Why is creationism so popular in the US, but dead in Europe?

According to a Gallup survey conducted in 2019, 40% of Americans identify themselves as creationists. This figure varies from country to country in Europe, but in no country, it gets any close to the US number.

Religious Wars in Europe

The 16th and 17th centuries were tumultuous in Europe. From the very moment that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, things turned upside down very quickly. For his criticism of the Catholic church and its practice of indulgence, Martin Luther was excommunicated – but that didn’t silence him. Instead, he sought refuge among nobles with like-minded thoughts, translated the Bible into German, and spread pamphlets and letters.

And as Europe split on this issue, naturally it ended in war. One set of religious wars ended in the Peace of Augsburg of 1555, which included the clause cuius regio, eius religio – “whose realm, his religion”. But that really didn’t help and the Reformation still split Europe, even if every prince or king could have either Catholicism or Reformed Christianity in his realm.

In about 1618, the English language got the new word “defenestration”. Actually, it was the second defenestration of Prague (the first was in 1419): the Holy Roman Emperor had sent delegates to the electors of the empire in Prague, more or less trying to nullify cuius regio, eius religio. And the electors threw the delegates out the window.

The result was the Thirty Years War. Protestant princes against the Holy Roman Empire, with Catholic France supporting the Protestants in order to weaken the Holy Roman Empire, and then Swedes, English, Scots, Danes and Dutch joining in on the Protestant side, with Spain supporting the Holy Roman Empire.

Treaty of Westphalia

In 1648, the war finally ended with the Treaty of Westphalia, which only changed Europe and international diplomacy forever. It defined countries as a people within a border represented by a government which could be represented by a delegation, instead of subjects of a king who owned land directly or indirectly through sworn nobles. It stated that each country’s affairs was no other country’s concern. And it reiterated cuius regio, eius religio.

What happened then was a lot of adaptation to the new world order. Protestant countries now had a state church which was subordinate to the government, rather as before when God through the Vatican was above all. The Vatican did not like religious extremists from before (except when you could send them on a crusade against the Muslims), but now Protestant churches started to dislike these extremists as well.

And that meant that fundamentalists and biblical literalists never found a home in Europe. So they moved to the colonies, which were also a thing at the time, where they could be fundamentalist and biblical literalist without being bothered by anyone, for instance kings.

American Revolution

Well, you know the rest: First Great Awakening, Boston Tea Party, the Revolution, Second Great Awakening, Civil War, etc.

The point is that because of the Treaty of Westphalia, Europe wanted well-behaving mainstream Christian subjects who did not create a fuss, and became pretty intolerant of fundamentalists. The fundamentalists were instead shipped off to the colonies, or shipped themselves off. So that is where the idea of creationism got a hold.

Meanwhile in Europe, Christian fundamentalists were few and far in between, so creationism never became a thing in Europe.

Krister Sundelin

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