What Kind of Creationism?
There is a diversity of religious views in college classrooms, some of which are incompatible with certain scientific theories. Which theories are not accepted depends on the particular belief systems, which are generally outlined below.
In the U.S., the most common (Crapo, 1989 ), and until recently, the most outspoken creationists in the U.S. are Christian Protestants who believe that the Earth was created by God in six 24-hour days (Genesis 1).
- These students believe that the Earth and its plants and animals were created all at once, 10,000-6,000 years ago, based on their interpretation of Biblical genealogy.
- Flood Creationists who believe that most extinctions and a great deal of interesting deposition occurred during Noah's Flood.
- Most "Creation Scientists" including the Institute for Creation Research promote the above beliefs. Their arguments are detailed and often refer to scientific evidence, but may use it incorrectly.
- Steady-state creationists who do not believe that there have been any major changes of conditions or biota since the Earth was created.
- These believers are not as visible on the Internet, but may be present in your courses. For historic reasons, this particular subset of beliefs has not been the most aggressively popularized (Numbers, 1992 ).
- These students are likely to doubt that fossils are "real" or that they were produced by living organisms similar to modern ones. They do not believe that dinosaurs, trilobites, etc. ever existed.
In addition to the Young-Earth Creationists described above, many students are likely to be Old-Earth Creationists, Christians who do not interpret parts of the Bible (particularly the early chapters of Genesis) literally.
- Some of these are mainstream neo-Darwinists. Evolution is part of God's plan, but follows consistent rules which stem from genetics (and biochemistry) and other causal effects (i.e. Miller, 1999 ).
- Others believe in an old Earth, but without evolution. According to these belief systems, God created all living things without the involvement of random but predictable forces like mutation, genetic drift, and natural selection.
- Some students are willing to accept evolution for all organisms except human beings, arguing that Adam and Eve were divinely created.
What is Intelligent Design?
Intelligent Design is a diverse collection of beliefs held by people who generally claim to have observational evidence that living organisms are not the result of random or mindless processes like natural selection, mutation, drift, and gene flow, but rather show evidence of intelligent, intentional planning.
- These believers include both Young-Earth Creationists, who believe that all organisms were created separately and instantaneously, and certain Old-Earth Creationists, some of whom don't believe in evolution, others of whom are convinced of a form of evolution meticulously decided in advance and driven directly by the will of the Creator.
- Intelligent Design proponents claim that their arguments originate from an empirical basis rather than a theological one and can thus be presented in science classes. However, none of their scientific work has achieved the standards required for inclusion in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and in most cases they will not separate it from their Christian beliefs.
Non-Christian Philosophies and BeliefsStudents whose beliefs make it difficult to learn about evolution extend beyond creationist Christians.
- Native American students may be unusually skeptical of theories about their ancestors migrating to the Americas from Asia or playing a major role in the extinction of the North American megafauna about 10,000 years ago (e.g. Deloria, 1997 ).
- Teleology requires an intelligent will, but believers may describe the driving force as God, progress, or the good of the species.
- These students may also consider humanity to be the pinnacle or end result of evolution.
Other Non-Scientific Beliefs that Hinder Learning Earth History
Among students attending public universities in Utah, Texas, California, and Connecticut, Crapo, 1989 found that, in addition to Young-Earth Creationist beliefs, that high percentages (15-50%) of the students accepted unscientific beliefs involving:
- Magic: including curses and Black Magic
- Psychic Powers: including the ability to communicate with the dead and predict the future
- Intelligent extraterrestrials have visited Earth in the past
- Advanced civilizations in the past: i.e. Atlantis
- Monsters: ghosts, Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster
- The Bermuda Triangle
Earth history classes may be able to contend with these beliefs by teaching students how to make hypotheses, collect and assess evidence, and distinguish between those questions that can be answered by science and those that cannot.
For Further Reading
The classifications above are based on the following resources:
- A series of essays at religioustolerance.org (more info) deals with creationism:
- Public beliefs about Evolution and Creation. (more info) contains detailed statistics contrasting the number of scientists who are Young-Earth Creationists (5% or less) to the members of the American public who are YECs (about 50%).
- Creation Science Belief Systems (more info) breaks down a number of YEC and some Old-Earth Creationist perspectives, explaining the different ways they interpret various parts of scripture.
- Further information on Intelligent Design (ID)
Much information about different creationist beliefs is detailed on the web sites of creationists themselves.