Valdemar Bennike (1849-1923)

Teacher at Vallekilde Folk High School 1879-1923.

Valdemar Bennike, who was educated at Askov and other folk high schools, was a prolific contributor to the liberal Grundtvigian mouthpiece Højskolebladet [The High School Magazine]. Like many other Grundtvigians, he was a strong supporter of Henry George’s social-liberal political thoughts. His favourite topics also included Darwinism, in particular the relationship between man and apes. In his articles and in his devotional work aimed at a lay audience Livets Historie eller Kristelig Udvilingslære [The History of Life or a Christian Theory of Evolution] (Copenhagen: Det Schønbergske Forlag, 1915), Bennike defended a restricted theistic version of evolution. He explicitly distanced himself from the neo-Grundtvigian support of Rasmus Nielsen’s principal distinction between knowledge and faith and took an apologetic stance by claiming that Genesis 1 and organic evolution could be reconciled since they both stated that the lower animals were created before the higher ones. However, Bennike did not embrace the idea of transmutation of species. Rather, he advocated a version of progressive creationism by asserting that God actively intervened whenever a new species came into existence. Bennike’s apologetic and orthodox Grundtvigian position included a defence of the uniqueness of man. In line with N.F.S. Grundtvig’s idealism he insisted that man had part in the immaterial spirit, and he rejected the simian origin of both man’s physical and mental characters. Thus, according to Bennike primitive man was not an intermediate step between ape-like progenitors and civilised man, but a degeneration of original man created by God. When Højskolebladet published a special issue on evolution in 1914, Bennike was not asked to contribute due to his critical stance. Instead he engaged in polemics with the one of the contributors of the special issue, the geologist Vilhelm Milthers, who had followed the line of Nielsen and the neo-Grundtvigians by warning against any apologetic attempts to reconcile Genesis 1 and modern science. While most of the folk high school intelligentsia accepted Darwinism including human evolution in the beginning of the twentieth century, Bennike thus remained critical towards evolutionary theories.    

Hans Henrik Hjermitslev

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