Thomas Henry Huxley

(1825-1895)

 

Huxley was a scientist during the Victorian age when religion was being challenged by the theories and discoveries of a growing and developing science.  He was interested in the "application of scientific methods of investigation to all the problems of life."  Huxley persuasively argued that humans are merely animals and that TRADITIONAL religion is based on superstitions and lies.  However, it is important to keep in mind that Huxley also saw value in spiritual beliefs.  He once said that: "…a deep sense of religion was compatible with the entire absence of theology."  Huxley felt that humans are a very special type of animal because we are endowed with a moral sense and with freedom of the will.  We are different from other animals also in our tendency to departing from nature rather than blindly following it. 

 

Huxley had the following written on his tomb and the statement is typical of his view of life:

 

"Be not afraid, ye waiting hearts that weep

For still he giveth His beloved sleep,

And if an endless sleep He wills, so best."

 

It was Huxley who coined the term "agnostic" in 1869 to mean one who thinks it is impossible to know whether there is a God or a future life, or anything beyond material phenomena.

 

The following are quotes from an essay Huxley wrote in 1889:

 

Huxley started his article out with a quote from St. Augustine's "City of God" 12.7:

"No one, therefore, should seek to learn knowledge from me, for I know that I do not know---unless indeed he wishes to learn that he does not know."

 

"It is wrong for a man to say that he is certain of the objective truth of any proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty.  This is what Agnosticism asserts; and, in my opinion, it is all that is essential to Agnosticism."

 

"I do not very much care to speak of any thing as 'unknowable.'  What I am sure about is that there are many topics about which I know nothing; and which, so far as I can see, are out of reach of my faculties."

 

"The doctrine of the soul and its mortality or immortality---appear in the history of philosophy like the shades of Scandinavian heroes, eternally slaying one another and eternally coming to life again in a metaphysical 'Nifelheim.'  (Huxley is referring here to the realms of cold and darkness in Norse mythology.)  It is getting on for twenty-five centuries, at least, since mankind began seriously to give their minds to these topics.  Generation after generation, philosophy has been doomed to roll the stone uphill; and, just as all the world swore it was at the top, down it has rolled to the bottom again.  (Huxley is referring here to the Greek story of Sisyphus in Hades, who was condemned to keep rolling a stone uphill, which always rolled downhill again before it reached the summit.)  All this is written in innumerable books; and he who will toil through them will discover that the stone is just where it was when the work began."

 

"The Cleric asserts that it is morally wrong not to believe certain propositions, whatever the results of a strict scientific investigation of the evidence of these propositions…for him, the attainment of faith, not the ascertainment of truth, is the highest aim of mental life."   For Huxley it is just the opposite.  Huxley believes that traditional religion demands that you exercise faith in what are falsehoods: "The course of the past has impressed us with the firm conviction that no good ever comes of falsehood, and we feel warranted in refusing even to experiment in that direction."