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Historic Encyclopedias on Darwinism

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Chung, Sangyun
Term Paper, AP World History Class, November 2009

Table of Contents
I. Introduction
II. Religious Encyclopedias on Darwinism
II.1 The Catholic Encyclopedia (1907-1914) on Darwinism
II.2 The Jewish Encyclopedia (1901-1906) on Darwinism
III. Secular Encyclopedias on Darwinism
III.1 Encyclopedia Britannica, 1902 edition
III.2 Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911 edition
III.3 Meyers Konversationslexikon, 1902-1909 edition
III.4 Enciclopedia Moderna Illustrata, 1905 edition
III.5 Nordisk Familjebok, 1876-1899 edition
IV. Conclusion

I. Introduction
            Darwinism is a term which is used for explaining the concept of evolution or transmutation among species. The term Darwinism itself was introduced in 1860 by Thomas Huxley, who used to define the term Darwinism mainly by the works of Darwin, along with the previous concepts regarding evolution. Largely based on Darwin¡¯s works written in his book On the Origin of Species, it is now regarded as one of the most significant terms that correctly explain about evolution within the Earth¡¯s history. Although Darwinism, according to Christianity and the concept of Creationism, was criticized as inappropriate and contradictory over time, it is considered as one of the most accurate concepts which explain about natural selection and the theory of evolution. (1)
            The intention of this paper is to find out whether Darwinism was, without any particular bias, objectively described in 19th century encyclopedias including Encyclopaedia Britannica (1902 and 1911 editions), Catholic Encyclopedia (1907-1914 edition), Jewish Encyclopedia (1901-1906 edition), Meyers Konversationslexikon (in German, 1902-1909 edition), Nordisk Familijebok (in Swedish, 1876-1899 edition) and Enciclopedia Moderna Illustrata (in Italian, 1905 edition).
            As Darwinism was seriously opposed by Creationism supported by religions, mainly Christianity, it is important to figure out the objectivity and reliability of the 19th century encyclopedias on the terms Darwinism and Evolution. Also, as the term Darwinism itself is the term of which its meaning tended to differ from time to time, it may be essential to find out whether the main explanation of the term Darwinism differs among encyclopedias of the 19th century and figure out which one is closer to today¡¯s Darwinism in its meaning.

II. Religious Encyclopedias on Darwinism
            As Christianity was still very powerful in 19th century Europe, the introduction of Darwinism, which, in essence, defied creationism, brought a critical response in the Western society. Since the belief of Christianity and Creationism was firmly held in Western society for centuries, encyclopedias which dealt with theories of evolution and concept of Darwinism had to be as objective and general as possible in order to not to take a bias between Darwinism and Creationism.
            Some encyclopedias, however, seem to take a position in describing the concept of evolution; encyclopedias that are mainly related with religion, including Catholic Encyclopedia (1907-1914 edition) and Jewish Encyclopedia (1901-1906 edition), were the ones which tend to take a position and logically question the reliability of Darwinism and the theory of evolution.

II.1 The Catholic Encyclopedia (1907-1914) on Darwinism
            Among the two religious encyclopedias, Catholic Encyclopedia tends to deeply question and scrutinize the concept of Darwinism and theory of evolution. Since the encyclopedia itself was largely based on the belief of Catholicism and takes the point of view in Christianity, Catholic Encyclopedia, based on its general rejection of Darwinism at that period, questions Darwinism as follows :

            " ... One of the most important questions for every educated Catholic of today is: What is to be thought of the theory of evolution ? Is it to be rejected as unfounded and inimical to Christianity, or is it to be accepted as an established theory altogether compatible with the principles of a Christian conception of the universe ?...
... The theory of evolution, then, as a scientific hypothesis, does not consider the present species of plants and of animals as forms directly created by God, but as the final result of an evolution from other species existing in former geological periods. Hence it is called "the theory of evolution", or "the theory of descent", since it implies the descent of the present from extinct species. This theory is opposed to the theory of constancy, which assumes the immutability of organic species. The scientific theory of evolution, therefore, does not concern itself with the origin of life ...
... How far is the theory of evolution based on observed facts ? It is understood to be still only a hypothesis. The formation of new species is directly observed in but a few cases, and only with reference to such forms as are closely related to each other ...

