Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 June 2018
Between 1875 and 1896, the response of American Catholic thinkers to theories of organic evolution was characterized by little rancor and discord. Among the small number of clergy and lay intellectuals who addressed the subject, there existed a wide variety of positions on the scientific plausibility of such theories. These prominent Catholics were not deeply wedded to their views, however, and few saw any significant conflict between their religious commitments and biological evolution. This state of affairs stemmed from several elements of Catholic thought, particularly as it existed in the late-nineteenth-century United States: the conviction that church authority could mediate any apparent tension between science and Scripture; the affirmation that theories of organic evolution would not undermine existing theological tenets about the relationship between religion and science, as well as that between First Cause and secondary causes in nature; the belief that Catholic intellectuals since the time of Augustine had endorsed a system of natural development that closely resembled modern conceptions of evolution; and, most important, the insistence that the theory could be reconciled with the resurgent neo-Scholasticism that had come to dominate Catholic thought. Organic evolution proved far less significant in discussions of the relationship between religion and science among American Catholics than it did among Protestants, and it did little to contribute to the split of Catholics into liberal and conservative groups.
I am grateful to everyone who has offered insight and guidance over the course of this project's development. I am especially indebted to Jon H. Roberts, Ronald L. Numbers, Charles Capper, Andrew J. Ballou, and Sara E. Georgini, as well as to Mary Doak and other participants in the Roman Catholic Studies Group at the 2009 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion.
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3. Allitt, Catholic Converts, 150.
4. Hewit, Augustine F., “Scriptural Questions. Second Series. No. III,” Catholic World 44 (February 1887): 654–77Google Scholar. Hewit employed an Aristotelian conception of “form” not as bodily form but rather as something we might consider “essence.” Central to the Aristotelian view was the idea of the soul as that which animates the body. See Kenny, Anthony, A New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 1, Ancient Philosophy (Oxford, Eng.: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 222–23Google Scholar.
5. See Moore, The Post-Darwinian Controversies, and Roberts, Jon H., Darwinism and the Divine in America: Protestant Intellectuals and Organic Evolution, 1859–1900 (1988; rev. ed., Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001)Google Scholar. Though Moore and Roberts offer highly different interpretations of the American Protestant response to theories of organic evolution, they agree that it represented a major issue of concern in Protestant intellectual circles.
6. See, for example, Betts, John Rickards, “Darwinism, Evolution, and American Catholic Thought, 1860–1900,” Catholic Historical Review 45 (July 1959): 161–85Google Scholar; Morrison, John L., “William Seton: A Catholic Darwinist,” Review of Politics 21 (July 1959): 566–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Appleby, R. Scott, “Between Americanism and Modernism: John Zahm and Theistic Evolution,” Church History 56 (December 1987): 474–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Appleby, R. Scott, “Church and Age Unite!” The Modernist Impulse in American Catholicism (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993), 27–52 Google Scholar; Appleby, R. Scott, “Exposing Darwin's ‘Hidden Agenda’: Roman Catholic Responses to Evolution, 1875–1925,” in Disseminating Darwinism: The Role of Place, Race, Religion, and Gender, ed. Numbers, Ronald L. and Stenhouse, John (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 185–94Google Scholar; and Artigas, Mariano, Glick, Thomas F., and Martinez, Rafael A., Negotiating Darwin: The Vatican Confronts Evolution, 1877–1902 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), 124–202 Google Scholar.
7. Appleby, Church and Age Unite! 49–50.
8. This is not to say that historians have entirely overlooked the diversity of American Catholic opinion in their effort to identify groups. Perhaps the clearest acknowledgment of it comes in the work of John L. Morrison, though his analysis focused exclusively on the post-1890s at the expense of the discussions of the 1880s. Ultimately, he, too, insists upon the drawing of broad categories. R. Scott Appleby notes, “Among the accommodationists there was a wide variety of opinions regarding the appropriate limits to which the apologist might extend evolutionary theory.” This is true to a point, but it assumes the existence of clearly delineated groups of “accommodationists” and “traditionalists” along the lines of “liberals” and “conservatives.” The evidence for such groups, as I aim to demonstrate here, is difficult to find. See Appleby, Church and Age Unite! 21. For additional analysis that suggests that the Zahm case resulted from broader concerns about “Americanism” in the late-1890s, see Hess, Peter M. J. and Allen, Paul L., Catholicism and Science (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2008), 82–83 Google Scholar.
