How Do We Distinguish Between Young Earth Creation, Theistic Science, and Intelligent Design? – Part 1

There are at least three distinct systems which interact with each other and are often confused when discussion of the creation hypothesis emerges.  First, creation science is often assumed to be referring to a particular set of origin beliefs promoted by Christian fundamentalists – a set of beliefs popularized in the twentieth century.  This creation hypothesis is also commonly called young earth or six day creation because its proponents assert a recent creation of the earth in a literal six day period. 

Second, in order to allow theistic creation hypotheses (including, but not limited to young earth creation) to flourish, promoters of theistic science attempt to define a general philosophy of science inclusive of Christian theology.  Theistic science opens up science to the propositions of theology in a way that furthers scientific inquiry. 

A third set of ideas which is often conflated with the creation hypothesis, but is not itself a creation hypothesis, is captured in the modern intelligent design movement, a movement which can provide scientific tools to creation theorists.  I will introduce and give brief overviews of each of these views that relate to the creation hypothesis and explain how they relate to each other.

 Young Earth Creation

Charles Darwin’s ideas, popularized in 1859, submerged creationists for almost one hundred years, but in 1961 Henry Morris and John Whitcomb published The Genesis Flood, a work which would sell over one hundred thousand copies by 1980.[1]  In this work and in numerous subsequent works written by creationists in the 1960s and 1970s, the position of young earth creation solidified into a concrete program which in turned spawned the emergence of several institutions and organizations chartered to spread the ideas originated in Morris and Whitcomb’s seminal book. 

In 1981 the state of Arkansas passed a law mandating that the public school curriculum include both the teaching of creation science (young earth creation) and the theory of evolution.  In this law, creation science was defined as “the scientific evidences and related inferences that indicate: (1) Sudden creation of the universe, energy, and life from nothing; (2) The insufficiency of mutation and natural selection  in bringing about development of all living kinds from a single organism; (3) Changes only within fixed limits of originally created kinds of plants and animals; (4) Separate ancestry for man and apes; (5) Explanation of the earth’s geology by catastrophism, including the occurrence of a worldwide flood; and (6) A relatively recent inception of the earth and living kinds.”[2]

Young earth creationists presuppose the scientific accuracy of a particular interpretation of the biblical book of Genesis.  According to this theory, the age of the earth is typically believed to be on the order of six thousand to ten thousand years as opposed to the 4.5 billion years proposed by most geologists.  In addition, a literal six, twenty-four hour day creation period is mandated by the opening verses of Genesis.  The key to understanding young earth creation is that it starts with biblical texts which are understood in a specific literal manner, it applies that understanding to the origins of  the universe, earth, and life, and then it attempts to match the empirical scientific data to those facts based on the Bible. 

The next posts in this series will explain theistic science and intelligent design.  Stay tuned!!

[1]Norman L. Geisler and J. Kerby Anderson, Origin Science (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), 19.

[2] Ibid., 20.