Calvinism is often portrayed as being science friendly and in several cases authors have claimed that western science prospered because of positive Calvinistic attitudes towards higher learning and research. Be that as it may, but in South Africa, the attitude of the Reformed Churches, led mostly by the Dutch Reformed Church, evolved into such a peculiar mix of attitudes towards science that it ultimately led to the denigration of science and a miscarriage of justice with respect to Biology education at school level as well as certain centres of higher learning.
With the democratization of South African society in 1994 it came about that the Biology curricula in State schools were, for the first time in the history of the country, to accurately reflect the state of scientific knowledge in, especially, the Biological sciences. In short it meant that organic evolution, including the evolution of humans, became an integral part of the Biology curricula at school level.
The immediate result of this was an upsurge of anti-evolution pronouncements in the media, in hastily written books and ill prepared talks. The question of why certain sectors of the population find some areas of science acceptable, whilst other established areas, i.e. organic evolution, are disregarded with scorn, irrespective of socio-economic affiliations, remains an intriguing phenomenon. The common denominator amongst those that take a stand against evolution most often appears to be associated with some form of fundamentalist religious belief. With respect to South Africa the main players in the historical development of the campaign against evolution have been a wide spectrum of fundamentalist Protestants, more often than not office bearers within the dominant Dutch Reformed Church (DRC).
This article is an initial attempt to clarify the origin and politico-historical development of current creationist attitudes in South Africa and trace the possible reasons for excluding the process of evolution from school handbooks.
The search for a meaningful explanation for the origin of life and the descent of humans is an important component of our earthly existence. Believers across the world are generally convinced that the particular Deity they worship created everything, including humans. Unbelievers on the other hand have no interest in religious convictions and regard the earthly presence of humans as the result of millions of years of evolution, totally devoid of supernatural intervention.
There exists, however, a large group of people who acknowledges the existence of a Deity which forms the focal point of their religious activities, but is also aware that science has revealed particular truths about the natural world and the origin of humans. Broadly speaking their viewpoint is that God created through the process of evolution. From a Christian perpective this means that the Bible, and especially Genesis 1-11, cannot be regarded as historically accurate.
Within the cadre of, especially the Protestant religion, there are also those who regard the Bible, in toto, as the unfailing and factually correct Word of God. Everything that is written is accepted as the literal truth and no jot or tittle may be changed or read differently from what appears on the page This viewpoint raises the Bible to the level of a science handbook and all findings of science are therefore subjugated to what is conceived as biblical truths. In the modern idiom such individuals are usually described as evangelists, fundamentalists or creationists.
Evangelists consist of loosely associated groups of conservative Christians which, according to Marsden (1991), comprise a variety of fundamentalists. It is a movement, especially within British and North American Protestantism which insists that the Bible is the only authority within religion.
Within Christendom fundamentalists usually are associated with a literal interpretation of the Bible. They take their name from a series of booklets, The Fundamentals, published at the beginning of the twentieth century by conservative Protestants in the U.S.A., in an attempt to stem the tide of modernism in the reformed churches. More recently the term has acquired a broader significance in that it is often used to depict any militant traditionalist religion. Hence the term, Islamic Fundamentalism. In this article the word fundamentalism refers only to those Christians whom are opposed to a liberal theology and changes in culture and morality.
Believers that regard the universe and all it contains as the work of a creator can by rights be called creationists. However, in the modern idiom the expression has aquired a far narrower meaning so that it currently applies only to those believers who insist on an absolutely literal interpretation of the Bible. In their view the earth is not older than ten thousand years, the biblical flood covered the entire planet and all living animals are the descendants of those that found sanctuary on the Ark. Noah’s three sons and their wives then becomes the forebears of all six-and-a-half billion people that currently inhabit the earth. Believers claiming that such convictions can be scientifically proven using biblical texts, often refer to themselves by the oxymoron of ”scientific creationists”.
