Creationism (Darwin a Friend of Theology? – Part 2)

In my first post of the series I defined evolution and some key terms. In this instalment I’ll define creationism and its different faces.

Perhaps one of the best and most humorous statements made about the nature of creationism is the following by Robert Pennock: “[c]reationism is evolving. Several new species of creationism have appeared recently and are competing to stake out a niche in the intellectual landscape.” He adds a 6-point definition which is applicable to creationism in the general sense: “…the key elements of the creationist view are that there is a (1) Personal Creator who (2) is supernatural, and who (3) initiated and (4) continues to control the process of creation (5) in furtherance of some end or purposes. …but here let me note a sixth element that is implicit in this definition, namely, (6) a rejection of theistic evolution.” The basic tenets of creationism are based on Genesis 1 (the first creation narrative), and Genesis 6-9 (the flood narrative).

With reference to Pennock’s point number 6: creationism of all guises presents people with a false dilemma. The false dilemma is that one must either choose the Christian, Biblical view of creationism or the atheistic view of evolution. Evolution and the Christian faith are posed as mutually exclusive. Creationism presents the conflict model in the religion-science debate.

Young-Earth Creationism

Within the creationist camp there are divisions. One of the biggest divisions is between the young-earth creationists and the old-earth creationists. The young-earth creationists believe that the earth is 6,000 or perhaps as much as 10,000 years old. Johannes Ussher, Irish Archbishop of Armagh, was the first person to make the calculation that the Earth is 6000 years old. He mainly used the genealogies in the Bible. A few years after Ussher’s calculation, John Lightfoot refined the calculations and stated that the first day of creation was the 18th of October 4004 B.C. Adam was created on the 23rd of October 4004 B.C., at 9 a.m. Historian E. T. Brewster wryly commented on Lightfoot’s estimate: “Closer than this, as a cautious scholar, the vice Chancellor of Cambridge University did not venture to commit himself.”

Old-Earth Creationism

The old-earth creationists recognize that the young age of the earth simply cannot match up to geological findings. Most old-earth creationists hold that the days spoken of in Genesis 1 are not 24-hour days, but “God-sized” days. 2 Peter 3: 8 is often cited as a proof text regarding “God-sized” days. Another alternative is the “gap theory” which states that there was a gap of undeterminable length between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 in which geological history and the lifetimes of the dinosaurs fit. Another term is that of “ruin and restoration,” because it can also hold that God had destroyed the initial creation, perhaps as a judgment on the rebellion of Lucifer, and that the new creation, which starts at Genesis 1:2, was completed within 6 literal days. The view also exists that there have been numerous creations and destructions and not just one destruction and re-creation. Another view is that the days were literal twenty-four hour days, but that they were not necessarily consecutive and there may have been millions of years between these days. During these long periods in between, God would be proclaiming the next phase of creation.

Mature Earth Creationism

Another view is that of the mature-earth creationists. This view is similar to the old-earth creationists and is often included in old-earth creationism. In 1875 Philip Gosse proposed that the earth was created as recent as the Bible says, but that God had created the universe with an appearance of age:  “Embedded in deep layers of rock we find what appear to be fossils of long-extinct creatures, but that is because God placed them there when he laid down those beds six-thousand years ago. We see light from stars millions of light-years away because God neatly created it already in transit.” Another term used is “ideal-time creationism.”

Scientific Creationism

Scientific creationism is also called creation science. The following definition is given in Act 590 of the 1981 ‘Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act’:

‘Creation-science’ means the scientific evidences for creation and inferences from those scientific evidences. Creation-science includes the scientific evidences and related inferences that indicate:

(1)    Sudden creation of the universe, energy, and life from nothing;

(2)    The insufficiency of mutation and natural selection in bringing about development of all living kinds from a single organism;

(3)    Changes only within fixed limits or originally created kinds of plants and animals;

(4)    Separate ancestry for man and apes;

(5)    Explanation of the earth’s geology by catastrophism, including the occurrence of a worldwide flood; and

(6)    A relatively recent inception of the earth and living kinds.

Some creationists hold that science can prove and has already proven that the biblical account of creation is true. Evolution is argued to be a belief and not scientific. Others state that science cannot prove creation as the truth, but that “the Biblical teachings match the observed scientific data just as well or even better than evolutionary theories”. A third position is that neither creation nor evolution is scientific, but that creationism is more scientific than evolution.

Creation science builds extra structures on the foundation of Biblical texts, which Stanley Rice describes as follows: “In order to concoct what they call “creation science,” creationists have had to highly develop their skills of creative twisting of both Bible and science. It is not surprising that they have violated their own publicly stated beliefs regarding both.” An example of this “creative twisting” is the “vapour canopy” theory. This theory explains that a vapour canopy encircled the Earth before the Flood. Genesis 1: 7 is employed as a proof text that there was water “above the earth.” A result of this canopy was that the whole planet enjoyed a tropical climate.

