The paper deals with the history of the notion of degeneration in theoretical thinking of the religion-driven opponents of evolutionism. The notion of degeneration is commonly perceived as something that goes hand in hand with Social Darwinism and other trends of evolutionary thought. Evolutionists of the past usually understood degeneration as a reversal to the ancestral condition, and applied this notion to criminals, mentally ill persons and paupers. However, during the pre-Darwinian time, conservative supporters of the biblical literalism took the doctrine of degeneration very differently, construing it as a rival model to evolutionism. According to this model degeneration is a process of gradual descent from the exalted state in which Adam and its progeny were initially created by God. Prominent proponents of the doctrine of degeneration, such as Richard Whately, a Church of England Archbishop, and Nicholas Wiseman, a Catholic cardinal, argued that the primeval man, created by God, was civilized, far from being in a savage condition, called the state of nature by J.J. Rousseau and his disciples. Antievolutionary doctrine of degeneration suggested that the mode of life of modern savages could not be considered as an original one, because primitive tribes had degraded under the impact of harsh climate and other factors. Degenerationists underscored that humans were unable to invent civilization from scratch without help from God. The doctrine of degeneration enjoyed much influence, so that Charles Darwin himself, and other evolutionists, like Robert Chambers and John Lubbock, felt obliged to counter it. Nevertheless, the doctrine still had some support in the religious camp in 1870. The fact that the notion of degeneracy, initially used by opponents of evolutionism, has been eventually incorporated into the evolutionary worldview by the followers of Darwin is just another example of how triumphant paradigms absorb conceptual elements of their defeated rivals.