Creationism is the belief that the universe was created by God (or a god or gods). In the broadest sense, it includes anyone who has that belief. In a narrower and more common sense, however, it is restricted to those who believe that God created the universe in a way which contradicts some of the conclusions of contemporary secular science.
Relationship to biblical narrative
The Biblical understanding of creation is, to use the Latin, creatio ex nihilo (creation from nothing); but the term creation is also in other cultures taken to include ideas of creation from pre-existent matter.
In terms of its relationship to the Bible, creationism can be divided into three varieties:
- Fully biblical creationism is based on the Bible alone. The Bible only supplies a framework however, so science is needed to fill in the gaps. From its own viewpoint, the plain meaning of the biblical text must always take priority over scientific theories; at the same time, it looks to science to help answer the objections of those who do not share the same presupposition of Biblical authority.
- Partially biblical creationism tries to harmonize the Biblical text with extra-Biblical ideas, such as the beliefs of contemporary secular science. There are many variants, depending on exactly how that balance is made.
- Non-biblical creationism does not base itself on the Bible, but on other sources. For example, Islamic creationism (based on the Quran and Hadith), Aboriginal creationism (based on traditional stories), etc.
Key elements of the fully biblical view:
- God created the heavens and the earth, over a period of seven days, roughly six thousand years ago
- All life on earth belongs to fixed kinds created by God. Variation within those kinds takes place, but change from one kind to another does not occur.
- God created Adam, the first man, and then created Eve from a rib taken from his side; all humanity is descended from them.
- A global flood, around four thousand years ago, destroyed all human and non-aquatic animal life on earth, save for Noah, his family, and the animals aboard his ark.
For further information on the fully biblical view, see the article Biblical creation.
Age of the Earth
A common division is between young earth creationism and old earth creationism:
- Young earth creationism holds that the universe is much younger than claimed by contemporary secular scientists. Generally speaking, young earth creationists are fully biblical creationists, who believe the universe to be approximately six thousand years old based on the plain meaning of the biblical text. By extension, the term can also be used to refer to partially-biblical or non-biblical creationists who believe in a roughly similar age for the earth.
- Old earth creationism accepts that the universe as a whole is as old as it is claimed to be by contemporary secular scientists, without however accepting all aspects of those claims. Old Earth creationism exists in a number of variants, including:
- Gap creationism holds that there is a temporal gap between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, which could be several billion years in extent. Adherents of this view accept mainstream views about the origins of the universe as a whole, as well as the galaxies, stars and planets; but it holds that life, rather than being a product of abiogenesis and biological evolution, was created by God as described in Genesis.
- Progressive creationism accepts the broad evolutionary account in terms of timeframes, but believes that evolution from one species to another was only possible due to direct divine intervention.
The young earth creationist understanding of Genesis 1 is the most straightforward, and the only one which is based purely on the plain meaning of the text; the others are attempts to interpret the text in such a way that harmonizes the Biblical text with extra-Biblical ideas. Such approaches to Genesis 1 include:
- Gap creationism, discussed above
- The Day-age view, which holds that each day in Genesis 1 refers to an arbitrarily long period, of millions or billions of years, rather than a 24 hour day.
- The Framework view, which holds that the days of Genesis 1 do not refer to temporal periods at all, but are an allegorical or symbolic reference to something non-temporal, such as the structure of creation.
- The Partial inspiration view, in which some but not all of the Bible is inspired; those aspects of Genesis 1 which disagree with the conclusions of contemporary secular scientists are not inspired.
These approaches are adopted by both Old Age creationists, and by Christians who accept the views of contemporary secular scientists. These approaches are partially biblical views.
Another view is the Omphalos hypothesis — that the universe looks old, yet is actually young, and that God created it to look that way. This view was proposed as a way of harmonizing the Biblical text with the claims of secular scientists; yet most Christians reject it on the grounds that it implies God is a deceiver, which contradicts the clear teaching of the Bible otherwise. From a philosophical perspective, it can be criticized as having Last Thursdayism as its logical conclusion.
Creationism and science
Creationists differ in their attitude to science. On the one hand, scientific creationism sees creationism as a scientific theory, of equal worthiness of consideration as theories such as the Big Bang or biological evolution. They see contemporary secular science as failing to properly follow its own methods, having been led astray by ideological commitments. Other creationists take a different approach, and are not as willing to identify creationism as a form of science. Some biblical creationists see scientific creationism as placing science as an authority above or independent of the Bible; as such, they do not see creationism as demonstrable on scientific grounds independently from the Bible, rather they take a more presuppositionalist approach. An adherent of the Omphalos hypothesis may hold that science has reached the correct conclusion given the evidence it has before it, even though further evidence that it may not be proper for science to consider (such as special revelation) leads to the conclusion that the conclusion of science is actually wrong.
There are two views which are sometimes labelled as creationist, and although they are certainly so in the broader sense, they are not or may not be in the narrower sense:
- Deistic evolutionism holds God created the universe and caused the Big Bang; but the universe since then has evolved as contemporary secular science claims. This is a form of creationism in the broader sense above, but not in the narrower sense, since it does not disagree with any of the claims of contemporary secular scientists. Its claim that God caused the Big Bang does not contradict those views if one holds that such science ends at the beginning of the Big Bang, and hence such a claim is beyond the proper domain of science. Despite its label as deistic, it can be accepted by theists also — to be a theist rather than a deist, one must believe that God intervenes in history; but a theist who adheres to deistic evolution may believe that God, after creating the universe, left it alone to evolve under its own devices, and did not intervene in it until relatively recently.
- Theistic evolutionism holds that God created the universe and caused the Big Bang; it accepts that abiogensis and biological evolution occurred as contemporary secular scientists claim, but maintains that God intervened supernaturally to guide the process of evolution. However, theistic evolutionists differ in how significant that guidance was — at one extreme, it may have been subtle, which makes theistic evolutionism not substantially different from mainstream evolutionism in practice; at the other extreme, it may have been substantial, significant and decisive, which makes theistic evolutionism a form of old earth creationism (similar to progressive creationism) and contrary to the secular theory of evolution.
The intelligent design movement is often linked to creationism, but it does not necessarily imply creationism. Intelligent design argues that life on earth must have been designed by a designer; but while most intelligent design proponents believe that designer to be God the creator, it could have instead been some other form of intelligence, such as intelligent extraterrestrial life, and the identity of the designer or designers is outside the scope of the discipline. The Raëlian religion in particular has supported intelligent design, since they view life on earth as having been created by intelligent aliens.
Finite or infinite universe
An element that both creationary and contemporary secular scientists have in common is the belief that the universe has a finite age. The other major alternative is that the universe is infinitely old and has no beginning. The "steady state theory" used to be a common view among cosmologists before the Big Bang theory became widely adopted. It was also a common view among ancient pagans, is generally held by Hindus and Buddhists — with the added idea that the universe undergoes endless cycles of growth and decay — and is also held by the Raëlian religion. Some have proposed ideas implying an infinite universe within the confines of Big Bang cosmology — the oscillatory universe model (an infinite succession of Big Bangs followed by a Big Crunch followed by another Big Bang), and the daughter universe model (a black hole in one universe results in the formation of a daughter universe; thus there is a beginningless and endless tree of universes) — but these ideas have not received widespread acceptance. Another, less common, position is that of eternal recurrence — time is circular, repeating endlessly, not new and differently in each cycle (as in the Buddhist or Hindu views) but every cycle being exactly the same as the last. The most famous proponent of this view was Friedrich Nietzsche.