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History of creationism

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The History of creationism encompasses several thousand years of thought regarding the origin of the universe, earth, and life with reference to one or more creative agents. In varying forms, it is the dominant view of Orthodox Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, as well as Chinese Taoism, Greek Stoicism, and many animistic belief systems. It was the dominant viewpoint among European scientists until the mid 19th century (see historical creation scientists and the list of present-day creation scientists), but was not subject to a rigorous research program, because the historicity of Genesis was largely taken for granted.

With the rise of secularization in the 19th century, however, creationism came under fire in Europe and America, and began to develop a vigorous research program.

When geologists revised the age of the earth to millions of years, some writers looked to studying geology within the Biblical time frame detailed in the Ussher-Lightfoot calendar. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the leaders were the scriptural geologists in Great Britain. About a century later, the Canadian George McCready Price, wrote extensively on the subject. However, the concept only revived during the 1960s following the publication of The Genesis Flood by Henry Morris and John Whitcomb.

Subsequently, creation science has expanded into biology and cosmology. However, efforts to have it legislated to be taught in public (government) schools in the United States were eventually halted by the Supreme Court's interpretation of the first amendment in Edwards v. Aguillard 1987.

Ancient Hebrew creationism

In 93 AD Josephus completed Antiquities of the Jews, in which he gave an account of Creation, the Fall, Antediluvian civilization, the Deluge, the history of Israel, and Jesus based on a synthesis of a number of sources and traditions. These traditions included the Bible, ancient Egyptian and Greek writings, and other ancient traditions.

In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1 (NASB)

1The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Psalms 19:1 (NASB)

1Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, 2"Who is this that darkens counsel By words without knowledge? 3"Now gird up your loins like a man, And I will ask you, and you instruct Me! 4"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, 5Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it? 6"On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, 7When the morning stars sang together And all the sons of God shouted for joy? Job 38:1-7 (NASB)

Ancient pagan creationism

Lao Tzu, c. 600 B.C.

Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, wrote

Before time, and throughout time, there has been a self-existing being, eternal, infinite, complete, omnipresent. Outside this being, before the beginning, there was nothing.[1]

Plato wrote the following question and answer sometime around 350 BC:

Is the world created or uncreated?—that is the first question.

Created, I reply, being visible and tangible and having a body, and therefore sensible; and if sensible, then created; and if created, made by a cause, and the cause is the ineffable father of all things, who had before him an eternal archetype.[2]

Cicero wrote the following in the final century BC:

When you see a sundial or a water-clock, you see that it tells the time by design and not by chance. How then can you imagine that the universe as a whole is devoid of purpose and intelligence when it embraces everything, including these artifacts themselves and their artificers? Our friend Posidonius as you know has recently made a globe which in its revolution shows the movements of the sun and stars and planets, by day and night, just as they appear in the sky. Now if someone were to take this globe and show it to the people of Britain or Scythia would a single one of those barbarians fail to see that it was the product of a conscious intelligence?[3]

Early Christian and Islamic Creationism

The Apostle Paul wrote:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Romans 1:18-23 (NASB)

Circa 170 AD Theophilus of Antioch wrote in defence of creation beliefs and a relatively young Earth:

There are not myriads of myriads of years, even though Plato said such a period had elapsed between the deluge and his own time, . . . The world is not uncreated nor is there spontaneous production of everything, as Pythagoras and the others have babbled; instead the world is created and is providentially governed by the God who made everything. And the whole period of time and the years can be demonstrated to those who wish to learn the truth... The total number of years from the creation of the world is 5,695.2 ... If some period has escaped our notice, say 50 or 100 or even 200 years, at any rate it is not myriads, or thousands of years as it was for Plato... and the rest of those who wrote falsehoods. It may be that we do not know the exact total of all the years simply because the additional months and days are not recorded in the sacred books.
St. Augustine of Hippo

415 – Augustine wrote The Literal Meaning of Genesis in which he argued that Genesis should be interpreted as God forming the Earth and life from pre-existing matter, allowed for an allegorical interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis, but called for a historical view of the remainder of the history recorded in Genesis, including the creation of Adam and Eve, and the Flood. He also warned believers not to rashly interpret things literally that might be allegorical, as it would discredit the faith.

