Amandus Breitung (1850-1933)

Jesuit priest and amateur naturalist, born in Germany, teacher at St. Andreas College in Ordrup from 1878, theological studies in England, philosophical and botanical studies in Denmark.

Amand Breitung was by far the most prolific anti-Darwinian writer in Denmark in the first two decades of the twentieth century. His works include Abeteoriens Bankerot og vor populære Darwinisme [The Bankruptcy of the Ape-Theory and Our Popular Darwinism] (Copenhagen: Høst & Søn, 1899), Udviklingslæren og Kristentroen [The Theory of Evolution and Christian Faith] (Copenhagen: Folkelæsning & T.R. Thomassens Bogtrykkeri, 1905) and Overraskelser fra Abeteoriens og Udviklingslærens Omraade [Surprises from the Fields of the Ape-Theory and the Theory of Evolution (Copenhagen: Karl Schønbergs Forlag, 1917). His popular books were generally well received among Christians with evangelical and orthodox Grundtvigian sympathies. Breitung published several articles and reviews in the Evangelical-Lutheran press, especially in Mads Jepsen’s partisan organ Folkelæsning [Literature for the People]. He frequently lectured before scientific as well as lay audiences, and he even visited the radical Society of Students which did not welcome his anti-Darwinian arguments. Moreover, he was an active member of the Danish Natural History Society in Copenhagen and on friendly terms with professor of botany Eugen Warming with whom he shared a deep religious faith and a disgust of the Darwinian theory of selection. Breitung also corresponded with several Evangelical-Lutheran clergymen, for example the reverend H.P.H. Gjevnøe, who were eager to discuss the theory of descent with the Jesuit antievolutionist. On the other hand, he was often criticised by radicals and liberal Grundtvigians, who strongly condemned his Catholic apologetics and what they regarded as his religiously based dismissal of aspects of evolutionary theory. Breitung’s stance reflected the most antievolutionary position in the Darwinian debates in Denmark after the turn of the century. However, he was not an outright creationist. Rather, he accepted a limited version of evolution, but insisted that the process had unfolded according to a divine plan, and that man had not been part of the evolutionary process. The central theme for Breitung was human evolution, and most of his public activities were devoted to refute what paleoanthropologists regarded as evidence of man’s kinship with the apes. He thus perseveringly wrote critiques of the scientific value of apparent fossil remains of humans whenever they were presented in scientific and popular publications. In particular, he condemned the popularisation of the ape-theory initiated by radical and socialist science writers such as J.O. Bøving-Petersen and Vilhelm Rasmussen.     

Hans Henrik Hjermitslev

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