Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism / Edition 1

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In Tower of Babel, philosopher Robert Pennock compares the views of the new creationists with those of the old and reveals the insubstantiality of their arguments. One of Pennock's major innovations is to turn from biological evolution to the less-charged subject of linguistic evolution, which has strong theoretical parallels with biological evolution both in content and in the sort of evidence scientists use to draw conclusions about origins Several chapters deal with the work of Phillip Johnson, a highly influential leader of the new creationists. Pennock explains how science uses naturalism and discusses the relationship between factual and moral issues in the creationism-evolution controversy. The book also includes a discussion of Darwin's own shift from creationist to evolutionist and an extended argument for keeping private religious beliefs separate from public scientific knowledge.

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Editorial Reviews

Eugenie C. Scott
...[N]eatly exposes the creationist roots of intelligent-design theory....Pennock systematically reveals the philosophical problems inherent in intelligent-design creationism....Certainly there are legal and scientific problems with the teaching of intelligent-design creationism. But perhaps of most concern, it misrepresents science as an inherently antireligious enterprise, and evolution as the first step down this slippery slope. This is no way to improve science literacy in America.
Scientific American \ \
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
According to University of Texas philosopher Pennock, creationism has been evolving, changing from an unsophisticated attack on biological evolution to a more refined and polished assault on the nature of science itself. Rather than offering sophomoric arguments and forged archeological displays, he contends, the new creationists are attempting to promulgate a philosophical construct, theistic science, that is both more subtle and more insidious. With great insight and good humor, Pennock catalogues the wide range of creationist beliefs, dissects their main arguments and highlights what he sees as their internal inconsistencies. He focuses most of his attention on explicating the alleged weakness of the premises of theistic science and its reliance on an "intelligent designer," contending that its incorporation of miracles into its explanatory sphere undermines all aspects of science. In clear, direct prose, Pennock uses the basics of linguistic evolution to go after the foundation of the new creationism while employing sound philosophical arguments to demonstrate that an evolutionary worldview is neither immoral nor the first step toward the acceptance of atheism. With the new creationists claiming that an evolutionary perspective is responsible for virtually all of the world's ills and their desire to make amends by restructuring public education and the legal system, the stakes are huge. Pennock's response, thoughtful, thorough and respectful, deserves to be widely read.
Library Journal
Informative and clearly written, this important book by a philosopher of science (Univ. of Texas, Austin) and Quaker critically surveys the specious arguments offered by biblical fundamentalists and new creationists--e.g., Phillip Johnson and Michael Behe--who reject the factual theory of organic evolution. Pennock stresses a crucial distinction between public knowledge and private beliefs, emphasizing that myopic religionists continue to deny the overwhelming evidence for biological evolution; the result is a serious threat to science education. Topics examined include neo-Darwinism, the evolution of language, philosophical naturalism, and the intelligent-design theory in so-called theistic science. For Pennock, "evolution is not an assumption accepted on faith, but a conclusion supported by a vast array of empirical data." Still needed, however, is a rigorous and truthful defense of the ontological materialism that underpins the scientific methodology, which Pennock himself so glowingly supports. As far as it goes, this is an up-to-date and excellent presentation of the ongoing creationism-evolutionism controversy. Recommended for large science, philosophy, and theology collections.--H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, NY
Eugenie C. Scott
...[N]eatly exposes the creationist roots of intelligent-design theory....Pennock systematically reveals the philosophical problems inherent in intelligent-design creationism....Certainly there are legal and scientific problems with the teaching of intelligent-design creationism. But perhaps of most concern, it misrepresents science as an inherently antireligious enterprise, and evolution as the first step down this slippery slope. This is no way to improve science literacy in America.
Scientific American
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262661652
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2000
  • Series: Bradford Books Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 451
  • Sales rank: 1,002,749
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert T. Pennock is Professor in the Lyman Briggs College and the Departments of Philosophy and Computer Science and Engineering at Michigan State University. He is a Co-PI of the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Creation and Evolution of a Controversy

It has often and confidently been asserted, that man's origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

--Charles Darwin

Speciation in Progress?

Creationism is evolving. Several new varieties of creationism have appeared recently and are competing to stake out a niche in the intellectual landscape. Someone who last looked in on the creationism debate in the 1980s would today still find much that is familiar but would also be struck by the significant changes the controversy has undergone. Creationism is no longer the simple notion it was once taken to be. Of course, the transformation should not be surprising if, using a slightly modified Darwinian model, we think of creationism as a cluster of ideas that reproduces itself by spreading from mind to mind and struggling with competing ideas for a home among a person's beliefs. Sometimes it loses out to more powerful rival ideas, but sometimes it finds receptive mental soil, takes root and waits to be passed on again. But mental environments themselves differ, and occasionally, it takes a change in the original cluster--a conceptual mutation, if you will--for a view to survive and successfully reproduce in the dynamic world of ideas. After a time, such changes add up to a point at which the conceptual landscape is peppered with distinguishable varieties. The differences now emergingwithin creationism have reached that far, and perhaps farther. We have reached a critical juncture, for when a population diverges significantly in its distribution of character traits we must ask whether we still have just different varieties of the same species or whether the varieties have become new and distinct species. This is an exciting time for creationism-watchers, for we may be observing a conceptual speciation event in progress.

    Probably in most people's minds the archetypal, or in biological terms the "wildtype," creationist is characterized by beliefs close to the following: God dictated the Bible word for word and so we must take it as literally true. From the Book of Genesis we know He miraculously created the world and all life, including our original ancestors, Adam and Eve, during a six-day work week just six-thousand years ago. He subsequently destroyed the world in a global flood, allowing only Noah and his family to survive in a huge Ark into which they had herded pairs of every kind of animal. All current people and animals are descendants of those on the Ark. And, oh yes, evolution did not happen, and we definitely are not related to monkeys.

    Today, however, one may find self-proclaimed creationists who modify or reject almost every element of this cluster. Moreover, there are other aspects of creationism that to date have received little attention. For most of us, our knowledge of the history of the creationism controversy begins with the trial of John Scopes, a substitute biology teacher in the little town of Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925, who had been charged with violating a state law against the teaching of evolution.

A Brief History of Creationism

The Scopes Trial and Other Cases

The Scopes trial had actually been provoked by the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge the Tennessee law as unconstitutional. As in many legal battles, the particular case that gets used to test a law is less important than the larger issues that it exemplifies, and in this instance even the major constitutional issue wound up taking a back seat to larger cultural issues. The "Monkey Trial" was widely seen as a clash between science and religion, with the larger-than-life attorneys--Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan--as the battling gladiators representing, respectively, evolution and creationism. Scopes himself was a bit player in this dramatic contest. In his memoirs he says he does not even remember for sure whether he actually taught evolution or not in his class. It also turned out to be insignificant in the big picture that Scopes lost the case; the Scopes trial was the first case that was really fought in the media. The national and international press covered the trial in great detail and the public followed the proceedings with the same fascination that it more recently followed the O. J. Simpson trial. Bryan was a well-known politician who had run for President, and saw the trial in part as an opportunity to raise awareness about the immorality that he thought was bringing American society to ruin--moral decay that he blamed on scientific materialism in general and evolution in particular for making people question biblical authority. Bryan himself took the stand to defend the Genesis account, though he came to regret this hubris. Under Darrow's pointed questioning, he quickly floundered. That he officially won the case only accentuated what was a very public humiliation. Having heard the evidence itself, the public mostly ignored the court's ruling and concluded on its own that evolution had triumphed. Though Fundamentalists were able to pass three more antievolution bills in other states in the four years following the Scopes trial, for the most part they abandoned their legislative efforts against the teaching of evolution. On the other hand, with the statute officially upheld, most textbook publishers chose to avoid potential problems by simply deleting mention of evolution or Darwin in new and revised editions of their science texts until nearly the end of the 1950s, so in fact the teaching of evolution in science classes lost further ground.

