Creationism is a topic about which I would not normally comment for much the same reason that once prompted pub landlords to have a sign behind the bar reading ‘No politics, no religion’. Yet geology has played an historically central role in the debate about Genesis vs Science. An excellent summary of how this emerged and was fundamentally resolved in favour of scientific endeavour, even if the ‘Genesisists’ have not been entirely rooted out, appeared in the Geological Society of America’s GSA Today in November 2012 (Montgomery, D.R. 2012. The evolution of creationism. GSA Today, v. 22, p. 4-9).
Starting with Steno’s break with a literal acceptance of Genesis in 1669, the dominant view grew among clerics as well as scientists – ‘back in the day’ often one and the same – that the Earth was far older and its history one of changing natural processes. That outlook prevailed to strengthen through the late-18th and 19th centuries. Of course there was a tendency among ‘people of the Book’ somehow to blend their religious and scientific views, along the line that ‘scientific revelations that contradicted biblical interpretations provided natural guidance for better interpreting scripture’. But by the end of the 19th century there were very few literal creationists though a great many Christians who endorsed attempts to reconcile biblical text and geology. Yet long after the Reverend William Buckland finally admitted in the mid-19th century that his imagination had ruled his zealous quest for evidence of a Noachian Flood and abandoned a literal idea of that and other aspects of Genesis there remained a persistent dribble of creationism.
That minor current split in the 20th century into a ‘tanky’ tendency that defended young-Earth creation and a global flood in the last ten thousand years, and a more ‘moderate’ wing of ‘old-Earth’ creationists. ‘Old-Earthers’ happily accept geological evidence of great antiquity, but maintain that God made it for eventual use by humanity; i.e. it had just sat around awaiting Adam and Eve being expelled from Eden. Both wings evolved along equally bizarre paths using a logic that boils down to a blend of perversity and simply ignoring any contrary evidence, such as that unearthed by Buckland long before. For instance when confronted by the fact that the deepest parts of the oceans contain less sediment than has accumulated on the continents, they defy gravity by insisting that ocean basins were eroded out by the Flood and then deposited with all their internal structures intact on higher ground.
Unsurprisingly, most creationists believe that there has been a centuries-long conspiracy by scientists to mislead the rest of humanity. Were it not for the fact that more than 40% of people in the United States believe in young-Earth creation, David Montgomery’s account of what is now a somewhat one-sided yet stupidly lively debate as regards true evidence would be amusing. His concluding sentence, ‘How many creationists today know that modern creationism arose from abandoning faith that the study of nature would reveal God’s grand design for the world?’ is probably one of the best ways of enraging any creationist who tries to enlighten you: he/she will certainly not just go away, but in the foam they generate you should be able to make good your escape.