Rome and Theistic Evolutionism: The Hidden Strategies behind the 'Dorlodot Affair', 1920–1926

Annals of Science 62 (4):457-478 (2005)
In 1918, Henry de Dorlodot—priest, theologian, and professor of geology at the University of Louvain —published Le Darwinisme au point de vue de l'Orthodoxie Catholique in which he defended a reconciliation between evolutionary theory and Catholicism with his own particular kind of theistic evolutionism. He subsequently announced a second volume in which he would extend his conclusions to the origin of Man. Traditionalist circles in Rome reacted vehemently. Operating through the Pontifical Biblical Commission, they tried to force Dorlodot to withdraw his book and to publicly disown his ideas by threatening him with an official condemnation, a strategy that had been used against Catholic evolutionists since the late nineteenth century. The archival material on the ‘Dorlodot affair’ shows how this policy ‘worked’ in the early stages of the twentieth century but also how it would eventually reach the end of its logic. The growing popularity of theistic evolutionism among Catholic intellectuals, combined with Dorlodot's refusal to pull back amidst threats, made certain that the traditionalists did not get their way completely, and the affair ended in an uncomfortable status quo. Dorlodot did not receive the official condemnation that had been threatened, nor did he withdraw his theories, although he stopped short on publishing on the subject. With the decline of the traditionalists’ power and authority, the policy of denunciation towards evolutionists made way for a growing tolerance. The ‘Dorlodot affair’—which occurred in a pivotal era in the history of the Church—can be seen as exemplary with regards to the changing attitude of the Roman authorities towards evolutionism in the first half of the twentieth century
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DOI 10.1080/00033790500256562
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