"The New Creationists"
Women In Science Presentation on February 21, 2000
Updated for a Lay Academy of Religion Presentation on September 27, 2000
Further updates: March 11, 2002; June 4, 2003; February 20, 2004; December 26, 2005
(By Mark A. Wilson, Department of Geology, The College of Wooster)

"...the main reason for insisting on the universal Flood as a fact of history and as the primary vehicle for geological interpretation is that God's Word plainly teaches it! No geologic difficulties, real or imagined, can be allowed to take precedence over the clear statements and necessary inferences of Scripture."
-- Henry Morris, Biblical Cosmology and Modern Science (1970), p. 32-33.

"It is precisely because Biblical revelation is absolutely authoritative and perspicuous that the scientific facts, rightly interpreted, will give the same testimony as that of Scripture. There is not the slightest possibility that the 'facts' of science can contradict the Bible."
-- Henry Morris in Scientists Confront Creationism (1984), edited by Laurie R. Godfrey.

"There are no proven scientific evidences that the earth is old, and scores of circumstantial evidences that the earth is young. The only way we can know, for certain, the age of the earth, is for God (who was there!) to tell us. And this He has done! We should believe what He says!"
-- Henry Morris, The Young Earth (1994), p. 5.

"When we look at the present world, what do we see? We see the present world. It doesn't tell us anything about what could have happened in the past. We don't know what's changed. But what does reveal to us what happened in the past is the 100% infallible account of the All-Knowing Eyewitness Creator. The revelation of the Creator is the key to the past. And it is through the revelation we understand what happened in the past, and also it's the key to understanding the present."
-- Tasman Walker, Rocks, Fossils, and the Flood (2001), Answers in Genesis Super Camp video.

A Brief Guide to Creationist Groups Today

Archaic Creationists: Often referred to as "strict" creationists, they are in many ways no more strict than their colleagues listed below. Archaic Creationists are characterized by what can only be charitably called an extreme scientific illiteracy. Their basic beliefs can be summarized as follows --

Matter, energy and life were created by God from nothing during six 24-hour days.

Mutations and natural selection are insufficient to bring about evolution from one kind of organism to another; there is change only within fixed limits in created kinds of organisms (the process called "microevolution"). Macroevolution (i.e., changes from one kind of organism to another) never happened.

Catastrophes, expecially the global flood of Noah, explain the short geological history of the Earth. Virtually all fossils are from the Flood. Even Plate Tectonics is explained with the Flood Model.

The Universe, Earth and all created kinds of life are relatively young (less than 10,000 years old).

The Bible is to be read literally as an historical and scientific document. Its plain text simply "means what it says".

The Archaic Creationists are distinguished from other creationists by their heavy reliance on physical evidence for special creation, including human remains and artifacts in rocks supposedly millions of years old, fragments of Noah's Ark, human footprints alongside those of dinosaurs, etc. These creationists are often embarrassments to more sophisticated anti-evolutionists because they cling so tightly to long-discredited "evidence". Today the most prominent Archaic Creationists are those who run the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, Texas, (see a direct critique of their work by Glen Kuban, Wooster '79), eccentrics like Ed Conrad (be sure to read his "open letter to scientists"; see the following site for a review of their Carboniferous human bones), the Biblical Creation Society, and those who search for Noah's Ark.


Young Earth Creationists: This is still the largest group of American creationists today. They hold to the tenets of the Archaic Creationists listed above, but are much more sophisticated in their scientific, argumentative and presentation skills. Many Young Earth Creationists (YEC) have even been willing to abandon some arguments and physical evidence when scientific investigations show that they are fallacious. You will not, for example, see very many Cambrian human footprints cited by this group, nor Carboniferous hammers or petrified fingers. You can see their tremendous organizational skills in their websites, which are updated often. The Young Earth Creation Club is an example. (Note that they had a campaign to remove any reference to evolution from Ohio's 12th grade competency test. They have apparently failed. They also have an essay on whether the September 2001 terrorist attacks could be the result of God "chastising" this nation. I find this disturbing.). Another YEC group close to home is the Creation Science Association for Mid-America. One of the most effective YEC groups has been "Answers in Genesis", which was a primary force behind the recent decision in Kansas to eliminate evolution from public school curriculum standards. (A decision overturned by a new board. Here's a Creationist response.) The "establishment" YEC organization is the venerable Institute for Creation Research, which appears to be losing ground to its flashier offspring. The "Handy Dandy Evolution Refuter" is a classic website which has a long history as a pamphlet distributed on college campuses. On this site from a German creationist magazine, the Geologic Time Scale is actually matched to a chronology measured in days so that it adds up to less than 6000 years from the Precambrian to now. The Creation Outreach Ministry is one of the most explicit websites in their fundamentalist Christian philosophy. For further YEC flavor, read this response to a letter I wrote to Answers in Genesis on my geological speciality, carbonate hardgrounds.


