English Faculty Publications

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Publication Source

The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in America


Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) marked a significant challenge to traditional understandings of the Bible and Christian theology. Darwin’s theory of organic evolution stood in sharp contrast with the Genesis account of creation, with its six days, separate creations of life forms, and special creation of human beings. More than this, Darwin’s ideas raised enormous theological questions about God’s role in creation (e.g., is there a role for God in organic evolution?) and about the nature of human beings (e.g., what does it mean to talk about original sin without a historic Adam and Eve?)

Of course, what really made Darwin so challenging was that by the late nineteenth century his theory of organic evolution was the scientific consensus. That is to say, American Protestants had no choice but to reckon with Darwinism. For many Protestant intellectuals, clergy, and laypersons, this was not an enormous obstacle. That is, and in keeping with previous Christian responses to scientific developments, many Protestants adjusted their understanding of the Bible and their theology to accommodate Darwin’s ideas.



Document Version



This is a draft of a chapter that has been accepted for publication by Oxford University Press in the forthcoming book The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in America, edited by Paul C. Gutjahr, due for publication in 2017. It is provided for download in compliance with the publisher's policy on self-archiving. Permission documentation is on file. Some variations exist between this version and the published version; to view the published version, visit an academic library or the publisher's website.


Oxford University Press