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Creation Science Study Satire Essay

C.S. Lewis and evolution

by Peter Barnes

There would be a strong case for the assertion that C.S. Lewis (1898–1963) has been the most celebrated Christian apologist of the second half of the twentieth century. Even into the twenty-first century Lewis’s popularity shows no sign of diminishing. His war-time radio broadcasts, which aired in 1942–1944, were published in book form as Mere Christianity, which has proved enormously influential. His other books have also found themselves onto the bookshelves of many Christians, notably The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters, Miracles, The Four Loves, The Abolition of Man, and Letters to Malcolm, as well as the seven Chronicles of Narnia and his science fiction trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength). Even The Pilgrim’s Regress, which Lewis later came to regret somewhat, is applauded by J. I. Packer as ‘the freshest and liveliest of all his books’, and the one that Packer has reread more often than any other.1 For logic, beauty of expression, command of the English language, honesty, earthy wit, and imagination, few writers can equal Lewis—or come near him.

C.S. Lewis as theologian

Theologically, Lewis described himself as an Anglican who was ‘not especially “high,” nor especially “low,” nor especially anything else.’2 He is often regarded as suspect in his views, especially regarding the doctrines of revelation and the atonement. Certainly, Lewis retained some liberal elements in his thinking. For example, he was open on the possibility of persons of other religions belonging to Christ without knowing it.3 Regarding revelation, he declared in an interview conducted in 1944 that ‘The Old Testament contains fabulous elements.’ He considered that the accounts of Jonah and of Noah were ‘fabulous’, whereas the court history of King David was probably as reliable as the court history of King Louis XIV. ‘Then, in the New Testament the thing really happens.’4 It is the sort of view that rightly needs to be criticized by evangelical believers. Lewis held quite a high view of Scripture, but it remained somewhat vague and elusive in places. Not long before his death, he commented that as Christians ‘we still believe (as I do) that all Holy Scripture is in some sense—though not all parts of it in the same sense—the Word of God.’5

Regarding the atonement, Lewis was equally as vague and disappointing. He declared that what matters is that it works, not how it works: ‘The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work.’6

Later in life, Lewis appears to have shifted in a direction that was more biblically orthodox.

Later in life, Lewis appears to have shifted in a direction that was more biblically orthodox. One of his last essays, Fern-seeds and Elephants, is quite a devastating critique of the acceptance of Modernist theology in the Church of England. Lewis’s final sentence is particularly barbed: ‘Missionary to the priests of one’s own church is an embarrassing role; though I have a horrid feeling that if such mission work is not soon undertaken, the future history of the Church of England is likely to be short.’7 Overall, Lewis never regarded himself as a theologian; his strengths lay in his wonderful command of prose and in his clarity of thought.

C.S. Lewis as an atheist

Only in 1929 did Lewis become what he called ‘perhaps the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England’.8 This was a conversion to theism, but it was followed two years later by the acceptance, while being driven to the zoo, that Jesus was the Son of God. Until his conversion, Lewis was a rabid unbeliever, being not simply indifferent to Christianity but decidedly hostile—not unlike Richard Dawkins today. Indeed, Lewis was to refer to this period of his life as ‘the days when I still hated Christianity’.9 He used the traditional argument that the state of the world shows that it is not governed by a good God. In October 1916 he wrote to one who was to be his lifelong friend, Arthur Greeves: ‘I believe in no religion. There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best. All religions, that is, all mythologies, to give them their proper name, are merely man’s own invention, Christ as much as Loki.’10

Lewis was more philosophical than scientific in his outlook, and so he rarely referred to the evolutionary hypothesis in his rejection of Christianity. One of the few references comes in 1925 when Lewis recorded that Mrs Moore’s daughter, Maureen, had asked him about the theory of evolution. Lewis’s response was straightforward: ‘I explained that the Biblical and scientific accounts were alternatives. She asked me which I believed. I said the scientific. She said “I suppose if one believes in it then, one doesn’t believe in God.” I said one could believe in God without believing in all the things said about him in the Old Testament. Here the matter ended.’11

C.S. Lewis’ early attitude to evolution as a Christian

When Lewis became a Christian, he felt no immediate need to renounce any belief in evolution. In the meantime, Bernard Acworth (a retired Royal Navy captain), Douglas Dewar, and Sir Ambrose Fleming launched the Evolution Protest Movement. Acworth came to seek to enlist the pen of Lewis on the side of the anti-evolutionary creationists. Lewis, however, was reluctant to come on board. On 9 December 1944 he wrote to Acworth: ‘I can’t have made my position clear. I am not either attacking or defending Evolution. I believe that Christianity can still be believed, even if Evolution is true. This is where you and I differ. Thinking as I do, I can’t help regarding your advice (that I henceforth include arguments against Evolution in all my Christian apologetics) as a temptation to fight the battle on what is really a false issue: and also on terrain very unsuitable for the only weapon I have.’12

