Click here to view CMI's position on climate change.

‘Evolution is science, but creationism is religion’

Using buzzwords to divide and deride


Published: 2 October 2014 (GMT+10)

The titular claim is so common that it’s become a truism in our culture. That is, it’s enshrined as one of its most unassailable truths. However, it’s false. It’s misleading. It’s dangerous. And it’s schizophrenic.

People often have different ideas on what words like ‘evolution’ mean. We need to clearly define our terms to understand the conflicting truth claims in the origins debate.

Strong words? Definitely! Why say this? Consider these four words: ‘evolution’, ‘creation’, ‘science’, and ‘religion’. What do they mean? It’s hard to say; they all have such wide ranges of meaning that it’s impossible to know what they connote to each individual person. (See Evolution & creation, science & religion, facts & bias.) Indeed, those who promote the titular false dichotomy exploit this ambiguity with a dishonest ploy of ‘bait-and-switch’ or equivocation.

Take ‘science’. It can refer to a particular way of knowing (i.e. repeatable observation/experimentation done to figure out how the world works), or that a particular claim is evidentially sound (e.g. ‘oxygen theory is science, but phlogiston is nonsense’). It can even be used as practically synonymous with ‘public fact’ or ‘real world fact’. (See ‘It’s not science.)

‘Evolution’, ‘creation’, ‘science’, and ‘religion’ … all have such wide ranges of meaning that it‘s impossible to know what they connote to each individual person.

What about ‘religion’? It can mean ‘a set of beliefs about reality’, i.e. it can be synonymous with ‘worldview’, which means Christianity, Marxism, Hinduism, and atheism can all be ‘religions’. It can refer to institutions with some sort of spiritual focus—i.e. organized religion. It can refer negatively to a spiritual worldview perceived to be based on tyrannical ‘dogmas’ and/or rules as opposed to a ‘free’ subjective mysticism (e.g. ‘I’m spiritual but not religious’). A specifically Christian modification of this contrasts a ‘religion’ of rules to get to God with the ‘relationship’ God graciously enters into with us in the gospel (e.g. ‘Islam is a religion, but Christianity is a relationship’).1 Or it can be a dismissive or derogatory term for a private ethereal sentimentality that has no relation to the real world (e.g. ‘Religion is nice for you, but it’s not for me’).

What about ‘evolution’? It can mean change or development (even intelligently caused technological development!). With respect to the study of nature, it has a number of different meanings. It can refer to the production of some product or effect (e.g. the evolution of gas from the soil or an electrode), it can refer to any sort of change (e.g. genetic change). It can also be used as a catch–all term for the 13.8 billion–year big bang naturalistic history of the universe. It can be used to refer to the naturalistic origin and history of life, historically considered. It is used more specifically in biology to refer to two distinct notions; (1) change in gene frequencies over time, and (2) universal common descent from a single–celled organism which arose from non–living chemicals (as defined by Kerkut). Often these two are combined in the fuzzy notion of ‘descent with modification’, implying its facticity whether considering the gap between parents and children or bacteria and biologists. (See Don’t fall for the bait-and-switch.)

It’s a claim about what really happened in the really real world, not about some ethereal plane of ‘existence’ that has nothing to do with the real world.

And finally, what about ‘creationism’? It’s generally a pejorative word meaning ‘the belief system of anyone who irrationally denies all notions of “descent with modification”’. People who believe in biblical creationism, progressive creationism, gap creationism, and intelligent design are all labelled ‘creationists’ in this pejorative sense. (By the same token, atheistic evolutionists, theistic evolutionists (whom atheists co–opt as ‘useful idiots’ but regard with complete contempt), New Age evolutionists, astrology–believing evolutionists (New Ager astrologers nearly all have an evolutionary mindset), crystal–power–invoking evolutionists, Raëlian evolutionists, and even flat-earth evolutionists … are all labelled ‘evolutionists’.) By those who accept the label, it refers to the notion of special creation: that various kinds of life were supernaturally created, from which arose a considerable variety of types within each kind, but with no inter–kind cross–breeding. It is also often used more narrowly to define biblical creationists (sometimes called ‘young-earth’ creationists although the young–earth view is a corollary of the biblical foundation not the starting point). (See Science, Creation and Evolutionism and Argument: Creationism is religion, not science.)

Now, back to our titular truism. In what sense are these words used? As best as I can discern, it’s typically taken to mean something like this:

“Descent with modification is verifiable public fact, whereas the denial of all forms of descent with modification is a private ethereal sentimentality that has nothing to do with the real world (but is nice for you, of course).”

In other words, I think this ‘truism’ is one of the most self–serving and vague misrepresentations ever to be foisted on the modern populace. It doesn’t even afford ‘creationism’ the dignity of being wrong because it’s not even about the real world.

So, let’s set the record straight. Self–avowed ‘creationists’ (broad and specific non–pejorative designations) believe special creation is a historical fact! We also believe ‘evolution’, i.e. ‘the naturalistic origin and history of life’, is a false historical claim. In other words, if ‘creationism’ is true, then ‘evolution’ is false, and vice versa. ‘Creationists’ believe ‘creationism’ is a claim about public fact, not private sentimentality. It’s a claim about what really happened in the really real world, not about some ethereal plane of ‘existence’ that has nothing to do with the real world. Evolutionists think the same about evolution, but they’re wrong.

Could it really be that simple? But what about science? What about miracles? What about God? What about history? What about … ? The origins debate is a very complex debate involving many different forms of reasoning and evidence that cut across almost every subject imaginable (take a look at the range of subjects covered on our FAQ page). But at its base it’s a debate about conflicting claims about the real world. This debate has nothing to do with ‘private spirituality’. It has everything to do with public fact. So let’s move past the self–serving buzz words and truisms in this debate—they are nothing but a distraction to the fact of contradictory public truth claims about the origin and history of this universe.

