|Landscape in Carina Nebula [Courtesy NASA]||Sistine Chapel #4 [courtesy Wikimedia]|
What is now known as the "creationist" (also termed "scientific creationist" or "creation science") movement was originally founded in the 1920s by the self-taught geologist George McCready Price. Price was a devout member of the Seventh-day Adventist sect, which adhered to a literal belief in Genesis. In several books that he subsequently authored, Price declared that much of modern science is "in the highest degree improbable and absurd." He focused his attack on geology, charging that geologists date rocks by their fossil content, while simultaneously determining the age of the fossils by their location in the geological column. Instead, Price, echoing his religious teachings, suggested that a miraculous "cosmic storm" buried the bodies of ancient animals. Thus the fossil record reveals merely a sorting of contemporaneous antediluvian life forms, and the conventional geological column is a delusion. Price's book The New Geology [Price1923], which was first published in 1923, sold over 15,000 copies.
The most influential creationist work in recent decades is Whitcomb and Morris' The Genesis Flood, which was first published in 1961 [Whitcomb1988]. These authors argued, as did Price, that since the scriptures clearly describe a universal flood, Christian believers have only two choices: reject God's inspired Word or reject the testimony of thousands of professional geologists. According to the authors, God created the entire universe and populated the earth with fully grown plants, animals, and human beings, all in six literal days, using methods and processes completely different from those now in operation in the universe. There was no death before the Fall, so consequently all fossils are the remains of animals that perished subsequent to the Fall. The authors rejected the conventional geologic ages as Price did, by attributing the apparent order of fossils to "hydrological sorting" of organisms in the flood waters and the superior mobility of vertebrates. They acknowledged that by some indications the earth and the universe appear to be very old, but an omnipotent Creator created them with the "appearance of age" [Whitcomb1988, pg. 233-238].
In the 1970s, Henry Morris published Scientific Creationism, which was more recently revised and reprinted [Morris2000], and Duane Gish published Evolution: The Fossils Say No! [Gish1973]. More recently, Gish published Evolution: The Challenge of the Fossil Record [Gish1985]. Morris' book took the same general approach as the earlier book he co-authored with Whitcomb, but added a number of items, including the claim that the earth and moon must be much earlier than scientists say, or else the moon would have been buried in several meters of space dust. He also highlighted what he claimed was a human footprint found in a Texas river bed with many dinosaur fossils. Gish's books have focused on gaps in the fossil record. He argues that for many of these gaps, such as the transition between land mammals and sea mammals, it is biologically impossible that suitable intermediate species could exist.
Various creationist organizations, including Answers in Genesis, the Creation Research Society and the Institute for Creation Research, have for many years produced creationism-friendly instruction material to be used in parochial schools. They have also made numerous attempts to promote legislation to permit this type of material to be taught in public schools. Most of these attempts have subsequently been blocked by court rulings. For instance, in 1982 a U.S. District Court ruled that a 1981 Arkansas law requiring "balanced treatment" for "creation-science" was an impermissible violation of the separation between church and state. The judge further ruled that "creation science" is not science and is instead a religious notion. Similarly, in 1987 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a Louisiana "creationism act" that prohibited the teaching of evolution in public schools unless accompanied by instruction in "creation science." More recently, in 2005 a U.S. district judge in Dover, Pennsylvania ruled against a local school district that had attempted to require "intelligent design" material to be presented as an alternative to evolution. For additional details on these cases, see Court cases.
The most common motivation for these efforts is the belief by creationists that the Bible must be regarded as inerrant, and that the Bible should be read as a scientific document. However, most biblical scholars disagree with these premises. For additional details, see Bible-inerrant and Bible-science.
Another indication of the continuing (and perhaps growing) influence of creationism is the popularity of the new Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky (near Cincinnati, Ohio). This facility features a series of exhibits depicting, among other things, the creation in 4000 BC, a global flood in 2350 BC that deposited all fossil layers, and humans and dinosaurs living together. Murals contrast "human reason" with "God's Word." Since it opened in 2007, the museum has attracted over 1,000,000 visitors (as of August 2010). In December 2010 the Answers in Genesis organization, which operations the Creation Museum, announced that it has purchased a nearby site to construct an even larger museum devoted to Noah's Ark. The new museum, like the existing museum, will presume a highly literal reading of the Bible, and will take a hostile stance to modern science in general and to evolution in particular [NCSE2010].
Groups supporting creationism and intelligent design are very active politically, pressing their case in the U.S. and internationally [Lebo2008; Lebo2010]. Some of these groups have now joined forces with opponents of environmental protection measures. Together they are promoting legislation to require that students be taught "all sides of evidence" on evolution and global warming [Kaufman2010; Zimmerman2010].
