Creationist and Anti-Creationist Views on the History of their Conflict

  • Tom Kaden


The history of the conflict between professional creationists and anti-creationists in the United States consists of numerous actions, such as publications, forming coalitions, developing and disseminating labels and arguments, criticizing opposing views, and many others. These actions are instruments of power in a struggle that is about enforcing views on the relationship between god and nature. As part of a power struggle, these actions can be seen as investments of different types of capital (social, cultural, economic, and symbolic), which are accumulated and exchanged. At the same time, they are expressions of different worldviews the groups and individuals participating in the conflict use to make sense of their social, cultural, and physical environment.

The history of the conflict between professional creationists and anti-creationists in the United States consists of numerous actions, such as publications, forming coalitions, developing and disseminating labels and arguments, criticizing opposing views, and many others. These actions are instruments of power in a struggle that is about enforcing views on the relationship between god and nature. As part of a power struggle, these actions can be seen as investments of different types of capital (social, cultural, economic, and symbolic), which are accumulated and exchanged. At the same time, they are expressions of different worldviews the groups and individuals participating in the conflict use to make sense of their social, cultural, and physical environment.

Our analysis of the inner workings of the professional creationist/anti-creationist conflict does not entail an evaluation of who is right and who is wrong. However, it is still important to look at the role value judgments play in the conflict itself. These value judgments do not only occur in the form of overt opinions the groups express about themselves, their positions, and the opposing groups and their views. They also occur in the way the groups frame the issues they deal with. The view that evaluations are engrained in the way we view the world was developed over 100 years ago by a number of German neo-Kantian philosophers. They strongly influenced Max Weber’s methodological perspective, which underlies our analysis. Weber was indebted particularly to Heinrich Rickert1 who, as a starting point of his argument, describes reality as infinitely complex in two ways. Every object possesses an infinite number of traits by which it can be analyzed; Rickert calls this “intensive complexity” (“intensive Mannigfaltigkeit”). At the same time, it consists of an infinite number of parts into which it can be dissolved; this is its “extensive complexity” (“extensive Mannigfaltigkeit”). Rickert says that for anything to become an object of knowledge, it is necessary to perform an act of selection from infinity, and this selection is always guided by the application of a value (“Wertbeziehung”).

Both Rickert and Weber2 dealt with the question of whether this indispensable application of values means that all cultural objects are always the result of a purely subjective decision and, consequently, all scholarly disciplines dealing with those objects, such as sociology, are resigned to being merely a consensus of such subjective views. So the question of value application directly concerns the question of whether social sciences can also be as “objective” as natural sciences. The way in which Weber tackled this issue was already related above.3 The reason we take it up again now is to emphasize a core assumption that underlies the subsequent analyses. The creation of any mental object in the minds of humans is the result of the application of a value that determines the relevance of some parts of infinite reality. In this and the subsequent two chapters, we will see how the values held by creationist and anti-creationist groups contribute not only to the way in which they evaluate reality, but how they contribute to their construction of parts of reality in the first place. The field model created in the last chapter will serve as a tool to make this Wertbeziehung comprehensible.

In Chaps.  7,  8 and  9, select aspects of the historical material provided in part I of this book are analyzed using the theoretical perspective developed in part II. Chapter  7 deals with the history of the conflict. From our theoretical vantage point, sociological analysis of creationist and anti-creationist histories consists in the documentation, synopsis, and analysis of statements from within the field that deal with the history of the conflict. These statements are called history constructs. They can be implicit historical viewpoints or explicit historiographical works that treat individual groups or the conflict in its entirety. They are the result of specific value applications, because the selection the groups draw from the infinite historical material is also a statement of the (positive or negative) evaluations they perform. The core value they try to enforce is the validity of their respective answer to the reference question.4 This means that each case discussed below will show a connection between the way in which the groups answer the reference question, and the way in which they construct the history of the conflict.

History constructs are descriptions of the development of the conflict through time. Chapter  8 adds to this an analysis of how they view the current order or structure of the conflict. These views are called order constructs. Since the groups possess a relational illusio,5 it is not surprising that they also create specific visions of the conflict in which they and their opponents are engaged. We will be able to look beyond the differences of the order constructs to see that all groups are connected on a deeper level by their presence and relative position in the field, which generates specific views on the conflict. The analysis of the order constructs leads to the same result as the analysis of history constructs: There is a connection between the positions the groups have in the field, that is, between the way in which they answer the reference question, and the way in which they perceive and represent the structure and dynamics of the conflict.

Chapter  9 deals with a third kind of mental object the groups create that serves as an item in their conflict, namely, ideal subjects or exemplars. Sometimes the groups make use of invented or, more rarely, real individuals whose thoughts and traits accompany the flow of the argument in creationist or anti-creationist print or video publications. These persons are used to exemplify the effect of specific arguments, for instance when a lonely camper sitting at her camp fire at night asking herself about the meaning of life is gradually convinced of the creationist perspective (see Sect.  9.1). These subjects are exemplary in two ways. They usually eventually adopt the view the group that created them holds, thus making them examples of the positive vision the group has for the entire society. The groups use these persons to enforce, albeit symbolically, their claim to power. But the ideal subjects are also exemplary in that they say something about the value application of the groups. The reasons the persons end up adopting the position of the groups mirror the way the groups see the world. This is why they, too, say something about how the position of a group in the field shapes their outlook on the entire conflict.

