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The term creationism describes beliefs that animal and plant species were created through supernatural means, in contradiction to the Darwinian theory of evolution accepted by science.

Due to imprecise and shifting use of the terms evolution and creationism it is difficult to say definitively whether "creationists" believe in "evolution" or not. Most creationists believe that no evolution took place at all; many others accept some kind of evolution but attribute it to divine intervention, as in Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism.

The best known version of creationism is the idea that all major plant and animal species were created in a short time by God (six days, according to the Christian and Jewish Bibles); there have been a wide variety of so-called creation myths, however (see cosmogony). Today, the idea of rapid creation by a single deity sometimes held to represent creationism as a whole, although nearly half of creationists believe that God guided evolution.

Popular Beliefs

According to a Gallup poll, 47% of Americans believe that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so, another 40% believe that God guided the development of human beings from less advanced forms of life over millions of years, and 9% believe that God played no part in the development of human beings.

Despite the significant number of people subscribing to Creationist opinions in the USA, such views are generally believed to be much less common in other Western countries. In Catholic-majority countries, Papal acceptance of evolution has essentially ended debate on the matter for most people. The United States fundamentalist Christian community has no real parallels (in terms of numbers, prominence, and political influence) elsewhere in the Western world, and because most vocal creationists are from the United States, it is generally assumed that creationist views are not as common elsewhere.

In 1987, Newsweek said: "By one count there are some 700 scientists with respectable academic credentials (out of a total of 480,000 U.S. earth and life scientists) who give credence to creation science...". Among scientists who work in the field, therefore, only about 0.14% hold the creationist view.

Creationism and evolution

Creationism refers to more than just the belief that God created the universe; it refers to the belief that He created life in a supernatural way, in a way that contradicts the Darwinian theory of evolution as accepted by science. Many creationists believe in some form of evolution, but they deny certain key parts of the Darwinian theory. Other people believe God had some role in the process, but do not put this forward as a scientific explanation, and fully accept Darwinian evolution -- these people are not creationists, since their beliefs are in no way incompatible with Darwinian evolution. Many religious believers hold this later view.

Deism represents one attempt to harmonize Darwinian evolution with belief in God. According to deism, God created the universe, but after creating it leaves it alone and has no further influence on it -- miracles, or the answering of prayer, are impossible. Few religious believers are comfortable with a God so aloof from the universe. However, it is possible to believe that God miraculously interferes with the universe, and accept Darwinian evolution, so long as one does not count life as one of God's miracles.

An intermediate position between deism and creationism is the metaphysical position of process theology, which posits a God who is not omnipotent, but who instead acts as a coparticipant in the evolutionary process by continually offering possibilities to the material universe; according to this view, all that constitutes the universe, including life, has a certain measure of free will and evolves according to its own prerogatives and in response to possibilities offered to it. Process theology represents a metaphysical, rather than a scientific position. Because process theology rejects the notion of miraculous divine intervention, it accepts Darwinian evolution. (For discussion of the belief that God created the universe, see Creation.)

Current creationist thinking embraces natural selection and small changes in species, which is sometimes termed microevolution. Creationists do not, however, agree that the major divisions of life were derived through the same process (macroevolution). Typically, they do not believe that all life is derived from a single-celled ancestor, that mammals are descendents of reptiles, or that man and apes descended from common ancestors. A common argument made is that all solid examples of evolution are in fact examples solely of microevolution. Rather than using the term "species", they use the term "created kinds" to describe the boundaries they believe evolution does not cross, but they offer no rigorous (or operational) definition of what a "created kind" is, just as the term "species" was not rigorously defined for many years.

Sudden creationism is generally considered an expression of religious literalism. Sudden Creationists oppose evolution on the grounds that it conflicts with the account of creation given in Genesis, where it is recorded that the Earth was created by God in six days. Based on various interpretations of the Genesis accounts, "Young Earth" creationists believe that the account given is of the creation of the earth, while "Old Earth" creationists believe it only refers to the creation of life on a pre-existing Earth.

Many Christians hold that these passages are not to be interpreted literally, but are rather a symbolic or poetic account of the creation of the universe. Others believe that they are based on the prevailing scientific ideas of the time they were written, and that only the moral and religious, as opposed to the scientific, content of the Bible is inspired. Some, in an attempt to harmonize science with biblical literalism, hold that the six days referred to are not ordinary 24 hour days, but rather much longer periods (of thousands or millions of years); the Genesis account is then interpreted as an account of the process of evolution. There are some Christians who believe the six day period refers to the time spent by light traveling from the center of the universe at the time and point of creation.

Young Earth creationists who interpret the Bible literally believe that the Earth is somewhere around 6,000 years old (according to Bishop Ulster's dating) and reject other scientific theories such as the Big Bang (which is related to creation of the universe, not creation of species on earth). In doing so, they refer to a relatively small number of scientific findings which do appear to contradict an old earth and therefore evolution itself, but reject the much larger set of scientific findings which support both a very old earth and evolution.

Creationists defend their views not only on religious grounds, but with the rise of so-called "scientific creationism" (or Intelligent Design) defend them on scientific grounds as well. They argue that the scientific evidence does not support evolution, and that creation of each species of life by God provides a better scientific explanation.

The significant debate on creationism entails a debate on what constitutes scientific evidence, and what kinds of facts are acceptable as proof. Most scientists do not accept the sudden creationists' evaluation of the evidence, and reject creation by God as being a valid scientific hypothesis, arguing that it is not falsifiable. (And will we leave it at that, or do creationists have a reply to that charge?)

(Re falsifiability: An interesting attempt to reconcile geological evidence with creationism was the Omphalos theory of Philip Henry Gosse)

See also Intelligent Design, creation, Scopes Trial, evolution, and the theory of evolution

The term creationism can also refer to the belief that each soul is created individually by God, as opposed to traducianism, which holds that the souls of infants are derived from those of their parents. Another theory of the soul is known as Pre-existence.

External links:

The Belief Spectrum: Who Believes What?

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