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“God is the Author of Both”: Science, Religion, and the Intellectualization of American Methodism

  • Maura Jane Farrelly


In the spring of 1831, Methodist minister John Price Durbin delivered an evangelical sermon that assumed his listeners were familiar with the basic rules of science. “Are planetary worlds seen revolving in their orbits harmoniously and steadily?” he asked his rural Kentucky audience. “Is a little microscopic insect seen in the dust, or in the down of a peach, or in a drop of water?” The answer, of course, was yes—though Durbin saw no need to say so. His questions were merely rhetorical; the Methodists listening to his sermon knew, after all, that planetary worlds and microscopic insects existed, even if not all of them had had the opportunity to see these natural phenomena firsthand. Scientists had proved that the phenomena existed, and in 1831, the authority of science was to be trusted.



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1 Durbin, John Price, “On the Omnipresence of God,” Methodist Magazine and Quarterly Review (MMQR) 13 (1831): 49.

2 See Hatch, Nathan O., The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989).

3 See Turner, James, Without God, Without Creed: The Origins of Unbelief in America (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985); Bozeman, Theodore Dwight, Protestants in an Age of Science (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977); and Brooke, John Hedley, Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

4 Mencken, H. L., Treatise on the Gods (New York: Knopf, 1930), 322.

5 Turner, Without God, Without Creed, 60.

6 Bozeman, Protestants in an Age of Science, 35.

7 Brooke, Science and Religion, 190–191.

8 Turner, Without God, Without Creed, 75.

9 Rounds, N., “A Lecture on Education. Delivered at Utica, April 2, 1837,” MMQR 19 (1837): 272.

10 Francis Asbury, quoted in Lee, Umphrey and Sweet, William Warren, A Short History of Methodism (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1956), 45. Sweet, William Warren, Religion on the American Frontier, 1783–1840: Volume IV: The Methodists: A Collection of Source Materials (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946), 67.

11 Durbin, “On the Omnipresence of God,” 48.

12 Noll, Mark A., A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1992), 153.

13 Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity, 201.

14 Sweet, Religion on the American Frontier, 51–53; 112–122.

15 Boston Recorder, 12 July 1831.

16 Fisk, Wilbur, “The Science of Education: An Inaugural Address, delivered at the Opening of the Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, on September 21, 1831,” MMQR, 13 (1831): 440, 430.

17 Harman, Henry M., “Natural Theology,” Methodist Quarterly Review (MQR), 56 (1863): 183, 195.

18 Moffat, Charles H., “Charles Tait: Planter, Politician, and Scientist of the Old South,” Journal of Southern History 14 (1948): 207, 225–226.

19 Henry D. Capers, “Biography of Alexander Means,” in The Alexander Means Papers, Special Collections Library, Emory University.

20 Wofford College, The College Archives Website, available at; accessed 10 October 2006.

21 Yater, George H., Two Hundred Years at the Fall of the Ohio: A History of Louisville and Jefferson County, 2nd ed. (Louisville, Ky.: Filson Club, 1987), 4648.

22 Alexander Means, in The Alexander Means Papers, Special Collections, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Emory University, Atlanta.

23 Bangs, Nathan, A History of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 4 vols. (New York: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1840–1853), 4:70.

24 Cartwright, Peter, in Autobiography of Peter Cartwright, the Backwoods Preacher, ed. Strickland, W. P. (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1986 [1856]), 243. Though he was seven years younger than Bangs, Cartwright chastised Bangs—and others like him—for abandoning the simple virtues that had characterized Methodism at the turn of the century. Apparently unaware of Bangs's arduous journeys throughout the seven years he spent as a circuit rider in southeastern Canada, Cartwright contrasted the early circuit riders' sense of sacrifice with the interest in college education that modern Methodist ministers seemed to have. Cartwright himself lacked any sort of formal education, and his journal reveals that he was simultaneously angered and intimidated whenever he encountered a “regular graduate in theology.” See Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity, 193, and Heyrman, Christine Leigh, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (New York: Knopf, 1997), 94. For more on Bangs's ministry, see Simpson, Matthew, ed., Cyclopaedia of Methodism, 4th rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1881), 8586.