Circa 426 Augustine of Hippo completed City of God, in which he wrote:

Some hold the same opinion regarding men that they hold regarding the world itself, that they have always been... And when they are asked, how,... they reply that most, if not all lands, were so desolated at intervals by fire and flood, that men were greatly reduced in numbers, and... thus there was at intervals a new beginning made... But they say what they think, not what they know. They are deceived... by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6,000 years have yet passed.

7th century A.D., over the course of 23 years, Muhammad reports receiving the words of the Qur'an from the Angel Jibreel (Gabriel), and the words are later compiled into the Qur'an. Islamic creationism is the same as Biblical creationism at the heart of the narrative, but differs in some of the details.

Medieval Creationism

In the first establishment (institutione) of things, the active principle was the Word of God, which from elemental matter produced animals either in act according to some of the Fathers or virtually according to Augustine. Not that water or earth has in itself the power to produce all of the animals, as Avicenna claimed, but the fact that animals can be produced from elemental matter by the power of seed or of the heavenly bodies comes from a power initially given to the elements.[4]

Early Modern Creationism

But I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them. He would not require us to deny sense and reason in physical matters which are set before our eyes and minds by direct experience or necessary demonstrations. This must be especially true in those sciences of which but the faintest trace (and that consisting of conclusions) is to be found in the Bible. (Galileo Galilei)[1]

In 1650 the Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher, (1581 - 1656) published a monumental history of the world from creation to 70 A.D., and for this used the recorded genealogies and ages in scripture to derive what is commonly known as the Ussher-Lightfoot Calendar which calculated a date for Creation from the Bible at 4004 BC. The calendar was widely accepted.

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727)
This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.[5]

In 1696, William Whiston published A New Theory of the Earth, in which he proposed an account of the creation of the world. He grounded his argument in the following three Postulata:

  1. The obvious or literal sense of scripture is the true and real one, where no evidence can be given to the contrary.
  2. That which is clearly accountable in a natural way, is not, without reason to be ascribed to a miraculous power.
  3. What ancient tradition asserts of the constitution of nature, or of the origin and primitive states of the world, is to be allowed for true, where ‘tis fully agreeable to scripture, reason, and philosophy.

Whiston was the first to propose that the global flood was caused by the water in the tail of a comet.

The English divine William Derham (26 November 1657 to 5 April 1735) published his Artificial Clockmaker in 1696 and Physico-Theology in 1713. These books were teleological arguments for the being and attributes of God, and were used by Paley nearly a century later.

The Watchmaker analogy was put by Bernard Nieuwentyt (1730) and referred to several times by Paley. A charge of wholesale plagiarism from this book was brought against Paley in the Athenaeum for 1848, but the famous illustration of the watch was not peculiar to Nieuwentyt, and had been appropriated by many others before Paley.

Carolus Linnaeus (1707 - 1778) established a system of classification of species by similarity. At the time, the system of classification was seen as the plan of organization used by God in his creation. Later, the theory of evolution applied it as groundwork for the idea of common descent.

In 1802 William Paley (1743 - 1805), published Natural Theology in response to naturalists such as Hume, refining the ancient teleological argument (or argument from design) to argue for the existence of God. He argued that life was so intricately designed and interconnected as to be analogous to a watch. Just as when one finds a watch, one reasonably infers that it was designed and constructed by an intelligent being, although one has never seen the designer, when one observes the complexity and intricacy of life, one may reasonably infer that it was designed and constructed by God, although one has never seen God.

The official eight Bridgewater Treatises "On the Power, Wisdom and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Creation" included the Reverend William Buckland's 1836 Geology and Mineralogy considered with reference to Natural Theology setting out the logic of day-age creationism, gap theory, and theistic evolution.

