Posts Tagged ‘evolution’


Defining creationism

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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The soul-based definition has been fairly well superseded by the issue of God’s work in the universe as a whole.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.

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John Davison has many interesting things to say about the recognition that evolution is over. Here are two from his essay, An Evolutionary Manifesto (not to be confused with “ ‘the’ Evolutionary Manifesto”, an entirely different, and later, document). Davison writes:

In 1942, Julian Huxley wrote Evolution: The Modern Synthesis in which he summarized a consensus among certain geneticists, systematists, and paleontologists that evolution was a Darwinian phenomenon, guided by chance and natural selection…  Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the text is the revealing and totally contradictory summary that Huxley offers on page 571, seven pages from the end.

“Evolution is thus seen as a series of blind alleys.  Some are extremely short — those leading to new genera and species that either remain stable or become extinct.  Others are longer — the lines of adaptive isolation within a group such as a class or subclass, which run for tens of millions of years before coming up against their terminal blank wall. Others are still longer — the links that in the past led to the development of the major phyla and their highest representatives; their course is to be reckoned not in tens but in hundreds of millions of years.  But all in the long run have terminated blindly.  That of the echinoderms, for instance, reached its climax before the end of the Mesozoic [before 65 million years ago]. For arthropods, represented by their highest group, the insects, the full stop seems to have come in the early Cenozoic. [Early Cenozoic means Paleocene, between 65 and 56 million years ago.]  Even the ants and bees have made no advance since the Oligocene. [The Oligocene is part of the Cenozoic, 56-34 million years ago.]  For the birds, the Miocene [23 to 5.3 million years ago] marked the end; for the mammals the Pliocene [5.3-2.6 million years ago, or so].”

Darwin famously ended his Origin of Species with these words:

…from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

But here is Huxley, Darwin’s admirer, admitting nearly 80 years ago, that the evidence is against ongoing evolution.

Davison continues his argument, quoting paleontologist Robert Broom who wrote a book called Finding the Missing Link, (1951) in which, on page 107, he had this to say about the Eocene, a geologic period now assigned to the time between 34 and 56 million years ago:

In Eocene times — say between 50,000,000 and 30,000,000 years ago — small primitive mammals rather suddenly gave rise to over a dozen very different Orders — hoofed animals, odd-toed and even-toed, elephants, carnivores, whales, rodents, bats and monkeys.  And after this there were no more Orders of mammals ever evolved.  There were great varieties of evolution in the Orders that had appeared, but strangely enough Nature seemed incapable of forming any more new Orders. What is equally remarkable, no new types of birds appear to have evolved in the last 30,000,000 years. And most remarkable of all, no new family of plants appears to have evolved since the Eocene.  All major evolution has apparently come to an end. No new types of fishes, no groups of molluscs, or worms or starfishes, no new groups even of insects, appear to have been evolved in these latter 30,000,000 years.

New species of mammals continued to be produced for a while, ending with some primate types and finally ourselves.

Since then, nothing. It’s over.

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