Creationism History: Topic Index

These history topics, provided by Dr. Ron Numbers, cover the comparitively recent science-and-religion issue of ‘Creationism’—the view that the Biblical account of creation in Genesis 1 is in some respect a literal and historical description. A literal interpretation of the six-day special creation account in scripture is often hard to reconcile with current scientific theories on the origin of the universe and life on Earth. It seems as though they are in conflict. For some people this difficulty suggests that scripture is not a reliable source of knowledge (or at a minimum a poor source of scientific explanations) and for some it implies contemporary science must be in error.

The ‘Ordinary’ View of Creation

Charles Darwin’s primary goal in writing the Origin of Species was to overthrow what he called "the ordinary view of creation." Unfortunately for us, he did not specify what that view was. Besides the biblical account of the six-day creation of plants, animals, and humans in the Garden of Eden, at least three quasi-scientific versions of creation circulated in the mid-nineteenth century. One, sometimes associated with the eighteenth-century Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus, corresponded roughly with the Genesis story. It held that God had created plants and animals at one time and place and that they had dispersed from that singular center to populate the earth. A second view, popularized by Darwin’s friend the British geologist Charles Lyell, broke entirely from the biblical framework. It postulated the existence of multiple "centres or foci of creation," appearing as needed across space and time, from which organisms spread out to fill their ecological niches. A third view, developed by the Swiss-American naturalist Louis Agassiz, likewise bore little resemblance to the creation account found in Genesis 1. Agassiz believed that after global catastrophes had destroyed life on the earth, God had repopulated the world, or huge segments of it, in one sweeping act, creating untold numbers of individual members of a species where none had existed a moment earlier.

Believers in special creation generally refrained from spelling out exactly how creation had occurred. In the eyes of their critics such reluctance, along with the inevitable appeal to the supernatural, disqualified creation as a proper scientific explanation. As early as 1838 Darwin had concluded that attributing the structure of animals to "the will of the Deity" was "no explanation—it has not the character of a physical law & is therefore utterly useless." Darwin’s foremost American disciple, the Harvard botanist Asa Gray, echoed this opinion, arguing that the great appeal of evolution appeared "on comparing it with the rival hypothesis . . . of immediate creation, which neither explains nor pretends to explain any [facts]."

The understandable reluctance of creationists to translate their convictions into scientific language often made them the objects of derision. The American ichthyologist Theodore N. Gill, who complained about the "vague and evasive" responses that nonevolutionists gave to inquires about the specific processes of creation, quoted Darwin in demanding answers to such questions as "Did ‘elemental atoms flash into living tissues’? Was there vacant space one moment and an elephant apparent the next? Or did a laborious God mould out of gathered earth a body to then endue with life?" In Gill’s opinion, such information was a prerequisite to conceiving of creation in any scientifically useful way.

Louis Agassiz sometimes frustrated colleagues by refusing to provide a single detailed description of how a species came into existence. "When a mammal was created, did the oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon of the air, and the lime, soda, phosphorus, potash, water, etc., from the earth, come together and on the instant combine into a completely formed horse, lion, elephant, or other animal?" inquired Agassiz’s Harvard colleague Jeffries Wyman. If this question is "answered in the affirmative, it will be easily seen that the answer is entirely opposed by the observed analogies of nature." In the years after 1859 the scientific vacuity of special creation no doubt contributed more to the acceptance of evolution than all of the positive evidence in favor of organic development.

Assessing the Fossil Record - Louis Agassiz

The most prominent antievolutionist in America, indeed in the world, in the years after the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species was the Swiss immigrant Louis Agassiz (1807-1873). Already a world-renowned authority on fossil fishes and glaciers when he moved to the United States in 1846, Agassiz soon acquired a professorship at Harvard University and established himself as the leading man of science in the United States. The son of a Protestant minister, he abandoned the Calvinist orthodoxy of his youth for liberal Unitarianism. 

Agassiz based his opposition to evolution on philosophical and scientific rather than biblical reasons. Late in life he confessed that he would "have been a great fellow for evolution if it had not been for the breaks in the paleontological record." In the decade or so before the appearance of the Origin of Species he acquired a reputation in some circles as an "infidel" because he ridiculed the notion that fossils represented "the wrecks of the Mosaic deluge" and dismissed the story of Adam and Eve as an "absurdity." Instead of a creation in six literal days about 6,000 years ago, he taught that the earth had undergone a series of catastrophes and divine re-creations, evidence of which could be seen in the fossil-bearing rocks. He believed that species of plants and animals had not originated "in single pairs, but were created in large numbers," in the habitats they were intended to populate. Living species thus had no genetic connection with previous inhabitants of the earth—and might not even be genetically related to members of the same species now living. 