            Using direct excerpts from the Bible and various kinds of arguments from authority including St. Thomas and Francisco Suarez, Catholic Encyclopedia criticizes Darwinism and the theory of evolution. One major statement of Catholic Encyclopedia towards the invalidity of Darwinism is that the theory of evolution was understood only as a set of hypothesis, along with the lack of direct observation of the formation of species, which is virtually impossible to conduct within a few years. At the status quo when this encyclopedia was published, it made sense about the statement shown above, since Darwinism was less than 50 years old at that time.
            Catholic Encyclopedia not only makes a valid point on criticizing Darwinism by denouncing it in the terms of inaccuracy of hypotheses without direct observation, but also criticizes Darwinism by using a philosophical speculation. The Catholic Encyclopedia first brings the idea of how the geological development of our Earth could be miniscule and relatively insignificant to the history of the solar system and the universe. Then, using the Christian view of Universe in which God is the creator of heaven and Earth, Catholic Encyclopedia brings out the point that the universe created by God who produced the universe by a single act of his will would naturally develop by its laws implemented by the creator of it. It also denotes that the history of animal and vegetable kingdoms are only a short versicle in a volume of a million pages in which the natural development of the universe is described. (3) This view could not have been derived without the point of view based on the belief of Catholicism.
            The Catholic Encyclopedia then further shows that the theory of evolution is incorrect if it is based on atheistic thoughts. Since Catholicism itself is based on the belief of existence of God, it questions on the reliability of the atheistic side of the theory of evolution, showing that atheistic theory of evolution is not effective since it does not indicate the creator who started the evolution. Thus the given encyclopedia favors the theistic theory of evolution in which God is the conductor of evolution and once again criticizes the atheistic theory of evolution, indicating that it rejects the separation of soul from the matter.
            It is notable to find out that Catholic Encyclopedia judges Darwinism as a different concept from the theory of evolution. Somehow the Catholic Encyclopedia gives more credit on account of reliability towards Darwinism, pointing that it is a narrower and more accurate than the general theory of evolution. Nevertheless, the encyclopedia puts the entire theory as scientifically inadequate for not accounting the origin of the suggested theories.

II.2 The Jewish Encyclopedia (1901-1906) on Darwinism
            Catholic Encyclopedia was not the only encyclopedia which dealt Darwinism in the view of religion; Jewish Encyclopedia, an encyclopedia published between 1901 and 1906, contains the term evolution and explains it in the view of Judaism. Like Catholic Encyclopedia, Jewish Encyclopedia also questions about whether Darwinism, or the theory of evolution, could be accepted, as follows :

            ... the hypothesis of evolution operates with a teleology that is, both in intensity and in extent, much more adequate to the higher conceptions of God. Mechanical teleology is anthropomorphic. Jewish theism, not being anthropomorphic, does not defend mechanical teleology ...
... The development of life from inorganic matter, the rise of consciousness from preceding unconscious life, the origin of mind, of conscience, are not accounted for by the theory of evolution; and as at the beginning of the chain, so at these links it fails. Jewish theism, while admitting that on the whole the theory throws light on the methods pursued in the gradual rise and unfolding of life, is justified in contending that it does not eliminate the divine element and plan and purpose from the process ...
... Evolution does not deny the part played by the great men (prophets) in this process of developing religious consciousness and views. The rise and activity of these great men evolution can not account for. In the history of Israel's religion, evolution has not explained and can not explain how, from original (Kenite) Yhwhism, void of all moral content and all original, "holiness" ( = "taboo" ["kodesh"]) ascribed to the Deity, could have sprung the ethical monotheism of the Prophets and the idea of moral holiness ...