At this time, Lewis was not convinced that it was wise for Christians to declare war on evolution, and in any case he did not possess enough biological knowledge to make any contribution to the cause of creationism. In The Problem of Pain, written in 1940, Lewis showed his willingness to accept virtually any view of evolution provided the biblical doctrine of the Fall was retained.13

C.S. Lewis’s growing questioning of evolution

However, by 1951 that tone was changing, and Lewis wrote to the same Captain Acworth: ‘What inclines me now to think you may be right in regarding [evolution] as the central and radical lie in the whole web of falsehood that now governs our lives is not so much your arguments against it as the fanatical and twisted attitudes of its defenders.’14 Lewis rarely intruded into the area of science as such but he was impressed by Acworth’s arguments, and wrote: ‘The point that the whole economy of nature demands simultaneity of at least a v[ery] great many species is a v[ery] sticky one.’14

For all that, Lewis refused to write a preface for an anti-evolutionary work on the grounds that he was known to be no scientist. He argued that ‘When a man has become a popular Apologist he must watch his step. Everyone is on the look out for things that might discredit him.’14 He was somewhat gleeful that Piltdown Man had been proved to be a hoax in 1953, but warned that Christians had been guilty too of forged decretals and faked miracles. He had no time for the rhapsodies of Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man, which he regarded as ‘evolution run mad’.14

It was sometime in this period when, at a dinner party where the guests included Helen Gardner, the topic was raised as to whom one would like to meet in heaven. One guest suggested Shakespeare while another suggested the apostle Paul, but Lewis said that he would like to meet Adam. He gave as his reasons:

Adam was, from the first, a man in knowledge as well as in stature. He alone of all men ‘had been in Eden, in the garden of God, he had walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire’. He was endowed, says Athanasius, with ‘a vision of God so far-reaching that he could contemplate the eternity of the Divine Essence and the coming operation of His Word’. He was ‘a heavenly being’ according to St. Ambrose, who breathed the aether and was accustomed to converse with God ‘face to face’.

Helen Gardner, a church-goer with a deep interest in the seventeenth century English metaphysical poets, ventured to suggest that Adam, if he existed, would be a Neanderthal ape-like figure whose conversation would hardly be interesting. Apparently, Lewis responded in a gruff voice: ‘I see we have a Darwinian in our midst.’15

In a letter to Dorothy Sayers on 4 March 1954 Lewis penned a satirical poem entitled Evolutionary Hymn. Christians with no sense of mockery have sometime asked whether it was meant to be serious, and to be dated from his unbelieving days. Lewis, however, had a well developed sense of satire, and this effort is particularly biting. Its opening stanza is:

Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future’s endless stair:
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.

Significantly, this attacks the claims of evolution as a philosophy rather than as a science.

As early as Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis had mocked creative evolution as espoused by George Bernard Shaw and Henri Bergson: ‘The Life-Force is a sort of tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost.’16 Lewis’s interests were more philosophical than scientific, although that should not be interpreted to mean that he espoused a brand of Idealism. Lewis’s views on evolution provide an interesting insight into his questing intellect. Ultimately, they stop short of the full-orbed Christian view, but we can be thankful that he came to see that the evolutionary hypothesis made for bad philosophy, and increasingly came to view its scientific underpinning, in so far as he understood it, as equally as flawed. One wonders what he might have said had his vague acceptance of evolution been shaken earlier. There is a wealth of suggestive possibilities in his 1951 lament: ‘I wish I were younger.’14

