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Thomas Huxley

1825 - 1895

Thomas Huxley

Thomas Henry Huxley, 1825 - 1895, was an English biologist, most famous for his fervent defence of Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

  • Nationality
  • English

  • Subject
  • Biology

  • Fields
  • Evolution, comparative anatomy

  • Distinctions
  • Copley Medal, 1888, Royal Society

    Linnean Medal, 1890, Linnean Society

    Clarke Medal, 1880

    Wollaston Medal, 1876, Geological Society

    Royal Medal, 1852, Royal Society

    Darwin Medal, 1894, Royal Society

  • Posts
  • Assistant Surgeon on HMS Rattlesnake on a voyage to New Guinea and Australia, 1846-50.

    Elected Fellow of the Royal Society, 1850.

    Professor of Natural History at the Royal School of Mines, 1854

    Naturalist to the British Geological Survey, 1855

    Fullerian Professor at the Royal Institution 1855–58 and 1865–67

    Hunterian Professor at the Royal College of Surgeons 1863–69

    President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science 1869–1870

    President of the Royal Society 1883–85

    Inspector of Fisheries 1881–85

    President of the Marine Biological Association 1884–1890

  • Publications
  • On the anatomy and the affinities of the family of Medusae, paper published in 1849 by the Royal Society in its Philosophical Transactions.

    The Oceanic Hydrozoa, 1859.

    Collect Essays, nine volumes, edited in 1890-4

  • Theories
  • The concept and term 'Agnosticism'

    Birds were derived from dinosaurs

    Relationship between apes and humany

    Vertebrate palaeontology

  • Experiments/Discoveries
  • Huxley spent a large part of his career analysing invertebrate and vertebrate anatomies, and determining relationships, such as between apes and humans.

Huxley's family was unable to finance his schooling, so he taught himself, eventually obtaining a position as assistance surgeon on a naval ship bound for the East Indies and Australia. On this voyage he had the opportunity to study marine invertebrates. His findings were published in Britain and established his reputation.

In a public debate in 1860 in Oxford against Samuel Wilberforce and Richard Owen, Huxley rebuffed the counter-arguments based primarily on religious dogma. The debate has come down in history as emblematic, like Galileo's persecution, as the success of the scientific method over mindless adherence to religious scripture.

Huxley invented the term 'agnosticism' to mean the exclusive use of logic and reason in intellectual pursuits. "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."

Even though he himself had little formal education, and was a famous auto-didact, Huxley was an influential proponent of scientific education, both in Britain and abroad. Despite his rejection of religious arguments against evolution, he was very knowledgeable of religious texts and theology, and used this to good effect against his opponents.

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