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Creationism and Intelligent Design

Merely a challenge or a veritable threat to secular education?

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2008 34 Seiten

Amerikanistik - Kultur und Landeskunde


Table o f Contents

I “One Nation under God”

II Creationism: Genesis vs. Darwin
II.1 Definition, Conception and Criticism
II.2 The Advance of Creationism

III “Creation Science”: Intelligent Design
III.1 Definition, Conception and Criticism
III.2 Intelligent Design and Education – 1968 to the 1990s
III.3 Recent Developments – 2001 to 2008

IV A Debate Goes On

List of Works Cited


Articles/ Essays

Government Publications/ Bodies of Laws


I “One Nation under God”

With its almost provocative brevity the headline above, whose words are borrowed from the last sentence of the Pledge of Allegiance[1] to flag and country, alludes to a characteristic which has accompanied the political and social activities of the population of the United States ever since the foundation of the first colonies at the beginning of the 17th century: the constant dispute of secular and religious forces. In contrast to Europe, the United States is a country where religion is a prominent factor of everyday life. By demonstrating one’s affiliation towards a certain church community the average American discloses his political, moral and social attitudes.[2] Especially in rural areas an unmatched variety of (Protestant) churches serve as centers of social gathering. Therefore, the freedom to make a conscious religious choice is a crucial issue and, in comparison, for instance, to member states of the European Union, unparalleled in the Western World. Whereas atheists are common and thus not an unusual phenomenon in many parts of Europe the percentage of Americans who believe in God or at least in a divine power reaches about 90% in total.[3] The reasons as well as the implications of this obvious leaning towards spirituality are manifold and have thus different effects on politics and society.

Above all, the issue of religion is a US-American phenomenon hardly comparable to religious custom in Europe even though the “Old Continent” provided the source of Christian belief in all denominations currently existing and competing in the United States. Taking into account that the Euro-American relations often suffer from a mutual lack of knowledge the task to elucidate the interconnections between the religiously influenced emergence of the United States, today’s political relevance of religious radicalism and its intrusion into the sphere of natural sciences appears even more important.

As it is the aim of this paper to explain how this distinct religious trait, which is an integral part of American culture, affects modern science, education and even challenges several scientifically substantiated theories – among them Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution – there will be a concise yet detailed analysis of the historical background, the political and social rootage and the current developments regarding the terms describing Creationism and Intelligent Design. The following chapters will introduce the two concepts, its perception and the ongoing debate in the United States. However, prior to that it is important to have a look at the beginnings of religious life in the United States as it is indispensable for a thorough comprehension of the entire subject matter.

The apparent diversity of Christian belief in the United States as stated above has come from a fundamentalist tradition brought by the Puritans[4], being the first important group of settlers imbued with Calvinist thought whose radical attitudes concern equality among believers, rejection of bishops and the abolition of the tight cohesion of church and state which had developed into an alliance of power consisting of church leaders seduced by the prospective of having a share in secular affairs and, first and foremost, the ruling nobility who expected the clergy to help suppress deviant and dangerous theories arising from the discontent masses.[5] Hence, fundamentalism is the formative phenomenon which established a religious standard that was to be crucial for America’s development. This normality – in the true sense of the word – of an extremist denomination which claimed to defend itself against hostile persecution established a starting point for an upcoming spectrum of Protestant churches that subsequently gained ground in the United States, comprising, for example, the more moderate Methodist and Presbyterian churches as well as the fundamental examples of Evangelicals,[6] Southern Baptists,[7] Pentecostals[8] and Charismatics.[9] From a Western European point of view a norm that emerged from fundamental extremism is intriguing and needs to be examined in further detail. How could it be possible that the Puritans shaped America’s religious landscape so profoundly? In which way may this have contributed to a widespread acceptance of Creationism and Intelligent Design in today’s society and politics henceforth competing with an otherwise widely approved scientific approach to human genesis? Indeed, the paradox of the Puritan assertion of freedom in the shape of a heavily restricted life within their own community whereas plurality, tolerance and non-interference were demanded by them and should thus define the relations to other groups of settlers or faith communities[10] continues to be the most important feature of a rather contradictory public appearance of certain religious denominations. But what made the Puritan society so special compared to others? Is it because they narrowed the scope of interpretation so as to prohibit interpretation completely?

It is the striking paradox to demand liberty only to transform it into self-restriction?

Both deeply rooted in the American foundation myth and inextricably connected with the intention to settle the lands of present-day Massachusetts their defended claim of a free and unrestrained interpretation of The Bible has been a major feature of the arguments put forward by all refugees who had left England in order to escape persecution. The Puritans in the shape of the Pilgrim Fathers were first to introduce the aspect of divine guidance and selection that was to accompany and to vindicate migration, expulsion of natives and, first and foremost, the eagerness to achieve economic success.[11] All of those who had chosen to migrate to the English (since 1707: British) colonies in North America were attracted by the innovative aspects of the American challenge: they sought freedom und were enticed by the promise to attain a certain degree of wealth dependent on one’s personal diligence regardless of one’s social rank as it was impossible in European feudal societies in those days.[12] As a result, the ideal of personal freedom became inherently connected with religious liberty. Being considered a danger to the established feudal agreement between the ruling aristocracy and clergy by simply demanding these rights various religious dissenters from England, Scotland and continental Europe appreciated the opportunity of an unrestrained life in North America far from political control and state churches. They left their home countries and abandoned their clandestine existence in order to practise freely what their governments had denied them. It is here where religious freedom began – without any intervention by official institutions which were, of course, simply nonexistent during the initial stage of settlement because there was no British colonial administration at all.