Related Articles


  1. J. I. Packer, ‘Still Surprised by Lewis’ in Christianity Today, vol. 42, 7 September 1998. Return to Text
  2. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Glasgow: Fontana, 1975, p.6. Return to Text
  3. Ref. 2, p.173. Return to Text
  4. C.S. Lewis, ‘Answers to Questions on Christianity’, in God in the Dock, ed. by Walter Hooper, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1970, pp.57–58. Return to Text
  5. C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, London and Glasgow: Collins, 1974, p.22. Return to Text
  6. Ref. 2, p.54. Return to Text
  7. C.S. Lewis, ‘Fern-seeds and Elephants’ in Christian Reflections, ed. by Walter Hooper, Glasgow: Collins, 1983. Return to Text
  8. C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, London and Glasgow: Fontana, 1953, p.182. Return to Text
  9. C.S. Lewis, ‘On the Reading of Old Books’, in God in the Dock, ed. by Walter Hooper, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1970, p.203. Return to Text
  10. Cited in J. Ryan Duncan, The Magic Never Ends, Nashville, 2001, p.27. Return to Text
  11. C.S. Lewis, All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C.S. Lewis, 1922–1927, ed. by Walter Hooper, London: HarperCollins, 1991, p.361. Return to Text
  12. C.S. Lewis on Creation and Evolution: The Acworth Letters, 1944–1960’, Gary Ferngren and Ronald L. Numbers have put together a most helpful treatment of Lewis’ views on evolution. Return to Text
  13. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, London and Glasgow: Fontana, 1975, especially pp.57–76. Return to Text
  14. C.S. Lewis on Creation and Evolution: The Acworth Letters, 1944–1960’, Return to Text
  15. Cited in A. N. Wilson, C.S. Lewis: A Biography, London; Collins, 1990, p.210. Return to Text
  16. Ref. 2, p.34. Return to Text
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The creation–evolution controversy (also termed the creation vs. evolution debate or the origins debate) involves an ongoing, recurring cultural, political, and theological dispute about the origins of the Earth, of humanity, and of other life. Within the Christian world, creationism was once widely believed to be true, but since the mid-19th century evolution by natural selection has been established as an empirical scientific fact.[1]

The debate is philosophical, not scientific: in the scientific community, evolution is accepted as fact[2] and efforts to sustain the traditional view are almost universally regarded as pseudoscience.[3][4][5][6] While the controversy has a long history,[8] today it has retreated to be mainly over what constitutes good science education,[9][10] with the politics of creationism primarily focusing on the teaching of creationism in public education.[11][12][13][14][15] Among majority-Christian countries, the debate is most prominent in the United States, and to a lesser extent in Europe and elsewhere,[16] and is often portrayed as part of a culture war.[17] Parallel controversies also exist in some other religious communities, such as the more fundamentalist branches of Judaism[18] and Islam.[19]

Christian fundamentalists dispute the evidence of common descent of humans and other animals as demonstrated in modern paleontology, genetics, histology and cladistics and those other sub-disciplines which are based upon the conclusions of modern evolutionary biology, geology, cosmology, and other related fields. They argue for the Abrahamic accounts of creation, and, in order to attempt to gain a place alongside evolutionary biology in the science classroom, have developed a rhetorical framework of "creation science". In the landmark Kitzmiller v. Dover, the purported basis of scientific creationism was exposed as a wholly religious construct without formal scientific merit.

The Catholic Church now recognizes the existence of evolution (see Catholic Church and evolution). Pope Francis has stated: "God is not a demiurge or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life...Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve."[20][21][22] The rules of genetic evolutionary inheritance were first discovered by a Catholic priest, the AugustinianmonkGregor Mendel, who is known today as the founder of modern genetics.

According to a 2014 Gallup survey, "More than four in 10 Americans continue to believe that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago, a view that has changed little over the past three decades. Half of Americans believe humans evolved, with the majority of these saying God guided the evolutionary process. However, the percentage who say God was not involved is rising."[23]

The debate is sometimes portrayed as being between science and religion, and the United States National Academy of Sciences states:

Today, many religious denominations accept that biological evolution has produced the diversity of living things over billions of years of Earth's history. Many have issued statements observing that evolution and the tenets of their faiths are compatible. Scientists and theologians have written eloquently about their awe and wonder at the history of the universe and of life on this planet, explaining that they see no conflict between their faith in God and the evidence for evolution. Religious denominations that do not accept the occurrence of evolution tend to be those that believe in strictly literal interpretations of religious texts.

— National Academy of Sciences, Science, Evolution, and Creationism[24]


See also: History of evolutionary thought

The creation–evolution controversy began in Europe and North America in the late 18th century, when new interpretations of geological evidence led to various theories of an ancient earth, and findings of extinctions demonstrated in the fossilgeological sequence prompted early ideas of evolution, notably Lamarckism. In England these ideas of continuing change were at first seen as a threat to the existing "fixed" social order, and both church and state sought to repress them. Conditions gradually eased, and in 1844 Robert Chambers's controversial Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation popularized the idea of gradual transmutation of species. The scientific establishment at first dismissed it scornfully and the Church of England reacted with fury, but many Unitarians, Quakers and Baptists—groups opposed to the privileges of the established church—favoured its ideas of God acting through such natural laws.[26]

Contemporary reaction to Darwin[edit]

See also: Reactions to On the Origin of Species

By the end of the 19th century, there was no serious scientific opposition to the basic evolutionary tenets of descent with modification and the common ancestry of all forms of life.

— Thomas Dixon, Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction

The publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859 brought scientific credibility to evolution, and made it a respectable field of study.