By showing that the way in which creationists and anti-creationists frame their history, the current order of their conflict, and how their ideas about ideal persons is closely linked to their position in the conflict field, we also show that it is possible to circumvent the methodological problem of creationism research. Although none of the subsequent analyses brings about an “objective” perspective on the social and historical views of the creationists and anti-creationists, they still show that the reality of their conflict is, in part, the result of their subjective constructs. This means that the sociological analysis has proven itself to be sufficiently distinct from evaluations that occur within the field itself.6 The present chapter and the two subsequent chapters will not feature examples for all forms of constructs by all the groups in the field, but will focus on select sources by some groups that provide contrasting examples to support the general point about the correlation between field position and the groups’ statements.

7.1 History Constructs of Young Earth Creationism

The leading Young Earth Creationist groups, Answers in Genesis and Institute for Creation Research, are also historians of the conflict in which they are engaged. The main work in this area is Henry Morris’ History of Modern Creationism.7 As the founding director of the Institute for Creation Research, Morris is one of the most prominent representatives of twentieth century creationism. He also co-authored the seminal work The Genesis Flood.8 His historical work spans a very large period, which makes it a particularly good example of the way in which Young Earth creationists understand their history.

The main point of Morris’ account is that the history of creationism is identical with the history of the world which, at its core, is salvation history. At the beginning of the book, Morris provides an overview of the struggle between the principle of creation and the evolutionary principle, which permeates human history.

Creationism is not a sort of cultic or fringe movement of these latter days, as its enemies try to represent it. It is the most ancient of all cosmogonies and has been the belief of orthodox Christians, as well as orthodox Jews and Muslims, all down through the centuries. […] On the other hand, the evolutionary philosophy is also very ancient, almost as old as creationism.9

For Morris, evolutionary philosophy is the result of man’s yearning to find the origin of the world and its inhabitants. This philosophical inclination turns from being creationist to being evolutionary „[i]f, for whatever reasons, [people] did not want to believe God’s revelation of special creation“. This means that evolutionism is not an independent philosophical position, and much less a legitimate scientific view, but at its core a conscious decision against god that has dire religious consequences for those who believe in it. Indeed, the struggle between the principles of evolution and creation is not a struggle between god and nature, or between religion and science or secularity, but between religion and religion: „Evolutionism is always the underlying rationale for naturalism and humanism, which lead eventually to atheism and ultimately to Satanism.“10

In this struggle, science is by no means always on the side of evolutionism. Scientists such as Newton, Kepler, Boyle, Bacon, Pascal, and many other famous researchers were creationists.11 In a sense, the fact that the struggle between creation and evolution permeates all of human history dissolves its historicity. This can be seen in how Morris describes the role of Darwin:

Darwin did not, as his disciples like to claim, bring in an age of scientific enlightenment. He merely revived ancient paganism, clothing it in apparently sophisticated modern apparel, but underneath there was still the same old pantheistic materialism of antiquity.12

While the historical process brings about change on the surface of things, the underlying ideological substance stays the same. For Morris, this is also applies to his own work and to the entire creationism revival. After the seemingly complete triumph of evolutionism after the Scopes Trial in 1925, only a few remaining creationists continued their work and upheld the true philosophy, which laid the foundation for the „truly significant creationist revival in the 1960s and 1970s.“13 During the second half of the twentieth century, a principle had gained traction again that actually existed since the beginning of humanity. This revival is all the more significant, since the dominance of evolutionism since the nineteenth century had proven its devastating effects time and again. Under the headline “One Hundred Years of Darwinism”, Morris recites the societal effects that, in his view, result from the triumph of evolutionism, or that rely on it as a supporting ideology. Among these effects are imperialism, racism, social Darwinism, Marxism, modernism, and the Social Gospel. The latter term refers to a strand of thinking in twentieth century American Protestantism that provided a Christian response to social issues such as poverty, alcohol abuse, racism, and war. In Morris’ view, it is the result of an infiltration of Christian thinking with humanist ideology, because it presupposes the perfectibility of the world through human action, which amounts to a rejection of the idea that humans always depend on god’s grace.14

The history of modern creationism in a more narrow sense, that is, the process of institutionalization of creationist organizations in the course of the twentieth century,15 is presented by Morris as a sequence of events that is, in part, shaped by his own actions. This part of the book does not differ significantly from scholarly accounts if the history of creationism. The most significant difference to secular histories, such as Numbers’ The Creationists, does not lie in the presentation of the facts, but in the religious framing of the argument. God and his will are the ultimate reference points for the explanation of certain developments within the creationist movement. For instance, the book The Genesis Flood, which was published by Morris and his co-author John Whitcomb in 1961, was used by god to catalyze the creationist revival: „[T]he initial draft was finished on a book which the Lord would graciously use to catalyze a significant revival of creationism […].“16 Morris comments on the founding members of another early creationist organization: „These were the 18 men whom the Lord used to start the Creation Research Society.“17

After tracing the history of creationism until the present day (1984), Morris deals with anti-creationism in a narrow sense. This movement, too, exists only within the universal metaphysical frame that encompasses all history:

Since this conflict is, indeed, intimately involved in the ‘conflict of the ages,’ […], we should not be surprised to find it coming into climactic intensity as we approach the end of this present age.18

After he depicted the history of creationism as a process of intensification and diversification, he alluded to the development of anti-creationism: „But the opposition inevitably will also become stronger and more bitter.“19 While Morris touches upon legal, political, and scientific aspects of the conflict, the spiritual factor is clearly the most important for him: „But this is not a simple question of democracy, or constitutionality, or scientific evidence – all of which would support creation if allowed to speak honestly. This is a spiritual battle, and the battle plans and tactics can only really be understood in spiritual terms.“20 Anti-creationism appears in the media, since creationists are often presented in a way that is „non-factual and distorted, almost always one-sided and often even sarcastic and insulting.“21 Organized anti-creationism is, in Morris’ view, a reaction to the expectable triumph of creationism:

[T]he creationist movement continued to grow stronger. Bills requiring a two-model approach in the public schools had been introduced in the legislatures of almost half the states and, since this was clearly what the public wanted, the academic establishment became more and more alarmed.22

Morris does not expect creationism to succeed by legal means in the United States, and 3 years after the publication of his book, he would be vindicated in this view by the Supreme Court ruling concerning Scientific Creationism. But he expects organized anti-creationism to continue to exist in the way it does. It is structured primarily by the Committees of Correspondence, which he characterizes as a “pressure group” that acts each time legislation or educational guidelines favoring creationism are proposed, and by organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which fights creationist legislation once it is introduced.23

The convergence of creationism history and world history does not only stretch back to the beginning of time, it also extends to the end of days.

There is a great battle coming and “if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for battle?” (I Corinthians 14:8). As the prophet Elijah challenged the people of God long ago: “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow Him” (I Kings 18:21).24

In this view, creationism, as an expression of orthodox Biblicism, figures as an eschatological quality of humans, whose souls are the object of the apocalyptic endgame. The rise of organized anti-creationism is a sign that the end times are, in fact, near. To Morris, the formation of anti-creationism is „not surprising, in view of the numerous Biblical prophecies concerning the apostasy and growth of organized opposition to God in the last days [this quote is followed by around a dozen eschatological Biblical references].“25 Morris’ final message to the reader is that despite occasional setbacks, especially in the form of court rulings against creationism, he is confident that the creationist movement will ultimately succeed. He supports this view with a section about „Biblical assurances of the final victory of the Creator“.26

The history construct of Young Earth Creationism, as it appears in Morris’ work, confirms the sociological view that the primary conflict level is, indeed, concerned with social and moral questions, and that questions of factual truth or the status of scientific theories is only secondary.27 To Morris, the indicators of evolution being wrong are social evils, such as destructive ideologies and immoral social movements. These evils permeate modern society to the extent that true Christianity, insofar as it rejects evolution, finds itself in fundamental opposition to society. However, looking at his current social environment, Morris somewhat expands his strict dualism of evolutionary and creationist stances. Between both camps, he locates the group of Christians who accept evolution, often without being aware that this acceptance goes against the fundament of their beliefs. We will see this form of qualified dualism also in the order construct of Young Earth Creationism.28 The strong antagonism between evolutionists and creationists Morris contends unites them on a deeper level. Since the history of creationism is identical to the history of the world and salvation history, scientific and religious stances and statements are ultimately the same. The interpretation of the Bible is a “scientific” act, just like the dating of rocks is “religious”, and this is regardless of the intentions of those who perform these actions. This is why, in Popitz’ terminology, the conflict, for Morris, is driven by authoritative power claims. Even if evolutionary biologists claim that the validity of their discipline rests on the power of the data they collect and analyze, they actually ultimately base their claim to authority on their humanist ideology, from which they derive the seeming plausibility of these data. Morris’ views also support the interpretation that the types of capital invested by the groups in the field derive their value from their symbolic significance. Since Morris denies the autonomy of all social systems, because they are merely different arenas where the same metaphysical struggle between good and evil takes place, he also denies the validity of the types of capital that count in these systems. Regardless of what a twentieth century evolutionary biologist, a nineteenth century social reformer, or a fourth century B.C. philosopher and their respective social environments deem valuable, consciously or not, their statements (or investments of capital) are always, at least in part, expressions of “spiritual capital” in a spiritual struggle. The specific character of this Young Earth history construct will become clearer when it is compared with competing constructs.

7.2 History Construct of New Atheism

The history construct of New Atheism resembles that of Young Earth Creationism in some respects. It is also based on a dualism which, in turn, is based on a specific generalization. Just as Henry Morris sees the history of the world as a continuous struggle between two principles, creation and evolution, so representatives of New Atheism regard the history of the world as structured by the struggle between religion/superstition/irrationality and science/skepticism/rationality. Just as Young Earth Creationism perceives the creationist/anti-creationist conflict as merely one of many instances of a general struggle, so New Atheism sees creationism as merely one, albeit important, example of a more general antagonism.

It is not easily possible to derive a history construct from the publications of New Atheism, because references to history are scattered across numerous texts, and are not systematically developed. However, this situation makes it easier to analyze this history construct as part of what happens in the field, because references to history are directly embedded in arguments that refer to ongoing controversies in the field. For instance, Richard Dawkins occasionally refers to the history of the United States in his anti-theistic work The God Delusion. According to him, the tradition of atheism is more deeply engrained in the history of the United States than commonly assumed:

It is conventional to assume that the Founding Fathers of the American Republic were deists. No doubt many of them were, although it has been argued that the greatest of them might have been atheists.29

