Discordant Views on Concordism | The BioLogos Forum

(system) #1

Literal, history, myth, inerrancy. Science, theory, design, random, creationism, evolution. These are but a few of the terms used in discussions of origins that are prone to misunderstanding and equivocation, even by the experts. In our own study, we have noticed such confusion with respect to the term “concordism.” Concordism, generally, is the supposition that the biblical and non-biblical data on a given topic can and should be harmonized (of course, the term “harmonized” itself is open to varying definitions, which creates the problem for understanding “concordism”). A simple example is seeing Genesis 1:1 and the Big Bang as describing the same event. The concept of concordism is particularly relevant when there appears to be a discrepancy between what the Bible says and what general revelation says. Our specific focus is the use of “concordism” regarding the biblical and scientific data concerning the age and development of the universe/earth and of living creatures, including humanity.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blog/discordant-views-on-concordism

(Brad Kramer) #2

Both authors are available to answer comments or questions.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #3

Thank you Drs. Kenneth and Brian,

I agree that concordism is an important topic. I remember when I was accused of being a Concordist when I pointed out that the Gen 1 pointed to the Big Bang long before science came up with this understanding of the Creation. Where as I do not agree that all aspects of Genesis are scientifically true, I do believe that this one is very important, because it is the basis of our Biblical cosmology which is also the basis of Western scientific cosmology.

There is where the problem of concordism arises. It arises from theological/science dualism, which claims that something must be scientific or theological with nothing in between, or the fallacy of the false dilemma or missing middle.

Cosmology is not theology or science, but a philosophical discipline which considers evidence from both science and theology. Philosophy in the form of a worldview is the basis of much of both our theological and our scientific thinking.

When people disagree philosophically, it is hard for them to agree on anything else. This is the problem that we have in our world today, distinct divisions over basic philosophy [East /West, Muslim/Christian, Science/Faith] and few people equipped to understand these different worldviews and to reconcile them with the truth. If we cannot reconcile science and faith which have common roots, how can we hope to reconcile other philosophies.

Concord or agreement is needed, but is impossible if we claim that our way is the only way. We need to work together to find a new, non-dualistic way to reconcile theology and science using philosophy as it needs to be used.


@Relates Thanks for the feedback. It sounds like we are in agreement that a simple either/or approach is untenable and unhelpful.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #5


While it is true that a simple either/or approach is not helpful, neither is a complex either/or approach.

We need a constructive both/and approach.

(GJDS) #6

@Kenneth and Brian

"This entails a broad sense of “harmony” as a synonym for “concordism.” "

I agree that clarity is a good thing in any debate - however I wonder why a sense of inner harmony is not mentioned when we discuss areas in which people sense some conflict between science and the Bible. By this I mean our own feeling and responses to these areas - if, for example, we believe there will be conflict, we would consciously and perhaps unconsciously look for anything that may conform to this expected conflict.

Theologically speaking, we would expect as Christians that we have a peace regarding the Faith - seeking additional insights and greater understanding of science, and Biblically based teachings, would be enhanced if undertaken with a sense of peace.

It seems to me that “origins” has been done and overdone perhaps mainly to feed conflict and debate - perhaps agreeing on what is meant by “concordism” in such a context, will inevitably become part of the conflict and the conflicted.


@GJDS I’m not sure I understand your point(s), especially in the first paragraph. I approach this whole issue first as a Christian seeking to be faithful in interpreting God’s revelation, and second as a teacher seeking to help primarily young Christian adults navigate a difficult course. The difficulty for them (and me) arises from at least two sources: (1) the Faith is not often grasped “peacefully” (why would we expect this? perhaps we “should” ideally, but I tend to witness the opposite), for many of the Christian young people I’m around are full of angst & skepticism; and (2) conservative Christians, especially, have been handed/taught a conflict model. So I have to deal with things as they are for now, and help nudge the conversation toward a better place…perhaps more toward the discussion of “inner harmony” of which you speak. Finally, the goal of our post is not to get everyone to agree with a term (concordism) but to understand how each conversation partner is using it. I apologize if I misunderstand or misrepresent what you’re saying. I’m happy for you or another reader to jump in at this point.