9. The debate over whether liberal and conservative camps existed among Protestants is a major point of divergence between the studies of James R. Moore and Jon H. Roberts. Roberts argues in favor of clearly definable groups; see Roberts, Darwinism and the Divine in America, xiv-xv. Moore depicts a more ambiguous hodgepodge of opinions, similar to the diversity I have identified among Catholics. For example, Joseph S. Van Dyke was tepid in his acceptance of evolutionary theory but insisted that it did not undermine traditional Christian theism; see Moore, The Post-Darwinian Controversies, esp. 241–45. Nevertheless, even Moore identifies broad categories, such as “anti-Darwinians,” “Christian Darwinisticists,” and “Christian Darwinians,” whose members shared more common outlooks about the plausibility of evolution and a better means of reconciling the theory with Christian belief than the multiplicity of views among American Catholics. See ibid., 14–16, for Moore's delineation of his categories.
10. On the shift in scientific attitudes, see Roberts, Darwinism and the Divine in America, xiv. By starting in 1875, this story also begins after the death of Orestes Brownson, who represented one of American Catholicism's most outspoken critics of evolution. Brownson receives excellent treatment both in Allitt, Catholic Converts, 82–84, and Betts, “Darwinism, Evolution, and American Catholic Thought.” Brownson's opposition to evolution was expressed at a time when many scientists did not accept the theory, and it is uncertain if he would have maintained such strident opposition in the wake of increasing scientific evidence that some sort of evolution operated in nature.
11. For a clear articulation of such arguments, see Appleby, “Exposing Darwin's ‘Hidden Agenda,’” esp. 176–77.
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24. American Catholics in the late nineteenth century began to label one another as “liberal” and “conservative.” See, for example, Cross, Robert D., The Emergence of Liberal Catholicism in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959), 26–27, 38–41Google Scholar; and Dolan, Jay P., In Search of an American Catholicism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 102–3CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
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29. In the years before 1875, other issues had likewise proved of greater concern to American Catholics, notably the theory of polygenism, which proposed that the human race had not developed from a common ancestor, and, to a lesser extent, geology. See William J. Astore, “Gentle Skeptics? American Catholic Encounters with Polygenism, Geology, and Evolutionary Theories from 1845 to 1875,” Catholic Historical Review 82 (January 1996): 41–45.
30. Hewit, “The Warfare of Science. No. III,” 685.
32. Gmeiner, Modern Scientific Views and Christian Doctrines Compared, 170.
33. See Bowler, Peter J., Evolution: The History of an Idea, 3d ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 224–25Google Scholar.
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36. Seton, William, “How to Solve One of the Highest Problems of Science,” Catholic World 58 (March 1894): 793 Google Scholar.
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40. Chatard, “Darwin's Mistake,” 290–91, 299 (see 292 for his reference to the work of Agassiz); Seton, “How to Solve One of the Highest Problems of Science,” 793. On Agassiz, see Roberts, Darwinism and the Divine in America, 27–31, 33–38.
41. See, for example, Chatard, F. S., “Herbert Spencer's Enigma,” Catholic World 41 (August 1885): 577–84Google Scholar; and Spalding, John Lancaster, Religion, Agnosticism, and Education (Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1903), esp. 81–82 Google Scholar. See Roberts, Darwinism and the Divine in America, 67–69, for a discussion of Spencer's views on evolution and “the Unknowable.”
42. On the response of French Catholic intellectuals to theories of evolution, see Paul, Harry W., The Edge of Contingency: French Catholic Reaction to Scientific Change from Darwin to Duhem (Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1979), esp. 64–75 Google Scholar. On the intellectual connections between French and American Catholics during the late nineteenth century, see Appleby, Church and Age Unite! 86–89.
43. Astore, “Gentle Skeptics?” 49–50.
44. Hewit, “Scriptural Questions. No. I,” 154. Wiseman had played a significant role in shaping American Catholic responses to science since he published his Twelve Lectures on the Connection between Science and Revealed Religion in 1836. See Astore, “Gentle Skeptics?” 46–47.
