The fireworks that exploded at Dayton, Tennessee, at the 1925 "Monkey Trial," were first lit two centuries earlier, though the fuse had smoldered quietly. In the 1700s, European intellectuals revamped the millennium-old system for discerning truth: instead of grounding all knowledge in biblical revelation, they tried to build on the foundation of human reason.
This "enlightened" method (thus the name for the period and movement, the Enlightenment) produced some startling conclusions. David Hume (d. 1776) reasoned that God's existence could not be "proved." Immanuel Kant (d. 1804) and Friedrich Schleiermacher (d. 1834) argued that religion was not so much about God as about people's religious experiences. G. W. F. Hegel (d. 1831) said God was not the personal being described in the Bible but an impersonal force.
The Enlightenment championed the scientific method, where everything—including the Bible—was subject to rational, empirical analysis. In this environment, the discipline of biblical criticism grew up. It was also the context in which Charles Darwin concluded the world wasn't created in six days but was the product of millions of years of evolution.
Such European developments made their way across the Atlantic only slowly, but by the end of the 1800s, many American thinkers had become Enlightenment rationalists, or "liberals" or "modernists." This development alarmed many American Christians.
Harold Carl, chaplain and lecturer in religion at Berry College, Mt. Berry, Georgia, here explains the distinctives of American liberalism, a movement that sparked what is now called the fundamentalist-modernist controversy.
"A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a ...