Old Earth Creationists: This is a minority group among creationists, and an unhappy one at that. They are intensely disliked by Archaic and Young Earth Creationists, who consider them compromisers with "the evolutionary worldview" and poor Biblical scholars. Old Earth Creationists (OEC) believe science indisputably demonstrates that the universe and Earth are billions of years old. Most believe in a generally literal interpretation of the Bible but are more liberal in seeking harmony between scripture and science. They often, for example, interpret the days in Genesis as long periods of time and attempt to show that the order of Creation is matched by the geological record. They are as dead set against evolution, though, as are their other creationist brethren. This quest for harmony between science and religion is ancient, and it has a long tradition in the United States. The most prominent OEC today is Hugh Ross of "Reasons To Believe". He is a PhD astronomer with persuasive writing skills and diverse interests in science. (He also recently gave a series of lectures in Wooster.) The large and well-organized site entitled Evidence for God From Science is OEC in its orientation. "God, Genesis and the Big Bang" is another interesting website which attempts to harmonize scripture and science (or at least "nature"). The American Scientific Affiliation is home to many OEC advocates. Scientists and writers who can be considered OECs include Arthur Custance (1910-1985, but many writings on the Web), the "apostate" (as described by Young Earth Creationists) Glenn Morton, and Fred Heeren.

Intelligent Design Creationists: These are the truly "New Creationists" of this presentation's title. They represent the most significant movement in Creationism since the Scopes Trial in the 1920s. They are sometimes considered stealth versions of the Young Earth Creationists, but that is misleading. The Intelligent Design Creationists (IDC) have a deliberately minimal creed. Their most common set of defining points are (from Phillip Johnson) --

There is a personal Creator.
Who is supernatural.
Who initiated Creation.
Who continues to control creation.
Who has a purpose.

This is a simple and tremendously effective philosophy in the American public square. There is nothing here which is explicitly anti-evolution, and it is consistent with Christianity but not defined by it. The IDC position deliberately avoids points which have long divided the Archaic, Young Earth and Old Earth Creationists. They are very difficult to pin down on the age of the Earth, the inerrancy of scripture, the boundary between micro- and macroevolution, etc. Basically, they oppose evolution and wish to unite the Creationist factions against it. They know that avoiding theological issues, especially the mention of God or the Bible, will help them in the fight against evolution in the public schools. The 1999 Kansas decision to drop evolution from their curriculum standards was a direct result of IDC work, along with that of some slick Young Earthers who are willing to compromise for victory. Characteristically, that Kansas decision avoided all mention of God, Creation, even Intelligent Design. The Kansas school board had described science as "the human activity of seeking logical explanations for what we observe in the world around us." The authors replaced "natural" with "logical" so that supernatural explanations can be considered scientific. Fortunately these Kansas educational standards were overturned the next year following the late summer primary victories of proponents of real science education. The Creationists were, as you might imagine, very unhappy with this! Lest we grow complacent, many other states now have similar anti-evolution movements which are approaching their goals with varying degrees of success. The latest battleground for IDC vs. evolution is Ohio. (See the recent stories in Newsday, the Columbus Dispatch, and the Plain Dealer.)

Many IDC proponents have advanced degrees, including PhDs in various sciences. Their most prominent leader is Phillip Johnson, a law professor at Berkeley who has written some very successful books which broke through the image of anti-evolutionists being uneducated rubes. (Check out this online newsletter from The Baptist Press to see what Johnson thinks of this webpage you're reading!) Other IDC scientists include Michael Behe, a biochemist at Lehigh University, and William Dembski, a PhD mathematician. IDC organizations include the Discovery Institute at the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, the Access Research Network, and "Science Against Evolution" (which has a rare polemical title for an IDC group).

