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A Grammar of Descent: John Henry Newman and the Compatibility of Evolution with Christian Doctrine

S & CB 27 (2)
October 2015


It is widely assumed that the nineteenth century was an age dominated by unbelief. According to this view, developments in the natural sciences, such as Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, combined with the rise of historical-critical biblical scholarship, drove many Victorians away from traditional Christian belief towards scepticism. However, while it is certainly true that many nineteenth-century thinkers came to regard orthodox religious belief as incompatible with modern science, the eminent English Roman Catholic theologian John Henry Newman (1801–90) is an outstanding example of a nineteenth-century thinker who believed that there need be no necessary contradiction between the data of Christian revelation and the scientific advances of his day. This paper explores Newman’s ideas concerning evolution, and, by focusing on his engagements with some key Victorian contemporaries, shows that, for Newman, evolutionary theory was compatible with Christian doctrine.

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