IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

Moral facts and scientific fiction: 19th century theological reactions to Darwinism in Germany

  • Bernhard Kleeberg
Registered author(s):

    When the German translation of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published in 1860, it intensified a conflict that German theologians had been fighting since the early 19th century. Arguments against the secular relativising or even thorough dismissal of the scientific, philosophical and social importance of the bible now had to be supplemented with arguments against the anti-teleological consequences of Darwin’s theory. But though they all agreed in rejecting these consequences, German theologians considerably differed in respect to the epistemological status they granted to Darwinian and biblical accounts of man and nature. Whether they considered the truths of science and religion as corresponding, complementary, independent, or incompatible depended on their judgments on the relation between (scientific) facts, theories, and (cultural) convictions. These judgments were shaped in a specific way: Darwinism in Germany was mainly associated with Ernst Haeckel’s monistic evolutionism that explicitly claimed to be science as well as a new religion. Furthermore, romantic and idealistic natural philosophy were very influential in developmental biology, bolstering anti-selectionist theories that were easier to reconcile with religion. Though literal interpretations of the scriptural account of nature became more or less abandoned by the end of the century, the theological interpretation of the relation between nature and scripture seems to have shifted towards positions either stressing incompatible epistemologies of belief, or the complementarity of moral and empirical knowledge. The theological discussions of what counted as a fact, and what was held to be convincing evidence to establish facts, sheds light on the distinction between explaining and understanding that would become a major issue in 20th century epistemology.

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Paper provided by London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History in its series Economic History Working Papers with number 22544.

    in new window

    Length: 41 pages
    Date of creation: Aug 2005
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:ehl:wpaper:22544
    Contact details of provider: Postal: LSE, Dept. of Economic History Houghton Street London, WC2A 2AE, U.K.
    Phone: +44 (0) 20 7955 7084
    Web page:

    More information through EDIRC

    No references listed on IDEAS
    You can help add them by filling out this form.

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:ehl:wpaper:22544. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (LSERO Manager on behalf of EH Dept.)

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.