C. Foster Stanback


Creationism is a term that has frequently been misunderstood by its opponents.   In its
most general sense the term means a worldview which attributes the existence
of the earth, the cosmos, and life to a divine Creator.  Yet within this broader sense
there are a number of clearly defined positions that differ significantly.  A correct elaboration
of each of these distinct positions is a necessary prerequisite for any meaningful
discussion of its relationship to science.

Naturalism, in contrast to creationism, holds that the formation of the earth,
the cosmos, and life are the result of purely natural causes. Naturalists often
speak of science as being synonymous with their worldview. Yet in so doing they
fail to make the proper distinction between a neutral analytical tool for discovering
facts and their own philosophical system by which they interpret those facts.  Dif
ferent positions within the creationist worldview can be spoken of as either
consistent or inconsistent with known scientific facts.  For example, the belief common
to all creationists that the universe had a beginning is consistent with the
fact of the big bang. The idea of an Intelligent Designer is consistent with
a myriad of recent discoveries that reveal the information-rich and mathemati
cally precise nature of the inorganic and organic systems which comprise our

As one moves to other scientific findings, compatibility with creationism will
depend upon which particular version of creationism one adheres to.  "Young earth"
creationists reject the generally accepted scientific view that the earth is
approximately 4.5 billion years old.  Instead, they claim that the seven days of
creation as recorded in Genesis represented successive 24-hour intervals and
that calculations of the earth’s age must be made from this point of departure.  When
?bound by these constraints, calculations of the earth’s age usually fall somewhere
within a 10,000-year period.  Not surprisingly, young-earth creationists have
drawn considerable criticism from scientists who cite multiple ways in which
a much older age for the earth can be determined.

Some of these creationists simply write off science altogether, claiming its
findings are irrelevant to their own beliefs which are held by faith.  Others have
sought to obtain some measure of scientific legitimacy for their beliefs by
challenging commonly accepted dating methods and offering their own equally
"scientific" alternatives.  The creation science school based in El Cajon, Californiahas assemble
d a small group of adherents with academic training in the sciences.  However, their
methodologies and the conclusions they draw from them have been rejected by
the larger scientific community.

"Old Earth" creationists uphold a literal rather than an allegorical interpretation
of the creation account in Genesis.  However, they understand the "days" to
mean epochs or periods, which is another legitimate interpretation of the Hebrew
word "bara" that is translated ?day? in English Bible.

The theory of evolution has caused other positions to emerge within the creationist
worldview.  Theistic evolutionists acknowledge the basic tenets of Darwinism but contend
that a Creator established the principle of natural selection along with other
laws which govern the physical universe, thereby allowing life to develop on
its own without the need for divine intervention along the way.  The unexpected dearth
of transitional species in the fossil record has led many evolutionists to abandon
Darwin’s theory of gradualism which attributed new species development to incremental
changes over long periods of time.  The lack of transitional fossils has now been
explained by a new approach called "punctuated equilibrium."  This version of evolutionary
theory claims that new species are the result of rapid changes among isolated
populations of individuals.  The genetically-altered populations then remained static for
long periods of time, leaving behind the majority of non-transitional fossils
which paleontologists have so far discovered.

 Another recent challenge to the theory of evolution has come from the statistical
analysis of mutation rates.  Mathematical models based on the known rates of
occurrence of positive mutations (the majority of mutations are negative or
neutral) indicate that life on earth has not had sufficient time to develop
into the myriad of forms which are found today.  Francis Crick, the co-discover
of DNA; Fred Hoyle, the British astronomer who developed the steady-state theory
of the universe; and others have addressed this problem by proposing that aliens
planted the seeds of life on earth. 

Many creationists view scientists’ attempts to explain away the gaps in the
fossil record and attribute life on earth to aliens as needless groping in an
effort to uphold a naturalistic worldview.  A number of these creationists have
responded by offering a new paradigm which has come to be known as intellig
ent design theory.  Adherents of this position affirm virtually all of the methodologies
and findings of science with the exception of naturalistic evolution.  Whil
e acknowledging microevolution or change within a species (as can be observed
in animal breeding), they generally reject the idea of macroevolution?that one
species can change into another. 

Intelligent design theory seems to be gaining widespread acceptance among evangelical
Christians, a number of whom are also professional scientists.  Yet even this scientifically-enlight
ened version of the creationist worldview has drawn considerable attacks from
hard-line naturalists, as well as from hard-line, ?young earth? creationists.  Although continued
?controversy is perhaps inevitable, an accurate understanding of the different
perspectives on creationism will perhaps lead to a more productive dialog between
the different groups.



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