Despite the intense interest in the religious implications of Darwin's book, theological controversy over higher criticism set out in Essays and Reviews (1860) largely diverted the Church of England's attention. Some of the liberal Christian authors of that work expressed support for Darwin, as did many Nonconformists. The Reverend Charles Kingsley, for instance, openly supported the idea of God working through evolution.[30] Other Christians opposed the idea, and even some of Darwin's close friends and supporters—including Charles Lyell and Asa Gray—initially expressed reservations about some of his ideas. Gray later became a staunch supporter of Darwin in America, and collected together a number of his own writings to produce an influential book, Darwiniana (1876). These essays argued for a conciliation between Darwinian evolution and the tenets of theism, at a time when many on both sides perceived the two as mutually exclusive.[32] Gray said that investigation of physical causes was not opposed to the theological view and the study of the harmonies between mind and Nature, and thought it "most presumable that an intellectual conception realized in Nature would be realized through natural agencies."Thomas Huxley, who strongly promoted Darwin's ideas while campaigning to end the dominance of science by the clergy, coined the term agnostic to describe his position that God's existence is unknowable. Darwin also took this position, but prominent atheists including Edward Aveling and Ludwig Büchner also took up evolution and it was criticized, in the words of one reviewer, as "tantamount to atheism."[36] Following the lead of figures such as St. George Jackson Mivart and John Augustine Zahm, Roman Catholics in the United States became accepting of evolution itself while ambivalent towards natural selection and stressing humanity's divinely imbued soul. The Catholic Church never condemned evolution, and initially the more conservative-leaning Catholic leadership in Rome held back, but gradually adopted a similar position.

During the late 19th century evolutionary ideas were most strongly disputed by the premillennialists, who held to a prophecy of the imminent return of Christ based on a form of Biblical literalism, and were convinced that the Bible would be invalidated if any error in the Scriptures was conceded. However, hardly any of the critics of evolution at that time were as concerned about geology, freely granting scientists any time they needed before the Edenic creation to account for scientific observations, such as fossils and geological findings. In the immediate post-Darwinian era, few scientists or clerics rejected the antiquity of the earth, the progressive nature of the fossil record. Likewise, few attached geological significance to the Biblical flood, unlike subsequent creationists. Evolutionary skeptics, creationist leaders and skeptical scientists were usually either willing to adopt a figurative reading of the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, or allowed that the six days of creation were not necessarily 24-hour days.[42]

Science professors at liberal northeastern universities almost immediately embraced the theory of evolution and introduced it to their students. However, some people in parts of the south and west of the United States, which had been influenced by the preachings of Christian fundamentalist evangelicals, rejected the theory as immoral.

In the United Kingdom, Evangelical creationists were in a tiny minority. The Victoria Institute was formed in 1865 in response to Essays and Reviews and Darwin's On the Origin of Species. It was not officially opposed to evolution theory, but its main founder James Reddie objected to Darwin's work as "inharmonious" and "utterly incredible", and Philip Henry Gosse, author of Omphalos, was a vice-president. The institute's membership increased to 1897, then declined sharply. In the 1920s George McCready Price attended and made several presentations of his creationist views, which found little support among the members. In 1927 John Ambrose Fleming was made president; while he insisted on creation of the soul, his acceptance of divinely guided development and of Pre-Adamite humanity meant he was thought of as a theistic evolutionist.

Creationism in theology[edit]

Main article: History of creationism

See also: Creation and evolution in public education

At the beginning of the 19th century debate had started to develop over applying historical methods to Biblical criticism, suggesting a less literal account of the Bible. Simultaneously, the developing science of geology indicated the Earth was ancient, and religious thinkers sought to accommodate this by day-age creationism or gap creationism. Neptunianistcatastrophism, which had in the 17th and 18th centuries proposed that a universal flood could explain all geological features, gave way to ideas of geological gradualism (introduced in 1795 by James Hutton) based upon the erosion and depositional cycle over millions of years, which gave a better explanation of the sedimentary column. Biology and the discovery of extinction (first described in the 1750s and put on a firm footing by Georges Cuvier in 1796) challenged ideas of a fixed immutable Aristotelian "great chain of being." Natural theology had earlier expected that scientific findings based on empirical evidence would help religious understanding. Emerging differences led some[according to whom?] to increasingly regard science and theology as concerned with different, non-competitive domains.

