Q&A: Creationism v. Evolution
What is creationism?
Creationism is the belief that the Biblical Creation, as described in
Genesis, is literally true - that God created the world and all creatures
and plants in six days. Creationists generally believe that the world
is less than 10,000 years old; that humans co-existed with dinosaurs (the
"Fred Flinstone hypothesis"); that there was no Big Bang; there was a
worldwide flood from which man and other animals were saved by Noah's
Ark; and that humans were created in their modern form, and did not evolve
What is evolution?
This is the theory first developed by Charles Darwin and accepted by virtually
every serious scientist in the world that every organism evolved from
simpler ones by a process of random genetic mutation. Some mutations led
to advantages that helped species to survive, leading to a process of
natural selection that favoured improvements. As well as being a scientific
orthodoxy, evolution is accepted by both the Church of England and the
Roman Catholic Church as true.
Are there different forms
Yes, though the broad tenets are the same. Most adhere doggedly to Genesis.
Recently, there has been a rebranding of the movement as "creation science"
or "intelligent design theory", which seeks to point out flaws in the
theory of evolution and gaps in scientific understanding, and to argue
for a supernatural creator. Organisms are so complex, they say, that they
could not have arisen randomly - a banana, for example, is perfectly shaped
for a human hand to hold, it is sweet, it has a tab at the top to remove
the wrapper, and a built-in green-yellow-brown ripeness indicator. Geneticists
say that there is no reason why these traits could not have been developed
Does creationism have
It is very much a minority opinion in the UK, where evolution is taught
as part of the national curriculum, though there are no firm figures.
There are millions of followers, however, in the United States. A recent
poll found that 45 per cent of Americans believe that the Earth was created
by God at some point in the last 10,000 years. Life on Earth is in fact
known to be 4 billion years old, with the Universe 13 billion years old,
and anatomically modern man emerging about 100,000 years ago.
How does creationism
affect the teaching of science in a "creationist school"?
The main effect is that evolution and creationism are taught as theories
carrying equal weight, even though the former is backed by a mountain
of scientific evidence and the latter is unsupported by anything other
than faith. Other examples include American science teachers telling pupils
that the Grand Canyon was carved by a tsunami during the Flood rather
than being eroded over millions of years. Biology textbooks in Alabama
carry the legend: "This book may discuss evolution, a controversial theory
some scientists give as an explanation for the origin of living things.
No human was present when life first appeared on Earth. Therefore, any
statement about life's origins should be treated as theory, not fact."
Can the two disciplines
co-exist in the classroom?
The school in question achieves exceptional science results for its pupils
and is regarded as a beacon school, so can the two co-exist? Most scientists
would say no. Children indoctrinated with creationist beliefs might be
able to pass exams, but they will not be educated in science as the discipline
is generally understood.
Why do scientists object
Most do not object to individual adults who choose to believe in the literal
truth of Genesis, though they might regard them as a little wacky. They
get angry, however, when they see it taught to children as a viable scientific
theory on a par with evolution, while evolution is presented as "controversial"
when it is nothing of the sort. Richard Dawkins, Professor of the Public
Understanding of Science at Oxford University says: "Any science teacher
who denies that the world is billions (or even millions!) of years old
is teaching children a preposterous, mind-shrinking falsehood."
Are there many, if indeed
any, scientists who take a creationist stance?
There are a handful - the Institute for Creation Research in San Diego
lists the names of a few dozen on their website - but even in the US they
form a tiny minority.
[Mark Henderson, Science Correspondent,
The Times, 14/3/02]