While the conflict between creationism and science is frequently played out on talk shows, in court rooms, and at state school board meetings, there are different branches of creationism and they vary significantly in how much they run counter to science.
The most anti-science of the branches is the one we hear from almost exclusively, and this makes sense. Proponents of these beliefs are the ones whose worldview is most threatened by cosmology, paleontology, biology, and geology, so they are the ones most likely to object to these subjects being presented. They do so loudly and incessantly, and are not content to preach it, they want government agencies and schools to teach it.
While this branch is the only one openly hostile to science, none of the other branches have contributed anything to our understanding of any scientific field. Floating ideas to the fellow-minded at a church coffee is as close as they come to having their ideas peer reviewed. The hypotheses we will examine cannot be evaluated by the Scientific Method, as they are neither testable nor falsifiable.
The most basic distinction is between Old Earth and Young Earth Creationists. The former accept the scientific age for the age of the universe and, depending on their subcategory, may embrace evolution, geology, and anthropology.
Here are the eight primary types of creationists, in descending order of how their views are compatible with science:
FIGURATIVE INTERPRETATION. Here, Adam and Eve are allegories, not people. They are emblematic of humans and our strengths, cooperation, doubts, foibles, and perseverance.
Noah’s ark is about mankind’s fall and redemption, not a literal tale. The talking donkey in Numbers is not a fact but a fable that contains a life lesson. Exodus outlines the relationship between authorities and the governed and is not historical document about Mount Sinai tablets, a burning bush, and Israelites wondering for 40 years in the desert. The figurative approach does get around difficult questions, such as how Israelites could spend those 40 years marching around and camping, without leaving behind one piece of archeological evidence testifying to their wandering journey.
The figurative interpretation does not precisely consider the Bible mythology because the god behind this is still real and is probably the one who inspired the authors. The tales are still considered to serve a divine purpose.
Ancient Jewish religious leaders regularly told tales that were never meant to be taken as literal, but were rather precautionary, instructive, or didactic in nature. They were meant to help readers grow, adapt, and learn. With the figurative interpretation, the Torah and subsequent books are comparable to other ancient Jewish tales and are literary devices with a means to an end.
One can embrace this position without sacrificing one molecule of scientific literacy. The figurative idea is the one most attractive for a Christian struggling to reconcile their faith with science, or for a scientist interested in adopting or maintaining Christianity.
THEISTIC EVOLUTION. This is the belief that instances of evolution which have been and continue to be observed are guided by the biblical god. The Pope has endorsed this idea and theistic evolution accepts the geologic and biologic records, positing they are the results of divine intervention, done by a god who created and controls our world and its processes.
Theistic evolution allows and embraces scientific research and permits the acceptance of new information. If all creationists were in this camp, there would be very little conflict between them and the scientific community. The latter might find supplementing science with Yahweh no more valid that crediting the Zoroastrian deity, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or pondering that this is all a novel being penned by a supremely advanced Nibiru alien. But since established science is accepted and new discoveries encouraged and celebrated, there is no meaningful dispute.
Additionally, theistic evolutionists are OK with a universe that is 13.7 billion years old because, Ken Ham’s protestations to the contrary, biblical authors never wrote that Earth is 6,000 years old. Some believers arrived at that figure by calculating biblical genealogies, then adding the six creation days and a day of rest to them. Most Young Earth Creationists are content to say “5 to 10,000 years old,” though the especially enterprising Irish archbishop James Ussher arrived at a quite specific creation date of Oct. 23, 4004 BCE, at 6 p.m. Safe to say, he wasn’t a theistic evolutionist.
The theistic evolution category allows a fair amount of leeway. For example, Genesis states Man was created in God’s image, yet none of us know what this deity is supposed to look like. Maybe he resembled a single-celled organism, in which case those organisms being at the lowest level of the Geologic Column would be consistent with Adam being created during the first week.
EVOLUTIONARY CREATIONISM. In this view, Adam and Eve were the first spiritually aware humans. Human creation is not precisely literal, as their predecessors were created by God, then through evolution, the descendants reached a stage where they could speak, comprehend good and evil, grasp the concept of God, and understand divine instruction. This position accepts the geologic and biologic records, but is emphatic there was a literal Adam and Eve, though they came to be in the same way as all early humans.
At this point, there is nothing that specifically rejects science, but we see the first example of being insistent on one instance of Biblical literalism, i.e. the existence of Adam and Eve.
PROGRESSIVE CREATIONISM. While Adam and Eve were literal in the previous category, they were evolved beings. In progressive creationism, they are considered the result of a special creation event. Progressive Creationism accepts the geologic record, and much of the prehistoric biologic record, including the age of dinosaurs. However, Adam and Eve were created separately from other animals. This is where the separation between science and faith becomes noticeably stretched. This category rejects the biological link between early hominids and humans that is evident in the fossil record. It also ignores or rationalizes away the fact that humans and chimps share 98 percent of their DNA.
DAY-AGE CREATIONISM. In this hypothesis, the six creation days are actually six geological epochs. If you don’t slam the door on Jehovah’s Witnesses, they may get around to mentioning this belief, as it is the organization’s official position. For scriptural support, they reference a verse that says, to God, a thousand years is like a day.
There are some major problems with Day-Age creationism. For one, since the creation account has plants coming before stars, it would require ferns and the like to exist for millions of years with no light source.
Day-Age creationism also stipulates that all land animals were created separately from, and have no descent from, any sea animals. This would leave no answer for amphibians or transitional fossils that have features of both seafaring creatures and terrestrial beasts, like Tiktaalik. The evidence for whales and hippos having common ancestry is rejected, not owing to assessment of new discoveries, but because the Watchtower tract says to do so.