In spite of the fact that creationists are at odds with mainstream Reformed Theology they have a significant influence on Protestants across the world. In the United States, where Church and State are separate they have evolved into militant, politically conservative pressure groups. They insist absolutely on the factual content of the King James I translation of the Bible and the total negation of the process of evolution. These convictions are precipitated in their ongoing campaign to establish their religion as part and parcel of the Biology curriculum in American Schools.
In South Africa where the State and the Afrikaans Reformed Churches were bedmates for many years, the prevailing situation was in fact the exact opposite. Under the prevailng system of Christian National Education it was evolution that was banned from school curricula. To all intents and purposes it was done specifically because the process of evolution underlines the affinities between all life forms and especially humans.
Genesis 1-11 is not a correct representation of the origin and development of the universe. Creationist are, however, clearly blind to the use of metaphor in the Bible and are unwilling to acknowledge the beauty of allegorical tales. As a natural scientist I am worried that their naive misjudgements of scientific findings still has access to schools and universities, where it is purveyed as the only truth. It is quite frankly dangerous to our continued existence to be ignorant about the origin of the universe, its evolution and our position in it.
After the political reversal of 1994 school curricula in South Africa underwent drastic changes. One of the posistive aspects were that the foundation of Biology i.e. evolution was, for the first time in the history of the country, an integral part of the Biology curriculum in state sponsored schools. Scientifically this was a particularly welcome change but not well received by all as many religious groupings blithely ignore the findings of science if, according to their judgement, it impimges on their particular interpretation of the Bible. Parents with such convictions may decide to enroll their children in alternative school or educate them at home. In both cases it may contribute to further unwanted division in terms of educational and religious matters.
Modern or Neo-creationism as an active political and social phenomenon is a feature of the second half of the twentieth century in the U.S.A. Although creationism has a long history in the United States, it has been especially active in this part of the world during the past forty odd years, and it is also from this region that most of the creationist speakers, and media such as tracts, magazines, books, videos and television programmes emanate. Creationism in North America dates from the early seventeenth century when the first Europeans from England and Holland settled on the east coast of the continent.
In North America creationism eventually developed into a complex mix of religious, social and cultural elements. As in South Africa it is an outgrowth of Protestant fundamentalism. Whilst the development of creationism in North America and South Africa ought not be directly compared, there does exist interesting historical parallels in the establishment of fundamentalist societies on opposite sides of the Atlantic ocean. Because of this link South African Protestants were often the willing targets of creationist propaganda from North America from the second half of the previous century onwards.
Fundamentalism in South Africa
Western civilization was permanently brought to the shores of Southern Africa by Commander Jan van Riebeeck in April 1652 with the arrival of the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch at the Cape were Puritans and firm supporters of the Reformation of Martin Luther and John Calvin. In practical terms they were biblical literalists as were the Puritans deported from England to North America during the 1600s. The arrival of the French Hugenots at the Cape reinforced the puritan presence as the Hugenots fled France to escape Catholic persecution. A direct comparison of the life and times of the American settlers with those at the Cape is unwise, but some broad similarities can be identified.
Both groups settled in a totally foreign environment inhabited by a unique indigenous population. The North American deportees could not return to England, whereas the Dutch settlers could in theory relocate to their homeland. Both groups survived a difficult existence in the interior of their respective countries and were involved in major wars threatening the very fibre of their culture. In both cases the aspirations of the fundamentalists also came to naught.
It was only after the British occupation of the Cape that those inhabitants that were to become an important section of the future Afrikaner nation decided to join the Great Trek, a movement comprising about ten per cent of the whites in the Cape Colony and twenty per cent of those in the eastern districts, of which the intent was to settle as far away as possible from any British influence.