    The Tennessee statute under which Scopes was convicted remained in force until 1967, when another science teacher, Gary Scott, who had been fired from his job for violating it, successfully challenged the law. By this time, largely because of the push to upgrade American science education that had begun following the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik in 1957, evolution had finally begun to become integrated into the science curriculum, at least in the biology textbooks put together by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. In 1973, however, the Tennessee legislature passed a new law that required that any textbook that discussed the origins of man and the world had to give equal emphasis to the Genesis account. The explicit reference to Genesis made it a straightforward matter for the U.S. Court of Appeals to overrule the new law in 1975 as unconstitutionally giving preferential treatment to the biblical view of creation. But creationists were working to win back lost territory and, in the wake of the latest Tennessee defeat, they adopted a new strategy of introducing legislation (in some twenty states) that promoted creationism without making any explicit reference to the Bible. This led to a series of important cases that made their way in the 1980s through the U.S. courts, the most significant of which was the 1982 Rev. Bill McLean et al. v. Arkansas Board of Education case. Creationist activists had gotten the State of Arkansas to pass Act 590, legislation that required public schools to give "balanced treatment" to what they called "creation-science" and "evolution-science," and it was the constitutionality of this Act that was at issue in the case. The idea of creation-science had arisen at about the same time as the Sputnik launch, and can be dated from the publication in 1961 of The Genesis Flood, by John C. Whitcomb Jr., a Protestant theologian, and Henry M. Morris, who held a doctorate in engineering from the University of Minnesota and who subsequently went on to found the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), which remains the largest and most influential creationist organization. It is no exaggeration to credit this book as the impetus for the revival of the movement and the contemporary image of the wildtype creationist. We will see more of the details of the position shortly, but the basic thrust of creation-science was (and is) that creationism qualified as an alternative model to evolution and that it is verifiable--and indeed verified--scientifically. Act 590 legislated that the public schools incorporate creation-science into the biology curriculum alongside evolution and treat the two models on a par. The McLean case challenged that law.

The plaintiffs called upon scientific luminaries such as Francisco Ayala and Stephen Jay Gould as expert witnesses on evolution and the fossil record, Harold Morowitz on the second law of thermodynamics, and G. Brent Dalrymple on radiometric and other methods of geological dating. Their combined testimony devastated the pseudoscientific arguments of creation-science. Reading the post-trial write-up in the journal Science, one gets the impression that the case was won solely on the basis of the scientific testimony, but this assessment misunderstands a key feature of the case. It would not have been enough to show that creation-science was bad science, because the suit sought to overturn Act 590 on the grounds that creation-science was not a science but, rather, represented a disguised religious view of origins and thus still violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." To establish this conclusion, the more important testimony was that given by the witnesses whose expertise dealt with religion and philosophy of science. Among these were the Reverend Kenneth W. Hicks, Methodist bishop of Arkansas; Father Bruce Vawter, a De Paul University biblical scholar; George Marsden, a professor of American Religious History at Calvin College; Langdon Gilkey, professor of theology at University of Chicago Divinity School (who also was a consultant for the IRS, helping them determine whether particular groups qualified for religious tax exemptions); and Michael Ruse, philosopher of science from Guelph University. Judge William R. Overton's final opinion on the case makes little reference to the detailed scientific arguments refuting creation-science's claims but focuses more on the testimony that dealt with its status as religious or scientific. Overton defined science descriptively as "what scientists do" and "what is accepted by the scientific community," but he also incorporated what he called the "essential characteristics" of science that he culled from Ruse's testimony, namely:

1. It is guided by natural law;

2. It has to be explanatory by reference to natural law;

3. It is testable against the empirical world;

4. Its conclusions are tentative, i.e., are not necessarily the final word; and

5. It is falsifiable.

Judge Overton concluded that creation-science "fails to meet these essential characteristics" and thus "is not science." Furthermore, based on the theological testimony, he concluded that creation-science was religious and thus that Act 590 did indeed violate the Establishment Clause. I will look more closely at these characteristics of science and the issue of distinguishing science from religion in later chapters. Here, I just want to note that the defeat of creation-science in the Arkansas case was not primarily a victory of evolutionary theory itself but rather, because of the way the case was tried, depended upon deeper philosophical issues about the nature of science and religion and their relation to the law.

    Cases that followed McLean v. Arkansas in the 1980s dealt with creationists' subsequent attempts to find a crack in its ruling to push creationism through. Louisiana's Act for Balanced Treatment of Creation-Science and Evolution, for example, did not require teaching creation-science, but simply prohibited the teaching of evolution in public schools except when it was accompanied by instruction in creation-science. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Act unconstitutional in the 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard case, on the grounds that the Act impermissibly promoted religion by advancing the view that a supernatural being created humankind, and that comprehensive science education would be undermined if schools were forbidden to teach evolution.

The New Creationists

Entering the last decade of the millennium, a new generation of creationists began to reevaluate the old approach and to recast themselves in order to try new avenues of attack upon evolution. The textbook Of Pandas and People, for example, looks as though it was hand-tailored to try to slip between the lines of the law as drawn in the cases mentioned above. Also, at this time, some creationists began to avoid using the term "creation-science" altogether in favor of one or another euphemism, such as "abrupt appearance theory" or "initial complexity theory." The Pandas textbook was put together by the most significant group of new creationists, and the term that they use is "intelligent-design theory," or sometimes "theistic science." At the ICR, a generational transition was also underway, as Henry Morris turned over the reins to his son John Morris in the mid-1990s and stepped back to concentrate on writing. The present is a critical period for the ICR's leaders: Although they continue to expand their operations and seem more successful than ever, they find that new creationist groups with different theological commitments are challenging their leadership of the movement. There is a struggle going on in the Creationist Tower, and this is what has sparked the interest of creationism-watchers.

    In nature, when closely related groups of organisms (varieties of a species, say) occupy the same ecological niche, their competition for the same resources puts pressure on the populations and forces a transformation. Sometimes one group loses the battle and becomes extinct as the winner takes the spoils. Other times the battle forces the groups to diverge in their characteristics over generations so they eventually no longer compete for the same resources. This latter possibility, known as character displacement, may turn out to be the first step of a speciation event, the evolutionary creation of a new species. Could a similar process be occurring now in the conceptual environment as varieties of creationism struggle for dominance? We shall have to watch and see what happens. Think of this next section as a field guide to the varieties of creationism that are locked in battle not just with evolution, but also with each other.

Factions within the Tower

Terminological Issues

How shall we name and characterize the new varieties of creationism? Terminological issues will turn out to be very important as we sort through the creationism controversy. This will be especially clear once we get into questions dealing with the philosophy of science, for words that have one meaning in everyday circumstances are often given special definitions in philosophical and scientific contexts; but the point holds generally. If we are to try to understand the way people think who do not share our views, we must be careful not to assume that we mean the same thing even when we are using the very same terms. Often in this controversy, the disputants simply talk past one another because they are unaware that they are using the same words in quite different ways. This can easily happen, for instance, when a nonscientist misinterprets a scientific term by thinking of it as it is used in ordinary speech rather than its technical definition, but it can also happen when one is thinking about unfamiliar theological viewpoints. This problem will make it difficult to keep a steady eye on what is going on in the internal creationist battles, for the creationist factions find serious theological differences among themselves that outsiders may find inconsequential or even indistinguishable. As far I can, I will try to describe people's views using the terms as they themselves use them, but once we begin to compare different views this will sometimes become difficult. Readers should stay alert to the changing meanings of terms when we shift from one perspective to another, especially when one or another side is being quoted.

    Related to the problem of definition is another important terminological problem to watch out for. Once people do finally realize that disputants are using words in different ways they may simply judge that the conflict is "just a semantic issue." That is, they may conclude that there is nothing going on but a quarrel about the meaning of words, and that if all we are arguing about is whose definitions will be used, then the dispute really is without substance. One of the most difficult lessons that new students of philosophy must learn is how to move past pointless semantic quarrels about words and into the deep and substantive arguments about concepts. As we will see, several of the points of dispute in the creationism controversy are indeed little more than terminological differences, but many more have to do with very basic concepts such as God, Christianity, evidence, truth, and scientific knowledge.

