Thomas Huxley

On this date in 1825, Thomas Henry Huxley was born in England. Huxley coined the term "agnostic" (although George Jacob Holyoake also claimed that honor). Huxley defined agnosticism as a method, "the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle . . . the axiom that every man should be able to give a reason for the faith that is in him." Huxley elaborated: "In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without any other consideration. And negatively, in matters of the intellect do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable" (from his essay "Agnosticism").

Huxley received his medical degree from Charing Cross School of Medicine, becoming a physiologist, and was awarded many other honorary degrees. He spent his youth exploring science, especially zoology and anatomy, lecturing on natural history, and writing for scientific publications. He was president of the Royal Society, and was elected to the London School Board in 1870, where he championed a number of common-sense reforms. Huxley earned the nickname "Darwin's Bulldog" when he debated Darwin's On the Origin of Species with Bishop Samuel Wilberforce in Oxford in 1860. When Wilberforce asked him which side of his family contained the ape, Huxley famously replied that he would prefer to descend from an ape than a human being who used his intellect "for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into grave scientific discussion." Thereafter, Huxley devoted his time to the defense of science over religion. His essays included "Agnosticism and Christianity" (1889). His three rationalist grandsons were Sir Julian Huxley, a biologist, novelist Aldous Huxley, and Henry Fielding Huxley, co-winner of a 1963 Nobel Prize. Huxley, appropriately, received the Darwin Medal in 1894. D. 1895.

“Skepticism is the highest duty and blind faith the one unpardonable sin.”

—Thomas Henry Huxley, Essays on Controversial Questions (1889)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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