Religion and the Human Ego:
Creationism is a Christian stance against established sciences such as physics, biology, geology and evolution. Most of them believe that the Earth is only 6 thousand years old, that the Universe was created in 6 days by God. Although not all of them believe in the actual Adam and Eve story, they do believe that all species were designed by God in their present form rather than being a result of the process evolution. What they think the use of genes are, and how they explain why 99.9% of all of God's well-designed species are extinct, I have no idea. These beliefs require the wholesale dismissal of such a huge volume of evidence from a vast array of sciences that ordinary people are astounded by the existence of creationists. It has been pointed out that a sensible approach to evolution requires a good education in biology first1 and that the complexity and imagination required to visualize long-term changes in gene pools and how they facilitate speciation are more difficult to grasp than "god did it" explanation2. Empirical research on the most popular and proclaimed creationists has shown quantitively "that almost without exception the creationist propagandists are incompetent scientists with few if any accomplishments to their credit"3. Unfortunately such people are not content to merely believe strange things. They want others to believe them too. Many consider the success of creationism to be the failure of the education system and of societal controls on extremism.
A more modern face of creationism is intelligent design (ID), which is slicker with its presentation and marketing techniques. ID's front-line battle is with the schooling system and their campaigns make "evolution" out to be contentious or contested and that ID should be taught in schools as a viable alternative. It has made much headway in the USA in particular, and in the UK some faith schools have been found to be teaching that the Universe is less than 10 thousand years old4. But ID fails to find acceptance in most other developed countries although tussles have also been fought in Belgium, Brazil, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia and Serbia5. After the USA it is only Muslim countries and Africa that harbour virulent anti-evolutionists. Richard Leakey, who was once the director of Kenya's national museum, had to fight regularly to keep the descriptions of fossils and skeletons accurate. Anti-evolution Christians vandalized, threatened and sometimes won the right to have exhibits removed6.
Fundamentalists tried for a while to pass ID off as a different thing to creationism, but their bluff has been called7,8 and a series of legal defeats has seen the establishment recognize that ID is religious myth, not science. In 2008, the 47 member states of the Council of Europe resolved against the teaching of creationism, and emplored that scientific education is important and should not be mixed with religious beliefs9.
Thankfully, despite occasional small-scale failures, in all modern countries where science and education is driven by evidence, evolution continues to be strongly supported by Governments, and continues to be taught properly as part of public education systems.
Two of the most frequently given arguments for intelligent design follow - many theists say that these are the very reasons for their coming to believe in God in the first place10:
"How can life be anything other than the work of a god? ... How could blind chance ever produce the amazing variety of complex plants and animals we have on Earth?"2 - this type of thinking simply reflects a lack of knowledge as to how evolution works. The evidence clearly shows that speciation occurs and is responsible for the complete variety of life on Earth.
"Science cannot explain everything about life, therefore a god must have created life"2. This is a "god of the gaps" argument (click for more) - the more we learn about biology and genetics, the less there is a place for God. This indicates that the god-theory of abiogenesis is wrong.
Extremist Christian groups have a strong holding in the USA. The 1920s there saw Creationism become a common replacement for the theory of evolution. We are now left with a modern anachronism: In the world's most technologically advanced country there are a growing number of people who disbelieve in evolution, carbon-dating, geology, genetics and a number of other sciences that underpin evolution. The cause of such disbelief is religious.
Gallup polls in the USA in May and June 2007 shows that a significant number of Americans doubt evolution, and, this was found to be correlated with people's religious activities - "those who attend church frequently [are] much less likely to believe in evolution"11. In 2012 Gallup pollsters published a figure which, although unsurprising to many in the USA, astonishes those outsiders who view the country as a place of human advancement: "46 percent of Americans believe in the creationist view that God created humans in their present form. This is essentially unchanged from thirty years ago", and, a meagre 15% believe that Humans evolved without divine involvement12. Thankfully, amongst the more educated Americans, the trend is less bad, and 42% of post-graduates believe that evolution acts solely according to natural forces - 35% of those with a college degree think so too12.
“Anti-evolutionists are also trying to convince students to reject large chunks of well-established physics, chemistry, astronomy, anthropology, and geology. [...] Today the United States is being confronted with large numbers of scientifically ignorant, politically active Christians who are locked into ultra-religious, anti-scientific views and who want to force these views on others through our elected officials, our courts, and our schools.”
Andrew Heywood places this movement in a political context:
“There is a significant religious element in the conservative new right, especially in the USA. [...] Many of these were associated with the 'born again' Christian movement and in effect constituted a 'Christian new right'. Moral Majority, founded by Jerry Falwell in 1979 and supported by Ronald Reagan and powerful Southern senators such as Jessie Helms, acted as an umbrella organization for this movement. Since the 1980s its principal energies have been devoted to the campaign against abortion. [...] Homosexuality, pornography, premarital sex and, in the USA at least, the teaching of Darwinian theories of evolution rather than Biblical 'creationism' have also been castigated as morally 'bad'.”