(GJDS) #9

@KJTurner I understand that there is a good deal of discord and angst from debates, which range over vast areas, such as materialism, to various outlooks put forward by religious people, and the attacks from atheists. My point was directed to (perhaps an ideal situation) a typical Christian who had reached a level of maturity regarding the Faith and the central message of the Gospel, I assume that this in itself would enable the inner harmony I mentioned, and any questions that may interest a Christian, be they scientific or other areas, would then be examined outside of any (inner) conflict model - I understand your point, in that if you are confronted with a conflict situation, it is your starting point. I am trying to make a helpful point, in that if Christian young people are sceptical, it may be useful to point out to them the Gospel message first, and how we all can understand the importance of faith and peace, and these are of great help to us in working through complex issues many of us face from time to time.

Regarding your post, I found it informative, as I am not familiar with so many different ways the term has been used - I confess I also find some of the points put forward in these debates somewhat puzzling - but that is another matter. You have not misunderstood what I have posted, so there is no need for an apology.


@GJDS Helpful clarification (and reminder). I’m in agreement with you. I personally dislike the culture-war mentality, but am forced to face it and help my students deal with it. I do think BioLogos’ interactions with Southern Baptists and Reasons to Believe (Hugh Ross) are stepping stones in the right direction. I’m glad the post was helpful to some degree.

(David Hume (nom de plume)) #11

A good piece, thanks for the careful work. Here are some comments.

1- The first “leading question” is an interesting one, but I think it is not merely about “concordism” or the bible, but about what counts as scientific evidence. Even if the bible makes a scientific “claim,” its relevance (to science and/or to sceptics) would be judged by scientific criteria. I do not intend to assert that such criteria are simple or obvious, but I will assert that they do not include reflection on whether the writer of an ancient story thought himself a “prophet” and certainly do not strongly privilege accounts from those who claim to be an “eyewitness,” especially when the events or phenomena “witnessed” are extraordinary in the extreme. Yes, it’s important for believers to decide whether the bible makes “scientific claims,” but believers should try to think about why it is that science may not take the claims seriously.

2- Your piece emphasizes “scientific” concordism, but I think the bible’s most obvious failure is in its apparent attempt (in the eyes of many believers) to tell a historical story (about human origins) that can be considered historically or scientifically “true.” (Since the context is concordism, I’m not considering interpretations of this story that are “figurative.”) The failure is not so much that the bible tells a story full of “scientific claims” that have been proven false. It’s that the bible tells a story with little evident basis in reality. The failures are not just “scientific.” Perhaps you include history under “science,” which is fine, but I think believers may not fully appreciate how far from “true” the origins story is.

3- The question about confidence in science is a warning sign to me and, I think, to all sceptics. Such questions are asked strategically, and not comprehensively, by believers. When the topic is origins, everyone’s a scientific sceptic, and then we see very silly arguments about “operational” and “historical” science and rubbish like that. I think I would take that kind of stuff out of your otherwise excellent discussion.

(GJDS) #12

Even if the bible makes a scientific “claim,” its relevance (to science and/or to sceptics) would be judged by scientific criteria.”

From such comments, I assume they are directed to events which are discussed by Christians as miracles. I have had civil discussions with atheists who would ponder on what is meant by a miracle, and when our discussion finally turns to the question, “Do you believe in God?” the friendly atheist replies, “No”. My response has always been, “In that case what causes you to even discuss what we think of as miracles?” In this way both of us can agree with the following propositions: (a) God exists, miracles are possible, and are derived from God, or (b) God does not exist and any discussion of miracles is irrelevant.

This approach ends all discussions/arguments between me and my atheist friends.

What I cannot understand is the (perhaps unconscious) deification of science in the requirement that the Bible be judged by scientific criteria. One suggestion I would make is that atheists may have a god-type science and all religions must submit to it. If this is the case it would be refreshing to hear atheists articulate such a position – just to enable us to undertake a clear and coherent discussion.


