The Fractured Creation Debate

Creationism is not a topic widely talked about in Ireland. It rarely intrudes into the public debate. But creationism presents both a false view of religion and of science. Seeming to reassure people it dangerously misleads them.

It will be recalled that when the visitor centre at the Giant’s Causeway was opened a few years ago the display included a reference to the view of creationists that the Earth was only 6,000 years old. This presentation has since been amended after fierce criticism from the scientific community. Nevertheless creationism is strongly supported by evangelical Christians across Ireland.

For most people, however, this is all an echo of a science versus the Bible debate that they associate with the United States. A literal reading of the first three chapters of the Bible has long since fallen out of the mainstream theological discussion in the Catholic Church. Most Catholics have more pressing concerns to cope with, and I suspect rarely consider the matter, accepting the scientific view.

However, when (as some Catholics point out) this debate has a bearing on the dogma of original sin the matter is not quite so easy. Can there have been an original sin if there was no Adam and Eve? But then original sin is not something we hear much about from our preachers these days either.

Yet the scientific community should not be too settled in their complacency. In the US creationism has an important political dimension, especially for Republicans. It is supported in local school boards, in local government and in Congress, which means that there are economic concerns tied up in the debate which often affect the financing of scientific research.

In Europe it ought not to be thought that there is nothing of the kind on this side of the Atlantic. This is what makes this excellent book, edited by a team of Scandinavia scholars, so important. It extends the usual coverage and discussion of the topic in important ways and develops the theme of fundamentalism v. science in a European setting in important ways.

Some 10 of the chapters provide country by country surveys (which includes Islamic Turkey by the way). There are also chapters on the special nature of European views on the question, on Catholicism and on intelligent design, which attempts a reconciliation of the two views in a way acceptable to many.

But the most relevant chapter is perhaps the last one dealing with the reclaiming of science for creationism. In previous centuries creationism was based on an elaboration of the texts of Genesis. However, in recent times creationism has taken another turn. It attempts to support its views not just with the Bible, but with detailed discussion of cosmological, geological and other scientific anomalies which seem to support their view. Hence, the Young Earth Movement, which influenced the centre in Antrim.

But what is also fascinating about this book is that the contributors attend to the views of many Christian groups, casting a great deal of light on the changing religious complexion of Europe, as in Poland for instance.

Moreover, there are allusions to the views on creation of Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism: these are new elements in the ongoing debate.

This science versus the Bible debate will not go away anytime soon. This book ought to be, I think, essential reading for anyone involved in or concerned about the issues it raises.

It will certainly enlarge perspectives on the shattered nature of religion today. But it will also remind scientists that they work in a social framework, and must be alert to making what it is that science thinks it knows clearer to the general public, the general public who in the end actually pay through their taxes and medical bills for modern scientific development.