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Creationism in a general sense refers to the theory that God made the world on his own, by miraculous means, out of nothing. In a more specific sense, the one encountered in America today, creationism is the theory that the Bible, particularly the early chapters of Genesis, is a literally true guide to the history of the universe and to the history of life, including us humans, down here on earth. This encompasses a number of beliefs: a short time since the beginning of everything ("Young Earth Creationists" think that Archbishop Ussher's sixteenth-century calculation of about 6,000 years is a good estimate); six days of creation (there is debate on the meaning of "day" in this context, with some insisting on a literal twenty-four hours, and others more flexible); miraculous creation of all life including Homo sapiens (with scope for debate about whether Adam and Eve came together or if Eve came afterward to keep Adam company); a worldwide flood some time after the initial creation, through which only a limited number of humans and animals survived; and other events such as the Tower of Babel and the turning of Lot's wife into a pillar of salt. Creationists have variously been known as fundamentalists or biblical literalists, and sometimes (especially when they are pushing the scientific grounds for their beliefs) as scientific creationists. Today's creationists are often marked by enthusiasm for so-called intelligent design.

History of Creationism

Creationists present themselves as the true bearers and present-day representatives of authentic traditional Christianity, but historically speaking this is simply not true. The Bible has a major place in the life of any Christian, but it is not the case that the Bible taken literally has always had a major place in the lives or theology of Christians. Tradition, the teachings and authority of the Church, has always had main status for Catholics, and natural religionapproaching God through reason and argumenthas long had an honored place for both Catholics and Protestants. Catholics, especially dating back to Saint Augustine (354430), and even to earlier thinkers like Origen (c. 185254), have always recognized that at times the Bible needs to be taken metaphorically or allegorically. Augustine was particularly sensitive to this need, because for many years as a young man he was a Manichean and hence denied the authenticity and relevance of the Old Testament for salvation. When he became a Christian he knew full well the problems of Genesis and hence was eager to help his fellow believers avoid the traps of literalism.

It was not until the Protestant Reformation that the Bible started to take on its unique central position, as the great Reformersespecially Martin Luther (14831546) and John Calvin (15091564)stressed the need to go by Scripture alone and not by the traditions of the Catholic Church. But even they were doubtful about totally literalistic readings. For Luther, justification by faith was the keystone of his theology, and yet the Epistle of Saint James seems to put greater stress on the need for good works. He referred to it as "right strawy stuff." Calvin likewise spoke of the need for God to accommodate his writings to the untutored publicespecially the ancient Jewsand hence of the dangers of taking the Bible too literally in an uncritical sense. The radical branch of the Reformation under Huldrych Zwingli (14841531) always put primacy on God's speaking directly to us through the heart, and to this day one finds modern-day representatives like the Quakers uncomfortable with too biblically centered an approach to religion.

Eighteenth-and nineteenth-century revivals.

It was really not until the revivals of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century in Britain and Americarevivals that led to such sects as the Methodiststhat a more full-blooded literalism became a major part of the religious scene. Then, the emphasis was on Christ's dying on the cross for our sins (the Atonement), the priesthood of all believers, and the primacy of the Bible as a guide to the converted heart, although even then there were many opposed, often quite violently. To take but one example, the most significant movement within the Church of England (Anglicanism; Episcopalianism in America) was the High Church movement known as Tractarianism, the Oxford movement of the 1830s, led most significantly by the future Catholic cardinal, John Henry Newman (18011890). No one was more vitriolic and sarcastic on the subject of biblical literalism than was Newman. In one of his major writings, Tract 85, he ridiculed those who would use the Bible as a guide to science or religion, and, with the vigor of a hardened humanist, he pointed out inconsistencies in the sacred book.

In America particularly, however, literalism did take hold, and especially after the Civil War (18611865), it took root in the evangelical sectsespecially Baptistsof the South. It became part of the defining culture of the South, having as much a role in opposing ideas and influences of the North as anything rooted in deeply considered theology. This was the time of Charles Darwin (18091882), whose great work, On the Origin of Species (1859), provoked much theological opposition. But for the great Christian opponentsSamuel Wilberforce (18051873), bishop of Oxford in England, and Charles Hodge (17971878), principal of Princeton Theological Seminary in Americasimple biblical literalism was far from the front of the objections. They were certainly keen on what became pretty standard arguments against evolution in general and Darwinism in particular. Gaps in the fossil record played a major role, as did the origin of life and the nonexistence of the direct observation of natural selection changing species. But crude reference to the Bible had no place in their scheme of things. Six thousand years of earth history was as far from the thinking of Wilberforce and Hodge as it was from that of Darwin. Problems of natural theology were far more pressing, as were topics that only tangentially have their basis in Genesis, such as the existence of immortal souls.

Early twentieth century.

Creationism became more than just a local phenomenon in the early part of the twentieth century, thanks to a number of factors. First, there were the first systematic attempts to work out a position that would take account of modern science as well as a literal reading of Genesis. Particularly important in this respect were the Seventh Day Adventists, especially the Canadian-born George McCready Price (18701963), who had theological reasons for preferring literalism, not the least being the belief that the Seventh Daythe day of restis literally twenty-four hours in length. (Also important for the Adventists and for other dispensationaliststhat is, people who think that Armageddon is on its wayis the balancing and complementary early phenomenon of a worldwide flood.) Second, there was the realized energy of evangelicals as they succeeded in their attempts to prohibit liquor in the United States. Flushed from one victory, they looked for other fields to conquer. Third, there was the spread of public education, which exposed more children to evolutionary ideas, provoking a creationist reaction. Fourth, there were new evangelical currents afloat, especially the Fundamentals, tracts that gave the literalist movement its name. And fifth, there was the identification of evolutionDarwinism particularlywith the militaristic aspects of Social Darwinism, especially the Social Darwinism supposedly embraced by the Germans in World War I.