References and notes

  1. However, when used in the modern sense of a ‘personal relationship’ with God/Jesus, this produces a misleading picture based on experience, not Scripture. Modern Christians are not personally acquainted with Jesus like John and Judas Iscariot were, and the example of Judas shows that a personal acquaintance with Jesus doesn’t save. Rather, we must believe in who Jesus claims to be (God incarnate) and what he claims to do for us (save us from our sins through his sacrificial death and life–giving resurrection), i.e. trusting him, to be saved (Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9–10, 1 Corinthians 15:3–4). Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Refuting Evolution
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $12.00
Soft Cover
Refuting Evolution
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $7.00
eReader (.epub)
Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover
Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $10.00
eReader (.epub)

Readers’ comments

Richard L.
The scariest person to encounter is a well-meaning sincere theologian who has
• no clue about the validity zone of hard science,
• no ability (or inclination) to locate the associated boundary for the involved subset of science, to see if a scientist’s claims and language are within or without that boundary,
• and, thus, has no ability to tell when the scientist’s statement is instead being driven by his or her worldview rather than by hard-science facts.
Dylan O.
The only people who seem unaware of their own religion are the scientific materialist atheists and it is the religion of scientism as I like to call it.
Of course this just gets them mad and they get upset if I refer to Pope Richard Dawkins or grand inquisitor Jerry Coyne especially if I question their doctrine and dogma. They are full of fervor for the faith.
They claim to be rational and fearless and prepared to follow the evidence where it leads however when confronted with the argument from design they take the least logical position which is an appeal to chance. Although what they claim happened is way beyond the orders of probability and utterly lacking in scientific evidence (so far as to say if anything is impossible then that is the one thing) yet they still insist that theirs is the 'only rational world view' and that I am the one being irrational and religious!
When confronted with the evidence of a young fossil record they will quote doctrine and rhetoric rather than admit they could be wrong.
It is draining at times engaging in the debate because they trade so excellently on the authority of man and have mountains of rhetoric and never seem to budge an inch. I guess when you are holding the cards they have then you have no choice.
Having thought about this subject for many years and understanding the principles that underpin science (materialism) and understanding as fully as I ever will be able too the complexity of living organisms I have now concluded that special creation is the only satisfactory explanation with plenty of room for variety with in a kind.
The fossil record has to be a record of catastrophe that happened recently as the best evidence says the fossils are very young so that rules out gradualism completely. (logic demands it btw!)

Philip R.
No, it’s not "a debate about conflicting claims about the real world". Didn't you know? The science is settled. There is no debate, they reckon.

Funny, there seems to me to be a raging debate!
Mark G.
The article lays out the problem well but there is yet a deeper problem, the problem of an arbiter to settle the dispute. The evolutionist claims that science and facts are on their side while Creationists rely more on wishful thinking and faith.
The Creationist points out that the facts are with them and that it is the evolutionist who is engaging in wishful thinking, whereas the facts must in reality be "forced" into their worldview.
Who is the arbiter? Who is to decide who is telling the truth and who is wearing the colored glasses? Since the evolutionists are typically considered in authority, surely they can arbitrate, but wait, they have already taken sides, thus excluding themselves from the role by a conflict of interest. The creationist has the same problem, a conflict of interest.

The answer is this, that the arbiter must be you and me, the reader, the non-scientist. You respond "how can I tell the truth? I am not a scientist?". Listen, most of us have had a teenager come home with booze on the breath, ready with a battery of excuses. We have dealt with the Jehovah's Witness at the door, dirty politicians on television and fast salesmen at the car lot. We tell truth from error all the time and I know a fast talker when I hear one.
Do you know what I hear? I hear a lot of doubletalk and double think from evolutionists (like the article states) and I hear a lot of creationists try to be sensible, logical and fair about the discussion.

I am choosing to be an unscientific arbiter and lately I have been smelling a lot of booze on the evolutionist breath when they come in the door at night with fantastic tales. Evolutionary excuses don't wash with me and shouldn't with you either. Quit looking at the PhD's and smell the evolutionary breath, 'cause it stinks
Robert B.
“Descent with modification is verifiable public fact, whereas the denial of all forms of descent with modification is a private ethereal sentimentality that has nothing to do with the real world (but is nice for you, of course).”

Excellent analysis!! You succinctly pointed out the inherent fallacy of the much repeated "titular" statement; ie, that its' a strawman!
michael S.
1. If you are a scientist and do not accept evolution, then you are not a true scientist. (No-True-Scotsman.)
2. If you are an evolutionary-scientist that doesn't accept "all" of Neo-Darwinism, you are a quote-mined scientist.
3. Only those who accept evolution, understand it, if you don't accept it, you don't understand it. (Denial of Antecedant.) (The exclusive-snobbery-club)
4. Your titular claim Shaun, as you well know all too well.

CONCLUSION: The only antidote is to read CMI articles and learn that they are wrong. I would say a reading of Sarfati has led me to a conclusion I hadn't quite fully appreciated before now, that evolutionists have never critically examined their own philosophy properly because they didn't feel a need to, having qualified it as the only exclusively scientific explanation there is. A bit like me saying: "Bob did it. End of, and if I find Jane's fingerprints, I must have confused myself, and they must be Bob's prints after all." (Example: Laetoli human footprint, classed as a pithecine!!!!!).

Pithetic! ;-)

But getting an evolutionist to admit that their snobbery is a motive to not let a divine foot in the door? Well Shaun, despite your clever and eloquent article I think you actually have a better chance of re-animating Einstein's brain using spaghetti sauce and a Bunsen burner.
Hans G.
Science is to know the creation, 'religion' is to know the creator.

Comments are automatically closed 14 days after publication.