25 Wightman, William, Ministerial Ability: A Sermon Delivered before the South Carolina Conference on Sunday Evening, December 2, 1855 (Nashville, Tenn.: E. Stevenson & F. A. Owen, 1856), 15.

26 Deems, C. F., ed., The Southern Methodist Pulpit 4 (1851): 52, quoted in Holifield, E. Brooks, The Gentlemen Theologians (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1978), 39.

27 Cyclopaedia of Methodism, 318–19; 393.

28 Wofford College, The College Archives Website, available from; accessed 10 October 2006.

29 Twenty-two out of 48 sermons and public addresses published in the MMQR during Nathan Bangs's tenure as editor are either specifically about science and its compatibility with revealed religion, or else they use their audience's familiarity with and acceptance of scientific discoveries to make an argument about some other topic that may or may not be directly related to science.

30 Dempster, John, “An Oration pronounced before the Philorhetorician Society of Wesleyan University, August 25th, 1835,” MMQR 18 (1836): 112.

31 “Judgement for the Oppressed; a Sermon, preached in the Wesleyan Chapel in Vestry-St., New-York, on the 4th of July, 1843, in behalf of ‘The American Colonization Society’,” MMQR 16 (1834): 412–423; Ruter, Martin, “President Ruter's Baccalaureate Address to the Graduates and Students of Allegheny College,” MMQR 17 (1835): 121129; Young, J. H., “The Sufferings and Glory of Christ: A Sermon,” MMQR 19 (1837): 318332; Mattison, Seth, “Substance of a Discourse delivered at the opening of the Church in Yatesville, June 15th, 1838,” MMQR 22 (1840): 2135.

32 Seth Mattison, “Substance of a Discourse,” 24–25.

33 Jackson, E. Jr., “Address delivered to the Peithologian Society of the Wesleyan University, August 25th, 1835,” MMQR 17 (1835): 451. Jackson briefly represented the state of Connecticut in the House of Representatives, and his biography is available in the Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress,; accessed 12 January 2007.

34 Holmes, P., “Religion the Nourishing Mother of Science,” MMQR 22 (1840): 362.

35 Bozeman, Protestants in an Age of Science, 21.

36 Noll, “Science, Theology, and Society,” 104.

37 Bozeman, Protestants in an Age of Science, 3–31.

38 Noll, “Science, Theology, and Society,” 107.

39 Fisk, “The Science of Education,” 440.

40 Ruter, “Baccalaureate Address,” 121–122.

41 Caldwell, Merritt, “Professor Caldwell's Address—An Address Delivered before the Trustees and Students at the Annual Commencement of Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, July 16th, 1835,” MMQR 20 (1836): 97, 99.

42 Darwin, Charles, On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, 3rd ed. (London, 1861), xv.

43 See MacPherson, Ryan C., “America's Vestiges of Creation: Nature's Development and Divine Presence amid Pre-Darwinian Struggles for Civilization,” Ph.D. diss., University of Notre Dame, 2003.

44 Wilson, W. C., “Review of the Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation,” MQR 17 (1846): 292327.

45 , H., “Review of John William Draper's Treatise on the Forces which Produce the Organization of Plants,” MQR 17 (1846): 614615.

46 Mr. H.'s insistence that a full understanding of science is the best defense against atheism is quite similar to the critique of Charles Darwin issued by Henry Martyn Harman in 1863. It seems unlikely, though, that Harman and Mr. H. are the same person, given that Harman would have been just twenty-three years old when Mr. H.'s critique was published. He also did not graduate from college until 1848.

47 Fleming, Donald, John William Draper and the Religion of Science (New York: Octagon Books, 1950), 119.

48 “Review of a book by John William Draper, MD, professor of Chemistry at the University of New York,” MQR 16 (1845): 159–160.

49 , H., “Review of John William Draper's A Treatise on the Forces which Produce the Organization of Plants,” MQR 17 (1846): 615616.

50 Hillman, S. D., “Alexander von Humboldt and his Cosmos,” MQR 31 (1860): 425.

51 Rust, R. S., “A New Theory of Physics: Outlines of a System of Mechanical Philosophy, by Samuel Elliott Coues,” MQR 36 (1854): 102, 108.

