Christian Frederik Lütken (1827-1901)

Professor of zoology 1885-1901, MSc zoology 1853, DSc 1857, assistant, from 1882 curator, at the Zoological Museum 1851-85, specialist in marine zoology, expert on echinoderms.

In 1863 C.F. Lütken wrote the first detailed discussion of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in Denmark. It was published in the popular science magazine Tidsskrift for populære Fremstillinger af Naturvidenskaben [Journal for Popular Accounts of Science] which Lütken was co-editing. Like his mentor and predecessor as professor of zoology, Japetus Steenstrup, Lütken had great respect for Darwin’s scientific work but remained sceptical of his theory of evolution. Lütken argued that the theory was in need of substantial evidence in order to be more than just an interesting hypothesis. He wrote several widely used textbooks of zoology which were characterised by a focus on morphology in line with traditional natural history, while phylogenetic and evolutionary issues were not prominent. A collection of his popular lectures at the Danish Natural History Society was published in Skildringer af Dyrelivet i Fortid og Nutid [Descriptions of Animal Life in Past and Present Times] (Copenhagen: P.G. Philipsens Forlag, 1880). In this work Lütken discussed Thomas Henry Huxley’s paleontological studies. Lütken did not exclude the possibility that birds descended from dinosaurs, which Huxley claimed, but he asserted that it was not a proven scientific fact. Even though Lütken never became an evolutionist, he accepted that the theory was deduced and discussed by his staff and students during his professorship. In this way, he paved the way for a gradual and relatively peaceful introduction of evolutionary theories at the Zoological Department of the University of Copenhagen.             

Hans Henrik Hjermitslev

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