A brief history of the conflict
between evolution and creation science
Prior to 1925:
Creation Science was the prevailing belief system before the rise of geology in the
late 18th Century. Early European scientists, from Copernicus to Galileo to Newton
believed (as did almost all Christians in their time) in a literal interpretation of the
Bible's account of creation.
Belief in Usher's date continued among Christian scientists, until the early 18th
century, when it became obvious to most researchers that geological processes were
exceedingly slow, and must have been accomplished over incredibly long periods of time. An
earth that is only 6,000 years old was simply not possible. Strong evidence for a much older Earth was discovered by scientists counting annual tree rings an annual layers of ice in glaciers.
As geologists promoted theories which indicated that the earth's age predated the
Biblical creation story, opposition arose in many religious organizations. For example,
Ellen G. White, an early prophet of the Seventh-day Adventists, reacted to the debate
about the fossil record of past species by stating that they were deposited by the flood.
Friction between scientists and theologians increased when Darwin published The Origin of
Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859) and The Descent of Man, and Selection
in Relation to Sex (1871). Many mainstream and liberal clergy found evolutionary
theory quite compatible with their faith. They simply viewed evolution as the
mechanism that God used to develop the various species. However, more conservative clerics were highly vocal in their
condemnation of evolution as leading to atheism and immoral behavior.
An important event in the history of this conflict occurred in Dayton, Tennessee in
1925. John Scopes, a high school biology teacher was on trial for contravening
the state's Butler Act law. That legislation forbade the teaching of "any theory that denies the story of the
Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has
descended from a lower order of animals." 5,6 The trial quickly
degenerated into a media circus. One of the main protagonists was a leading
conservative religious spokesperson, former US
Secretary of State and Presidential candidate: William Jennings Bryan. Opposing him was a
leading intellectual and lawyer: Clarence Darrow.
During the Scopes trial, Bryan had been able to name only two creationist "geologists."
One had recently died; the other George M Price, had had no formal geological training.
For several decades, however, Price remained the foremost voice of creationist opposition
to evolution in the US.
Although Scopes was found guilty, it was
generally felt that he and Darrow had won a moral victory. Nonetheless, popular opposition
to evolution remained high, with the result that most textbooks made little or no mention
of evolution until the early 1960's. Those that discussed it often omitted it from their
Developments in the U.S.: 1950-1975
The Roman Catholic Church had never formally condemned the theory of evolution.
However, in 1950, Pope Pius XII issued a papal encyclical letter Humani Generis
which discouraged belief in evolution because he felt that it played into the hands of materialists and
Atheists. Since approximately that time, the Church has taught that the Genesis creation story
should not be interpreted literally, but symbolically.
The National Science Foundation funded the Biological
Sciences Curriculum Study during the late 1950's. It was instrumental in
emphasizing the theory of evolution in high school biology textbooks. In the 1960's, in response to the widely-spread perception that the Soviet Union had
gained the upper hand in science and technology, evolution gained prominence in
American public schools. Instruction in biology was now framed explicitly in evolutionary terms. Indeed,
the historian Richard Hofstadter wrote: "At this time opposition to
evolution seems only a very distant memory."
Yet the early 1960's were also marked by the beginning of a modern revival of
creationism by fundamentalist and other evangelical Christian groups. John C Whitcomb, Jr., a
conservative Old Testament scholar, and Henry Morris, a professional engineer and university
professor, co-authored "The Genesis Flood." This book sparked renewed interest in
creationism and remains today a very important text among creation scientists.
Inspired by this revival, several major creationism ministries were formed. Four are:
The Creation Research Society (CRS; St. Joseph MO; Website: http://www.creationresearch.org/) was organized
in 1963. It publishes the Creation Research Society Quarterly, a peer-reviewed
journal. This publication gives an outlet for the research findings of creation scientists
who are unable to publish their creation-oriented papers in "regular" geology
and biology periodicals. The CRS operates the Van Andel Research Center in Arizona to
promote research into creation science.
The Institute for Creation Research (ICR; San Diego CA; Website: http://www.icr.org/) was organized in 1970. They have since been active sponsoring heavily attended seminars across the U.S. and Canada,
organizing tours of the Grand Canyon, distributing numerous publications, broadcasting a
weekly radio program, encouraging local advocacy groups, and providing expert witnesses
for court cases.
Creation Ministries International is a group of autonomous creation science ministries. It started with an Australian ministry in 1977 and has since expanded to include groups in New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, UK/Europe, and the U.S. They sponsor public lectures, seminars, family camps, live-in conferences, etc., that concentrate on Genesis and its relation to the gospel message. See: http://creation.com They have two periodicals: Creation magazine that can be accessed at: http://creation.com, and their Journal of Creation that at http://creation.com
In 1993, Ken and Marylin Ham left the ICR to form a new creationist ministry: Creation Science Ministries in Florence KY, almost a suburb of Cincinnati, OH. It was renamed Answers in Genesis (AiG) in 1995. In spite of opposition from local secularists, ICR was able to have a parcle of land adjacent to the Cincinnati Airport rezoned so in order to construct a creation museum. AIG now has many outreaches, including the Answers radio program, Answers magazine, the creation museum, and seminars. A full-sized Noah's Ark was constructed south of Cincinnati, and opened during mid-2016.
