Forty years ago, Creationism was not on the agenda for most Christian leaders in UK.
Theistic Evolution (the belief that God used evolution to bring about creation) was regarded as orthodoxy. Nearly all the literature available took this position, although alternatives could be found in books imported from the US. However, God was working to change this situation.
A very significant book was published in USA in 1961 – The Genesis flood by John Whitcomb and Henry Morris. This book stimulated a revival of creationism worldwide. It combined a powerful exposition of what Genesis actually teaches about the early Earth and the Flood, with a critique of geological data offered as evidence for an old Earth. In 1969, Evangelical Press took the decision to publish the book in the UK. It was a turning point for creationism in Britain.
Opposition to evolution in the UK at that time was led by the Evolution Protest Movement, founded in 1932. The diverse participants found it easier to unite in opposing Darwinism than to affirm what they actually believed about creation. But stimulated by creationism’s resurgence around the world, the EPM Council refocussed their message and re-branded the EPM as the Creation Science Movement.
CSM has continued to develop under the chairmanship of Dr David Rosevear, publishing leaflets on specific topics and a bimonthly journal. CSM’s biggest project has been the Creation Museum at Portsmouth, which opened around 2000 and exposes visitors to evidence that challenges Darwinism and affirms the biblical record.
Bone of contention
An important development in the 1970s was the publication of a work by Sylvia Baker. She had learned evolutionary theory from Professor John Maynard Smith, who came to be recognised as a world authority on the subject.
She started her student life as an evolutionist, but became increasingly sceptical of claims about ‘overwhelming evidence’ for Darwinism. Later, whilst doing research in neurobiology, she was asked to speak to her local church by the pastor Harry Waite.
The talks were to cover the rise of evolutionism, the fossil evidence, the genetic evidence, the age of the Earth and the biblical approach to origins.
Shortly afterwards, Evangelical Times printed them in monthly instalments (June-October 1975). The reader reaction was such that Evangelical Press published them in booklet form in April 1976, with the title: Bone of contention – is evolution true?
It captured wide public interest and Sylvia received many communications from both Christians and unbelievers about its usefulness. The third edition was published in 2002 by the Biblical Creation Society and is still in print.
During the 1970s there was a strong emphasis on ‘creation science’, influenced by the creationist agenda in the US. But to avoid being branded as ‘religion’ the message avoided biblical thinking and biblical theology.
Concerned about the way Theistic Evolutionists were handling the Bible, some theological students linked to the Inter Varsity Fellowship (now UCCF) took an initiative in 1976 – forming the Biblical Creation Society to provide a broader platform to explore the issues in a scholarly way.
BCS began its life the leadership of Nigel M. de S. Cameron, whose doctoral studies underpinned the ethos of the society. Nigel’s book Evolution and the authority of the Bible was published in 1983 with a powerful section on the problem of evil. This was intended to be a major challenge to Theistic Evolution – if God is good, why did he choose to create using death, suffering and pain as part of the process?
BCS publishes a quality journal Origins that has, over the years, provided an outlet for original scholarly work. For many years John Peet has represented the society in speaking and preaching, with regular ministry trips overseas.
Christ and the cosmos
The leadership role of Professor Edgar Andrews has been very important within the UK. He presented his approach to these issues in a series of publications: >From nothing to nature (1978); Is Evolution scientific? (1979); God, science and Evolution (1980); Christ and the cosmos (1986).
The first of these titles was written to help young people think through the scientific issues and to recognise the different ways the Bible informs our thinking. The other titles explored many science and faith themes. One of these concerned the distinction between ‘scientific creationism’ and ‘biblical creationism’, with the latter providing ‘a full and faithful picture of the cosmos and its Creator’ (Christ and the cosmos, p.101).
Huxley memorial debate
On 14 February 1986 a momentous debate took place at the Oxford Union. The ‘Huxley Memorial Debate’ was on the motion ‘that the doctrine of Creation is more valid than the theory of Evolution’.
Those affirming the motion were Prof. Edgar Andrews and Dr A. E. Wilder-Smith. Opposing them were Dr Richard Dawkins and Prof. John Maynard Smith. The vote at the end of the debate was 150 for and 198 against – a creditable outcome for those proposing the motion (an MP3 recording of this debate is available from www.sermonaudio.com – search for ‘Huxley’).
This experience appears to have left an indelible mark on Richard Dawkins. Ever since, he has made it a matter of policy not to enter into formal debates with people identified as creationists. He thinks that scientists should not participate in such debates because they have the effect of dignifying creationism as an intellectual position.
