The lives of Thomas Henry Huxley, Aldous Huxley and Sir. Julian Huxley
- Grady McMurtry
- April 04, 2020
Major figures in the development of the various theories of evolution were the grandfather and grandsons team of Dr. Thomas Henry Huxley, M. D., Sir Julian Huxley and Aldous Huxley.
Thomas Huxley had a varied career as a Royal Navy doctor, lecturer at the Royal School of Mines and eventually became President of the Royal Society (a strongly evolutionary organization). He would earn the title of "Darwin's Bulldog" in England for his staunch defense of evolutionary philosophy.
Sir Julian Huxley would follow remarkably close in the footsteps of his famous grandfather. He became a biologist and taught at Rice, Oxford and King's College. He coauthored one book, The Science of Life (1929), with the science fiction writer H. G. Wells and his brother G. P. Wells. His last two books were Evolution Restated (1940) and Evolution: The Modern Synthesis (1942). In 1933 he helped to found the American Humanist Association. He became the first Director-General of UNESCO.
Aldous Huxley took a literary route rather than follow scientific pursuits. However, his writings were totally evolutionary in their foundation. He wrote many books, but perhaps his most famous is Brave New World (1932).
Thomas Huxley was not an evolutionist. Initially, he had discredited evolution because of the inherent scientific inadequacies in the position. At his first meeting with Charles Darwin in 1855 he defended the distinct differences between species as refuting Darwin's philosophy. Even at the end of his life, Thomas Huxley never believed that evolution had been proven. Why then did Huxley become the greatest propagandist and vitriolic promoter of Darwin and his evolutionary views in England? It was simply that Huxley was an "inveterate hater of religion." He saw Darwinian evolution as a two-edged sword, an avenue that would provide for his own self-promotion and at the same time crush the established church. Huxley had a very strong personality and was an ardent anti-Christian. Huxley was so eager to do these two things that when Darwin published Origins in 1859, Huxley wrote to him immediately offering his services in defense of Darwin's controversial views: "And as to the curs which will bark and yelp, you must recollect that some of your friends, at any rate, are endowed with an amount of combativeness which . . . may stand you in good stead. I am sharpening up my claws and beak in readiness."
Huxley may not have believed Darwin but he was going to defend Darwinism with fiery rhetoric. He wrote to Joseph Hooker, an evolutionist and Director of the famous Kew Gardens, concerning a book review he wrote anonymously for The Times of London extolling Darwin's book: ". . . I earnestly hope that it may have made some of the educated mob, who derive their ideas from the Times, reflect. And whatever they do, they shall respect Darwin [emphasis his] and be d - d to them."
Huxley did indeed become the chief propagandist for Darwin. He was a hard worker, a driven man. He sought fame and fortune that he intended to have through his defense of Darwin. Although his notoriety brought him many offers to relocate to various prestigious positions he flatly turned them down. He wrote, "I will not leave London - I will make myself a name and a position." (Does that sound familiar? Doesn't that sound a lot like the statement in Genesis 11:4? Truly this is the statement of a man who is in deep rebellion against God.)
Huxley, too, was a man like Darwin, a man who suffered mental anguish and inner turmoil. His childhood was tragic. His father died in an asylum, his mother died young. He had five siblings. One brother suffered "extreme mental anxiety" while a second was "as near mad as a sane man can be." He suffered from maniac fluctuations between hard work and lethargic depression. Twice he suffered attacks of deep depression that practically immobilized him. He held his feelings close and shared them with few.
Perhaps one of the most beloved writers of English prose is Beatrice Potter, the author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and other children's stories. After meeting Huxley in 1886, she said of him: "He is truth loving, his love of truth finding more satisfaction in demolition than in construction. . . . his early life was extremely sad. . . . For Huxley, when not working dreams strange things: carries on lengthy conversations between unknown persons living within his brain. There is a strain of madness in him; melancholy has haunted his whole life. 'I always knew that success was so much dust and ashes. I have never been satisfied with achievement.'"
Perhaps his most reveling statement about himself comes from a letter he wrote to Charles Kingsley: "Kicked into the world a boy without guide or training, or with worse than none, I confess to my shame that few men have drunk deeper of all kinds of sin than I. Happily my course was arrested in time - before I earned absolute destruction - and for long years I have been slowly and painfully climbing, with many a fall towards better things."
