Jes Fabricius Møller: Teologiske reaktioner på darwinismen i Danmark 1860-1900


  • Jes Fabricius Møller


Darwin and the Danish Theologians 1860-1900Although natural historians as well as the general reading public in Denmark were acquainted with Darwin in the 1860s, he had but few Danish adherents. English was not a widespread foreign language in Denmark at the time; knowledge of Darwin came mainly by way of Germany. Darwin's ideas were debated by the German Darwinist Carl Vogt and the French anthropologist J.L.A. de Quatrefages at an international conference for archaeologists and natural historians held in Copenhagen in 1869, and it was extensively covered by the press. A Danish translation of Origin of Species by the writer J.P. Jacobsen was published in 1871 and his translation of Decent of Man followed in 1874.It is commonplace in historical writing to emphasise that Darwinism was especially opposed by theologians and fundamentalist Christians. The image of church and its officials as conservative fundamentalists was the work of Darwin's adherents among atheistic and naturalist writers and intellectuals. It was part of the ongoing controversy unleashed by the secularisation process in Denmark, parallel, for instance, to the German Kulturkampf. Yet it is difficult to demonstrate that there was, in fact, any very pronounced opposition to Darwinism among Danish theologians.A close examination of contemporaneous theological journals reveals no significant preoccupation with Darwin. A polemical article written by Bishop D.G. Monrad in 1871 against J.P. Jacobsen forms the single important exception to the general observation that the theologians remained silent. Monrad's arguments, however, were on the whole not theological, but of the well known scientific type derived from Kant. There were, none the less, a number of Danish translations of German, French and English books and articles dealing with Darwin. Some of these were critical, while others were intent on harmonising, i.e., proving that natural science and the Bible were in fact not contradictory. This is found, for instance, in the writings of G. Hartwig, Th. Zollmann and Hugh Macmillan.“Fundamentalism” is a concept originating from the first decades of Twentieth Century America, where it was used especially to designate Christians who Stressed a literal interpretation of the Bible. The Danish “fundamentalists” of the Nineteenth Century, the “Inner Mission” and the “Lutheran Mission,” were pietist movements that emphasised conversion and a pious life based on the New Testament. Therefore, they did not feel themselves challenged by an eventual reinterpretation of Genesis on the part of natural science. Old Testament exegesis is not central to Danish Lutheranism. The situation was more difficult for the adherents of N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783-1872), whose thinking on the relationship between the history of salvation (the German concept Heilsgeschichte) and the history of humanity was seriously challenged by the contradiction between religious and naturalist conceptions to the world.If the reaction of the Danish theologians to Darwin was faint, it could, of course, have been due to an attempt to smother him in silence, but it seems more likely that the door the Darwinists were trying to break down was already open. The essential challenge to theology for more than a generation had been historical source criticism, which seemed to undermine conventional biblical truths on a far broader scale. The challenge was all the more powerful due to the fact that German historicism's breakthrough in Denmark was actuated by historians who were also schooled theologians (C.F. Allen and C. Paludan-Müller). Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55), following Lessing and Francis Bacon, tried to solve the problem by making a radical distinction between historical truths and truths of faith. Kirkegaard's philosophy and his view of science were publicized especially by Rasmus Nielsen (1809-84), a professor of philosophy who held the view that faith and knowledge were equally valid, yet incommensurable categories. Because of the broad recognition given to Rasmus Nielsen's teachings it was thus possible to accept modern scientific knowledge and at the same time retain a dogmatic Christian faith.To the clergy who were concerned about the decline of morals in the rapidly developing city of Copenhagen Darwinism was nevertheless seen as a significant danger. In his widely influential book on Christian ethics Bishop Hans Martensen criticized capitalism as well as the English materialist and liberal tradition, to which he assigned Adam Smith, Malthus and Darwinism. Other socially committed theologians identified Darwinism with Socialism. Although they stopped short of denying Darwinism's explanatory power in the domain of nature, they persistently held that man was more than mere nature and that Darwinism was to be rejected as a societal norm.Translated by Michael Wolfe


Jes Fabricius Møller





Fabricius Møller, J. (2013). Jes Fabricius Møller: Teologiske reaktioner på darwinismen i Danmark 1860-1900. Historisk Tidsskrift, 100(1). Hentet fra