Stephen Jay Gould, the famous late scientist and writer, made the observation that belief in "creationism" is pretty much limited to certain groups in the USA. He said, "I hope everyone realizes the extent to which this is a local, indigenous, American bizzarity." Many outside the USA seem to share the belief. Ronald Numbers, a Professor of History and Medicine at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and perhaps the world's foremost authority on the study of creationism, says that Gould's idea is a complete myth.
Numbers is perhaps best known for having written The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism. He has devoted a significant portion of his career to the study of the emergence and propagation of creationist ideas. He has also edited a very interesting book entitled Galileo Goes to Jail, and Other Myths About Science and Religion. He personally wrote the chapter describing the myth about creationism being a purely American phenomenon.
It is certainly true that the creationist movement started in the USA, and it continues to be very strong here. What appears to be a myth, however, is the idea that creationist ideas are a purely American phenomenon and haven't taken hold in other countries. In fact, Numbers has meticulously recorded evidence of strong creationist groups outside the USA. For example, he notes that creationist thinking has been very positively received in both Australia and New Zealand. Closer to home, he observes that Canada may have more creationists per capita than anywhere else. Even though less than one third of Canadians attend church regularly, survey data show that 53% of adults in Canada reject the theory of scientific evolution.
One normally doesn't think of people in Europe, especially Western Europe, as having strong religious leanings, yet creationism has definitely taken hold there. Numbers cites a United Kingdom poll that shows four in ten people in the UK think that religious alternatives to Darwin's theory should be taught as science in the schools. Surveys show that only 45% of respondents believe that evolution best represents their personal views. On the other hand 22% identified themselves as supporters of creationism, while 17% endorsed Intelligent Design.
Elsewhere in Western Europe, Numbers notes that 20% of those surveyed appear to believe in special creation. Young earth creationism, the most conservative version, is widely endorsed in various countries. For example, surveys show that 21.8% of the Swiss say they're young earth creationists. Lest you conclude that yodeling or Swiss chocolate may have inflicted some unintended consequences on the populace, 20.4% of Austrians self-identify as young earth creationists. The number in Germany is 18.1%.
In Latin America, a similar phenomenon is occurring. Belief in creationism has skyrocketed in Brazil, for example. In Asia, belief in creationism also seems to be on the rise, particularly in Korea.
Perhaps even more surprising is the data Numbers has compiled about non-Christians outside the USA. He notes much interest expressed by Muslims in Turkey. A creationist movement has emerged there, too. Not to be outdone, Jews in Israel have also been embracing creationism. In fact, Numbers cites the emergence of the Torah Science Foundation in Israel to promote creationist ideas. A particular variation on this is what is called "Kosher evolution". This involves an acceptance of micro-evolution but rejection of macro-evolution.
The obvious question to ask is, how did this come about? Numbers notes that various groups have been evangelizing the creationist message. One group in particular, based in Kentucky and called Answers in Genesis, has definitely been proselytizing. Just as Christians have been faithfully following the Great Commandment to spread the Gospel, so have creationists been adhering to a Great Creationist Commandment to do the same with respect to creationist doctrine.
The spread of interest in creationism outside the USA has been accompanied by an increasing desire to teach alternative scientific theories to evolution by natural selection. Just as creationists and supporters of Intelligent Design have pushed to have alternative science taught in schools, the same is true outside the USA.
Numbers has observed that secular scientists in many of these countries are shocked at this development, seemingly thinking that the impossible has come to pass. However, just as atheist scientists in the USA are absolutely shocked and appalled that, notwithstanding all of the scientific evidence, about half of the USA adult population is skeptical of Darwin, and only one quarter of Christians embrace Darwinian thinking, is it really a surprise that attitudes are the same in other countries? This again seems consistent with the notion that there is no science/religion continuum. The idea that the more one believes in science, the less they'll believe in religion … and vice versa … is a myth. Moreover, it is a worldwide myth that applies throughout the world.
Just as the embrace of creationism by many in the USA has led to a battle about what science is taught in the public schools, so are similar battles emerging in countries around the world. Scientists are understandably horrified by this, but they really shouldn't be surprised. When all is said and done, there is nothing uniquely American about creationism, intelligent design, and other forms of opposition to Darwin's theory.