Darwin and the divine experiment: Religious responses to Darwin in Denmark 1859-1909

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  • Niels Henrik Gregersen, Denmark
  • Peter C. Kjærgaard, Denmark
  • Department of the History of Ideas

In Denmark Darwin’s theory of evolution was known early on and viewed with respect, but did not make immediate scientific converts. In the 1870s, when Darwinism was promoted by free thinkers, public debates began to flourish, but religious reactions were remarkably few and mostly undramatic. Since natural theology was not assumed by Lutheran theologians, the issue of design vs. chance was not prevalent. Discussions focused rather on scripture and the general challenge of naturalism, and if Darwin’s name was included, the concern was human uniqueness and the social consequences of Darwinism. Religious responses thus targeted the materialism of semi-popular Darwinism more than the substance of Darwin’s theory. Around 1900, however, many aspects of Darwin’s theory were accepted. At that time, however, leading biologists found that Darwin’s theory needed to be complemented by a Lamarckian emphasis on environment and adaptation. Theologians who were prepared to rethink Christianity in the light of evolution usually followed this trend. Darwin was domesticated, and brought home to the Danish public as part of the common cultural canon.

Original languageEnglish
JournalStudia Theologica
Pages (from-to)140-161
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 2009

    Research areas

  • Charles Darwin, Theology, Grundtvigianism, Evolution, Creation

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