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Thomas Huxley

QUESTION: Why was Thomas Huxley nicknamed "Darwin's Bulldog"?


Of all of the proponents of evolution, Thomas Huxley's nickname helped him stand out above all the rest - "Darwin's Bulldog." Thomas Huxley was a scientist and philosopher of the 19th century. He was most famous for his vehement defense of evolution as the source of earth's diverse life forms. He once said that he "protected" Darwin, referring to himself as "his bull dog." The moniker stuck, despite the philosophical and historical differences between the two men. Huxley was famed for some of his other exploits. Among these, his debate with Archbishop Samuel Wilberforce, his "progressive" philosophical work, and his supposed coining of the term "agnostic."

Huxley was initially reluctant to throw his full support behind evolution. This was common before Darwin published "The Origin of Species." Darwin did not invent evolution by any stretch of the imagination. There were many scientists who preferred the concept of evolution to creation. Yet, there was no logical, plausible explanation for how evolution proceeded. Darwin's book suggested the mechanism of natural selection, and was embraced by a community eager for support of their preferred view.

Thomas Huxley was one such supporter. He was thrilled by Darwin's work, and defended it to great publicity and effect. Huxley did not agree with the entirety of Darwin's theories, however. Huxley could see the problems with Darwin's slow-moving, gradual evolution. There was (and still is) a lack of fossil evidence to support transitional forms, and a great deal of evidence to suggest a sudden explosion of new species. Huxley believed in a much more rapid evolution - a notion that entirely different species could spring up in just a few generations. Thomas Huxley and Charles Darwin argued endlessly about their differing views on evolution.

Huxley also tangled with scientists for mixing his philosophical and scientific work. There are many instances in Huxley's work where he takes on an anti-religious message, somewhat off-topic. Thomas Huxley had a marked involvement with agnostic and atheistic philosophy. He was unaffected by those who tried to discredit his scientific work on the basis of his religious beliefs. While his philosophy does not invalidate his science, it does help to shed some light on his dogged pursuit of evolutionary theory.

Darwin's theory, according to Huxley, was the "best available explanation" for evolution. A point often lost is that Huxley admitted that Darwin's theory did not "prove evolution." Much as a witness in a court case can provide a plausible explanation for events, that explanation is nothing but theory until it has been proven beyond all doubt. The lack of direct evidence for Darwin's theory of natural selection was what kept Thomas Huxley, the skeptic, from throwing his full support behind it. Yet it was his desire to find naturalistic explanations for life that truly gave "Darwin's Bulldog" a reason to bare his teeth.

Learn More about Darwin's Theory of Evolution!

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