The "Scopes Monkey Trial."

This battle between evolutionists and "fundamentalists" came to a head in 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee, when a young schoolteacher, John Thomas Scopes (19001970), was prosecuted for teaching evolution in class, in defiance of a state law prohibiting such teaching. There was more at stake than just the facts, evolution versus the Bible. Local businesspeople welcomed the opportunity of a high-profile court case to put their community on the map and to reap financial rewards. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), backing the defense, was eager for such a case to bolster its standing with America's liberals and to highlight its existence (it was founded in 1920). Indeed, the ACLU actively sought out someone who would be willing to stand trial. Prosecuted by the three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan (18601925) and defended by the noted agnostic lawyer Clarence Darrow (18571938), the "Scopes Monkey Trial" caught the attention of the world, especially thanks to the inflammatory reporting of the Baltimore Sun journalist H. L. Mencken (18801956). Matters descended to the farcical when, denied the opportunity to introduce his own science witnesses, Darrow put on the stand the prosecutor Bryan. In the end, Scopes was found guilty and fined $100, although this was overturned on a technicality on appeal. Despite never again being enforced, the Tennessee law remained on the books for another forty years.

Toward the Present

After the Scopes trial, the creationism movement declined quite dramatically and quickly. This was not due to Americans losing interest in the science-religion relationship, for now was the time of the foundation of such organizations as the American Scientific Affiliation, which tried seriously to seek a meeting ground between science and various forms of evangelical Christianity. But as is shown well by the trials of this particular organizationforever torn by the quarrels over geology and evolutionfull-blooded Creationism no longer captured universal support among biblical Christians. Yet Creationism had its lasting effects, in that textbook manufacturers increasingly took evolutionDarwinism especiallyout of their books, so that schoolchildren got less and less exposure to the ideas anyway. Whatever battles the evolutionists may have thought they had won in the court of popular opinion, in the trenches of the classroom they were losing the war badly.

Things started to move again in the late 1950s. A major factor was that, in the years since the Scopes trial, evolutionary thinking had not stood still. Indeed, the three decades from 1930 to 1960 were times of great ferment and development, for Mendelian genetics (and after this, molecular genetics) had reached such a point that it could be synthesized with Darwinian selection to make a fully integrated evolutionary theory, known variously as "neo-Darwinism" or the "synthetic theory of evolution." Naturally enough, evolutionists were excited and vocal about their advances, and particularly contemptuous of all who did not follow them down to the last detail. At celebrations in 1959 in Chicago to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, fundamentalist objectors to the new paradigm were objects of particular scorn. This set a general background of un-ease and determination by biblical literalists, adding to a causal mix that had already started to ferment a year or two earlier when a more specific yeast had been added. It was then that, thanks to Sputnik, the Russians so effectively demonstrated their superiority in rocketry (with its implications for the arms race of the cold war), and America realized how ineffective was the scientific training of its young. In response, the country poured money into the production of new science texts. In this way, with class adoption, the federal government could have a strong impact and yet get around the problem that education tends to be under the tight control of individual states. The new biology texts gave full scope to evolutionto Darwinismand with this the creationism controversy again flared up.

Fortunately for the literalist, help was at hand. A biblical scholar, John C. Whitcomb Jr., and a hydraulic engineer, Henry M. Morris, together wrote what was to be the new Bible of the movement, Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and its Scientific Implications (1961). Following in the tradition of earlier writers, especially those from Seventh Day Adventism, they argued that every bit of the biblical story of creation given in the early chapters of Genesis is supported fully by the best of modern science. Six days of twenty-four hours, organisms arriving miraculously, humans last, and sometime thereafter a massive worldwide flood that wiped most organisms off the face of the earthor rather, dumped their carcasses in the mud as the waters receded. At the same time, Whitcomb and Morris argued that the case for evolution fails dismally. The gaps in the fossil record show that there can have been no evolution; the nature of natural selection is such that it allows no genuine check and even if it did, it could not account for the complexity of life; the measures of earth time are dicey; and much, much more.

Genesis Flood enjoyed massive popularity among the faithful, and led to a thriving creation science movement, where Morris particularly and his coworkers and believersnotably Duane T. Gish, author of Evolution: The Fossils Say No! pushed the literalist line. Particularly effective was their challenging of evolutionists to debate, where they would employ every rhetorical trick in the book, reducing the scientists to fury and impotence with their bold statements about the supposed nature of the universe. By the end of the 1970s, creationists were passing around draft bills, intended for state legislatures, that would allowinsist onthe teaching of creationism in state-supported public schools. In the biology classes of such schools, that is. By this time it was realized that, thanks to Supreme Court rulings on the First Amendment to the Constitution (which prohibits the establishment of state religion), it was not possible to exclude the teaching of evolution from such schools. The trick was to get creationismsomething that prima facie rides straight through the separation of church and stateinto such schools. The idea of creation science is to do thisalthough the science parallels Genesis, as a matter of scientific fact, it stands alone as good science. Hence, these draft bills proposed what was called "balanced treatment." If one was to teach the "evolution model," then one had also to teach the "creation science model." Sauce for the evolutionist goose is also sauce for the creationist gander. In 1981, these drafts found a taker in Arkansas, where such a bill was passed and signed into lawas it happens, by a legislature and governor that thought little of what they were doing until the consequences were drawn to their attention.

