The debate between people who believe in creationism and those who believe in evolution is not a contemporary conflict. Rather, the divergent beliefs about how the world came into being can be traced at least as far back as Charles Darwin’s Onthe Origin of Species, which was written in 1859 and immediately served to divide already disparate groups (i.e. the scientific and religious communities) into equally determined camps. In fact, at the time of publication of Onthe Origin of Species, Darwin himself mentions scholars who engaged the issue even earlier (Darwin 17). The most contentious point raised in his revolutionary text is Darwin’s notion of creation that was first established in the Old Testament, in which “the heavens and the earth were finished…/And on the seventh day God ended His work" (Genesis 2:1-2). Ever since the publication of On the Origin of Species, the battle between creationism and evolution has raged on, yet there is far more physical evidence supporting evolution than is the case for creationism and in this modern age, physical evidence is often given more credence than claims that cannot be visibly or empirically substantiated.
The theory of creationism is a belief based in religious ideology which holds that “God created things in their present form" (Scott & Branch 16). People who defend creationist arguments contend that the Bible’s Old Testament account of the world’s coming into being is not a metaphor, but is, instead, a historical account of fact (Scott & Branch 7). In other words, whereas proponents of evolution base their claims upon physically-based evidence, creationists base their ideology on historically-based literary and spiritual evidence. Instead of relying upon the physical evidenced touted by evolutionary scientists, creationists accept as truth the narrative that “God formed man of the dust of the ground" (Genesis 2:7), and that He also set man into a physical world that was entirely of His imagination and creation. Those who support the theory of evolution, on the other hand, believe that while the biblical story of creation may be a moving metaphor, the hard and incontrovertible scientific facts of how life came to be cannot be explained by religion, but only by the observations and experiments of science (Barker 214). As Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory, explained, evidence clearly substantiates the argument that creation is not a one-time event that occurred at some fixed point in the historical record (18). Instead, he argued, observations confirm that creation operates according to a “law of progressive development" (18), and that law makes provisions for constant mutability over the course of time (28). In other words, from the very basis of ideologies, these two theories of how the earth came into being could not be more diametrically opposed to one another as they are based not only on a completely different standard of “proof" (faith versus science) but because they argue that the same thing happened in two enormously different time periods.
Advocates of each creationism or evolutionary argument contend that the veracity of the other side’s opinions is mutually exclusive and lacking in convincing substance. For example, creationists cite the “inability of evolution to explain the origin and diversity of living things," focused, as evolutionary theory primarily is, on how species evolve over time as the result of natural selection (Morris viii; Scott & Branch 17). Creationists feel bothered by a theoretical position that makes no room for God or for the biblical accounts of the earliest days of the living world (Scott & Branch 17). Evolutionists, on the other hand, attack creationists as being overly sentimental and attached to metaphorical fantasies, unwilling to consider the evidence science provides because it is threatening to their religious beliefs (Morris 94). Many people refuse to consider the possibility of evolution. According to Morris, 45% of Americans do not believe in evolution (viii). The debate between these two groups has become so intense that even the U.S. Supreme Court has been called upon to intervene, ruling in favor either of a creationist or evolutionist perspective to determine which model should be taught in American schools (Morris 248). In 2005 alone, the legislatures of more than a dozen states were asked to review anti-evolution proposals, also known as intelligent design (Scott & Branch viii). Again, this debate is so hotly contested because it proposes two incredibly radically different theories that are believed in with equal fervor and, more importantly, neither can move beyond the classification of “theory" officially.
The story of creation as it is told in Genesis is indeed moving, beautiful and on a grand scale with the weight of history invoked. Furthermore, the story of creation as expressed in the Old Testament has profound spiritual significance for religious believers, and is one of the foundations of the entirety of the Christian faith. The power of the creation story is also incredibly psychological; as readers and, especially, as Christians, we want—and almost need—to believe that the “earth was without form and void" (Genesis1:2), that God was lonely, and that He desired the companionship that only human beings could provide. By extension, we want and need to believe that God exercised His generative powers to create us, and moreover, that He believed us so special that He made us in His “image [and] likeness" and “let [us] have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth" (Genesis 1: 26). The beauty and symbolic meaning of the story need not be reduced in any way by evolutionary theory, though this has often been the case and is, in fact, the source of conflict between the two competing beliefs.
What evolution suggests, and what Darwin proposed as the theory of evolution, is that all living creatures “cannot have been separately created in their present forms, but must have evolved from earlier forms by slow transformation" (11). The transformation, Darwin further argued, occurred as the result of natural selection, which he defined as “the preservation of favorable individual differences and variations, and the destruction of those which are injurious" (89). Evolution explains how new species have evolved over time, how mutations occur, and how some species die out as the environment and other variables change (Darwin 89). In On the Origin of Species, Darwin provided a catalog of initial findings to substantiate his emerging theory. Further evidence to support the initial theories of Darwin have, since the publication of On the Origin of Species been offered to lend an increasing amount of credence to the theory and with each new discovery, it becomes clear that the idea of evolution based on observable natural phenomena makes the most sense, at least from a strictly empirical and rational standpoint.
In addition to Darwin’s own evidence, which he derived through observation as a naturalist while on an expedition in the Galapagos Islands, the scientific evidence that has accumulated over the century and a half since the publication of On the Origin of Species has further supported Darwin’s theory of evolution. In fact, the advances made in scientific knowledge in the years since Darwin’s expedition on the HMS Beagle help us to understand much more about life, not only how human beings came into existence, but also how the Earth and even the universe came to be, how old they are, and what changes they have undergone over the millennia (Scott & Branch 38). As Scott and Branch indicated, the fields of paleontology and archaeology alone have provided a “massive record" of compelling evidence that must be taken into consideration when one thinks about the creation and history of the world (38). More recent discoveries and developments in genetic research, especially the ability of scientists to code genes with exacting precision, also provide insight and evidence for the correctness of evolutionary theory (Scott & Branch 42).
Despite the increasing body of scientific evidence that is available for the public’s review and consideration, creationists hold fast to their arguments, for they fear that to do otherwise will require them to either relinquish or negate their religious beliefs. Unfortunately, creationists fail to consider scientific evidence, considering it threatening to the creation narrative established in Genesis. As Scott and Branch concluded, “No matter how credible the scientific evidence…, no matter how clear the constitutional arguments; no matter how well-crafted the explanations that evolution and religious faith are not in conflict—this is not a battle that will go away soon" (viii).
Barker, Ellen. “Does It Matter How We Got Here?: Dangers Perceived in Literalism and Evolutionism." Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 22.2 (1987): 213-225.
Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species. New York: Penguin, 2003.
Morris, Richard. The Evolutionists: The Struggle for Darwin’s Soul. New York: Macmillan.