When the United States was eventually formed by setting up a new constitution[13] in 1787 the Founding Fathers at first omitted a catalogue of personal freedoms which was, however, added in 1791. The so-termed Bill of Rights attached a special value to the legal establishment of each citizen’s right to freely exercise one’s religion – without any exception or specification.[14] Therefore, it must be stressed that the present heterogenity of (Christian) religious denominations can be traced back to this most ostentatiously defended and, of course, cunningly reinterpreted first amendment to the United States Constitution.[15] In connection with the aforementioned Puritan spirit this legal protection of individual faith was contributing to the significance of the faith factor[16] that still marks all aspects of American life.

In turn, it meant at the same time that every institution connected with government and administration was expected to remain strictly secular and neutral as this is the logically consistent conclusion. Despite the official neutrality of government officials as well as other incumbents there must be assumed that today religion is deeply rooted[17] even in a field where an absence of any belief might be desirable in order to fulfill self-imposed promises.

Alongside an ever growing secularism in the Western world the tendency of religious special interest groups to exert influence on state and federal politics and policies has grown significantly in the last five decades. Since George W. Bush assumed his office in 2000 there has virtually been no perceivable separation[18] of profane and religious matters since an ever-thriving Religious Right[19] has intensified its ambitions to promulgate an outline of radical goals some of which aim at establishing a modern theocracy[20] with the principle of separation between church and state deliberately suspended. It is doubtful whether Washington’s political elites – particularly those of the Republican Party – would have chosen to align so close with the Religious Right just for the purpose of successful election campaigning if they had known that this could mean a kind of religious dictatorship exerted by a minority of fundamentals. In addition, there is nevertheless an affirmative inclination of presidents in particular to appeal to those religious extremists who claim to uphold moral standards against ubiquitous decline and alleged threats from inside and outside the United States. It might be understandable in the context of World War II and its aftermath in the shape of the Cold War between the United States, the Soviet Union and their allies. Then-president Dwight D. Eisenhower, a very pious yet moderate former military leader and distinguished war hero, gave his consent to an alteration of the official “creed” of the American Civil Religion, the Pledge of Allegiance.[21] His approval permitted to add the words “under God” following “one nation” in 1954.[22] Since then the United States has not been just “one nation” but “one nation under God” which surely has encouraged fundamentals of all shades to misinterpret the pledge. Eisenhower explained his decision as follows:

"In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource in peace and war."

Doubts arise as to whether this does not contradict the cherished concept of the American Civil Religion – a concept of political culture that has facilitated the integration of each and every immigrant group some of which, as is generally known, have had and still have a non-Christian background. In addition, it impressively depicts that even the office of the country’s highest representative could not escape the urge to confess his personal attitude to the Manifest Destiny the United States has been facing ever since its foundation. The amended pledge might be an indication of an increased identification with a Christian body of thought and the final yet controversial fixation of a religious reference in a secular-republican context. But does it mean that a “nation under God” unavoidably turns into a nation dominated by religious fundamentalists who try to extent their influence on politics, education and every day life? Apparently, there is a strong propensity to merge politics with the interests pursued by the Religious Right and a complex array of associated fundamentalist groups. From Eisenhower’s endorsement to the so-called Reagan Coalition and finally to George W. Bush’s ostentatious piety an increase in political influence of a powerfully eloquent fundamental (minority) movement[23] have shaped domestic politics and policies ever since. Moreover, religious fundamentals have made use of modern mass media, acquired broadcasting stations and have even not missed to launch internet sites to communicate more effectively with disciples and proponents.[24]

The second chapter will deal with one of the main concerns the Religious Right – in the shape of the Christian Coalition[25] and other politically active assemblies of church representatives – have attempted to promote and to disseminate the idea of Creationism: the concept of the world’s diversity caused by divine creation. As this paper is centered around this eager combat against findings in modern science that undeniably support Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution the arguments put forward by Darwin’s opponents as well as their educational campaigns, which partly have seen some success over the past decades, will be illustrated and explained in more detail.