            Describing evolution by focusing it on its relevance with Jewish ideas and history, the Jewish Encyclopedia supports that evolution is not an accurate term to be explained by Jewish ideas and concepts. Although Jewish Encyclopedia notifies that evolution necessarily implies creation, it extends the point that Jewish theism does not defend the hypothesis of evolution since the hypothesis of evolution is based on mechanical teleology, which is anthropomorphic; According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, however, Jewish theism is not anthropomorphic and therefore does not explain the theory of evolution (5).
            The Jewish Encyclopedia then points out that theory of evolution does not account the development of life from inorganic matter. From this, claims the Jewish Encyclopedia, the chain of link among life is not fulfilled by theory of evolution and Darwinism, since the beginning of this link, the beginning of life, is not finished. This argument made by Jewish Encyclopedia, however, is not correct, according to today¡¯s science. The life itself really started from inorganic matter including carbon and nitrogen a couple of billion years ago; the time when Jewish Encyclopedia was published the scientific concept of origin of life and evolution was not known, hence the error exists in the Jewish Encyclopedia.
            Jewish Encyclopedia then extends on this point along with Jewish theism to indicate that evolution inadequately answers to the questions why does the evolution exists, thereby once again suspecting the reliability of Darwinism and the theory of evolution. One notable trait of this Jewish Encyclopedia is that it explains about the falsity by relating evolution with the original Jewish culture and history. It has been stated in the Jewish Encyclopedia that evolution cannot explain the rise and activity of the great men, and it could not participate in explaining the process of developing religious views. In addition, by introducing the history of Israel¡¯s religion, it states that evolution does not explain how original Yhwhism could have introduced to the ethical monotheism of the prophets and their ideas.(6).
            It is interesting to see that Jewish Encyclopedia used their own cultural ideas to understand and find fault from Darwinism and theory of evolution. However, with an understanding of our generation¡¯s scientific knowledge about the origin of life, it can be seen that the Jewish Encyclopedia made a fault in explaining the origin of life from inorganic substances rather accurately.

III. Secular Encyclopedias on Darwinism
            It is important to figure out that there was more than one encyclopedia which dealt with Darwinism and the theory of evolution during the 19th century; hence, for the term¡¯s objectivity, it is crucial to find encyclopedias which dealt with the theory of evolution and compare their articles with each other. Apart from religiously critical articles from the Catholic Encyclopedia and the Jewish Encyclopedia, other encyclopedias also contained the term Darwinism and evolution so that people could know the concept of evolution.
            Notable encyclopedias that explained evolution with Darwinism includes Encyclopaedia Britannica and Meyers Konversationslexikon.

III.1 Encyclopedia Britannica, 1902 edition
            Encyclopaedia Britannica, published in 1902 as the 10th edition, dealt the term evolution in biology and Darwinism in a broad extent in which ordinary people could generally understand about the concept of evolution. The writer, Thomas Henry Huxley, uses multiple kinds of footnotes to explain the theory of evolution; the concept of evolution explained in the article is much relevant to the term Darwinism, for the author Thomas Henry Huxley was the person who coined the term Darwinism and used several kinds of quotations from Charles Darwin in order to explain evolution.

            ... Evolution, or development, is, in fact, at present employed in biology as a general name for the history of the steps by which any living being has acquired the morphological and the physiological characters which distinguish it ...
... For many years it was the fashion to speak of Lamarck with ridicule, while Treviranus was altogether ignored. Nevertheless, the work had been done. The conception of evolution was henceforward irrepressible, and it incessantly reappears, in one shape or another, [Footnote 749-1] up to the year 1858, when Mr. Darwin and Mr. Wallace published their Theory of Natural Selection ...
... in the principle of selective breeding, pursued in all its applications with marvelous knowledge and skill by Mr. Darwin, a valid explanation of the occurrence of varieties and races ...

            Encyclopaedia Britannica includes several pages that extensively and specifically explain the concept and history of evolution, along with including scientists and researchers who dedicated to the study of evolution. In the latter part of the article, Darwinism is displayed as a series of works done by Charles Darwin, though not directly mentioned; the latter part of the article specifically explains the term evolution with the works of Darwin (8). The Encyclopaedia Britannica is perhaps one of the most accurate encyclopedias at that time which explained the theory of evolution
            Yet, no matter how specific and extensive the article about evolution was written in Encyclopaedia Britannica, it may not be accurate to determine the Encyclopaedia Britannica as perfectly objective in explaining the term evolution along with Darwinism. The article was rather way too focused in the concept of theory of evolution, especially in the part where the works of Darwin was introduced; hardly any criticism about Charles Darwin¡¯s works was explained. In addition, the Encyclopaedia Britannica failed to contain the content of the ongoing heated debate about whether Darwinism was right over Creationism or not, and merely shows the logic which proves why the theory of evolution is more accurate and logical than religious Creationism, the logic which Catholic Encyclopedia and Jewish Encyclopedia used to show the vice versa.
            Perhaps the loss of complete objectivity came from the author of the article Thomas Henry Huxley, the advocate of theory of evolution and the works of Charles Darwin and coined the term Darwinism in 1860. This part, however, is supplemented by the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, published in 1911.

