St. George J. Mivart: The First Catholic Evolutionist


  • Francesca Bigoni Museo di Antropologia e Etnologia, Sistema Museale di Ateneo, Università di Firenze
  • Roscoe Stanyon Dipartimento di Biologia, Università di Firenze



evolution, natural selection, eugenics, primatology, ecology, punctuated equilibrium


In the history of biology little space is dedicated to St. George Mivart. He is usually only remembered for his objections to Darwin’s theory of natural selection contained in his book “Genesis of species”. Mivart had started his brilliant scientific career as a student, collaborator and friend of T. H. Huxley and initially had a good professional relation with Charles Darwin. Later he disappointed Darwin and Huxley by openly criticizing their theoretical approach and their materialistic view. The final break up was not caused by the discussion about evolution and natural selection, as usually claimed, but by divergence on eugenetic topics. His objections were unfairly minimized and ridiculed as bigotry due to his conversion to Catholicism. Despite the bitter controversy with Darwin, Mivart remained quite influential and from 1864 to 1898 he published more than 120 scientific papers dealing with biological and zoological subjects in the most important British scientific journals of his time. Mivart’s detailed anatomical works were based on evolutionary comparisons between species and communicated important, surprisingly modern, scientific interpretations. Today Mivart’s scientific and theoretical contribution to biology, primate evolution and anthropology are rarely mentioned. However, many of the concepts advanced by Mivart were later echoed in the writings of many important biologist of the 20th century. The history of biological sciences could benefit from a more thorough knowledge of Mivart’s influence.

Keywords: evolution, natural selection, eugenics, primatology, ecology, punctuated equilibrium






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