II Creationism: Genesis vs. Darwin

II.1 Definition, Conception and Criticism

Before going on explaining the spread and the impact of Creationism it is imperative to give an exhaustive definition of the concept. First of all, it must be stated that Creationism is a rather elusive term covering a system of several competing directions which are in part incompatible with each other. Consequently, adherents of Creationism do not necessarily agree on a monolithic body of criteria. In spite of that there is, however, a general approach[26] to the subject that consists of assumptions shared by all Creationists. Therefore, one basic outline comprises everything necessary to define the term in brief: the notion of a deity who created the universe and anything contained including the Earth and all life forms upon our planet with human beings epitomizing paragons of God’s inscrutable excellence.[27]

According to Charles Darwin “all life is related and has descended from a common ancestor.[28] ” His approach is purely naturalistic and denies interference of a supernatural power. Like the ancient Greek philosopher Anaximander he also postulated that life derives from non-life and is marked by more and more complexity. Modifications and mutations occurring within a gradual process are either advantageous or disadvantageous and are thus linked to natural selection: the survival of species that are able to adapt to changing conditions.[29] Although science has also gone through a process of “evolution” Darwin’s basic ideas have prevailed and could be proven with modern scientific methodology. Yet a certain degree of desirable criticism has always been pervading the debate but was never able to overturn the theory.[30] Despite all hostilities it is the only theory which has been acknowledged in all fields of natural science when it comes to evolution and the origin of species. Research conducted in geology, biology, physics and paleontology have been able to both object to the fundamentalist concept of Creationism and to repeatedly confirm Darwin’s basic concept.[31]

Creationists assume that a creator – usually God – and not a series of coincidences in the shape of an austere trial-and-error technique was responsible for the existence of mankind and nature. Obviously, they object to evolution because its statements would destroy the religiously supported distinctiveness of human existence. The firm idea of being endowed with higher morals compared to the rest of God’s creatures remains one of the most important arguments put forward by Creationist – together with the biblical confirmation that the physical appearance of human beings is most closely related to the divine model and thus shares some of the characteristics of a higher being.


[1] The Pledge of Allegiance is an institutionalized form of expressing patriotism, usually at school and on official occasions. First published in 1892 in the Youth’s Companion Magazine in Boston it gained official recognition by a Congressional law in 1942. However, there were several legal disputes concerning the alleged violation of the principle of strict secularism of state institutions which is laid down in the Constitution.

[2] PRÄTORIUS, Rainer. Die USA – Politischer Prozess und soziale Probleme. Opladen: 1997. 108

[3] BUHROW, Tom, Sabine Stamer. Mein Amerika, Dein Amerika. Reinbek bei Hamburg: 2006. 251; AFFEMANN, Rudolf. Doppelgesicht USA. Studien und Erfahrungen eines Deutschen in Amerika. Leonberg: 2004. 97

[4] AFFEMANN, Rudolf. Doppelgesicht USA. Studien und Erfahrungen eines Deutschen in Amerika. Leonberg: 2004. 97

[5] PRÄTORIUS (1997): 105

[6] [17.03.2008]

[7] HELMS, Erwin. USA – Staat und Gesellschaft, Werden und Wandel. Hannover: 1993. 165

[8] LEGGEWIE, Claus. America First? Der Fall einer konservativen Revolution. Frankfurt/ Main: 1997. 211, 212

[9] BÖHM, Andrea. Die Amerikaner – Reise durch ein unbekanntes Imperium. Freiburg: 2004. 83 et sq., 86 et sq.

[10] ibid.

[11] PRÄTORIUS (1997): 106 et sq.

[12] ibid.

[13] Federal Constitution of the United States of America – dating from September 17, 1787. It replaces the Articles of Confederation (dating from 1777 and ratified in 1781) which was the first document to officially certify the existence of the United States of America. cf. HÜBNER, Emil. Das politische System der USA – Eine Einführung. München: 2003. 12 et sq.

[14] LEGGEWIE (1997): 206 et sq.

[15] The 1st Amendment of the Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights consisting of the first ten amendments.

[16] LEGGEWIE (1997): 205; AFFEMANN (2004): 89, 92 et sq.

[17] LEGGEWIE (1997): 208 et sq.

[18] AFFEMANN (2004): 92

[19] The so-termed Religious Right subsumes Born-Again-Christians, Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, Pentecostals Southern Baptists and Charismatics. cf. LEGGEWIE (1997): 211; HELMS (1993): 165

[20] LEGGEWIE (1997): 209

[21]I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” (current version as of June 14, 1954) cf. [10.04.2008]

[22] ibid.

[23] The Religious Right and their supporting denominations amount to approximately 30 million adherents compared to about 130 Million who belong to non-Evangelist and thus non-Creationist churches. Approx. nine million citizens are non-Christian believers. cf. SAUTTER, Udo. Die Vereinigten Staaten: Daten, Fakten, Dokumente. Tübingen: 2000. 120 et sq.

[24] LEGGEWIE (1997): 213 et sq.

[25] LEGGEWIE (1997): 215, 216

[26] [08.04.2008]

[27] ibid.

[28] [13.03.2008]

[29] ibid.

[30] [13.03.2008]

[31] RIDLEY, Mark. Evolution – Probleme, Themen, Fragen. Berlin: 1990. 17, 23 et sq.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
597 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin – Institut für Anglistik/ Amerikanistik
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Creationism Design Religiöser Extremismus Christlicher Fundamentalismus Religiöser Radikalismus Christentum USA Vereinigte Staaten Intelligent Design Bibeltreue Schöpfung Schöpfungsgeschichte Genesis Gott Evangelikalismus Evangelicalism Religious Right



Titel: Creationism and Intelligent Design