    With these warnings about terminological pitfalls, I now turn to characterizing the new creationists.

Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, and Biblical Inerrancy

It is not quite correct to say that creationists are Fundamentalists, for within the spectrum of their religious views this term has a special theological meaning that is narrower than the way it is used in everyday contexts. Many creationists explicitly disavow the Fundamentalist label and describe themselves rather as Evangelicals. This sometimes reflects simply a denominational division--affiliation with the National Association of Evangelicals rather than with the American Council of Christian Churches. More often it reflects is a difference of theological emphasis, with Fundamentalists being more likely to refer exclusively to the King James version of the Bible, to hold to the immanence of Christ's Second Coming, and to separate themselves from the modern world to prepare for the "rapture" of true believers into heaven.

    For our purposes, the most important difference is in their stances on biblical hermeneutics. Evangelicals are more comfortable acknowledging the difficulties of interpretation, provided that one retains faith in "biblical inerrancy." This is the view that the Bible, as the revealed word of God, is itself without error in its original writings. However, not all Evangelicals believe that each and every word of the Bible comes directly from God as though the biblical writers were just taking dictation, a view that Matthew Arnold, the nineteenth-century essayist, described as "divine ventriloquism." While the most common hermeneutic among Evangelicals is plenary verbal inspiration (which holds that every part of the Bible is equally inspired, and that biblical writers were directed by God in their choice of subject matter and words, though they used their own style), a smaller percentage would hold the weaker view of inspired concepts (whereby God gave the thoughts to the writers, but permitted them, perhaps years later, to express these in their own words as they remembered them). While the inerrancy view does favor a literal reading, it recognizes possible vagaries of translation and allows that occasionally biblical language may be figurative, as in the parables. From without, these small differences of degree may seem inconsequential, but from within they are highly significant, thus setting up an environmental difference that profoundly affects the evolution of the creationism meme.

    As we lean in closer to examine the details of creationist beliefs, it will be easy to lose sight of the fact that their views stand as but fringe positions in the vast woods of Judeo-Christian theology (let alone the broad forests of religious belief generally). So, before we begin to look at the ways in which creationists see their antievolutionary positions as arising out of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, we must keep in mind that the majority of Christian theologians see no conflict between their faith and the findings of evolutionary biology. Even holding that the Bible is inerrant does not require that we think of it as giving a plainly literal account, especially with regard to scientific matters. Indeed, some argue that faith in biblical inerrancy requires that we not use a literalist hermeneutic, because taking all biblical statements at face value leads to dozens of explicit internal self-contradictions. Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong is one of many who have developed this argument. Spong is highly critical of biblical literalists, charging that by flying in the face of modern science their view is "destroying Christianity." Few theologians are as critical as Spong, but most are adamant that Christians should understand that believing in the Christian God and taking the Bible seriously does not mean that one must accept the creationists' antievolutionary view. Many offer compatibilist theological views, holding that it is perfectly reasonable to be a theist and an evolutionist. With that final reminder, let us peer into the Tower.

Young-Earth Creationism

Even creationists disagree about precisely how to understand the notion of biblical inerrancy, but the dominant view among them is that the Bible is meant to be read literally not only on matters of faith and spirit but also on all matters about the physical world that are mentioned. The creation of the world took six twenty-four hour days. God did not create human beings using physical, evolutionary processes, but formed Adam directly from the dust of the ground and Eve from Adam's rib. Jonah really was swallowed and lived for several days in the belly of a great fish. Methuselah in fact lived nine-hundred years.

    As we will see, creationists make a wide range of claims about matters of physical fact, and for them, these are inextricably tied to strong theological commitments. In their public activism, however, they try to disguise the theology and also to limit the physical claims to a smaller core set. In the Arkansas balanced-treatment act they pared down their explicit commitments to six theses, and these will serve as a useful initial characterization.

(1) Sudden creation of the universe, energy, and life from nothing; (2) The insufficiency of mutation and natural selection in bringing about the development of all living kinds from a single organism; (3) Changes only within fixed limits of originally created kinds of plants and animals; (4) Separate ancestry of humans and apes; (5) Explanation of the earth's geology by catastrophism, including the occurrence of a worldwide flood; and (6) A relatively recent inception of the earth and living kinds.

It is this last thesis especially that has come to characterize creationism in most people's minds. Though the vague wording obscures the content of the specific thesis, most people are aware that biblical literalists calculate the date of "inception" of the world by reference to the generations and chronology found in Genesis.

    The original calculation that the world is about 6,000 years old was made in the seventeenth century by James Ussher, Irish Archbishop of Armagh, and it was refined a few years later by Cambridge University's John Lightfoot who concluded that Creation took place on October 18, 4004 B.C. Adam was created on October 23, at 9 a.m. Of Lightfoot's estimate, historian E. T. Brewster wryly commented: "Closer than this, as a cautious scholar, the Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University did not venture to commit himself." Such misplaced precision seems amusing now but at that time their conclusion was taken as authoritative and was included as a margin note or sometimes as a section heading in early editions of the King James Bible.

    Current literalist creationists usually retain the 6,000 year figure but accept that there may be a margin of error in this interpretation of the Genesis chronology, and so they concede that the universe could perhaps be up to 10,000 years old. Though it is conceptually possible to endorse thesis (6) and reject the previous five points, in fact no creationist holds such a view. In the standard parlance, a "young-earth creationist" is someone who endorses all six theses. Sometimes these creationists refer to themselves as "recent creationists" (to emphasize that they believe Creation happened recently, not that they just recently became creationists) or, because the calculation refers to the date of Creation of everything ex nihilo and not just the creation of the earth, as "young-universe creationists." In the telegraphed language of the Internet, disputants commonly use the acronym "YEC" as a convenient label for this view (for example, "As a YEC, I believe that ..."). It would actually be helpful to be able to keep "YE creationism" and "YU creationism" distinct, and to use the latter term for the current dominant view described above and to drop "recent creationism" as ambiguous, but I will follow the well-established convention and use them all interchangeably.

    Today, the young-earth view is advanced by a veritable army of activist creationist groups. On the front lines and still in command of most of the Tower is the venerable Institute for Creation Research. Headquartered on the outskirts of San Diego in Santee, California, ICR describes itself in its publications catalog as engaging in a wide variety of "activities and ministries, all promoting the truths of scientific creationism and inerrant biblical authority in all fields of study and in all areas of life." As a publishing venture, ICR's output is prodigious; its catalog includes over a hundred and fifty titles, and its free monthly periodical "Acts and Facts" and quarterly devotional Bible study booklet "Days of Praise" are sent to hundreds of thousands of recipients on their mailing list. Because ICR is the largest, one of the oldest, and still by far the most influential of all the creationist organizations, I will be looking at its official views in detail later; here let me mention several of the less well-known young-earth groups.

    The Answers in Genesis (AIG) organization with headquarters in Florence, Kentucky, was founded by Ken Ham and Dr. Gary Parker. Describing itself as "a nonprofit, nondenominational evangelical organization dedicated to the urgent task of spreading the creation message," AIG holds seminars and publishes the Creation Technical Journal which includes papers by "leading creation scientists" and Creation ex nihilo, a colorful magazine that is aimed at the whole family. One recent article considered the question "Did Adam Have a Belly-button?" The Bible-Science Association, Inc. (BSA), recently renamed Creation Moments, is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota and publishes Bible-Science News. According to its promotional materials, BSA "[sleeks to analyze the arguments used in various science disciplines to support origins viewpoints, especially those arguments which are destructive to the Christian world view." In Ashland, Ohio is the Creation Research Society (CRS) that publishes the journal Creation Research Society Quarterly, and was founded to give a "complete re-evaluation of science from the theistic viewpoint." The United States is the home to by far the largest number of creationist groups and creationism for the most part remains a distinctly American phenomenon. However, one does find a growing number of creationists in other countries, including Australia and New Zealand, as the Fundamentalist movement continues to spread beyond its historic roots in the rural American Bible Belt. One of the most well-established overseas groups is the Biblical Creation Society (BCS) in Great Britain. It used to publish the journal Biblical Creation, but in 1987, beginning a trend, BCS changed the name of its periodical to the less obviously religious-sounding Origins. Among its articles one finds titles that range from "Where was Eden?" to "Dinosaurs--Designer Made?" There are many other smaller organizations that promote young-earth creationism. Several defer to the ICR, but others promote some unique variation of the young-earth view. A brief description of one of these will give a flavor of this sort of subfactionalism.

