Choking on Bacon: Challenges to Concordism from Clerics and Skeptics

Why did some 19th century Americans reject efforts to “harmonize” science and the Bible?
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Comments and questions are always welcome–on the series as a whole (now that it’s ended) as well as on this final column.

I should not have been caught by surprise about “concordism” being the term generally used (now) for the conviction that the Bible and science, when both accurately interpreted, will always be in harmony. But I had recently come under the impression that concordism was a narrower category that referred specifically to those who thought every physical reference (in Genesis 1, say) corresponds to (“concords” with) something that science should be able to find or verify. And in that sense I had not thought of myself as a concordist since I reject the notion that, for example, days must correspond to ages, or all other extreme notions of trying to decode secret sciences from biblical numerologies, etc.

But if the broader notion that there will be harmony between all these things properly understood (which I firmly believe) is itself underneath the concordist umbrella, then I guess I’m in that tent after all. So long as concordists don’t insist that only narrow scientific interpretations of Scriptures count, I guess we’re okay.

It seems unlikely though, that some of the subjects in your essay would have allowed for such a broad acceptance, and probably wouldn’t have been “choking” if they had. Are our meanings and intentions around these concepts evolving considerably since this historical period?

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Yes, well said. Concordism only gets in trouble when it makes empirical errors. What was the geological evidence Silliman thought confirmed Noah’s flood? It surely wasn’t evidence that made others reach the same conclusion. Cooper wisely corrects this error–even if venturing into religious scorn. Those such as Hugh Ross may profitably meditate on how God’s physical world corresponds to the Biblical text. His error lies in inductive/empirical conclusions that aren’t supported by data and ends with a scientific gaff (denying biological evolution).

Augustine is a concordist in the Literal Interpretation of Genesis when he attempts to parse the day events with a logical progression of the physical world. He is openly confused by such things as light before the sun etc. However most importantly, he reaches the conclusion that his confusion does not justify the overthrow of the evidence. His famous conclusion begins, “Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world…” I think Augustine would have liked to have read John Walton’s work reevaluating the verb “create” in a ANE cultural context.

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Theologians of this time had an advantage in dealing with science that we don’t have today. In the places where science seem to be in conflict with the Bible, they could always say, “But our science is very inexact, and we are just starting to learn about it,” and defer to the Bible description.

In answer to Doug_Bode/s question, the ancient discovery of fossils of sea creatures on mountain tops seemed to confirm that the entire world had been covered with water at some time in the past. This interpretation of the fossil evidence only began to break down in the early 19th century when geologists learned how rocks had formed, and wasn’t fully explained until the acceptance of plate tectonics in the 1960s.

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There’s no reason you should change your own definition of concordism. The term itself is almost certainly much more recent than Silliman and Hitchcock, who thought of it as “progressive creation.” In my series on science and the Bible, I drew on Bernard Ramm to give it a specific definition, here: Old-Earth (Progressive) Creationism: History and Beliefs - BioLogos

Ramm himself went on to embrace what he called “moderate concordism,” which he identified as a “pictorial day” approach, such as that adopted by Hugh Miller, P J Wiseman, and others.

This can be very confusing, admittedly. When using terms such as “concordism” or “theistic evolution” (which IMO is not concordism), my sole concern is to be as clear as possible about what the term means when I use it. Thus, the various positions on science and the Bible all begin with a discussion of terminology.

Thanks for the link to your prior piece from 2012 that specifically addresses this. I’m sure I read it with interest back at the time, but the review was helpful. So my take-away for the moment is that while I firmly hold the conviction that the Bible, properly understood, will be in harmony with science properly understood (all very concordist sounding thus far), I nevertheless then should go on to clarify that I don’t in most cases think a proper understanding of the Bible includes treating it as a series of scientific claims (which is where I would differ from some traditional concordists).

As shall always be true while we have these things to talk about I’m sure.

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