Despite his own unorthodox beliefs, Agassiz became the darling of Christian antievolutionists in the 1860s and early 1870s. His death in 1873 deprived opponents of evolution of their leading scientific spokesman.

The Meaning of Genesis 1

Advocates of special creation have long disagreed about the meaning of the creation story found in Genesis 1. By the middle of the nineteenth century an estimated fifty percent of Christian Americans, including many evangelicals, had stretched the Mosaic account to accommodate geological discoveries indicating the antiquity of life on earth. In 1814 the Scottish divine Thomas Chalmers attempted to harmonize the evidence of vast geological ages with the Genesis story by inserting an indefinite period of time between the initial creation "in the beginning" and the much later creation in the Garden of Eden. This so-call gap theory enjoyed great popularity among Christians eager to harmonize science and religion. The American geologist and minister Edward Hitchcock, for example, endorsed this scheme in his influential textbook Elementary Geology. As he explained it, the gap theory "supposed that Moses merely states that God created the world in the beginning, without fixing the date of that beginning; and that passing in silence an unknown period of its history, during which the extinct animals and plants found in the rocks might have lived and died, he describes only the present creation, which took place in six literal days, less than 6000 years ago."

In 1910 the Scofield Reference Bible, an immensely influential annotated edition of the King James Version, presented the gap theory as Christian orthodoxy, influencing millions of Fundamentalists and Pentecostals until late in the century. Harry Rimmer, perhaps the best known American antievolutionist during the second quarter of the century, and Jimmy Lee Swaggart, one of the most successful televangelists during the last quarter of the century, both endorsed the gap theory.

Numerous other Christians chose to harmonize Genesis and geology by interpreting the "days" of Genesis 1 as vast geological ages rather than twenty-four-hour periods. According to the nineteenth-century American naturalist Benjamin Silliman, a man widely known for his Christian piety, God in the beginning had instantaneously "created the heavens and the earth, and established the physical laws, the ordinances of heaven, by which the material world was to be governed." Subsequent to this act, our planet "was subjected to a long course of formation and arrangement, the object of which evidently was, to fit it for the reception, first of plants and animals, and finally of the human race." 

In the early twentieth century this interpretation of the Genesis "days" enjoyed great popularity among conservative Christians, receiving the enthusiastic endorsement of such high-profile Fundamentalists as George Frederick Wright, author of the essay on evolution in The Fundamentals; William Bell Riley, founder of the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association; and William Jennings Bryan, who led the crusade against evolution in the early 1920s.

Antievolutionists and Creationists

When the Origin of Species went on sale late in 1859, the term "creationist" commonly designated a person who believed in the special origination of a soul for each human fetus, as opposed to a traducianist, who believed that the souls of children were inherited from their parents. Although Darwin (in private) and his allies occasionally referred to their opponents as "creationists," for about seventy-five years after the publication of his book such adversaries were more typically called "advocates of creation" or, increasingly, "anti-evolutionists." This custom prevailed well into the twentieth century, in large part because antievolutionists remained united far more by their hostility to evolution than by any common commitment to a particular view of creation. 

As late as the 1920s antievolutionists chose to dedicate their organizations to "Christian Fundamentals," "Anti-Evolution," and "Anti-False Science," not to creationism. It was not until 1929 that one of George McCready Price’s former students, the Seventh-day Adventist biologist Harold W. Clark, explicitly packaged Price’s new catastrophism as "creationism." In a brief self-published book titled Back to Creationism Clark urged readers to quit simply opposing evolution and to adopt the new "science of creationism," by which he meant Price’s flood geology. For decades to come various Christian groups, from flood geologists to theistic evolutionists, squabbled over which camp most deserved to use the creationist label. However, by the 1980s the flood geologists/scientific creationists had clearly co-opted the term for their distinctive interpretation of earth history.