Setting off into the hostile interior in ox wagons demonstrated a particular mindset with regard to freedom and self-determination. These Voortrekkers had virtually no reading material except the Bible and there was literally no time for deep philosophical discussions about theology. The time and place demanded a practical religion, largely based on the straightforward pronouncements the Old Testament. Comparisons between the life and times of the biblical Isrealites and their God and the Voortrekkers came easily and would have been an obvious ploy to sustain morale and purpose and guide these travelers through the tough day to day conditions in the wild, punctuated by periodic hostilities by and against the indigenous population.
Even the eventuall establishment of the two republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal did not secure permanent freedom from Britain as the discovery of gold precipitated the Anglo Boer war, a watershed event in the history of the Afrikaner.
Actions that contributed to a very real hatred of the British were the establishment of concentration camps to house Afrikaner women and children, removed from the farms by force, and the willful destruction of buildings and domestic cattle. The high death rate amongst the women and particularly the children in the camps left permanent emotional scars in many instances and voices of criticism was even raised on the British side.
Dr Henry Becker, a British physician commented on conditions in the concentration camps as follows. “First they chose an ill-suited site for the camp. Then they supplied so little water that people could neither wash themselves nor their clothes. Furthermore they made no provision for sufficient waste removal. And lastly they did not provide enough toilets for the overpopulation they had crammed into the camps.”
David Lloyd George, the British Statesman, in commenting on the Anglo Boer War stated that “The fatality rate of our soldiers on the battlefield, who was exposed to all the risks of war, was 52 per thousand per year, while the fatalities of women and children in the camps were 450 per thousand per year. We have no right to put women and children in such a position.” Many Afrikaners perceived these events as a clear indication that the women, and especially the children, were being systematically exterminated.
In the aftermath of the War Afrikaners were subjected to the full implications of the scorched earth policy. With their farms destroyed they had nowhere to go but to relocate to towns and cities, with the result that urban congregations expanded considerably. Ill equipped and unqualified for commercial enterprises, landowners, by force of circumstance, became become laborers to keep life and limb together. Ultimately Afrikaners in the cities were held together by their faith and determination. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 further contributed to the establishment of a national identity as they were now required to join a recent enemy in a war against a recent ally. This in turn contributed to a total cultural warfare of which the aims were to establish Afrikaans as an official language in government, churches and schools. Further demands were for the implementation of a system of Christian National Education.
The First World War and the influenza epidemic of 1918 also contributed greatly to the problem of unemployment. According to Deist (1994) the social and political problems of the Afrikaner was so dire that at the time an “academic” theology was considered a luxury. The need was for a practical religion that provided assurance and hope without questioning the Bible as the basis of the belief system.
The development of a practical theology based on a literal reading of the Bible and applied to society at large in the form of prescriptive announcements appears to have been the norm in the historical development of the Afrikaner. A case in point is the discussion on the evils of dancing in the Handbook for Cathechism by G.B.A. Gerdener (1927) where it states as follows. “And then the Dance! Twin sister of drunkenness, the ally of darkness and Death! One thing is certain: It is not a coincidence that the words, gambling (Afrikaans: Dobbel), Drunkenness and Dance begins with the same letter as does Darkness, Death and Devil.” One cannot help but wonder whether anybody took the trouble to inform Dr Gerdener that the words Dominee (Afrikaans for Reverend), Dogma and Deacon also start with the letter D.
Such a naïve and superficial approach to matters of ostensibly theological importance, proclaimed by a respected theologian of the time, bewilders the modern reader and often results in the total rejection of the theology of the time. It does however entertain a weird logic if read as an aspect of a larger mission, dedicated to the survival of the Afrikaner against all odds, by preserving, promoting and eventually attaining a specific political and religious goal. This appears to have been the fusing of State and Church into a single functional unit and thereby claiming a God-ordained political ethnicity and mission for the Calvinist Afrikaner.
In this respect Deist (1994) mentions quite correctly how ideological frameworks were embedded within the larger socio-historical problems. The mindset underlying this mission appears to be similar to that of the later Nationalist Party where the idea of a total onslaught on the ideals of the Afrikaner was useful in maintaining coherence and fueling the drive towards the ultimate political goal.