52 Hillman, S. D., “Alexander von Humboldt and his Cosmos,” MQR 42 (1860): 415, 414.

53 Bannister, H. M., “Science and Revelation,” MQR 36 (1854): 213, 223, 225.

54 Turner, Without God, Without Creed, 181–186.

55 Wilson, W. C., “Darwin on the Origin of Species,” MQR 43 (1861): 605.

56 Whedon, D. D., “The Denial of Final Causes,” MQR 45 (1863): 177178.

57 Cyclopaedia of Methodism, 1358.

58 Whedon, “The Denial of Final Causes,” 179.

59 Israel, Charles A., Before Scopes: Evangelicalism, Education, and Evolution in Tennessee, 1870–1925 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004), 110.

60 Bascom, Bishop, “Introduction,” Quarterly Review of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (QRMECS) 1 (1847): 11, 19, 8.

61 “Review of The Principles of Geology Explained, and viewed in their relations to revealed and natural religion. By Rev. David King, L.L.D,” QRMECS 5 (1851): 165.

62 “The Nebular Theory,” QRMECS, 2 (1848): 505.

63 Means, letter to Mrs. Rufus Wright Smith (née Oreon Mary Summerfield Mann), 13 May 1875, in The Alexander Means Papers.

64 Means, Alexander, Sermons on The Resurrection (Macon, Ga., 1871), 3235.

65 Winchell, Alexander, The Doctrine of Evolution: Its Data, Its Principles, Its Speculations, and Its Theistic Bearings (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1874), 115.

66 Holland N. McTyeire to Alexander Winchell, 2 February 1875; reprinted in Alberstadt, Leonard, “Alexander Winchell's Preadamites—a Case for Dismissal from Vanderbilt University,” Earth Sciences History 13 (1994): 97.

67 Whedon, D. D., “Review of the Doctrine of Evolution,” MQR 56 (1874): 516518.

68 Israel, Before Scopes, 55–56, 133.

69 The paper's editors were referring to a popular, de facto justification of race-based slavery that drew on Genesis 9:20–28 and concluded that Africans were the descendents of Noah's cursed son, Ham. For more on this justification, see Haynes, Stephen R., Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).

70 It should be noted that David N. Livingstone believes that Winchell was dismissed not because of the “atheistic” implications of his theories but because he had “committed in Southern eyes one unforgivable folly—he had made Adam the descendant of blacks.” I believe this interpretation is based on a misunderstanding of Winchell's work. Winchell did not make Adam the descendents of blacks. He made blacks the descendents of a being who existed before Adam, the first human. See , Livingstone, “The Preadamite Theory and the Marriage of Science and Religion,” in Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 82:3 (1992): 49.

71 St. Louis Christian Advocate, 22 May 1878.

72 Nashville Christian Advocate, “Vanderbilt University and the Critics,” 13 July 1878.

73 Quoted in White, Andrew Dickson, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1896), 1:315.

74 Israel, Before Scopes, 135.

75 White, Warfare of Science with Theology, 1:314.

76 Youmans, E. L., “Vanderbilt University Again,” Popular Science Monthly 14 (1879): 237238.

77 Winchell, Alexander, “Science in Nashville,” Nashville American, 16 June 1878.

78 Fitzgerald, Oscar Penn, Dr. Summers: A Life of Study (Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Methodist Publishing House, 1885), 288289.

79 T. O. Summers, quoted in Alberstadt, “Alexander Winchell's Preadamites,” 110.

80 Winchell, , “Science in Nashville,” Nashville American, 16 June 1878.

81 “Review of Adamites and Preadamites, by Alexander Winchell,” MQR 60 (1878): 565–566.

82 Two important books do take issue with the idea that evangelicals were uniformly antagonistic to evolution, although neither work is denominationally specific. They are Livingstone's, David N.Darwin's Forgotten Defenders: The Encounter between Evangelical Theology and Evolutionary Thought (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987), and Roberts's, Jon H.Darwin and the Divine in America: Protestant Intellectuals and Organic Evolution, 1859–1900 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988).

83 “Our Southern Field,” MQR 62 (1880): 225, 228, 230.

84 Larson, Edward J., Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997), 88, 91.

Maura Jane Farrelly is an assistant professor of American studies and director of the journalism program at Brandeis University.

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