[Historical Introduction from Eddie: Years ago, on BioLogos, I posted a lengthy discussion of the meaning of the term “creationism” in popular usage in the USA. Since at Peaceful Science we keep coming back to wrangle about the use of the term, I think it will save time for me to simply reproduce this discussion here. Though I have linked to this discussion before, on BioLogos it is in grayed-out print and is not easy to read, so I think a reproduction in darker print would be helpful. Here is exactly what I wrote:]
Under another column, there has been a debate over whether, in American popular debates over origins, “creationism” generally means something very broad, i.e., the belief that the world has been created by God, or something narrow, i.e., the belief that macroevolution did not happen, that instead all the basic types of living creature were created directly by God, that the Biblical story of creation is Genesis 1 was intended historically and is essentially historically accurate, and that science must conform to the Genesis account.
If the first position is right, then not only old earth and young earth creationists are “creationists”; so are all virtually all ID people and all TE/ECs. Indeed, if the first meaning is the common one, then all Christians, and pretty well everyone who holds to any theistic religion, would be a “creationist.” “Creationist” would then be such a broad term that it would cease to be of any use in identifying distinct parties in origins debates. On the other hand, if the second meaning is the common one, then “creationism” would clearly distinguish some Christians from other Christians on the subject of origins.
I have maintained that by far the most common usage of “creationist” and “creationism” (when these terms are used without an adjective in front of them) is the narrower usage. I thought that everyone familiar with the debates would instantly assent to this, but some still disagree. So I offer here samples of usage which, taken together, clearly demonstrate the frequency of the narrower usage. All emphases, unless otherwise stated, are my own.
Let us start with dictionaries. Dictionaries, which tend to be descriptive more than prescriptive, make a point of recording common usage. Here is what several dictionaries have to say:
- The doctrine that matter and all things were created, substantially as they now exist , by an omnipotent Creator, and not gradually evolved or developed .
- (Sometimes initial capital letter) the doctrine that the true story of the creation of the universe is as it is recounted in the Bible, especially in the first chapter of Genesis .
From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:
Simple Definition of creationism: the belief that God created all things out of nothing as described in the Bible and that therefore the theory of evolution is incorrect.
Full Definition of creationism: a doctrine or theory holding that matter, the various forms of life, and the world were created by God out of nothing and usually in the way described in Genesis — compare “evolution.”
- 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 .
1.1. Another term for “creation science.” [Eddie’s Note: Creation Science denies evolution]
Cambridge Dictionaries Online:
creationist: a person who believes that the world was made by God exactly as described in the Bible and does not accept the theory of evolution .
Collins English Dictionary:
creationism: the doctrine that ascribes the origins of all things to God’s acts of creation rather than to evolution.
Summary of Dictionary Entries:
None of these dictionaries includes the extremely general meaning “the belief that God created the world.” All of them include various versions of the narrow meaning, and imply a contrast between “creationism” and “evolution” and/or an appeal to the Bible against evolution when it comes to origins questions.
Now let’s look at some other reference works:
Creationism is the religious belief that the Universe and life originated “ from specific acts of divine creation .”
[Eddie’s note: “specific acts of divine creation” is obviously not what Darwin or anyone since has meant by “evolution.”]
From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
“At a broad level, a Creationist is someone who believes in a god who is absolute creator of heaven and earth, out of nothing, by an act of free will… The focus of this discussion is on a narrower sense of Creationism, the sense that one usually finds in popular writings (especially in America today) . Here, Creationism means the taking of the Bible, particularly the early chapters of Genesis, as literally true guides to the history of the universe and to the history of life, including us humans, down here on earth (Numbers 1992). ”
[Eddie’s Note: This work, unlike the dictionaries, grants the existence of the broader meaning; however, it goes on to describe “the sense that one usually finds in popular writings (especially in America today)” as the narrower one. I had not read this article before, but its resemblance to my own wording is remarkable, as is its citation of the work of Numbers, whom I also had cited.]
An important part of the popular debate is the legal debate regarding evolutionary teaching in the schools. Here are some references to that debate which shed light on popular usage:
Stephen Jay Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory :
(p. 981) “But creationism surged again in the 1970s… Creationists enjoyed a second round of success in the late 1970s, culminating in the passage of ‘equal time’ laws for creationism and evolution in the states of Arkansas and Louisiana.”
