Huxley: From Devil's Disciple to Evolution's High Priest

By Adrian Desmond | Go to book overview
Save to active project

The Apostle Paul of the New Teaching

'MY GOOD & KIND agent for the propagation of the Gospel', Darwin called him, 'ie the Devil's gospel'. Thomas Henry Huxley became Darwin's Rottweiler, instantly recognizable by his deep-set dark eyes and lashing tongue. Where Darwin held back, Huxley lunged at his limping prey. It was he, not Darwin, who enraptured and outraged audiences in the 1860s with talk of our ape ancestors and cave men. Listeners were agog in a prim, evangelical age. These were terrifying, tantalizing images. 'It is not the bishops and archbishops I am afraid of', Samuel Butler once said. 'Men like Huxley ... are my natural enemies'. 1 No-one stirred passions like Thomas Henry Huxley.

Huxley was one of the founders of the sceptical, scientific twentieth century. We owe to him that enduring military metaphor, the 'war' of science against theology. He coined the word 'agnostic' and contributed to the West's existential crisis. All of this makes him look so modern that we want to snatch him from his age. Today his agnostic stand seems obvious. But yesterday it was an immensely daring, motivated, ideological position. That plodding zoological autocrat, Richard Owen, called him a pervert with 'some, perhaps congenital, defect of mind' for denying Divine will in Nature. 2 Who can realize the prissy, patronage-based, undemocratic, sermon-dominated, Anglican-controlled, different society Huxley faced, and faced squarely?

He remains a saint to some, a sinner to others. He had a huge, multi‐ talented intellect and seemed to run ten lives simultaneously. 'Brilliant' was George Eliot's word for him, but even she wondered where this agent provocateur would strike next. He had a stiletto of a pen. 'Cutting up monkeys was his forte, and cutting up men was his foible', the Pall Mall Gazette noted. The alternative, for Huxley, was 'to lie still & let the devil have his own way. And I will be torn to pieces before I am forty


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Huxley: From Devil's Disciple to Evolution's High Priest
Table of contents


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 820

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?