This quote is remarkable because of two things: Why is Dawkins, who is British, referring to the history of the United States in order to make the case for the historical depth of atheism, and why does he qualify the alleged atheists according to their “greatness”? The first point is explained by Dawkins shortly after the above quote: „The religious views of the Founding Fathers are of great interest to propagandists of today’s American right, anxious to push their version of history.“30 Dawkins’ argument is, then, merely a counterargument against a competing, theistic interpretation of the religious or salvation history of the United States. This competing interpretation, which regards seemingly secular history as actually religious history, underlies the creationist historical account, and was developed by members of the New Christian Right in collaboration with creationists.31 The conservative Christian historical account of the history of the United States is part of the reason why Dawkins emphasizes the greatness of presumably atheist figures in its history. This is because conservative accounts, such as Tim LaHaye’s The Battle for the Mind, draw a close link between atheism, amorality, and anti-Americanism.32 This connection exists even today in the minds of many Americans, and it leads to atheists being among the least trusted groups in public polls.33 The normative precariousness atheists find themselves in motivates them to try to counter anti-atheist stereotypes in many ways, and part of New Atheism’s program is the improvement of this situation.34 The means by which New Atheists try to establish a historical counter-narrative are, as we already saw, by emphasizing the positive role atheists played in history, but also by attempting to criticize the view that religion has had many positive impacts throughout history. Engaging in the former activity, Dawkins seeks to dispel the view that atheism has been a reason for many crimes throughout history. For instance, while Dawkins does not dispute that Stalin was an atheist, he contends that his crimes cannot be explained by his atheism. The other historical person that usually figures in these kinds of arguments, Hitler, was not even an atheist, but often referred to Christian beliefs in his speeches.35 The latter argument is also an example for how New Atheists emphasize how religion has had a negative societal influence. While they see many examples for the negative influence of atheism as questionable or outright wrong, they see many examples for the detrimental role of religion:

Imagine with John Lennon, a world with no religion. Imagine, no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7,36 no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as ‘Christ killers’, no Northern Ireland ‘troubles’, no honour killings’, no shiny-suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money (‘God wants you to give till it hurts’). Imagine no Taliban to blow up ancient statues, no public beheadings of blasphemers, no flogging of female skin for the crime of showing one inch of it.37

The third stratagem of New Atheism as it relates to history is to describe counterfactual non-religiosity. New Atheists paint pictures of how the past would have unfolded if religion had not played the role they contend, and what direction the future could take without it. Sam Harris, at the end of his book The End of Faith, provides a telling example of this strategy:

There is no telling what our world would now be like had some great kingdom of Reason emerged at the time of the Crusades and pacified the credulous multitudes of Europe and the Middle East. We might have had modern democracy and the Internet by the year 1600.38

However, New Atheists do not cast every aspect of every religion in a negative light. But the instances where their assessment of some part of religious history is positive serve to emphasize how negative other aspects are when compared to this. For instance, Harris characterizes Islamic history as follows:

Of course, like every religion, Islam has had its moments. Muslim scholars invented algebra, translated the writings of Plato and Aristotle, and made important contributions to a variety of nascent sciences at a time when European Christians were luxuriating in the most abysmal ignorance. It was only through the Muslim conquest of Spain that classical Greek texts found their way into Latin translation and seeded the Renaissance in western Europe.39

In sum, New Atheism selects historical events which are usually seen as negative, and attributes them to religion (9/11), or it argues against atheism being a negative historical force (Stalin). It also selects historical events which are usually seen as positive, and attributes them to atheism (Founding Fathers). The aspects of religion that it characterizes as positive are, at second glance, actually scientific achievements (Algebra), or they derive their value from the fact that they enabled scientific developments (translation of Greek texts). Religion is never a positive force in and of itself.

By far the most comprehensive tool New Atheists use to reduce historical complexity is to interpret history, and particularly religious history, from the vantage point of natural science. The main discipline that serves this purpose is evolutionary psychology. Dawkins refers to the work of Pascal Boyer, but he also makes use of his own meme theory.40 These theories serve to give evolutionary explanations for religious behavior. For instance, the human brain is the result of a selection process of several hundreds of thousands of years, in the course of which those individuals had a higher chance of survival that reacted more cautiously to potential threats. The unintended consequence of this process is that the resulting brains, as “hyperactive agent detection devices”, tended to see agents where there were none. From this propensity stems the human tendency to see spirits and ultimately gods.41

Concerning their history constructs, Young Earth Creationism and New Atheism are formal opposites. Both argue from a dualistic perspective on history, and they take the place that is perceived as the opposing position by the other. Both argue that their side represents the actual force of history, which guarantees their superiority. Young Earth Creationism does this by framing evolution from the vantage point of religion, and New Atheism by framing religion from the vantage point of evolution. For Young Earth creationism, all of history, including the history of creationism, is salvation history. For New Atheism, all of history, including the history of creationism, is natural history. These similarities are not surprising given the axial symmetrical positions of both groups in the field. Both positions display a strong predominance of one explanatory factor (god and nature, respectively) in their answer to the reference question. Both are able to reduce the conflict to a dualistic “us vs. them”, because they are able to perceive all groups in the field as adversarial in the same way. The positions of the groups in the field influence the way in which these groups look at history. If this is true, then a group that does not share this formal similarity of being in a “corner” of the field would have to have a very different way of looking at history. One such group is the Intelligent Design movement, which will be the subject of the next section.

7.3 History Construct of the Intelligent Design Movement

The source for investigating the history construct of the Intelligent Design movement is Thomas Woodward’s book Doubts about Darwin: A history of Intelligent Design.42 In contrast to the sources of the preceding two sections, the author of this text is not a key figure of this form of creationism. But Woodward is closely linked with the leading Intelligent Design organization, the Center for Science and Culture. According to his own account, he had been a participant in meetings of the movement since the late 1980s.43 Phillip Johnson, one of the main representatives of Intelligent Design,44 has written the foreword to the book, and senior fellows of the center praise the text on the dust cover. This means that the account Woodward gives is most likely not at odds with the view of the Intelligent Design movement itself.

