The Creation-Evolution Continuum


The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has a well-researched article by Eugenie Scott: The Creation/Evolution Continuum, which discusses the title’s subject and advocates teaching that there’s far more to all this than a simple toggle-switch choice of either evolution or creationism.

That article has a diagram (copied above) that “presents a continuum of religious views with creationism at one end and evolution at the other.” We have a small editorial quibble with that description — evolution obviously isn’t a religious view, but everyone who matters already knows that. The diagram shows “each stage from the most dogmatic creationist position to the most dogmatic evolution position.”

Scott describes each stage along the way, starting with the flat-earthers, “the most strict of biblical literalists.” The interesting thing is that as one moves along the spectrum, religious dogmatism becomes increasingly relaxed.

Most geo-centrists accept the spherical shape of the earth, despite scripture verses to the contrary. Most young-earth creationists (those who aren’t also in one of the first two stages) accept the solar system despite geo-centric scripture passages; yet they “reject the conclusions of modern physics, astronomy, chemistry, and geology concerning the age of Earth, and they deny biological descent with modification.” The old-earth creationists also accept much of geology, but cling to the scriptural account of special biological creation.

Scott’s article discusses some other versions of creationism, such as gap creationism and day-age creationism. Intelligent design is described as a variant of several of the continuum’s mid-range stages, its presence depending on whether the believer feels that some phenomenon or other requires external intervention as a cause.

At the next stage is theistic evolution, a position that has some relatively trivial variants (but such aren’t trivial to their adherents). All theistic evolutionists accept science, while insisting that “God creates through the laws of nature.” At the next stage are the agnostic evolutionists, who “suspended judgment about the existence of God.”

The extreme end of the continuum is where we find the materialist evolutionists. Here, the term “materialism” is used in its philosophical sense — not methodological naturalism, which restricts science to studying natural phenomena. Those at this stage claim “not only that material (matter and energy) causes are sufficient to explain natural phenomena but also that the supernatural does not exist.”

Scott’s essay is probably as good an introduction to the subject as one can find, and we recommend that you click over to the NCSE site to read it all. We agree with Scott that although government schools should be teach science and not religion, it should also be permissible — in what class we don’t know — to describe the existence of this continuum.

As good as Scott’s article is, we shall attempt to add an additional layer of texture to the article’s diagram. We’re talking about the peculiar phenomenon of reality-denial. This is inherent in the diagram, but it’s probably too controversial a topic for classroom use.

Observe that at each stage of the continuum, starting with flat-earthism, increasing amounts of scientific evidence are permitted to contradict the literal words of scripture. Flat-earthers at beginning stage accept virtually no real-world evidence at all. The mid-range of the continuum accepts increasing amounts of objectively verifiable reality, but also accepts various un-evidenced phenomena as being equally real.

Near the end of the continuum, all objectively evidenced reality is accepted. Although nothing else is accepted as real, the possibility of further domains of reality is acknowledged, but all concern about such matters is set aside while evidence is lacking.

The last stage, materialist evolutionism, is extreme in its own way, because — without logical proof — it denies even the possibility of any aspect of reality which is not yet evidenced. This isn’t reality-denial (which permeates the early stages of the continuum), but it’s fallacious nevertheless.

The materialist position starts logically enough, with a recognition that those who assert the reality of something have the burden of proof, or at least the burden of coming forward with credible evidence; but it’s a fallacy to rely on the lack of evidence as proof of the negative.

So that’s our minor contribution — the addition of reality-denial as a feature of the chart. It’s probably self-evident, but still it’s worth mentioning.

We know what you’re wondering — where does the Curmudgeon fit into the Scott diagram? We’re off the chart. Your Curmudgeon not only accepts all of modern science, we also respect the Olympian gods. The old ways are best.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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8 responses to “The Creation-Evolution Continuum

  1. NCSE first published it 10 years ago, then modified it slightly recently. IMO it’s an essential introduction for those new to the debate, who might erroneously think that one is either a YEC or a “Darwinist.” But I also think that putting belief in “whodunit” and acceptance of “what happened when” on the same axis is a gross oversimplification. But one that’s probably necessary, as a multi-dimensional continuum would confuse many newcomers.

    On that continuum ID is closest to science because, when it doesn’t play “don’t ask, don’t tell,” it concedes more details to science than OEC, which concedes more than YEC, etc. On an honesty scale, however, ID is furthest from science, as it is the most devious strategy to misrepresent evolution. And ironically, Flat-Earthism might be the closest.

  2. Note, I should have mentioned that the original version has ID closest to evolution (specifically “Evolutionary Creationism” which NCSE describes as not being “real” creationism). At the time ID was best characterized mostly by Behe’s position. Since then it has shown it’s true “big tent” colors, and is now represented more as such.

  3. Frank J says: ” … a gross oversimplification. But one that’s probably necessary, as a multi-dimensional continuum would confuse many newcomers.”

    That’s true of many issues. Abortion and immigration come immediately to mind. But things are crazy enough blogging about creationism. I wouldn’t want to branch out into other hot-button issues.

  4. Curmudgeon wrote: “I wouldn’t want to branch out into other hot-button issues.”

    Me neither, but creationism/evolution itself has so many dimensions, which makes it fascinating. I recall being confused 10-12 years ago. I thought I had known the “debate” for 30 years prior, but had only the caricatured version in mind that most people do. Then I started reading about someone whom rank-and file creatinonists raved about (Behe) admitting common descent ann unsure of the designer’s identity, while “evolutionists” who criticise him (e.g. Ken Miller) freely admitting that the designer is God. Thoroughly confusing when looking at it through the “lens” of “creationism is a belief system” but crystal clear looking at it through the “lens” of “creationism is any strategy to promote unreasonable doubt of evolution in order to prevent the “masses” from doing bad things.”

  5. I rather object to the figure, because it visibly implies that there are steps of about equal distance on that continuum. But in reality all those guys are located far away from Evolution in a small blob just inside the old age line.

  6. Gadfly wrote: “But in reality all those guys are located far away from Evolution in a small blob just inside the old age line.”

    In the original there was a quote that there are “hard boundaries.” That’s better than the implication that there are none, but I thought that it unnecessarily sugar-coated it. I would end it with the plain fact that there’s science and there’s pseudoscience. There are terms like “junk science” and “fringe science” that suggest some middle ground, but they tend to be in fields other than creationism/evolution, e.g alternative medicine. With C/E there’s no middle ground. Whether the E part is “materialistic,” “agnostic” or the misnamed “evolutionary creationism” it’s all, as Ken Miller called it “one science.” Everyone else in the C/E contiuum, practices pseudoscience, wittingly or unwittingly. And IMO, ID, and it’s “replacement scams” (e.g. “strengths and weaknesses”) is the “purest” pseudoscience.

  7. Another note about “evolutionary creationism.” AIUI, as a belief it’s no different that TE, just more “creator friendly” in its language. One could even argue that those IDers who admit what they believe are also close to TE (in one article NCSE’s Genie Scott even called Behe a TE). But in terms of strategy ID could not be any more different from TE. The context of Scott’s “Behe is a TE” clearly shows that she was referring only to his apparent personal belief, not his career of misrepresening evolution. Otherwise she would agree that Behe and “real” TEs are polar opposites in terms of what counts.

  8. I think the Pastafarians should be added to the chart, right behind the ID folks, in the proper position to administer a much deserved wedgie.