At once the American Civil Liberties Union sprang into action, bringing suit on grounds of the law's unconstitutionality. The judge agreed, ruling firmly that creation science is not science, it is religion, and as such has no place in public classrooms. And that was an end to matters, reinforced by a similar decision (that did not go to trial but that was appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court) in Louisiana.

Phillip Johnson and Naturalism

Nevertheless, by the beginning of the 1990s, creationism had again reared its head. The spark was an antievolutionary tract, Darwin on Trial (1991), by a Berkeley law professor, Phillip Johnson. Although smoother in presentation, the work covered familiar ground: gaps in the record, the complexity of DNA, the origin of life, the randomness of mutation. The main difference in Johnson's strategy was to turn the debate in the direction of philosophy. He argued that the creation-evolution debate was not just one of science versus religion or good science versus bad science, but rather of conflicting philosophical positionswith the implication that one philosophy is much like another, or rather with the implication that one person's philosophy is another person's poison and that it is all a matter of personal opinion. Thus, if it is all a matter of philosophy, there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that bars the teaching of creationism in schools.

Crucial to Johnson's position are a number of fine distinctions. He distinguishes between what he calls "methodological naturalism" and "metaphysical naturalism," and contrasts them with what he calls "Christian theism" or "theistic realism." A methodological naturalist is one who assumes there is no god when he or she does science. All must be explained through unbroken law. A metaphysical naturalist is one who believes that there is no god. He or she is directly opposed to any kind of theist, who starts with the assumption that there is a god who was and is active in the creation. According to Johnson, although you might think that you can be a methodological naturalist, something which he links with evolutionism, without necessarily being a metaphysical naturalist, in real life the former always slides into the latter. Hence, the evolutionist is the methodological naturalist, is the metaphysical naturalist, is the opponent of the theistic naturalist, which for Johnson is the equivalent of denying God's existencethat is, denying theistic realism. So ultimately, it is all less a matter of science and more a matter of attitude and philosophy. Evolution and creationism are different world pictures, and it is conceptually, socially, pedagogically, and with good luck in the future, legally wrong to treat them differently. More than this, Johnson's argument suggests that creationism (a.k.a. theistic realism) is the only genuine form of Christianity.

Irreducible Complexity

One oft-made criticism of Johnson was that he was too negative. It was obvious that he was against evolution, but he left unsaid whether he was a young-earth creationist like Whitcomb and Morris or whether he believed in something more moderate, perhaps an old earth and some kind of guided, law-bound creation. Later in the decade, with Johnson's encouragement, a number of younger thinkers produced an alternative to Darwinian evolution. This they called "intelligent design theory." There are two parts to this approach, beginning with the empirical. Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe identifies something that he calls "irreducible complexity." This is "a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning." Behe points out that there is no way that something like this could be produced by a slow, gradual evolutionary process, for all of the parts need to be in place in order to get any functioning.

But are there such systems in nature? Behe argues that there are, and he instances the micro-world of the cell and of mechanisms (or "mechanisms") found at that level. Take bacteria, which use a flagellum, driven by a kind of rotary motor, to move around. Every part is incredibly complex, as are the various parts combined. The external filament of the flagellum (called a "flagellin"), for instance, is a single protein that makes a kind of paddle surface contacting the liquid during swimming. Near the surface of the cell, just as necessary is a thickening agent, so that the filament can be connected to the rotor drive. This requires a connector, known as a "hook protein." There is no motor in the filament, so that has to be somewhere else. "Experiments have demonstrated that it is located at the base of the flagellum, where electron microscopy shows several ring structures occur" (p. 70). All are much too complex to have come into being in a gradual fashion. Only a one-step process will do, and this one-step process must involve some sort of designing cause. Behe is careful not to identify this designer with the Christian God, but the implication is that it is a force from without the normal course of nature. Darwinism is ruled out and we must look for another explanation. There is only one possible answer. Irreducible complexity spells design.

The Explanatory Filter

Backing the empirical argument are the conceptual arguments of the philosopher-mathematician William Dembski, who introduced the notion of an "explanatory filter." We have a particular phenomenon. The question is, what caused it? Is it something that might not have happened, given the laws of nature? Is it contingent? Or was it necessitated? The moon goes endlessly round the earth. We know that it does this because of Newton's laws. End of discussion. No design here. However, now we have some rather strange new phenomenon, the causal origin of which is a puzzle. Suppose we have a mutation, where although we can quantify over large numbers we cannot predict at an individual level. There is no immediate subsumption beneath law, and therefore there is no reason to think that at this level it was necessary. Let us say, as supposedly happened in the extended royal family of Europe, there was a mutation to a gene responsible for hemophilia. Is it complex? Obviously not, for it leads to breakdown rather than otherwise. Hence it is appropriate to talk now of chance. There is no design. The hemophilia mutation was just an accident.

Suppose now that we do have complexity. A rather intricate mineral pattern in the rocks might qualify here. Suppose we have veins of precious metals set in other materials, the whole being intricate and variedcertainly not a pattern you could simply deduce from the laws of physics or chemistry or geology or whatever. Nor would one think of it as being a breakdown mess, as one might a malmutation. Is this now design? Almost certainly not, for there is no way that one might prespecify such a pattern. It is all a bit ad hoc, and not something that comes across as the result of conscious intention. And then finally there are phenomena that are complex and specified. One presumes that the microscopical biological apparatuses and processes discussed by Behe would qualify here. They are contingent, for they are irreducibly complex. They are design-like for they do what is needed for the organism in which they are to be found. That is to say they are of pre-specified form. And so, having survived the explanatory filter, they are properly considered the product of real design.

