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Thomas Henry Huxley
Thomas Henry Huxley was born May 4, 1825 in Ealing England. Although he was the son of a schoolmaster, Huxley never had a real education as a child. He did however read plenty of books and started studying medicine at a young age. He later entered Charing Cross Hospital medical school, taking his degree in 1845 (Huxley 1992).
Huxley was made assistant surgeon aboard the H.M.S. Rattlesnake after passing the Royale College of Surgeons exam in 1846 (Huxley 1992). He spent four years on this scientific exploration of the southern seas around Australia, during which he did extensive studies of local marine life, which were published with great acclaim, these as well as his detailed investigations into comparative anatomy, paleontology, and evolution made his reputation as one of England's foremost scientist and controversialist.
Thomas Huxley met Charles Darwin in 1851, after Darwin's publication of The Origins of Species, which he was greatly impressed by. Huxley was one of the first adherents to Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, and did more than anyone else to advance its acceptance among scientists and the public alike. As is evident from the letter quoted below written by Huxley to Darwin in 1859,
I finished your book yesterday. . . Since I read Von Baer's Essays nine years ago no work on Natural History Science I have met with has made so great an impression on me & I do most heartily thank you for the great store of new views you have given me. . .
As for your doctrines I am prepared to go to the Stake if requisite. . .
I trust you will not allow yourself to be in any way disgusted or annoyed by the considerable abuse & misrepresentation which unless I greatly mistake is in store for you. . . And as to the curs which will bark and yelp -- you must recollect that some of your friends at any rate are endowed with an amount of combativeness which (though you have often & justly rebuked it) may stand you in good stead --
I am sharpening up my claws and beak in readiness (Di Gregorio 1984:143).
Because of his passionate defense of Darwin's theory, Huxley became known as "Darwin's Bulldog".
However Huxley did not believe all of Darwin's conclusions, Huxley was un persuaded by Darwin's arguments explaining away the missing fossils. Huxley believed in Saltation, a drastic change in a species. Saltation was, for Huxley, a deduction from naturalism--"a logical development," he said, "of Uniformitarianism" and provided, at least for a time, the only alternative to creation. "Saltation allowed Huxley to explain the gaps in the fossil record, accept evolution, and, most importantly, maintain a belief in the concept of type" (Lyons 1995:492). Though for the most part Huxley defended Darwin against the anti-evolutionist, including the Duke of Argyll, William Gladstone, and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, whom Huxley engaged in a strong debate over evolution in 1860.
In 1863, Huxley published Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature, which argued that human beings were closely related to anthropoid apes. He was unorthodox in both religion and science; he attacked what he called, "That clericalism, which in England, as everywhere else, and to whatever denomination it may belong, is the deadly enemy of science"(Huxley 1992:2).
"Science is nothing, but trained and organized common sense"(Barr 1997:13). This was one of many quotes said by Huxley showing his feelings that science was the one real truth. Huxley held several academic positions, such as Lecturer at the Royale School of Mines 1854-1885, Hunterian professor at the Royale College of Surgeons 1863-1869 and the Fullerian professor at the Royal Institution 1863-1867. In 1883 he was elected president of the Royal Society for two years (Huxley 1992). Thomas Henry Huxley died at the age of seventy on June 29, 1885 in Eastbourne England.
1997 Thomas Henry Huxley's Place in Science and Letters. Athens: University of
Di Gregorio, M. A.
1984. T. H. Huxley's Place in Natural Science. Yale University Press, New Haven
Huxley, Thomas H.
1992 Agnosticism and Christianity, and other essays Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York
Lyons, S. L.
1995. The origins of T. H. Huxley's saltationism: History in Darwin's shadow. Journal of the History of Biology . 28: 463-494
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