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The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

What is Creationism?

by Mark Isaak
Copyright © 2000-2002
[Article: May 30, 2000]
[Links Updated: December 12, 2002]

Other Links:
So You Want to be an Anti-Darwinian: Varieties of Opposition to Darwinism
A survey of non-Darwianian ideas.
Creation/Evolution Organizations
A survey of organizations involved in the creation/evolution controversy


Despite many people's tendency to think of all creationists in one group and all evolutionists in another, "creationism" refers to a wide range of beliefs. This article gives a brief introduction to creationist positions. It tries to cover the breadth of creationist beliefs (and a little of the variety of evolutionist belief), but it gives little depth. In addition to the positions, it lists some influential people, organizations, books, and periodicals which espouse the positions. Interested readers may look up these references. Also, a section near the end gives suggestions for further reading.

The differences between types of creationism are not minor. Most of the creationist beliefs described below are mutually exclusive, and often their differences are as great as their differences with evolution. Many creationists disagree as much with other creationists as they do with evolutionists. Morris, for example, devotes the last 20% of his book Scientific Creationism to attacks on other forms of creationism (Morris 1985).

Part 1 of this article examines varieties of Christian Creationism, because Christianity in its various forms is by far the most prevalent religion in the United States. (Creationism in any form is a relatively minor force in other parts of the world.) Since creationism grades gradually into evolution, part 1 also considers evolutionary beliefs. Part 2 considers non-Christian creationism and some other views of origins. Creationist ideas through history and non-creationist anti-evolutionism are not covered here (but see the "Further Reading" section).

Part 1: The Creation/Evolution Continuum in Christian Creationism

Creation and evolution are not a dichotomy, but ends of a continuum (see figure), and most creationist and evolutionist positions may be fit along this continuum (Scott 1999). The successive steps labelled in the figure are described below.

Flat Earthers

Flat Earthers believe that the earth is flat and is covered by a solid dome or firmament. Waters above the firmament were the source of Noah's flood. This belief is based on a literal reading of the Bible, such as references to the "four corners of the earth" and the "circle of the earth." Few people hold this extreme view, but some do.


Geocentrists accept a spherical earth but deny that the sun is the center of the solar system or that the earth moves. As with flat-earth views, the water of Noah's flood came from above a solid firmament. The basis for their belief is a literal reading of the Bible. "It is not an interpretation at all, it is what the words say." (Willis 2000) Both flat-earthers and geocentrists reflect the cosmological views of ancient Hebrews. Geocentrism is not common today, but one geocentrist (Tom Willis) was intrumental in revising the Kansas elementary school curriculum to remove references to evolution, earth history, and science methodology.

Young-Earth Creationism

Young Earth Creationists (YEC) claim a literal interpretation of the Bible as a basis for their beliefs. They believe that the earth is 6000 to 10,000 years old, that all life was created in six literal days, that death and decay came as a result of Adam & Eve's Fall, and that geology must be interpreted in terms of Noah's Flood. However, they accept a spherical earth and heliocentric solar system. Young-Earth Creationists popularized the modern movement of scientific creationism by taking the ideas of George McCready Price, a Seventh Day Adventist, and publishing them in The Genesis Flood (Whitcomb & Morris 1961). YEC is probably the most influential brand of creationism today.


The Omphalos argument, first expounded in a book of that name by Philip Henry Gosse (1857), argues that the universe was created young but with the appearance of age, indeed that an appearance of age is necessary. This position appears in some contemporary young earth creationist writing. For example, Whitcomb & Morris (1961, p. 232) argue that earth's original soils were created appearing old. The position is sometimes satirized by suggesting that the universe was created last week with only an appearance of older history.

Old Earth Creationism

Old-Earth Creationists accept the evidence for an ancient earth but still believe that life was specially created by God, and they still base their beliefs on the Bible. There are a few different ways of accomodating their religion with science.

Gap Creationism (also known as Restitution Creationism)

This view says that there was a long temporal gap between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, with God recreating the world in 6 days after the gap. This allows both an ancient earth and a Biblical special creation.

Day-Age Creationism

Day-age creationists interpret each day of creation as a long period of time, even thousands or millions of years. They see a parallel between the order of events presented in Genesis 1 and the order accepted by mainstream science. Day-Age Creationism was more popular than Gap Creationism in the 19th and and early 20th centuries.

Progressive Creationism

Progressive Creationism is the most common Old-Earth Creationism view today. It accepts most of modern physical science, even viewing the Big Bang as evidence of the creative power of God, but rejects much of modern biology. Progressive Creationists generally believe that God created "kinds" of organisms sequentially, in the order seen in the fossil record, but say that the newer kinds are specially created, not genetically related to older kinds.