III.2 Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911 edition
            In the 1911 edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, the term Darwinism can be found in the article of evolution, where the works of Darwin and the theory of evolution are written with specific details. It contains much broader and more specific information of the concept of evolution; the works of Charles Darwin were mainly used to explain the concept of evolution explained in the period after 19th century, as mentioned in the encyclopedia.

            ... The prosecution of such inquiries is beginning to make unnecessary much ingenious speculation of a kind that was prominent from 1880 to 1900; much futile effort has been wasted in the endeavour to find on Darwinian principles special " selection-values " for phenomena the universality of which places them outside the possibility of having relations with the particular conditions of particular organisms ...
... Those have found little favour who brought to the debate only formal criticisms or amplifications of the Darwinian arguments, or re-marshallings of the Darwinian facts, however ably conducted. The time has not yet come for the attempt to synthesize the results of the many different and often apparently antagonistic groups of workers. The great work that is going on is the simplification of the facts to be explained by grouping them under empirical laws; and the most general statement relating to these that can yet be made is that no single one of these laws has as yet shown signs of taking rank as a vera causa comparable with the Darwinian principle of natural selection ...

            One notable thing is that the 11th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica succeeded in adding what the 10th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica merely added: mentioning the criticism which found the missing logic in the concept of evolution at that time. Even though not directly criticizing the concept of evolution and Darwinism like Catholic Encyclopedia and Jewish Encyclopedia did, the 11th edition does not tend to completely agree on the concept of Darwinism like Thomas Huxley did in writing the 10th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Although the article about evolution of 11th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica is based on the 10th edition of it, a lot of the former one was revised into a more objective view, offering the view in which Darwinism is not completely approved.

III.3 Meyers Konversationslexikon, 1902-1909 edition
            In Meyers Konversationslexikon, Darwinism is, in general, introduced in an objective tone; there isn¡¯t any particular biased point of argument regarding taking a specific position whether Darwinism is right or wrong over Creationism. By introducing the scientists, mainly including Charles Darwin, the article increases reliability; in fact, the article about Darwinism in Meyers Konversationslexikon merely includes a fact related with the process of Darwin¡¯s accomplishments in finding out the theory of evolution, except including significant findings of Darwin, along with the year in which he found it.

            ... Darwinismus (Darwinsche Theorie, hierzu Tafel "Darwinisums" mit Textbeilage), auch Zuchtwahl- (Selektions-)theorie genannt, diejenige Form der Abstammungslehre (Deszendenztheorie, s.d.), die Charles Darwin zur Erklärung des Naturlebens in seinem Zusammenhang aufgestellt hat, und die, obwohl es an Widerspruch nicht fehlt, den meisten Naturforschern mit einigen leichten Veränderungen noch immer als die beste bisher gegebene Erklärung der Rätsel des Lebens gilt. Die erste Veröffentlichung der schon 1839 niedergeschriebenen Gedanken geschah gleichzeitig mit einer Arbeit gleicher Tendenz von Wallace im August 1858. Im nächsten Jahr (1859) erfolgte dann die ausführlichere Begründung ... (10

            Meyers Konversationslexikon is specific in explaining Darwinism and its examples in the nature, including the natural system of plants and animals. With detailed description, Meyers Konversationslexikon is quite objective and clear at explaining the concept of Darwinism itself, and, when compared to other encyclopedias, was good enough to be used as a source at that time.