Along this line, a 2013 study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found the surprising result that only 11% of Americans belong to religions that openly reject evolution. These results suggest that the main issue here is not between science and religion, but instead between religious movements that have made their peace with science and small fundamentalist groups who have not. These results also suggest that many religious adherents do not know the official positions taken by their own denominations .
At this point in time, the conventional scientific picture of the earth as approximately 4.5 billion years old, with primitive bacteria in the distant past to flowering plants and vertebrates several hundred million years ago and ultimately to Homo sapiens within the past million years, is very well established. Geological dates are particularly well established, confirmed by numerous independent schemes that rely on fundamental processes such as radioactivity. As biologist Kenneth Miller has observed, "The consistency of the [radiometric] data ... is nothing short of stunning." [Miller1999, pg. 76]. This is discussed in more detail at Ages and Reliability.
In other words, the central tenet of creationism, namely that the earth is only a few thousand years, has been overwhelmingly refuted by modern scientific data. The only rational option for those creationists who still nonetheless hold to a young-earth paradigm is to accept the theory advanced by Whitcomb and Morris that an omnipotent Deity created the earth (or even the entire universe) a few thousand years ago, but meticulously designed it to have an "appearance of age" [Whitcomb1988, pg. 233-238; Morris2000, pg. 203]. In addition to the severe difficulties presented by the "God the Great Deceiver" theology implicit in this speculation, such a notion is non-falsifiable and thus unscientific -- one could just as well assert that the world was created two weeks ago, with everyone's memory intact, and no one could cite any empirical evidence to prove otherwise. This is discussed in more detail at Deceiver.
With regards to biological evolution, in recent years some powerful new tools have arisen to test and explore the details of evolutionary history. These new tools, based on comparisons of DNA and amino acid sequences, have confirmed the traditional taxonomy of the biological world, determined in earlier years solely by similarities of anatomy and function, and now permit scientists to estimate times to evolutionary branching events in the past. To cite but one well-known example, the 141-amino-acid-long human alpha globin molecule (a component of hemoglobin) is identical with that of chimpanzees, differs by one location in gorillas, by 18 in horses, by 25 in rabbits, and by approximately 100 locations in various fish species. This is discussed in more detail at DNA.
In the wake of evidence such as this, and in spite of claims by creationists that their worldview is attracting more support, the vast majority of professional scientists in biology, geology and related fields firmly accept the fundamental tenets of evolution -- see Scientists-evolution.
This lack of peer-reviewed publications, or even serious attempts at submitting material for peer review, presents a severe obstacle to creationism being taken seriously in the scientific world. After all, if creationists (individually or collectively) believe that any of their technical issues have significant merit on purely scientific grounds, why do they not compose them into well-researched and well-analyzed articles and submit these articles to recognized peer-reviewed scientific journals? After all, as emphasized in a recent Science letter signed by numerous prominent scientists (after brief mention of the prevailing theories of geology, big bang cosmology and evolution), "Even as these are overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, fame still awaits anyone who could show these theories to be wrong." [Gleick2010]. The only reasonable inference from the lack of publications is that creationists themselves recognize that the arguments and data that they have presented to date would not meet the standards required of serious peer-reviewed scientific publication. For additional details, see Conspiracy.
One overriding difficulty with both the creationist and intelligent design movements, both as an approach to science and as an approach to religion, is that invoking a Creator or Designer whenever one encounters a difficult question is a "thinking stopper." Such an approach places numerous grand questions of our existence off-limits to human investigation, buried in the inscrutable mind of a mysterious supreme Being: "Why was the earth (or the universe in general) designed the way it was?" "How did the design and creative processes proceed?" "What physical laws were employed?" "Why those particular laws?" "What prompted the creation?" "Have other earths or universes been designed or created?" "Where are they?" Surely there is a more fruitful avenue for finding a harmony between science and religion than just saying "God created it that way" or "God designed it that way" and then deeming it either unnecessary or inappropriate to inquire further.
It is ironic, in a way, that the creationist movement seeks to "prove" the hand of God in creation by seeking scientific evidence that certain aspects of the creation could not possibly have occurred by natural processes. After all, a central tenet of the belief system of most creationists is that faith is an essential part of religion. But faith, by definition, is a religious belief that lies outside the realm of what can be readily tested by the empirical methods of scientific research. Indeed, by placing God on the anvil of scientific verification or refutation, creationists are implicitly affirming the scientific materialist worldview of the atheistic critics who are their most implacable foes (see Atheists and God hypothesis). Further, creationism leads inevitably to such theological disasters as "God the Great Deceiver" theology, wherein God is thought to have constructed the world with an "appearance of age" (see Deceiver), and "God of the gaps" theology, wherein God is sought in the gaps of what is currently unexplained in science (see God of the gaps). For these reasons, creationism cannot be recommended for those seeking rational harmony between science and religion. This will be a bitter pill to some, but it is the only reasonable conclusion.
For addition discussion, see
God of the gaps.