Creation vs. evolution debate

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The Creation vs. Evolution debate is an ongoing dispute most prevalent in regions of the United States. It concerns the question of how man, as well as animals and plants, came to exist in their present form; whether they were created as they currently are by the intelligent design of a Creator, or they evolved though natural selection from primitive lifeforms. Believers in Evolutionism usually support other atheist theories concerning the origin of the universe, Earth, and life.

The creation vs. evolution debate has a long history,[1] and today is carried out in the mass media, churches, and the Internet. A major focus of the debate concerns what should be taught as science in public schools.[2]


The debate

Although the debate ostensibly focuses on the origin of living things (i.e. did they evolve from other living things or were they separately created), the debate also encompasses related issues such as the origins of the universe, galaxies, stars, the solar system, Earth, the geologic record, and life itself.

In the United States, the teaching of biological evolution in the public schools is a significant area of contention, while the teaching of alternatives such as creation science and intelligent design are other aspects of the dispute, although the leading creationist and Intelligent Design organisations oppose efforts to make creation or Intelligent Design a compulsory part of school curricula.[3]

In the first case, evolutionists argue that Creation Science and intelligent design should not be taught in the public schools because they are fundamentally religious in nature and not science. Evolutionists claim they are thinly-disguised schemes to introduce religion to the classroom.

Creationists argue that evolution is anti-theist ideology dressed up as science,[4] and that religion, in the form of Secular Humanism, is already in the classroom.

In the United States, various court decisions have concluded that religious views of creation cannot be taught in schools, and a recent court decision concluded that Intelligent Design proponents have a religious motive, and therefore barred the introduction of intelligent design into public science curricula. However, the court failed to consider whether or not proponents of evolution have a religious motive.

Evolution does hold ground in the observations we can all make around us. One example of micro-evolution occuring everyday is the mutation of bacteria. Following the principle of Occam's razor, evolution is the most logical conclusion, as compared to a god or deity controlling every mutation occuring every day.

History of the creation vs. evolution debate

Before Darwin

Even before evolution itself became a subject of widespread debate, the creationary view was already under attack from the new field of geology. People such as James Hutton and Charles Lyell promoted a model of geology which was at odds with the biblical account. These men proposed what has become known as "uniformitarianism", a view that the geological record can be explained in terms of what we see happening today. By doing so, they ruled out the biblical account by fiat, as they rejected that geological formations could have been caused by catastrophic events such as Noah's flood.

Creation vs. evolution debate in the age of Darwin

The creation-evolution controversy has a long history, beginning with challenges made by various Darwinian promoters to biblical accounts of creation. In response to theories promulgated by outspoken proponents of these theories, such as "Darwin's Bulldog" Thomas Henry Huxley, some religious persons and organizations questioned the legitimacy of scientific ideas that were being used to call into question the veracity of the creation account in Genesis.

Darwin's 1859 book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, was a bombshell that revolutionized the way naturalists viewed the world. The book was heavily promoted by atheists and agnostics and its promotion attracted attention and controversy, and many theologians reacted to Darwin's theories. For example, in his 1874 work What is Darwinism? the theologian Charles Hodge argued that Darwin's theories were tantamount to atheism.[5][6]

The controversy was fueled by one of Darwin's most vigorous promoters, Thomas Henry Huxley, who opined that Christianity is "a compound of some of the best and some of the worst elements of Paganism and Judaism, moulded in practice by the innate character of certain people of the Western World".[7] Perhaps the most uncompromising of the evolutionary philosophers was the German, Ernst Heinrick Haeckel, a professor of biology, who dogmatically affirmed that nothing spiritual exists.[8]

A watershed in the Protestant objections to evolution occurred after about 1875.[9] Previously, citing Louis Agassiz and other scientific luminaries, Protestant contributors to religious quarterlies dismissed Darwin's theories as unscientific.[10] After 1875, it became clear that the majority of naturalists embraced evolution, and a sizable minority of these Protestant contributors rejected Darwin's theory because it called into question the veracity of [Scripture]]s.[11] Even so, virtually none of these dissenters insisted on a young Earth, as that position had already been ceded.[12]

The greatest concern for creationists at the turn of the twentieth century was the issue of human ancestry.[13]

I do not wish to meddle with any man's family matters, or quarrel with any one about his relatives. If a man prefers to look for his kindred in the zoological gardens, it is no concern of mine; if he wants to believe that the founder of his family was an ape, a gorilla, a mud-turtle, or a moner, he may do so; but when he insists that I shall trace my lineage in that direction, I say No Sir!...I prefer that my genealogical table shall end as it now does, with "Cainan, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God."[14]

Creationists during this period were largely premillennialists, whose belief in Christ's return depended on a quasi-literal reading of the Bible.[15] However, they were not as concerned about geology, freely granting scientists any time they needed before the Edenic creation to account for scientific observations, such as fossils and geological findings.[16] In the immediate post-Darwinian era, few scientists or clerics rejected the antiquity of the earth, the progressive nature of the fossil record.[17] Likewise, few attached geological significance to the biblical flood, unlike subsequent creationists.[18] Evolutionary skeptics, creationist leaders and skeptical scientists were usually either willing to adopt a figurative reading of the first chapter of Genesis, or allowed that the six days of creation were not necessarily 24-hour days.[19]

