Just as with evolution, the word creationism has a broad and a narrow definition. Broadly, creationism refers to the idea of creation by a supernatural force. To Christians, Jews, and Muslims, this supernatural force is God; to people of other religions, it is other deities. The creative power may be unlimited, like that of the Christian God, or it may be restricted to the ability to affect certain parts of nature, such as heavenly bodies or certain kinds of living things.

The term creationism to many people connotes the theological doctrine of special creationism: that God created the universe essentially as we see it today, and that this universe has not changed appreciably since that creation event. Special creationism includes the idea that God created living things in their present forms, and it reflects a literalist view of the Bible. It is most closely associated with the endeavor of "creation science," which includes the view that the universe is only 10,000 years old. But the most important aspect of special creation is the idea that things are created in their present forms. In intelligent design creationism, for example, God is required to specially create complex structures such as the bacterial flagellum or the body plans of animals of the Cambrian period, even though many if not most intelligent design proponents accept an ancient Earth.

It is important to define terms and use them consistently. In this book, the usual connotation of creationism will be the Christian view that God created directly. Special creationism is the most familiar form of direct creationism, but some Christians view God as creating sequentially rather than all at once. Later in this chapter, readers will be introduced to a range of religious views about creationism and evolution that will help clarify these relationships.

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