An explanation of the creation/evolution continuum: from flat earthers to atheistic evolution

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Many — if not most — Americans think of the creation and evolution controversy as a dichotomy with “creationists” on one side, and “evolutionists” on the other. This assumption all too often leads to the unfortunate conclusion that because creationists are believers in God, that evolutionists must be atheists. The true situation is much more complicated: creationism comes in many forms, and not all of them reject evolution.  It is important to understand and recognize the differences between the beliefs that lie along the continuum.

Below is an excerpt from “How to Debate a Creationist” (pages 27 and 28), produced by the Skeptic’s Society, based off the work of Eugenie Scott at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE).

The Creation/Evolution Continuum

Flat Earthers – believe that the shape of the earth is flat because a literal reading of the Bible demands it.  The earth is shaped like a coin, not a ball.  Scientific views are of secondary importance.

Flat Earth

The Flat Earth

Geocentrists – accept that the earth is spherical, but deny that the sun is the center of the solar system.  Like flat earthers, they reject virtually all of modern physics and chemistry as well as biology.

Young-Earth Creationism – few classical Young Earth Creationists interpret the flat-earth and geocentric passages of the Bible literally, but they reject modern physics, chemistry, and geology concerning the age of the earth, and they deny biological descent with modification.  In their view, the earth is from six to ten thousand years old.

Old Earth Creationism – from the mid 1700’s on, the theology of special creationism has been harmonized with scientific data and theory showing that the earth is ancient.  Theologically, the most critical element of special creationism is God’s personal involvement in creation; precise details of how God created are considered secondary.

Gap Creationism – one of the better-known accommodations of religion to science is Gap or Restitution Creationism, which claims that there was a large temporal gap between Genesis chapter 1:1 and chapter 1:2.  Articulated from about the late 18th century and on, Gap Creationism assumes a pre-Adamic creation that was destroyed before Genesis 1:2, when God recreated the world in six days, and created Adam and Eve.  A time gap between two separate creations allows for an accommodation of the proof of the ancient age of the earth with Special Creationism.

Day-Age Creationism – accommodates science and religion by rendering each of the six days of creation as long periods of time – even thousands or millions of years instead of only 24 hours long.  Many literalists have found comfort in what they think is a rough parallel between organic evolution and Genesis, in which plants appear before animals, and human beings appear last.

Progressive Creationism (PC) – blends Special Creationism with a fair amount of modern science.  Although modern physical science is accepted, only parts of modern biological science are incorporated into Progressive Creationism.  PCs generally believe that God created “kinds” of animals sequentially; the fossil record is thus an accurate representation of history because different animals and plants appeared at different times rather than having been all created at once.

Intelligent Design (ID) – is a lineal descendant of William Paley’s argument from design, which asserted that God’s existence could be proved by examining his works.  The finding of order, purpose, and design in the world is proof of an omniscient designer.

Evolutionary Creationism (EC) – God the creator uses evolution to bring about the universe according to his plan.  From a scientific point of view, evolutionary creationism is hardly distinguishable from Theistic Creationism, which follows it on the continuum.

Theistic Evolution (TE) – God creates through evolution.  Astronomical, geological, and biological evolution are acceptable to those who believe in Theistic Evolution.  They vary in whether and how much God is allowed to intervene.  Other TEs see God as intervening at critical intervals during the history of life (especially in the origin of humans), and they in turn come closer to Progressive Creationists.  Variations of TE are the views of creation taught at mainline Protestant siminaries, and it is the official position of the Catholic Church.

Materialist Evolutionism (Atheistic Evolutionism) – goes beyond the methodological materialism of science to propose that the laws of nature are all there is:  the supernatural force does not exist.  Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are results of material interactions. Materialism is closely related to physical-ism, the view that all that exists is ultimately physical.This is a form of philosophical materialism (naturalism or scientism), which is distinct from the practical rules of how to do science.  Anti-evolutionists such as Phillip Johnson criticize evolution and science in general as being philosophically materialistic.  This is a logical error.  There are many scientists who use methodological materialism in their work, but who are theists and therefore not philosophical materialists.

Why is the creationism/evolution continuum important?

This continuum diffuses the debate and forces the uninitiated into thinking through which of the many positions most appeals to them based on their religious beliefs.  With so many mutually-exclusive creationist doctrines all claiming infallibility and final Truth, a logical default position to fall to is science because it never makes such absolutist truth claims.

In science, all conclusions are provisional, subject to new evidence and better arguments, the very antithesis of religious faith.

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