Darwinism Comes to America

When the first copies of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species reached American ports late in 1859, nearly all Americans, including most naturalists, believed that the various species of plants and animals owed their origin to divine intervention. Darwin, in contrast, argued that species had originated without supernatural assistance by means of natural selection and other biological mechanisms. According to natural selection, evolution occurred when organisms possessing certain advantageous characteristics survived in the struggle for scarce resources and passed their distinctive features on to their descendants. Eager for a scientific (that is, natural) explanation of origins and impressed by the cogency of Darwin’s argument, the majority of America’s leading zoologists, botanists, geologists, and anthropologists within fifteen years or so embraced some kind of evolution, though few attached as much weight to natural selection as Darwin did. Even Darwin’s closest ally in North America, the Harvard botanist Asa Gray, who described himself as "one who is scientifically, and in his own fashion, a Darwinian," disagreed with Darwin on several key points. He not questioned the ability of natural selection "to account for the formation of organs, the making of eyes, &c.," but appealed to a "special origination" in explaining the appearance of the first humans. He also urged Darwin, without success, to attribute to divine providence the inexplicable organic variations on which natural selection worked.

While naturalists debated the merits of evolution and the efficacy of natural selection, religious leaders typically sat on the sidelines, many of them doubting that the evolution would ever be accepted as serious science. By the mid-1870s, however, American naturalists were becoming evolutionists in such large numbers that theologians could scarcely continue to ignore the issue. Some liberal Protestants, such as James McCosh, the president of Princeton University, sought ways to harmonize their doctrinal beliefs and their understanding of the Bible with evolution, often viewing evolution as simply God’s method of creation. Most theologians and clergy, however, rejected evolution, especially of humans, or remained silent on the subject. In 1874 Princeton Theological Seminary’s Charles Hodge, arguably the most influential theologian in mid-century America, published a thoughtful little book called What Is Darwinism? The answer: "Darwinism is atheism," because it denies divine design in nature. More frequently, theological critics focused on the ways in which evolution undermined various biblical doctrines and ethical teachings, especially by teaching that humans had been made in the image of apes, not God. Particularly offensive was Darwin’s assertion in The Descent of Man (1871) that "Man is descended from a hairy quadruped, furnished with a tail and pointed ears." Such a pedigree, complained one outraged Christian, "tears the crown from our heads; it treats us as bastards and not sons, and reveals the degrading fact that man in his best estate—even Mr. Darwin—is but a civilized, dressed up, educated monkey, who has lost his tail."

George McCready Price and ‘Flood Geology’

During the first two thirds of the twentieth century, during which most Christian fundamentalists accepted the existence of long geological ages, the leading voice arguing for the recent creation of life on earth in six literal days was George McCready Price (1870-1963), a scientifically self-taught creationist and teacher. Born and reared in the Maritime Provinces of Canada, Price as a youth joined the Seventh-day Adventists, a small religious group founded and still led by a prophetess named Ellen G. White, whom Adventists regarded as being divinely inspired. Following one of her trance-like "visions" White claimed actually to have witnessed the Creation, which occurred in a literal week. She also taught that Noah’s flood had sculpted the surface of the earth, burying the plants and animals found in the fossil record, and that the Christian Sabbath should be celebrated on Saturday rather than Sunday, as a memorial of a six-day creation. 

Shortly after the turn of the century Price dedicated his life to a scientific defense of White’s version of earth history: the creation of all life on earth no more than about 6,000 years ago and a global deluge over 2,000 years before the birth of Christ that had deposited most of the fossil-bearing rocks. Convinced that theories of organic evolution rested primarily on the notion of geological ages, Price aimed his strongest artillery at the geological foundation rather than at the biological superstructure. For a decade and a half Price’s writings circulated mainly among his coreligionists, but by the late 1910s he was increasingly reaching non-Adventist audiences. In 1926, at the height of the antievolution crusade, the journal Science described Price as "the principal scientific authority of the Fundamentalists. That he was, but with a twist. Although virtually all of the leading antievolutionists of the day, including William Jennings Bryan at the Scopes trial, lauded Price’s critique of evolution, none of them saw any biblical reason to abandon belief in the antiquity of life on earth for what Price called "flood geology." Not until the 1970s did Price’s views, rechristened "creation science," become fundamentalist orthodoxy.