    The Center for Scientific Creation (CSC), located in Phoenix, Arizona, was founded by Air Force colonel Dr. Walt Brown, upon his retirement from the service. On its web site, from which the following quotations are taken, CSC describes itself as a

non-profit organization ... dedicated to the research of the origins of humankind as well as the questions listed below. Have you ever wondered about the evidence for creation and against evolution? Have you ever considered the possibility that the earth is less than 10,000 years old? Was there a worldwide flood during Noah's lifetime? Where did the water come from? Where did it go?

Brown, whose doctorate was in mechanical engineering, travels around the country giving seminars on creationism, and he wrote a book--In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood--that purports to answer these and dozens of other questions that he says baffle scientists. Most of the questions involve the issue of a global flood and illustrate the importance of thesis (5) for YECs. Brown is typical in wanting to explain all major terrestrial features (from the Grand Canyon and ocean trenches to major mountain ranges and the jigsaw fit of the continents) by reference to the catastrophic Noachian flood, but his special contribution to this topic is his unique "hydroplate theory," which he claims also explains how the continental plates move.

Perhaps the most perplexing question in the earth sciences today is barely verbalized in classrooms and textbooks: "What force moves plates over the globe and by what mechanism?" What is the energy source? The hydroplate theory gives a surprisingly simple answer. It involves gravity, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and water--lots of it.

Geologists would be very surprised to hear that they are perplexed by this question. Geology students cramming for exams and trying to memorize the textbook illustrations and the many details of the mechanisms of plate tectonics from their professors' lectures would certainly complain that Brown's statement does not match their experience. The way creationists handle continental drift and plate tectonics not only illustrates the great rift that separates their approach from that of scientists, but also reveals a few of the fault lines that divide their own ranks. Some creationists want to claim continental drift as a point in favor of the predictive ability and truth of "Biblical Science," claiming that it was already recognized and described in the Old Testament. In particular, they cite Genesis 10:25, which says "In the days of Peleg the earth was divided." Others, such as Wayne Frair (whose research specialty is herpetology) and Percival Davis argue that creationists must reject continental drift because it would undermine the recent chronology.

If the usual geological time scale is accepted, continental drift would have occurred at a rate of inches per year, which is reasonable. But if the much shorter chronology consistent with biblical relevation [sic] is accepted, the rate would have had to be many miles per year to produce the present location of the continents.

For YECs like Davis and Frair the brief chronology that they believe is divinely revealed in the Bible takes precedence over the wealth of geological evidence supporting continental drift and the standard geologic time-scale. Brown's hydroplate view also tries to avoid this purported conflict with Genesis by rejecting the scientific account and imagining the continents breaking apart and zipping, like surfers who have caught the curl of a monster wave, to their present locations on the subsumed waters of Noah's Flood.

    As we shall see, Brown's hydroplate theory is just one of many telling examples of how the creationist attack is aimed not just at evolution, but at science on many different fronts. We will look in some detail at the volleys of arguments that creationists hurl down upon the field of science from their Tower. These rain most incessantly upon evolutionary biology and geology, but they also fall upon chemistry, astronomy, physics and beyond. To hold that the world was created at most ten thousand years ago requires that YECs reject most of the scientific chronology--and everything that goes with it. The common public perception that the creationist controversy is just a fight about evolution seriously underestimates the scope of their attacks. However, to really understand creationists one must pay attention not just to the way they attack biology and the other sciences but also to the way they wage their internal battles. Young-earth creationism is no longer securely in control of the Tower. Although it remains by far the dominant form, the young-earth view is showing a few signs of weakening as some evangelical Christians promote competing creationist positions.

Old-Earth Creationism

The most obvious fault line dividing creationists has to do with the age of the earth. Opposing the young-earth camp are the old-earth creationists (OECs) who understand that the geological record simply cannot be squared with a recent creation. The following quotation from Fred Heeren gives a sense of how the line between the views is drawn.

Some of the great Bible teachers who I respect most happen to be recent Creationists, though I disagree with their position on creation's timing. I just don't think they're aware of all the facts. Science isn't their field.... The fact of creation is critical, but God's timing is not something to break fellowship over.

Heeren supports the scientific Big Bang theory and the view that the universe is around fifteen billion years old. Heeren explains that he used to be a YEC until he looked at the evidence for the Big Bang and saw that it proved that there was a beginning to the universe, and that the fine-tuning of the laws of the universe was a good argument for God. One of the main points of commonality among creationists is a shared desire that science be seen as providing scientific evidence of the Creator as depicted in the Bible. Young-earth creation-scientists do this by arguing that science supports the revealed claims of plain Scripture, and thereby proves that the Bible had it exactly right all along. Heeren, it seems, was able to break out of his YEC worldview when he decided that with but the small price of a change in interpretation, he was able to reconcile Scripture with the scientific age of the earth and get what he took to be a passel of new scientific support for the biblical Creator in the bargain. Despite having accepted this part of the scientific picture, he remains opposed to evolution.

    Old-earth creationists typically hold fast to the biblical inerrancy thesis, and many still think of themselves as Fundamentalists. Heeren is representative of OECs in this way; in general, they too would prefer something close to a literalist reading of Scripture, though there are disagreements about what this amounts to when confronted with specific passages. So how do OECs reconcile Genesis and an ancient earth? There is no simple answer, for as one looks closer one finds more fault lines, and factions within the factions, each with its own interpretation of the text. This is where the story really begins to get interesting.

    Probably the largest old-earth faction holds that the days of creation are not to be thought of as twenty-four hour human-sized days, but rather as God-sized days. Each "day" is like an age on a human scale, and each may have been millions or even billions of years long. For theological justification this "day-age interpretation" may appeal to God's omnipresence. We sometimes hear that God exists "simultaneously" at all points of space and at all times throughout eternity, or that that space and time exist "within" God, though such locutions are metaphorical since God is not taken to be part of the physical space-time continuum. In any case, because God exists outside of time as we know and experience it, we should not expect that our ordinary temporal notions could even apply to God's creative action. On this reading, Genesis speaks of days in the broad sense that we might speak of something happening "in Moses' day." Furthermore, proponents point out that this understanding of "day," though not strictly literal, is not unusual and clearly occurs in other sections of the Bible. On this reading we need not think that the six "days" of Creation would be short or even that they be the same length as each other. Perhaps they could even overlap one another. This sort of flexibility gives the day-age advocates plenty of room to accommodate as extended a geological chronology as might be needed to avoid a conflict with the scientific view.

    In fact, the day-age view has a much longer history than the YEC view described above, which originated as part of the "Flood Geology" of George McCready Price, who first developed the notion in his 1902 book Outlines of Modern Christianity and Modern Science. Price was a tireless crusader, but his view initially attracted little support outside his own Seventh-day Adventist sect. Before the young-earth creationists rose to power in the 1960s, bringing Price's marginal view for the first time to the forefront of the theological dispute in the Tower, the day-age interpretation was by far the predominant creationist view. Moreover, its advocates point out, this interpretation of Scripture was not concocted as an accommodationist concession to Darwin but may be traced back to the earliest Jewish and Christian thinkers; Augustine, Philo, Josephus, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Hippolytus, Origen, and Eusebius are among those frequently cited. Today the day-age view is most thoroughly defended by Hugh Ross, an astronomer who founded the "Reasons to Believe" ministry in 1986, and is endorsed by many others, such as Davis Young and many other members of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA). The ASA was founded in 1941 to "promote and encourage the study of the relationship between the facts of science and the Holy Scriptures," and its membership originally included both young-earth and old-earth creationists. However, over the course of its first two decades, ASA members who worked in fields related to radioactive dating and who were not tied to a literalist hermeneutic were able to shift the view of the organization against young-earth Flood Geology. The Creation Research Society was founded by unyielding young-earthers who split from the ASA, believing that it had abandoned the doctrines upon which it had been founded.