At that time the infamous witch hunt perpetrated upon Professor Johannes du Plessis of the Theological Seminary at Stellenbosch, for daring to suggest that the creation story in Genesis might not be a factual report, was in full swing and bears evidence to the fact that the particular fundamentalist view sanctioned by religious leaders of the time was an all inclusive and prescriptive world view with a particular goal in mind. The eventual dismissal of Du Plessis, . his victory against the Church in the High Court, his reinstatement and death shortly thereafter, have been well documented by amongst others Gerdener (1943) and is now common knowledge.
During the Second World War the political aspirations of the Afrikaner was being forged with a religious paradigm in mind as is evinced by the speeches of P.J. Meyer, later to become Chairman of the Board of Control of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, as quoted in De Klerk (1975).
To Afrikanerdom belong only those who by virtue of blood , soil, culture, tradition, belief, calling form an organic unitary society.
This nation (Volk) is by nature an organic wearer of authority (gesagskleding) with the patriarchal leader as the chief bearer of authority of the nation, and with the members of the nation as active and co-operative workers.
The national Afrikaner state of the future is therefore the political embodiment and ordering of the whole of Afrikanerdom as an organic articulation of authority, and it is in this sense also a medium of Afrikanerdom to protect and promote its own fulfilment of calling (roepingsvervulling).
The Afrikaner national movement as bearer of the future national state of the Afrikaners is thus at the same time a people’s institution by means of which a natural national leadership will be formed, the inwardly directed organic interaction of the nation can be assured and individually the national members (volkslede) can be disciplined by constructive service to the nation (volksdiens) as an organic whole.
In the future Afrikaner national state (volkstaat) the undivided power granted by God rests with the Afrikaner state authority. This undivided state power, is limited in its exercise by the sovereignty in a particular sphere (soewereiniteit in eie kring) ordained by God in original creation; in the organic human entities such as the church, the individual, the family, and the nation. Furthermore, power shall only be exercised in accordance with the principles of law contained in the Word of God, and the natural legal ordinations (regsgegewenhede) as consistently revealed in history
The positive and God-given rights of the individual, the family, the nation, and the Church, are then protected and promoted by the Afrikaner nation in the sense of mutual duties to society which may not be shirked.
The future national Afrikaner state will be a leadership state, an authoritative state, and a corporative state.
At the outset of the Second World War war Oswald Pirow was prominent in the political circles of the time and decisively influenced by the ideal of National Socialism. The belief at the time that Germany might win the war prompted Pirow (1940) to publish his ideas for a new social order for South Africa in a strongly worded political tract entitled: Nuwe Orde vir Suid-Afrika (New Order for South Africa) and in September 1940 he founded a New Order Group (Nuwe Orde Groep) within the HNP (Herenigde Nasionale Party). Strong critisism from the party leadership caused Pirow to go his own way, forsaking parlimentary politics, and eventually, according to Grobler (2007) dissapearing into the political wildernis . The HNP eventually evolved into the NP or National party which was to be the political voice of the Afrikaner for the following forty odd years.
With hindsight the rejection of the social reforms suggested by Pirow seems only natural as the stance was outspokenly anti-Semitic and anti-British. In stead of a democratically constituted government he visualised a Christian National Socialistic Republic in which there was ostensibly room for other groups but which favoured the white Afrikaners and the Afrikaans language. Looking back on the policies that were eventually adopted by the National Party it almost appears as if Pirow was writing with foresight about events that were to come.
Erasmus (1946) pointed out that a local, Afrikaans version of Calvinism had developed in South Africa which lacked the stamp of imported Calvinism and neither copied the Calvinism found in any other country nor wished to be the the mouthpiece of overseas Calvinists:
“..maar wil ons eie Boerepad loop, Dit is ‘n Calvinisme wat aangepas is by nasionale verskille van aanleg, temperament, volksaard, geskiedenis en omstandighede. En daardeur is ons as volk in die vorige eeu bewaar, aan die een kant teen verengelsing en aan die ander kant teen verbastering.”
