Almagest 12, May-November 2021 (double issue)
“Creationism in Asia, Oceania, and East Europe”
Edited by Hyung Wook Park and Ronald L. Numbers
Hyung Wook Park
Ronald L. Numbers
Until recently most scholars typically dismissed creationism as an “American bizarrity” or an “American oddity” (Numbers 2006, 400; Chang 2009). These days, however, creationism seems to be a truly international movement, which has spread to Europe, Latin America, and—as this volume demonstrates—large parts of Asia.
Organized antievolutionism first erupted in the United States in the early 1920s (Larson 2006; Moran 2012; Shapiro 2013). At first few critics of evolution insisted on a recent creation or emphasized the effects of Noah’s flood, even after the Canadian George McCready Price began to do so in the early twentieth century. Indeed, the term “scientific creationism” did not come into use until the early 1970s, when the hydraulic engineer Henry M. Morris and the members of the nascent Creation Research Society began using it (Numbers 2006, 271-74). Creation scientists closely followed their reading of the biblical story of creation found in Genesis; less biblically inclined antievolutionists remained largely unorganized until the rise in the late twentieth century of the “intelligent design” movement, which stressed philosophical rather than biblical concerns (Pennock 1999; Forrest and Gross 2004; Numbers 2006, 373-398).
In recent years resistance to evolution has become a global phenomenon, documented by a number of scholars (Coleman and Carlin 2004; Blancke, Hjermitslev, and Kjærgaard 2014; Ecklund et al. 2019; Brown 2020). Relatively few efforts, however, have focused on creationism in countries geographically east of North America and Western Europe—which we call the “East”—including Asia, Orthodox countries in Europe, and two antipodean nations. The authors contributing to this project seek to unravel the historical processes of receiving and propagating Western creationism in Asiatic cultures as well as to explore various forms of indigenous antievolutionism. Although American creationists took the lead in propagating creationism around the world after 1980, the peoples of the East were rarely passive recipients. They possessed their own religious and cultural traditions, which frequently incorporated creationist ideas, some of which they exported to North America and Western Europe.
For some time now a handful of historical scholars has been revealing the agency of the Chinese, Indians, Arabs, and other Asians in responding to Western natural philosophy, technology, and medicine (Bartholomew 1993; Sabra 1996; Prakash 1999; Arnold 2000; Fan 2004; Elman 2005; Kumar 2006; Andrews 2014). These historians have typically displayed enthusiasm whenever finding cases of Easterners’ appropriation and reinterpretation of science and technology. In contrast, creationism, because of its questionable scientific legitimacy, has typically promoted the opposite reaction: condemnation as “pseudoscience” or worse.
In this volume we approach creationism as a cultural practice, embracing what actors may have regarded as science, nonscience, or pseudoscience. Like other cultural practices, creationism could cross national and religious boundaries and adapt itself to distinct social and political environments. At times it became naturalized as part of its host countries’ cultures, which may already have possessed similar notions and practices stemming from their past. As one of us (Numbers) has claimed, this should create no boundary problems for historians, who have long investigated activities outside the current definition of science, such as “fifteenth-century astrology, seventeenth-century alchemy, or nineteenth century phrenology” (2006, 14).
The emergence of creationism as a cultural phenomenon in Asia may reflect what many scholars have noted as religions’ global resurgence (Berger 1999; Almond, Appleby, and Sivan 2003; Thomas 2005; Habermas 2008). They have investigated why religious beliefs and practices grew amid globalization after the Cold War, when the rapid development of science and technology allegedly prevailed over religion and superstition. Indeed, religion inspired several major developments in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, including the Iranian Revolution, the Polish Solidarity movement, and the September 11 attacks on the United States (Casanova 1994; Almond, Appleby, and Sivan 2003), which obviously displayed religious impulses. After the collapse of the Communist Bloc removed many political institutions hostile to religion, global migration and transnational media disseminated religious and spiritual views to an increasing number of people (Berger 1999, 6; Numbers 2006, 412-416; Taylor 2007, 505-535; Beyer 2013; Borczyk 2014). Clearly, we need to reexamine “facile beliefs” that the world has been becoming increasingly secular (Numbers 2006, 372). Indeed, Peter Berger may be right to suggest that modernization has been accompanied by “desecularization” (Berger 1999).
Three papers in this volume highlight one facet of this phenomenon: the role sometimes played by the aggressive promotion of economic, industrial, and technological growth after the Cold War in the promotion of creationist ideas. Zeng-yi Zhang’s paper shows how social media, which transformed China’s economy and governance in the twenty-first century, played a key part in spreading intelligent-design creationism. Taner Edis’s essay highlights how the image of wealth, modernity, and liberal sexuality facilitated the popularity of creationism promoted by Adnan Oktar and other Islamic antievolutionists in Turkey. Similarly, Hyung Wook Park illustrates how the growth a liberal political economy in South Korea after the death of the military dictator Park Chung Hee (1917-1979) paralleled the development of a new evangelical strategy, including creationism, based on novel media and entertainment resources.