The Antievolution Crusade of the 1920s

Despite widespread criticism of evolution in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, no group mounted an organized crusade against it until after World War I. Several factors contributed to this development. The widespread acceptance of naturalistic evolution within the scientific community prompted some secularists to use Darwin’s theory as a weapon against supernaturalism of any kind, including Christianity itself. Such aggression inflamed many Christian leaders, who felt that evolution was invading their cultural realm. Evolution was also moving into the schools of America. Public high schools and colleges boomed in the postwar years, and the biology textbooks they used often gave American young people their first introduction to evolution. This exposure alarmed not only conservative preachers and politicians but parents as well. Looking into the matter, the Democratic politician William Jennings Bryan "became convinced that the teaching of Evolution as a fact instead of a theory caused the students to lose faith in the Bible, first, in the story of creation, and later in other doctrines, which underlie the Christian religion." Indeed, social scientists confirmed that college attendance endangered traditional religious beliefs.

During World War I the news media carried numerous stories of the German military engaging in barbarous acts, from poisoning children to gassing soldiers. What, some people asked, could possibly have prompted the most scientifically advanced nation on earth to behave so badly. Bryan, the U. S. secretary of state at the beginning of the war, explained that "The same science that manufactured poisonous gases to suffocate soldiers is preaching that man has a brute ancestry and eliminating the miraculous and the supernatural from the Bible." A popular book by the Stanford biologist Vernon L. Kellogg, Headquarters Nights (1917), reported firsthand evidence of German officers discussing the Darwinian rationale for their declaration of war. The high-profile trial in 1924 of two young Americans, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, for kidnapping and killing Bobby Franks likewise spotlighted the purported relationship between the teachings of Darwin and criminal behavior.

Antievolutionists took comfort from rumors that even within the scientific community Darwinism lay on its "death-bed." The rumors were untrue but understandable. Despite antievolutionist claims to the contrary, the overwhelming majority of biologists had come to believe in organic evolution (commonly called Darwinism), but until the 1930s few of them saw natural selection as the exclusive, or even primary, mechanism of evolution. Only if one equated Darwinism with natural selection specifically, and not evolution generally, could it be said that Darwinism was dying. Fundamentalists frequently compiled lists of prominent scientists who rejected evolution, but most of the persons named were deceased or their views were misrepresented. After the turn of the century, and for years to come, Albert Fleischmann, an obscure German zoologist at the University of Erlangen, stood alone as the only biologist of any repute to oppose evolution.

Fundamentalist-inspired efforts to outlaw the teaching of human evolution in the public schools of America began in the early 1920s, and before the decade ended, twenty-three state legislatures had debated such legislation. Only three states—Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas—made the teaching of human evolution a crime, although Oklahoma prohibited the use of textbooks that promoted evolution, and Florida condemned the teaching of Darwinism as "improper and subversive." By 1928 legislators, weary of debating the merits of evolution, were increasingly turning their attention to other matters. Local school boards and state textbook commissions occasionally took up the issue, but antievolution bills remained off legislative agendas until the late 1960s, when the U. S. Supreme Court declared the Arkansas law to be unconstitutional.

The Scopes ‘Monkey Trial’

Until the 1990s no trial in American history had attracted more attention—and been more misunderstood—than the 1925 trial in Dayton, Tennessee, of John Thomas Scopes, accused of violating a state law banning the teaching of human evolution. Shortly after the governor of Tennessee signed the antievolution bill into law, the fledgling American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in New York City began to search for a volunteer to test the constitutionality of the law. Although young Scopes had not taught biology and could not remember for sure whether he had discussed evolution during a brief period substituting for the regular biology teacher, he agreed to be "arrested" and to stand trial. For the contest

the ACLU brought in several big-city attorneys, including the famed criminal lawyer and agnostic Clarence Darrow from Chicago. To assist the prosecution, the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association secured the services of William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska, a thrice-defeated Democratic candidate for the presidency of the United States and a well-known Presbyterian antievolutionist.

The July trial, which lasted eight days through searing heat, attracted international news coverage. The Chicago radio station WGN made history by broadcasting the trial. Downtown Dayton took on the appearance of a carnival. The highpoint of the trial came on the seventh day, when Darrow put Bryan on the stand as a biblical expert, obviously expecting him to defend a literal reading of the Bible. To Darrow’s apparent surprise, Bryan, who, like virtually all Fundamentalist spokesmen, accepted the great antiquity of life on earth, happily volunteered that the "days" of creation could have spanned as many as 600,000,000 years each. Bryan explained that although he believed "everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there; some of the Bible is given illustratively. For instance, ‘Ye are the salt of the earth.’ I would not insist that man was actually salt, or that he had flesh of salt, but it is used in the sense of salt as saving God’s people." (Privately, Bryan expressed a willingness to accept pre-human evolution—if scientists could demonstrate the evolution of one species into another.) The trial, as expected, ended in a conviction for Scopes, whose own attorneys conceded his guilt. Five days later Bryan died in his sleep, a martyr to antievolutionist cause.

