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Thomas Henry Huxley

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

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.

Quotes Thomas Henry Huxley

„The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley, Collected Essays of Thomas Henry Huxley

On the advisableness of improving natural knowledge (1866) http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext01/thx1410.txt
1860s
Source: Collected Essays of 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.

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

—  Thomas Henry Huxley

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
1880s

„But orthodoxy is the Bourbon of the world of thought.“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley

Darwiniana: the Origin of Species (1860) http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext04/8thdr10.txt
1860s
Context: It is true that if philosophers have suffered their cause has been amply avenged. Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science as the strangled snakes beside that of Hercules; and history records that whenever science and orthodoxy have been fairly opposed, the latter has been forced to retire from the lists, bleeding and crushed if not annihilated; scotched, if not slain. But orthodoxy is the Bourbon of the world of thought. It learns not, neither can it forget; and though, at present, bewildered and afraid to move, it is as willing as ever to insist that the first chapter of Genesis contains the beginning and the end of sound science...

„I now propose briefly to… set forth“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley

Ch.2, p. 74
1860s, Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863)
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.

„The life, the fortune, and the happiness of every one of us, and, more or less, of those who are connected with us, do depend upon our knowing something of the rules of a game infinitely more difficult and complicated than chess.“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley

1860s, A Liberal Education and Where to Find It (1868)
Context: The life, the fortune, and the happiness of every one of us, and, more or less, of those who are connected with us, do depend upon our knowing something of the rules of a game infinitely more difficult and complicated than chess. It is a game which has been played for untold ages, every man and woman of us being one of the two players in a game of his or her own. The chessboard is the world, the pieces are the phenomena of the universe, the rules of the game are what we call the laws of Nature. The player on the other side is hidden from us. We know that his play is always fair, just, and patient. But also we know, to our cost, that he never overlooks a mistake, or makes the smallest allowance for ignorance. To the man who plays well, the highest stakes are paid, with that sort of overflowing generosity with which the strong shows delight in strength. And one who plays ill is checkmated — without haste, but without remorse.

„The question of questions for mankind“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley

Ch.2, p. 71
1860s, Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863)
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.

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„Our reverence for the nobility of manhood will not be lessened by the knowledge, that Man, is in substance and in structure, one with the brutes; for“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley

Ch.2, p. 132
1860s, Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863)
Context: Our reverence for the nobility of manhood will not be lessened by the knowledge, that Man, is in substance and in structure, one with the brutes; for, he alone possesses the marvellous endowment of intelligible and rational speech, whereby, in the secular period of his existence, he has slowly accumulated and organized the experience which is almost wholly lost with the cessation of every individual life in other animals; so that now he stands raised upon it as on a mountain top, far above the level of his humble fellows, and transfigured from his grosser nature by reflecting, here and there, a ray from the infinite source of truth.

„The history of the development of any“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley

Ch.2, p. 79
1860s, Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863)
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.

„In an ideal University, as I conceive it, a man should be able to obtain instruction in all forms of knowledge, and discipline in the use of all the methods by which knowledge is obtained.“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley

Universities, Actual and Ideal (1874)
1870s
Context: In an ideal University, as I conceive it, a man should be able to obtain instruction in all forms of knowledge, and discipline in the use of all the methods by which knowledge is obtained. In such a University, the force of living example should fire the student with a noble ambition to emulate the learning of learned men, and to follow in the footsteps of the explorers of new fields of knowledge. And the very air he breathes should be charged with that enthusiasm for truth, that fanaticism of veracity, which is a greater possession than much learning; a nobler gift than the power of increasing knowledge; by so much greater and nobler than these, as the moral nature of man is greater than the intellectual; for veracity is the heart of morality.

„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

A Succinct History of the Controversy respecting the Cerebral Structure of Man and the Apes, Evidence as to Man's place in Nature (1863)
1860s
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.

„Size is not grandeur, and territory does not make a nation.“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley

"Address on University Education" (1876) http://aleph0.clarku.edu/huxley/CE3/Ad-U-Ed.html, delivered at the formal opening of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, September 12, 1876. Huxley, American Addresses (1877), p. 125. Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey used the same words in a commencement address at the Holton-Arms School, Bethesda, Maryland, June 1967; reported in The Washington Post (June 11, 1967), p. K3
1870s
Context: I cannot say that I am in the slightest degree impressed by your bigness, or your material resources, as such. Size is not grandeur, and territory does not make a nation. The great issue, about which hangs true sublimity, and the terror of overhanging fate, is what are you going to do with all these things?

„I can assure you that there is the greatest practical benefit in making a few failures early in life. You learn that which is of inestimable importance — that there are a great many people in the world who are just as clever as you are.“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley

"On Medical Education" (1870) http://aleph0.clarku.edu/huxley/CE3/MedEd.html
1870s
Context: I can assure you that there is the greatest practical benefit in making a few failures early in life. You learn that which is of inestimable importance — that there are a great many people in the world who are just as clever as you are. You learn to put your trust, by and by, in an economy and frugality of the exercise of your powers, both moral and intellectual; and you very soon find out, if you have not found it out before, that patience and tenacity of purpose are worth more than twice their weight of cleverness.

„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

Ch.1, p. 36
1860s, Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863)
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...

„Agnosticism is not properly described as a "negative" creed, nor indeed as a creed of any kind, except in so far as it expresses absolute faith in the validity of a principle which is as much ethical as intellectual. This principle may be stated in various ways, but they all amount to this: that it is wrong for a man to say that he is certain of the objective truth of any proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty.“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley

1880s, Agnosticism (1889)
Context: Agnosticism is not properly described as a "negative" creed, nor indeed as a creed of any kind, except in so far as it expresses absolute faith in the validity of a principle which is as much ethical as intellectual. This principle may be stated in various ways, but they all amount to this: that it is wrong for a man to say that he is certain of the objective truth of any proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty. This is what agnosticism asserts; and, in my opinion, it is all that is essential to agnosticism. That which agnostics deny and repudiate as immoral is the contrary doctrine, that there are propositions which men ought to believe, without logically satisfactory evidence; and that reprobation ought to attach to the profession of disbelief in such inadequately supported propositions. The justification of the agnostic principle lies in the success which follows upon its application, whether in the field of natural or in that of civil history; and in the fact that, so far as these topics are concerned, no sane man thinks of denying its validity.

„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

"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
1870s
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.

„When I reached intellectual maturity and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; Christian or a freethinker; I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until, at last, I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last.“

—  Thomas Henry Huxley

1880s, Agnosticism (1889)
Context: When I reached intellectual maturity and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; Christian or a freethinker; I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until, at last, I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last. The one thing in which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure they had attained a certain "gnosis," — had, more or less successfully, solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble.
So I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of "agnostic." It came into my head as suggestively antithetic to the "gnostic" of Church history, who professed to know so much about the very things of which I was ignorant. To my great satisfaction the term took.

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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