Although his arguments are philosophical, Dembski and his supporters see his work as supportive of the empirical case made by Behe. Most particularly, it speaks to an obvious theological problem that is raised by irreducible complexity. If indeed such a phenomenon exists and if one has to suppose a designer to explain its origins, then presumably this designer was also involved in the production of the reducibly simple. And this being so, why did he do such a bad job? We have some mutations, like sickle-cell anemia, that have horrendous physical effects causing massive pain, and yet are triggered by the smallest of changes at the molecular level. Surely the designer could have prevented these? Not so, according to Dembski. Malmutations are just chance, and hence no one's fault, especially not that of the designer. Hence he gets credit for the good and is saved from blame for the bad.


Not surprisingly, many Christians (both Protestant and Catholic) as well as scientists object strongly both to traditional creationism and to the more recent intelligent design theory. Both Christians and scientists deny vehemently that being a methodological naturalist at once tips you into being a metaphysical naturalist. In addition, Christians assert, as they always have, that creationism in any form is a distortion of real traditional Christianity. There is absolutely no warrant for literalistic readings of Genesis, whether or not they are dressed up as science. In like fashion, scientists object that traditional creationism (the kind to be found in Genesis Flood ) is simply wrong in every respect, and that intelligent design is little better. It simply is not true to say that there are examples of irreducible complexity that could never be explained through evolution. Even if all the parts are now necessary for proper functioning, it may well have been the case that the parts were assembled in ways that allowed for incomplete (or completely different) functioning before they reached their present interconnected forms.

Yet, whether or not creationism is good or bad religion, and whether or not creationism is good or bad science, it would be foolish to deny its ongoing appeal. In the early twenty-first century, opinion polls regularly found that 50 percent of Americans supported some form of creationism, and most of the others thought that blind law could never, unaided, have led to the production of the higher animals, especially humans. It would therefore be unwise to pretend that creationism is about to go away or will never raise its political head. It still has the potential to force us back to the 1920s and to attempt to legislate the contents of the science curricula of publicly funded schools.

See also Evolution ; Fundamentalism ; Religion ; Religion and Science .


Behe, Michael. Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New York: Free Press, 1996.

Brooks, Deborah J. "Substantial Numbers of Americans Continue to Doubt Evolution as Explanation for Origin of Humans." Poll Analyses, Gallup News Service, 3 May 2001.

Dembski, William A. The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

, ed. Mere Creation: Science, Faith, and Intelligent Design. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998.

Gilbert, James. Redeeming Culture in an Age of Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Gish, Duane T. Evolution: The Fossils Say No! San Diego: Creation-Life, 1973.

Johnson, Phillip E. Darwin on Trial. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1991.

. Reason in the Balance: The Case against Naturalism in Science, Law, and Education. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1995.

Larson, Edward J. Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion. New York: BasicBooks, 1997.

McMullin, Ernan, ed. Evolution and Creation. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.

Miller, Kenneth. Finding Darwin's God. New York: Cliff Street Books, 1999.

Numbers, Ronald L. The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism. New York: Knopf, 1992.

. Darwinism Comes to America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Ruse, Michael, ed. But Is It Science? The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus, 1988.

. Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? The Relationship between Science and Religion. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Turner, Frank M. John Henry Newman: The Challenge to Evangelical Religion. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002.

Webb, George E. The Evolution Controversy in America. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1994.

Whitcomb, John C., Jr., and Henry M. Morris. The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications. Philadelphia, Pa.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1961.

Michael Ruse

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The meaning of the term creationism has varied greatly over time. In the history of Christian theology it once designated the idea that God creates a new soul for each person born, in contrast to traducianism, which envisions the soul as propagating in a manner similar to the way bodies propagate.

In contemporary culture, however, the term has taken on a number of substantially different meanings that need to be distinguished. For the purposes of this entry, the term theological creationism designates the basic belief, held by members of many religious communities, that the universe is not self-existent but is a creation; that is, the universe has being only because a self-existent creator-God gives it being. The existence of a creation is held to be dependent on the effective will of a creator not only to give it being at a beginning but also to sustain it in being from moment to moment.

But the term creationism usually entails more than this basic belief that the universe is a creation. The term now ordinarily designates the conviction that the creator-God of which the Bible speaks has both (1) brought the basic material of "the heavens and the earth" into being from nothing at the beginning of time, and (2) conferred specific forms on that basic material in the course of time through occasional episodes of divine intervention. Because of its strong emphasis on the need for several episodes of form-conferring supernatural action, this perspective will here be called episodic creationism to distinguish it from theological creationism as defined above. Episodic creationism has historically been called special creationism because of its idea that each basic kind of creature was specially created (given a specific form) to function in its environment.

Within the category of episodic creationism, however, there are numerous and vastly differing concepts of the particular manner and timetable of the creator's form-conferring interventions. Following are the basic tenets of the most common versions of these creationist portraits of God's creative action.

Young-earth episodic creationism

Young-earth episodic creationism is committed to the belief that the universe was brought into being recently (usually taken to be six thousand to ten thousand years ago) and that God's form-conferring interventions (or "acts of creation") were performed during a week of six twenty-four-hour days immediately following the beginning. The primary basis for this perspective is the belief that this portrait of the creation's formational history is the clear teaching of the Bible and that all faithful believers of biblical faiths must accept it.

Bible inerrancy. Understanding the creationists' beliefs concerning the nature and authority of the Bible is essential for understanding all forms of episodic creationism. The Bible (made up of the Hebrew Scriptures plus the New Testament writings of the early Christian era) is generally taken to be not only a trustworthy guide for faith and practice, but also an inerrant source of information on any topic that it addresses. How does the Bible come to have this remarkable character? The Bible has this quality because, inerrantists believe, the Bible is the inspired Word of God. The Bible is believed to be the product, not of human knowledge or of human experience alone, but of divine revelation of information and divine guidance in the writing of the text. As God's revelation and as the product of divine inspiration, what the Bible says can be trusted to be true and unblemished by error of any sort.

