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"Creationism" is the name given to the belief that the creation story of Genesis is the literal truth about how the world came into being. According to Christian creationists, the universe and everything in it was created by God in six days, at a time which biblical scholars have calculated to be just over 6000 years ago. Up until the late nineteenth century it was quite possible to believe in the scientific world picture and also in the biblical story of creation, because science itself did not have any particular account of creation. But in the past 150 years scientists have gradually pieced together their own accounts of how life and the universe began. These accounts differ significantly from the literal account in Genesis, and so they present a significant challenge to Christian believers.

The scientific account of the creation of life was kicked off by Charles Darwin in the mid-nineteenth century. He put forward the theory that all life evolves by processes of "natural selection." According to Darwin, life began with very simple creatures, which gradually evolved over millions of years into more complex forms. Eventually this process gave rise to human beings. Likewise in the twentieth century, physicists and cosmologists have worked out a scientific account of how the universe came into being. Again, this account says that in the beginning - at the moment of the big bang - the universe came into being in a very simple state that gradually evolved over millions of years into ever more complex forms. Again, the process did not happen in a week, but over extremely long periods of time.

The scientific accounts of biological and cosmological evolution are supported by vast amounts of evidence and data. Yet creationists reject this evidence. Not only that, in recent decades they have developed what is often-called "creation science". Creation scientists aim to demonstrate through the methods of science itself that the Genesis account is essentially correct. A key component of this effort is "flood geology". Flood geologists - some of whom are card-carrying Phd's in geology - look at the geological and fossil record and argue that the correct interpretation of the evidence is that the earth is really 6000 years old. According to flood geologists, the massive crevice of the Grand Canyon is evidence that there was a vast flood just as the Bible depicts in the story of Noah.

Creation science and flood geology are not just "stupid" exercises (as is often said). They are attempts on the part of people of sincere belief to reconcile their faith with science. But what is troubling about such efforts is that by turning their beliefs into scientific form creationists are able to argue that what they are offering is simply an alternative scientific theory. On these grounds, they are beginning to push for a creationist perspective to be taught in sciences classes at school. Rather than being anti-science, creationists have realized that they can enlist science as their ally. It is just this kind of fusion, that science educators need to very wary about.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Margaret Wertheim

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