Scopes trial

Initial reactions in the United States to Darwin's theory were largely not political. According to Darwin Biographer Mr. James Moore, Darwin's colleague Alfred Russel Wallace conducted a tour "trumpeting Darwin's cause in America" in 1886–1887.[20] Wallace's explanations were generally accepted without many problems, but attitudes changed after the First World War.[21] The controversy became political when public schools began using textbooks teaching that man evolved from monkeys, in what was believed to be accordance with Charles Darwin's theory of Natural Selection. In response, the State of Tennessee passed a law (the Butler Act of 1925) prohibiting the teaching of any theory of the origins of humans that contradicted the teachings of the Bible. This law was tested in the highly publicized Scopes trial of 1925. The law was upheld by the Tennessee Supreme Court, and remained on the books until 1967 when it was repealed.

Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) textbooks

By the mid-twentieth century, most neo-Darwinists either repudiated or dismissed earlier Lamarckian and theistic theories of evolution.[22] Neo-darwinists including paleontologist George Simpson and Julian Huxley evangelized for Darwinism[23] and urged that the public schools teach the "fact of evolution".[24] Their desires were fulfilled in the 1960s, with the introduction of federally supported Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) biology text books that promoted evolution as an organizing principle.[25]

Meanwhile, public opinion polls suggested that most Americans either believed that God specially created human beings or guided evolution.[26] Membership in churches favoring increasingly literal interpretations of Scripture continued to rise, with the Southern Baptist Convention and Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod outpacing all other denominations.[27] With growth, these churches became better equipped to carry a creationist message, with their own colleges, schools, publishing houses, and broadcast media.[28]

With decreasing church membership among evolutionary scientists, the role of opposing the anti-BSCS textbook movement passed from prominent scientists in liberal churches to secular scientists less equipped to reach Christian audiences.[29] Anti-evolutionary forces were able to reduce the number of school districts utilizing BSCS biology text books, but courts continued to prevent religious instruction in public schools.[30]

Institute for Creation Research

Henry Morris and John C. Whitcomb Jr.'s influential The Genesis Flood, which argued that creation was literally six days long, humans lived concurrently with dinosaurs, and that God created each kind of life, was published in 1961.[31] With publication, Morris became a popular speaker, spreading anti-evolutionary ideas at fundamentalist churches, colleges, and conferences.[32] Morris setup up the Creation Science Research Center (CSRC), an organization dominated by Baptists, as an adjunct to the Christian Heritage College.[33] The CSRC rushed publication of biology text books that promoted creationism, and also published other books such as Kelly Segrave's sensational Sons of God Return that dealt with UFOlogy, flood geology, and demonology.[34] These efforts were against the recommendations of Morris, who urged a more cautious and scientific approach.[35] Ultimately, the CSRC broke up, and Morris founded the Institute for Creation Research. Morris promised that the ICR, unlike the CSRC, would be controlled and operated by scientists.[36] During this time, Morris and others who supported flood geology adopted the terms scientific creationism and creation science.[37] The flood geologists effectively co-opted "the generic creationist label for their hyperliteralist views".[38] Previously, Creationism was a generic term describing a philosophical perspective that presupposed the existence of God.[39]

The current creation vs. evolution debate

Smithsonian-Sternberg affair

The Smithsonian-Sternberg affair occurred after Richard Sternberg managed the peer review process of a paper published by intelligent design researcher Stephen Meyer. Richard Sternberg was subjected to a hostile work environment at the Smithsonian Institution in retaliation.

Court cases

Major court cases in the creation-evolution controversy are disputes about what can be taught in the schools. After about 1968, they have prohibited attempts to teach creation science or intelligent design in American public schools on the basis of the principle of Separation of Church and State.

  • 1925 Scopes Trial: A staged trial in Tennessee, engineered by the American Civil Liberties Union and town promoters, challenging the Butler Act which prohibited the teaching of human evolution. The willing defendant was found guilty of "teaching" evolution, though he was a gym teacher. The conviction was later overturned on a technicality.[40]
  • 1968 Epperson v. Arkansas: Ruled that a 1928 Arkansas law prohibiting teaching that man descended from animals in the public schools was unconstitutional.
  • 1982 McLean v. Arkansas: Ruled that the teaching of Creation-science violated the Establishment clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
  • 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard: Ruled against Creation-science in Louisiana.
  • 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District: Ruled that intelligent design was religious in nature and therefore could not be taught in the public schools in Dover Pennsylvania.