This concept of the Bible, combined with an interpretive approach that favors "the plain reading of the text," has led many to insist upon a literal interpretation of biblical narratives unless there is strong reason (derived from the Bible itself) to read it in a more figurative or artistic sense. The application of this belief to the first three chapters of Genesis has led a large proportion of the Christian community (at least in the past century) to treat the creation narratives of Genesis 13 as literature that is more like a documentary photograph than an artistic portrait. Consequently, Genesis 13 is taken to be a chronicle of God's acts of creationa concise account of what happened and when during the first week of time. Young-earth episodic creationists read Genesis 1 as a divine revelation that God not only brought the universe into being at the beginning of time but also performed a series of form-conferring interventions over the next six days. Similarly, Genesis 69 is taken to be a chronicle of a catastrophic global flood event that occurred within human history, perhaps four thousand to five thousand years ago.

Creation science. Furthermore, if the Bible is the inspired Word of God, it must be true. And if it is true, then it must be open to empirical confirmation. Empirical confirmation of the recentness and episodic character of divine acts of creation is the task of a science-styled enterprise known as creation science. Creation science stands in the tradition of flood geology, which presumes that the major structural features of the earth's surface were formed as a consequence of the great flood of Noah. In both cases, selected empirical evidence is reinterpreted in such a way as to reach the conclusions that: (1) the age of the universe is not fourteen or fifteen billion yearsas conventional science has concludedbut more like six thousand years; (2) new forms of life could not have evolved in the manner that most biologists believe, but must have been specially created by supernatural means; and (3) the Noachian flood can account for all of the major geological structures that characterize the surface of the earth.

There are several societies and institutions that actively promote young-earth episodic creationism, flood geology, and creation science. The Creation Research Society (CRS), for example, was founded in 1963. Its members must subscribe to a statement of belief that affirms, in the order listed:

  1. that the Bible, as the inspired Word of God, is historically and scientifically true;
  2. that all basic types of life forms were made by direct creative acts of God in six days;
  3. that the Noachian flood was a worldwide historical event: and
  4. that salvation through Jesus is necessary because of Adam and Eve's fall into sin.

The CRS has published its technical journal, the Creation Research Society Quarterly, since 1964 and now supports a variety of "creation-related research" projects at its Van Andel Creation Research Center in north central Arizona.

Creation science is taught in many conservative Christian schools and colleges. Graduate degrees in creation science can be earned at the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) in Santee, California. The ICR maintains an extensive resource center for books, pamphlets, research monographs, textbooks, and videos prepared for a variety of age and educational levels. Its educational outreach programs include Back to Genesis regional seminars, Good Science workshops at a variety of grade levels, creation science camps, Case for Creation community seminars, and creation/evolution debates in which biochemist Duane Gish defends young-earth creationism against various representatives for evolution. Programs of this sort are presented not only throughout the United States but in countries around the world.

The ICR supports research expeditions to locate the remnants of Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat in Turkey and to study catastrophic phenomena at Mount St. Helens in Washington. It sponsors both research trips and public tours in the Grand Canyonresearch trips "looking for evidence to support a young-age creation interpretation of the formation and history of the Canyon," and Grand Canyon outreach tours that are "devoted to reaching pastors, teachers, professionals, and business leaders with the creation message" and designed to give its participants "an opportunity to see evidences for the Genesis Flood firsthand."

Other forms of creationism

Creationism has many variants. Three of the most prominent interpretations are old-earth episodic, progressive, and Intelligent Design creationism.

Old-earth episodic creationism. The tenets of old-earth episodic creationism are very similar to those of young-earth creationism with the exception of the timetable. The Bible is taken to be the inspired and scientifically inerrant Word of God. The formational capabilities of the created world are presumed to be inadequate to sustain biotic evolution, so that a succession of episodes of form-conferring supernatural intervention remains an essential feature of the creation's formational history, and the Noachian flood was a historical event within human history. However, the "days" of the Genesis 1 creation narrative could have been extended periods of time so that the scientifically-derived timetable for the universe's formational history may be accepted without fear of contradicting the Scriptures.

Progressive creationism. Like old-earth episodic creationism, progressive creationism is open to the contributions of science on such matters as the timetable of the creation's formational history. It also gives recognition to the idea, rooted in the Augustinian tradition, that the creation was provided by God with the formational capabilities needed to actualize the structures and life forms that God intended to appear in the course of time. Progressive creationism envisions God giving being at the beginning to the raw materials of the universe and generously providing them with formational powers. Then, in a progressive manner, the Spirit of God is thought to have stimulated and enabled these causal powers to actualize a vast array of preordained physical structures (like dry land and seas) and life forms (like plants, cattle, fish, and birds). The formational history of the creation is envisioned as a progressive and cooperative venture in which both divine and creaturely action contribute to the outcome.

Intelligent Design creationism. The Intelligent Design movement is a recent entry into this arena of creationist perspectives on the character and role of divine action in effecting the assembly of new creaturely formsespecially new life formsin the course of time. Proponents of Intelligent Design argue that there is empirical evidence that the universe's system of natural capabilities for forming things is inadequate for assembling certain information-rich biological structures. And if the system of natural capabilities is inadequate, as Intelligent Design proponents argue, then these biological structures must have been assembled by the action of some non-natural agent, usually taken to be divine. Exactly how and when this divine action might have occurred is not specified. Little or no appeal is made to the biblical text to support the theological implications of this concept.