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Rice notes that such add-ons are not built upon texts which deal with other areas of science:

Thus when Job referred to “storehouses of the wind,” creationists do not build a creationist version of meteorology upon the belief there are actually big rooms where God keeps the wind locked up, nor that God opens up literal windows for rain as is written in Genesis 6. When the second book of Samuel says that a plague was caused by the Angel of Death, with whom King David actually had a face-to-face conversation, creationists do not reject the germ theory of disease and champion a creationist version of medical science. Finally, First Kings 1:40 describes King Solomon’s inaugural parade by saying that “the earth was split by their noise.” Creationists do not claim that this literally happened. Generally, creationists insist that even though humans can employ figures of speech, God cannot.

Although there are differences in scientific creationism, the consensus may be summed up following Barker: “Scientific creationists agree that there are variations within a gene pool, and that natural selection can take place within a particular ‘kind’, but not that it can occur between the kinds.” Some creationists do not hold that God created each species on earth as it is now, but that God created certain kinds of animals. The term baraminology is derived from the Hebrew words for “created kinds.” This echoes Genesis 1: 24-25 where it is told that God created animals according to their “kind.” These “kinds” are rather unclear and can refer to species, genus, family, or perhaps some other level of taxonomic classification.

Brief History of Creationism

Before modern science, using the Bible as a handbook for science was standard practice in the Western world. Even as far back as the late 1700’s, scholars began interpreting the Genesis narratives in a non-literal sense. Examples are two Scottish Presbyterians, Thomas Chalmers and Hugh Miller. Chalmers believed there was a gap of eons between the first two chapters of Genesis. Miller, in the early 19th century, interpreted the days of Genesis to be long periods of time and not literal, 24-hour days.  With William Paley’s Natural Theology, the only other theory was that all species were produced by chance. These writers were not biblical literalists, but their views square with those expressed by creationists.

Creationism fell rather silent after Gregor Mendel’s findings in the field of genetics were rediscovered in 1900. Between 1910 and 1915 a series of books called The Fundamentals were published. These books claimed biblical inerrancy and it is from them that the term fundamentalist was derived. Two of the contributors, theologians George Frederick Wright and James Orr, accepted certain tenets of evolution, giving the series of books a non-monolithic stance. After WWI, anti-evolutionary ideas began to stir again and in 1925, it was made a criminal offence to teach evolution in Tennessee. After WWI, the ensuing cultural crisis provided ample breeding ground for fundamentalism, and many Americans began to see sinister links between the external threats of German militarism and Russian Bolshevism and the internal growth of religious and political liberalism. In this context, Darwinism came to be seen as the most identifiable corrupting influence on American society. Prominent fundamentalists linked the name of Darwin with a whole catalogue of social ills, from international conflict to the collapse of family life.

The first creationist writers that can be regarded as similar to what creationism is today, were George McCready Price, a Seventh-Day Adventist, and Harry Rimmer, a Presbyterian preacher. During the 1920’s they preached creationism and Flood Geology. In 1961 Genesis Flood was published by bible scholar John C. Whitcomb and hydraulic engineer Henry M. Morris. Creationism is not a continuance of age-old Christian orthodoxy, but rather a product of the 20th century. Michael Ruse states that “[c]reationism is an idiosyncratic form of American Protestantism dating from the first half of the nineteenth century”.

Bailey reports that in 2004 a poll showed that 45% of Americans believed that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so” and another poll in 2005 found that 42% of Americans agree with the statement that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time”. The biggest concentration of creationism can be found within the United States, but as the Fundamentalist movement spreads, creationism spreads with it.

 Conclusion

As a conclusion, the definition given by Stanley Rice seems appropriate: Creationism is “(1) a product of the 20th century rather than a holdout of pre-Darwinian Christianity; (2) based upon highly imaginative Bible interpretation; (3) supported by bad science; and (4) often politically motivated.”

Sources:

Accelerated Christian Education 1998. Science 1086. s l: s n.

Bailey, D H 2010. Creationism and intelligent design: Scientific and theological difficulties. Dialogue: A journal of Mormon Thought 43/3, 62-81.

Barker, E 1985 Let There Be Light: Scientific Creationism in the Twentieth Century in Durant, J (ed.) Darwinism and divinity: Essays on evolution and religious belief, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 181-204.

Cotner, S & Moore, R 2011. Arguing for evolution: An encyclopedia for understanding science. Greenwood: Santa Barbara.

