Thomas Henry Huxley quotes

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Thomas Henry Huxley

Birthdate: 4. May 1825
Date of death: 29. June 1895
Other names:Thomas Huxley

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Thomas Henry Huxley was an English biologist specialising in comparative anatomy. He is known as "Darwin's Bulldog" for his advocacy of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Huxley's famous debate in 1860 with Samuel Wilberforce was a key moment in the wider acceptance of evolution and in his own career. Huxley had been planning to leave Oxford on the previous day, but, after an encounter with Robert Chambers, the author of Vestiges, he changed his mind and decided to join the debate. Wilberforce was coached by Richard Owen, against whom Huxley also debated about whether humans were closely related to apes.

Huxley was slow to accept some of Darwin's ideas, such as gradualism, and was undecided about natural selection, but despite this he was wholehearted in his public support of Darwin. Instrumental in developing scientific education in Britain, he fought against the more extreme versions of religious tradition.

Originally coining the term in 1869, Huxley elaborated on "agnosticism" in 1889 to frame the nature of claims in terms of what is knowable and what is not. Huxley states

Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle... the fundamental axiom of modern science... In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration... In matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.

Use of that term has continued to the present day .

Huxley had little formal schooling and was virtually self-taught. He became perhaps the finest comparative anatomist of the latter 19th century. He worked on invertebrates, clarifying relationships between groups previously little understood. Later, he worked on vertebrates, especially on the relationship between apes and humans. After comparing Archaeopteryx with Compsognathus, he concluded that birds evolved from small carnivorous dinosaurs, a theory widely accepted today.

The tendency has been for this fine anatomical work to be overshadowed by his energetic and controversial activity in favour of evolution, and by his extensive public work on scientific education, both of which had significant effects on society in Britain and elsewhere.

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Quotes Thomas Henry Huxley

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„The antagonism between science and religion, about which we hear so much, appears to me to be purely factitious“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley
Context: The antagonism between science and religion, about which we hear so much, appears to me to be purely factitious — fabricated, on the one hand, by short-sighted religious people who confound a certain branch of science, theology, with religion; and, on the other, by equally short-sighted scientific people who forget that science takes for its province only that which is susceptible of clear intellectual comprehension; and that, outside the boundaries of that province, they must be content with imagination, with hope, and with ignorance. "The interpreters of Genesis and the interpreters of Nature" (1885) http://aleph0.clarku.edu/huxley/CE4/GeNat.html

„The saying that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing is, to my mind, a very dangerous adage.“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley
Context: The saying that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing is, to my mind, a very dangerous adage. If knowledge is real and genuine, I do not believe that it is other than a very valuable possession, however infinitesimal its quantity may be. Indeed, if a little knowledge is dangerous, where is the man who has so much as to be out of danger? "On Elementary Instruction in Physiology" (1877) http://aleph0.clarku.edu/huxley/CE3/ElPhys.html

„Once in a generation, a Wallace may be found physically, mentally, and morally qualified to wander unscathed through the tropical wilds of America and of Asia; to form magnificent collections as he wanders; and withal to think out sagaciously the conclusions suggested by his collections: but, to the ordinary explorer or collector, the dense forests of equatorial Asia and Africa“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley
Context: Once in a generation, a Wallace may be found physically, mentally, and morally qualified to wander unscathed through the tropical wilds of America and of Asia; to form magnificent collections as he wanders; and withal to think out sagaciously the conclusions suggested by his collections: but, to the ordinary explorer or collector, the dense forests of equatorial Asia and Africa, which constitute the favourite habitation of the Orang, the Chimpanzee, and the Gorilla, present difficulties of no ordinary magnitude: and the man who risks his life by even a short visit to the malarious shores of those regions may well be excused if he shrinks from facing the dangers of the interior; if he contents himself with stimulating the industry of the better seasoned natives, and collecting and collating the more or less mythical reports and traditions with which they are too ready to supply him. In such a manner most of the earlier accounts of the habits of the man-like Apes originated... Ch.1, p. 36

„The only freedom I care about is the freedom to do right; the freedom to do wrong I am ready to part with on the cheapest terms to any one who will take it of me.“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley
Context: If some great Power would agree to make me always think what is true and do what is right, on condition of being turned into a sort of clock and wound up every morning before I got out of bed, I should instantly close with the offer. The only freedom I care about is the freedom to do right; the freedom to do wrong I am ready to part with on the cheapest terms to any one who will take it of me. "On Descartes' Discourse touching the method of using one's reason rightly and of seeking scientific truth" (1870) http://aleph0.clarku.edu/huxley/CE1/DesDis.html

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„I do not mean to suggest that scientific differences should be settled by universal suffrage, but I do conceive that solid proofs must be met by something more than empty and unsupported assertions.“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley
Context: I do not mean to suggest that scientific differences should be settled by universal suffrage, but I do conceive that solid proofs must be met by something more than empty and unsupported assertions. Yet during the two years through which this preposterous controversy has dragged its weary length, Professor Owen has not ventured to bring forward a single preparation in support of his often-repeated assertions. The case stands thus, therefore: Not only are the statements made by me in consonance with the doctrines of the best older authorities, and with those of all recent investigators, but I am quite ready to demonstrate them on the first monkey that comes to hand; while Professor Owen's assertions are not only in diametrical opposition to both old and new authorities, but he has not produced, and, I will add, cannot produce, a single preparation which justifies them. A Succinct History of the Controversy respecting the Cerebral Structure of Man and the Apes, Evidence as to Man's place in Nature (1863)