Early 20th century

George McCready Price (1870 - 1963) was important in establishing "flood geology", and many of his ideas that a young earth could be deduced from science would be taken up later.

After the First World War (1914 - 1918), the teaching of evolution and creation in public education grew as a public controversy. (see Public education). Many texts began to teach the theory of evolution as scientific fact. Many Christians, Jews, and Muslims came to believe that in teaching evolution as fact, the State was unconstitutionally infringing on their right to the free exercise of religion, as it effectively taught their children that the Bible (and for that matter the Qu'ran) had been proven false.

For example, William Jennings Bryan (1860 - 1925) "became convinced that the teaching of Evolution as a fact instead of a theory caused the students to lose faith in the Bible, first, in the story of creation, and later in other doctrines, which underlie the Christian religion."

During the First World War, horrors committed by Germans, who were citizens of one of the most scientifically advanced countries in the World, caused Bryan to state "The same science that manufactured poisonous gases to suffocate soldiers is preaching that man has a brute ancestry and eliminating the miraculous and the supernatural from the Bible."

A popular book from 1917 by Vernon L. Kellogg entitled Headquarters Nights, reported through first hand evidence German officers discussing Darwinism leading to the declaration of war.

In 1922, William Jennings Bryan published In His Image, in which he argued that Darwinism was both irrational and immoral. On the former point, he pointed to examples such as the eye, which he argued could not be explained by Darwinian evolution. On the latter point, he argued that Darwinism advocated the policy of "scientific breeding" or eugenics, by which the strong were to weed out the weak, a belief which directly contradicts the Christian doctrine of charity to the helpless.

In 1924, Clarence Darrow defended Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb on the charge of kidnapping and killing Bobby Franks; his defense included an argument that "this terrible crime was inherent in his organism, and it came from some ancestor".

In 1925, G.K. Chesterton published The Everlasting Man, in which he developed and articulated many creationist ideas and criticisms of the philosophical underpinnings and perceived logical flaws of evolution.

He also wrote, in St. Thomas Aquinas, "It is absurd for the evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into everything."

H. L. Mencken, whose nationally published coverage of the Scopes Trial referred to the town's creationist inhabitants as "yokels" and "morons", referred to assisting counsel for the prosecution as a "buffoon" and his speeches as "theologic bilge," while referring to the defence as "eloquent" and "magnificent."

The Scopes Trial of 1925 is perhaps the most famous court case of its kind. The Butler Act had prohibited the teaching of evolution in public schools in Tennessee. The schoolteacher John Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution and fined, although the case was later dismissed on a technicality.

In 1929 a book by one of George McCready Price's former students, Harold W. Clark described Price's catastrophism as "creationism" in Back to Creationism.[6] Previously anti-evolutionists had described themselves as being "Christian fundamentalists" "Anti-evolution" or "Anti-false science". The term creationism had previously referred to the creation of souls for each new person, as opposed to traducianism, where souls were said to have been inherited from one's parents.

In 1932 the Evolution Protest Movement, the world's first creationist organisation, began in England.

In 1933, a group of atheists seeking to develop a "new religion" to replace previous, deity-based religions, composed the Humanist Manifesto, which outlined a fifteen-point belief system, the first two points of which provided that "Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created" and "Humanism believes that man is a part of nature and that he has emerged as a result of a continuous process." This document exacerbated the ideological tone of the discussion in many circles, as many creationists came to see evolution as a doctrine of the "religion" of atheism.


