Changes in the American mind, in biblical studies, and in the marketplace caused the tide of idealism to crest in the Social Gospel. The thinking of Americans had begun to change after the Civil War, when geologists cracked rocks, compared fossils, and crumbled theories derived from the Bible about the age of the earth. Somewhat later Charles Darwin poked his scientific nose into human origins and claimed he smelled a monkey. Karl Marx watched the comings and goings of money and concluded that the way people get it, save it, and spend it tells more about their true beliefs than the creeds they recite in church. As if it were not enough that geologists, biologists, and economists were unhinging the American mind, biblical scholars were pulling the linchpin from the average American's faith by alleging the Bible contained errors as well as exhortations, fiction as well as fact.
Some persons tried to respond positively to these challenges. Alexander Winchell, a professor of geology at Methodist-related Vanderbilt University, suggested that Darwin's theory of evolution supported belief in God because it offered clear evidence of design in creation. Another sort of design became evident in 1878 when Winchell discovered his teaching position had been abolished.
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