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