Creationism and Intelligent Design: Scientific and Theological Difficulties

By Bailey, David H. | Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Creationism and Intelligent Design: Scientific and Theological Difficulties


Bailey, David H., Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought


Many religious believers today are comfortable with the notion of an evolutionary process over many millions of years as God's means for achieving the creation. In other words, they believe that, while God governed the creation in some sense, it proceeded largely by natural laws and processes that can be uncovered by diligent research. An open-ended philosophy of this sort is entirely consistent with modern scientific knowledge, and for many (myself included), the "war" between science and religion ends here.

A recent report by the National Academy of Science observed, "Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. . . . Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist." The report adds, "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 conf lict between their faith in God and the evidence for evolution."1 Among the notable and openly religious scientists cited in this report are Francis Collins (director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health and former director of the Human Genome Project), Kenneth Miller (a well-known biologist and co-author of a widely used biology textbook), and George Coyne (former director of the Vatican Observatory).

Others in modern society (often but not always associated with conservative religious movements) insist on a more traditional view of the creation. Many of these persons further believe that there is scientific evidence to support such a view. In a 2004 poll, 45 percent of Americans agreed that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so."2 In a 2005 poll, 42 percent of Americans agreed that "humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time."3 Such persons have been drawn to the Creationist movement and still are, although today the Intelligent Design (ID) movement has been growing in popularity.

Typical of recent Creationist literature is the declaration that "millions of years of evolution not only contradicts [sic] the clear teaching of Genesis and the rest of Scripture but also impugns [sic] the character of God."4 ID literature is more accepting of modern science but still holds that Darwinian evolution is scientifically faulty, and cannot be reconciled with Judeo-Christian theism.5

This article examines the Creationist and Intelligent Design movements from both a scientific and a theological perspective. This discussion is framed for adherents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), althoughmuch of this analysis is independent of any particular religious denomination.

I wish to emphasize that the terms "Creationism" and "Intelligent Design" are used here only to designate the two specificmovements described above. As noted above, a suitably open-ended notion of "creation" and "design" is entirely consistent with both scientific knowledge and theology, and is recommended as a basis for those seeking harmony between science and religion.

Traditional Creationism and Intelligent Design

The traditional Creationist movement, which has been termed "scientific Creationism" or "creation science" by its practitioners, originated with the publication of George McCready Price's book The New Geology in 1923, and gained momentum in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s with works by John Whitcomb, Henry Morris, and Duane Gish.6 These writers have attempted, by means of both scientific and theological arguments, to defend a highly literal (albeit somewhat selective) reading of Genesis: namely, that the Earth was created a few thousand years ago and that its fossil layers were deposited during a great flood at the time of Noah. Efforts to promote this form of Creationism in public schools foundered in 1982, when an Arkansas court ruled that Creationism is religious dogma, and lost more ground in 1987, when the U. …

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