Over the years a number of historians have claimed that, despite Scopes’s legal conviction, the trial actually represented a public-relations victory for the evolutionists. The award-winning movie Inherit the Wind conveys the same message. As the story goes, Bryan’s testimony at Dayton, in which he admitted the antiquity of life on earth, destroyed his credibility with fellow Fundamentalists and brought about the demise of the antievolution movement. The available evidence, however, supports none of these claims. Many journalists did indeed review Bryan’s performance at Dayton harshly, writing that he revealed his ignorance of both religion and science. But Darrow also receive considerable criticism in the press: for disrespecting the judge, for treating Bryan rudely, and for trying to deny the people of Tennessee their democratic right to determine what should be taught in their tax-supported schools. In fact, Darrow became such a liability, the ACLU tried (unsuccessfully) to dump him from the defense team handling Scopes’s appeal to the state supreme court.

By and large, the Fundamentalists emerged from the trial flushed with a sense of victory and proud of the way Bryan had handled himself. The head of the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association, which had invited Bryan to Dayton, praised him for his "signal conquest" on behalf of Fundamentalism: "He not only won his case in the judgment of the Judge, in the judgment of the Jurors, in the judgment of the Tennessee populace attending; he won it in the judgment of an intelligent world."

Fundamentalists leaders could hardly have felt betrayed by Bryan’s advocacy of an ancient earth, because, except for the Seventh-day Adventist George McCready Price, they agreed with him on that life on earth long antedated Adam and Eve. The events at Dayton neither ended the antievolution crusade nor slowed it down; nearly two-thirds of the antievolution bills introduced in state legislatures in the 1920s came after 1925. Despite its immense symbolic significance, the Scopes trial exerted little influence on the actual course of antievolutionism in America.

The Creationist Revival after 1961

For a century after the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) antievolutionists were united almost solely by their antipathy to evolution, not by agreement on the mode of creation. Among Christian Fundamentalists in the twentieth century, three interpretations of Genesis 1 vied for acceptance: (1) the gap theory, which held that the first chapter of Genesis described two creations, the first "in the beginning," at some unspecified time in the distant past, the second about 6,000 years ago, when God created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; (2) the day-age theory, which equated the "days" of Genesis 1 with vast geological ages; and (3) the theory of flood geology, advocated by George McCready Price, which allowed for no life on earth before the Edenic creation and which assigned most of the fossil-bearing rocks to the catastrophic work of Noah’s flood. Until the early 1960s the vast majority of American Fundamentalists who left any record of their views on Genesis embraced either the gap or day-age schemes. Support for flood geology was limited largely to the small Seventh-day Adventist church, of which Price was a member.

This division of loyalties began to change dramatically with the publication in 1961 of The Genesis Flood by John C. Whitcomb, Jr., and Henry M. Morris, and the formation two years later of the Creation Research Society (CRS). Whitcomb, an Old Testament scholar, and Morris, a civil engineer, collaborated on an up-to-date presentation of Price’s flood geology that attracted considerable attention in conservative Christian circles. Their argument that science should accommodate revelation rather than vice versa resonated with the sentiments of many concerned Christians, who followed Whitcomb and Morris in jettisoning the gap and day-age theories as unholy compromises with naturalistic science.

In 1963 Morris joined nine other creationists with scientific training to form the CRS, an organization committed to the propagation of young-earth creationism. In the 1920s antievolutionists had lacked a single scientist with so much as a master’s degree in science Their most impressive scientific authorities were a successful Canadian surgeon, a homeopathic medical-school dropout turned Presbyterian minister, a Seventh-day Adventist college instructor without an earned bachelor’s degree whose most advanced exposure to science had come in a course for elementary-school teachers, and a science professor at a small Fundamentalist college whose highest degree was a master’s awarded for a thesis on the teaching of penmanship in the public schools of two Midwestern towns. In contrast, five of the ten founding members of the CRS had earned Ph.D.’s in the biological sciences at reputable universities, and a sixth held a doctorate in biochemistry. Not all of the founders, however, possessed legitimate credentials. The only geologist in the group fraudulently claimed to have received a master’s degree.