The Second World War (1939 - 1945) saw the horrors of the Holocaust. The Holocaust had been driven in part by eugenics, or the principle that individuals with "undesirable" genetic characteristics should be removed from the gene pool. Eugenics was based in part on principles of cultural evolutionary theory, including the author of Hunter's Civic Biology, the subject of the Scopes Trial. Although eugenics was rejected by other nations after the war, the memory of it did not quickly fade, and professional scientists sought to distance themselves from it and other racial ideologies associated with the Nazis. After the war, the United States entered the Cold War with the communist Soviet Union. Communism had as one of its principles atheism (though most atheists did not support communism). Americans divided over the issues of Communism and Atheism, but with the Great Purge, Cultural Revolution and the 1956 Hungarian Uprising, many became concerned about the implications of Communism and Atheism. At the same time, the scientific community was making great strides in developing the theory of evolution, which seemed to make belief in God unreasonable under Occam's razor. As a result of all these unanswered questions, the Fourth Great Awakening found creationists asserting themselves with new vigor.

In 1961 Henry Morris and John Whitcomb published a book entitled The Genesis Flood, in an effort to provide a scientific basis for Young Earth Creationism and Flood geology. This resulted in ten like-minded scientists forming the Creation Research Society in 1963.

In 1968 the US Supreme Court ruled in Epperson vs. Arkansas that forbidding the teaching of evolution violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution. This clause states that, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or restricting the free exercise thereof."

In 1970, creationists in California established the Institute for Creation Research, to "meet the need for an organization devoted to research, publication, and teaching in those fields of science particularly relevant to the study of origins."[7]

In 1973, a famous anti-Young Earth Creationist essay by the evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900 - 1975) was published in the American Biology Teacher entitled Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution. He argued that evolution was not incompatible with a belief in God nor a belief in the accuracy of scriptures.

In the late 1970s, Answers in Genesis, another creationist research organization, was founded in Australia, calling itself the Creation Science Foundation. Today the name Answers in Genesis refers to the branches of that organisation in the United States and in Great Britain; the remaining branches exist today as Creation Ministries International.

Also in the late 1970s, Stephen Jay Gould proposed a refinement of the theory of evolution, known as Punctuated equilibrium, which held that species stayed at equilibrium for large amounts of time, but went through major changes quickly, as a result of major catastrophes or climate changes. Many in the scientific community viewed this development as a refinement of the theory of evolution, and incorporated it into the synthesis, though it was (and still is) contested amongst biologists. Creationists argued that while Gould's proposed mechanism could explain speciation, it could not explain macroevolution. Insofar as punctuated equilibrium was used to explain macroevolution, they viewed it as an unparsimonious and pseudoscientific attempt to explain the scarcity of transitional fossils by a mechanism even less reasonable than gradualism itself: a mechanism which went against the basic laws of genetics and "conveniently" left no traces.[8]

With the advent of punctuated equilibrium, creationists grew more vehement, and began to compose creationist textbooks as an alternative to mainstream biology textbooks, and propose that their theories be taught in government schools alongside evolution.

In 1980, Walt Brown became director of the Center for Scientific Creation.

In 1981 the San Diego based group the Creation Science Research Center claimed, in a trial dubbed the "Monkey Trial Replay", that teaching evolution as the sole theory of development violated the rights of children who believed in biblical creation. In his opening statement for the group lawyer Richard Turner argued:

It is not a showdown at high noon between creation and evolution. It is not religion versus science. We are not trying to sneak the Bible into the classroom, or any other religious doctrine. The real issue here is that of religious freedom under the United States Constitution.

Turner went on to explain that the plaintiffs were seeking protection for the belief that "God created man as man, not as a blob". The Times of 7 March, 1981 reported that some were of the opinion that the case was "a signal of things to come, with more and more fundamentalist groups trying to flex their not inconsiderable influence in schools across the country". At the same time Frank D. White, the Governor of Arkansas signed a Bill requiring that creation science and the theory of evolution be given equal weight in schools. Although fifteen states attempted to introduce such Bills around this time, only that in Arkansas made it into law. Following hearings in Little Rock the law was overturned by Judge William Overton early in 1982, just as a similar (and equally unsuccessful) Bills were approved by legislators in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Carl Baugh established the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, Texas in 1984. Kent Hovind's Creation Science Evangelism ministry was founded in 1989.

