Scripture in the Hands of Geologists (Part Two) -- By: Davis A. Young

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 49:2 (Fall 1987)
Article: Scripture in the Hands of Geologists (Part Two)
Author: Davis A. Young


Scripture in the Hands of Geologists (Part Two)*

Davis A. Young

III. Concordism

1. Neptunism

We next trace the history of the concordist tradition. In general, concordists were more empirically minded than literalists and were willing to adopt more flexible interpretations of Scripture in order to harmonize with a developing scientific picture of terrestrial history. The concordist tradition began with neptunism and came into full flower in the nineteenth century.

Although diluvialism diminished by the end of the eighteenth century, other geological theories existed that could also be harmonized with Scripture. During the eighteenth and earliest nineteenth centuries one widely held theory, developed primarily in France and Germany and later transported to the British Isles,1 (91) was neptunism. For many continental naturalists the neptunist approach was the best way to explain the features in rocks. Where efforts were made to correlate neptunism with biblical data, the writers often showed little conviction regarding the truth of Scripture. Interpretations of biblical texts were generally far less literalistic than those of British diluvialists and were put forward in order to maintain peace with the theologians. When transported into Great Britain, however, neptunism was defended on biblical grounds

* [Part One, which appeared in WTJ 49:1 (1987) 1–34, surveyed the history of literalism in the interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis by Christian geologists. Part Two, focusing on the concordist tradition, concludes Dr. Young’s essay.—Ed.].

[Electronic version footnotes begin with #1. The actual printed version footnotes are in parentheses following the footnote mark.]

with the same zeal evident among earlier diluvialists. For British neptunists, neptunism was obviously what the Bible taught.

The major tenet of neptunism was that the original earth had been completely covered by the sea. As time elapsed, the sea diminished and landmasses emerged. Life gained a foothold on the landmasses and in shallow marine areas. The emerged landmasses were eroded, and the erosion products, including the remains of organisms, accumulated as fossiliferous sediment layers on the seabottom and on the flanks on the landmasses. To neptunists the observation that clearly marine stratified rocks rested on older primitive mountains was striking evidence that the world had emerged from a universal ocean. In a refined, late eighteenth to early nineteenth century version of neptunism developed by the great German geologist, Abraham G. Werner,You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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