III.4 Enciclopedia Moderna Illustrata, 1905 edition
            Enciclopedia Moderna Illustrata, an encyclopedia published in 1905, depicts Darwinism and the concept of evolution with an objective tone. Although Italy, the country in which Enciclopedia Moderna Illustrata was printed, was a Catholic country and thus heavily influenced on Catholic power at that time, this encyclopedia tends to maintain its objectivity in depicting Darwinism without religious bias.

            ... Nome derivato da quello dell'autore della teoria che con esso si indica, il celebre naturalista inglese CARLO DARWIN. Di questo nome bisogna distinguere 2 sensi diversi, in cui lo si adopera. In senso generale per D. s'intende la teoria dell'evoluzione, ossia quella teoria secondo la quale le specie animali e v egetali sono in continua transformaz., e dalla modificaz. delle une hanno origine le altre. In senso particolare per D. s'intende la selezione naturale, ossia una delle cause, forse la principale, o uno dei processi per cui avviene la transformaz. delle specie, e quindi l'evoluz. Il 2 significato e il piu giusto, perocche la teoria dell'evoluz. non e tutta e soltanto una creaz. del Darwin. ... (11)

            Enciclopedia Moderna Illustrata is particular in that it divides Darwinism in the concept of the theory of evolution and natural selection; it is quite clear to find out that the encyclopedia shown above accurately explains the given concept, no matter how scientific it is, and no matter how religiously controversial a topic could be.

            ... atto del dare l'esistenza a cio che non la ha sotto nessuna forma e in nessuna maniera; puo quindi essere opera della sola divinita. E la piu semplice teoria per spiegare una parte almeno, vale a dire donde veniamo, di questo grande mister dell'universo, teoria comune a quasi tutte le religioni rivelate o no. Secondo il Giudaismo, seguito dal Cristianesimo, la C.richiese 6 giorni, ma s'intende che non sono necessariam. 6 glorni dei nostri; bensi, periodi di durata indefinita. Interessante e paragonare con la cosmogonia Mosaica l'antica tradiz. assira della C. - (la). Oratorio di Giuseppe HJaydn, che impiego 2 anni a comporlo. ... (12)

            The above article, which explains the concept of Creationism, a concept opposite of Darwinism, proves that Enciclopedia Moderna Illustrata does depict the concept in a purely objective way, not biased in either scientific or religious term; the article only focuses itself in explaining the concept of Creationism itself by explaining that it is the simplest theory to explain the mystery of universe and the most common to all the revealed religions of the world. It is important to understand that this article only notifies Creationism as the simplest theory, not the most accurate theory, in explaining the question ¡®where have we come from¡¯.

III.5 Nordisk Familjebok, 1876-1899 edition
            Nordisk Familjebok, the 19th century encyclopedia published in Sweden, is perhaps the oldest encyclopedia used in this paper; nevertheless, it describes the concept of Darwinism in an extensive way, more than any other encyclopedias enlisted above. Nordisk Familjebok is particular in explaining Darwinism that it not only explains the original concepts of Darwinism itself, including the natural selection, but also actually compares it with the work of others including Linne, Lamarck and Geoffroy.

            ... Linne yttrade i sin "Flora suecica" om mer ?n en växtart, att den är "en tidens dotter", men han betraktade dock i systemet arterna såsom fasta och oföränderliga. "Vi räkna", sade han, "så många arter, som former blefvo skapade i begynnelsen", och sådan blef för en lång tid den rådande meningen. Men ibörjan af detta århundrade framställde Jean de Lamarck den af Buffon och Erasmus Darwin antydda, af Göthe motsedda teorien, att den ena arten härstammar fr?n den andra (descendens- eller transmutationsteorien) och att menniskan leder sitt ursprung fr?n ett apartadt däggdjur ... (13)

            Nevertheless, the accuracy of the definition and explanation does not fail to match the accuracy of the other encyclopedias which were published years later. The description of Darwinism and the concept of natural selection are neither incorrect nor biased in any kind of religious form. Nordisk Familjebok also succeeds in showing clear examples which verify that several kinds of research related to Darwinism were conducted and proven. Although the length of the description is far longer than any other descriptions shown above, it never fails to describe the concept of natural selection; rather, its extensiveness actually dedicates in accumulating the validity and accuracy of the article, as shown beneath.

