Niels Carl Gustav Teisen (1851-1916)

Religious and theological writer, MA theology 1875, high school teacher at Odense Katedralskole 1878-1915.

Niels Teisen was known for his learned writings on English philosophy including the theories of Herbert Spencer, his translation of the theistic evolutionist Benjamin Kidd’s Social Evolution and his contributions to the debate on Christianity and Darwinism, when in 1914 the editor of the liberal Grundtvigian mouthpiece Højskolebladet [The High School Magazine], Helge Skovmand, asked him to write an article on the relationship between evolution and faith for a special issue on the theory of evolution. Teisen consented and followed the tradition of the philosopher Rasmus Nielsen and the neo-Grundtvigian Valdemar Brücker by advocating the independence of science from religion. Teisen referred to the German theologian Rudolf Otto, who argued for this radical separation, and explicitly warned against two common strategies dealing with this relationship: Firstly, attempts to harmonize scientific results and the words of the Bible had to be dismissed, since future knowledge could easily destroy this position. Secondly, he rejected deism. Evolution had to be accepted as a valid and useful scientific hypothesis which, however, did not touch upon the origin of life or excluded a divine plan. Teisen emphasised that it was not degrading for man to descend from a lower species as long as evolution had not happened through a blind, purposeless process. Although Teisen was not a Grundtvigian, he played an important role in legitimising the teaching of evolution at the folk high schools through his contributions to Højskolebladet.   

Hans Henrik Hjermitslev

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