Catholic Responses to Evolution, 1859–2009: Local Influences and Mid-Scale Patterns


  • The research for this article was supported by grant BOF08/24J/041 from Ghent University. The author would like to thank Maarten Boudry, Johan Braeckman, Abraham C. Flipse, Barbara Forrest, Ronald Numbers, Sarah Van Ruyskensvelde, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful remarks.


This article discusses Catholic responses to evolution between 1859, the year of publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, and 2009, the year in which the scientific world celebrated its 150th anniversary. Firstly, I will discuss how the Vatican initially responded to evolution in the period between 1859 and 1907, the year in which Pope Pius X issued the encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis. Secondly, I will explore the responses of Catholic authorities and intellectuals and identify the local factors that influenced their responses. Also, I will demonstrate that, gradually, Catholics have shifted towards a more lenient position concerning evolution. Thirdly, I will demonstrate that, in the end, the Vatican has complied with this pattern. In general, this article shows that not only Protestants, but Catholics too have struggled to come to terms with evolution and evolutionary theory and that local factors had an impact on these negotiations.