The Creation-Evolution Continuum

Introduction

“Many – if not most – Americans think of the creation and evolution controversy in bi-polar terms with “creationists” at one extreme and “scientific evolutionists” at the other.  This assumption often leads to the unfortunate conclusion that because creationists are believers in God then evolutionists must therefore be atheists.  But this over-simplified view betrays the fact that there are many different opinions about the nature of evolution that lie between the two polar extremes.   The evolution continuum presented below demonstrates the diversity of these philosophical ideas.

Moreover, it is often interesting to identify the religious organizations that subscribe to a particular evolutionary viewpoint.  Thus, when a particular religious denominational opinion is known, it is mentioned in the appropriate category within the continuum..  A  particular religious denomination may have held different opinions at different times in its history.  The Catholic Church, up to about the 16h Century for example, believed in much of the same ideas that are held by the Young Earth Creationists of today.  But by the 21st Century their views had changed substantially and in 1996, Pope John Paul II officially endorsed the ideas of Theistic Evolution.

Flat Earth’er

  1. The earth is flat because  Isaiah 11-12, Revelation 7-11 and Revelation 21-8 each refer to  “the four corners of the Earth”.
  2. Believers reject all modern knowledge of physics and chemistry.
  3. Fewer than 200 members in the world based upon the Flat Earth Society membership

Geocentrists

  1. Accept a spherical earth
  2. But believe in a geocentric not heliocentric solar system
  3. Reject all modern knowledge of physics and chemistry
  4. Total number of proponents is unknown but probably similar in number to Flat Earth’ers

Young Earth Creationists

  1. Followers of Henry Morris the founder of the Institute for Creation Research
  2. Accept a spherical earth
  3. Accept that our solar system is heliocentric and not geocentric
  4. But reject all other modern knowledge of physics and chemistry
  5. They believe the age of the earth is only 6 – 10 thousand years old
  6. And they deny all modern scientific theories about biological descent.
  7. This is the predominant Christian Protestant Fundamentalist view today

Old Earth Creationists

  1. Began in the mid-1800’s as a rational scientific view
  2. Accepted scientific evidence that the Earth is ancient
  3. Was endorsed by the Church of England and the Catholic Church.
  4. Theologically, the critical element of Special Creationism is that God was personally involvement in it; but how he did it was considered secondary.

Gap (or Restitution) Creation

  1. One of the better known accommodations of religion and science
  2. First articulated in the late 18th century.
  3. Believe there is a temporal gap between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2 and assume a pre-Adamic creation that was destroyed after Genesis 1:1 but before Genesis 1:2.
  4. God re-created the world in six days but the time gap between the two creations accounts for the ancient age determined by science

Day-Age Creationism

  1. More popular than Gap Creationism in the 19th century
  2. Redefines each of the six days of creation as long period of time
  3. Many literalists believe they have found a rough parallel between organic evolution in which plants appear before animals and human beings appear last.

Progressive Creationism

  1.  The majority of Creationists today believe in some form of Progressive Creationism
  2. Has no problem with the scientific data concerning the age of the Earth
  3. Although modern physical is science well accepted, this belief incorporates only parts of modern biological science.
    o   Plants and animals appeared at different times and were not created all at once time thus confirming the known fossil record
    o   Rejects genetic evidence linking earlier life forms to later life forms, i.e. “descent with modification” does not occur.
    o   There is sufficient genetic variability such that a created “cat” could turn into a lion, puma, bobcat or tiger through the normal
    micro-evolutionary processes of mutation and recombination, natural selection, genetic drift and speciation.
  4. God is the “creator” of all things but He acts through the natural law of His own creation.
  5. Adherents include Dr. Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe ministries.

Evolutionary Creationism

  1. God the Creator is actively in charge of the evolutionary process directing and guiding the emergence of life forms since the time of creation and different from Theistic Evolution therefore, God does not leave the evolutionary process to chance.
  2. Evolution does not contradict Biblical teaching.
  3. Many conservative evangelical Christians favor this view.

Theistic Evolution

  1. God creates through evolution and therefore astronomical, geological and biological evolution are accepted as realities.
  2. Adherents vary as to whether and how much God intervenes in the evolutionary process.  Deist beliefs assume no Godly intervention while some more conservative Christian and Jewish beliefs assume some intervention, especially concerning humankind.
  3. Theistic Evolution is the view taught at mainline Protestant seminaries today and is the official position of the Catholic Church.
  4.  In 1966, Pope John Paul II reiterated the Catholic position, in which God created, evolution happened, humans may indeed be descended from more primitive forms, but the hand of God was needed for the creation of the human soul.

Materialistic Evolution

  1. The sciences (biology, astronomy, quantum physics, genetics etc) are disciplines that study only the material world where it is possible to collect empirical evidence in support of scientific theory.  Since the metaphysical theories do not lend themselves to empirical testing and verification, they are outside the boundaries of scientific inquiry.
  2. It is neither pro-religious nor anti-religious.
  3. Material Evolutionists believe, among other things, that:
    o   earlier life forms are related genetically to later life forms
    o   descent with modification occurs i.e. different plants and animals appear at different  times and were not all created at the same time.
    o   natural selection, genetic drift and speciation are the factors that create the evolutionary process.
  4. All of the other Creation beliefs previously discussed have arisen almost solely in response to the overwhelming accumulation of data produced by the various scientific disciplines.

The careful reader might have noticed that Intelligent Design Creationism is missing from the list above.  There is good reason for this because IDC deals not with the question of the evolutionary process but instead with proving the existence of God.  IDC is a lineal philosophical descendent of William Paley’s argument from design, which asserts that God’s existence can be proved by examining his works.  As such, IDC overlaps Young Earth Creationists and Old Earth Creationists and does not fit neatly into one position along the Creation continuum.

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This paper is a summary in outline form of the material reprinted from Reports of the National Center for Science Education, 19:4, 16-17,21-23 and presented with modifications by Eugenie Scott in her article entitled “The Creation-Evolution Continuum, How to Avoid Classroom Conflicts” published in Skeptic Magazine, Vol. 10, No. 4, 2004.  Eugene Scott is the Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education.