What Do Creationists Really Believe?

Creationism is not one set of beliefs - it is a battleground of dramatically conflicting world views.

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Natural History, Religion

Skeptoid #82
January 8, 2008
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe

Old Earth Creationism Geology Biology
Theistic Evolution:
Evolution by natural processes is the tool God used
Yes Yes
Evolutionary Creationism:
Adam and Eve were the first spiritually aware humans
Yes Yes
Progressive Creationism:
Humans were a special creation event
Yes Most
Day-Age Creationism:
Six days of creation were six geological epochs
Yes Some
Gap Creationism:
4.5 billion year gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2
Yes Some
Young Earth Creationism Geology Biology
Earth was created with the appearance of age and of evolution
Yes Yes
Young Earth Fundamentalism:
Invented versions of all natural sciences to explain Earth's age as 6,000 years
No No

If you've listened to the news at all within the last few years, you know that there's one topic which is always in the headlines. It's more lasting than terrorism, more pervasive than politics, and more personal than global warming. It's the war over religion; specifically, having religion taught as scientific fact. Replacing science with creationism. Whether it's Tennessee v. Scopes in 1925 or Kitzmiller v. Dover in 2005, religion versus science is always front and center.

Watching the news you've seen the $27 million Creation Museum in Kentucky, the largest and newest of the several museums throughout the United States depicting Biblical literalism as an alternative view of natural history. Dioramas show early farmers using small dinosaurs as beasts of burden. Dramatic displays show how Noah's flood created the Grand Canyon and all major geological features in a few days a few thousand years ago, and even give insight into how Noah kept all the dinosaur species on board his 600-foot ark. Most reasonable people are shocked by these flagrant attacks against intelligence. Does this mean that everyone who calls himself a creationist is certifiably insane?

As we see in so many aspects of our culture, it's usually the loudest and most outrageous fringe minority that makes the most noise and gets the most headlines. Rest assured that most creationists do not believe that Jesus rode around on a saddled Triceratops. There are, in fact, a number of different types of creationism. These variations conflict with one another and are mutually exclusive, and they are at varying odds with science.

The movement called Intelligent Design is not a type of creationism, or indeed any particular set of beliefs, so it will not be included in this discussion of the various types of creationism. Intelligent Design is a blanket concept intended to show that the scientific method alone is not adequate to explain the natural world, and that a divine creator is a required component for any complete explanation of nature. All types of creationists rally under the banner of Intelligent Design with the explicit goal of getting a foot in the door to force their particular belief system to be taught as fact in public schools.

These types of creationists fall into two main classifications: Young Earth Creationists, who believe that the Earth is between six and ten thousand years old; and Old Earth Creationists, who generally accept the scientific measurement of the Earth's age at 4.5 billion years old. Within these classifications are other irreconcilable differences, which we'll now go through one by one.

Let's start with the forms of Old Earth Creationism. I'm going to describe five basic types. Philosophers and adherents will probably quarrel with my chosen five, as there are others, and there are undoubted overlaps between these, and many believers combine aspects from two or more. But let's stick with these five as being representative. Here they are, in order of how well they reconcile with science, starting with the best:

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  1. Theistic Evolution. This is the Catholic Pope's officially stated position, and it's embraced by many real scientists of faith. Theistic evolution accepts both the geologic and biologic records, including modern evolutionary synthesis, and posits that these are simply the tools God chose to create the natural world. Theistic evolution allows and embraces scientific research and permits the acceptance of new information.
  2. Evolutionary Creationism also accepts the geologic and biologic records, and makes its creationist distinction in that there were a literal Adam and Eve who were simply the first spiritually aware humans, though they came into being in the same way as all early humans.
  3. Progressive Creationism goes one step farther. Progressive Creationism accepts the geologic record, and much of the prehistoric biologic record, including the true age of dinosaurs and other early lifeforms, but believes that the creation of humans and perhaps other modern animals was a special creationism event as literally depicted in Genesis. Thus, there can be no biological link between humans and early hominids from the fossil record.
  4. Day-Age Creationism is the belief that the six days of creation were really six geological epochs. Usually some effort is made to reconcile specific days in Genesis to specific epochs in Earth history, but since things didn't really all happen separately and consecutively like in Genesis, such efforts are generally somewhat ham-handed. But at least they're trying. Day-Age Creationism is what Jehovah's Witnesses advocate in their Watchtower pamphlets.
  5. Gap Creationism is about as far as the Old Earth model can be stretched. This model attempts to unify the true age of the Earth as measured by science with the literal Biblical account. Jimmy Swaggart advocates this model. Gap Creationism states that the first verse of the Bible, God created the heavens and the Earth, was followed by a "gap" of 4.5 billion years, during which time not much happened. And then, the literal creation of Genesis took place in six days about six to ten thousand years ago. Necessarily, this model has to abandon evolution completely, although it adheres to proper geology.

