On the Use of the Term "Creationism" in Popular Debate in the Past Century or So

You’ve introduced a false dichotomy between the very broad, and the narrow. Several of us here would argue that the common meaning is somewhere between those extremes. (Your narrow definition would exclude Reasons to Believe, Jehovah’s Witnesses and half or more of the Discovery Institute.)

Many of us treat rejection of science as the boundary condition, and would draw the line between theistic evolutionists and progressive creationists. Those who want to affirm their belief in divine creation (evolutionary creationists) draw the category wider.


Additionally he’s only treating the common use of “creationism” and “creationist” as isolated nouns, completely avoiding the fact that they are also commonly used in adjectival noun phrases, specifically with the broader meaning that he wants to avoid.

He’s also ignorant of how old terms such as “evolutionary creationism” and “creation by evolution” are, but that’s another story.

Yes. That’s precisely why terms such as “creation by evolution”, “evolutionary creationism”, “Young Earth Creationism”, and “Old Earth Creationism”, actually predate the term “intelligent design”. I have no problem at all identifying myself as a kind of creationist; specifically, an evolutionary creationist.

No. That’s precisely why “creationism” and “creationist” continue to be used in common terms such as “Young Earth Creationst” and “Old Earth Creationist” and “Evolutionary Creationist”, because people fully recognize that it is of use in identifying distinct parties in origins debates. No one reading those terms says “Well you’ve used the word “creationist” each time, so it’s totally unclear how they’re all different, they all look the same to me, I can’t tell them apart”.

The use of the word “creationist” in those terms does exactly what it’s supposed to do; identify what they all have in common. That’s precisely how it’s used when speaking of “ID Creationism”.


Two words: " cdesign proponentsists ".

End of discussion.


The dividing line for me is natural processes and supernatural miracles. We could point to Stephen Meyer who argued that some of the taxa we find in the Cambrian had no ancestors. What are we left to conclude? That they were created by God through supernatural miracles . . . err . . . “designed”. Look at any website that supports Intelligent Design and you will find diatribes against “materialism” and complaints that science won’t accept God’s supernatural miracles. Everywhere we look we see an attempt to deny natural processes in favor of supernatural miracles. For me, that is creationism.


I think Meyer indicates pretty clearly that he thinks there were massive inputs of new information at various stages in earth history, and I think he has in mind what most people would call supernatural intervention. That’s “Meyer” that’s not “ID”. Just as there are “libertarian Republicans” and “religious right Republicans” who differ from each other on some issues, but are still Republicans, so various ID proponents can differ on some issues, while remaining ID proponents. It’s clear that Meyer and Denton don’t envision things in the same way. It’s also clear that they both think that design was necessary. I don’t see the problem you have with this. It’s no different from realizing that there can be egg-laying mammals, and marsupials, and placentals, but that they are all still mammals.

“Creationism”, when used by itself, is almost always understood as denying the reality of bacterium-to-man evolution. John Harshman understands this.

Yes, one can put adjectives in front of creationism such as “Old Earth” and “Young Earth”, because they don’t modify the basic sense of anti-evolution. Everyone knows that YECs and OECs are anti-evolution, as evolution is commonly understood.

However, when one fiddles around with terms like “evolutionary creationism”, one invites confusion and misunderstanding, because the “ism” at the end of “creationism” is loaded with cultural resonances, even if the user of the compound term wishes those resonances didn’t exist and hopes to abolish them. Thus, the attempts by BioLogos etc. to talk about “evolutionary creationism” merely muddy the waters.

You fail to appreciate the weight of history in language – the loading of words with connotations that become widespread in a culture. The aroma of evolution denial clings to the word “creationism”, and that is why attempting to sanitize the term for use by evolutionists, by the addition of a qualifying adjective “evolutionary,” either fails or engenders confusion.

You might try attempting to revive the original sense of the word “gay” by using compounds such as “light-hearted gay” or “playful gay” in contrast with a compound such as “homosexual gay” – and see how far you get. The connotations of homosexuality that “gay” has picked up are, at least at the moment, impossible to erase. Words aren’t simply blank tokens on which we can write any value. They come loaded with history, culture, ideological slant, etc.

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I see. Could you cite some of the research from other ID Creationists who dispute or disagree with Meyer’s suggestion?

Congratulations on highlighting ID-Creationism’s worst flaw. There is no coherent IDC position. IDC proponents in their Big Tent can’t say when the Design was done (once or continuously), or where, or how, or by what physical mechanism(s). The only common point they share is they all think their Christian God did it.

That’s why IDC is not science and doesn’t belong anywhere near a science classroom.


Not in the context of ID-Creationism discussions it isn’t. You can keep making the false claim all day long and it will remain false.

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Since I deny the validity of the term “ID Creationists”, I can’t answer your question as asked.