One of his biographers, W. Irvine, made this comment: "Perhaps, also, Huxley was afraid to face himself. He had found in life no satisfying constructive purpose. . . . No less in his fastidious pride could he be content with himself morally. Some sense of guilt or impurity - hinted at in the famous letter to Kingsley - kept him always at his treadmill of self-discipline. . . . More and more through these years his triumphal progress looks like a flight from reality."
Huxley struggled in his later years with what he considered to be the appalling results that could be derived from the application of evolutionary principles to the lives of the common people. He was not able to explain the existence of morality and ethics from an evolutionary worldview, nor could he explain the existence of evil for the same reason.
In 1893, near the end of his life, Huxley gave the very prestigious Romanes Lecture. He clearly stated that natural selection could not serve as the basis for human behavior. He believed that society would only progress through cooperation, not competition. He believed that while our habits, behaviors and emotions came from evolutionary history, we could rise above these past events and determine to do right in spite of our animal instincts. "The doctrines of predestination, of original sin, of the innate depravity of man and the evil fate of the greater part of the race, of the primacy of the Satan of this world, of the essential vileness of matter, of a malevolent Demiurgus subordinate to a benevolent Almighty, who has only lately revealed himself, faulty as they are, appear to me to be vastly nearer the truth than the 'liberal' popular illusions that babies are all born good, and that the example of a corrupt society is responsible for their failure to remain so; that it is given to everybody to reach the ethical ideal if he will only try; that all partial evil is universal good, and other optimistic figments, such as that which represents 'Providence' under the guise of a paternal philanthropist, and bids us believe that everything will come right (according to our notions) at last."
Huxley was not an atheist. He is the man who invented the word agnostic, meaning one who is "without knowledge." He believed that no one could know if God existed, that if God did exist He had not revealed Himself to man. In his mind, if God could not be known, then God was irrelevant. For Huxley only the natural world was knowable.
In what seems a great paradox, Huxley was a very religious man. He saw nature and natural law as the source of his spiritual life. He had deep religious yearnings. He believed in "cherishing the noblest and most human of man's emotions, by worship 'for the most part of the silent sort' at the alter of the Unknown." His god was Natural Order. (Again, this reminds us of Paul's evangelistic crusade in Athens that introduced the people to "The Unknown God." Acts 17:16-32)
In direct contradiction to the evolutionary belief that random chance is the only active component working to achieve the complexity that we see in the universe today, Huxley staunchly believed that fixed laws determined everything. He considered this to be true, even of human nature. For him it was only necessary to learn about science, nothing else mattered. Clearly, while history records the change of cultures over time, there is no equivalent record in nature. There is not one record of an observation by any man of a tiger without its stripes. Fossilized and mummified animal and plant remains show a fixity of kinds. We have proved that physical systems break down by random chance rather than build up, as evolution would require. Therefore, what we see in the physical record of this universe is the evidence of a single completed supernatural (meaning a cause which goes beyond nature) creation.
Yet, Thomas Huxley was so transfixed upon the idea of a universe that had come into existence without any knowable god; a universe that was purely natural and self-existent; a universe that operated solely by natural law and not that of any creator/lawgiver; that he latched upon Darwin's hypothesis with ready glee. In his later years, Huxley reminisced about what he was looking for just prior to the publication of Origins: "That which we were looking for, and could not find, was a hypothesis respecting the origin of known organic forms which assumed the operation of known causes such as could be proved to be actually at work. We wanted, not to pin our faith to that or any other speculation, but to get hold of clear and definite conceptions which could be brought face to face with facts and have their validity tested." (Remember, you will find what you are looking for!)
Indeed, Huxley was turned from his initial disbelief to cautioned acceptance of Darwin's hypothesis after reading the first edition of Origins. After mastering the arguments which Darwin set forth, Huxley commented, "How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!" But, Huxley was a lifelong adherent to the importance of science. He never wavered in his belief that a diligent study of science and natural law would give us the totality of the answer to the question of our origin. He commented concerning those who still accepted creation: "The hypothesis of special creation is not only a mere specious mask for our ignorance; its existence in Biology marks the youth and imperfection of the science. For what is the history of every science but the history of the elimination of the notion of creative, or other interferences, with the natural order of the phenomena? Harmonious order governing eternally continuous progress - the web and woof of matter and force interweaving by slow degrees, without a broken thread, that veil which lies between us and the Infinite - that universe which alone we know or can know; such is the picture which science draws of the world."