The primary IDC argument first attacks evolution on purely scientific grounds (using information theory, the "irreducible complexity" of biochemistry, and so on) and then hits evolution as "naturalistic philosophy" and not science. Many of their specific arguments have been adopted by other creationists who use them to reduce evolution while still maintaining their theological purity. This is ironic because many IDC scientists are by no means fundamentalist Christians.

As everyone should know by now, the Intelligent Design argument was thoroughly whipped in the December 2005 Dover, Pennsylvania, case involving its inclusion in the science curricula of public schools. The ruling by Judge John E. Jones is well worth reading directly from this pdf file.


What Should Scientists Do About the New Creationism?

Recognize that times have changed: It is no longer simply a struggle between scientists and stereotypical Bible Belt fundamentalists. Creationism has undergone its own conceptual, social and political revolution in the past decade. The New Creationists are still bitter foes of evolution, but their educational backgrounds, knowledge of evolution, and political and rhetorical tactics have greatly improved. Ironically, under the "natural selection" of our political and social processes, Creationism has evolved into a far more effective force than it was.

Have a definite goal: As scientists we must continue to insist that evolution be taught as an integral part of a science education in the public schools and museums. (A recent study shows that at least a third of American schoolchildren are not taught evolution.) We can focus on this and not necessarily on the more difficult task of changing the hearts and minds of creationists. Evolution is not an optional component of biology to be dropped to avoid offence. It is the fundamental unifying principle of biology. Evolution is also the only viable explanation for the history of life displayed in the fossil record, and it demands an ancient Earth with a long history in a universe of unimaginable age and size. Geology is thus incomplete without evolution, as is astronomy and cosmology, chemistry and physics.

Defend ALL science: Indeed, all sciences are directly threatened when such a fundamental set of observations and ideas is suppressed. We are in a fight over the principles of the scientific method, freedom of inquiry, separation of church and state, and truth, however defined. We must never surrender our responsibilities as scientists and citizens.

Understand evolutionary theory: The New Creationists know a lot more about evolution than we often suspect. There can be no worse position in a debate than to find yourself battling someone who knows more about the topic than you, or at least appears to. Read popular science magazines which often cover evolutionary issues (Scientific American, American Scientist and Discover are good ones). Stay informed of at least the headlines in more technical journals such as Science and Nature. Listen carefully to the arguments others present in defense of evolution. Be ready to admit that you do not have specific knowledge of a particular topic, and then say where you are going to find it.

Understand creationism: It is easy to see creationism as purely anti-evolution, especially when that is what is constantly before you as a scientist. Remember, though, that creationists have their own theories based on their own interpretations of the evidence, and you should know at least the broad outlines. One of the most effective moves for an evolutionist debater is to simply ask questions about the alternatives to evolution. Force creationists to defend an Earth less than 10,000 years old, or fossils as victims of a global flood, or the speed of light having "decayed" over time, or genetic similarities as being only coincidence. Even my favorite research subject of carbonate hardgrounds has been made, through tortuous logic, to support an Earth less than 6000 years old. To ask leading questions about creationist explanations, though, you need to know what the answers are likely to be. It also helps to point out the fundamental differences between creationist groups which share little but a hatred of evolution.

Get publicly involved: This year hundreds of people will contact their Ohio state legislators to lobby against the inclusion of evolution in public school curriculum standards. How many people will bother to support evolution in the same way? Ask whether evolution is taught in your local public schools. If it isn't, persistently ask why. Write newspaper editorials explaining evolution and its critical place in science. (Here is a webpage with a copy of a letter to the editor of The Daily Record (Wooster, Ohio) I wrote in response to a previous letter on fossils and evolution. It was printed on December 13, 2005, and followed by several letters from local creationists. These later letters are also on this webpage as pdf files.)