Thanks for the feedback. Your focus on “science” and “history”–how are these related?–is partly what got me thinking about the various uses of “concordism.” I’m approaching this as an evangelical, and a relatively conservative one at that (e.g., I hold to inerrancy). In my context, the “historical Adam” issue seems to becoming one of the major lines of demarcation for those “in” and those “out.” So, is this a scientific question or an historical question, or should these labels be considered more on a continuum? This is relevant b/c evangelicals, even those who don’t think the Bible is making many scientific claims (more narrowly defined), tend to be committed to the historical claims of the Bible.

As for the Leading Questions: we sought to make explicit the types of implicit (even subconscious) questions/answers Christians of various stripes are addressing. We were not trying to suggest that all these questions should be open-ended. So, the observational/historical science dichotomy some promote is (unfortunately in our estimation) a construct out there.


Thanks for pointing out the problem/confusion of the definition of concordism. This term is prone to misunderstanding. I think Dennis’ definition is correct.

There are two ways to harmonize the Bible and science. In the first, one can accept the Bible as it is written by God and put aside modern science for creationism. On the other side, one can accept modern scientific theories as valid and adjust the Bible to fit these facts. One side creates their own science; the other side creates their own Bible.

(Merv Bitikofer) #15


One side creates their own science; the other side creates their own Bible.

This prompts me to ask: How could science be anything other than something we all create? And for that matter …the same question equally seems to apply to Biblical interpretation.

Maybe a more apt way to frame it all would be with the question: "How can we harmonize our scientific interpretations of reality with our theological interpretations of the same. Using both these tools we [ideally] chase the same reality, albeit different aspects of it. And presumably we will often be wrong – being fallible and all. Is all this then subscribing to a kind of built-in concordism? Maybe in some ways. I can be sympathetic to Walton’s view that recognizes it where it chances to occur but doesn’t try to identify it as the theological point, much less some sort of testing ground.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #16

It seems to me that some people have short historical memories.

The Bible says that the universe has a beginning. Science did not come to that conclusion until about 50 years ago. So many think that the Bible is outdated?

The Bible days that the first humans were a man and wife. It seems to me that not long ago, like just a few years, scientists agreed with this in talking about the original Eve.

So things change, esp. science. Science is interested in when the first biological humans appeared. Theology is concerned about when the first moral humans. There is a big difference.

So let science and theology continue to work to answer the scientific and theological issues that face them. It is best that they work together, so concordism does have a role in pointing to places of agreement, but they do not HAVE to agree.



Sorry if my comment created some misunderstanding. I try to keep them brief as going into detail and providing examples makes for a long post. I guess it depends on what it means to create. Even my wife and I cannot agree on what “create” means in the context of science and scripture.

(David Hume (nom de plume)) #18

My comment was not about “miracles.” It was about scientific claims made by the bible. I apologize for not making that clear.

(GJDS) #19


I do not wish to labour the point, but I am puzzled - I am not aware of any “scientific claims” in the Bible - I understand that some writings may be treated by some as if they were written in a “scientific manner”, but I regard this as an interpretation. Just to be clear, a “scientific claim” as I understand the term, means one either made by a scientist, or made in scientific language and definitions. I hope this at least makes my comments clear.

(David Hume (nom de plume)) #20

To discover the scientific claims relevant to this discussion, you would want to look at the writings of concordists. To these people, the bible contains many scientific claims. Examples include founding of the human species by a single couple (one person in this discussion has already erroneously cited this as an example of concord), special creation of lineages with no common ancestry, catastrophic inundation of the planet and consequent formation of geological strata and features, ordering of cosmological events or epochs according to Genesis 1, and the expansion of the universe. These are all scientific claims by any definition.

(GJDS) #21

You are now indulging in the standard rhetoric of anti-creationists :blush: Orthodox Christianity has been very careful in discussing some of the topics you bring up and at no point do such discussions conform to your ideas of scientific claims. Indeed the outlook has been to identify the notions of the Christian Faith, in that human beings were created with a “living soul”.

I will leave this exchange at this point, as I feel you are ignoring the thrust of my original post regarding the choice an atheist should make.