Now we move to the other half of creationist models, the Young Earth Creationism. Here we are forced to completely abandon reason and rationality. There are really only two main camps, and as you can see, they are completely at odds with one another, agreeing only on a single point: That the Earth did not exist ten thousand years ago. Let's now examine these two types of Young Earth Creationism, and once again we'll take them in order of how closely they adhere to real science:

  1. Omphalism. This is named after the 1857 book Omphalos, published two years before Darwin's Origin of Species, which explained that the fossil record was God's way of making the Earth appear to be old. Omphalos is Greek for navel, and the Omphalists believe that Adam and Eve were created with navels, thus having the appearance of being created through normal evolutionary biology. Adherents to Omphalism fully accept every scientific measurement of the age of the Earth and every discovery of modern biology, with the important exception that all such discoveries are wrong: God only wanted to make us think that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, and that life evolved from lower forms. A true scientist doing real research can be an Omphalist. He will arrive at the correct conclusions, though he will believe that his measurement is merely what God wants him to see.
  2. Modern Young Earth Fundamentalism. Here is where the train jumps completely off the tracks. Modern Young Earthers, for lack of a better name, are the ones behind the Creation Museum discussed earlier. They honestly believe in alternate versions of virtually every science known, throwing away every shred of modern science that doesn't point to the age of the Earth as 6,000 years. They literally believe in Adam and Eve (without navels) and all the dinosaurs on Day 1, fossilization taking only a few hundred years, and all major geologic features having been created in a few days in Noah's Flood. They reject evolution, cosmology, geology, and every science that supports them; which, by extension, eventually includes every scientific discipline. However, in their minds, they don't reject them at all; they fully embrace completely wrong, misinterpreted, misunderstood, and misrepresented versions of them. Their worldview is based absolutely on the Bible as a perfect, unerring, literal historical account. As a followup, they have invented their own versions of natural sciences that they pretend supports this view. It is not possible to be a thoroughly researched Young Earther and still retain any grasp on rationality. This is the group making the overwhelming majority of noise in the media and modern culture, but it's not clear how large of a group this really is. They have the largest and loudest web presence, with AnswersInGenesis.org and the Discovery Institute, though out of 3.2 million Ph.D.'s worldwide they've only been able to find 700 who agree with their science, according to their list maintained at DissentFromDarwin.org. This represents 2% of 1% of people with advanced academic degrees.
Saddled Dinosaur
It is scary but true - this display at the Creation Museum shows that Young Earth Fundamentalists honestly believe that people rode around on saddled dinosaurs, and that Noah had them all on the ark

So as you can see, the battle is not simply between science and creation. It's really more between the various forms of creationism, and especially between the modern Young Earthers and everyone else. There are perfectly rational ways to blend what we've learned through the scientific method with divine guidance, if that's your cup of tea. There are even reasonably, or at least relatively, rational ways to accept the gist of Genesis and still maintain a grip on reality. The majority of creationists are not entirely disconnected from reason. Even people like the Jehovah's Witnesses, who are often thought of as fringe fundamentalists, make an attempt to keep their beliefs reconciled with modern science. So long as this focus is maintained, we can be reasonably assured that our educational system is not headed for the proverbial rubber room.

Brian Dunning

© 2008 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Horn, S.D.S. Stephan (Editor), Pope Benedict XVI. Creation and Evolution: A Conference With Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008.

Isaak, Mark. The Counter-Creationism Handbook. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007. entire book.