Intelligent Design Creationism

Intelligent Design Creationism descended from Paley's argument that God's design could be seen in life (Paley 1803). Modern IDC still makes appeals to the complexity of life and so varies little from the substance of Paley's argument, but the arguments have become far more technical, delving into microbiology and mathematical logic.

In large part, Intelligent Design Creationism is used today as an umbrella anti-evolution position under which creationists of all flavors may unite in an attack on scientific methodology in general (CRSC, 1999). A common tenet of IDC is that all beliefs about evolution equate to philosophical materialism.

Evolutionary Creationism

Evolutionary Creationism differs from Theistic Evolution only in its theology, not in its science. It says that God operates not in the gaps, but that nature has no existence independent of His will. It allows interpretations consistent with both a literal Genesis and objective science, allowing, for example, that the events of creation occurred, but not in time as we know it, and that Adam was not the first biological human but the first spiritually aware one.

Theistic Evolution

Theistic Evolution says that God creates through evolution. Theistic Evolutionists vary in beliefs about how much God intervenes in the process. It accepts most or all of modern science, but it invokes God for some things outside the realm of science, such as the creation of the human soul. This position is promoted by the Pope and taught at mainline Protestant seminaries.

Methodological Materialistic Evolution

Materialistic Evolution differs from Theistic Evolution in saying that God does not actively interfere with evolution. It is not necessarily atheistic, though; many Materialistic Evolutionists believe that God created evolution, for example. Materialistic evolution may be divided into methodological and philosophical materialism. Methodological materialism limits itself to describing the natural world with natural causes; it says nothing at all about the supernatural, neither affirming nor denying its existence or its role in life.

Philosophical Materialistic Evolution

Philosophical materialism says that the supernatural does not exist. It says that not only is evolution a natural process, but so is everything else.

Part 2: Non-Christian Creationism

Not Easily Classifiable Positions

There are some positions on origins which don't fit cleanly in the continuum given above. Nor are they based on religion (although the Raelian position is the basis for a religion). They have little influence, but they are worth noting as illustrations of the variety of beliefs which people hold.


The Raelians believe that life was created by scientists from another planet. The scientists continue to visit earth and were mistaken for gods.


Panspermia is the position that primitive life, in the form of bacteria or other microbes, was carried to earth from other star systems. Other life evolved from there.

Catastrophic Evolution

This position says that evolution occurred suddenly, driven by extreme, planet-wide catastrophes.

"Scientific" Creationism from Other Religions

Islamic Creationism

Contemporary Islam has a greater tendency to literalism than Christianity does. The Koran is taken by almost all Muslims as the direct and unaltered word of Allah, and Genesis is considered a corrupted version of God's message. However, the creation accounts in the Koran are more vague and are spread among several surahs (chapters) (2:109-111, 7:52-57, 16:1-17, 40:66-70, 41:9-12, 42:28, 65:12), allowing a range of interpretations similar to those described in part 1. Most Islamic Young Earth Creationism is imported directly from the USA. (Edis 1994)

Vedic Creationism

Hinduism speaks of a very ancient earth. One book influenced by Hindu belief argues that anatomically modern humans have existed for billions of years.

American Indian Creationism

The term "American Indian" refers to hundreds of groups with at least as many stories of creation. Deloria has put together a version of creationism which takes from many Native American cultures. It says that originally there was no essential difference between people and animals, that giant people and megafauna once coexisted, and that people and animals shrunk in stature after the golden age came to an end with the earth being ravaged by fire from volcanism.

American Indian Creationism has also come into American politics over the Kennewick Man. Kennewick Man is a 9000-year-old Caucasian fossil man found in Washington state. The fossil is of great interest to anthropologists because of its great age and its anatomical differences from indigenous North Americans. According to the creation beliefs of the Umatilla Indians, though, their ancestors have always been there, so Kennewick Man must be an Indian ancestor. Thus, under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the fate of his remains should be for the Umatilla to determine (Morell 1998). Members of the Asatru religion have also filed suit to stop the repatriation on the grounds that Kennewick Man's possible European ancestry is important to their own religious views (Anon., 1999). A court decision in favor of the Umatilla could be the only Federal legal decision in decades to support one particular view of creationism over another.

Creation Beliefs of Other Cultures

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of creation myths among the peoples of the world. Many Christians object to having their beliefs called myths, but a myth is simply a story which is (or has been) considered true and sacred by a group of people. Other cultures believe their creation myths for exactly the same sorts of reasons that Christians believe theirs.