The late American scientist and public communicator Victor Stenger has written about the history of creationism in the USA:
“In that decade [of the 1920s], Christian fundamentalists in the United States took over the front line of the battle. Under their influence, three states - Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas - made the teaching of evolution a crime. Oklahoma prohibited textbooks promoting evolution, and Florida condemned the teaching of Darwinism as 'subversive.' [...]
A new strain of conservatism appeared in 1961 with the publication of The Genesis Flood by theologian John C. Whitcomb Jr. and hydraulic engineer Henry M. Morris, who were strongly influenced by earlier efforts by Seventh-Day Adventist leader George McCready Price. The authors argued that science was compatible with Genesis, and although their scientific claims were not credible, conservative Christians sat up and took notice - recognizing a new strategy for combating hated Darwinism. Around 1970 Morris founded the Institute for Creation Science, which then led a movement to have the new 'creation science' presented in public-school science classrooms. [...] Arkansas and Louisiania passed laws mandating the teaching of creation science alongside evolution. [...]
In 1982 a federal judge in Arkansas tossed out the law in that state, declaring creation science to be religion and not science. In 1987 the Supreme Court ruled the Louisiana law unconstitutional. [...]
A [group of creation science proponents] has developed a new stealth creationism called intelligent design, which has the common shorthand, 'ID'. [...] Proponents of ID downplay their religious motives in a so far not very successful attempt to steer clear of the constitutional issue. [...] They claimed that design in nature can be scientifically demonstrated and that the complexity of nature can be proved not to have arisen by natural processes alone.
In Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, philosopher Barbara Forrest and biologist Paul Gross detail the story of how the new creationism is fed and watered by a well-funded conservative Christian organization called the Discovery Institute. The goals of this organization, documented by Forrest and Gross, are to 'defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies' and to 'renew' science and culture along evangelical Christian lines.”
"God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist"
Prof. Victor J. Stenger (2007)14
In 2014 the UK passed legislation meaning that "nurseries that teach creationism as scientific fact will be ineligible for taxpayer funding"15 but in 2015 May, the British Humanist Association raised alarms that the ban hasn't been made effective against the "91 schools in receipt of funding where the BHA had concerns about the teaching of creationism as scientifically valid, or about the schools' ability to promote British values"16.
“Despite the ban coming into force last September, Freedom of Information (FoI) requests sent by the BHA to local authorities this January found that state funds are still being received by at least two-thirds of the nurseries about which concerns were previously raised. Of the 91 schools identified by the BHA as receiving funding between 2010 and 2014, 54 are still receiving state funds whilst a further seven are receiving funds for the first time. Only 14 are no longer funded. Data for a further 20 of the schools has not yet been made available.
In total, the BHA identified:
- Five schools teaching the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum. ACE nursery resources bought by the BHA show that in Science children are taught to identify what happened on each of the days of creation, and until recently the Loch Ness monster was featured in textbooks as evidence which disproved evolution.
- 14 schools run by the Christian Schools´ Trust. In 2009 the CST circulated a statement recommending that schools teach creationism as science.
- 20 Charedi Jewish Schools. These schools are also usually creationist and like ACE and CST schools, are not approved for state funding through the Free School programme.
- 22 Steiner schools. The BHA has expressed concern about Steiner schools in the past, particularly with regard to their stance on pseudoscience, homeopathy and vaccinations.
In addition, funding is still being given to two nurseries in Haringey and Slough run by the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation, an organisation that has previously been dogged by allegations of links to extremist Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Despite calls by both David Cameron and Michael Gove in as early as 2009 for funding to be withdrawn from these schools, the BHA revealed last year that the two nurseries were still receiving funds. The Haringey school was recently found by Ofsted to be failing to promote British values.”
British Humanist Association (2015)16
Skeptical Inquirer. Pro-science magazine published bimonthly by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, New York, USA.
Bainbridge, William Sims
(2011) Science and Religion. This essay is chapter 16 of "The Oxford Handbook of The Sociology of Religion" by Peter B. Clarke (2011) (pages p303-318).
(2003) Political Ideologies. 3rd edition. First edition 1992. Published by Palgrave MacMillan.
Leakey, Richard & Lewin, Roger
(1992) Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes Us Human. Published by Little, Brown and Company, London, UK.
Stenger, Prof. Victor J.
(2007) God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. Published by Prometheus Books. Stenger is a Nobel-prize winning physicist, and a skeptical philosopher whose research is strictly rational and evidence-based.