Myers, Paul. "The Creation 'Museum'." Pharyngula. Science Blogs, 10 Aug. 2009. Web. 10 Jan. 2010. <http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/08/the_creation_museum_1.php>

Numbers, R. The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006.

Scott, Eugenie C. Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2009. entire book.

Strahler, Arthur N. Science and Earth History--The Evolution/Creation Controversy. Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1987. entire book.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "What Do Creationists Really Believe?" Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 8 Jan 2008. Web. 24 May 2015. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4082>


10 most recent comments | Show all 429 comments

"Then they claim that all life came from basic elements that just happened to combine right and every variety of life from plants, animals, ect came from the same microbes."

Again, close, but not quite. Dancing around the cosmos are all the elements that eventually form life. Banging around in the dense heat of the sun, light elements cook to become heavy elements. These elements are periodically ejected from the solar furnace and, over 10 billion years form the Earth. Over the next billion years, more atoms of various elements bombard the new Earth and combine to form new molecules or various elements held together via chemical bonds, like water.

And, yes, we get lucky* and various simple molecules combine until we get replicating molecules, like DNA and RNA. And these replicating molecules combine until we get the first microbes. Life. Simple, single-celled life. A billion years of elements combining into molecules to eventually get any life.

...Next up: Microbes to People.

Eric Payne, Maryland, USA
September 14, 2014 6:53am

So, these single celled microbes are floating around, with their DNA and RNA, being bombarded with cosmic rays. UV mostly, since the atmosphere hadn't fully formed either. One of the things we know can happen is mutation after exposure to UV radiation. In humans, we call it Skin Cancer.

So, these microbes are floating around in the relatively fresh water of the Earth, being bombarded with UV light. Some of the microbes develop a mutation from all this UV light: the ability to detect the presence of light; a primitive ability to "see". These microbes shy away from the light and, thus, the UV radiation that is killing its "brothers". The microbes that live are able to reproduce and, over time, more microbes are able to "see" than not. This is called Natural Selection; via natural processes, the most beneficial mutations are passed down and non-beneficial mutations are lost.

Over the next 3.5 billion years, this keeps happening until we get the complex, multi-cellular life that we have now.

"Yea that would be a random chance that defies logic."

Well, no. It's not random chance; a chance, yes, but not random. And, if you're going to bring logic into this: yes, it does defy logic, but so does creationism. So, you're left with two opposing ideas that defy logic. In the absence of logic, we look to evidence. We can observe and test processes that lead us to the Big Bang Theory. Y-E-Creationism has a book of anecdotes. It isn't testable.

Keep your faith. I have no use for it.

Eric Payne, Maryland, USA
September 14, 2014 7:15am

Oh, and a bit about the * a few posts back:

I think the biggest reason that people cling to faith in the face of evidence is luck. Specifically, the idea that life happened due to an unfathomable stroke of luck is scary. It tells most people that we aren't special; that there is no greater purpose. Yup, there doesn't seem to be a greater purpose, except that which we make for ourselves. This is terrifying; going through life, witnessing the horrors that we inflict on each other, with no end goal? Yeah, it's terrifying, to say the least.

But that doesn't mean we aren't special.

We are a one in an infinitesimal chance that hit big.

We are a stroke of luck that logic says should be impossible.

We are when nothing else seems to be.

We are; terrifying and beautiful.

Eric Payne, Maryland, USA
September 14, 2014 7:25am

"Dancing around the cosmos are all the elements that eventually form life."

"we get lucky* and various simple molecules combine...".

All these are an evolutionist's nice bedtime stories (they help them sleep at night), but founded in empirical evidence?? Hardly. Evolutionist Richard Lewontin admittedly calls these 'unsubstantiated just-so stories'.

If you researched challenges to abiogenesis, you'd understand that 'luck' and time don't help. The basic laws of chemistry will ENSURE that correct starting molecules repeatedly randomly thrown together will NEVER create a living cell. Every time, you are guaranteed to NOT get a cell.

"Keep your faith, I have no use for it" - Incredibly ironic statement from someone who as faith that we 'got lucky' and the impossible (abiogenesis) really happened!

BTW, you posted 4 comments in row. Did you read not read the request below: "please try to keep it brief & to the point"

Jeff, Alabama
September 30, 2014 9:39am

"Dancing around the cosmos are all the elements that eventually form life."