This view of Calvinism was in direct contrast with the views of early Protestantism as evinced by the response of Calvin himself when confronted with the fact that the sixteenth century astronomers concluded that Saturn was larger than the moon, the direct opposite of what was previously accepted. Instead of summarily rejecting the science of the day Calvin’s response was that it was all the more reason to praise God. According to Deist (1994) the specific form of Calvinism developed in South Africa was narrow, prescriptive and did not allow for a wider interpretation of the text. Thus religion was tailored to support a political master plan and it became colloquially known as Boere-Calvinisme. In this context the DRC became a Volkskerk (Church of the people) and handmaiden to the political aspirations of the Afrikaner.
What appears to be pivotal publications were those by the University of Pretoria sociologist Geoffrey Cronje (1945, 1947).These two books attempted to define Apartheid or Separate Development in its totality and delved into the minutiae of the proposed future political system, separating people socially and economically, on the basis of the colour of the human skin.
Cronje (1947) included chapters by Dr W. Nicol, the then moderator of the DRC and Prof. Dr E.P. Groenewald of the University of Pretoria, underwriting the system of Apartheid on biblical grounds. The perception was that if support could be found in the Holy Writ for Separate Development there would be no need to take cognizance of the critical attitudes of others countries. It turned out that the sanction for Apartheid derived from the Bible amounted to nothing more than examples like the myth of the Tower of Babel. These books were distributed amongst Afrikaners and according to De Klerk (1975) intensely discussed within the Broederbond.
So strong was the hegemony of this alliance that falsehoods could eventually be blandly stated without fear of contradiction. This led to the infamous quote by the Reverend J.D. (Koot) Vorster, future Moderator of the DRC, in The Star newspaper of September 21, 1955 to the effect that: “the theory of evolution is in direct conflict with the teaching of the Bible and should not be included in school textbooks.”
This startling revelation reinforced the official viewpoint of the DRC in the Catechism Book of Greyling et al, first published in 1950, shortly after the DRC Minister and former editor of Die Burger newspaper, D. F. Malan, of the National Party was elected prime minister, one of the pre-election promises being the removal of the so-called Cape Coloureds from the voting register.
Up to 1966 publication of this Catechism Book underwent seventeen reprints totalling 200 000 copies. That it can be taken as the official position of the DRC on evolution at the time is patently clear. It was aimed at impressionable young people about to become responsible members of the DRC, explaining the parameters of the faith and how to conduct oneself within the flock. The text was consequently authored by eight ministers of the Church and examined by a further nine individuals including professors of Theology, ordained ministers and one doctor.
Evolution is given short shrift under the main heading of Sects and Fallacies. In this section the process of evolution is incorrectly confused with evolutionism, and fish, birds and insects are, surprisingly, considered separate from animals. Finally it is claimed that evolutionism (sic) considers living beings (plants, fish, birds, insects, animals and humans), through the process of descent, to belong to the same group or family. In the light of the fact-based findings of a large number of scientific disciplines at the time, not the least of which was the discipline of Systematics, this cavalier attitude towards factual evidence and the stunning level of scientific ignorance of one of the greatest advances in human understanding, surely speaks of ulterior motives and hidden agendas.
It is further stated that:
1. Everything has been created, there was no development.
2. Gods ordinance is fixed e.g. the laws of procreation, multiplication and growth in plants, animals and humans. The concept of evolution is then, quite incorrectly, reduced to development within fixed kinds.
3. Everything has been created by God, according to its kind and not as the result of developmental processes.
4. Humans have been specially created to reign over God’s creation and did not develop from animals. Consequently the qualities peculiar to human existence viz. intellectual ability, soul, language, religion, morality, marriage and method of creation presents an unbridgeable divide between humans and animals. Particular attention is paid to the position of Eve It is stated that she was created perfect, by God, from a portion of the man. She did therefore not develop from lower animals neither did she develop from Adam, because he was sleeping at the time. (Twenty-twenty hindsight notwithstanding, it is perhaps timely to graciously concede that the examiners of this portion of the text were also sleeping at the time.)