However, if you rephrase your biased formulation to make it accurate and non-polemical, i.e., if you ask:

“Could you cite some of the research from other ID proponents who dispute or disagree with Meyer’s suggestion?”

Then I can answer: Michael Denton, Nature’s Destiny. It should be mandatory reading for anyone who wants to debate publicly about the relationship between creation, evolution, and design. For those who accept the inference to design, but don’t much care for miraculous interventions, Denton is the man to look at.

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This response has nothing to do with my column above, which is an empirical study of the terms “creationism” and “creationist.” It was not about “design” at all.

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Intelligent Design theory lacks specific examples of design, so it’s supporters are free to assume almost anything. I know there are a few over at Uncommon Descent who believe that evolution is incapable of generating any new information. For such people, ID supports their notion that God is directly responsible for creating, at the very least, every kind if not every species to walk the Earth. That seems like a good fit for the Creationist label.

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I’d like to know how IDC people think they get from the mind’s “design” mental image to the final physical instantiation of the “design” without there being a creation / manufacturing step.

I know, I know. " ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories." :slightly_smiling_face:

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Yes, “for such people.” But not all ID proponents are “such people.”

ID in itself offers no view regarding how design is instantiated, and therefore ID can be adopted by either creationists or evolutionists – where “evolutionist” has the simple meaning of “one who accepts descent with modification, even possibly as far as from bacterium to man.”

As I showed above, the general meaning of the term “creationism” in popular origins debates is “anti-evolution.” But ID is, in principle, neutral on the question of evolution (if by evolution one means simply “descent with modification”). ID theory is thus incapable of taking a side regarding “evolution vs. creation”.

However, ID theory can take sides regarding particular proposed methods of evolution. For example, it argues that classical neo-Darwinian theory never provided an adequate designer-substitute, despite its claims. It argues that only intelligent design could produce some of the patterns that neo-Darwinism explained wholly through chance mutations and natural selection. I’m not here to debate whether that is true – it has been debated endlessly. My point is only to show that ID does not oppose “creation” to “evolution” – while “creationism” routinely does that.

It is of the very essence of creationism to deny that evolution (beyond trivial microevolution) occurred. ID, on the other hand, has no required position on the question “whether or not evolution occurred.” That’s why Behe and Denton can be on the same ID team as Nelson and Wells.

It’s also of the very essence of creationism to regard the Bible as true regarding matters of origins, whereas ID has absolutely nothing at all to say about the Bible.

Of course, individual ID proponents can be creationists, and most are. But the theory allows for ID evolutionists as well. Discovery has published four (4) books by Michael Denton. There is no reason why an organization devoted exclusively to creationism would publish any books at all advocating evolution. So ID theory is not co-extensive with creationism. Where “ID proponent” and “creationist” overlap, the two views are held together. But there is no necessity for such overlap.

The remark is foolish, because, of course, they don’t think that. But they don’t insist on any particular account on the physical side. It’s analogous to knowing that a structure (e.g., the Great Pyramid) is designed, while allowing several competing theories on how the structure was physically built, because one is not sure how it was done.

Your comment actually belongs in the other discussion, not here. I intended my column to be focused on how the term “creationism” is generally used in popular debates about origins. It is not about intelligent design theory.

That’s the problem. The ID-Creationists don’t think at all. They claim to be doing science but they never ask a single pertinent question about the details of what is being investigated. To use your pyramid example, can you imagine archaeologists uncovering a new pyramid in the desert and going “Hey, it looks DESIGNED! Who cares who designed it, or who built it, or when, or the resources required, or the method used for construction, or how it fits in with other similar structures? It’s DESIGNED! Let’s go have a beer!” :roll_eyes:

I replied here because the point was somewhere between the design and the instantiation then must be a DELIBERATE CREATION of the physical object. That’s why it is correct to refer to IDers as Creationists.


That’s a book intended for a general audience. I asked for research.

Some helpful reading for you:

You also might not realize that Denton’s ideas had been empirically tested a few decades before he wrote his book. Can you guess the results?


On the contrary, this response demonstrates that even the people you refer to as “Intelligent Design Proponents” recognize that the term is synonymous with “Creationist”, to the point that they used the terms completely interchangeably when rewriting their textbook.

It’s still a great joke they pulled on themselves.


And as we have shown, ID was invented specifically to oppose evolution, which is why opposition to evolution is a typical characteristic of ID literature. ID theory has not only taken a side regarding “evolution vs creation”, it was invented specifically to promote one side, the anti-evolution side. ID is not neutral on the topic of evolution, and routinely opposes it, just like creationism.

How unsurprising.


I don’t dispute that, but the reality is that most ID proponents are, as you said, creationists. I’d go further and say that most of these same people do not understand the distinction between ID & creationism, or if they do, have little use for it. In practical terms, ID theory continues to exist in our culture only because of creationist support. Without it, it would quietly fade away.

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