45. Hewit, “Scriptural Questions. No I,” 153.
46. Gmeiner, Modern Scientific Views and Christian Doctrines Compared, 13.
47. Orban, “Transformism,” 293.
48. Spalding, “Religious Faith and Physical Science,” 59.
49. On Providentissimus Deus, see O’Leary, Roman Catholicism and Modern Science, 68–72.
50. Spalding, “Religious Faith and Physical Science,” 54–55.
51. Hewit, , “Scriptural Questions. No. II,” Catholic World 40 (December 1884): 316–17Google Scholar.
52. Gibbons, “Christianity and Modern Science,” 10–11.
53. See Roberts, Darwinism and the Divine in America, 174–76.
54. Spalding, “Religious Faith and Physical Science,” 56–57.
55. Ibid., 57.
56. Gmeiner, Modern Scientific Views and Religious Doctrines Compared, 51–52, citing Conte, Joseph Le, “The Nebular Hypothesis,” Popular Science Monthly 2 (April 1873): 655–56Google Scholar.
57. Roberts, Darwinism and the Divine in America, 101. See also Turner, James, Without God, Without Creed: The Origin of Unbelief in America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), 179–80Google Scholar.
58. On the emergence of the theology of divine immanence, see Roberts, Darwinism and the Divine in America, 137–44.
59. Le Conte, Evolution, 354. For another articulation of this, see Abbott, Lyman, The Evolution of Christianity (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1892), 246 Google Scholar.
60. Appleby, Church and Age Unite! 51–52.
61. Appleby, “Exposing Darwin's ‘Hidden Agenda,’” 184.
62. Gmeiner, Modern Scientific Views and Christian Doctrines Compared, 158. Gmeiner admitted to drawing heavily on Carl Guettler's Naturforschung und Bibel.
63. See Appleby, Church and Age Unite! 30.
64. Spalding, “Religious Faith and Physical Science,” 56–57.
65. Appleby, Church and Age Unite! 23.
66. For reviews, see “New Publications,” Catholic World 35 (June 1882): 430–32. This is a rave review that recommends the book for both lay readers and clergy. The reviewer singles out the “Religious Faith and Physical Science” chapter as particularly informative. See also “Lectures and Discourses,” American Catholic Quarterly Review 7 (July 1882): 566–67, which, while less effusive in its praise than the Catholic World review, nevertheless is quite favorable to Spalding's work.
68. Ibid., 448.
69. See McCool, Gerald A., Catholic Theology in the Nineteenth Century: The Quest for a Unitary Method (New York: Seabury Press, 1977), 132, 140Google Scholar.
70. Ibid., 186–88.
71. Chatard, “Darwin's Mistake,” 299.
72. Gmeiner, Modern Scientific Views and Christian Doctrines Compared, 97.
73. Ibid., 99.
74. Dwight, “Science or Bumblepuppy?” 639.
75. Ibid., 643.
76. Dwight, Thomas, “Matter and Form in Biology,” American Catholic Quarterly Review 17 (July 1892): 450 Google Scholar.
77. Ibid., 462.
78. Appleby, Church and Age Unite! 45.
79. Appleby, for instance, observes of his “accommodationists” that “they shared a preference for a new methodological, data-oriented approach to the question and a disdain for those who would rely excessively on the syllogisms of traditional scholasticism.” See Church and Age Unite! 21. A wish to employ other analytical tools, however, does not imply a rejection of neo-Scholasticism. Indeed, these years appear to have been marked by a debate over the extent to which neo-Scholasticism was meant to be employed. See “Aquinas Resuscitatus,” American Catholic Quarterly Review 16 (October 1891): 673–90.
80. Dolan, In Search of an American Catholicism, 102–3.
81. See, for example, Cross, The Emergence of Liberal Catholicism in America, vii; and Appleby, Church and Age Unite! 21.
82. One historian who has noted the problematic nature of these categories in the realm of social-political issues is Moloney, Deirdre M., American Catholic Lay Groups and Transatlantic Social Reform in the Progressive Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 16–17 Google Scholar.
83. On Smyth, Abbott, and other Protestants who readily accepted organic evolution, see Roberts, Darwinism and the Divine in America, 162–73; on Van Dyke, see Moore, The Post-Darwinian Controversies, 241–45.