Introduction to How Creationism Works
Every religion in the world has its own version of the origins of life and matter. In Abrahamic religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam, these explanations rest on the premise that God created the universe and everything in it. This is the basic tenet of creationism in the West.
In the United States, the public debate between Christian creationism and evolution, once considered dead in the wake of the Scopes Monkey trial, is back on its feet. Most people see evolution and the theory of natural selection as scientific staples; now, many supporters of creationism want their views to be accepted as a scientific theory known as creation science. In this article, we’ll examine the different forms of Christian creationism, touch on creationist views in other religions and find out what’s fueling the controversy.
What is Creationism?
Creationism is a blanket term incorporating all beliefs that the origins of the universe and life are attributable to supernatural or miraculous means. In Christianity, creationism states that God (the Christian deity) created the world and everything in it out of nothing. Creationists believe that the account of the beginning of the world offered in Genesis, the first volume of the Old Testament, is the true account of the origins of all that we see around us. The opening of Genesis states:
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
The creation of the universe and all that it contains took a total of six days. On the first day, God created light and dark. On the second, He created the heavens, and on the third, He created the Earth’s dry land and vegetation. God created the Sun and the Moon on the fourth day, fish and birds on the fifth day, and land animals and humans on the sixth day.
While the account of creation in Genesis is the basis for all Christian creationism, there are actually many different types of creationists within Christianity. A flat-earth creationist, for example, believes not only that God created the world out of nothing, but also that the Earth is flat, immobile and only about 6,000 years old. A progressive creationist, on the other hand, accepts the views of modern astronomy and geological dating methods that determine the Earth to be billions of years old, but does not accept the finds of modern biology: He believes that a species can only evolve under the direction of God.
We can roughly place the most well-documented types of creationism on a continuum from most literal to least literal interpretation of the Bible:
Most Literal Flat-Earth Creationism Modern Geocentrism Young-Earth Creationism Old-Earth Creationism Least Literal
In the following sections, we’ll address each of these varieties of creationism and find out what their proponents believe.
Types of Creationism: Flat-Earth and Geocentric
At the strictly literal end of the spectrum, the flat-earth creationists and the modern geocentrists reject practically all of modern science. In addition to a reading of Genesis as a factual account of the origins of the world, flat-Earthers and geocentrists also retain some of the ancient Hebrew conceptions regarding the structure of the Earth and the solar system, citing particular Biblical passages as the source of their beliefs.
Flat-Earth creationism states that the Earth is flat, immobile and the center of the universe. It is covered by a solid, dome-like sky, most likely referring to the second day of creation, when “God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament … And God called the firmament Heaven” (Genesis 1:7-1:8). The stars, sun and moon are embedded in this rigid dome.
Addressing the topic of Christopher Columbus‘s apparent trip around a spherical Earth, The Flat Earth Society’s mission statement says, “Using an elaborate setup involving hundreds of mirrors and a few burlap sacks, [Christopher Columbus] was able to create an illusion so convincing that it was actually believed he had sailed around the entire planet and landed in the West Indies. As we now know, he did not.” When confronted with scientific and technological evidence of a spherical Earth and a non-rigid sky in such forms as global circumnavigation, humans walking on the moon and satellite photos from space, Charles Johnson of the Flat Earth Society explains in this Flat Earth Society flyer:
… technology is not in any way related to the web of idiotic scientific theory. ALL inventors have been anti-science. The Wright brothers said: “Science theory held us up for years. When we threw out all science, started from experiment and experience, then we invented the airplane.” By the way, airplanes all fly level on this Plane earth.
Modern geocentrists believe the Earth is spherical, not flat; but they reject almost everything else in modern astronomy, viewing the Earth as the center of the universe and immobile. According to geocentrists, the sun rotates around the Earth in 24-hour periods, and all other planets rotate around the sun. More mainstream geocentrists point to the theory of general relativity in physics to back up their Biblical belief, noting, in essence, that all positions are the result of frame of reference, and no frame of reference can be disputed. Radical geocentrists refer only to the Bible and reject all of modern astronomy, physics and cosmology. Like flat-Earthers, many geocentrists believe the sky is a solid dome surrounding the Earth.
In the next section, we’ll examine young-Earth creationism, which accepts most of modern astronomy but rejects much of modern biology. Young-Earth creation is the primary source of the “creation science” movement that pushes for the teaching of creationism alongside evolution in U.S. public-school science classes.
Jewish creationists draw their view of the origins of life from the same place Christian creationists do — a literal reading of the book of Genesis in the Old Testament.
Islamic creationists base their view of the origins of life and the universe on the teachings of the Qu’ran. The Qu’ran’s account of the beginning of the world is very similar to that of the Old Testament.
