Defining your terms is the first step in understanding any argument. Like any word with a history, “creationism” has been through several meanings, and is still used several ways, so let’s start with three:
- Creationism once meant the belief that man has a soul. Darwin’s work suggesting that man is merely a species of primate was then contrasted with the Christian faith that man is God’s special creation, specially in His image, and spiritual in his nature.
- Creationism later came to mean the belief that God made the world, as opposed to the idea that it is here by accident. New insights into historical geology gradually eroded the specific Biblical sense of creation over a short period of time or in the sequence offered in Genesis 1, leading to a split in how creation was viewed:
- Creationism may mean the idea that God made the world in 6,000 or 10,000 or 12,000 years, occasionally a little more, but never billions of years, essentially on the Genesis schedule. This is sometimes called “young earth creationism.”
- Creationism may simply mean the idea that God made the world, on whatever schedule. This is sometimes called “old earth creationism” by Christians who sympathize with the young earth creationists and want to be viewed as believers. It may also be called theological evolutionism, because these believers often retain a serious theology, even though they see things as happening over a long period of time. However, the theology of old earth creationists is more or less ignored by secularists because it does not affect their system and more or less rejected by young-earthers as a faithless compromise.
The soul-based definition has been fairly well superseded by the issue of God’s work in the universe as a whole. The creationist with the short schedule, is universally called creationist; the creationist with the open schedule goes by various names, but since the schedule is open, he may be ignored unless other issues are involved.
What other issues?
Two principal issues cause the old-earth creationist to define himself in more detail, and put him in or out of the “creationist” i.e. young earth creationist camp: the evolution of the universe and evolution of living forms. There are sub-issues and variations, but that’s what it amounts to.
I myself usually use the term creationist to refer to someone who is a young-earth creationist, someone who more or less completely rejects the standard explanation of fossil formation and its implications, and someone who rejects the Big Bang. The old-earth creationist does not strike me as needing a name, because any serious Christian must believe God made the world, and there is thus no explicit reason for a name. As a scientist, an old-earth creationist does not need to distinguish his scientific ideas from anyone who is not a believer; and while he may want to insist to the young-earth creationist that he is a believer, I don’t notice that it matters. We’re all heretics together to the young-earthers.
Maybe I paint with too broad a brush, but that is my impression, and I have had ample opportunity to form an impression.
I have read a fair number of creationist (young-earth creationist) pieces; they share their arguments to such an extent that the material becomes repetitive, but perspectives do vary. There is a Catholic work called Creation Rediscovered. I am not impressed with either the theology or the science, but it has an imprimatur. This means that holding these ideas is not opposed to Catholic theology. My books on the subject (Creator and Creation, Genesis 1 House of the Covenant, and some other things that are more indirect) also have an imprimatur; so they are not opposed to Catholic theology either. The Church does not have a doctrinal position on the age of the universe; and it does not have a doctrinal position on whether our bodies — or the first human bodies — were derived from other primate stock.
The one issue that is very important in Catholic theology is the unity of truth: truth is one, and there is no proposition that is true in science and false in doctrine or the reverse. No compromise here.
In the light of this definition, I will follow up to explain why I see some curricula as creationist and why I view this as a weakness.