Bibliotheca Sacra and Darwinism An Analysis of the Nineteenth-Century Conflict between Science and Theology -- By: John D. Hannah

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 004:1 (Spring 1983)
Article: Bibliotheca Sacra and Darwinism An Analysis of the Nineteenth-Century Conflict between Science and Theology
Author: John D. Hannah


Bibliotheca Sacra and Darwinism
An Analysis of the Nineteenth-Century
Conflict between Science and Theology

John D. Hannah

Clergymen and educators in the previous century generally viewed the Scriptures and scientific theory to be harmonious volumes in the revelation of God. In a century that also viewed science as the receptacle of truth, however, clerics felt compelled to revise their explanations of Scripture in light of the dictates of geology and biology. They assumed correctly that science was ultimately in congruity with special revelation, but seriously erred in assuming that the contemporary interpretations of scientific data were necessarily valid. Accordingly, they adjusted their interpretation of the Scriptures in light of 19th-century science and eventually imposed a theistic developmentalism upon creation. The actions of those clergymen, though explainable when viewed from the assumptions of their century, serve as a warning to all of us that Scripture alone is infallible and the opinions of men must be evaluated at the tribunal of Gods Word.

* * *

Before the publication of Chambers’ Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation and Darwin’s Origin of Species, the marriage of theology and science appeared as a sacred and, hence, an inviolable institution. To the perceptive eye, the subjection of science as the handmaiden, a branch of Natural Theology, was greatly shaken by the Copernican Revolution, but the theological world thought itself secure in the belief that the findings of science could only buttress the hold of religion by sustaining a Paleyan view of nature. The publication of Darwin’s Origin became the occasion whereby science sought, as Loewenberg has asserted, to be “freed from centuries of bondage

to metaphysics and theology.”1 That work signaled the attempt of science to gain its freedom from the sphere of subservience to religion and, as subsequent history has demonstrated, to establish its own supremacy in a “period of the decomposition of orthodoxies.”2 As Hofstadter stated: “Religion has been forced to share its traditional authority with science, and American thought has been secularized…, evolution has been translated into divine purpose, and in the hands of skillful preachers religion enlivened and refreshed by the infusion of an authoritative idea from the field of science.”3

The invasion of science into the sanctuary of religion, or better, the emancipation of the former from the latter, created the greatest effusions of conster...

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