See also Creation; Creation Science; Design; Design Argument; Divine Action; God; Intelligent Design; Scopes Trial; Scriptural Interpretation


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numbers, ronald. the creationists: the evolution of scientific creationism. new york: knopf, 1992.

ramm, bernard. the christian view of science and scripture. grand rapids, mich.: eerdmanns, 1956.

ross, hugh. creation and time: a biblical and scientific perspective on the creation-date controversy. colorado springs, colo.: navpress, 1994.

young, davis a. christianity and the age of the earth. grand rapids, mich.: eerdmanns, 1982.

young, davis a. the biblical flood: a case study of the church's response to extrabiblical evidence. grand rapids, mich.: eerdmanns, 1995.

howard j. van till

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Creationism is an idiosyncratic form of Protestant biblical literalism that developed in the United States in the nineteenth century. Creationism comes in two forms, one that accepts that the earth is probably very old but that insists that there was an intervention of a creative kind at the beginning to populate the world with organisms, and the otherknown as young earth creationism that claims that the earth is about six thousand years old (based on the genealogies of the Bible). Creationism should not be confused with the belief by Christians (and others in the Abrahamic tradition) that God created the earth from nothing, nor should it be confused with traditional Christian thinking about the veracity of the Bible. From at least the time of Saint Augustine (354430 ce), it has been the position of ChristiansCatholics and (later) Protestantsthat God often spoke in simplified or metaphorical terms, and that the Bible should not be used as a work of science. In an oft-quoted phrase, the Bible tells human beings where they are going, not where they came from. It should also be noted that although traditional Christianity has always had a place for natural theology, proving God and his attributes through reason, it has never been the case that natural theology has taken the primary role. For Christians, faith is what counts. Hence when skeptics criticize proofsfor instance, pointing out that if one claims that God is the first cause, then who caused God?believers are not worried. They argue that God is the cause of himself and this is something that is beyond rational proof.

The nineteenth century saw major divisions in the United States, particularly between North and South, exploding into the violent Civil War (18611865), something that to this day still marks social and cultural fractures in the country. People in the North, particularly Protestants from older denominations (Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Unitarians), moved steadily in tune with the major movements from Europe, especially the movement to interpret the Bible as a work written by humans (so-called higher criticism ), and advances in science, especially Charles Darwins (18091882) theory of evolution as expressed in his On the Origin of Species (1859).

In the South, and increasingly (as the country moved West) in the central states, Protestants in the more evangelical religions (Baptists and Methodists) turned to the Bible read literally for comfort and understanding. Holy scripture was used to justify slavery and, after the Civil War, many took heart in the ways in which God often punishes or makes life hard for those who have a special place in his heart. The Old Testament story of the Israelites in captivity in Babylon was taken to be a cameo for the way in which, after the war, the South was seen as a society in captivity to the North. New doctrines were added to Christianity, particularly the belief in dispensations, or historical periods ended by violent conflagration, the first of which terminated in Noahs flood and the last of which will end with Armageddon and the return of Jesus. Often added to this was a belief in the Rapture, according to which the saved will go straight to heaven before the end times, and also the significance of Israel with the return and conversion of the Jews.

This literalism, known in the first part of the twentieth century as fundamentalism, was as much a social as a religious movement. The emphasis was on returning to God and working toward personal purity, rather than trying to effect wholesale changes in society for the overall good. This underlying theology was exhibited clearly by the famous Scopes trial of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee, when a young school teacher was put on trial for teaching evolution to his class. Prosecuted by three-time presidential candidate and ardent evangelical Christian William Jennings Bryan (18601925) and defended by noted agnostic Clarence Darrow (18571938), the trial was less about gaps in the fossil record and more about the new modes of education and learning that people in the South felt were being imposed on them by northerners.

Many laughed at the literalists of Tennessee, and fundamentalism withdrew from the public gaze. Then, in the early 1960s, the divide was again exposed and deepened, thanks to a book penned by biblical scholar John C. Whitcomb and hydraulics engineer Henry M. Morris (19182006). The Genesis Flood (1961), much influenced by Seventh-day Adventist views about the very short (less than 10,000-year) span of the earth, argued that all of geology can be traced to the worldwide deluge through which Noah and his family sailed for forty days. Deeply committed to dispensationalismthe belief that the worlds history is divided into phases (seven is a popular number), each ending with a disasterWhitcomb and Morris were determined to show that there had been such an upheaval, and they warned of one to come. Before The Genesis Flood, the general belief had been in a long-history earth; now public opinion followed these authors in opting for young earth creationism.

As before, the main message was less one of science and more one of social prescription, with dire warnings about a nation lax on sexual and other morals. Because The Genesis Flood was clearly religious in nature and because of the constitutional separation of church and state in the United States, creationists (as they were now called) began to present a supposedly science-based version of their views creation science and a law mandating its treatment in state-supported schools was enacted in Arkansas in 1981. A federal judge ruled the law unconstitutional, and a similar bill in Louisiana met a similar fate later in the decade. But creationism was evolving and since 1990 has presented itself in a new guise, intelligent design theory. Sparked by law professor Phillip E. Johnson, author of Darwin on Trial (1991), its supporters claim that the organic world is so complex that it could not have been produced by blind law. Publicly, it is denied that this intelligent designer necessarily has anything to do with the God of the Bible. Privately, both supporters and opponents agree that intelligent design theory is a form of creationism-lite designed to slip through the barriers between church and state.