American court trials, 1980-1990
An Arkansas state law (#590), passed in 1981, mandated the teaching of Creation Science
in schools. Equal time was to be given also to evolution. A court action 1
was mounted (McLean vs. Arkansas, 1981) to overturn the law. Scientists and many main-line
Christian Churches were pitted against conservative Christian groups. The law was declared
A similar "Creationism Act" was passed in Louisiana. It required that
either both or neither evolution and creation science be taught in the public schools.
Some Louisiana parents, teachers, and religious leaders challenged the Act's
constitutionality in Federal District Court. They won an injunction which was affirmed by
the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. 2 By a 7 to 2 vote, the act
was found to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the
The Supreme Court found:
"...the Act evinces a discriminatory preference for the teaching of
creation science and against the teaching of evolution by
requiring that curriculum guides be developed and resource services supplied for
teaching creationism but not for teaching evolution,
by limiting membership on the resource services panel to 'creation scientists,' and
by forbidding school boards to discriminate against anyone who 'chooses to be a
creation-scientist' or to teach creation science, while failing to protect those who
choose to teach other theories or who refuse to teach creation science.
The Act's primary purpose was to change the public school science
curriculum to provide persuasive advantage to a particular religious
doctrine that rejects the factual basis of evolution in its entirety. Thus,
the Act is designed either to promote the theory of creation science that
embodies a particular religious tenet or to prohibit the teaching of a
scientific theory disfavored by certain religious sects. In either case, the
Act violates the First Amendment."
More recent developments
In recent years, creationism has made considerable gains in the United States and
Australia where it has been heavily promoted by fundamentalist and other evangelical
Christian groups. It has had made few inroads in Canada and Europe. Creationism is
also popular in Turkey -- the only predominately Muslim country that allows
evolution to be taught in the schools.
Perhaps in response to their failure to have creation science taught in the public
schools, creation scientists adopted a new strategy in the mid-1990's. They
attempted to persuade school boards to give equal time to "scientific evidence
against evolution."3,4 This approach concerned many
scientists, because they feel that teachers and students may well be unable to recognize
that many claims of evidence against evolution are in reality pseudo-science, and are
More recently creation scientists have tried a new technique: to have schools
describe what they see as inadequacies in the theory of evolution:
Many Intermediate, transitional species have not yet been found.
The improbability of the earliest
form of life evolving out of non-life.
On 1996-OCT-23, the Pope sent a formal statement to the Pontifical Academy of
Science which stated that "fresh knowledge leads to recognition of the theory
of evolution as more than just a hypothesis." He did not identify the
source or content of this new
knowledge. Italian newspapers reported this development as front-page news. Il
Messaggero published the headline "The Pope Rehabilitates Darwin". Il
Giornale printed "The Pope Says We May Descend from Monkeys." The "descent from monkeys" suggestion started back in the 19th century even though no supporter of evolution then or now agrees with the concept. Rather, they view humans and monkeys to have had a common ancestor.
In 1999, conservative Christian members of the Kansas state school
board voted to change the state's science education policy. Students would
no longer be tested on their knowledge of evolution. This would inevitably
lead to evolution being no longer taught in that state -- teachers are
disinclined to teach topics that their students will not be tested on. The
board's decision was criticized by the Governor of Kansas and was
ridiculed by many in the media and sciences. The 2000-NOV election
replaced all most of the school board members who had supported creation
science. In 2001-FEB-13, the board voted 7 to 3 to overturn its 1999
During the mid 1980's a new concept was formed, called Intelligent
Design (ID). Its supporters include both individuals who believe in a "young
earth" -- one that was created less than 10,000 years ago -- and others who believe in an "old
earth" -- one that started to coalesce out of space debris circa 4.5 million years ago. Most believe in what they call "microevolution"
-- the belief that major changes can and do occur within species. However,
they deny that one species can evolve into another without the
intervention of a outside intelligence, perhaps a deity. They argue that certain
structures in animals could not have developed as a result of many minor
changes over a long time; they must have been specifically designed by a
super-human intelligence, and then implemented.
The detailed results of the Human Genome Project were announced
at the annual meeting on 2001-FEB of the American Association for the
Advancement of Science (AAAS). The data on the structure of human DNA
have been interpreted by essentially all biological scientists as very
strong evidence for evolution. The data tie human origins to earlier forms
of life, as far back as primitive bacteria. John Staver, a professor at Kansas
State University, co-chair of the Kansas school board's science
writing committee, and director of Kansas State's Center for Science
"Evolution is the sole scientific
theoretical framework that provides a coherent structure across the life
sciences, and it's obviously a very powerful scientific tool for
problem-solving. The folks who produced and have now documented the human
genome have mentioned that in their papers and in their discussions."
Intelligent Design suffered a major setback in Dover, PA during late 2005. A federal court judge ruled that teaching ID in the local high school biology classes is a violation of the principle of separation of church and state.