When most scientists came to accept evolution (by around 1875), European theologians generally came to accept evolution as an instrument of God. For instance, Pope Leo XIII (in office 1878-1903) referred to longstanding Christian thought that scriptural interpretations could be reevaluated in the light of new knowledge,[citation needed] and Roman Catholics came around to acceptance of human evolution subject to direct creation of the soul. In the United States the development of the racist Social Darwinianeugenics movement by certain[which?] circles led a number of Catholics to reject evolution. In this enterprise they received little aid from conservative Christians in Great Britain and Europe. In Britain this has been attributed to their minority status leading to a more tolerant, less militant theological tradition. This continues to the present. In his speech at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 2014, Pope Francis declared that he accepted the Big Bang theory and the theory of evolution and that God was not "a magician with a magic wand".[46]

Development of creationism in the United States[edit]

At first in the U.S., evangelical Christians paid little attention to the developments in geology and biology, being more concerned with the rise of European higher Biblical criticism which questioned the belief in the Bible as literal truth. Those criticising these approaches took the name "fundamentalist"—originally coined by its supporters to describe a specific package of theological beliefs that developed into a movement within the Protestant community of the United States in the early part of the 20th century, and which had its roots in the Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy of the 1920s and 1930s.[47] The term in a religious context generally indicates unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs.[48][need quotation to verify]

Up until the early mid-20th century[when?], mainline Christian denominations within the United States showed little official resistance to evolution. Around the start of the 20th century some evangelical scholars had ideas accommodating evolution, such as B. B. Warfield who saw it as a natural law expressing God's will. By then most U.S. high-school and college biology classes taught scientific evolution, but several factors, including the rise of Christian fundamentalism and social factors of changes and insecurity in more traditionalist Bible Belt communities, led to a backlash. The numbers of children receiving secondary education increased rapidly, and parents who had fundamentalist tendencies or who opposed social ideas of what was called "survival of the fittest" had real concerns about what their children were learning about evolution.

British creationism[edit]

The main British creationist movement in this period[which?], the Evolution Protest Movement (EPM), formed in the 1930s out of the Victoria Institute, or Philosophical Society of Great Britain (founded in 1865 in response to the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859 and of Essays and Reviews in 1860). The Victoria Institute had the stated objective of defending "the great truths revealed in Holy Scripture ... against the opposition of Science falsely so called".[citation needed] Although it did not officially oppose evolution, it attracted a number of scientists sceptical of Darwinism, including John William Dawson and Arnold Guyot. It reached a high point of 1,246 members in 1897, but quickly plummeted to less than one third of that figure in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Although it opposed evolution at first, the institute joined the theistic evolution camp by the 1920s, which led to the development of the Evolution Protest Movement in reaction. Amateur ornithologistDouglas Dewar, the main driving-force within the EPM, published a booklet entitled Man: A Special Creation (1936) and engaged in public speaking and debates with supporters of evolution. In the late 1930s he resisted American creationists' call for acceptance of flood geology, which later led to conflict within the organisation. Despite trying to win the public endorsement of C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), the most prominent Christian apologist of his day,[citation needed] by the mid-1950s the EPM came under control of schoolmaster/pastor Albert G. Tilney, whose dogmatic and authoritarian style ran the organisation "as a one-man band", rejecting flood geology, unwaveringly promoting gap creationism, and reducing the membership to lethargic inactivity. It was renamed the Creation Science Movement (CSM) in 1980, under the chairmanship of David Rosevear, who holds a Ph.D. in organometallic chemistry from the University of Bristol. By the mid-1980s the CSM had formally incorporated flood geology into its "Deed of Trust" (which all officers had to sign) and condemned gap creationism and day-age creationism as unscriptural.

United States legal challenges and their consequences[edit]

In 1925, Tennessee passed a statute called the Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of the theory of evolution in all schools in the state. Later that year, a similar law was passed in Mississippi, and likewise, Arkansas in 1927. In 1968, these "anti-monkey" laws were struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States as unconstitutional, "because they established a religious doctrine violating both the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution."

The modern struggle of religious fundamentalists accepting creationism, to get their rejection of evolution accepted as legitimate science within education institutions in the U.S., has been highlighted through a series of important court cases.

Butler Act and Scopes monkey trial[edit]

Main article: Scopes Trial

In the aftermath of World War I, the Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy had brought a surge of opposition to the idea of evolution, and following the campaigning of William Jennings Bryan several states introduced legislation prohibiting the teaching of evolution. By 1925, such legislation was being considered in 15 states, and had passed in some states, such as Tennessee.[52] The American Civil Liberties Union offered to defend anyone who wanted to bring a test case against one of these laws. John T. Scopes accepted, and he confessed to teaching his Tennessee class evolution in defiance of the Butler Act. The textbook in question was George William Hunter's A Civic Biology: Presented in Problems (1914). The trial was widely publicized by H. L. Mencken among others, and is commonly referred to as the Scopes Monkey Trial. Scopes was convicted but the widespread publicity galvanized proponents of evolution. When the case was appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Court overturned the decision on a technicality (the judge had assessed the minimum $100 fine instead of allowing the jury to assess the fine).[53]