There are far too many different creation myths to give more than a sampling here. Only a few myths exemplifying some common themes will be given. Unless otherwise noted, all examples come from Sproul (1979).

Cosmic Egg (example: Finnish)

A teal flew over the primeval waters but could find no place to land. The Mother of the Water raised her knee above the water, and the teal made a nest on it. It laid six golden eggs and one iron egg, and then it sat warming them. The heat became so intense that the Mother of the Water twitched her knee. The eggs dislodged and broke. The earth formed from one half of a shell, and the sky from the other half. The sun formed from the top half of one yolk, and the moon from the top half of the white. Stars and clouds also formed from parts of the egg.

Separation of Earth and Sky (example: New Hebrides)

Naareau the Elder created the earth, but the sky and the earth clove together with darkeness between them. Naareau the Younger, with a spell, created a slight cleft between earth and sky. He created a bat and told it to look around. The Bat reported finding a Company of Fools and Deaf Mutes. Naareau crawled in the cleft and, with the Bat as his guide, went to the people. Naareau told them to push up, and the sky was lifted a little, but they could lift it only so high. Naareau summoned Riiki, the conger eel, and told it to push up on the sky against the land. While Riiki pushed and Naareau sang, Great Ray, Turtle, and Octopus tore at the roots of the sky. The sky was pushed high and the land sank. The Company of Fools and Deaf Mutes were left swimming in the sea; they became the sea creatures. (von Franz, Marie-Louise, 1986. Patterns of Creativity Mirrored in Creation Myths. Spring Publications, Inc., Dallas, TX, pp. 151-154, 170)

Creation from a Primordial Being (example: Norse)

The heat from Muspell, the firey area to the south, met with the cold from icy Ginnungagap in the north and created the frost giant Ymir. A man and woman were born from his armpits, and one of his legs mated with the other to make a son; these began a race of frost ogres. Some melting ice became the cow Audhumla, whose teats gave rivers of milk. The man Buri appeared from a block of ice which Audhumla licked. His descendents included the gods Odin, Vili, and Ve. They slew Ymir, and his blood flooded and killed all people except the giant Bergelmir and his family. The three gods turned Ymir's body into the earth and his blood into the surrounding seas. His bones and teeth became mountains and rocks, his skull became the sky, his brains became clouds, etc. They made the sun, moon, and stars out of sparks from Muspell. The three gods made a man and woman (Ask and Embla) from two fallen trees. Odin gave them life, Vili gave them intelligence, and Ve gave them speech, sight, and hearing. They made a stronghold, Midgard, out of Ymir's eyebrows to protect them from the giants outside. (Sturluson, Snorri (transl. by Jean I. Young), 1954. The Prose Edda, University of California Press, Berkeley, pp. 31-37)

Earth Diver; Dualism (example: Huron)

In the beginning, there was only a wide sea. A divine woman fell from the upper world. Two loons saw her falling and together caught her to keep her from drowning. They called for help from other animals. One of the animals to come was tortoise, and he accepted the woman onto his back. The animals decided the woman should have earth to live on, and tortoise directed them all to dive to the bottom of the sea to bring up some earth. Many tried but failed. Finally toad dived; he came back exhausted and almost dead, but he had some mud in his mouth. Tortoise gave it to the woman, who placed it around the tortoise's shell. It extended on all sides, forming a vast country. The woman was pregnant with twins, Tijuskeha and Tawiskarong. Tawiskarong, the evil one, did not consent to be born in the usual manner, but broke through his mother's side, killing her. Her body was buried, and from it came many forms of vegetation. Tijuskeha created useful and innocent animals, and Tawiskarong created fierce and monsterous ones. Tijuskeha reduced these in size when he discovered them. The two brothers eventually duelled; Tijuskeha prevailed and killed his brother, but Tawiskarong's spirit appeared, said he had gone to the far west, and said that all men would go to the west when they died.

Emergence (example: Lipan Apache)

In the beginning, all people lived in darkness in the lower world. They held a council and decided to send someone above to find whether there was another world. First they sent wind. Water had covered the earth originally, but the wind rolled it back, and land appeared. The people next sent up Crow, but Crow stayed to eat the dead fish that had been exposed and didn't report back. They sent Beaver next, but he stayed to build dams in the streams and didn't report back, either. Next they sent Badger, who reported back that there was dry land up there. The people next sent four men to prepare the world above, which was flat and empty. These four men chose one named Mirage from whom to make things as we know them now. They formed Mirage into the shape of a ball, and of that ball made all things of this earth. Those people went around making hills and mountains, lightning and springs, etc. Then the people of the lower world ascended. First the animal and plant people came out. They moved around the edge of the earth clockwise, and different tribes stopped at different places. The real humans came out after them and likewise migrated to different places. Sun and Moon were originally with the people, but they later went ahead and separated.