Also, he is fond of repeating the claim that there are no accredited scientists who affirm creationism. However, the Oxford Union debate is sufficient refutation, because two highly respected scientists presented creditable critiques of evolutionary theory and affirmed creation.
Furthermore, this debate forced Richard Dawkins to debate evidences, which brings creationism into the province of science. It is only by refusing to respond to such evidence-based reasoning that Dawkins can maintain the façade that these issues are wholly outside science.
By 1988 the creationist community in the UK was maturing and new people were coming forward to write and speak. The number of creationist books in print had increased substantially and their scope was much broader.
However, there was still a sense that the issue was an optional extra for most Christians. This led to the production of The Creation manifesto, demonstrating to a wider community that the foundations of the gospel and all major Christian doctrines are to be found in the book of Genesis and the themes of creation.
This manifesto, published by BCS, was an attempt to find common ground among the different creation groups and to explain why biblical creation is central rather than peripheral to Christian faith.
To encourage scholarly activity, BCS has three special interest groups: geology, biology and astronomy. There are exciting developments – including new thinking about the Flood and the pattern of fossils in the rocks, and the concept of ‘basic types’ in biology and its implications for the Genesis ‘kinds’.
In the 1990s, the Creation Science Foundation (based in Australia and USA) commenced working in the UK. Meetings involving Ken Ham and others involved in this organisation (later re-branded as ‘Answers in Genesis’) were successful in capturing media attention for the creation message. Since the full-time appointment of Dr Monty White in 2000, AiG-UK has seen steady expansion.
BCS and CSM jointly hosted the European Creationist Congress in 1992, and CSM did so again in 2000. This brought together creationists from many European countries to strengthen relationships and develop the creation approach to origins.
The historicity of Genesis
Nevertheless, by the close of the millennium, it was apparent that many church leaders continued to regard the creation issue as secondary. Indeed, many still thought that to emphasise the historicity of Genesis was to turn the clock back 100 years and revive debates that were settled in the Victorian Age. Theistic Evolution was still holding sway in Britain.
Thoughts along these lines led the BCS to make 2000 a strategy year, with a process of consultation culminating in a retreat. The outcomes can be summarised as follows.
(1) A major priority is to help people understand that creation themes are central to the gospel message and foundational to developing a Christian mind on a great diversity of ‘current issues’.
(2) Opportunities for full-time creation ministries were increasing, and we needed to pray for the right people and the right means for this to happen.
God is answering these prayers. In particular, Paul Garner was identified as having the calling and gifts to exercise a full-time ministry and, after extensive discussions, Biblical Creation Ministries was formed to facilitate his work – with support from collaborating churches and other donors.
Since October 2002, Paul’s ministry has covered an enormous range – public meetings, Sunday services, events for children and young people, men’s and ladies’ meetings, student groups and the media. At the same time, AiG-UK has been increasing its staffing, so that there are now several full-time people with a creation-based ministry.
Recent years have seen new impact being made by the concept of Intelligent Design. Under the leadership of Professor Phillip Johnson, the ID movement has grasped numerous opportunities to show that science has been hi-jacked by materialists – with Darwinism as their key weapon promoting the fallacy that science has disproved purpose and design in the cosmos.
ID scholars have responded by showing the weaknesses of Darwinism as theory, the reality of design in nature (being detectable by the tools of science) and also that the secularisation of Western culture has gone further than most of us think.
Some creationists have welcomed ID as an answer to prayer, whereas others distance themselves from it because it deliberately does not appeal to the Bible.
A new UK organisation appeared in 2006, Truth in Science, with Professor Andy McIntosh as the lead academic. This ministry has its focus on education and the need to break the stranglehold that materialism has on educational policy regarding science.
The launch of TiS was marked by sending DVDs with an ID message to all UK schools teaching science. The ensuing furore speaks for itself: with most media outlets carrying the story, and questions being asked in Parliament, many science organisations have issued statements and the internet is buzzing!
There is a culture war in progress. At its most fundamental level, advocates of Theism are seeking to take on the advocates of Materialism. The fiercest battles are over origins and the status of Darwinism.
However, one cannot understand the war without recognising its breadth. There are conflicts over the nature of science; the meaning of knowledge and truth; the relationship between science and faith; ethics and morality; life issues, sexual relationships and social structures, and so on.
Indeed, all the issues identified in The Creation manifesto are being challenged. Creationists in the UK see themselves as foot-soldiers in this battle. They covet the prayers of God’s people and welcome all who want to enlist in active service!
The author is Secretary of the Biblical Creation Society and author of Creation – chance or design?(Evangelical Press).