As several essays in this volume illustrate, creationism and Darwinism had a complex relationship with Easterners’ longstanding religious beliefs and standards of morality. Indeed, many of them viewed Darwinism as a menacing foreign idea and found in creationism a comforting alternative. G. Clinton Godart’s article describes several Japanese intellectuals’ concern that the theory of evolution would threaten their country’s established moral order. C. Mackenzie Brown’s work discusses how evolution worried many Indian Hindus whose traditional theologies seemed to be at odds with the philosophical propositions of Darwinism. John Stenhouse’s paper depicts how the Māori natives with their own mythologies resisted British colonialists who brought Darwinism as an imperial ideology. Others saw evolution as being eminently compatible with long-accepted indigenous views. As Efthymios Nicolaidis states, some Orthodox Christians thought that evolutionary theory was more compatible with their traditional religious tenets than creationism. Brown shows that a number of Hindu nationalists found similarities between Darwinism and ancient Hindu theologies. Thomas Aechtner’s paper discusses a distinct development in modern Australia, where creationism was successfully indigenized with regard to its own political and educational imperatives and even supported an international religious enterprise that crossed the Pacific and settled down in the United States.
Although the historical studies presented here fail to support a general theory of creationism in the East, they do offer some generalizable findings. Across historical periods and national boundaries, creationism (or antievolutionism) often served as a rallying point around which “modernity” was constructed and debated. Although many Asians viewed creationism as just another ancient belief, others saw it as a modern concept in need of promotion, rejection, or modification. Others found in creationism a novel way to resist the destructive force of the West and its technoscience, which arrived in the name of modernity. Still others embraced creationism as a new way to foster Christian evangelicalism and lucrative religious institutions. In short, creationism in the East has proved to be multidimensional. Although creationism has commonly—and correctly—been associated with rigid religious fundamentalism, it has demonstrated versatility, adaptability, and even flexibility.
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This volume grew out of a workshop on “The Creation-Evolution Controversy from Global Perspectives,” held at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, April 23-24, 2018. In addition to most of the contributors to this collection, participants included Steve Fuller, Mustafa Akyol, and Edward J. Larson. NTU’s Centre for Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, School of Humanities, and School of Social Sciences provided indispensable support for the workshop. We are grateful to the commentators, including Sam Han, Paul Hedges, Michael Stanley-Baker, Hallam Stevens, Shirley Sun, and Fang Xiaoping.
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Hyung Wook Park
Practicing Creationism: Science and the New Religious Practices in South Korea
This paper explains how young-earth creationism—which was also called “scientific creationism” or “creation science”—prospered in South Korea after the early 1980s. I show that young-earth creationism came to Koreans, when their country and churches were undergoing a transformation in the 1980s and 1990s. As Korean churches were then trying to refashion themselves through novel entertainment and media relations, creation science was incorporated as a new mode of ministry that crafted a novel practice for Korean Protestantism. Through this process, the creationists with scientific credentials recrafted their roles different from their conventional ones within the country. Promulgating their faith through the mass media, creation museums, amusement parks, and the internet lines, they reformulated what they could do in relation to their churches and the Korean developmental state.
The Turkish Model of Islamic Creationism
While there is widespread Muslim resistance to biological evolution, this resistance does not always manifest itself as varieties of creationism that pretend to enjoy scientific support. Turkey is the Muslim country where such a pseudoscientific form of creationism has been most successful, penetrating into public debates and gaining influence over science education at all levels. Turkish creationism has roots in modernizing religious movements and the emergence and then dominance of political Islam, erasing much of the imposed secularism that had characterized the earlier decades of the Turkish Republic. The history of Turkish creationism, including the forms creationism took in the educational establishment and in the media spectacles put on by the Harun Yahya enterprise, illuminates some of the possibilities open to Muslim communities worldwide.
G. Clinton Godart
“Evolutionary Theory is the Superstition of Modernity”: Antievolutionary Thought in Wartime Japan
In Japan of the 1930s and 1940s, a rise in nationalism and an ideological backlash against both the West and modernization provided the backdrop for the rise of antievolutionary thought. Ideologues affiliated with the government led an antievolution campaign and tried to push evolution out of the classroom. Antievolutionary thought in this period in Japan was characterized by associating evolution with individualism, capitalism, and left-wing thought, all products of Western culture.