About 1970, in an effort to sell their views as science and gain entry to public-school classrooms, these young-earth creationists renamed their beliefs creation science and dropped the label flood geology. Although two states, Arkansas and Louisiana, eventually passed laws mandating the teaching of creation science whenever evolution science was taught, the U. S. Supreme Court in 1987 ruled that such laws violated the First Amendment to the Constitution, requiring the separation of church and state. Despite this setback, the creation scientists flourished to the point that they virtually co-opted the term creationism for the formerly marginal ideas of Price. Public-opinion polls in the 1990s, though failing to distinguish young- from old-earth creationists, showed that forty-seven percent of Americans, including a quarter of college graduates, professed belief in the recent special creation of the first humans within the past 10,000 years. A hundred and forty years of evolution had left many Americans unconvinced.

Creation Science - Henry M. Morris

From the early 1960s through the 1990s the most influential voice in creationist circles was that of Henry M. Morris (b. 1918), a Baptist civil engineer from Texas. As a religiously indifferent youth Morris accepted theistic evolution, but shortly after graduating from the Rice Institute in Houston, he came to accept the Bible as God’s infallible word, from Genesis through Revelation. At first, he remained undecided about whether to attribute the fossil record to pre-Edenic activities or, following Price, to Noah’s flood. Eventually he settled on the latter—and devoted the rest of his life to promoting flood geology, which about 1970 he renamed creation science. 

In 1961, after earning a Ph.D. in hydraulic engineering at the University of Minnesota, he and an Old Testament scholar, John C. Whitcomb, Jr., brought out The Genesis Flood, an enormously influential book that did more than anything else to popularize Price’s model of earth history among evangelical Christians. In contrast to Price, who at times allowed for the presence of a lifeless earth before Eden, Morris believed that the entire universe was no older than 10,000 years and that some physical laws, such as the second law of thermodynamics, did not exist until Adam and Eve sinned. 

Two years after the appearance of The Genesis Flood Morris joined nine other like-minded scientists in forming the Creation Research Society, dedicated to the propagation of young-earth creationism and the elimination of the day-age and gap interpretations of Genesis 1. In 1970 Morris gave up a professorship in civil engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and moved to San Diego to help establish a creationist center, which in 1972 became the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). During the last quarter of the twentieth century the Morris-led ICR served as the epicenter of creation science.

Intelligent Design

The most visible antievolutionist in the 1990s was neither a scientist nor a theologian but a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, Phillip E. Johnson. After reading a popular polemic for atheistic evolution, Richard Dawkins’s The Blind Watchmaker (1986), he became convinced that the case for evolution was more rhetorical than factual. In such books as Darwin on Trial (1991) and Reason in the Balance: The Case against Naturalism in Science, Law and Education (1995) Johnson evaluated the evidence and arguments for naturalistic evolution and concluded that evolutionists (like virtually all other scientists) had constructed a theory based on the unwarranted assumption that scientific explanations should bar any appeal to the supernatural. By the mid-1990s Johnson was collaborating with other critics of naturalistic evolution in forming the intelligent-design (ID) movement, which welcomed God back into the domain of science as the Master Designer of the physical world.

The ID cause received a major boost in 1996, when the Free Press, a major New York publisher, brought out Michael J. Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, which stirred up a storm of publicity, both positive and negative. Behe, a Catholic biochemist on the faculty of Lehigh University, argued that the "astonishing complexity of subcellular organic structure" testified to necessity of intelligent design. "The result is so unambiguous and so significant," he claimed, "that it must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science." 

Although ID theorists such as Behe and Johnson differed among themselves about the history of life on earth, they typically downplayed efforts to harmonize science and Scripture in favor of a concerted attack on naturalistic evolution. "When the Goliath [of naturalistic evolution] has been tumbled," they reasoned, "there will be time to work out more details of how creation really did work." On the spectrum of opinion regarding creation and evolution, they collectively occupied a position between theistic evolutionism (embraced by many members of the evangelical American Scientific Affiliation) and scientific creationism (promoted by the Creation Research Society).