Thomas Huxley led a movement in support of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
In the 1860s, naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-82) was busy developing his theory of evolution and searching out corroborative evidence for it. He had better things to do than
- defend his ideas from his opponents, and
- it was not his concern to pull his ideas together to form an overarching super-theory.
Both tasks were undertaken by English biologist Thomas Huxley (1825-95), who dubbed himself “Darwin’s bulldog” for his advocacy of Darwin’s ideas. Indeed, in the lectures he gave in London in the 1860s, Huxley may well have extended the scope of Darwin’s ideas further than the biologist himself intended. In Huxley’s hands, Darwin’s work became a movement with a life of its own: Darwinism.
Thomas Huxley wrote in a 1859 letter to Charles Darwin, “As for your doctrines, I am prepared to go to the Stake if requisite …”
The Darwinist view that the theory of evolution had destroyed the idea of a divine creator encouraged the public perception that agnosticism, and later atheism, was the logical conclusion to be drawn from Darwin’s work. Darwin himself had delayed publication of On the Origin of Species (1859) in fear of such controversy, and the dispute over the theory of evolution’s implications became more entrenched and bitter as a result of Huxley’s championing of Darwin’s work. Atheist scientists, such as the British biologist Richard Dawkins (b. 1941), have become well known in recent years for their intolerance of religion of all kinds, and their firm view that Darwinist ideas have made religious belief untenable. However, by no means all scientists agree. In the face of this debate, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences recommended in 1981 that religion and science should not be presented in the same context, to avoid misunderstanding.