In contrast to Young Earth Creationism and New Atheism, Intelligent Design is located not at the margins of the field, but in the middle of it. In its answer to the reference question, Intelligent Design combines natural causes with the actions of god who, in the view of most representatives of Intelligent Design, is identical with the designer. Compared with Young Earth Creationism, Intelligent Design allows for a bigger role for natural processes, and a smaller role for god. Compared with New Atheism, it allows for a bigger role for god, and a smaller role for natural processes.

Before we look at the way in which this conflict situation shapes the historical account, it is important to describe the content of the book in question. Woodward’s main theoretical tool is the theory of science as developed by Thomas S. Kuhn.45 Kuhn famously stated that science does not progress continuously, but in the form of paradigm shifts, where old theories encounter a crisis, and are subsequently replaced by a new paradigm that is able to explain the data better. For Woodward, Darwinism is in such a crisis, and Intelligent Design stands ready as the new paradigm to replace it. To Woodward, the eventual outcome of this battle is already clear:

Moreover, this “awakening from dogmatic slumber” has acted as the core of a larger historical drama, an implicit paradigm crisis, something destined to culminate in […] the next great paradigm revolution – the overthrow of Darwinism.46

Woodward begins his account with a description of the centennial celebration of the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1959. In the middle of this „season of the triumph of Darwinian orthodoxy“, some (nb: not creationist) “murmurs of dissent”47 already became apparent. In the 1970s, this murmur had already become a “proto-genre” of “nonliteralist antievolutionism”.48 Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge’s theory of “punctuated equilibrium” is another sign of the decline of the hegemony of Darwinism. A critical role in the development of the new paradigm was played by biochemist Michael Denton, whose book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis49 became an important reference point for the Intelligent Design movement. Denton emphasized that there are many phenomena that cannot be sufficiently explained within the evolutionary framework, which is why he diagnosed a crisis of the paradigm, which was accelerated by his diagnosis. The area that brought Darwinism to the end of its ability to explain biological phenomena is the biochemical complexity of the cell. It comes as no surprise to Woodward, then, that the massive criticism by Denton was met with a „ferocious counterattack that is reminiscent of the great clashes of world history“by the Darwinist establishment.50 In this situation, Denton’s reputation and credibility was based on his status as a scientist.51 Through his work, Denton inspired the people who would later lead the Intelligent Design movement, particularly Phillip Johnson and Michael Behe. Woodward describes the effect of Denton’s work on Behe as a form of conversion:

[H]e [Behe] had always assumed that Darwinism was true and never thought about the topic very much until he read Denton in 1987. […] At that point, Behe took up Darwinism as his own research hobby, reviewing his own field of biochemistry through Denton’s critical gaze.52

By this time, the critical position established by Denton continued to gain more followers, which is why Woodward titles the next chapter of his book “The Virus Spreads”.53 The late 1990s saw a collaboration of critics „as a revolutionary movement whose main purpose was the toppling of Darwinian domination and the legitimization of intelligent design as a scientific hypothesis.“54 The leading figure of this period was Phillip Johnson. According to Woodward, the importance of his book Darwin on Trial55 to the consolidation of the Intelligent Design movement “can hardly be overstated.” Through this book, Johnson put himself and the movement „between and above the two fundamentalist perspectives, equidistant and critically detached from both religious and Darwinian fundamentalists.“56 Johnson’s first aim was to induce a “falsification crisis” of Darwinism by criticizing its theoretical foundations. This step precedes the establishment of Intelligent Design as an autonomous competing paradigm.57 The “Roaring Nineties” brought about by Johnson’s critique are characterized as “David [taking] on Goliath:”58 Many scientists, among them Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer, and Jonathan Wells, join the movement, while attacks by the scientific establishment and by organized anti-creationism become more frequent and more intense. Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box brought national attention to Intelligent Design, while Dembski’s development of an explanatory filter to detect intelligent design together with Behe’s concept of irreducible complexity formed the fundament of a new paradigm, which goes beyond mere criticism of the existing scientific consensus.59

Woodward writes the history of Intelligent Design as the history of people and publications. However, in the last section of the book, he places “Intelligent Design in Historic Perspective.”60 His main goal here is to show that the history of Intelligent Design confirms it as an autonomous position, and neither a variant of existing forms of creationism nor a new form of it. Woodward argues specifically against views that identify Intelligent Design with creationism:

[T]here persists today among many in our better-educated population a severe and malignant distortion of Intelligent Design. This blind spot is evidenced in hostile caricatures in the media and vitriolic attacks in the universities, which lump Design into biblical creationism and dismiss it as nothing more than “creation science in a cheap tuxedo”.61

Against this position, Woodward insists that Intelligent Design is a “novel story”, which mainly consists in the fact that university professors from “prestigious secular universities” doubt the validity of Darwinism, and that advances in biochemical knowledge increasingly suggest that there is a creative intelligence behind life.

