The posting prompted considerable discussion about the meaning of the word "creationism." There are many commentators who insist that Creationism means only one thing—a belief in Special Creation as described in the Bible. Jonathan Badger of T. TAXUS (photo on left) expressed his disapproval of my definition by writing,
I am not "choosing" a definition of creationism, Larry -- you are. Or perhaps it would be truer to say that you are trying to *invent* a new definition. Please show a dictionary definition of "creationism" that doesn't mention the bible if you disagree with me. Both Old Earth Creationists and Young Earth Creationists believe that the events of Genesis literally happened -- the only difference between the two is the Old Earth types think their god defines "days" differently than people do, and so 7 "days" could be millions of human years.This deserves a more extensive response than my comments on the earlier thread. There are several different points that I'd like to address so here goes.
I understand what you are trying to do -- most sane people (even mainstream theists) agree that creationists are nut cases, and so redefining "creationist" to mean "theist" is a cute rhetorical trick, much like how some right-wingers want to redefine "socialist" to mean anyone who wants a government providing social services. But such word games are pretty childish on any side.
Another Definition of Creationism
Jonathan accuse me of "inventing" a new definition of creationism—one that's not found in standard dictionaries. He quoted several dictionary sources that were similar to the one in the American Heritage Dictionary,
Creationism: Belief in the literal interpretation of the account of the creation of the universe and of all living things related in the Bible.Nobody denies that this is one of the definitions in common usage. That's not the point. The point is rather that it's not the only definition and if you choose this one, as Denyse O'Leary and the some of the IDiots do, then you are obligated to make that clear. Jonathan disagrees because he claims that this is the only legitimate definition. He is wrong.
...American Heritage Dictionary
When I open a page of Darwin I immediately sense that I have been ushered into the presence of a great mind. ... When I read Phillip Johnson, I feel that I have been ushered into the presence of a lawyer.
Richard Dawkins (1996)Phillip Johnson is one of the founders of Intelligent Design Creationism. His position has been very clear from the beginning and it's a legitimate philosophical stance in spite of Dawkin's dislike of lawyers.
Johnson maintains that creationists are anyone who believes in a Creator and he rejects the narrow definition of Duane Gish and the Young Earth Creationists.
I am not interested in any claims that are based on a literal reading of the Bible, nor do I understand the concept of creation as narrowly as Duane Gish does. If an omnipotent Creator exists He might have created things instantaneously in a single week or through gradual evolution over billions of years. He might have employed means wholly inaccessible to science, or mechanisms that are at least in part understandable through scientific investigation.Johnson is attempting to draw a line between religion and science and between creationism and naturalism, where naturalism is defined as the belief that supernatural beings play no role in creating or maintaining the universe. In addition, Johnson maintains that evolution, properly understood, is entirely naturalistic and therefore inconsistent with a Creator. Thus, according to Johnson there is a shape line between creationism and evolutionism. If you believe in a Creator, as all Christians do, then you cannot believe in evolution.
The essential point of creation has nothing to do with the timing or the mechanism the Creator chose to employ, but with the element of design or purpose. In the broadest sense, a "creationist" is simply a person who believes that the world (and especially mankind) was designed and exists for a purpose. With the issue defined that way, the question becomes: Is mainstream science opposed to the possibility that the natural world was designed by a Creator for a purpose? Is so, on what basis?
Phillip Johnson (1993)
Ironically, Johnson's position is similar to that of many atheists a fact that has been gleefully pointed out by Theistic Evolutionists who want to distance themselves from both the philosophical naturalist position and the Young Earth Creationist position. In an earlier essay, I've tried to explain why this "middle ground" is an illusion ["Theistic Evolution: The Fallacy of the Middle Ground"].