    A second common way that Christians have harmonized a literal reading of Genesis with the scientific picture of an ancient earth is known as the "gap interpretation." According to this reading of the "gappists," there is a time-gap of indeterminate length between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. All of geological history including the ages of the dinosaurs may be fit into these "pre-Edenic" times. This view is also known as the "ruin and restoration" interpretation, because it holds that God destroyed this original ancient world in a great cataclysm, perhaps as a judgment on Lucifer's rebellion, and then re-created the world in six literal twenty-four hour days as Genesis describes. C. I. Scofield was one important conservative theologian who promoted the gap interpretation in his Reference Bible writing: "The first creative act refers to the dateless past, and gives scope for all the geologic ages."

    Until the rise to dominance of the young-earth creationists beginning in the 1960s, the day-age and gap interpretations represented the standard creationist understanding of Genesis. In his masterful history of scientific creationism, The Creationists, historian Ronald Numbers shows how these were the commonly accepted creationist views in the previous century and through the first half of this century. He points out that William Jennings Bryan, whose defense of a literalist interpretation of Genesis at the Scopes trial made him an easy target for Darrow's ridicule, was no young-earth creationist but rather believed in an ancient earth under a day-age interpretation. Though many old-earth creationists today continue to support one or another of these two interpretations, in their recent debates on the Internet and elsewhere some have begun to promote several other ways that one may understand the Genesis account so that it does not conflict with the scientific view of the age of the world.

    One newly popular alternative, though with a history that goes back to the 1850s, is the "revelatory" or "visionary day interpretation." The description of the Creation in Genesis is from the point of view of some observer, but of course no one but God was present to have seen the formation of the universe ex nihilo. So how was Moses able to narrate this history? Since the Bible is taken to be directly inspired by God, the story goes, it is not unreasonable to suppose that God showed visions of the Creation to Moses. Certainly the descriptions of Creation in Genesis cannot be from God's perspective, given that an omnipresent God would know things "all at once" and from all points of view rather than seeing them in a temporal sequence from a particular point of view. Thus, the six days of Genesis 1 do not refer to the period of God's actual Creation, which may have begun long ago and continued for eons, but to days during which God revealed aspects of the Creation to Moses so that he could act as a virtual observer and witness.

    Another recently promoted view holds that the days of Genesis 1 are actual days, but that they are not consecutive. Rather, they are days, separated perhaps by millions of years, on which God proclaimed the next phase of creative activity. This "days of proclamation interpretation" is defended by Glenn Morton in his Foundation, Fall and Flood. Morton is a geologist who had been a young-earth creationist until the overwhelming evidence for an old earth he encountered in his work in petroleum geology forced him to reject that view and to make an agonizing reassessment of his Christian faith. He reports that this new interpretation has allowed many other YECs to become open to the scientific view.

The Battle between YECs and OECs

The young-earth and old-earth creationist factions are quite distinct. Though both take up arms against biology, holding that evolution must be false, they rarely are found on the field together because they are simultaneously sniping at one another in a battle for power within the creationist Tower. Heeren may plead that since both sides agree on the fact of Creation, the differences about timing are not worth breaking fellowship over; but in the end his view depends upon linking the details of Big Bang cosmogony to his preferred interpretation of the biblical account of God's creation of the world, so he is as adamant about rejecting the young-earth view as are scientists. For their part, YECs are unable to reach a truce with the old-earth camp's acceptance of the scientific account of the evolution of the universe for the same reason they cannot come to terms with the scientific account of the evolution of organisms, because they believe the OEC view to be in direct opposition to scriptural chronology as well as to central matters of theology.

    In their literature and presentations, each faction usually just ignores other positions and acts as though theirs is the only Christian view, and concentrates upon attacking the "anti-Christian" evolutionary view. For instance, in his book Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics (1993), ICR's veteran debater Duane Gish responds to scientists like Stephen Jay Gould, Ilya Prigogine, and Niles Eldredge, and philosophers of science such as Philip Kitcher and Michael Ruse whose work has rebutted his arguments, but he does not mention proponents of opposing forms of creationism who also have criticized his young-earth position, let alone other Christian views that criticize the project of creation-science generally. Furthermore, his bibliography of creation-science literature sticks almost exclusively to explicit proponents of the young-earth view (heavily weighted to works by fellow members of ICR) and omits any reference to Ross, Heeren, or other old-earth creationists. In this manner the reader may be led to believe that the argument is simply with biology and that there is just one correct Christian view. Phillip Johnson, who tries to redefine creationism in his own generic terms, never even mentions young-earth creationists in most of his writings and presentations. On the Internet, web sites devoted to one or another creationist viewpoint may provide links to pages of like-minded creationists, but rarely provide links to rivals' sites.

    When different factions do confront one another, each side quotes its favored biblical passages and marshals its exegetical forces to show that its view is the correct Christian position, and attacks the opposing side as being ignorant, misguided or damaging to the Faith. The dispute between the young-earth and old-earth camps hinges on how one should understand the Hebrew term that is translated as "day" in Genesis. This is an ancient debate. St. Augustine set an early precedent for the old-earth view's figurative interpretation when he weighed in on the issue in the fifth century, pointing out in De Genesi ad Litteram that these could not be ordinary solar days if only because Genesis itself tells us that the sun was not made until the fourth "day." For their part, young-earthers can cite the opinion of Martin Luther, who took issue with Augustine on this point in his Lectures on Genesis, writing: "So far as this opinion of Augustine is concerned, we assert that Moses spoke in the literal sense, not allegorically or figuratively, i.e., that the world, with all its creatures, was created within six days, as the words read." As one might imagine, to come down on one side or another of this debate requires that one make substantive decisions about how to approach scriptural interpretation, and such issues of hermeneutics quickly lead the disputants into deep theological waters.

    Hugh Ross defends the day-age interpretation in great detail in his 1994 book Creation and Time: A Biblical and Scientific Perspective on the Creation-Date Controversy. Ross takes special care to trace its theological history and to try to show that its acceptance does not imperil Christian faith. He is distressed that young-earthers put so much weight on the relatively minor issue of the date of Creation and pit their naive interpretation of words of the Bible against the facts of nature. As an astronomer, Ross is well aware of the strong evidence for the scientific view of an ancient universe, and he, like Heeren, is much more impressed by the way that the scientific cosmological theory supposedly meshes with the distinctly Christian story of Creation. To get this supposed theological payoff, however, he and other OECs have to try to show why the YEC interpretation of Scripture is doubtful.

    Old-earthers often begin by pointing out that Ussher's and Lightfoot's calculations were based upon an erroneous reading of the biblical genealogies, since they did not realize that the Hebrew words for father (`ab) and son (ben) can also mean forefather and descendant. Furthermore, they failed to recognize that Scripture occasionally "telescopes" the genealogies to emphasize the more important ancestors. Of course, even allowing for this sort of error will not get one very far in making up the billions of years of geologic history, so the argument quickly returns to the interpretation of yom. OECs admit that yom may mean a twenty-four hour solar day, but they argue that it may also refer to an indefinitely long period of time. It is in that sense that the term appears in Genesis 2:4, speaking of the "day" that all of God's creative activity took place in the course of the "days" of creation. Some translations render this sense using the English "when." For example, the new International Version uses the translation "when they were created," rather than the more transliteral "in the day that the Lord God made" as the King James version renders it. Furthermore, OECs note that in the Hebrew, Genesis 1 omits the definite article before each of the creation days (i.e., not "the first day" but "day one") and that in Hebrew prose the definite article could only be omitted in poetic style, which indicates that the use in Genesis is figurative rather than literal.

