Helge Holst (1871-1944)

Science writer, MSc physics 1893, editor of Frem [Forward] 1908-17, librarian at the Polytechnical College from 1920.

In 1908, the editor of the popular magazine and book series Frem, Julius Schiøtt, employed Helge Holst as co-editor. By then Holst had published several popular science works including a history of technological inventions written together with the Grundtvigian folk high school teacher Poul la Cour. At Schiøtt’s death in 1910, Holst was appointed editor-in-chief of Frem which had a print run of 100,000 copies and was the most widely circulated popular science publication in the period 1859-1920. Holst wrote two feature articles on Darwin and his theory to the Frem supplement Vor Jord [Our Earth]. In 1902, a four-part article on the Origin of Species was issued and in 1909 he wrote a celebratory piece on Darwin in connection with the centenary of his birth. Holst took a moderate stance in the Darwinian debates. He regarded evolution as an established scientific fact, but emphasised that there were still many unsolved puzzles especially in relation to the mechanisms of evolution and the incomplete fossil record. He pointed to the contemporary scientific discussions of the validity of the theory of natural selection and the question of man’s animal ancestry. These elements of Darwinism were still controversial among scientists around 1900. Holst supported Lord Kelvin’s critique of the theory of evolution based on thermodynamics which seemed to limit the time span available for the evolutionary process. Clearly, the physicist Holst regarded the laws of physics as being superior to biological theories. In the debate on the relationship between science and religion, Holst argued that there was no necessary conflict between evolution and Christianity. In fact, according to Holst, progressive organic evolution fitted remarkably well with Genesis 1. As editor of Frem, Holst signed on distinguished scientists such as the geneticist Wilhelm Johannsen who contributed with articles on evolution and heredity, and skilled popularisers of science including the entomologist Carl Wesenberg-Lund and the zoologist J.O. Bøving-Petersen.

Hans Henrik Hjermitslev

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