Legally, intelligent design theory has been no more successful than creation science. In 2005 a federal judge in Dover, Pennsylvania, ruled that it is not science and hence cannot be taught in state schools. But the battle is not yet over, especially given that polls constantly show more than 50 percent of Americans believe that the earth was created in six days less than ten thousand years ago.

Creationism remains a threat to biology, and also to the rest of science. Geological theories about plate tectonics are ruled out, physical theories about big bangs are ruled out, and in the social sciences, at the very least, anthropology and archeology as understood today are made impossible. This point should be emphasized, for often people think that creationism affects only the biological sciences. If one takes a literal biblical view, then it is hard to see how one can have any approach to humankind that argues (for instance) that social factors were supreme in ordering human behavior. The same is true of biological factors with the same effectsfor instance, the purported discovery by geneticist Dean Hamer (2004) that there is a gene for belief in Gods existence. All of these thingsfor instance, the suggestion that sexual orientation might not be a function of someones free willwill be anathematized. So far, science is holding fast, but the battle has not ended.

SEE ALSO Fundamentalism, Christian; Scopes Trial


Hamer, Dean. 2004. The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into Our Genes. New York: Doubleday.

Johnson, Phillip E. 1993. Darwin on Trial. 2nd ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.

Larson, Edward J. 1997. Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and Americas Continuing Debate over Science and Religion. New York: Basic Books.

Numbers, Ronald L. 1992. The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism. New York: Knopf.

Ruse, Michael. 2005. The Evolution-Creation Struggle. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Whitcomb, John C., Jr., and Henry M. Morris. 1961. The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and its Scientific Implications. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing.

Michael Ruse

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CREATIONISM, the belief that life on Earth is the product of a divine act rather than organic evolution, has had a strong and persistent presence in American culture. From the first responses to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution in the 1860s through vigorous curriculum debates at the end of the twentieth century, American voices have been raised in defense of biblical accounts of the history of life. Indeed, prior to the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859, America's leading naturalist, Louis Agassiz, had articulated a scientifically sophisticated creationism—a position he continued to defend until his death in 1873, using it to point out flaws in Darwin's theory. In response to Darwin's work, many American scientists sought to retain a place for divine intervention in the history of life, even if they—like renowned botanist Asa Gray—considered themselves evolutionists. While American naturalists were embracing some form of organic evolution, conservative American theologians criticized the theory for its inconsistency with scriptural accounts.

As organic evolution became a generally accepted scientific principle and an element in school curricula in the early years of the twentieth century, American Christianity was experiencing the rise of fundamentalism. These two cultural developments collided dramatically in the 1920s as fundamentalist-led movements in twenty states sought to outlaw the teaching of evolution in public schools. Although their challenges to evolutionary theory were rooted in its incompatibility with a literal interpretation of the Bible, Christian critics also made opportunistic use of criticisms raised about the scientific merits of Darwin's theory. The conflict between supporters of evolutionary theory and the theory's fundamentalist opponents reached a high point in 1925, when a Tennessee high school teacher, John Thomas Scopes, confessed to violating that state's new law forbidding the teaching of evolution. The courtroom clash between defense attorney Clarence Darrow and Williams Jennings Bryan ended badly for the creationist movement, despite their guilty verdict, as Bryan—elderly and poorly prepared—failed to present a coherent challenge to the evolutionists.

The creationist movement, as it was now known, received less publicity during the four decades following the Scopes trial. Nevertheless, a strong constituency opposed to evolution remained among American Christians, especially conservative fundamentalists and evangelicals. For the first time, a significant number of individuals with advanced scientific training became active in the movement. This gave the creationists a more effective voice in criticizing evolutionary theory for its scientific flaws as they organized groups such as the Creation Research Society (founded in 1963). Increasingly, the debate between creationists and evolutionists used the language, credentials, and style of science.

The goal of scientific creationism, as the movement came to be known in the 1970s, differed from that of earlier creationist movements. Rather than trying to outlaw the teaching of evolution, scientific creationists argued for equal curriculum time. By working to demonstrate that evolution and creationism were two competing, legitimate scientific theories, they portrayed the exclusion of creationism from textbooks and classrooms as an act of prejudice rather than a defensible exclusion of religion from scientific education. This tactic brought significant victories. More than twenty state legislatures considered balanced treatment laws, and several passed them. While most of these legal victories were quickly reversed, the debate's impact on textbooks, teachers, and local school boards was subtle and long-lived. Particularly in the South and Midwest, where fundamentalist Christianity had the greatest influence, the argument for a balanced science curriculum swayed classroom content away from the rigorous teaching of evolutionary theory. The universal condemnation of scientific creationism by accepted scientific authorities was labeled intolerance By the creationists.

By the end of the twentieth century, the American-based creationist movement had inspired similar movements in a number of other countries. While evolutionary theory retained the full confidence of practicing scientists, the wider public remained more skeptical, with sizable fractions of the population around the country professing not to accept evolution. Clearly, the persistence of the creationist movement helped this belief survive well beyond the community of fundamentalist Christians.


Godfrey, Laurie R., ed. Scientists Confront Creationism. New York: Norton, 1983.

Numbers, Ronald L. The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

———. Darwinism Comes to America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Ruse, Michael, ed. But Is It Science? The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 1996.

Loren ButlerFeffer

See alsoEvolutionism ; Fundamentalism .

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In the broad sense, creationism is the belief that the universe and life were created by God. Within this definition are a broad range of beliefs. At one extreme are biblical literalists who believe that all life was created in its present form, including Adam and Eve as the first humans, as described in Genesis and with little or no evolutionary change since then (special creation). At the other end are creationists who have no quarrel with evolution and believe it is God's method of creating life (theistic evolution), the view accepted today by most Christian denominations.

