What is the Creation and Evolution Controversy?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

The creation and evolution controversy, also known as the creation vs. evolution controversy or the origins debate, is a factual debate over how life was created and which version of the origins of life should be taught to children. The debate is sometimes cast as solely a political debate, as if it weren't necessary that one side or the other be factually correct, but at its root the debate is over facts and evidence. On one side of the creation and evolution controversy are the creationists, which assert that God created all life on Earth as described in the Bible, and on the other side are the advocates of Darwin's theory of evolution and natural selection, which asserts that all organisms evolved incrementally over millions of years.

Charles Darwin, one of the first evolutionary theorists.
Charles Darwin, one of the first evolutionary theorists.

Though sometimes portrayed as a global struggle of science against religion, the creation and evolution controversy is mostly considered a United States phenomenon, especially occurring in hotspots of religious conservatism such as the Midwest and the South. In other places throughout the world, such as Europe, Christians and Jews generally accept Darwin's theory of evolution and consider the assertion in the Biblical book of Genesis, that God created all life in six days, as metaphorical. American creationists see this passage as literal, a school of thought known as Biblical literalism.

The Midwest and the South are two areas of religious conservatism.
The Midwest and the South are two areas of religious conservatism.

One of the most significant historical blowups in the creation and evolution debate was the Scopes Trial, often called the Scopes Monkey Trial, which was held in 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee. After World War I, the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy was raging in America, a movement which led to the introduction of legislation in 15 states banning the teaching of evolutionary theory in classrooms. Such legislation passed in Tennessee. A biology teacher, John Scopes, flaunted the law by teaching evolution in his classroom, and was arrested. The ensuing trial became a media circus, attracting international attention to the case. Scopes was ultimately convicted and fined, but so much sympathetic media attention was given to his side of the story that many advocates of evolution considered it to be a minor victory. Still, evolution continued to be omitted from biology textbooks in some states for many years.

Creationists believe God created all life on Earth, as told by the Bible.
Creationists believe God created all life on Earth, as told by the Bible.

The creation and evolution debate is still as intense today as it was in 1925, though public opinion has shifted in favor of the teaching of evolution. Creationists have attempted to gain credibility for their perspective by introducing the term "intelligent design" in lieu of "creationism," while atheist evolutionists like Richard Dawkins have initiated a new call to arms for the teaching of scientific consensus in schools. It remains to be seen how the controversy will unfold, but a few quick conversations with members of the opposing sides shows that the confrontation is far from over.

Some Americans still question how evolution is taught in classrooms.
Some Americans still question how evolution is taught in classrooms.
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Discussion Comments

anon91814

We are learning more and more about our universe every day, and our place in it. Our ideas of "God" will change as our culture changes to include this new knowledge, but there will also be those who, through fear, will not want to recognize their view of "God" must change too.

I am a scientist, cosmologist and medically qualified. I can see the arguments from both sides. Our understanding of genetics and mutation/disease supports Darwin's theory in natural selection. We share our DNA will all living organisms. Our organs and cells are so similar to other mammal species. The biblical creation story must be metaphorical in that "days" could not have existed until after the Earth was formed, yet clearly this is the length of time it took "God" to complete certain tasks prior to the Earth being formed.

I think we have to ask the question "who or what is God", because it means different things to different people.

anon36451

I believe there's an error in terminology here, though I've certainly seen it elsewhere: evolution is described as Darwin's theory, when it is actually Darwin's theory of natural selection to explain the fact of evolution. That evolution occurred historically and is occurring now is a solid scientific fact, and Darwin's natural selection is the theory explaining the observed fact. By analogy, there's the fact of gravity explained by Einstein as a result of curved space time, but we would never call it the theory of gravity.

anon35936

The controversy is not science vs religion but a conflict between two worldviews, the worldview of naturalism (that everything came about by natural processes without any intelligent input) and the Christian worldview (that God created everything in the beginning, the Fall, the Flood and the Tower of Babel, etc.

anon32325

I just wanted to mention that evolutionary theory (modern synthesis) does not account for the origin of life. That is an entirely different subject altogether. Modern synthesis (the combination of Darwinian evolution and genetics) deals only with the origin of species.

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