Creation by Spoken Word; Repeated Creation (example: Quiche Maya)

At first there was only sky above and water below. The gods Sovereign Plumed Serpent and Heart of Sky spoke together, joined their thoughts, and conceived of creation. Simply by their word, they brought it forth. First they created and formed earth and vegetation; then they created animals and gave them homes. They told the animals to speak and gave them different cries, but the animals didn't speak like people. So the animals were appointed to serve by their flesh being eaten. The gods tried making a human body out of earth and mud, but it could not turn its head, and it crumbled in water, so they gave up on it. Next they created manikins out of carved wood. These people talked like men, and they multiplied and populated the earth, but there was nothing in their hearts, and they did not remember their creators. Heart of Sky devised a flood for them. A rain of resin came from the sky; animals attacked them, and even their cooking pots and grinding stones turned on them. The manikins were destroyed, but some of their descendants are today's monkeys. Finally, just before the first dawn, before the sun and stars appeared, four men were made from corn meal and water. These people saw everywhere and understood everything, and they gave thanks for being made. The creators thought the people would become like gods themselves, so they clouded the men's vision to its present state. Four women were made next, and these eight people became the parents of the Quiche people. (Tedlock, Dennis (transl.), 1985. Popol Vuh. Simon & Schuster, New York)

For Further Reading

Elsberry, Wesley E., 1999. Viewpoints on Evolution, Creation, and Origins. -- gives another perspective on classifying evolution and creation ideas.

Leeming, David and Margaret Leeming, 1994. A Dictionary of Creation Myths. Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York. -- tells many additional creation myths. See also Sproul 1979 in the References.

McIver, Tom, 1992. Anti-evolution: A Reader's Guide to Writings Before and After Darwin. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD. -- a reprint of McIver's Anti-evolution: An Annotated Bibliography (McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 1988), briefly describing 1850 anti-evolution works, most of them creationist. James L. Hayward's The Creation/Evolution Controvery: An Annotated Bibliography (Scarecrow Press, Lanham, MD, 1998) covers more recent works, 393 from 1981 or later. Henry Morris gives an unannotated bibliography of over 125 YEC books in the Nov. 1995 Impact (#269).

Numbers, Ronald L., 1992. The Creationists. Knopf, New York. -- details the development of modern creationism.

Scott, E.C., 1997, Antievolution and creationism in the United States. Annual Review of Anthropology 26: 263-289. -- gives more detail about the various types of creationism and their legal history and influence in the U.S. The variety of creationists is also discussed in chapter 1 of Robert T. Pennock's Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism (MIT Press, Cambridge, 1999).

Young, Davis A., 1988 (1982). Christianity and the Age of the Earth. Artisan Sales, Thousand Oaks, CA. -- Part 1 gives a historical overview of Christian attitudes towards geology.


The following people provided helpful suggestions and corrections to earlier drafts: John Cole, Paul Heinrich, John Mark Ockerbloom, John Wilkins, Jon Woolf.


Anonymous, 1999. Kennewick Man fact sheet., accessed 11 Mar. 2000.

CRSC, 1999. The Wedge Strategy.

Edis, Taner, 1994 (summer). Islamic creationism in Turkey. Creation/Evolution 14(1): 1-12.

Gosse, Henry Philip, 1857. Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot. J. Van Voorst, London.

Morell, Virginia, 1998. Kennewick Man's trials continue. Science 280: 190-192.

Morris, Henry M., 1985. Scientific Creationism. Master Books, Green Forest, AR.

Paley, William, 1803. Natural Theology: Or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected From the Appearances of Nature. Faulder, London.

Scott, Eugenie C., 1999 (Jul/Aug). The creation/evolution continuum. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 19(4): 16-17,21-23.

Sproul, Barbara, 1979. Primal Myths: Creation Myths from Around the World. HarperCollins, New York.

Whitcomb, J.C. & Morris, H.R., 1961. The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications. The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Philadelphia, PA.

Willis, Tom, 2000 (Mar/Apr). The laws of cause and effect, and the 1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics have been invalidated by modern science, part 2. CSA News 17(2): 1-2.

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