5. The work of God is finished to perfection. There is no place for the concept of development from lower to higher.
6. Perhaps the most damning revelation is the conclusion that the concept of evolution is then judged to be unscriptural and irreconcilable with the Word of God because the believer bows his head in child-like fashion and accepts the Word of God as the truth through faith, which is solid proof of things which are not seen or have not been seen. Evolution therefore has no basis of proof. (Italics in the original.)
At the time these words were written there was already ample proof of the presence of the process of evolution in nature and that it functioned on an order of magnitude which readily explained the relatedness of all life forms and the development of animal and plant life from simple to complex. Archaeopteryx, evincing a mix of reptile and bird characteristics and known from the time of Darwin, was clearly a form intermediate between reptiles and birds.
Even more telling was the work of the German embryologist Reichert, who, during the first half of the nineteenth century elegantly demonstrated, with an extensive series of histological sections of recent vertebrates, including humans, that the unique combination of ear ossicles found in mammals were derived from the ancestral reptilian jaw articulation. This was followed by the discovery and description of a large number of mammal-like reptile fossils from the Great Karoo in South Africa. The upshot of this development was that in 1912 the German anatomist Ernst Gaupp provided, through his research on the mammal-like reptiles, the palaeontological basis for the reptile-mammal link in the evolution of the mammalian ear bones. This is now known as the Reichert-Gaupp theory and is quite correctly described by Novacek (1993) as one of the milestones in the history of comparative biology.
In addition, fossil hominids from South Africa, like the famous Taung child, Australopithecus africanus, had been known since 1925 and by 1950 additional specimens from Africa and elsewhere were unequivocal evidence of the evolutionary origins of modern humans.
In totally disregarding the available scientific evidence for evolution, the authors of the Catechism Book failed also to offer an alternative scientific exposition. This readily invites the conclusion that there existed an ulterior motive for denying the relatedness of life forms and especially the fact that all living humans belonged to a single species.
High school biology texts of the time and well into the 1960’s underlined this approach in the treatment of vertebrates such fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals in pointedly omitting underlying evolutionary relationships and, instead, concentrating on those characteristics which ostensibly highlight differences between the various forms.
I experienced the inner workings of the system in the 1970’s when the Afrikaans translations of a whole series hard cover children’s biology books, published by The Archon Press, was refused placement in school libraries by the then Cape Provincial Department of Education. Reasons given by the departemental representative was that books were badly bound, over coloured and that the snippets of text accompanying the illustrations were too long. The South African Publisher lost a large amount of money and it was only after repeated enquiries that a departmental representative finally admitted that the series was actually turned down because the text was too ”pro-evolution.”
That the policy was effectively pursued over the years is shown by an article in the mouthpiece of the Dutch Reformed Church, Die Kerkbode, of May 27. 1981 in which Reverend Dr. S.J. Eloff, a synodal expert on tuition, admitted that selected professors perused school and university handbooks from time to time in order to ensure that the texts do not include viewpoints that support evolutionism. He also added that the church had never argued against evolution if it is understood as development within kinds.
It must, however, be noted that in 1987 the then Western Transvaal Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church accepted, with a large majority, the scientific validity of the process of evolution, with the proviso that it did not deny the existence of God. This decision was forwarded to be discussed at the next meeting of the National Synod but was apparently never tabled.
This kind of behaviour partially explains why such information does not reach members of the various congregations via their ministers and may be the reason, according to Moore (1992) why members of the Dutch Reformed Church still employ creationist arguments as if it represent the Reformed viewpoint.