In the United States, the creationism controversy began in earnest with the birth of Protestant fundamentalism in the 1910s. Fundamentalists, as they began calling themselves, argued for the literal truth of every word in the Bible, and thus rejected evolution and other philosophies of "modernism." They waged a campaign to outlaw the teaching of evolution and succeeded in getting five states to pass such laws from 1923 to 1929.

In Tennessee, this resulted in the famous Scopes trial of 1925, in which teacher John T. Scopes was convicted of teaching evolution. His fine was overturned on a technicality, but the Tennessee statute remained in effect until the legislature repealed it in 1967, both to improve the image of the state and to head off a threatened lawsuit. A similar law that had passed in 1928 in Arkansas was challenged by biology teacher Susan Epperson in 1965. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in her favor in 1968, stating that these anti-evolution statutes violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits an entanglement of church and state. The last anti-evolution statute was repealed in 1969.

Creationists therefore changed their strategy. Briefly, they campaigned for laws to require "equal time for Genesis" if evolution was to be taught. Tennessee was the only state to pass such a law, in 1973, but it was overturned in court in 1975.

Failing at this tactic, creationists tried to have their views recognized as an alternative scientific theory and thus taught in the science curriculum. Many called their doctrine "scientific creationism," and founded such organizations as the Creation Research Society and Institute for Creation Research to promote their views. "Scientific creationists," as they called themselves, attacked the evidence for evolution, arguing over gaps in the fossil record, questioning the validity of radiometric dating, disputing the significance of human fossil remains, arguing that statistical probability or the laws of thermodynamics make evolution impossible, and claiming that geological features such as the Grand Canyon were evidence of Noah's flood, among many other lines of attack.

The scientific community never took the claims of creationists seriously but did publish numerous books to educate the public on why the claims were fallacious and why creationism was not a science. They founded organizations such as the National Center for Science Education and state Committees of Correspondence to counter the strategies of creationists in legislatures, school boards, and the media.

Despite their failure to convince many scientists of their views, creationists were more successful at the political level. Arkansas and Louisiana passed laws requiring the teaching of "creation science" in 1981. The Arkansas law was quickly struck down in a federal district court in 1982, whereas the Louisiana case dragged out until 1987, when the law was finally struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Both courts ruled that creationism had no reason to be part of a science curriculum; they recognized that these laws represented merely fundamentalist religion in disguise and were therefore in violation of the First Amendment. Creationists continue to press their case with some success, however, in local school boards, state boards of education, and textbook adoption committees. The result is often a watering down of the curriculum to include less (often much less) about evolution.

The eminent geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky declared, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." Because of the political efforts of creationists, evolution remains widely censored in biology courses today, and countless students are being kept in the dark about the facts of evolution.

see also Darwin, Charles; Evolution; Evolution, Evidence for; Natural Selection

Kenneth S. Saladin


Larson, Edward J. Summer for the Gods. New York: Basic Books, 1997.

National Center for Science Education. <>.

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

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1. The view that the universe and all things in it were created directly by God and are not the result of a long evolutionary process, in contrast to the theory of evolution associated with Charles Darwin. The immediate ancestry of creationism can be found in the inter-war attempts of fundamentalists to get state laws passed which would ban the teaching of evolution in public schools. These attempts received a set-back in the Scopes trial in Tennessee (1925): John Scopes was convicted for teaching Darwin's theory, but the conviction was later overturned. Creationism emerged more specifically in the 1960s when creationists demanded equal time for the teaching of creationism (hence the importance of insisting on the equal validity of both as theories). The Creation Research Society supports the publication of creation science papers, but these have not been recognized as serious science outside the movement.

2. The view that God creates a soul for each human being, in contrast to pre-existence (that souls pre-exist bodies and enter into them) and traducianism (that souls generate souls as and when bodies generate bodies).

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creationism or creation science, belief in the biblical account of the creation of the world as described in Genesis, a characteristic especially of fundamentalist Protestantism (see fundamentalism). Advocates of creationism have campaigned to have it taught in U.S. public schools along with the theory of evolution, which they dispute. In 1981 a federal judge ruled unconstitutional an Arkansas law requiring the teaching of creationism, holding it to be religious in nature; a similar Louisiana law was overturned in 1982. In 1999, supporters of creationism in Kansas succeeded in removing the requirement that evolution be taught as part of the state's high school biology curriculum, but after several supporters of the measure were not reelected to the state school board that decision was reversed in 2001. Fundamentalist Christians have also opposed the teaching of scientific theories concerning the formation of the universe (see cosmology). See also intelligent design.

See E. C. Scott, Evolution vs. Creationism (2004); M. Ruse, The Evolution-Creation Struggle (2005); M. Berkman and E. Plutzer, Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms (2010).

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creationism A modern variant of special creation, in which it is maintained that all ‘kinds’ of organisms were created during one week, 6000–10 000 years ago, exactly as is stated in the biblical Book of Genesis. Creationism involves a rejection not only of the concept of evolution but also of the whole of geology and radiometric dating. See also creation ‘science’.

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cre·a·tion·ism / krēˈāshəˌnizəm/ • n. the belief that the universe and living organisms originate from specific acts of divine creation, as in the biblical account, rather than by natural processes such as evolution. ∎ another term for creation science. DERIVATIVES: cre·a·tion·ist n. & adj.

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creationism A modern variant of special creation, in which it is maintained that all ‘kinds’ of organisms were created during one week, 6000–10 000 years ago, exactly as is stated in the book of Genesis. Creationism involves a rejection not only of the concept of evolution but also of the whole of geology and radiometric dating. See also CREATION ‘SCIENCE’.

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