Jens Orten Bøving-Petersen (1864-1937)

Natural history teacher and science writer, MSc zoology 1890, editor and consultant for Dansk Fiskeriforening [Danish Association of Fisheries] 1906-21, specialist in marine biology, member of the radical-liberal student organisation Studenter-samfundet [The Society of Students].

J.O. Bøving-Petersen was among the most influential and prolific popularisers of natural science in Denmark in the decades around 1900. His popular works on natural history Naturens Vidundere [Marvels of Nature] (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1911) and Vor Klodes Saga [Saga of our Globe] (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1912) were published under the imprint of Frem and printed in up to 100,000 copies. Since his student days in the 1880s, Bøving-Petersen had been an enthusiastic advocate of Darwinism. He was a devoted disciple of the embryologist R.S. Bergh, who introduced Ernst Haeckel’s comparative methods and phylogenetic work at the University of Copenhagen. Bøving-Petersen wrote several articles and books that informed about evolution. In 1897, his polemical and anticlerical work Skabelse eller Udvikling? [Creation or Evotution?] was published by the Society of Students. Bøving-Petersen sharply contrasted the biological theory of evolution with the biblical history of creation, the theory of separate creations and notions of a divine plan in nature. He piled up empirical evidence, taken from morphological investigations, the geographical distribution of plants, the fossil record, studies of embryos and taxonomy, which he considered in favour of evolution and made a creationist view seem untenable and even preposterous. The ridicule of Christian views on creation and Bøving-Petersen’s conception of a necessary conflict between evolution and Christianity made the Jesuit amateur naturalist Amand Breitung write a rejoinder entitled Abeteoriens Bankerot og vor populære Darwinisme [The Bankruptcy of the Ape-Theory and Our Popular Darwinism] (1899), in which he attacked popular Darwinism as advocated by radical and socialist writers, and the Society of Students. Breitung defended a restricted form of theistic evolutionism, but excluded humans from the evolutionary process. On the centenary of Darwin’s birth 12 February 1909, Bøving-Petersen wrote the commemorative article for the radical-liberal newspaper Politiken. Darwin was celebrated as a secular saint who had liberated mankind from obscurantism.

Hans Henrik Hjermitslev

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