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“It’s the birthday of “Darwin’s Bulldog,” biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, born in Ealing, Middlesex, England, in 1825. Mostly self-educated, he was one of the great thinkers of the 19th century, and he wrote on a wide array of topics including science, religion, ethics, and politics. A lifelong critic of organized religion, he coined the term “agnostic” to describe his own religious views.”

“At 15, Huxley began a medical apprenticeship. At 21, he joined the H.M.S. Rattlesnake, a navy frigate, as their assistant surgeon, and while they charted the sea around Australia, he collected samples of marine invertebrates. His extensive research earned him a place in the scientific establishment, where he met Darwin and managed to make a modest living writing science articles. Huxley followed Darwin’s The Origin of Species (1859) with his own Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature (1863), and in it he specifically addressed the possibility of evolution in humans, something Darwin had gone out of his way to avoid. He grew to become a very vocal supporter of Darwin’s theory of natural selection, even participating in debates on Darwin’s behalf, and when one opponent asked if he descended from apes on his grandfather’s side or his grandmother’s, he reportedly retorted, “I would rather be the offspring of two apes than be a man and afraid to face the truth.”

“Huxley had eight children — five daughters and three sons — and based on letters that remain, he was a fond and demonstrative dad. His grandchildren include notable scientists Julian and Andrew Huxley, as well as author Aldous Huxley.”

From today’s Writer’s almanac

May 2011

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