for origins. This view is overwhelmingly rejected by the scientific community and academia, who point to the strong correspondence of reality with the theory, and how, as in the title of a famous essay by Theodosius Dobzhansky, Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.

Evolution is often expanded by creationists to include such things as the Big Bang Theory, abiogenesis, and the formation of stars, 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. Which specific scientific ideas conflict with their concept of creationism, and would therefore comprise "evolution", can vary 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 geological discoveries indicated that the earth is much older than was suggested by the Judeo-Christian Bible. When the theory of evolution by 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 Christian preachers 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.

The controversy became political in the United States of America when public schools began teaching the scientific theory that man evolved from earlier forms of life per Darwin's theory of Natural Selection as opposed to being created by God in His image per the Bible. 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 and remained on the books until 1967 when it was repealed.

The controversy continues to this day with the secular mainstream scientific consensus on the origins and evolution of life actively attacked and denigrated by a number of creationist organizations and religious groups who desire to uphold creationism (often " Young Earth creationism", " creation science" or " Intelligent design") as an alternative. Most of these groups are explicitly Christian, and more than one sees the debate as an opportunity to evangelize.

There are those involved on both sides of the debate who see secular science and theistic religion as being diametrically opposed views which cannot be reconciled (see section on the false dichotomy). More accommodating viewpoints include believers in theistic evolution, who see science and religion as fully compatible disciplines which ask fundamentally different questions about reality and posit different avenues for investigating it.

As recently as 2005, the Intelligent Design movement has attempted to frame an anti-evolution position by avoiding any 'direct' appeal to religion, although Leonard Krishtalka, a paleontologist and an opponent of the movement, called intelligent design "nothing more than creationism in a cheap tuxedo" (see Neo-Creationism). In addition, 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. Intelligent design, as a perspective, does not represent a research program within the mainstream scientific community and is opposed by many of the same groups who oppose creationism.

Common venues for debate

Conflict occurs mostly in the public arena, as creationists have been unwilling or unable to publish their ideas through academic channels or in scientific journals. Popular-level books and articles by creationists attacking mainstream science and by proponents of mainstream science attacking creationism have been published and numerous public debates have been sponsored by churches, universities, and clubs. With the Internet, the battle between proponents has also been waged on-line. One of the first Usenet newsgroups was created for the controversy. Since 1986, the newsgroup has allowed for multiple discussions of nearly every topic and issue ever developed in the controversy. In 1994, an archive of the mainstream science responses to creationist objections was created as a web site. Various creationists 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 to promote the controversy with many arguments printed and reprinted.

Most Christian denominations have an official stance on the controversy. In the U.S. many conservative Protestant denominations unapologetically promote creationism and preach against evolution from the pulpits and sponsor lectures and debates on the subject. Some groups that explicitly advocate for creationism and against evolution include Assemblies of God, Church of the Nazarene, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Free Methodist Church, Jehovah's Witnesses, Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, Pentecostal Churches, Seventh-day Adventist Churches, Southern Baptist Convention Churches, Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Christian Reformed Church and Pentecostal Oneness churches.

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.

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 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. 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 since science cannot supply such answers, their religious discourse is more complete, more reliable, and surpasses the naturalistic descriptions that science provides.

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.
Creation-evolution controversy

The "Boeing 747" reference alludes to a statement reportedly made by Fred Hoyle: 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." . 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." . Dawkins reports that Dan Dennett, calls it "an unrebuttable refutation" dating back two centuries.

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

  • Cosmogony as the speculative predecessor to the explanations provided by physical cosmology and the Big Bang.
  • The nebular hypothesis as a consistent application of the observations of protoplanetary discs and general principles of planetary science.
  • The giant impact hypothesis as a consistent model for lunar formation in conjunction with the geological timescale.
  • The various scientific inquiries into the origin of life including consistent models of abiogenesis.

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' (for a creationist treatment see Created kinds).
  6. Microevolution — origin of variations within 'kinds'.

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.

This approach to redefining the aspects of evolution has been criticized in other ways as well. For example, in the context of evolutionary biology, "microevolution" and "macroevolution" are distinguished only by the total amount of evolutionary change and the number of generations that had passed between ancestors and descendants. Evolutionary changes are often so gradual that biologists can disagree over exactly when speciation occurs. A few scientists have attempted to posit different mechanisms for macroevolution (see saltation), but none has been generally accepted. Creationists, however, generally accept microevolution while rejecting macroevolution. An example of this is the creationist endeavor baraminology which purports to study the biology of various " kinds". "Kinds" and "baramin" are terms invented by creationists and derived from the book of Genesis. They are not used in mainstream biological research, and those who debate creationists claim that they are a patchwork-fix meant to allow creationists to accept short-term manifestations of evolution (such as the development of new dog breeds or antibiotic-resistant bacteria) as change within a "kind", while arbitrarily rejecting speciation, the appearance of entirely new species that generally takes much more time.

