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Thomas Huxley

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Huxley, complete with beard.

Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) was a prominent English biologist, coiner of the term agnostic, and a staunch defender of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. While he was initially an opponent of any evolutionary change at all, upon reading The Origin of Species, he remarked: "how stupid of me not to have thought of that."[1] His vocal advocacy of the theory later earned him the title of 'Darwin's Bulldog'. His debate with Samuel Wilberforce at the Oxford University Museum is widely recognised a landmark in gaining wider acceptance for the theory of evolution among the public.

Saltationism[edit]

Whilst Huxley was a supporter of Darwin's ideas on evolution, he had doubts about accepting a strict gradualist model of evolution. Huxley felt that evolution could be either gradual or saltational. He wrote that "Nature does make jumps now and then, and a recognition of the fact is of no small importance in disposing of many minor objections to the doctrine of transmutation."[2]

On morality[edit]

Huxley was one of the first biologists (after Darwin's work was published) to refute religion as the basis for morality. Furthermore, he asserted that ethical conduct is a social construct (e.g., taught and learned through generation), and not an evolutionary one (e.g., an ingrained behavior that is part of a human's DNA). This assertion, which Darwin did not agree with, painted humanity as a species of savage brutes (it is possible humans could be, according to this idea, "amoral" beings rather than outright monsters) who must overcome their urges. Recent studies by ethologists, such as Frans de Waal, are beginning to refute the latter claim, finding that altruistic behavior appears to be inherited and can be seen in many different animal species.

References[edit]