"we get lucky* and various simple molecules combine...".

All these are an evolutionist's nice bedtime stories (they help them sleep at night), but founded in empirical evidence?? Hardly. Evolutionist Richard Lewontin admittedly calls these 'unsubstantiated just-so stories'.

If you researched challenges to abiogenesis, you'd understand that 'luck' and time don't help. The basic laws of chemistry will ENSURE that correct starting molecules repeatedly randomly thrown together will NEVER create a living cell. Every time, you are guaranteed to NOT get a cell.

"Keep your faith, I have no use for it" - Incredibly ironic statement from someone who as faith that we 'got lucky' and the impossible (abiogenesis) really happened!

BTW, you posted 4 comments in row. Did you read not read the request below: "please try to keep it brief & to the point"

Jeff, Alabama
September 30, 2014 9:41am

How every tiring. I'm not going to even attempt to explain what has been explained within this thread a thousand times already.

I have a question.

If creationism is true, provide evidence and no proving A to be wrong does not make B correct.

I'll wait... and wait......

Stephen, Boston
September 30, 2014 1:41pm

"If creationism is true, provide evidence"
Over the years I've learned with evolutionists, it's not worth the effort.

Listen, since origins deals with the past, it all comes down to confidence levels, and I've come to the conclusion that evolutionists cannot have the same confidence level I have in Creationism. Here's why:

There is no better indication of confidence in a belief than being willing to research arguments AGAINST your belief. That's exactly what I've done. I have read, and continue to read every argument against Creationism I can find. And each time I walk away more confident in how solid it is. I've also read the arguments against evolution. Evolution is pathetic, and I'm not exaggerating.

Over the years I've challenged evolutionists to do the same. I have yet to find ONE who has done so, and remain excited about evolution. Not ONE.

But you can break that trend Stephen. Go research every argument against evolution you can find, and come back and tell us you're still glad to be an evolutionist.

We'll wait... and wait...

Jeff, Alabama
October 2, 2014 1:03pm


That's a pretty strange response. You are making a lot of assumptions, first of whick that I somehow have to prove A beyond and reasonable doubt for B to be false. Your also assuming that I'm a proponant of eveolutions. I said nothing of the kind.

I have simply asked you why I should give your world view consideration.


Stephen, Boston
October 8, 2014 8:16am

Just a note about the alleged 700 scientists that are named on the dissent from Darwin list. DonExodus2, a youtube sceptic, did a great video analyzing that list and found some surprising (or unsurprising if you have any experience dealing with YEC supporters) facts about how dishonest and misleading the data was about even that tiny number of people. This eventually resulted in hardly any name holding any credibility as being relevant to the fields that Evolution affects, or holding views as anti-evolutionary rather than simply questioning certain factors held by mainsteam science or history in relation to Darwin and his findings. Some tried and failed to even get their names off the list once they realised what the creationists actually meant by their original question.

In my view, one should not take anything that a YEC creationist says as having any merit or truth without extensive research.Their track record shows them as completely capable of deceit on every level.

Amomentofclarity2011, Ireland
March 9, 2015 1:56pm

What does a creation scientist study? A real scientist gathers data, performs experiments and does statistical analysis in order to learn new information and add to or amend previous work.
What data does a creation scientist gather?
What experiments do they do to trace back to the moments or days during which creation took place and examine the evidence?
Astrology is more scientific than creation science, at least we can see the constellations and we know our birthdays so I guess some experiments could be performed but creationists don't have one idea of what they might see as the remains of the creation process and where they would look for it.

Once you've read Genesis, your schooling is over, your field of study is complete, you've graduated, there is no fieldwork so now you're retired, thanks for reading Genesis.

I believed Genesis when in Sunday School, I asked for more information and asked how exactly everything happened on each day but there wasn't anymore, just a story that fits easily on a flannel board and I knew all there was to know about how everything in the world came into being, I knew as much as any creation scientist would ever know, this was not a field of study, I graduated at age 8.

If there was something to study, creationism could be something other than religion but until there is some chemical, geological or physical evidence that we can be directed to as a place to gather data and examine it, there is no science.

yoursotruly, Duluth, MN
March 10, 2015 8:56pm

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