In very fundamental ways, I am arguing, this story veers away from the usual theistic evolution story (‘based on the evidence, theistic scientists are now concluding that God worked through evolution’) and from the classic creation science tale (‘scientists are recognizing that Genesis is literally true after all’).62

The references of Intelligent Design’s historian to competing positions on the role of god and nature suggest that a relational interpretation of his historical reconstruction is a suitable analytical approach. Following the analytical scheme developed in Chap.  6, we can ask what kind of selection from the infinite historical material happens in this account. The frequent references to Kuhn’s theory of scientific paradigms create a science-related framework that is mainly concerned with natural phenomena. In addition, Woodward on several occasions denies that the Intelligent Design movement’s motives, arguments and criticisms relate to god or religion.63

Comparing this approach with the two history constructs discussed above, it is striking that it operates with a threefold division of historically relevant reference positions. In this tripartition, Intelligent Design is presented as the good alternative between two bad ones, namely, the Darwinian and the creationist forms of fundamentalism, or the “theistic evolution story” and the “creation science tale”. Looking at its own history, Intelligent Design reflects its own position ‘between’ other ideas, as a ‘third way’ between two fringe positions which it characterizes as extreme. Comparing this position to the position of the movement in the field, it becomes clear that this is no coincidence, but the result of a structural determinism or force. In contrast to both Young Earth Creationism and New Atheism, Intelligent Design is denied the possibility of creating a dualist history construct, because the positions which are in direct competition for power positions in the field give diametrically opposed answers to the reference question. Woodward nonetheless attempts to identify a common root by referring to the fact that both are fringe positions, which is why he labels them both fundamentalist.

Like every other statement in the professional creationist/anti-creationist conflict, the book follows the synthetic principle by referring to both reference points that are relevant in the field, god and nature. What is striking, though, is that while Intelligent Design positions itself in the middle between god-only and nature-only positions, Woodward in his account does not give equal standing to both categories when describing what Intelligent Design is and how it developed. In particular, while he strongly rejects naturalistic atheism, nature-related arguments clearly dominate his account. Woodward writes the history of Intelligent Design as the gradual establishment of a paradigm critical of naturalism against a naturalistic one, and he only occasionally touches upon the question of what (or who) would replace the criticized natural processes posited by Darwinism. In the year Woodward’s book was published, the Intelligent Design movement was still confident that it would soon be able to enter the public school system. Against this strategic backdrop, it is not surprising that theological or general god-related arguments are relatively rare in the movement’s quasi-official account.

The stronger emphasis on god’s part in Intelligent Design’s answer to the reference question can be found in the non-public Wedge document.64 Its introduction provides a historical framework that also includes the history of Intelligent Design as it is presented by Woodward. Viewed together, both documents describe the historical position that fits Intelligent Design’s position in the field. The introduction to the Wedge document lays out a historical perspective in three steps, the last of which is expanded on by Woodward in his “official” history. First, the Wedge document characterizes the past as determined by the theological interpretation of humanity. „The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built.“65 In the terminology proposed here, history, in this view, is characterized by attribution of one part of the world (humanity) to god. The second phase of the historical process the Wedge document relates is characterized by a crisis.

Yet a little over a century ago, this cardinal idea came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science. Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry, and environment.

Natural processes replace god as the explanation of humanity, but in the third phase, Intelligent Design steps up to restore the original (and correct) relationship between god and nature as elements of the explanation of the world. “Discovery Institute‘s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies.”66

The field theoretical perspective reveals that the identification of three historical forces that explain the process of a movement is an effect of the movement’s position in the field, which is similar to the dualistic histories of Young Earth Creationism and New Atheism. The history of Intelligent Design, like the history of any position or group in the field, can be written with reference to god or with reference to nature. Since Intelligent Design is located in the center of the field, it could be expected that the history construct combines both god and nature in a way that is different both from New Atheism, in that it emphasizes the role of god, and from Young Earth Creationism, in that it refers to nature or natural processes more than their account. The role of nature-related arguments in Woodward’s history is relatively big, which can be explained by reference to the legal situation and the movement’s educational political aspirations at the time. The picture is completed by the unofficial view of the Wedge document. Taken together, both documents reveal a relatively symmetric or “centrist” position.

This analysis sheds light on the issue of how the history construct of Intelligent Design is linked with how the movement is confronted by other groups in the field. Put briefly, Intelligent Design reacts to two different forms of criticism by creating two historical accounts. The groups’ history constructs do not only concern their own past, but also often include the history of other groups and positions in the field. By this, they apply the means of reducing historical complexity (or value attribution) which their position allows for. This means that Intelligent Design finds itself involuntarily a part of history constructs of other groups that describe it as a representative of views that are completely different from how the movement sees itself. These competing historical accounts, as well as the way in which other groups react to them, are strongly influenced by the place they take in the field. This situation can be observed particularly clearly with regard to the Intelligent Design movement, because it finds itself included in historical narratives both of Young Earth Creationism and of anti-creationists, and while both accounts are very different, both have in common that they are incompatible with the way in which Intelligent Design describes its history. In Young Earth Creationism’s account, Intelligent Design is accused of giving natural processes too big a role, and Intelligent Design reacts to this by emphasizing how it includes god in its position. The alternative history of Intelligent Design, as it is written by representatives of nomatic anti-creationism, accuses Intelligent Design of giving god too big a role, and Intelligent Design reacts to this by emphasizing how it is actually a scientific paradigm.

We will first look at how nomatic anti-creationism creates an alternative interpretation of Intelligent Design. The link between the Creation Science program of the 1980s and the Intelligent Design textbook Of Pandas and People that was found by Nick Matzke in the course of the Kitzmiller trial67 is an example for how a member of an opposing group creates alternative historical narratives where Intelligent Design is depicted as a position that grants god a significantly bigger role in its answer to the reference question than its own official view asserts. In reaction to this kind of criticism, Intelligent Design writes its own history as that of a scientific paradigm critical of naturalism. Based on this relational view, Woodward’s historical account seems to be directed mainly at this alternative interpretation of Intelligent Design. But Intelligent Design is also criticized by those who grant god ultimate authority in their answer to the reference question, that is, by representatives of Young Earth Creationism. The person who frequently engages in this kind of criticism at the largest young earth organization, Answers in Genesis, is Georgia Purdom. She, too, points to links between the contemporary Intelligent Design movement and earlier answers to the reference question, thereby creating another alternative history construct of Intelligent Design. Purdom emphasizes the similarities between Intelligent Design and the natural theology of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, particularly with William Paley’s famous watchmaker argument.68 By practically identifying Intelligent Design and natural theology, Purdom attempts to deprive Intelligent Design of its historical legitimacy, because, as she states, Intelligent Design will fail just as natural theology failed:

The natural theology movement of the 1800s failed because it did not answer the next logical question: if it is designed, then who designed it? […] [T]he central problem with the ID movement is a divorce of the Creator from creation.69

Like nomatic anti-creationism, Young Earth Creationism attacks Intelligent Design by identifying it with an earlier answer to the reference question which they view as already delegitimized. Both historical counter-narratives can only be understood properly if the field position of those who create them is considered. To say that Intelligent Design separates creation from the creator is a valid argument only for those who are already convinced of the dominant role of the creator in explaining the world. On the other hand, to prove that Intelligent Design has close links to a failed educational political program, as Matzke did, is only relevant to those who have the ambition to enter the public school system. The fact that the Intelligent Design movement, officially as well as covertly, deals with these critical views, means that they regard them as relevant. This situation shows that positions that are located in or near the center of the field are relatively precarious, because those who hold them must make a bigger effort to defend their position vis-à-vis all other positions, while not having the means to reduce the entire conflict in a dualistic manner.

7.4 Variance and Unity of Creationist/Anti–Creationist History

These examples of creationist and anti-creationist historiography differ profoundly. For one group, the conflict has been in existence for thousands of years, for another group it is only a matter of a few decades. One views it as the struggle of a small group of scientists against religious dishonesty and scientific hubris, another as the triumph of enlightenment over the forces of superstition. But these differences unfold in a way that all groups include the other groups in their conceptual space. This becomes apparent when they situate themselves and other groups historically. A group that is located on the margins of the field looks back on a conflict where its own view has always been contested in similar ways. Looking back, Young Earth Creationism sees positions come and go that attribute nature a bigger role and god a smaller role in explaining the world than they do. The opposite is true for New Atheism. These groups are able to construe a historical narrative around this basic rift. As a result of this, their history constructs put the emphasis on types of capital and means of power that differ significantly from those constructs that are created by groups in or near the center of the field. A dualist concept of history based on timeless values (faith in god, rationality) views these values as authoritative means of power. In contrast, power relating to data constitution or instrumental power is merely a derivative of authoritative power. Although Henry Morris acknowledges that evolutionary biologists use data to support their case, it is evident to him that their power actually rests on the fact that evolution helps establish a standard for people to live by that is independent from god. Even if evolutionary theory, as Daniel Dennett puts it, is a “universal acid,”70 New Atheism makes clear that this theory, like everything else, is subject to the universal value of critical thinking, and would have to be abandoned if evidence contradicted it.71

The situation is different for groups that are located in or near the center of the creationist/anti-creationist field. Their answers to the reference question do not contain an extreme asymmetry, which is why they cannot write the history of the conflict as just salvation history or natural history. This means they have no legitimate access to exclusive sources of authoritative power and, consequently, they have to justify their position with recourse to power of data constitution or to instrumental means of power. Put differently, a group that accepts neither god nor nature as the sole force that explains the world cannot regard one of those entities as the dominant factor in history without getting into trouble because of this contradiction. From this perspective it becomes clear that the attempts to criticize Intelligent Design by rewriting its history are attempts to delegitimize it within the field. Moreover, the precarious power situation of an intermediate group such as the Intelligent Design movement makes it necessary for them to acquire and transform a variety of types of capital.

As shown in Sect.  6.3, all groups in the field must refer to both god and nature in their statements, and they have to appear credible with regard to both areas. They do this by acquiring and presenting different forms of cultural capital. Even if Richard Dawkins rejects theology as nonsense, this criticism is still a ‘theological’ statement. Denouncing evolutionary theory as bogus science requires creationists to at least appear to have scientific credentials and knowledge enabling them to make that claim. These credentials and bits of knowledge are subject to the same criteria of legitimacy as those of the evolutionary biologists they try to refute. This rule of the field (‘nomos’) to always synthesize in some way nature-related and god-related arguments72 is valid for all groups in the field. But groups in or near the center have an increased need to accumulate and transform the kinds of cultural capital necessary to make these kinds of claims, compared to those groups on the margins of the field. This is because they have to defend themselves against criticism from more than one ‘direction,’ and they have to direct their criticism in more than one ‘direction.’ The Intelligent Design movement not only needs to prove its competence as a legitimate player against those who hold a lot of religious capital (such as the hermeneutical and theological expertise of Young Earth creationists), but also against those who, like most anti-creationists, possess a lot of scientific capital.

The interdependence of all groups when it comes to their history constructs is an effect of their being located in the same social field, and at the same time it contributes to the continuing existence of the field itself. The same is true for their order constructs, which are discussed in the following chapter.


  1. 1.

    Rickert 1986.

  2. 2.

    Weber 2012, pp. 100–138.

  3. 3.

    See Sect.  5.2.

  4. 4.

    See Sect.  6.2.

  5. 5.

    This means that the groups all possess and put forward arguments that legitimate their participation in the conflict, and that this legitimation is based, at least in part, on the existence of opposing parties in the field. See Sect.  6.3.2.

  6. 6.