[Eddie’s Note: the context implies that “creationism” is a competing theory against “evolution.”]
(p. 989) “… the Arkansas trial permitted full scale testimony about creationism in a court of law. I feel honored that I had the opportunity to present the case for evolution as natural knowledge, and for creationism as pseudoscience …”
[Eddie’s Note: the context makes clear that “creationism” refers to the views of anti-evolutionary fundamentalists, not a broad general belief that God created the world.]
Resolution of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church on Evolution and Creationism (1982):
“Whereas, the state legislatures of several states have recently passed so-called “balanced treament” laws requiring the teaching of “Creation-science” whenever evolutionary models are taught … Whereas, the terms ‘Creationism’ and ‘Creation-science’ as understood in these laws do not refer simply to the affirmation that God created the Earth and Heavens and everything in them , but specify certain methods and timing of the creative acts , and impose limits on these acts…”
[Eddie’s Note: I am not trying to conceal the fact that the Resolution goes on to reject “creationism” so defined; the point is that “creationism” was so defined in some states, indicating the currency of that meaning of the term.]
Now, let’s look at some book titles :
Did Man Get Here by Evolution or by Creation? (Watchtower, 1967)
[Eddie’s Note: the argument of the book implies polar opposition throughout.]
Creation or Evolution? , by David D. Riegle (Zondervan, 1972)
[Notes from Eddie: Quote from inside the book: “… the true antitheses that exist between anti-Biblical evolutionary theory and the Biblical account of creation found in Genesis”; further, the book was edited by and endorsed by John N. Moore, leading exponent of “Creation Science” – which is explicitly anti-evolutionary creationism.]
Now, here is an assortment of examples from various sources, all non-ID or anti-ID sources :
Eugenie Scott, National Center for Science Education , http://ncse.com/creationism/general/creationevolution-continuum
“Many — if not most — Americans think of the creation and evolution controversy as a dichotomy with “creationists” on one side, and “evolutionists” on the other.”
[Eddie’s Note (to avoid charges of out-of-context quoting): It must be added that Scott goes on to indicate that she wishes this were not the case; nonetheless, she starts out by describing what is the case, regarding current usage.]
Ken Miller, Finding Darwin’s God , p. 63:
“I first approached the creationist literature … The very first time I read through the creationist literature on this subject … I dug into Henry Morris’s Scientific Creationism …”
[Eddie’s Note: Henry Morris is adamantly anti-evolutionist.]
Edward Larson, Summer for the Gods :
(p. 258) “… some fundamentalists called for balancing instruction in evolution with creationist teaching as a supposedly constitutional alternative to excluding any one theory.”
[Eddie’s Note: Obviously the fundamentalists here understood creationism and evolution as opposing theories.]
(p. 265) “… the amens for creationism have increased in both number and volume over the years since 1955 … a vast number of Americans still believe in the Bible and accept it as authoritative on matters of science… [and] accept the biblical account of special creation over the scientific theory of evolution.”
Edward Humes, Monkey Girl (HarperCollins, 2007):
(p. 135) “Yet a steady stream of controversies continued, as the underlying conflict remained as strong as ever. Each side had its victories during the next quarter century, with the evolutionists prevailing in court, but the creationists winning in the court of public opinion…”
[Eddie’s Note: Obviously this implies stark opposition between “creationism” and evolution.]
(p. 137) “In 1996, Pope John Paul II dealt creationists a blow when he released a formal Vatican position paper stating the the human body might not, after all, be an immediate creation of God , but the product of a gradual evolutionary process.”
[Eddie’s Note: If “creationism” meant merely “affirmation of God as Creator,” then the Pope would be a “creationist” and would never “deal creationists a blow”; obviously, then, “creationist” here means something narrower, i.e., that the human body is “an immediate creation of God” rather than “the product of a gradual evolutionary process.”]
[Note that Humes comes to anti-ID conclusions in his book, so these definitions of “creationism” come from a source hostile to my position.]
These examples are only a very small sample of what I could come up with, if I had time.
I think a reasonable person would conclude that the sense of “creationism” I have been using is very widespread, and that my decision to employ that very widespread sense is not based on any “apologetic” desire on my part, but simply on my conviction that a clear discussion about who is, and who is not, a “creationist” can best be held if everyone sticks with the meanings of “creationism” and “creationist” that are the ones most widely used in the arena of discourse (i.e., the arena of popular American discussions of origins).