Buddhist creationists believe that the creation of the world is eternally cyclical — there is no beginning and no end, only a continual dissolving and reforming of matter and life triggered by spiritual beings who are reborn with each new cycle.
One Hindu creationist belief holds that the world began when the Gods sacrificed the primal man who was, in himself, the entire universe. When he died, different parts of his body became the sky, the earth, the seas, and all of the human components of the Hindu caste system.
Types of Creationism: Young-Earth
The primary supporters of the creation-science movement that strives to define creationism as a scientific theory, young-Earth creationists (YECs) believe that the Earth is a sphere and that it rotates around the sun, but they reject modern biology in favor of a literal reading of the Genesis creation account.
Young-Earth creationists believe that God directly and miraculously created the universe, the Earth and all life on Earth in the course of six 24-hour days. They calculate the age of the Earth to be in the area of 6,000 to 10,000 years old as opposed to the 4.5 billion years calculated using radiometric dating and other scientific dating methods — thus the “young-Earth” designation. This calculation comes from information in Genesis, which includes data on the lifespans of Biblical patriarchs from Adam to Abraham, including how old they were when each of them had a son. If you add up those ages and then add six days for the period of creation (God created Adam on the sixth day), you end up with approximately 6,000 to 10,000 years.
YECs reject the theory of evolution in its entirety. They also reject a great deal of scientific understanding in areas of geology, genomics and astronomy. For instance, young-Earth creationists do not believe that geological strata were formed over billions of years; instead, they believe that almost all geological formations are the result of a single, worldwide flood in which all life on Earth was wiped out with the exception of Noah and his family and the animals he saved on his ark.
Many people raise the topic of dinosaurs when it comes to YEC: What about evidence of dinosaurs in the fossil record? Evidence shows that humans and dinosaurs lived millions of years apart. Wouldn’t that mean that Earth must be more than 6,000 years old?
The Young Earth Creation Club responds to the apparent discrepancy with the claim the humans and dinosaurs actually existed at the same time. Supporters point to evidence that includes writings of “several well-known ancient people,” ancient artwork depicting dinosaurs and humans together and fossilized footprints of humans and dinosaurs in the same place [ref]. Citing eye witness accounts, the Young Earth Creation Club states that humans and dinosaurs may still interact today in the African Congo.
Young-Earth creationism has a large following in the United States. It is probably the most radical form of creationism supported by a large group of people today. Old-Earth creationism is less radical and more widespread in the United States, accepting parts of modern scientific analysis while maintaining that Genesis is a literal account of the beginning of the world.
Lots More Information
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- How Cloning Works
- How Evolution Works
- How Exorcism Works
- How Gene Pools Work
- How Intelligent Design Works
More Great Links
- National Academy of Sciences: The Origin of the Universe, Earth, and Life
- ReligiousTolerance.org: Beliefs of World Religions About Evolution & Creation
- Talk.Origins: What is Creationism?
- Young Earth Creation Club
- The Flat-out Truth — an interview with Charles K. Johnson, president of the International Flat Earth Research Society
- “The Origin of the Universe, Earth, and Life.” National Academy of Sciences. http://books.nap.edu/html/creationism/index.html
- Isaak, Mark. “What is Creationism?” Talk.Origins. http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/wic.html
- The Flat Earth Society http://www.alaska.net/~clund/e_djublonskopf/Flatearthsociety.htm
- “What is the ‘scientific method’?” Relativity, Space-Time and Cosmology at University of California, Riverside. http://phyun5.ucr.edu/~wudka/Physics7/Notes_www/node6.html#SECTION02121000000000000000
- Young Earth Creation Club http://www.creationists.org/
- “Young Earth Creationism.” AbsoluteAstronomy.com. http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/encyclopedia/y/yo/young_earth_creationism.htm
- “Gap Creationism.” AbsoluteAstronomy.com. http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/encyclopedia/g/ga/gap_creationism.htm
- “Day-Age Creationism.” AbsoluteAstronomy.com. http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/encyclopedia/d/da/day-age_creationism1.htm
- “Modern Geocentrism.” AbsoluteAstronomy.com. http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/encyclopedia/m/mo/modern_geocentrism.htm
- “Progressive Creationism.” AbsoluteAstronomy.com. http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/encyclopedia/p/pr/progressive_creationism.htm
- “Evolutionary Creationism.” AbsoluteAstronomy.com. http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/encyclopedia/e/ev/evolutionary_creationism.htm
- “Islamic Creationism.” AbsoluteAstronomy.com. http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/encyclopedia/i/is/islamic_creationism.htm
- “Beliefs of World Religions About Evolution & Creation.” ReligiousTolerance.org. http://www.religioustolerance.org/ev_denom2.htm