    One might think that it makes more sense that God rested after billions of years of creative labor than after a mere six ordinary days, but then again it is odd that an omnipotent being would have to rest in either case. Rather than give arguments from God's limitations, old-earth creationists focus on Adam's. They take a line advocated by Gleason Archer, an Old Testament scholar, who wrote that "it would seem to border on sheer irrationality to insist that all of Adam's experiences in Genesis 2:15-22 could have been crowded into the last hour or two of a literal twenty-four-hour day." In particular, could Adam really have named all the animals that God brought to show him in that short time, as Genesis tells us? Old-earther Walter Bradley, responding to a recent creationist's challenge about the proper interpretation of yom following one of his talks, ridiculed this implication of the twenty-four hour view, wondering if somehow the animals could have galloped and zoomed past Adam at top speed in the few hours that would have been open in his schedule that day, giving him perhaps a fraction of a second or so to name each.

    At this point the interpretive contest becomes increasingly arcane. Morris responds, first, that Adam could have completed the task because he was much more intelligent at that time just after his creation than we are today. This is because human beings supposedly became stupider after the Fall, the perfect state of their minds having been darkened by sin. Ross admits the loss of mental and physical perfection after the Fall, but says that in Adam's earlier perfect state he would have been all the more "meticulous" in performing the naming task, and so would have taken care to observe even those animals unique to distant continents, which would have actually slowed him down all the more, so the task might have taken years. Van Bebber and Taylor question Ross's scenario on the grounds that "the kind of God we know" would not have given Adam a task that would have required him to be alone for so long a time.

    As a second reply, YECs point out that Genesis does not say that Adam named all the animals, but only all of those kinds included among the livestock, the birds of the air, and the beasts of the field, which is a smaller group. Be that as it may, estimating the number of these kinds from information in the Bible is more difficult even than estimating the age of the earth (though perhaps a bit easier than figuring out the number of angels that could dance on the head of a pin). The calculation is complicated by the fact that the created "kinds" may not correspond to the contemporary notion of species. Ross assumes there were many thousands of kinds for Adam to name. Archer had thought Adam's task impossible even though he estimated Adam had to name only hundreds of kinds of animals. Henry Morris estimated perhaps 3,000 kinds, but Van Bebber and Taylor come to his defense, arguing that "all" may not mean "each and every" but could refer to "the collective nature of God's creation." Lest one think that this leaves us with an even trade of a literal reading of "day" for a figurative reading of "all," they suggest that the actual number of animals that Adam had to name was really just that number needed for him to realize God's purpose, which they say was to "get the point" that he was alone and that there was no helper among the animals for him. They think it "probable" that he could have realized this in a matter of hours.

    Mark Van Bebber and Paul Taylor, who are both directors of the young-earth creationist company Films for Christ, have written a book with the same main title as Ross's book, Creation and Time, that attacks Ross's brand of old-earth creationism point for point. They say they believe that Ross is a saved Christian, and they praise his opposition to evolution, and his desire to evangelize, as well as "his ability to remain relatively cool and self-controlled under pressure." Nevertheless, they believe that his old-earth teachings "are leading people down a wrong and dangerous path--a trail trod by many in the past that has repeatedly led ultimately to even more serious theological problems and loss of faith in God's word." In this they sound a warning about the slippery slope to atheism which we will hear echoed again and again by creationists of all stripes: If you can't trust that Genesis is literally true, then how can you trust the rest of the Bible?

    Furthermore, the age of the earth is not a minor or peripheral doctrinal point, they argue, because: "Ultimately, all biblical doctrines of theology are based directly or indirectly on the book of Genesis. If the foundation (Genesis) is damaged, the structure (Christianity) is in peril." Creationists of all sorts are sympathetic to this general argument, but YECs have a particular theological interpretation of Genesis and its relation to Christ's message in the New Testament that makes the age of the earth (and other points about Creation) not open to compromise. It would be a fascinating excursion to look into this doctrinal debate but this would take us too far afield, so here I just mention the most important among these theological points, which involves the issue of death. Van Bebber and Taylor say that Ross's old-earth creationism is in the same boat as evolution in that it accepts physical death and suffering for long ages before Adam's sin. Death before the Fall, they say, is not only clearly contradicted by the Genesis account of Creation, but to accept it would be to obviate the need for Christ's sacrifice. Jesus' crucifixion atoned for the sin that Adam brought into the world for which death was the punishment, and it is through Christ alone that one may be saved from sin and thus from death. If there was death and suffering before sin entered the world when Adam disobeyed God's command not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, then this would undermine what they take to be the whole message of the Bible and the very meaning of Christ's own death and resurrection. YECs believe that to accept an old-earth view, be it creationist or evolutionist, is tantamount to digging the grave of Christianity.

    But what about the scientific evidence that supports an ancient universe? Ross claims in his writings that he is only showing how the Bible fits with the facts of nature. Van Bebber and Taylor attack Ross with the same charge creationists make against evolution, namely, that what he calls the "facts" of cosmogony and cosmological evolution are no more than theories, hypotheses, and assumptions.

It is apparent that Dr. Ross's teachings concerning the length of the Creation Week and small extent of the Flood has little to do with real study of the Hebrew syntax or literary genre. He came to his conclusions based upon his assumptions about scientific "fact." His arguments do not change the Bible's statements.

Citing Calvin as their authority, Van Bebber and Taylor state the standard creationist view that our understanding of the world must be based upon Scripture and that we must interpret the world through the spectacles of God's special revelation. If there is a conflict with secular science then secular science must give way to God's revealed truth. Ross, they say, has the relationship backwards.

Dr. Ross clearly believes that we must put on the eyeglasses of modern science if we are to fully understand the Bible. Dr. Ross's view ... stands in complete and total opposition to that of John Calvin, one of the most influential theologians of all time.... Sound interpretations of the Bible (built upon a literal, historical, grammatical hermeneutic) should not be invalidated by the ever-changing whims of secular origins science.... Due to human depravity, the "facts" of science can be misrepresented; even the experimentation of man can be twisted to sinful ends. True scientific facts will always complement God's Word.

But of course, the scientific facts often do not fit the plain reading of the Bible. Scientists looking at the empirical evidence find that it clearly supports an ancient evolving universe and an evolving biological world, in contradiction to the YEC view on both these points. Ross argues that we may learn from God's Creation directly, and YECs agree but only up to a point. When push comes to shove on the testimony of the book of nature versus the testimony of the Book itself, YECs say that we must follow the latter. They will then try to show why the physical evidence is doubtful, or, if finally forced to it, they may adopt the solution proposed by Henry Philip Gosse in 1857 in his Omphalos. In this work Gosse introduced what is known as the "appearance of age" thesis, namely, that the universe is as recent a creation as Genesis tells us it is, but that God created it so that it looked old. Embedded in deep layers of rock we find what appear to be ancient fossils of long-extinct creatures, but that is because God placed them there when he laid down those beds six-thousand years ago. We see light from stars millions of light-years away because God neatly created it already in transit. God simply created a "mature" earth. YECs who accept this view are called "mature-earth creationists."

    Of course, it is only fair to acknowledge that many people find it troubling to think that God would deceive us by creating the world in such a way that the physical evidence disguised the truth. Mature-earth creationists regularly have to counter the worry that their view makes God a deceiver. In the end the issue perhaps turns on the question of whether or not Adam had a belly-button. Since Adam was not "born of woman" but was formed directly from the dust he would not have had an umbilical cord. But would it have been deceptive of God to nevertheless form Adam with its mark? Gosse had considered this an important enough issue to refer to it in naming his book; Omphalos means "navel." Creationists stand ready to debate this central point in the controversy. But let us not delve into it any deeper. I here leave the issue of the navel for the reader to contemplate.

