The term “Creationism”
describes one theist position on the history of Earth. It holds that Earth is
about 6000 (maybe 8000) years old, and that the “God” of the Judeo-Christian
Bible created it out of nothingness, exactly as that series of events is
described in (a variety of versions of) the Book of Genesis. In this regard
there are folks, for example, who regard as factual the presentations at the “Creation
Museum” in Petersburg, KY, where, to quote from their website, “Adam and Eve
live in the Garden of Eden, children play and dinosaurs roam near Eden’s Rivers
[and t]he serpent coils cunningly in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and
Creationists believe what they believe because they believe that the whole of that book called The Bible contains the “inerrant word of God.” This means, to my understanding, that a) “God” wrote it, or at least dictated it in one sense or another, and b) that every description, proscription and prescription in it is his, her, or its word and is to be understood literally and followed to the letter. Although I don’t know of any polling on the matter, my impression is that the text to which most U.S. creationists refer as “inerrant” is the one found in what is known as the “King James Bible.” Which before we get to the question “why creationism” does raise some interesting questions of its own.
The “King James Bible” is a version of the ancient text that over time was written/translated in/to/from Ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, Early and Classical Greek, and Latin, into a wide variety of modern languages. The King James version was created in England at the time of the accession of King James VI of Scotland to the throne of England, as James I, in 1603, upon the death of Elizabeth I. While his mother, the tragic figure Mary Queen of Scots, was a Catholic, succeeding to the throne at a very early age upon Mary’s abdication, James was raised as a Protestant (and was, by the way, according to some sources gay. If true, that’s quite a contradiction for the “the Bible-is-inerrant” Christian homophobes, is it not?)
Having experienced religious wars, on and off, through the 16th century and having seen the effects of much more vicious ones waged during the same period on the Continent, the English ruling class had no interest in possibly returning to the days of armed religious conflict. And thus there was a major interest in establishing a firmly Protestant, English, Bible as “The Book.” And so the creation (if I may use that word) of “The King James Version” was authorized. This translation and compilation, from multiple sources in several languages, by a committee of 47 Anglican Church scholars, was published in 1611, with a further-edited version published in 1769.
Now it happens that there is no evidence that any of the Committee’s members had any direct communication with “God.” Thus there is no evidence that the King James Version, is in any way the “Word of God,” inerrant or otherwise. However, this circumstance, like others mentioned above, has never seemed to have stopped any believer in “Inerantism” from believing that every word of this particular multi-sourced/multi-translator translation is indeed the “literal Word of ‘God’.” So why is this a problem in the US? If folks want to believe in an “inerrant” Bible, take the descriptions of events literally, and follow its prescriptions and proscriptions as they wish, what’s the problem with that?
It’s a problem because there are “Inerantists,” generally found in the Republican Religious Right, who not only want to take various of the Bible’s prescriptions and proscriptions as guides for their own behaviour. In addition, they want to force them upon the rest of us through the force of law. On certain issues, like the matter of when life begins, they want to do this through the use of the criminal law. On others, like the matter of gay marriage, they want to use the civil law to enforce their religious position. These policies can be best characterized as ones of “Religious Determinism.” Of course the Christian Right and their Republican allies, often indistinguishable from one another (as when Billy Graham openly endorses Mitt [whatever happened to Mormonism-as-a-cult, but that’s another matter --- and Billy never gave is the low-down on it] Romney for the Presidency) pick and choose very carefully from among the Biblical prescriptions and proscriptions that they want followed. For example, they forget about “Thou shalt not kill” and totally ignore the Dietary Laws. But that ultra-selective (actually politically-driven selectiveness) is a matter for another time.
The point here is that if those rules found in the King James Bible that the Republican Religious Right likes and wants to impose upon the rest of us through the use of the criminal and civil law, are justified by them based on the supposition that they are the “inerrant word of God,” then the whole of the Bible would have to be “inerrant,” not just the selected rules. And that is the “why” of creationism. For if it is just a story, created by humans, not “God,” then the whole claim of “Inerantism” for the rest of the Bible falls flat on its face. And so then would their entire justification for the use of Religious Determinism in national policy. Presently, Republican Religious Determinists fall back on selectively quoting the “inerrant Bible,” from the Halls of Congress on down (or up, depending upon your view of the Republican Congress) to justify their position. If they didn’t have that crutch, why then they might have to argue from a position of reason. And good golly, where would that leave them?
Addendum: Just as I was about to send this column into our Managing Editor, Mark Newman, I came across the following news item on The Huffington Post, Jan. 30, 2013: (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/30/gop-creationism-colorado-schools_n_2570717.html?view=print&comm_ref=false): “Republican Bill That Would Allow Creationism To Be Taught In Colorado Schools Called 'DOA'.” The good news for Colorado students is that since the Colorado legislature is in Democratic hands (for now), the bill won’t make it to the Governor’s desk. The bad news for our nation is: “[A]ccording to a 2012 Gallup poll, 46 percent of Americans believe God created humans within the last 10,000 years. Only 15 percent of Americans believed God played no part in human evolution while 32 percent believed that humans had evolved, but that God played a part in that process.” Read it and weep.