A Brazillion Creationists Out There

How powerful is creationism worldwide? Some pundits have suggested that creationism is unique to the USA. But recent news from Brazil indicates that global creationism may be gaining steam.

The latest report from Brazil comes to us from the National Center for Science Education. Proposed legislation in that country would introduce US-style creationism to Brazilian public schools. My Portuguese is no good, but according to the NCSE report, this bill insists that schools include creationist science, including “the ideas that life has its origin in God, the supreme creator of the whole universe and of all things that compose it.”

Why? Because, in the words of the bill’s sponsor, “the creationist doctrine is prevalent throughout our country.”

Is it? Some science pundits, such as Bill Nye, contend that this sort of creationism is “unique” to the United States.

In this case, The Science Guy is flat-out wrong. Creationism—even if we limit it to just the Christian kind—is a global phenomenon. And the reasons for that globalism matter.

Pundits like Bill Nye might assume that creationism thrives in those corners of the globe that have not yet been incorporated into the global conversation. In some isolated regions, this theory goes, the obvious truths of evolution have not yet penetrated.

But that explanation gets it backward. The reason for thriving creationism in Brazil is not due to ineffective science education. It is due, rather, to explosively effective religious education. That is, Brazilian creationists are not simply religious primitives who have been isolated from the gospel of evolution. Instead, they are religious innovators who have been connected to a global gospel of creationism.

As usual, historian Ron Numbers—my grad-school mentor—put it best. In his book The Creationists, Ron captures this experience with a pithy chapter title: “Creation Science Floods the World.”

A growing force in Brazilian politics...

A growing force in Brazilian politics…

Throughout the twentieth century, conservative evangelical Protestants have successfully spread their religion throughout Latin America, finding a particularly congenial home in Brazil.

As a recent study from the Pew Research Center for Religion & Public Life makes clear, US-style evangelicalism has aggressively moved into Brazil, courting the country’s Catholics and converting them in large numbers.

For a hundred years, evangelical groups have spread via missionary organizations into Brazil. As Andrew Chestnut of Virginia Commonwealth University explains, groups such as the Assemblies of God have been particularly successful in Brazil. With this Pentecostal denomination, at least, Brazilian locals have taken over and made it their own. And they are now asserting their power politically.

For instance, the author of the recent creationist legislation, Marco Feliciano, is an Assemblies of God pastor. And he insists that Brazilians are on his side. Poll numbers back him up. According to the NCSE report, fully 89% of Brazilian respondents think creationism should be taught in Brazil’s public schools. Nearly that many, 75%, think ONLY creationism should be taught.

I’ve argued in the past that evolution educators often have a missionary zeal to spread the truth about evolution. This news from Brazil suggests that evolution’s missionaries are just not as good as the creationist types.

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Required Reading: Assemblies of God on Faith/Science

Can Pentecostals embrace science?  Can they find a way to love both God and Gould?

For those of us trying to understand the conservative vision of education from the outside, the newest edition of the Assemblies of God’s Enrichment Journal is a treasure trove.  This edition offers a series of articles for the denomination’s readers about the proper relationship between faith and science.  As General Superintendent George O. Wood explains, the dangers for young people in the church are stark.  He quotes “Mike,” who declared, “I knew from church that I couldn’t believe in both science and God, so that was it.  I didn’t believe in God anymore.”  Wood hopes that this volume will help Assemblies of God members negotiate a more profound and religious relationship between science and faith.

For those unaware of the distinctions among conservative Bible-based Protestant groups, the Assemblies of God, very briefly, is the largest denomination of Pentecostal believers, claiming 65 million members worldwide.  Pentecostalism, also very briefly, is a form of conservative evangelical Protestant belief that came into existence in the early 20th century.  It combines conservative Bible-based theology with an emphasis on baptism by the Holy Spirit.  Pentecostal services are typically vibrant, dramatic events that can include speaking in tongues and divine healing.  As historian Grant Wacker argued in Heaven Below (2001), the attraction of early Pentecostal churches derived from their combination of a powerful “primitivist” theology with a comfortable cultural “pragmatism.”

In an opening piece, Amos Yong of Regent University encourages Pentecostal readers to “work to overcome the history and culture of anti-intellectualism that persists in some segments of the Pentecostal church.”

Perhaps the most interesting section of this issue for those of us outside the conservative tradition is its forum on the variety of evangelical positions for the age of the earth.  Kurt P. Wise makes the case for a young earth, Hugh Ross for six long ages, and Davis A. Young for an old earth.

With each article, we see the very different intellectual playing field for evangelical intellectuals.  Among mainstream scientists, the first question is usually whether any new approach offers better insight into the natural world.  Among evangelical thinkers, the first question is whether any scientific approach offers better insight into the natural world while allowing Christians to maintain an authentic faith.

As Kurt Wise argues in his pitch for a young earth, “believers” enjoy a more promising guide to the natural world.  Wise insists, “We should look at the eyewitness account from God before we begin inferring the meaning of circumstantial evidence.”

Everyone interested in the creation/evolution debate will be well served by reading through these articles.  Some of the most fervent young-earth creationists such as Answers in Genesis’ Ken Ham have condemned such forums.  Any consideration of an old earth, Ham blasted in a blog post, results in a “dogmatic, intolerant stand against those who take the position we do at AiG.”

But for those of us outside of evangelical circles, an understanding of both the different evangelical views of science and the ways evangelicals construct their scientific arguments will go a long way to decoding the stubborn controversy over evolution and creationism.