            ... Genom arf fortplantas sedan dessa fördelaktiga förändringar generation efter generation och stegras småningom, när nya variationer i samma riktninginträffa, hvaremot de mindre gynsamt utrustade individen fortfarande duka under. Så fortgår det, genom ett naturligt urval ("natural selection"), till dess ur den ursprungliga arten en form framgått, som ?r bättre afpassad efter de nya förhållandena, och således olik den, hvarifrån den ledde sitt ursprung (selektionsteorien). På samma sätt kunna naturligtvis två eller flere arter samtidigt uppstå ur en, i det n?gra individ skyddas genom den starkare utvecklingen af en viss egenskap, andra deremot genom utvecklingen af en annan ...
            ... Vid Amerikas upptäckt fans på hela dess jord ingen lefvande hästart; men dess tertiära lager, från de äldsta till de yngsta, bevara en fullständig utvecklingsföljd af hästslägtet: från en art, som, ej större än en räf, p? framfötterna hade fyra utbildade tår och en rudimentär, samt på bakfötterna tre tår, till nutidens en-tåade reslige häst ...

IV. Conclusion
            Darwinism was a serious matter to discuss during the 19th century. There were multiple cases in which the advocates of Darwinism had to defend it in the heated debate with religious Creationism. In days like those, it might have been difficult for authors of encyclopedias to describe the reliability and objectivity of Darwinism and the related theory of evolution. Some, like Catholic Encyclopedia and Jewish Encyclopedia, took a firm position and defended or logically criticized Darwinism, and others, such as Encyclopaedia Britannica, tended to keep the objectivity of the topic.
            Encyclopedias explaining the concept of Darwinism during the 19th century represents that the prolonged debate over the validity of Darwinism of that time was very intense; yet whichever the suggested encyclopedia was, and which side the authors of the encyclopedias took, there is no doubt on the fact that those encyclopedias clearly showed each encyclopedia¡¯s own point of view of Darwinism; encyclopedias would have been very effective to be used as a source of defining whether Darwinism was right or wrong, based on what encyclopedia the advocate used.
            Even though encyclopedias of the 19th century evidently show the opposed supporting facts and ideas regarding the validity of Darwinism, perhaps the validity of Catholic Encyclopedia and Jewish Encyclopedia of the 19th century seems to be less valid now, since Pope John Paul II declared in the meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the Vatican that the Catholic Church no longer opposed the scientific concept of evolution (15). Yet Darwinism is still being debated today by advocates of either Darwinism or Creationism.


1.      Wikipedia - Darwinism
2.      Catholic Encyclopedia - Catholics and evolution
3.      ibid.
4.      Jewish Encyclopedia - Evolution
5.      ibid.
6.      ibid.
7.      Encyclopedia Britannica 1902 edition - Evolution
8.      ibid.
9.      Encyclopedia Britannica 1911 edition - Evolution
10.      Meyers Konversationslexikon - Darwinismus
11.      Enciclopedia Moderna Illustrata : Darwinismo
12.      Enciclopedia Moderna Illustrata : Creazione
13.      Nordisk Familjebok : Darwinism
14.      ibid.
15.      Yea 2007


Note : websites quoted below were visited in June 2009.

Primary Sources
1.      Article : Evolution, from Encyclopedia Britannica, 1902 edition posted by 1902 Encyclopedia,
2.      Article : Evolution, from Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911 edition posted by Classic Encyclopedia,
3.      Article : Catholics and evolution, from Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907-1914 edition, posted by New Advent,
4.      Article : Evolution, from Jewish Encyclopedia, 1901-1906 edition, posted by,
5.      Article : Darwinismus, from Meyers Konversationslexikon, 1902-1909 edition, in German, posyed by Zeno,
6.      Articles : Darwinismo, Creazione, from : Enciclopedia Moderna Illustrata, 1905 edition (in Italian)
7.      Article v: Darwinism, from : Nordisk Familjebok, 1876-1899 edition

Secondary Sources
8.      Wikipedia - Darwinism
9.      Yea, Chang Whan, Reception of Darwinism and the Concept of Evolution by the Religious Community in the English-Speaking World (2007), posted on WHKMLA,


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