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What Kind of Creationism?

Initial Publication Date: May 31, 2005

picture of a rainbow over the ocean from NOAA 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.

Young-Earth Creationists

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.
Subtypes of Young-Earth Creationists include:
  • 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.

Old-Earth Creationists

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 Beliefs

Students whose beliefs make it difficult to learn about evolution extend beyond creationist Christians.
  • There are many creation stories besides the one in the Bible. In the US, Native American and Hindu creationism are also influential.
    • 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 ).
  • Many students have a teleological (directed to improvement of the species) view of evolution, and will need considerable evidence to understand that natural selection is not always acting on every population and that it does not always make organisms "better" than they were before.
    • 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.
  • Non-religious rivals of evolution, such as the adherents of Lysenkoism and Anti-uniformitarians (more info) are likely to be rare in a U.S. college classroom.
  • Some students simply haven't thought about evolution and consider it a needless complication.
  • 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:

    Much information about different creationist beliefs is detailed on the web sites of creationists themselves.