    This approach does not entail an answer to another methodological question that results from this process of distancing, namely, how the value application of the researcher is justified, if it is not drawn from one of the positions within the field itself. Why are history, order, and person categories that can count as valid objects of social scientific analysis at all? Rickert’s solution to this problem was to distinguish between subjective, individual values, and broader, more generally held “cultural values” (Kulturwerte or Kulturwertideen). According to his perspective, the analytical view held in this and the following chapters is based on those cultural values, since history, order, and person are categories of general interest, and represent aspects of the conflict that can be deemed influential. Neither Rickert’s critics (such as Guy Oakes, see Oakes 1990 nor the author of the present study are completely satisfied with this solution, but the subsequent analyses and their results will hopefully show this approach to be fruitful nonetheless.

  7. 7.

    Morris 1984.

  8. 8.

    Whitcomb and Morris 1961.

  9. 9.

    Morris 1984, pp. 17–18.

  10. 10.

    Ibid., p. 223.

  11. 11.

    Ibid., pp. 21–29.

  12. 12.

    Ibid., p. 19.

  13. 13.

    Morris 1984, p. 77; emphasis added. With regard to the Scopes Trial, Morris’ says that the reason why creationism suffered a defeat is that William Jennings Bryan was not able to present a credible creationist viewpoint, because he adhered to Day/Age creationism, which holds that every creation day actually means a long age in the history of the earth. Morris is clear that, had Bryan adopted a Young Earth position, the outcome would have been different. „Darrow [Clarence Darrow, John Scopes’ defense lawyer, who interrogated Bryan], of course, made the most of it, ridiculing the idea of people claiming to believe the Bible was inspired when its meaning was so flexible that one could make it say whatever he wished!“(Ibid., p. 66.)

  14. 14.

    Ibid., pp. 55–56.

  15. 15.

    See Sect.  3.1.

  16. 16.

    Morris 1984, p. 145.

  17. 17.

    Ibid., p. 186.

  18. 18.

    Ibid., p. 307.

  19. 19.


  20. 20.

    Ibid., p. 311.

  21. 21.

    Ibid., p. 317.

  22. 22.


  23. 23.

    Ibid., p. 324.

  24. 24.

    Ibid., pp. 331–332.

  25. 25.

    Ibid., p. 332.

  26. 26.

    Ibid., pp. 333–335.

  27. 27.

    See Sect.  5.1.

  28. 28.

    See Sect.  8.1.

  29. 29.

    Dawkins 2006, p. 60.

  30. 30.

    Ibid., p. 61.

  31. 31.

    The most prominent of these kinds of collaboration happened between Henry Morris and Tim LaHaye, one of the leading figures of the New Christian Right, and author of the popular Left Behind book series. In 1970, both co-founded the Christian Heritage College (which today is called San Diego Christian College). For their history construct, see also LaHaye 1980, Morris 1984.

  32. 32.

    LaHaye 1980, p. 59, 86–87 et passim. Cf. Kaden 2018.

  33. 33.

    Gervais et al. 2011, Swan and Heesacker 2012.

  34. 34.

    For instance, Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins have been supporters of the movement The Brights, which serves as a lobbying group for „person[s] who [have] a naturalistic world view“ (see The Brights’ Network 2018). Dawkins (2006, p. 380) suggested that atheism should be politicized in the same way as homosexuality, since the situation of both groups shares many similarities.

  35. 35.

    Dawkins 2006, pp. 272–278.

  36. 36.

    Islamist terrorist attacks in London on July 7, 2005.

  37. 37.

    Dawkins 2006, p. 1.

  38. 38.

    Harris 2004, p. 109.

  39. 39.

    Ibid., p. 108.

  40. 40.

    References to Boyer 2002 can be found in Dawkins 2006, pp. 36, 177, and in Harris 2010, pp. 150–151. Dawkins developed his meme theory in his first monograph, The Selfish Gene (Dawkins 1989b).

  41. 41.

    See Boyer 2002, Dawkins 2006, p. 214.

  42. 42.

    Woodward 2003.

  43. 43.

    Ibid., p. 10.

  44. 44.

    See Sect.  3.2.

  45. 45.

    Kuhn 1996.

  46. 46.

    Woodward 2003, p. 28.

  47. 47.

    Ibid., pp. 33–45.

  48. 48.

    Ibid., pp. 38–39.

  49. 49.

    Denton 1986.

  50. 50.

    Woodward 2003, p. 45.

  51. 51.

    Ibid., p. 50.

  52. 52.

    Ibid., pp. 62–63.

  53. 53.

    Ibid., pp. 65–91.

  54. 54.

    Ibid., p. 64.

  55. 55.

    Johnson 1991.

  56. 56.

    Woodward 2003, pp. 93–94.

  57. 57.

    Ibid., p. 130.

  58. 58.

    Ibid., p. 131.

  59. 59.

    Ibid., p. 190.

  60. 60.

    Ibid., pp. 189–210.

  61. 61.

    Ibid., p. 195. The phrase that Intelligent Design is „creationism[!] in a cheap tuxedo“ goes back to paleontologist Leonard Krishtalka, see Slevin 2005.

  62. 62.

    Woodward 2003, pp. 195–196.

  63. 63.

    Ibid., pp. 81, 99–100.

  64. 64.

    See Sect.  3.2.1.

  65. 65.

    Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture [1998], p. 1.

  66. 66.

    All quotes ibid.

  67. 67.

    See Sect.  3.2.

  68. 68.

    Purdom 2010.

  69. 69.


  70. 70.

    Dennett 1995, p. 521.

  71. 71.

    Cf. Hitchens 2007, p. 6: „Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.“

  72. 72.

    See Sect.  6.3.1.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tom Kaden
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of SociologyBayreuth UniversityBayreuthGermany

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