I have discussed the conflict between the YECs and the OECs in considerable detail ... perhaps in greater detail than many readers would have wished. Viewed from the sidelines, the hermeneutical battle between the YECs and the OECs may appear to many to be like the Great Butter Battle described by Dr. Seuss. Does it really matter so much on which side of the bread they spread the theological butter? To someone not engaged in the battle, the outcome may seem inconsequential; but I believe that it has been worth laying out the lines of this one aspect of the struggle for power in the Tower with some care, to illustrate a few important points.

    The first lesson to be learned is that creationism is not a single conceptual species but has significant distinguishable varieties and subvarieties. Recognizing this will alert us to watch out for differences when observing and confronting creationists in the wild. Many scientists still seem to think that all creationists are young-earthers and this leaves them unprepared to respond to new threats from unfamiliar quarters.

    A related second point is that, from the creationists' own point of view, it makes a great deal of difference indeed which side of the bread gets the butter. Holding to the proper theology--the True Christianity--is absolutely essential. Everything else is to be judged by the orthodox standard, and seemingly minor points of difference may be just those defining beliefs that differentiate the right from the wrong. Creationism is a pure form of religious orthodoxy and, as such, it defines itself by those it excludes. As we will see in a later chapter, creationists portray their struggle with evolution as a battle for truth, purpose, morality, and the very survival of the Christian Faith. One important lesson we need to take from the review above is that creationists have narrow views of what constitutes the true Christianity ... so narrow that they end up factionalizing and excluding even one another, not to mention the vast majority of other religious and nonreligious believers.

    The third point I hope that the review illuminated is the way in which these theological commitments drive creationists' stand on scientific matters. In one sense this is a familiar point for it was always patently obvious that the young-earth "creation-science," even though stripped of explicit biblical references and advocated using "scientific" terminology, is based on and motivated by a literalist reading of the book of Genesis. What is new is the recognition of the several distinct creationist theologies and that these determine what part or parts of science the different factions are willing to accept.

    Finally, I hope the reader has begun to get a sense of what creationists take to be evidence and how they go about evaluating it. Creationists do cite scientific evidence when it supports their view, especially in public forums, but among themselves they quickly return to theological arguments, because they take the Word of God to be the true source of all knowledge and the basis upon which empirical evidence must ultimately be judged. In her superb insider sociological study of Fundamentalism, Nancy Ammerman notes that for Fundamentalists, the Bible "provides not only practical and ethical guidance but also scientific information about the physical universe and the history of the world." We noticed that evangelical OECs were a bit more lenient in their interpretation of Scripture, which allows them to be open to the scientific evidence for an ancient universe, but in the end they too believe that empirical evidence must pass theological muster. This last point about how we should evaluate empirical evidence will be of particular importance to our story for it is where philosophy of science enters the picture and where the new creationists are pressing the attack.

    Having used the battle between the YECs and OECs to highlight these points, I will not continue to describe in detail the other divisions among the creationist factions in the Tower, though one could easily do this on other characteristic points, such as whether Noah's Flood was global or localized. Having looked in on one struggle, one can fairly well predict how these other skirmishes go. There are, however, a few other important parties, so let me introduce them briefly.

Progressive Creation vs. Theistic Evolutionism

The battle between the YECs and the OECs is representative of internal creationist struggles and its battle lines are probably the most clearly drawn since they involve a specific issue--the timing of Creation--and because the incompatibility of the scientific account with a plain reading of Scripture is so clear. Other divisions are fuzzier, especially between those positions that accept more and more of the scientific picture. I want now to mention two positions--progressive creationism (PC) and theistic evolutionism (TE)--that are especially important because their interface marks the edge of creationism.

    Progressive creationism accepts much of the scientific picture of the development of the universe, assuming that for the most part it developed according to natural laws. However, especially with regard to life on earth, PCs hold that God intervened supernaturally at strategic points along the way. On their view, Creation was not a single six-day event but occurred in stages over millions of years. George McCready Price dismissed this idea as a "burlesque" of creation, and many YECs continue to hold this opinion of progressive creation. The PC view tends to overlap with other views, particularly with old-earth creationism. Hugh Ross is a progressive creationist and is attacked by YECs for that view as much as for his view regarding the age of the earth.

    Just across the border from progressive creationism lies theistic evolutionism, which is the most common term used to describe theists who accept the scientific evidence for Darwinian evolution. I should point out that some people take TE to be the view that God directly guided the process of evolution, but this latter view seems more often to be known as "evolutionary creationism" (EC) and I shall keep these views distinct. (It is hard to see how to distinguish EC from PC, except that the latter has a longer history and seems to have a somewhat more specific set of commitments.) Another term that is used on occasion as a synonym for TE is "providential evolutionism" (PE), though it too seems occasionally to be used inconsistently. Because there do not yet seem to be commonly accepted definitions for PE and EC, for the most part I will avoid them. There are many people one could cite as TEs and several, such as Oxford University biologist and theologian Arthur Peacocke, who have articulated the view in considerable detail, but I will briefly discuss just one--Howard van Till--because he seems to brush right up against the border.

    Van Till is a scientist and a Christian of Calvinist and Kuyperian background, who assumes that the biblical doctrine of creation is essential to Christian faith, as he writes, "To know God as Redeemer, we must first know him as Creator." This may make van Till sound like a creationist, but he holds that we must carefully distinguish two categories of questions about the material world. The first category has to do with its "internal affairs" and includes its properties, behavior, and history; and the second category has to do with its "external relationships" and includes its status, origin, governance, value, and purpose. Although we should look to the Bible to answer the second category of questions, the "appropriate source of answers for the Christian" to the former category is "the created cosmos itself, which is constituted and governed in such a way that it is amenable to empirical investigation and is intelligible to the human mind." Opposing the creationist view while still accepting both God and science, van Till promotes what he calls a "creationomic" view. On the issue of evolution he concludes:

I see no reason, either scientific or theological, to preclude the possibility that the temporal development of life-forms follows from the properties and behavior of matter.... I believe that the phenomenon of biological evolution, like any other material process, is the legitimate object of scientific investigation.... I would be terribly surprised to discover that we live in a universe that is only partially coherent, a universe in which the temporal development of numerous material systems proceeds in a causally continuous manner while the history of other systems is punctuated by arbitrary, discontinuous acts unrelated to the ordinary patterned behavior of matter.

Because theistic evolutionists do not reject evolutionary theory, they may not enter the Tower itself, and even though they believe in God they regularly find themselves under attack by creationists. It is in the debates between creationists and evangelical TEs that the arguments become most vitriolic. Creationists accuse TEs of collaborating with the enemy, and TEs accuse creationists of giving Christianity a bad name; though both sides may begin with charitable intentions the debates often degenerate into a verbal slugfest. The animosity among the various factions is especially evident in on-line creationist discussion groups, where, to give just a few examples, TEs charge PCs with being "destructive to dialog," YECs say OECs are "accommodationists," and members of every faction regularly charge advocates of others with being "deceitful," "naive," or "unchristian." One long-time discussant, frustrated with the "personal attacks and patronizing suggestions" he said he had endured, vowed that he would "not pull my punches any more." Though on-line messages appear with the sender's moniker, I'll leave these comments anonymous. One finds similar accusations leveled at one time or other from and toward members of all the various factions.

Intelligent-Design Creationism

The OECs' battle against the YECs and the other factional disputes are important developments, but such infighting is only one aspect of the evolution of the new creationism. Now we come to what may be the most significant recent development in the conceptual evolution of creationism. A more powerful movement is gaining strength within the Tower and is beginning to take the lead in the battles against evolution in the field. This is the group of creationists that advocates "theistic science" and promotes what they call "intelligent-design theory." Creationism-watchers have called the advance guard of intelligent-design creationism (IDC) the "upper tier" of creationists because, unlike their earlier counterparts, they carry advanced degrees from major institutions, often hold positions in higher education, and are typically more knowledgeable, more articulate, and far more savvy.