Although it overturned the conviction, the Court decided that the law was not in violation of the Religious Preference provisions of the Tennessee Constitution (Section 3 of Article 1), which stated "that no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship."[54] The Court, applying that state constitutional language, held:

We are not able to see how the prohibition of teaching the theory that man has descended from a lower order of animals gives preference to any religious establishment or mode of worship. So far as we know, there is no religious establishment or organized body that has in its creed or confession of faith any article denying or affirming such a theory.... Protestants, Catholics, and Jews are divided among themselves in their beliefs, and that there is no unanimity among the members of any religious establishment as to this subject. Belief or unbelief in the theory of evolution is no more a characteristic of any religious establishment or mode of worship than is belief or unbelief in the wisdom of the prohibition laws. It would appear that members of the same churches quite generally disagree as to these things.

... Furthermore, [the Butler Act] requires the teaching of nothing. It only forbids the teaching of evolution of man from a lower order of animals.... As the law thus stands, while the theory of evolution of man may not be taught in the schools of the State, nothing contrary to that theory [such as Creationism] is required to be taught.

... It is not necessary now to determine the exact scope of the Religious Preference clause of the Constitution ... Section 3 of Article 1 is binding alike on the Legislature and the school authorities. So far we are clear that the Legislature has not crossed these constitutional limitations.

— Scopes v. State, 289 S.W. 363, 367 (Tenn. 1927).[55]

The interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution up to that time was that the government could not establish a particular religion as the State religion. The Tennessee Supreme Court's decision held in effect that the Butler Act was constitutional under the state Constitution's Religious Preference Clause, because the Act did not establish one religion as the "State religion."[56] As a result of the holding, the teaching of evolution remained illegal in Tennessee, and continued campaigning succeeded in removing evolution from school textbooks throughout the United States.[57][58][59][60]

Epperson v. Arkansas[edit]

Main article: Epperson v. Arkansas

In 1968, the United States Supreme Court invalidated a forty-year-old Arkansas statute that prohibited the teaching of evolution in the public schools. A Little Rock, Arkansas, high school biology teacher, Susan Epperson, filed suit charging the law violated the federal constitutional prohibition against establishment of religion as set forth in the Establishment Clause. The Little Rock Ministerial Association supported Epperson's challenge, declaring, "to use the Bible to support an irrational and an archaic concept of static and undeveloping creation is not only to misunderstand the meaning of the Book of Genesis, but to do God and religion a disservice by making both enemies of scientific advancement and academic freedom." The Court held that the United States Constitution prohibits a state from requiring, in the words of the majority opinion, "that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma."[62] But the Supreme Court decision also suggested that creationism could be taught in addition to evolution.

Daniel v. Waters[edit]

Main article: Daniel v. Waters

Daniel v. Waters was a 1975 legal case in which the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit struck down Tennessee's law regarding the teaching of "equal time" of evolution and creationism in public school science classes because it violated the Establishment Clause. Following this ruling, creationism was stripped of overt biblical references and renamed "Creation Science", and several states passed legislative acts requiring that this be given equal time with the teaching of evolution.

Creation science[edit]

Main article: Creation science

As biologists grew more and more confident in evolution as the central defining principle of biology,[65] American membership in churches favoring increasingly literal interpretations of scripture also rose, with the Southern Baptist Convention and Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod outpacing all other denominations. With growth and increased finances, these churches became better equipped to promulgate a creationist message, with their own colleges, schools, publishing houses, and broadcast media.

In 1961, the first major modern creationist book was published: John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris' influential The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications. The authors argued that creation was literally 6 days long, that humans lived concurrently with dinosaurs, and that God created each 'kind' of life individually. On the strength of this, Morris became a popular speaker, spreading anti-evolutionary ideas at fundamentalist churches, colleges, and conferences. Morris' Creation Science Research Center (CSRC) rushed publication of biology textbooks that promoted creationism. Ultimately, the CSRC broke up over a divide between sensationalism and a more intellectual approach, and Morris founded the Institute for Creation Research, which was promised to be controlled and operated by scientists. During this time, Morris and others who supported flood geology adopted the terms "scientific creationism" and "creation science."[72] The "flood geology" theory effectively co-opted "the generic creationist label for their hyperliteralist views."

Court cases[edit]

McLean v. Arkansas[edit]

Main article: McLean v. Arkansas

In 1982, another case in Arkansas ruled that the Arkansas "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act" (Act 590) was unconstitutional because it violated the Establishment Clause. Much of the transcript of the case was lost, including evidence from Francisco Ayala.