Creationists and Evolutionists in New Zealand, 1800-2010: Science, Religion, Politics, and Race
This essay argues that creation-evolution debates have been more common and contentious in New Zealand’s past than many of its historians, following a progressive nationalist paradigm, have recognized. I begin by exploring how Māori incorporated Christianity into tribal whakapapa (genealogies) that explained the creation of the world by the atua (gods, divine powers). Between the 1830s and 1860s, British Anglican creationists forged an alliance with Christian chiefs to defend Māori land and political rights. Settler-critics attacked this alliance as an obstacle to progress, using as weapons evolutionary materialism and determinist claims that the natives were doomed to extinction. After 1859, many read Darwin’s Origin of Species similarly, to rationalize the wars of the 1860s, the triumph of the “fitter” British, and to consign Maori—and their creationist defenders—to oblivion. Lively debates over the social, ethical, and political implications of evolution regularly divided settler society after the land wars, especially when freethinking politicians invested evolution with secularist values that many church people disliked. Governments introduced evolution into primary school curricula from the 1920s, while taking care not to identify it with the metaphysical naturalism or materialism likely to alienate religious voters. The state mostly preserved a position of liberal neutrality toward citizens’ diverse worldviews as secularization accelerated from the 1970s. New American-originated varieties of creationism and intelligent design found footholds in a society that remained respectful, within limits, of Māori, Pasifika, and new Asian spiritualities.
Creationism with an Australian Accent: Politics, Schools, and Global Exportation
In 2002 Ronald Numbers noted that few countries have been as receptive to creationism as Australia. This paper follows up Numbers’s observations by providing an updated look at the vicissitudes of Australian Darwin-skepticism and its global influences. To do this it revisits the rise of creationism Down Under in relation to the Creation Science Foundation and its goal of reforming US antievolutionism, as well as the American market share drives that helped catalyze Answers in Genesis’s acrimonious legal split. The study further examines the socio-political conditions of the Joh Bjelke-Petersen state government that helped antievolutionism to mobilize in Queensland, which were reflected in the banning of MACOS and SEMP school curricula. Additionally, the history and contemporary peculiarities of Australia’s educational system are explored, as avenues for teaching creationism in both public and private schools still exist across the country. Finally, more recent political controversies associated with creationism are surveyed, including news reports scrutinizing the beliefs of Australian policymakers. Together, these lines of inquiry provide key insights into how creationism with an Australian accent has succeeded both in its home country and as an export abroad.
C. Mackenzie Brown
The Hindu tradition is often cited as more in harmony with modern science, and with Darwinian evolution in particular, than the Abrahamic traditions. Such a view is bolstered by the many Hindus who claim to accept evolution, but who do so apparently without much awareness of the vast differences and irreconcilable tensions between the organic evolution of Darwin and the traditional Hindu idea of spiritual evolution through karma and rebirth. Such Hindus are often dismissive of Christian creationism as evidence of Christian gullibility and superstition. This essay will show that creationism—in a variety of modes some of which are foreign to the West—has a long and esteemed history within Hinduism, and far from withering away, is finding renewed life in India under the current nationalist government of Narendra Modi. The essay begins with a brief look at the recent anti-Darwinian proclamations of a junior minister for university education in India, Satyapal Singh, before turning to consideration of the different forms that creationism has taken in India, from the ancient Vedas to the teachings of contemporary Hindu gurus, apologists, and politicians. The essay concludes with further reflection on Satyapal Singh’s creationism and his agenda for Vedicizing education within the context of current cultural and political developments in India.
Zeng-yi Zhang *, Li-yao Zhu, Jia-lin Wen, Li Li, Ming-dong Lai, Jing-ran Xu
Creation-Evolution Controversies in China: A Study of Intelligent Design in Social Media
In this article, we have first traced the process of the diffusion, reception and rejection of Darwin’s theory of evolution in China from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century, focusing on Yan Fu’s Tian Yan Lun and its critics, and the translation of Darwin’s works and their reception in the Chinese scientific community. Secondly, we have paid an attention to the controversies over Hsu’s article ‘Darwin’s Three Mistakes’ and his book The Great Dying as well as the Chinese versions of intelligent design books. Thirdly, we have analyzed the creation-evolution controversies in several main Chinese social media services, such as Sina Weibo, Wechat, Duban, and Zhihu. We conclude that these intelligent design books have considerably influenced the Chinese public, and their contents were the main resources of objections to Darwin’s theory of evolutionism in the Chinese social media. Our research supplies a case for Ronald Numbers’ observation that “creationism goes global.”
Creationism in Today’s Orthodox Community
The article aims at presenting an overview of the contemporary creationist views in Orthodox Christianity that constitutes the dominant religion in eastern Europe and northern Asia. Because Orthodox Christianity is an aggregation of independent churches related to countries with different cultures, I have chosen to present five important case-studies: Russian Federation, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece. In Russia, a dynamic creationist movement exists backed by creationist institutions that publish creationist literature, organize conferences, and put pressure on the state to introduce creationism in school curricula. In Serbia, where the creationist movement is not so strong, there are claims from organized creationists to remove evolution from textbooks. In Bulgaria and Romania, creationism seems not to be an issue, and creationist literature has been developed mainly from American creationists who visited these countries. In Greece, officials of the Orthodox Church have propagated intelligent-design creationism, mainly based on creationist literature imported from the Christian West. Orthodox creationists claim that evolution is a theory alien to their religion because it has been developed in Western countries. But they use Western sources and, except for Russia, there appears to be no purely indigenous creationist discourses.
Kostas Krimbas (1932-2021)