The Word and the Works: Concordism in American Evangelical Thought

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American thinking about religion and science in the nineteenth century was substantially informed by the powerful metaphor of God as the “author”of two “books,” nature and scripture, which ultimately must agree. American scientists and theologians followed Francis Bacon and Galileo Galilei, who had used this metaphor to elevate the status of science from being merely a “handmaiden to theology” to becoming an equal partner in the search for truth. For Galileo, the unambiguous book of nature could aid in interpreting the ambiguous book of scripture; for Bacon, although the book of nature was largely separate from the book of scripture, it could nevertheless function as a religious text, by showing us the wisdom and power of God, thus giving science a vital theological dimension. This “concordist” model of two mutually supportive, divinely authored books, was widely used through the mid-nineteenth century, especially by evangelical geologists in New England. In the wake of Darwin, however, concordism came undone, and no one model has gained the adherence of enough evangelicals to function as its replacement. It has been rejected on the one hand by theistic evolutionists such as Asa Gray, who tend to separate theology from science or else to reshape theology along scientific lines, and on the other hand (more recently) by scientific creationists, who tend to reshape science to conform to their interpretation of scripture. To a significant degree, one’s view of evolution determines which model one endorses.


Originally published as:

Davis, Edward. (2006). The Word and the Works: Concordism in American Evangelical Thought.