Edwards v. Aguillard[edit]

Main article: Edwards v. Aguillard

In the early 1980s, the Louisiana legislature passed a law titled the "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act". The act did not require teaching either evolution or creationism as such, but did require that when evolutionary science was taught, creation science had to be taught as well. Creationists had lobbied aggressively for the law, arguing that the act was about academic freedom for teachers, an argument adopted by the state in support of the act. Lower courts ruled that the State's actual purpose was to promote the religious doctrine of creation science, but the State appealed to the Supreme Court.

In the similar case of McLean v. Arkansas (see above) the federal trial court had also decided against creationism. Mclean v. Arkansas was not appealed to the federal Circuit Court of Appeals, creationists instead thinking that they had better chances with Edwards v. Aguillard. In 1987 the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Louisiana act was also unconstitutional, because the law was specifically intended to advance a particular religion. At the same time, it stated its opinion that "teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to school children might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction," leaving open the door for a handful of proponents of creation science to evolve their arguments into the iteration of creationism that later came to be known as intelligent design.[75]

Intelligent design[edit]

Main article: Intelligent design

See also: Neo-creationism, Intelligent design movement, Teach the Controversy, and Discovery Institute intelligent design campaigns

In response to Edwards v. Aguillard, the neo-creationistintelligent design movement was formed around the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. It makes the claim that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection."[77] It has been viewed as a "scientific" approach to creationism by creationists, but is widely rejected as pseudoscience by the science community—primarily because intelligent design cannot be tested and rejected like scientific hypotheses (see for example, List of scientific bodies explicitly rejecting intelligent design).

Kansas evolution hearings[edit]

Main article: Kansas evolution hearings

In the push by intelligent design advocates to introduce intelligent design in public school science classrooms, the hub of the intelligent design movement, the Discovery Institute, arranged to conduct hearings to review the evidence for evolution in the light of its Critical Analysis of Evolution lesson plans. The Kansas evolution hearings were a series of hearings held in Topeka, Kansas, May 5 to May 12, 2005. The Kansas State Board of Education eventually adopted the institute's Critical Analysis of Evolution lesson plans over objections of the State Board Science Hearing Committee, and electioneering on behalf of conservative Republican Party candidates for the Board.[78] On August 1, 2006, four of the six conservative Republicans who approved the Critical Analysis of Evolution classroom standards lost their seats in a primary election. The moderate Republican and Democrats gaining seats vowed to overturn the 2005 school science standards and adopt those recommended by a State Board Science Hearing Committee that were rejected by the previous board,[79] and on February 13, 2007, the Board voted 6 to 4 to reject the amended science standards enacted in 2005. The definition of science was once again limited to "the search for natural explanations for what is observed in the universe."[80]

Dover trial[edit]

Main article: Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District

Following the Edwards v. Aguillard decision by the United States Supreme Court, in which the Court held that a Louisiana law requiring that creation science be taught in public schools whenever evolution was taught was unconstitutional, because the law was specifically intended to advance a particular religion, creationists renewed their efforts to introduce creationism into public school science classes. This effort resulted in intelligent design, which sought to avoid legal prohibitions by leaving the source of creation to an unnamed and undefined intelligent designer, as opposed to God.[81] This ultimately resulted in the "Dover Trial," Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, which went to trial on 26 September 2005 and was decided on 20 December 2005 in favor of the plaintiffs, who charged that a mandate that intelligent design be taught in public school science classrooms was an unconstitutional establishment of religion. The Kitzmiller v. Dover decision held that intelligent design was not a subject of legitimate scientific research, and that it "cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and hence religious, antecedents."[82]

The December 2005 ruling in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial[83] supported the viewpoint of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and other science and education professional organizations who say that proponents of Teach the Controversy seek to undermine the teaching of evolution[4][84] while promoting intelligent design,[85][86] and to advance an education policy for U.S. public schools that introduces creationist explanations for the origin of life to public-school science curricula.[83][87]

Texas Board of Education support for intelligent design[edit]

On March 27, 2009, the Texas Board of Education, by a vote of 13 to 2, voted that at least in Texas, textbooks must teach intelligent design alongside evolution, and question the validity of the fossil record. Don McLeroy, a dentist and chair of the board, said, "I think the new standards are wonderful ... dogmatism about evolution [has sapped] America's scientific soul." According to Science magazine, "Because Texas is the second-largest textbook market in the United States, publishers have a strong incentive to be certified by the board as 'conforming 100% to the state's standards'."[88] The 2009 Texas Board of Education hearings were chronicled in the 2012 documentary The Revisionaries.