Intelligent design

The 1990s saw the rise of intelligent design, an approach which looks for evidence that intelligent intervention was necessary for evolution and in other ways seeks to create doubt about the validity and feasibility of naturalistic, unguided evolution.

In 1987 the US Supreme Court again ruled, this time in Edwards v. Aguillard, that requiring the teaching of creation every time evolution was taught illegally advanced a particular religion, although a variety of views on origins could be taught in public schools if shown to have a basis in science.

The reaction of part of the creationist movement was to argue that there was scientific evidence of an unspecified "intelligent designer". A creationist textbook Of Pandas and People which critiqued evolutionary biology without mentioning God, appeared in 1989.

In 1991, law professor Phillip Johnson brought out a book entitled Darwin on Trial, challenging the principles of naturalism and uniformitarianism in contemporary scientific philosophy, and coining the phrase intelligent design.

In 1994[9] or 1996[10] the Creation Science Foundation (now Creation Ministries International) expanded from Australia and New Zealand to the United States, and adopted the name Answers in Genesis. It subsequently expanded into the United Kingdom, Canada, and South Africa, but remains a small movement in the latter three nations.

In 1996, the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture (CSC), formerly known as the Center for Renewal of Science and Culture, was founded to promote Intelligent Design, and entered public discourse with the publication of Darwin's Black Box by Michael Behe, arguing for evidence of Irreducible complexity. Critics claimed that this was a thinly-veiled attempt to promote creationism, particularly in light of Edwards v. Aguillard. The Discovery Institute rejects the term creationism.[11]

In 1996, Pope John Paul II stated that "new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis," but, referring to previous papal writings, concluded that "if the origin of the human body comes through living matter which existed previously, the spiritual soul is created directly by God."[12]

In October 1999 the Michael Polanyi Center was founded in the science faculty of Baylor University, a Baptist college, to study intelligent design. A year later was disbanded amidst faculty complaints that the center had been established without consulting them, and would cause the school to be associated with pseudoscience.

In December 2001, the United States Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act, which contained the following statement of policy, called the Santorum Amendment, authored by Johnson[13]:

The Conferees recognize that a quality scientific education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.

In December 2001, William Dembski established the International Society for Complexity, Information and Design.

The Kansas evolution hearings organised by the Kansas school board were held in May 2005. Intelligent design advocates attended but mainstream scientists refused to attend, accusing it of being a kangaroo court. The hearings concluded that evolution is "an unproven, often disproven theory".


  1. Lao-tzu, Tao-te-ching, circa 600 B.C. (tr. Leon Wieger. English version by Derek Bryce. 1991. Llanerch Publishers, Lampeter. p. 13).
  2. Plato, Timaeus,, Project Gutenberg, December 1, 1998. Accessed August 11, 2008.
  3. Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods, circa 46-43 B.C. (tr. Horace McGregor, 1988, Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth, p. 159).
  4. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I, q. 71, art. 1, ad 1
  5. "General Scholium," in Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, Isaac Newton, 1687)
  6. Numbers, Ronald L. (1992). Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism. New York: Alfred A. Knopf/Borzoi Book. p. 123. ISBN 0-679-40104-0. 
  7. History of the Institute for Creation Research
  8. "General Rebuttal to the Theory of Evolution," <>, June 27, 2007. Accessed August 13, 2008.
  9. History of Answers in Genesis
  10. History of Creation Ministries International
  11. West, John G. "Intelligent Design and Creationism Just Aren't the Same." Discovery Institute, December 1, 2002. Accessed August 13, 2008.
  12. Pope John Paul II. "Magisterium Is Concerned with Question of Evolution For It Involves Conception of Man." Catholic Information Network, October 22, 1996. Accessed August 13, 2008.
  13. Letter of Rick Santorum, United States Senator, to Bruce Chapman, Discovery Institute, September 10, 2003. Accessed August 13, 2008.

External links