The broad definition of creationism is shared by many religious scholars who are unhappy with the narrow definition that's confined to a literal belief in the Bible. The position of the Roman Catholic Church, for example, is strongly in favor of a creationist viewpoint [Creation]. This is a view that's shared by many religious scientists as well. For example, Howard J. Van Till, a Professor of Physics and Astronomy (and an evolutionist) writes,
All Christians are authentic "creationists" in the full theological sense of that term. We are all committed to the biblically-informed and historic Christian doctrine of creation that affirms that everything that is not God is part of a creation that has being only because God has given it being and continues to sustain it. As a creation, the universe is neither a divine being nor a self-existent entity that has its being independent of divine creative action. This theological core of the doctrine of creation sets Judeo-Christian theism in bold distinction from both pantheism (all is God) and naturalism (all is nature).Now, as it turns out, most of these theologians and scientists are perfectly aware of conflicting definitions of "creationism," which is why they take pains to define their terms. They don't want to cede to the religious right a perfectly good word that describes their belief in a Creator God. That's why Theodosius Dobzhansky says the following in his famous article Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution (1973).
Howard J. Van Till (1998)
I am a creationist and an evolutionist. Evolution is God's, or Nature's method of creation. Creation is not an event that happened in 4004 BC; it is a process that began some 10 billion years ago and is still under way.In some cases, the stigma of Young Earth Creationism is too much to bear and scientists go out of their way to avoid the creationist label. This is explained by Francis Collins in his book The Language of God.
Few religious of scientific views can be neatly summed up in a single word. The application of misleading labels for particular perspectives has regularly muddied the debate between science and faith throughout the modern era. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of the "creationist" label, which has featured so prominently in the science-and-faith debates over the past century. Taken at face value, the term "creationist" would seem to imply the general perspective of one who argues for the existence of a God who was directly involved in the creation of the universe, In that broad sense. many deists and nearly all theists, including me, would need to count themselves as creationists.I still maintain that there are at least two definitions of creationism. The narrow definition, often referred to as Creationism with a capital "C" or Special Creationism, is widely accepted in American society. A recent survey reveals that 53% of Americans had heard of the term and, of those, 59% believed the narrow definition [Evolution and Creationism in Public Education].
Over the past century, however, the term "Creationist" has been hijacked (and capitalized) to apply to a very specific subset of such believers, specifically those who insist on a literal reading of Genesis 1 and 2 to describe the creation of the universe and the formation of life on earth.
Francis Collins (2006)
The second definition is the broad definition that is frequently used in serious discussions about science and religion. I did not make it up. Whenever one attempts to comment on creationism it is incumbent upon the user to disclose the definition being used. In my case, I try to distinguish between the various forms of creationism by referring to Young Earth Creationism, Intelligent Design Creationism, etc. in order to avoid confusion.
Denyse O'Leary and some of her friends (but not Phillip Johnson) say there's a difference between Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design Creationism. I see the distinction, but I don't think it's as clear cut as she imagines.
One reason that it is appropriate for a Professor of Law to comment upon the philosophy of biology is that so many of the philosophers and biologists want to be litigators.
Phillip Johnson (1996)Finally, it's worth noting that the definition of "creationism" is tied up with legal issues in the United states of America. In Edward v. Aguillard (1987) the plaintiffs were successful in overturning Lousiana's "Creationism Act" on the grounds that it promoted religion. In this case, the judge declared that, "The Act impermissibly endorses religion by advancing the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind."
In Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. Judge Jones listened to evidence presented by the plaintiffs that Intelligent Design was just another name for creationism. Since the teaching of creationism had already been declared religious, and illegal, it was important to define creationism in such as way as to include Intelligent Design.
The plaintiffs were successful. In his final ruling, Judge Jones said, "The evidence at trial demonstrates that ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism." The legal definitions of creationism are interesting but they seem to have had little effect on the general public, many of whom continue to believe that the only legitimate definition of creationism is the one requiring a belief in the Biblical Genesis story.
Are Old Earth Creationists and Young Earth Creationists the only Kind of Creationists?
That's what some people are saying. In his criticism of me Jonathan Badger strongly implies that the only legitimate creationists are the Young Earth Creationists (YEC's) and the Old Earth Creationists (OEC's) who still follow the sequence of events in Genesis. He would agree with Denyse O'Leary that Intelligent Design proponents (IDiots) are not creationists because they don't necessarily adopt a belief in the truth of Genesis.