Du Toit, C W (ed.) 2000. Evolution and creativity: A new dialogue between faith and knowledge. Pretoria: UNISA

Pennock, R T 2002. Tower of Babel: The evidence against the new creationism. Cambridge: MIT Press

Rice, S A 2007. Encyclopedia of evolution. New York: Facts on File.

Ruse, M 2011. Making room for faith in an age of science: A response to David Wisdo. Zygon 46/3. 655-672.

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Darwin: A Friend of Theology? – Part 1

This is the first of a series of posts about evolution and theology. I am in part undertaking to write this series as a way to inspire myself and practise writing about this subject for my MTh thesis.

The Idea of Evolution

The idea of a progressive transformation of species is older than Darwin. The idea of some sort of evolution of species has been around in Europe before Charles Darwin. Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, speculated about evolution and published his proposals in Zoonomia, or, The Laws of Organic Life (PDF available from Project Gutenberg)in 1794. In 1844 Robert Chambers published a his views anonymously in the Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (PDF available at archive.org). The French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck proposed a mechanism of “transformation” almost sixty years before Darwin’s Origin of the Species. For Lamarck, the two components of evolution were the influence of the environment and the efforts of the animals themselves. For example, giraffes got long necks because generations of giraffes stretched their necks to reach high branches.

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Lamarck’s Giraffes

The work of August Weismann proved that only the sexual cells had hereditary powers and thus disproved Lamarck’s idea. Herbert Spencer proposed an evolutionary theory just prior to Darwin’s publication. Spencer was the first to use the term so often associated with Darwinian evolution: “survival of the fittest”. Charles Darwin coined the term “natural selection”, as opposed to artificial selection, which is the process whereby humans breed animals for their own needs. In 1900 the work of Mendel in genetics was rediscovered and paved the way for Darwinism and neo-Darwinism.

What is Evolution?

Let’s start with the basics. Evolution is a scientific theory of the history of biological life. The level at which evolution works is that of the population. A single individual cannot evolve, but a population of individuals can. Evolution can occur in a number of ways: mutations (random genetic changes, like a slightly longer tail), random changes in genetic frequencies (genetic drift, where by chance some individuals do not reproduce), migration (gene flow, when a population moves to a new habitat, taking their genetic information with them to the new environment). Individuals who reproduce take part in evolution. Survival is not enough, the individual must successfully reproduce.

Below are a couple of key words and definitions to start off with:

Extinction occurs when an entire species dies out. It is an essential part of the evolutionary process and facilitates the evolution of new species.

Adaptive radiation refers to the origin of new species from a common ancestor, e.g. as a result of migration or changes in habitat. A clue in adaptive radiation is the shared traits of the derived species, also called homologies. Examples of homologies are the flippers of whales and dolphins. Universal homologies are shared traits that occur in all life-forms. These universal homilies are the way cells are put together, the way ATP works at the cellular level and the way the genetic code works.

As opposed to homologies, analogies are similar structures that aren’t a result of shared ancestry.

Exaptations are features that were initially used for a certain purpose, but later became used for something else.

Vestigial traits or organs are features that no longer serve a function or serve only a very reduced function. Examples of vestigial organs are the human coccyx and the eyes of the blind cave-dwelling fish Astyanax mexicanus.

Transitional forms are organisms that are intermediate between two major groups, for example between fish and amphibians or reptiles and birds. Probably the most famous of these is archaeopteryx. In a sense all forms are transitional forms, because evolution is a dynamic process that is continually occurring.

Speciation is when a new species arises through evolution. A necessary factor for speciation is that the two or more forms that have become separate species cannot produce offspring that can reproduce (think of a mule).  Geographical or allopatric speciation happens when a population is divided by some natural barrier (e.g. glacier, arm of the sea, mountain) and continue to develop in different directions.  Sympatic speciation occurs in the same environment. This kind of speciation occurs when the first differences between the two species prevent them from breeding. The barriers of breeding might not always be because of sterility, but because of behavioural differences.

Bibliography:

Cotner, S & Moore, R 2011. Arguing for evolution: An encyclopedia for understanding science. Greenwood: Santa Barbara.

Durant, J (ed.) 1985. Darwinism and divinity: Essays on evolution and religious belief. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Montenat, C, Plateaux, L & Roux, P (eds.) 1985. How to read the world: Creation in evolution. London: SCM Press.

Pennock, R T 2002. Tower of Babel: The evidence against the new creationism. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Rice, S A 2007. Encyclopedia of evolution. New York: Facts on File.

Zimmerman, P A 2009. Darwin at 200. Concordia Theological Quarterly 73, 61-75.