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Are creationists a coherent group?

March 25, 2014

Victor cautions against lumping creationists together:

I’d probably not group creationists into one group. It’s hard to speak of them as a whole when they don’t really have a governing body or anything similar. I’m not sure if you mean the majority of creationists, the majority of people who view certain types of creation understandings in an ideological and dogmatic and exclusive way, or if you mean creationist institutions and organisations that have official standings.

I appreciate this sentiment, and I’ve alluded to it myself. I’ve also repeatedly asked us to treat creationists as individuals, also contradicting a monolithic image of creationists. But to clarify, when I say “creationists” I mean at the very least the 33% who believe humans have always existed in present form. I would also probably include the 24% who think a supreme being guided evolution.

It’s true that this immense, disparate group does not have a governing body. But that doesn’t negate the fact that there are times to speak of them together. Sometimes it’s important to discuss the differences between college and professional football. And sometimes you just want to talk football. And it’s okay to acknowledge the collective African-Americans experience as long as you treat individual black Americans as just that. I guess what I’m saying–yet again–is that we should apply the same standards and modes of thinking to creationists as we do to other large, disparate groups.

In either case, I don’t think it’s too unreasonable to use the term “creationists” because, well, we already do that! The very existence of surveys like this mean we already lump creationists together. Christians themselves also routinely make calls for unity. Granted, they would almost certainly not categorize themselves as “creationists.” But as long as recognize the limits, broad categories have their uses.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Victor permalink
    March 25, 2014 12:02 pm

    There’s nothing wrong with using the term, it’s just important to define it when you use it so people know which people you mean (sometimes a reader who reads one post in isolation might be thinking of a subset but you mean a superset). When categories like Zionists, Evangelical, and even creationist become more complex and nuanced it just helps us stay on page with you. It’s fine if you mean the lumped group, it’s just good to know. 🙂

  2. Agellius permalink
    March 27, 2014 1:42 pm

    There is a very big difference between people who believe God created the universe and everything in it, and people who believe God created the universe and everything in it in seven 24-hour days based on a literal understanding of Genesis. That’s the main distinction I would like to see drawn.
    I have come to accept that the term “creationist” most often means the latter, but when you say “I would also probably include the 24% who think a supreme being guided evolution”, then you may or may not be including me (depending on what you mean by “guided”), in which case we might have some confusion on our hands since I am definitely not a Genesis literalist.

    • March 28, 2014 6:37 am

      Thanks for the comment! I agree that in one sense there is a “very big difference” between the two groups. However, in my reading of the scientists’ responses, I’d say we have problems with both groups. I may have read this wrong, but I get the impression we are troubled that a large group of Americans don’t accept a completely naturalistic view of evolution. But you’re right, I should not be applying labels so carelessly.

      But…wouldn’t you say you have more in common with young-Earth creationists than atheists? Just curious why you’re so eager to highlight the differences. Shouldn’t there be some degree of commonality among all Christians, regardless of their particular type? Ultimately both groups abide by certain key truths. You just disagree on some of the details…right? Yet I think your response is much common.

      Thanks again.

      • March 29, 2014 5:23 pm

        The distinction is that one group (who I’ll label with the broad term “theistic evolutionists”) is trying to follow the scientific evidence wherever it leads, and working to synthesize scientific understanding with their religious framework. By contrast, young-earth creationists start with a particular understanding of Genesis and only accept science that lines up with that. One recognizes two sources of knowledge, the latter, only one.
        Creationists (in either category) find this an extremely important distinction, not simply a detail. However, if you assume that complete naturalism is necessary for any science to proceed, then either creationist position is equally distressing.
        In fairness, the line is not that stark – young earth creationists do synthesize science with “literal” readings of the Bible (e.g, heliocentricism), and theistic evolutionists do hold certain truths from religion as a basis for thinking about science.

      • March 30, 2014 7:34 am

        Hey Steven. Thanks for the comment. I appreciate it. I think your last sentence hit it on the head: the line is not that stark, and even YEC synthesize scientific evidence. I would also gently disagree that YEC recognize only one source of knowledge. From my experience at Penn State and elsewhere, I see YEC actively using historical evidence (as do many Christians or all stripes) to make their theological claims. I stress these points because a big goal of my writing here is to undermine the flawed notion that creationists are somehow “anti-science.” We’re talking about a single scientific theory here, and one that has almost zero practical relevance to people’s lives.

        Thanks again Steven. I hope you continue to engage.

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