Stefaan Blancke, Hans Henrik Hjermitslev, and Peter C. Kjærgaard (eds), foreword by Ronald L. Numbers, Creationism In Europe

Stefaan Blancke, Hans Henrik Hjermitslev, and Peter C. Kjærgaard (eds), foreword by Ronald L. Numbers, Creationism In Europe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 2014) 296 pp. $39.95 Hb. ISBN: 978-1-4214-1562-8

‘As insidious as it may seem, at least it’s not a worldwide movement […] I hope everyone realizes the extent to which this is a local, indigenous, American bizzarity’.1 Thus the late evolutionary biologist and populariser of science Stephen Jay Gould attempted to reassure readers that creationism was a phenomenon as uniquely American as apple pie or high school marching bands. However, particularly within the anglosphere, the situation is more complicated; geographies of creationism present a tangled web. Although based in Kentucky, Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis, America’s most prominent creationist organisation, is in fact Australian. In Northern Ireland, the Caleb Foundation has successfully lobbied for the inclusion of creationist viewpoints at museums such as the Giant’s Causeway visitor centre, while a study of Northern Irish science teachers found that more than one fifth doubted the scientific evidence for human evolution.2These few exceptions notwithstanding, a review of the extant literature broadly supports Gould’s claim; there is a relative paucity of material dealing with creationism outside of the United States. Indeed, even Ronald Numbers’s definitive survey of creationism devotes only a short chapter to worldwide creationism, and then only in the expanded second edition.3 That is not to say that the global history of creationism was a blind spot for Numbers; he included a chapter refuting Gould’s assertion in his edited volume Galileo Goes to Jail, debunking the ‘myth’ that creationism is a uniquely American phenomenon.

Nevertheless, an international study of creationism remains a desideratum, and so it is pleasing to see this collection of essays investigating the European context attempt to remedy this gap in the literature. Creationism in Europe is edited by Stefaan Blancke at Universiteit Gent, Hans Henrik Hjermitslev at University College Syddanmark and Peter C Kjærgaard at Aarhus Universitet. The three had collaborated previously on an article for Journal of the American Academy of Religion offering a brief survey of European creationism, alongside Johan Braeckman, who here contributes to the chapter on the Low Countries.

Beginning with a characteristically engaging foreword from Numbers, Creationism in Europe then proceeds to a series of essays divided either thematically or geographically. First, Blancke, Hjermitslev, and Kjærgaard provide an introductory essay, developing their earlier article, and setting out the framework for the rest of the book. They note the increase in creationist literature in Europe (1-2), highlight the North American heritage of creationist movements (2-5), and sketch the spread to other countries, with brief overviews of the geographical areas discussed in subsequent essays. The bulk of these are arranged geographically; either by individual country, such as those on France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Poland, Greece, and Turkey, or by closely related cultural areas such as Spain and Portugal, the Low Countries, Scandinavia, and Russia and its neighbours. The final chapters then turn to thematic considerations: an investigation of the relationship between Catholicism and creationism, a survey of one of the most popular creationist arguments, that of intelligent design, and a final chapter sketching some organised resistance within Europe to creationism. The book then concludes with a most interesting discussion of the intellectual heritage of creationism by the historian of science Nicolaas Rupke. This chapter offers a vital piece of historical context, yet it lacks any conclusion or synthesis of the preceding essays; consequently, it would have more profitably served as an introductory chapter.

The decision to focus on separate geographical areas is particularly fruitful; historians of science such as David Livingstone have long argued that ideas are understood most profitably in their geographical contexts, and by stressing the different reception afforded to creationist arguments across these distinct geographical areas, the book continues that trend.4 However, where Creationism in Europe is particularly strong is in its treatment of non-protestant creationism. Evangelical protestantism in particular has been the focus of most general surveys, and it is therefore extremely helpful to see Orthodox, Muslim, and Catholic countries discussed. Indeed, given the dearth of scholarship on the topic, the essay by Rafael Martínez and Thomas Glick offers a particularly useful historical overview of Catholicism’s engagement with creationism.

For the most part, the essays are impressive surveys, and suggest profitable avenues for more detailed studies. They are excellently written, with a commendable quality of prose; not always a given with collaborative efforts. There are, however, a few minor criticisms to be made. Joachim Allagaier’s able chapter on the United Kingdom neglects to discuss Northern Ireland, the site of the United Kingdom’s most fervent creationist movements; indeed, a comparison with the Republic of Ireland might have been helpful. Allagaier also only very briefly touches upon Muslim creationism. Similarly, the essays treating other countries with sizeable Muslim populations, such as those on Germany, France and the Low Countries, might also have benefited from a consideration of Muslim creationism, particularly in the light of Martin Riexinger’s excellent treatment of creationism in Turkey, and given that Hjermitslev and Kjærgaard do briefly tackle Islamic creationism in their chapter on Scandinavia. One final criticism is that the book would have benefited from a concluding chapter that summed up those preceding; the individual geographical essays do a good job of highlighting the different geographies of creationism, but a consideration of the similarities would have been a helpful addition.

Overall, however, these are minor criticisms about an extremely useful work that is aimed as an introduction rather than a definitive study. This is a fine collection of essays on an understudied topic, and will provide an essential starting point for any further research of European creationism. It is uniformly well written, accessible to the non-specialist, and makes a vital contribution to the existing scholarship.

Stuart Mathieson,
Queen’s University Belfast

1 Quoted in Ronald Numbers (ed.), Galileo Goes to Jail, and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press 2010), p. 215

2 Conor McCrory and Colette Murphy, ‘The Growing Visibility of Creationism in Northern Ireland: Are New Science Teachers Equipped to Deal with the Issues?’ in Evolution: Education and Outreach (2009) 2(3): 372–385

3 Ronald Numbers, The Creationists, 2nd ed (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press 2006)

4 See, for example David Livingstone, Putting Science in its Place: Geographies of Scientific Knowledge (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2003), and Dealing with Darwin: Place, Politics, and Rhetoric in Religious Engagements with Evolution (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 2014).