Icons of Unbelief: Atheists, Agnostics, and Secularists

By S. T. Joshi | Go to book overview

Thomas Henry Huxley

Sherrie Lyons

Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–1895) appointed himself Darwin’s bulldog, claiming that he was prepared to go to the stake if necessary to defend Darwin’s theory of evolution (Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley [hereafter LL], 1.188). For many Huxley is primarily known as a popularizer of evolution. This does not begin to do justice to either his stature as a scientist or the depth of his thought on a variety of issues. His brilliance became apparent when he was quite little. Even though father was a teacher his schooling was irregular. He was mostly self-taught, and even when he was a young boy, his curiosity led him to read about a staggering array of subjects. From James Hutton, he learned about geology. From his reading of Sir William Hamilton’s “The Philosophy of the Unconditioned,” he embraced the skepticism that typified his mature thought. From Thomas Carlyle he developed sympathy for the poor that was later reinforced by his exposure to the squalor and poverty he saw in the East End of London when he was attending medical school. He taught himself German to read Goethe and Kant in the original. This knowledge of German would serve him well in later years, allowing him to become acquainted with the tremendous biological advances being made in Germany, which few English men of science were able to follow. He also had an intense interest in metaphysical speculation, engaging everyone he could find on questions such as the nature of the soul and how it differed from matter.

Huxley began studying medicine at quite a young age and received a scholarship to the medical school attached to Charing Cross Hospital. Except for physiology, most of the medical curriculum bored him, and he never practiced as a physician. Nevertheless, he graduated with honors but was so young that he was initially not eligible for a physician’s license. Like many others who made their mark in the natural sciences, Huxley took a voyage around the world as the assistant surgeon on the HMS Rattlesnake (1846–1850).

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Icons of Unbelief: Atheists, Agnostics, and Secularists
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Series Foreword vii
  • Preface ix
  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali 1
  • Charles Bradlaugh 9
  • Richard Dawkins 27
  • Daniel C. Dennett 39
  • John Dewey 51
  • Albert Einstein 67
  • The Existentialists 79
  • The Founding Fathers 97
  • Sigmund Freud 125
  • Sam Harris 141
  • Thomas Henry Huxley 153
  • Robert G. Ingersoll 175
  • Paul Kurtz 193
  • Corliss Lamont 211
  • H. P. Lovecraft 223
  • H. L. Mencken 241
  • John Stuart Mill 261
  • Kai Nielsen 279
  • Friedrich Nietzsche 297
  • Madalyn Murray O’Hair 319
  • The Philosophes 335
  • Bertrand Russell 357
  • Carl Sagan 379
  • Leslie Stephen 389
  • Mark Twain 401
  • Gore Vidal 415
  • Voltaire 427
  • General Bibliography 443
  • About the Contributors 449
  • Index 455
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