Respect your opponents: Those who debate scientists usually expect to be condescended to, and we have too often done just that. Our exasperation sometimes becomes invective and ridicule. Not only is this disrespectful and arrogant, it is also the quickest way to lose public support. Creationists are motivated by passionate beliefs that they are fighting for the truth in science, and most believe that they are also saving your soul. Those motives, however misguided, are honorable. Their methods are often questionable and frustrating, and it can be difficult to separate methods from motives.


Fortunately there are now numerous organizations which can supply information and inspiration in the fight to keep evolution (and historical geology) in American science education programs and museums. Talk.Origins Archive and Talk Reason have continually updated links to evolution and creation websites, as well as numerous other resources. The National Center for Science Education is the premier organization for battling anti-evolution in the schools. The National Academy of Sciences has an excellent evolution/creation website, as does the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The Darwin World Site is a growing "condominium" of science-based sites on evolution. The recent PBS series "Evolution" is excellent, and they have an extensive website with additional resources. You may also want to visit Wooster's Geology Courses on the Web. A Wooster course you may find interesting is "Geology Confronts Creationism".

This topic is very large, so I can only provide a short list of books and print articles I've found to be most helpful.

Books --

Berra, T.M. 1990. Evolution and the Myth of Creationism. Stanford University Press; Stanford, California; 198 pages.
Tim Berra is a zoology professor at Ohio State University. His book presents evolution in many clever ways, and then takes on creationism in the last chapter. It is best as an intermediate source of information about evolutionary theory.

Eldredge, N. 2000. The Triumph of Evolution and the Failure of Creationism. W.H. Freeman and Company; New York; 223 pages.
Niles Eldredge is a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History who has made original contributions to evolutionary theory and has long battled creationism. This is his latest book on the topic. It is a quick read and an excellent updating on recent moves in creationism.

Forrest, B. and Gross, P.R. 2003. Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. Oxford University Press; 416 pages.
From the book's description: "Forrest and Gross expose the scientific failure, the religious essence, and the political ambitions of 'intelligent design' creationism. They examine the movement's 'Wedge Strategy,' which has advanced and is succeeding through public relations rather than through scientific research. Analyzing the content and character of 'intelligent design theory,' they highlight its threat to public education and to the separation of church and state." Sounds very good to me. I've just bought it. You can buy it too at a discount by downloading the form on Barbara Forrest's website before May 31, 2004.

Larson, E.J. 1997. Summer for the Gods. Harvard University Press; Cambridge, Massachusetts; 318 pages.
This is one of my favorite books. It is subtitled: "The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion". It is so good that it won the Pulitzer Prize in history. It is the best history of the Scopes Trial I have ever read, and it does an excellent job of showing how that history affects the evolution debates today.

Miller, J. 1982. Darwin For Beginners. Pantheon Books, Inc.; New York; 176 pages.
The comic book format cleverly masks a sophisticated presentation of the modern theory of evolution and its history. It goes well beyond Darwin himself. It is almost 20 years old now, but still a good read for beginners.

Miller, K.R. 1999. Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution. Cliff Street Books; New York; 338 pages.
This is the best book I've read on creation, evolution, and faith. Kenneth Miller is a biologist with a superb grasp of evolutionary theory, creationist arguments, and theism. Highly recommended for all readers.

Pennock, R.T. 1999. Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism. The MIT Press; Cambridge, Massachusetts; 429 pages.
Robert Pennock is a young assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Texas. He has written the most comprehensive source of information on the "New Creationists", primarily those promoting "intelligent design theory". His philosophical background shows in his clear analyses and critiques. It is not a book for beginners!

Zimmer, C. 2001. Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea (Companion to the PBS Series). Harper Collins, New York; 363 pages.
A beautiful book designed to accompany the PBS series of the same name.

Recent articles --

MacKenzie, D. 2000. Unnatural selection. New Scientist, April 2000.

Mayr, E. 2000. Darwin's influence on modern thought. Scientific American, July 2000, pages 79-83.

Nelson, B. 2002. Creation vs. Evolution. Newsday, March 11, 2002.

Wise, D.U. 1998. Creationism's geologic time scale. American Scientist, vol. 86, pages 160-173.

Wolfe, A. 2000. The Opening of the Evangelical Mind. The Atlantic Monthly, October 2000, pages 55-76.

Return to the homepage of Wooster's Department of Geology.