Important Primary Texts on Religion and Science in America

We have been convinced for years that many of the things that are said about religion and science by contemporary Americans have been said before, and often more clearly or more helpfully, by persons who have thought more deeply about the issue(s) under discussion.  In saying this we mean no slight to those who genuinely seek to engage this topic to the best of their ability; we mean only to comment on the generally low level of historical awareness, which in our view seriously impoverishes much contemporary discussion.  History, it has been said, is too important to be left to historians.  This is the main reason for our effort to make available some interesting and important texts, bearing on various issues in religion and science, by major American scientists, theologians, and others.  Unless otherwise indicated, all selections are in the public domain and may be used without restriction.

Note to instructors: Each selection is accompanied by a set of questions that may be given to students, in advance, to guide their reading of the selection in preparation for a teacher-led discussion.  They may be downloaded and used as is, or modified appropriately to suite individual emphases.

PLEASE NOTE: This page is UNDER CONSTRUCTION!!  You may wish to bookmark it and return periodically.  We anticipate adding materials on a regular basis. Last updated, March 2006.



SELECTIONS:

Benjamin Silliman, “Appendix” on “The Consistency of Geology with Sacred History,” in Robert Bakewell, An Introduction to Geology, 3rd American edition from the 5th London edition (New Haven, 1839), pp. 536-79.

Born in North Stratford (now Trumbull), Connecticut, during the American Revolution, Benjamin Silliman (1779-1864) was the second son of  General Gold Silliman of the Continental Army, who was at the time of his son's birth being held prisoner on Long Island.  After graduating from Yale College in 1796, Silliman ran the family farm and taught school briefly before entering Yale Law School, where his father's friend Timothy Dwight, the evangelical president of Yale College, invited him to become professor of chemistry and natural history, a post he assumed in September 1802.  To equip himself for the job, Silliman studied chemistry and medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, and attended lectures in chemistry at Edinburgh University, where he met Robert Darwin (father of Charles Darwin) and was influenced by the "concordist" approach to Genesis and geology advocated by geologist Robert Jameson, whose ideas we see reflected in this selection.  At Yale, Silliman enjoyed a long, distinguished career as a highly influential teacher (many leading American scientists were his former pupils), travelling lecturer, and founding editor of the American Journal of Science and founding member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  Although he never wrote a textbook of his own, Silliman did write an extensive appendix for several editions (starting with the first American edition of 1829) of a text by English geologist Robert Bakewell.  In the version reproduced here, Silliman argues for interpreting the six creation "days" of Genesis as long periods of indeterminate length, and explores various implications of accepting an earth much older than Adam.  The detailed chart comparing specific biblical verses with current geological knowledge is based closely on Jameson's views.

Edward Hitchcock, "Connection between Geology and Natural and Revealed Religion," section IX in Elementary Geology, 8th edition (New York: Mrak H. Newman & Co., 1847), pp. 284-302..

AND

Edward Hitchcock and Charles H. Hitchcock, "Connection between Geology and Natural and Revealed Religion," part III in Elementary Geology, a new edition (New York and Chicago, 1863), pp. 377-93.

Edward Hitchcock (1793-1864), son of a poor hatter, studied for the ministry at Yale College, where he was influenced by the science teaching of Benjamin Silliman.  Hitchcock went on to become a Congregationalist pastor as well as professor of chemistry and natural history--later professor of geology and natural theology--at Amherst College.  Author of the first geological surveys of Massachusetts and Vermont, Hitchcock discovered the first dinosaur tracks known in the Connecticut River Valley.  Our selection is taken from a late edition of his geology text, which his son helped him update.  Like Silliman, Hitchcock believed in taking a concordist approach to science and the Bible; like Silliman, he thought it important to include material on religion and science in textbooks; like Silliman, he was convinced of the earth's great age, but unlike Silliman, he preferred the "gap theory" to the "day-age theory" when it came to reconciling an old earth with Genesis.  In several earlier editions of his textbook, such as the 1847 edition, Hitchcock is less hesitant to state his exegetical preferences. In late editions, such as the 1863 edition prepared jointly with his son, he is more irenical.  Some of his most interesting points involve natural theology, a subject dear to his heart.  His careful treatment of theological questions suggested by the presence of death in the animal kingdom prior to the fall of Adam and Eve, an issue that remains central to contemporary debates on creation/evolution, is especially important. His comments in the 8th edition (1847) are even more interesting on this point than those in the later (1863) edition. In the earlier text, Hitchcock explicitly links death before the fall with God's foreknowledge of the fall: "God, in view of the certainty of man's transgressions, adapted the world beforehand to a fallen creature, who must die." (for the rest of this passage, see p. 301)

James Dwight Dana, “Observations on Geological History,” part V in The Geological Story Briefly Told (New York and Chicago, 1876), pp. 237-55. George Frederick Wright, preface and chap. VII (“The Relation of the Bible to Science”) in Studies in Science and Religion (Andover, 1882), pp. v-vii and 351-80. Asa Gray, Natural Science and Religion (New York, 1880), pp. 3-9, 60-64, 82-91, and 106-111. Charles Hodge, What is Darwinism? (New York, 1874), pp. 3-7, 22-64, and 141-78.

William Jennings Bryan, The Menace of Darwinism (New York, 1922), complete text.

William Henry Green, “Primeval Chronology,” Bibliotheca Sacra 47 (1890), pp. 285-303.

William Henry Green (1825-1900) was Professor of Oriental and Old Testament Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1859 until his death. This text concerns the antiquity of the human race, as understood from the Bible and the science of his day. NOTE: This text is taken from another site and thus availability cannot be guaranteed.