    There are a dozen or two names that appear most frequently in association with the ideas of intelligent-design and theistic science, but because this variation of creationism is still relatively new and its advocates have not all published or explicitly identified themselves under these labels it is not yet clear whom to list among its leaders. Walter Bradley, Jon Buell, William Lane Craig, Percival Davis, Michael Denton, Mark Hartwig, J. P. Moreland, Hugh Ross, and Charles B. Thaxton are important figures. Another is John Angus Campbell, a University of Memphis rhetorician, and he mentions Nancy Pearcey, Del Ratzsch, Tom Woodward, John Mark Reynolds, Walter ReMine, and Robert Koons (who is a colleague of mine in the philosophy department at The University of Texas at Austin), as being among the "key players" of "our movement." Among the more well-known names to sign on to the crusade are Michael Behe (Lehigh University) and Dean Kenyon (San Francisco State University) on the scientific side, and Alvin Plantinga and Peter van Inwagen (both of Notre Dame) on the philosophical side. Perhaps more significant, however, are the younger members of the group--William Dembski, Paul Nelson, Stephen C. Meyer, and Jonathan Wells. These "four horsemen" have dedicated their lives to the creationist cause and have been collecting multiple graduate degrees (Dembski in mathematics, philosophy and theology; Meyer and Nelson in philosophy; and Wells in religious studies and molecular and cellular biology) so they will be fully armored and ready to ride forth. (Nelson, in particular, has an impressive creationist pedigree; he is the grandson of Byron C. Nelson, who helped organize one of the earliest creationist organizations--the Religion and Science Association--and who authored several classic YEC books.) This young group has garnered significant financial backing, and in 1996 they transformed the creationist journal Origins Research into Origins & Design, which, as part of the Access Research Network, is now the official platform for intelligent-design creationism. We will see more of these warriors and others who wear their colors, but there is one more new creationist champion to introduce.

    The most influential new creationist and unofficial general of this elite force is Phillip Johnson, of the University of California at Berkeley. Johnson is neither a scientist nor a philosopher nor a theologian, but is a professor of criminal law at Berkeley Law School. He joins the ranks of other lawyers like Norman MacBeth and Wendell R. Bird, who have taken up the creationist banner over the decades. Johnson burst onto the field of battle in 1991 with the publication of his book Darwin on Trial, which he has followed up with more books, including Reason in the Balance (1995c) and Defeating Darwinism (1997), as well as a barrage of articles.

    In most of his writings and speeches, Johnson tries to avoid making specific commitments on the points of contention that divide the main creationist camps. This is one of the identifying characteristics of intelligent-design creationists (IDCs). In articles by IDCs one never sees anything about the Great Flood, and the issue of Noah's Ark is avoided like the plague. As far as possible, they shun even mentioning the Book of Genesis or its interpretation. Usually, one has to look carefully to find a veiled reference, let alone a forthright statement, that indicates a specific stand on the age of the earth. Trying to offer a banner under which the different factions could unite, IDCs, taking a cue from C. S. Lewis's ecumenical notion of a simple "mere Christianity," at times promote the idea of "mere Creation."

    According to Johnson, the key elements of the creationist view are that there is a (1) Personal Creator who (2) is supernatural, and who (3) initiated and (4) continues to control the process of creation (5) in furtherance of some end or purpose. This generic definition simply ignores all the factional disputes and sets forth a common minimal set of principles. I will look more closely at Johnson's characterization of creationism in chapter 4, but here let me just note a sixth common element that is implicit in this definition, namely, (6) a rejection of theistic evolution. Other IDCs make this final commitment more explicitly. In a published talk he gave at the Princeton Apologetics Seminar, William Dembski drew the line clearly in the sand:

Design theorists are no friends of theistic evolution. As far as design theorists are concerned, theistic evolution is American evangelicalism's ill-conceived accommodation to Darwinism. [Emphasis in original]

As we proceed, we will have to compare this minimal notion of creationism to the more specific views we saw in the earlier definition of creation-science, but for the most part this will be the basic sense of creationism that I will take for granted and that we will return to again and again. There is much more to be said about the views of Johnson and the IDCs; evaluating their position in comparison with the views of YECs and other creationists will be one of the main tasks of this book. For the remainder of this chapter, however, let me finish laying out some of the other ways in which creationism has been evolving.


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Table of Contents

Preface: Creationism's Tower
1 Creation and Evolution of a Controversy 1
2 The Evidence for Evolution 43
3 The Tower of Babel 117
4 Of Naturalism and Negativity 181
5 Chariots of the Gods 215
6 Deus ex Machina 277
7 Burning Science at the Stake 309
8 Babel in the Schools 343
Notes 379
References 399
Index 413
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 31, 2012

    Highly Educational

    The most thorough book on the market regarding the various forms of creationism and their various flaws. I recommend it for anyone who has to teach science, especially biology, as I'm sure you have had to deal with parents and students who come to you with creationist ideas. To that end, I would also recommend DEFENDING EVOLUTION, which is specifically designed to deal with such students.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2004

    Excellent critique of creationism's factions

    Despite some rambling and what I consider some structural flaws in the book, I recommend this book because the author describes very well the various factions found within the Creationist movement and exposes their goals for what they are, a repudiation of the scientific method and an introduction of supernatural causes to scientific studies. Pennock does an especially good job of picking apart the usual 'creation science' and 'intelligent design' arguments and shows how weak and implausible creationism is as a matter for study scientifically. I recommend this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2003

    An enjoyable read for the interested layperson

    In addition to the cogent arguments found in this book, Pennock's writing style is very easy to read. This is no dry treatese or thundering's that great rarity of science popularization, a good read. Speaking as a physicist who has only dabbled in the topics of this book, I had no trouble following the arguments and references, and I found it as engaging as any of the non-science works I read for entertainment. P.S. I originally found out about the book because my office was two doors down from Dr. Pennock's, although I found reviews of it soon after release.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2001

    The Debate Continues

    If you have any interest in science and science education, this book will inform, fascinate and frighten you. Professor Pennock provides a clear introduction to the history of the continuing war between biological evolution and ¿creationism.¿ He describes the various factions inf the creationist movement including young earth creationism, old earth creationism, theistic evolutionism, extraterrestrial creationism and the more sophisticated intelligent design creationism. Unfortunately, they all have the same goal: to remove real science from the classroom and replace it with a ¿science¿ based on the Bible or some other revelation. He explains how creationists blame biological evolution for virtually all the evils in modern society. Attacking evolution is only a small part of their agenda. The ultimate goal is to undermine the scientific method, which creationists perceive as a godless, materialistic philosophy. They insist that scientists must be balanced and fair. How? By including the possibility of supernatural causes in scientific methodology. Professor Pennock explains (and demolishes) the works of prominent ¿intelligent design¿ creationists, including Micheal Behe and his ¿irreducible complexity¿ theory, and law professor Phillip Johnson and his notion of ¿theistic science,¿ an oxymoron if ever there was one. This book also introduces the reader to the philosophy of science. It is well written and accessible to the intelligent layperson. If possible I would give it 10 stars.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2001

    The New Creationism

    In Tower of Babel Pennock does a wonderful and thorough job of tracing the history of the Creationist movement from it's earliest roots to the recent emergence of 'Intelligent Design' advocates. The title comes from his insightful comparison of the evolution of language with the evolution of species. His intent is to show how a fact (The evolution of language) that conflicts with a literal reading of the Bible (the Tower of Babel)doesn't undermine religion nor make those who study science or languages a reasonable target for the vitriol of believers.. He also demonstrates in a fair and even handed way why efforts to sneak religion and mysticism into public school science classes is wrong headed and counterproductive. While teachers and scientist go about their business the creationists never rest in their efforts to wedge their agendas into the public sector. This book is an excellent update on the whole issue. It's very readable and never boring or preachy. I Highly reccomend it.

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