He did not embrace Darwin without reservation. He was passionate in his support for evolution, but was critical of Darwin's inability to test and verify his claims. Huxley did not accept the minute points of Darwin, only the general thrust of naturalism. Huxley wished to serve the blind god of natural cause and effect, the god of Natural Order. He did not believe in chance, but only in natural law giving rise to perfect order. To him, nature did not point to God, but only to itself. He called himself a "bishop" and those who worshipped with him at the alter of naturalism the "church scientific."
Just as his grandfather's (Dr. Erasmus Darwin, M.D.) views on evolution had greatly influenced his grandson Charles; so, also, did Dr. Thomas Huxley reach through time to influence his grandsons. One may well wonder what the senior Huxley would have thought of the extension and magnification of his views by Sir Julian and Aldous.
Julian Huxley earned a degree in zoology at Oxford. Interestingly, he also won the Newdigate Prize in poetry. He did research and taught at schools in England and America. He, too, was a driven man. In retrospect of his life he wrote, "I seem to have been possessed of a demon, driving me into every sort of activity."
Julian pushed the agnosticism of his grandfather to new heights. He declared, "that the idea of personality in God has been put there by man." "The ultimate task will be to melt down the gods and magic and all supernatural entities."
Julian was a heavy weight in the development of what is known as "evolutionary humanism." If there is no outside guiding force, no creator; then Man must become the measure of himself, and the only one who is capable of improving himself. His words aptly describe the pattern of secular humanist thought. In 1961, he wrote in The Humanist Frame: "If the situation is not to lead to chaos, despair or escapism, man must reunify his life within the framework of a satisfactory idea-system. He needs to use his best efforts of knowledge and imagination to build a system of thought and belief which will provide both a supporting framework for his present existence, an ultimate or ideal goal for his future development as a species, and a guide and directive for practical action. This new idea-system, whose birth we of the mid-twentieth century are witnessing, I shall simply call 'humanism . . . It must be focused on man . . . It must be organized round the facts and ideas of evolution . . . It will have nothing to do with Absolutes, including absolute truth, absolute morality, absolute perfection and absolute authority."
His grandfather believed that natural law caused man to evolve wherever the natural laws were headed, man had no choice. Julian believed that the evolution of the human mind would allow us to direct our own evolution. While his grandfather had wanted to use science to learn what the natural laws were, his grandson wanted Man to pull himself up by his own bootstraps. To Julian, man was capable of determining is own destiny. In his ideology, man was the captain of his ship, the master of his own fate. He wrote: "Evolutionary truth frees us from subservient fear of the unknown and supernatural . . . It shows us our duty and destiny . . . It gives us potent incentive for fulfilling our evolutionary role in the long future of the planet."
Without question Sir Julian Huxley will be known as the foremost evolutionist of the twentieth century. In his book Evolution and Genetics, 1955, he stressed the totality of the evolutionary worldview in every aspect of human endeavor: "The concept of evolution was soon extended into other than biological fields. Inorganic subjects such as the life-history of stars and the formation of the chemical elements on the one hand, and on the other hand subjects like linguistics, social anthropology, and comparative law and religion, began to be studied from an evolutionary angle, until today we are enabled to see evolution as a universal and all-pervading process." This book was written after Sir Julian had become the first Director-General of UNESCO. In the March/April, 1979, issue of The Humanist, he wrote an article entitled "A New World Vision." In the article he published his original unpublished paper in which he proposed the framework for the founding of UNESCO. He proposed that: "It is essential for UNESCO to adopt an evolutionary approach . . . the general philosophy of UNESCO should, it seems, be a scientific world humanism, global in extent and evolutionary in background. . . . Thus the struggle for existence that underlies natural selection is increasingly replaced by conscious selection, a struggle between ideas and values in consciousness."
He was staunch in his adherence to the Darwinian worldview. In his keynote address at the 1959 Darwinian Centennial he said: "Darwin pointed out that no supernatural designer was needed; since natural selection could account for any known form of life, there was no room for a supernatural agency in its evolution. . . . we can dismiss entirely all idea of a supernatural overriding mind being responsible for the evolutionary process." Again, in Evolution and Ethics, he wrote: "Our present knowledge indeed forces us to the view that the whole of reality is evolution - a single process of self-transformation."
It is little wonder that, in 1933, Sir Julian was a cofounder of the American Humanist Association. He would continue on to become the chief protagonist of the A. H. A. until his death.