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Definition: creationism from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

(1880) : a doctrine or theory holding that matter, the various forms of life, and the world were created by God out of nothing and usu. in the way described in Genesis compare evolution 4b

cre•a•tion•ist \-shə-nist\ n or adj


Summary Article: Creationism from Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology

Understood as a particular interpretation of the doctrine of creation, creationism refers to the belief that all species were created immediately by God rather than arising through evolution from pre-existing species, as taught by the scientific theory of natural selection. Young-Earth Creationists like H. Morris (1918–2006) defend a literal interpretation of Genesis as providing an accurate account of life’s origins, arguing that all species were created simultaneously no more than 10,000 years ago. Old-Earth Creationists like P. Johnson (b. 1940) do not take a definite position on the age of the earth and do not object to the idea that the creation of species was sequential rather than completed at one time. Creationist objections to the idea of evolution by natural selection centre on the charge that the theory is incompatible with the Christian doctrine of providence, since it views the emergence of species as a matter of chance rather than the product of deliberate divine action. Young-Earth Creationists supplement this objection with a commitment to the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.

In response to US court decisions ruling that the teaching of creationism in public schools violated the separation of Church and State, creationists began in the late 1960s to characterize their position as ‘scientific creationism’ or (later) ‘creation science’, arguing that their claims could be defended on scientific grounds. Most practising scientists have rejected the claim that creation science qualifies as natural science, primarily because it is not regarded by its proponents as falsifiable.

Within the field of theological anthropology, creationism is the belief that every human soul is created immediately by God, either at or soon after physical conception. As such, it is opposed both to the theory that souls pre-existed their bodies (held by Origen and, in modern times, by the Latter-Day Saints) and to the theory of traducianism, according to which the soul is transmitted biologically from parents to children and thus is not separately created by God. Creationism has been the dominant position in the Catholic Church since the time of Peter Lombard (ca 1100–60), though never subject to formal definition by the magisterium; it is also the majority position within Reformed theology.

While both traducianism and creationism support the position that human beings are composed of body and soul together over against theories of pre-existence, creationism is not as useful as traducianism in accounting for the transmission of original sin. At the same time, it is much more effective in affirming the essentially spiritual (i.e., non-material) character of the soul. The Reformed theologian F. Turretin (1623–87) defended creationism on the grounds that the unity of the human race required that all human beings must share the ontology of Adam. Thus, God created Adam by directly infusing a soul into pre-existing matter (Gen. 2:7), and God must form Adam’s descendants in like manner (IET 5.13.3). Certain biblical texts (e.g., Eccl. 12:7; Isa. 57:16; Zech. 12:1) are also cited by proponents as supportive of creationism.

Ian A. McFarland
© Cambridge University Press 2011

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