Recent developments[edit]

See also: Creation and evolution in public education and Intelligent design in politics

The scientific consensus on the origins and evolution of life continues to be challenged by creationist organizations and religious groups who desire to uphold some form of creationism (usually young Earth creationism, creation science, old Earth creationism or intelligent design) as an alternative. Most of these groups are literalist Christians who believe the biblical account is inerrant, and more than one sees the debate as part of the Christian mandate to evangelize.[89][90] Some groups see science and religion as being diametrically opposed views that cannot be reconciled. More accommodating viewpoints, held by many mainstream churches and many scientists, consider science and religion to be separate categories of thought (non-overlapping magisteria), which ask fundamentally different questions about reality and posit different avenues for investigating it.[91]

Studies on the religious beliefs of scientists does support the evidence of a rift between traditional literal fundamentalist religion and experimental science. Three studies of scientific attitudes since 1904 have shown that over 80% of scientists do not believe in a traditional god or the traditional belief in immortality, with disbelief stronger amongst biological scientists than physical scientists. Amongst those not registering such attitudes a high percentage indicated a preference for adhering to a belief concerning mystery than any dogmatic or faith based view.[92] But only 10% of scientists stated that they saw a fundamental clash between science and religion. This study of trends over time suggests that the "culture wars" between creationism against evolution, are held more strongly by religious literalists than by scientists themselves and are likely to continue, fostering anti-scientific or pseudoscientific attitudes amongst fundamentalist believers.[93]

More recently, the intelligent design movement has attempted an anti-evolution position that avoids any direct appeal to religion. Scientists argue that intelligent design is pseudoscience and does not represent any research program within the mainstream scientific community, and is still essentially creationism.[6][citation not found] Its leading proponent, the Discovery Institute, made widely publicized claims that it was a new science, although the only paper arguing for it published in a scientific journal was accepted in questionable circumstances and quickly disavowed in the Sternberg peer review controversy, with the Biological Society of Washington stating that it did not meet the journal's scientific standards, was a "significant departure" from the journal's normal subject area and was published at the former editor's sole discretion, "contrary to typical editorial practices."[95] On August 1, 2005, U.S. president George W. Bush commented endorsing the teaching of intelligent design alongside evolution "I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught ... so people can understand what the debate is about."[9][96]


In the controversy a number of divergent opinions can be recognized, regarding both the acceptance of scientific theories and religious practice.

Young Earth creationism[edit]

Main article: Young Earth creationism

See also: Creation science and Flood geology

Young Earth creationism is the religious belief that the Earth was created by God within the last 10,000 years, literally as described in Genesis, within the approximate timeframe of biblical genealogies (detailed for example in the Ussher chronology). Young Earth creationists often believe that the Universe has a similar age to the Earth's. Creationist cosmologies are attempts by some creationist thinkers to give the universe an age consistent with the Ussher chronology and other Young-Earth timeframes.[97]

This belief generally has a basis in biblical literalism and completely rejects science; "creation science" is pseudoscience that attempts to prove that young-earth creationism is consistent with science.[98][99][100][101][102]

Old Earth creationism[edit]

Main article: Old Earth creationism

See also: Gap creationism, Day-age creationism, and Progressive creationism

Old Earth creationism holds that the physical universe was created by God, but that the creation event of Genesis within 6 days is not to be taken strictly literally. This group generally accepts the age of the Universe and the age of the Earth as described by astronomers and geologists, but that details of the evolutionary theory are questionable. Old Earth creationists interpret the Genesis creation narrative in a number of ways, each differing from the six, consecutive, 24-hour day creation of the young Earth creationist view.


Main article: Neo-creationism

See also: Intelligent design

Neo-creationists intentionally distance themselves from other forms of creationism, preferring to be known as wholly separate from creationism as a philosophy. They wish to re-frame the debate over the origins of life in non-religious terms and without appeals to scripture, and to bring the debate before the public. Neo-creationists may be either young Earth or old Earth creationists, and hold a range of underlying theological viewpoints (e.g. on the interpretation of the Bible). Neo-creationism currently exists in the form of the intelligent design movement, which has a 'big tent' strategy making it inclusive of many young Earth creationists (such as Paul Nelson and Percival Davis).

Theistic evolution[edit]

Main article: Theistic evolution

See also: Naturalism (philosophy), Catholic Church and evolution, and Clergy Letter Project

Theistic evolution is the general view that, instead of faith being in opposition to biological evolution, some or all classical religious teachings about God and creation are compatible with some or all of modern scientific theory, including, specifically, evolution. It generally views evolution as a tool used by a creator god, who is both the first cause and immanent

A satirical image of Darwin as an ape from 1871 reflects part of the social controversy over the fact that humans and apes share a common lineage.
Asa Gray around the time he published Darwiniana.
Anti-Evolution League at the Scopes Trial.
Detail of Noah's Ark, oil painting by Edvard Hicks (1846)