Changes in the South African political landscape after 1994 and the accompanying insecurity in some circles, apparently boosted fundamentalist convictions. The establishment of a different groupings amongst the religious right, including the Afrikaners, who support a literal interpretation of the Word bears evidence to this. In addition, as early as 1992 O’Neill noted signs of a strong a fundamentalist movement within the black churches as well.
The eventual inclusion of evolution, and especially human evolution, in High School Biology curricula after 1994 resulted in an upsurge of anti-evolution pronouncements by fundamentalists. This trend is readily apparent at universities where young people are specifically targeted by creationist groups like Shofar at the University of Stellenbosch.
Universites are democratic institutions and cannot deny individuals access based on their religious convictions. Currently nothing prevents a creationist to keep quiet about his or her religious convictions and attain even a PhD in the Natural Sciences. He/she can then present themselves as knowledgeable about science and claim science to be a false view of the natural world, based on their fundamentalist convictions. This was percisely the advice offered to BSc undergraduates at the University of Stellenbosch on 5 March 2008 by the Australian creationist Don Batten after his talk, Evolution, a Dark a Age for Science and Society?, Batten holds a PhD in Horticulture and is employed by Creation Ministries International of Australia. He is also the author of the article, Where are All the People? in which he claims that our current world population of six and a half billion humans descended from Noah’s sons and daughters in law over the past 6000 years.
Another CMI employee, Emil Silvestru, promoted the biblical flood as a world wide historical event in a talk entitled, Waters of Contention, at the same venue on 27 August 2008. Despite a Ph.D. in Geology, and an enormous amount of fact-based research to the contrary, Silvestru, as a creationist, still insists on the literal truth of the Genesis flood myth.
Currently creationism has been completely refuted scientifically, biblically as well as on legal grounds, the latter as the result of a series of court proceedings in the U.S.A. Yet creationists in the U.S.A., South Africa and in Australia still openly fly in the face of reason. Fry (1983) has outlined the general attitude of the mainstream churches as follows:
“In addition to the successful ecumenical challenge of creationism in the Arkansas case, doctrinal statements have been made on the highest ecclesiastical levels during recent years within the Roman Catholic, the Episcopal and the Presbyterian churches. Each of these denominations affirms God’s creation of the universe, but on the basis of that affirmation they deny the eccentric interpretations of creation which creation-science seeks to impose… In rejecting the religious bases of creationism, the General Assembly explicitly cited the theological consensus of protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish understanding. Suggesting that the dispute over creation science is not really over biology of faith, but is essentially about biblical interpretation, particularly over two viewpoints regarding the characteristics of biblical literature and the nature of biblical authority, the Resolution proceeded to affirm that the imposition of a literalist viewpoint about the interpretation of biblical literature – where every word is taken with uniform literalness and becomes an absolute authority on all matters, whether moral, religious, political, historical or scientific – is in conflict with the perspective on biblical interpretation characteristically maintained by biblical scholars and biblical schools in the mainstream of Protestantism, Roman Catholicism and Judaism. Such scholars, and we believe, most Presbyterians find that the scientific theory of evolution does not conflict with their interpretation of the origins of life found in the biblical literature.”
In South Africa the naive claims of creationists appear to be at least partially associated with strong historical ties to a previous, unjust political dispensation. The fact that it also appeals to young people who had no part in the erstwhile politics is an interesting phenomenon because it produces and sustains individuals that are ill-equipped to deal rationally with a complex science-driven world. One explanation might be that to embrace the naïve and superficial assurances of the creationist world view may represent an ill judged attempt to excape the complex realities and insecurities of a postmodern world. Mainstream churches should therefore reflect about how appropriate their message still is for young people who flock to the quick-fix approach of fundamentalist groups.
In the aftermath of 1994 the DRC has finally condemned the system of Apartheid and the leadership has noticeably softened in attitude towards science and especially the process of evolution. These developments should, however, be rationally communicated to members and especially young people. How this can be successfully brought about is, in the light of the adverse experiences of ministers that have actually attempted to do so, not yet clear.