This belief does accept the evidence for the age of the universe and there is no inherent geologic conflict here, but the denial of biology is becoming stronger.
GAP CREATIONISM. This holds that there were 4.5 billion years between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. This model attempts to marry the age of Earth with Genesis literalism. In between furtive hotel visits, Jimmy Swaggart advocated this model. Gap Creationism states that after God created the heavens and Earth, a VERY long time followed, during which nothing worth being documented occurred.
From a consistent-with-science standpoint, this has the redeeming quality of being OK with astronomy, cosmology, and geology. But whereas day-age creationism begins to deny some evolutionary basics, adherents to this view must completely toss biology aside for the Bible. In this view, living organisms could have come into existence only a few thousand years ago.
At this point, we will move to the Young Earth Creationists. There are only two groups in this camp and they have just one piece of common ground: That there were no astronomical bodies 7,000 years ago.
OMPHALISM. Not all that different from The Matrix, as our world is mostly an illusion. This branch takes its name from the 19th Century book Omphalos, which is Greek for navel. Omphalism refers to the belief that Adam and Eve had bellybuttons, giving them the false appearance of having gotten here through natural rather than supernatural means.
Adherents accept every scientific measurement regarding the age of Earth and all discoveries of biology, cosmology, and astronomy, with the quite relevant caveat that all discoveries are deceptions and God is merely making living organisms appear evolved or making the universe seem to be 13.7 billion years old.
Scientists will arrive only at the conclusions God wishes them to see. More detailed explanations may include God making the stars with the light already in transit or maybe the stars being God-induced hallucinations. The erosion and upheaval that would seem to explain mountains are instead deceptions and Cosmic Background Radiation is a mirage.
Some consider it all a test of faith, i.e. God put dinosaur bones there to see if we would believe the paleontologist or the preacher. The Omphalism hypothesis is a form of “Last Thursdayism,” a thought experiment which ponders that everything may have been created a few days ago with all of us having false memories instilled in us.
YOUNG EARTH HARDLINERS. Here we abandon all pretense of anything remotely scientific, reasonable, rational, or evidence-based. Young Earth hardliners embrace an alternate version of reality which jettisons most known science. They are truly creationists, as they have created an artificial explanation for why the universe and all its inhabitants are 6,000 years old. They have no concern for proof, research, or observation and no use for the Scientific Method or peer review.
Becoming a Young Earth hardliner means abandoning nearly everything mankind has learned about cosmology, geology, biology, paleontology, oceanography, chemistry, astronomy, and anthropology. Only physics might escape unscathed.
Radiometric and carbon dating, dismissed. Speed of light, untrue. Geologic column, doesn’t exist. Written records by ancient Egyptians before, during, and after the Flood, fraudulent. Lucy, archaeopteryx, and Tiktaalik, all misinterpreted or fabricated by scientists.
The only nod to science most of them make occurs when evolution is literally observed, such as in a Petri dish or the case of the Florida lizard whom zoologists documented developing a new toe pad. In such instances, they concede that these changes occurred, but insist that a series of such changes has never, and will never, lead to speciation.
They consider fossils to be flood victims and insist the fossilization process took just 200 years. The Grand Canyon and other geologic features were carved out by the same flood. The Creation Museum features a triceratops wearing a saddle.
The Answers in Genesis mission statement is that no science is correct if it contradicts the Bible. Which is enough to raise the question of why they mess with their laughable attempts at scientific explanations on their website instead of just posting the Bible.
They frequently answer criticism by stating that believers and nonbelievers have different worldviews. While this might be a rare AIG accuracy, it says nothing about which side is promoting scientific truth, and is merely to dismissing dissenting views and evidence with an ad hominem.
Don’t take my word for all this. Here are examples lifted from Young Earth hardliner websites:
Blueletterbible.org on cosmology: “If Scripture says the world is 8,000 years old, then the world is 8,000 years old, no matter what science might say.”
Answers In Genesis on radioactive dating: “No geologists were present when most rocks formed.”
Institute for Creation Research on biology: “Life did not develop by natural processes from inanimate systems but was specially and supernaturally created.”
Discover Institute on abiogenesis: “Studies of the cell reveal vast quantities of biochemical information stored in our DNA in the sequence of nucleotides. No physical or chemical law dictates the order of the nucleotide bases in our DNA, and the sequences are highly improbable and complex.” This is a longwinded way of saying, “God did it.” This appeal to incredulity is one of the logical fallacies most committed by Young Earth hardliners.
While this is by far the most extreme branch, they are also the most committed and are the ones getting tax rebates while practicing religious and sexual orientation discrimination in hiring, and getting tax money to build the Ark Encounter. They are the ones trying to get creationism taught in public school biology class and the ones convincing state school boards to adopt stances that require districts to suggest that evolution, cosmology, and astronomy are not true.
While they hurl much venom at atheists and scientists, anyone in the previous seven creationist categories is labeled a heretic and possibly worse than an unbeliever (keeping in mind what they think of unbelievers). At the Creation Museum, Christians who have a different interpretation of Genesis than Ken Ham are portrayed as the devil in snake form. This serpent delightedly notes that if it can convince someone that the flood was a myth or that dinosaurs came before man, then maybe it can convince them that Christ is not the savior.
While these types can employ the genetic fallacy to dismiss what an atheist or Omphalist says, they run into serious trouble when the Bible contradicts their teachings. In Genesis 1, God makes plants before he makes man, but in Genesis 2, this order is reversed. Your choice, Ham, which of those Biblical accounts is a lie?