Are there many mutually incompatible theories of evolution around today?

The short answer

No. All evolutionists agree on the basics at issue in the creationism vs. evolution debate. On the other hand, there are a great many mutually incompatible creationist camps.

The longer answer

I. The major elements of evolution

According to the late, eminent evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr (1991:36-37), the five major elements of Darwinian evolution are:

  1. The transformation of organisms over time.
  2. The common descent of all organisms.
  3. The multiplication of species through speciation.
  4. Gradual rather than saltationary change.
  5. Natural selection as the driving force behind the change.

All evolutionists accept the first four elements and also agree that natural selection plays a prominent role in evolution. There is some disagreement about the relative roles played by natural selection and by other mechanisms like neutral mutation and sexual selection. These disagreements are not helpful to creationists since creationism requires the denial of the second claim, about which there is no dispute at all.

II. Compatibility of gradualism and punctuated equilibrium

It is worth making a side note about punctuated equilibrium and the fourth claim. Although punctuationalism always denied saltationary change, in its early years it often was thought to be deny gradualism as well.  However, the consensus for some time has been that there really is no conflict between punctuated equilibrium and gradualism. Michael Rose explains:

With time, the controversy [between punctuated equilibrium and Darwinian gradualism] diffused. Population geneticists showed that even gradual selection within populations could produce evolutionary change that would appear virtually instantaneous on a geological time-scale, such as that defined by the fossil record. [Stephen Jay] Gould [one of the originators of punctuated equilibrium] backed away from some of his flirtations with non-Darwinian evolution. The main people who felt that something big had really happened were the editors who put together cover stories for popular magazines, as well as the rabble of anti-Darwinians, including creationists, who are so often happy to celebrate confusion among the Darwinians.

The consensus now is pretty much where Darwin was. We expect evolution to be sedate in biological time, but its results can appear fairly abrupt and disjointed in the fossil record. (Rose 1998:88-89)

III. Many mutually exclusive creationist camps

If anyone thinks that the shades of disagreement among evolutionists cast any doubt on evolution itself, then they surely must consider creationism completely bankrupt given the massive disagreements among creationists. In the Christian tradition alone, they divide into numerous camps according to their contradictory readings of the supposedly clear Word of God. There are:

  • Day/age creationists such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who believe that each “day” in the first chapter of Genesis may represent hundreds of millions of years.
  • Gap theorists who follow the Scofield Reference Bible in asserting that there were two creations. According to this view, Genesis 1:1 describes an initial creation which involved all of the extinct life now found in the fossil record, while the later verses describe a second creation involving the life forms that are alive today.
  • Progressive creationists who believe in “a series of numerous separate creations, each interrupted by a gap in the fossil record” (Edwords 1983:305).
  • Special creationists such as the members of the Institute for Creation Research, who hold that all life was created in six 24-hour periods around 6,000 years ago, and that Noah’s Flood is responsible for everything from the fossil record to radiometric dates.

There also are individual creationists who do not fit neatly into any the categories above. For instance, Michael Behe—one of the most well-known contemporary creationists—openly acknowledges his belief in common descent:

I find the idea of common descent (that all organisms share a common ancestry) fairly convincing, and have no particular reason to doubt it. I greatly respect the work of my colleagues who study the development and behavior of organisms within an evolutionary framework, and I think that evolutionary biologists have contributed enormously to our understanding of the world. (Behe 1996:5)

As reported by Kenneth R. Miller, Behe does not share even the primary quarrel of most creationists, namely the common descent of humans and the great apes:

In a 1995 debate, I presented [Behe] with molecular evidence indicating that humans and the great apes shared a recent, common ancestor, wondering how he would refute the obvious. Without skipping a beat, he pronounced the evidence to be convincing, and stated categorically that he had absolutely no problem with the common ancestry of humans and great apes. Creationists around the room—who had viewed him as their new champion—were dismayed. (Miller 1999:164)

Finally, it is worth emphasizing that all of the above are only a sample of Christian varieties of creationism. There are other religions with their own brands of creationism (see, for instance, Edis 2007, for an in-depth account of Islamic creationism).


Behe M. 1996. Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New York: Free Press.

Edis T. 2007. An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam. Amherst, NY: Prometheus.

Edwords F. 1983. Is it really fair to give creationism equal time? In Godfrey 1983:11-32.

Mayr E. 1991. One Long Argument. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Miller KR. 1999. Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution. New York: Cliff Street Books.

Rose MR. 1998. Darwin’s Spectre: Evolutionary Biology in the Modern World. Princeton: Princeton University Press.