Many would disagree and that's why you often hear people refer to Intelligent Design as Intelligent Design Creationism. There seems to be little doubt that the intelligent design movement grew out of the (capital C) Creationist movement in the 1980's. This has been well-documented by Barbara Forrest (left), most prominently at the Dover trial in 2005 and in a lengthy article in Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics (Forrest, 2001). In that article she examines the strategy of the Discovery Institute's Center for Renewal of Science and Culture (CRSC) and concludes that it is stealth creationism in spite of what its proponents might claim. The goal of Intelligent Design Creationists is make creationism more acceptable by introducing it on university campuses. This is part of the wedge strategy.
The accomplishment of these goals is especially important to the CRSC's strategy to advance theri brand of creationism; indeed, it is critical because they are the only creationists who stand a chance of pulling it off. The old-style creationism represented by Henry Morris, Duane Gish, and others is unlikely to be tolerated on mainstream campuses, even religious ones like Baylor. The CRSC creationists have taken the time and trouble to acquire legitimate degrees, providing them a degree of cover both while they are students and after they join the university faculties.Whether you agree with the very broad definition of creationism or not, you are being incredibly naive if you think that Intelligent Design isn't creationism. There's more to creationism than just YEC's and OEC's.
Robert T. Pennock, a philosopher at Michigan State University and a leading opponent of Intelligent Design Creationism testified at the Dover trial that intelligent design was just warmed-over creationism—using a broad definition of creationism that equates it to religion. For Pennock, one of the defining tenets of creationism is the rejection of evolution, or at least some forms of evolution. He also tends to agree with Johnson that any belief in a Creator is a form of creationism. (He does not agree that evolution is incompatible with creationism.)
No attempt to discuss creationism would be complete without looking at the work done by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). Eugenie Scott, the Executive Director of NCSE, has published several articles on the subject and has recently put out a book called Evolution vs. Creationism. Let's look at the Creation/Evolution Continuum published by NCSE and see how it conforms to various definitions of creationism.
Before starting, let me say that the distinction between "creationism" on the one hand and "evolution" on the other seems strained to me. It has led to much confusion—I have contributed to some of it. It would be far better to make the extremes "creationism" and "naturalism" since what we are usually looking at it is a continuum representing the strength of belief in God.
Nevertheless, you can see from the diagram that Eugenie Scott and NCSE recognize many different degrees of creationism ranging from the most extreme examples, such as Young Earth Creationism, down to far less extreme examples such as Evolutionary Creationism. She does not recognize Theistic Evolutionism as a version of creationsm: instead, she refers to it as "the theological view in which God creates through the laws of nature" (Scott, 2004). To me this is a quibble. I include Theistic Evolution as a form of creationism in the same sense as Theistic Evolutionists Francis Collins and Theodosius Dobzhansky (see above).
Intelligent Design Creationism covers a range of views as indicated on the graph.
The dotted line represents the split between literal belief in the Bible and a more liberal interpretation of scripture. This is the dividing line between (captial C) Creationsm or Special Creationism and other forms of creationism. To many people it is the difference between "creationism" (top) and something that is not creationism (bottom). (What is that something below the line? It appears to represent belief in a Creator God and a partial rejection of the full implications of evolution while studiously avoiding the creationist label. Are they Creator Godists?) I find it hard to justify that particular definition of creationism but as long as its proponents make their preference known it shouldn't be a problem. Naturally, the rest of us don't have to agree.
Is the Broad Definition of Creationist Just a Cute Rhetorical Trick?
I'm accused of using the broad definition as a "rhetorical trick" to tarnish the theists who reject a literal belief in the Bible. This reminds me of a similar accusation from Bill Dembski as reported by Robert Pennock (2000).
Dembski chides me for never using the term "intelligent design" without conjoining it to "creationism." He implies (though never explicitly asserts) that he and others in the movement are not creationists and that it is incorrect to discuss them in such terms, suggesting that doing so is merely a rhetorical ploy to "rally the troops."Pennock goes on to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that Dembski is a creationist by the broad definition.