Timeline of the creation vs evolution debate

  • 1859 - Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species regarding the theory of evolution. The theory's most radical tenet, "natural selection," attempted to replace the generally accepted idea of Created Kinds.
  • 1860 - Liberal theologians published Essays and Reviews supporting Darwin. A debate of Darwin's theory was arranged at the Oxford Museum, with "Darwin's bulldog" Thomas Huxley among its defenders and Samuel Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford leading its critics.
  • 1925 - The Scopes Trial tested the new Butler Act, which made it illegal to teach that man descended from animals in public schools. Scopes was found guilty and fined $100; prosecution lawyer William Jennings Bryan offered to pay it, but the decision was later set aside on a technicality after appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
  • 1958 - The federally-supported National Science Foundation started the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study publishes textbooks which emphasize evolution as an organizing principle.
  • 1961 - The Genesis Flood by Henry Morris and John C. Whitcomb, Jr. reinvigorated the creationist movement.
  • 1968 - A U.S. Supreme Court issues its Epperson v. Arkansas decision repealing laws that prohibited the teaching of evolution and required the teaching of a creationism on the grounds that it violated the the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
  • 1974 - Karl Popper classifies Darwin's theory of evolution as a metaphysical research program.[41]
  • 2004 - Intelligent Design researcher Stephen C. Meyer publishes a paper, The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, leading to the Smithsonian-Sternberg affair
  • 2005 - U.S. Representative Mark Souder's office issues a report concurring with the U.S. Office of Special Council's conclusion that Richard Sternberg was subjected to a hostile work environment at the Smithsonian Institution in retaliation for his role in publishing Stephen C. Meyer's paper. See Smithsonian-Sternberg affair.
  • 2007 - Pope Benedict XVI publishes Creation and Evolution, where he writes "[It] is also true that the theory of evolution is not a complete, scientifically proven theory."[42]
  • 2008 - Ben Stein releases the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed which exposes the suppression of intelligent design in the classroom by evolutionist establishment.


  1. Numbers 1992, p. 3-240
  2. Peters & Hewlett 2005, p. 1
  3. See, for example, Sarfati 2008
  4. Hayward 1998, p. 2
  5. Hodge 1874, p. 177
  6. Numbers 1992, p. 14
  7. Burns, Ralph, Lerner, & Standish 1982, p. 965, Huxley 1902
  8. Burns, Ralph, Lerner, & Standish 1982, p. 965
  9. Numbers 1992, p. 13
  10. Numbers 1992, p. 13
  11. Numbers 1992, p. 13
  12. Numbers 1992, p. 14
  13. Numbers 1992, p. 15
  14. Numbers 1992, p. 15, quoting H.L Hastings' tract in Was Moses Mistaken? or, Creation and Evolution (1896). See also Lk 3:37-38.
  15. Numbers 1992, p. 14
  16. Numbers 1992, p. 14-15
  17. Numbers 1992, p. 17
  18. Numbers 1992, p. 17
  19. Numbers 1992, p. 18, Noting that this applies to published or public skeptics. Many or most Christians may have held on to a literal six days of creation, but these views were rarely expressed in books and journals. Exceptions are also noted, such as literal interpretations published by Eleazar Lord (1788-1871) and David Nevins Lord (1792-1880). However, the observation that evolutionary critics had a relaxed interpretation of Genesis is supported by specifically enumerating: Louis Agassiz (1807-1873); Arnold Henry Guyot (1807-1884); John William Dawson (1820-1899); Enoch Fitch Burr (1818-1907); George D. Armstrong (1813-1899); Charles Hodge, theologian (1797-1878); James Dwight Dana (1813-1895); Edward Hitchcock, clergyman and respected Amherst College geologist, (1793-1864); Reverend Herbert W. Morris (1818-1897); H. L. Hastings (1833?-1899); Luther T. Townsend (1838-1922); Alexander Patterson, Presbyterian evangelist who published The Other Side of Evolution Its Effects and Fallacy
  20. Tippett 2006 Darwian biographer Mr. James Moore's characterization of Wallace's tour, as he was being interviewed by Krista Tippet on Speaking of Faith.
  21. Tippett 2006
  22. Larson 2004, p. 253
  23. Larson 2004, p. 250, describing the religious zeal of Simpson and Huxley.
  24. Larson 2004, p. 248,250
  25. Larson 2004, p. 246,252
  26. Larson 2004, p. 251
  27. Larson 2004, p. 251
  28. Larson 2004, p. 252
  29. Larson 2004, p. 252
  30. Larson 2004, p. 252
  31. Larson 2004, p. 255, Numbers 1992, p. xi,200-208
  32. Larson 2004, p. 255
  33. Numbers 1992, p. 284
  34. Numbers 1992, p. 284-285
  35. Numbers 1992, p. 284
  36. Numbers 1992, p. 286
  37. Larson 2004, p. 255-256
  38. Larson 2004, p. 254-255, Numbers 1998, p. 5-6
  39. Hayward 1998, p. 11
  40. Larson 2006, Coulter 2006
  41. Popper 1974 as reprinted in Balashov & Rosenberg, p. 302, see Facsimile on Google books
  42. Creation and Evolution, Pope Benedict XVI, 2007, Sankt Ulrich Publishing. See also [1]


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