„His voice was low, clear and distinct... Professor Huxley's method is slow, precise, and clear, and he guards the positions that he takes with astuteness and ability.“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley
Context: His voice was low, clear and distinct... Professor Huxley's method is slow, precise, and clear, and he guards the positions that he takes with astuteness and ability. He does not utter anything in reckless fashion which conviction sometimes countenances and excuses, but rather with the deliberation that research and close inquiry foster. Newspaper account of speech at opening of Johns Hopkins University (13 September 1876), quoted in The Great Influenza : The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History (2005) by John M. Barry, p. 13

„The history of the development of any“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley
Context: The student of development finds, not only that the chick commences its existence as an egg, primarily identical, in all essential respects, with that of the Dog, but that the yelk of this egg undergoes division—that the primitive groove arises, and that the contiguous parts of the germ are fashioned, by precisely similar methods into a young chick, which, at one stage of its existence, is so like the nascent Dog, that ordinary inspection would hardly distinguish the two. The history of the development of any other vertebrate animal, Lizard, Snake, Frog, or Fish, tells the same story. Ch.2, p. 79

„The question of questions for mankind“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley
Context: The question of questions for mankind—the problem which underlies all others, and is more deeply interesting than any other—is the ascertainment of the place which Man occupies in nature and of his relations to the universe of things. Ch.2, p. 71

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„The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin.“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley
Context: The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin. And it cannot be otherwise, for every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority, the cherishing of the keenest scepticism, the annihilation of the spirit of blind faith; and the most ardent votary of science holds his firmest convictions, not because the men he most venerates hold them; not because their verity is testified by portents and wonders; but because his experience teaches him that whenever he chooses to bring these convictions into contact with their primary source, Nature — whenever he thinks fit to test them by appealing to experiment and to observation — Nature will confirm them. The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification. On the advisableness of improving natural knowledge (1866) http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext01/thx1410.txt

„A man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather.“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley
Context: A man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather. If there was an ancestor whom I should feel shame in recalling it would rather be a man — a man of restless and versatile intellect — who not content with an equivocal success in his own sphere of activity, plunges into scientific questions with which he has no real acquaintance, only to obscure them with aimless rhetoric, and distract the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice. One account of his famous response to Samuel Wilberforce, who during a debate had sarcastically questioned: "whether he was descended from an ape on his grandmother's side or his grandfather's" (30 June 1860), as quoted in Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley F.R.S (1900) edited by Leonard Huxley. There were no precise transcripts of this exchange made at the time, but only various accounts which were made afterwards, in the journals and memoirs of others. Other accounts assert that after Wilberforce's query he declared to Sir Benjamin Brodie "The Lord hath delivered him into my hands" rose from his seat, gave a thorough defense of Darwin's theories, and at the end concluded: "I would rather be the offspring of two apes than be a man and afraid to face the truth." If the question is put to me would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather or a man highly endowed by nature and possessed of great means of influence and yet who employs these faculties and that influence for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion, I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape. Response, as quoted in Harvest of a Quiet Eye (1977) by Alan L. Mackay. The Bishop rose, and in a light scoffing tone, florid and he assured us there was nothing in the idea of evolution; rock-pigeons were what rock-pigeons had always been. Then, turning to his antagonist with a smiling insolence, he begged to know, was it through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed his descent from a monkey? On this Mr Huxley slowly and deliberately arose. A slight tall figure stern and pale, very quiet and very grave, he stood before us, and spoke those tremendous words — words which no one seems sure of now, nor I think, could remember just after they were spoken, for their meaning took away our breath, though it left us in no doubt as to what it was. He was not ashamed to have a monkey for his ancestor; but he would be ashamed to be connected with a man who used great gifts to obscure the truth. No one doubted his meaning and the effect was tremendous. One lady fainted and had to carried out: I, for one, jumped out of my seat; and when in the evening we met at Dr Daubeney's, every one was eager to congratulate the hero of the day. Another account, by Mrs. Isabella Sidgwick in "A Grandmother's Tales"; Macmillan's Magazine LXXVIII, No. 468 (October 1898)

„Thomas Henry Huxley may come to be remembered by the public merely as the man who held that we were descended from the ape, or as the apostle of Darwinism, or as the man who worsted Bishop Wilberforce at Oxford.
To prevent such“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley
Context: Thomas Henry Huxley may come to be remembered by the public merely as the man who held that we were descended from the ape, or as the apostle of Darwinism, or as the man who worsted Bishop Wilberforce at Oxford. To prevent such limitation, and to afford more intimate and valuable reasons for remembrance of this man of science and lover of his fellow-men, I have gathered together passages, on widely differing themes, from the nine volumes of his "Essays," from his "Scientific Memoirs" and his "Letters," to be published in a small volume, complete in itself, and of a size that can be carried in the pocket.... I hope that these selections may attract the attention of the working man, whose cause my husband so ardently espoused, and to whom he was the first to reveal, by his free lectures, the loveliness of Nature, the many rainbow-coloured rays of science, and to show forth to his listeners how all these glorious rays unite in the one pure white light of holy truth. Henrietta A. Huxley, Preface to Thomas Henry Huxley, Aphorisms and Reflections https://books.google.com/books?id=Fh9YAAAAYAAJ (1908) ed., Henrietta A. Huxley

„I now propose briefly to... set forth“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley
Context: I now propose briefly to... set forth, in a form intelligible to those who possess no special acquaintance with anatomical science, the chief facts upon which all conclusions respecting the nature and the extent of the bonds which connect man with the brute world must be based: I shall then indicate the one immediate conclusion which, in my judgment, is justified by those facts, and I shall finally discuss the bearing of that conclusion upon the hypotheses which have been entertained respecting the Origin of Man. Ch.2, p. 74

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