I don't resort to the cheap trick of using the word "creationist" as a pejorative label. I use "IDiots" for that purpose. Whenever I refer to creationists I qualify it with other descriptors such as Young Earth Creationism or Intelligent design Creationism. If I'm trying to make an important point about religion and science then I try and make it clear that I'm using a broad definition of creationism.
Jonathan Badger is not religious. His attack on my use of the word "creationst" falls into the category of accommodationist. (formerly appeaser). He thinks it's insulting to theists to be called creationists. My position is that Theistic Evolutionists are trying to pull the wool over our eyes by distancing themselves from the fringe creationists while allying themselves with the atheist evolutionists. When I say that theists are creationists I mean that in the same sense as many other theists such as Dobzhansky and Van Till (and the Pope). I do it in order to emphasize the fact that they do believe in a Creator God even though they accept most of the scientific evidence for evolution and common descent. It's not a rhetorical trick. I'm being as open and obvious as I know how.
Over on the comments thread of my earlier posting, there are even more interesting statements. Let me close by addressing one more. This one is from Pete Dunkleberg.
Using words like "definition" for one's preference is a bit political. So you want to put down theists by calling them creationists. But those are different words for good reason.I hope I've demonstrated to your satisfaction that there is a legitimate second definition of "creationism" that's used by people who call themselves creationists. I didn't make it up and it's not political.
The main characteristic of creationists is that they claim scientific arguments against geology and or biology. Sometimes this has been called (by creationists) scientific creationism, abbreviated SciCre (not by creationists). Lately the term ID has been used for SciCre.
I do not put down theists by calling them Young Earth Creationists—the only kind of creationists you seem to recognize. If I'm putting down theists I do it very openly by criticizing their belief in a Creator God in spite of the fact that they accept most of science. I fail to see why Ken Miller would be upset if I "accused" him of believing in a Creator God. He doesn't disguise this fact in his book (Miller, 1999).
As a scientist, I know very well that the earth is billions of years old and that the appearance of living organisms was not sudden, but gradual. As a Christian, I believe that Genesis is a true account of the way in which God's relationship with the world was formed. And as a human being, I find value in both descriptions. In order to reveal Himself to a desert tribe six thousand years ago, a Creator could hardly have lectured them about DNA and RNA, about gene duplication and allopatric speciation, He spoke to them in the direct and lyrical language of Genesis.Wouldn't it be fun if God came back to visit us in 2007 and gave us a lecture about gene duplication and allopatric speciation? I'd pay to hear that although I'd probably wonder if he(?) wasn't just pulling our legs in the same way he did with the desert tribe 3000 years ago. Was Genesis the ultimate example of framing?
[Photo/Image credits: The photograph of Jonathan Badger is taken from the ASM video made when he was here in Toronto for the American Society of Microbiology meeting in May 2007 (see Bloggers in Toronto and Bacteria, Bloggers, and Toronto). Jonathan is in a phone booth on Baldwin St. where we had dinner. The photograph of Barbar Forrest is taken from her website [Dr. Barbara Forrest]. The Creation/Evolution Continuum is from The Creation/Evolution Continuum by Eugenie C. Scott]
Collins, F. (2006) The Language of God. Free Press, New York (USA).
Dawkins, R. (1996) Reply to Phillip Johnson. Biology & Philosophy 11:539-540. reprinted in Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics Robert T. Pennock ed. MIT Press, Cambridge MA (USA) (2001).
Johnson, Phillip (1993) Darwin on Trial Regnery Gateway, Washington DC (USA).
Johnson, P. (1996) Response to Pennock. Biology & Philosophy 11:561-563. reprinted in Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics Robert T. Pennock ed. MIT Press, Cambridge MA (USA) (2001).
Scott, E. (2004) Evolution vs. Creationism. University of California Press, Berkeley CA (USA).
Van Till, H. J. (1998) The Creation: Intelligently Designed or Optimally Equipped? Theology Today 55:344-364. reprinted in Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics Robert T. Pennock ed. MIT Press, Cambridge MA (USA) (2001).