Theory vs. fact

The argument that evolution is a theory, not a fact, has often been made against the exclusive teaching of evolution. However, this represents a fundamental misunderstanding of scientific terms and concepts. In commenting on this creationist misunderstanding, Paleontologist and biologist Stephen Jay Gould explained:

"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.... In science, 'fact' can only mean 'confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.' I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms."

Various levels of incredulity about scientific conclusions have been a constant component of creationist discourse. In particular, creationists are wary of scientific arguments involving events that happened in the distant past. Although some amount of inference characterizes evolution research, as it does all scientific research concerning the past, the inference proceeds from observed facts. According to Ernst Mayr, these inferences have "enormous certainty" due to agreement of multiple lines of evidence, confirmation of predictions, and the absence of any rational alternative. He has called the distinction between these inferences and direct observations "misleading."

Critiques based on the distinction between theory and fact are often leveled against unifying concepts within scientific disciplines, such as uniformitarianism, Occam's Razor/ parsimony, and the Copernican principle, that are claimed to be the result of a bias within science toward philosophical naturalism, which is equated by creationists to atheism. 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.

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. Mainstream proponents accuse the creationists of conflating the two in a form of pseudoscience.

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, 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." 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.

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.

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

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. Such criticism typically involves the most often cited pieces of evidence in favour of mainstream science. This includes the fossil record, which creationists claim has significant gaps that cast doubt on evolution, the emergence of new species, which creationists claim hasn't been observed directly, and radiometric dating, which creationists claim is inaccurate due to an inappropriate reliance on assumptions of uniformitarianism. 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. 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 oftentimes this gives the impression that they are either unwilling or unable to answer the creationist critiques. There are even those that outright refuse to participate so as not to lend the creationists any legitimacy, including Stephen Gould and Richard Dawkins. The latest instance of this was in 2005, when mainstream science organizations boycotted hearings held by the Kansas Board of Education who held what certain evolution pundits described as a " kangaroo court" over whether new science standards should be designed with the " Teach the Controversy" model in mind. 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." 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.

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 Centre for Science Education, claimed debates are not the sort of arena to promote science to creationists. Scott claims, "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. 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. 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.

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, it may be more correctly described as a conflict over a conflation of science and religion. 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."

Religion and historical scientists

A somewhat popular creationist claim in the context of the controversy is that Christianity and belief in a literal Bible are either foundationally significant or directly responsible for scientific progress. 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.

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.

In many cases, the context for the scientist in question opposing evolution was historically situated quite differently than it would be today, and usually involved very early work on the mechanism 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 more or less stabilized. 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.

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. 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.

Religion as science

Most creationists involved in the controversy posit that they have alternatives to mainstream science in the form of creation science or intelligent design. They argue that science needs a paradigm shift and that a scientific revolution needs to occur in order to remove what they perceive as anti-religious bias from science. This conflation of religious and scientific ideas has come to define the controversy separately from either theological or scientific discourse.

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. 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."

Creationists and their supporters often use derisive neologisms such as evolutionism and Darwinism to refer to the modern theory of evolution, and evolutionists and Darwinists to those who accept it. Many opponents to creationism object to such terms as inaccurate and misleading. In particular, the -ist/-ists/-ism suffixes are claimed to 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 just another religious belief system without empirical support, 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.

False dichotomy

Many supporters of evolution (especially religious ones) disagree with the claim made by creationists and some "evolutionists" 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. Religious beliefs 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. 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:

  • With Zen and New Age religions, everything and nothing are all interconnected, inseparable, a made whole. These conceptions deny that the person is the first cause and posit a guiding non- anthropomorphic consciousness that balances the universe and serves as a source for all being.
  • Theogony by Hesiod contains a poetic rendering of the Greek myth that the Cosmos was created through sexual intercourse.
  • Panspermia is a theory explaining the existence of life on the Earth as a result of seed organisms coming from some other planet through outer space.
  • Norse mythology says that Odin and his brothers used the body of Ymir, the giant, to create the world.

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 conservatives often consider the teaching of evolution as a threat to their religious 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 millionaire car dealer Peter Vardy to introduce the teaching of creationism alongside evolution in 2 - 7 city academies accepting sponsorship from his fund, which is called the Emmanuel Schools Foundation. This resulted in public controversy which drew attention to one private Seventh-day Adventist school and a few private Muslim schools teaching creationism. 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. Creationism is taught in science lessons, but as a non-scientific theory.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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").

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