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Changing British Science

His work over the next years brought Huxley many positions and much fame. He became rich, through his multiple appointments and his numerous magazine articles and books. One book went through seven editions. His writings were profound and cleverly styled, yet worded simply enough that even marginally literate people read and enjoyed them. The Theory of Evolution that Wallace and Darwin independently proposed was seized upon by Huxley as the one unifying theory that could explain life in the natural world. Huxley not only endorsed the theory, he became the primary advocate for it throughout the world.

The scientific community was eventually persuaded. The Church of England was another matter, however. They held to what we would call today, "Creationism," which is based on a literal word-for-word interpretation of the Bible. Huxley was not an atheist, for he knew there was no way to disprove existence of God. He became an agnostic, a term that he invented. He positioned himself as the enemy of the Church, not so much on religious grounds, but because of the divisiveness of all the sects in Britain and because of the privileges that the Anglican Church reserved unto itself. There was no separation of Church and state in the England of his day.

Huxley when he was President of the Royal Society

In the era just after our own Civil War, Huxley and his colleagues (notably, Darwin, Hooker, and Tyndall) reformed the institutions of British science. Huxley believed that science could modernize society and uplift the masses. He was a working-class hero (London cab drivers would refuse his fare). He was a star among the leaders of world science. He sold Darwinís ideas on evolution to scientists and positioned the theory so well that the Church had no choice but to reject it or accommodate to it. According to the New York Times, Huxley had made "ferocious assaults on the structures of Victorian society - religion, class, education -- as he molded Darwinís scientific revolution into a social engine to overthrow the old order."

He had come a long way from the fetid alleys, bars, and dance halls of the slums of London.


1. Desmond, Adrian. 1999. Huxley. From Devilís Disciple to Evolutionís High Priest. Perseus Books, Penguin, London.


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