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Darwin among the Pagans: Secularisation and the Reception of the Theory of Evolution in Buenos Aires

MIGUEL DE ASÚA
S & CB 31 (1)
April 2019

Abstract

The study of the long-term reception of the theory of evolution in Argentina can be of assistance in the broader understanding of interactions between the dynamics of secularisation in a given society and the relationship between science and religion. Two stages can be discerned in this process. In the first, in 1884, Darwin and evolutionary theory were a rhetorical resource at the service of a political and ideological secularisation project identified with progress and modernity. At the height of positivism, around 1918, many meanings associated with evolutionism coalesced around the figure of the Argentinian palaeontologist Florentino Ameghino, whose anthropological theories about the origin of Tertiary human beings were debated as part of broader questions involving the relationship between science, religion and secularisation. As a whole, the story warns against any attempt at interpreting the reception of Darwin’s ideas in Iberian America (and elsewhere for that matter) as a triumphal march of reason against religious obscurantism. It also shows how issues of belief and unbelief determined the way evolutionism was received in a country in which church-state relationships were shaped after the French model of laïcité.

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