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Thomas Henry Huxley
(4 May 1825 - 29 Jun 1895)

English biologist known as the main advocate for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.


Thomas Henry Huxley Quotes on Science (35 quotes)

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Agnosticism is of the essence of science, whether ancient or modern. It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that for which he has no grounds for professing to believe.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
In Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (1913), Vol. 3, 98, footnote 2.
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Any one who has studied the history of science knows that almost every great step therein has been made by the “anticipation of Nature,” that is, by the invention of hypotheses, which, though verifiable, often had very little foundation to start with; and, not unfrequently, in spite of a long career of usefulness, turned out to be wholly erroneous in the long run.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
In 'The Progress of Science 1837-1887' (1887), Collected Essays (1901), Vol. 1, 62.
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Common sense is science exactly in so far as it fulfills the ideal of common sense; that is, sees facts as they are, or at any rate, without the distortion of prejudice, and reasons from them in accordance with the dictates of sound judgment. And science is simply common sense at its best, that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
The Crayfish: an Introduction to the Study of Zoölogy (1880), 2. Excerpted in Popular Science (Apr 1880), 16, 789.
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Connected by innumerable ties with abstract science, Physiology is yet in the most intimate relation with humanity; and by teaching us that law and order, and a definite scheme of development, regulate even the strangest and wildest manifestations of individual life, she prepares the student to look for a goal even amidst the erratic wanderings of mankind, and to believe that history offers something more than an entertaining chaos—a journal of a toilsome, tragi-comic march nowither.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
In 'Educational Value of Natural History Sciences', Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews (1870), 97.
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Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science, as the strangled snakes beside that of Hercules; and history records that whenever science and orthodoxy have been fairly opposed, the latter has been forced to retire from the lists, bleeding and crushed if not annihilated; scotched, if not slain.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
Darwiniana: essays (1896), 52.
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I hardly know of a great physical truth whose universal reception has not been preceded by an epoch in which the most estimable persons have maintained that the phenomena investigated were directly dependent on the Divine Will, and that the attempt to investigate them was not only futile but blasphemous. And there is a wonderful tenacity of life about this sort of opposition to physical science. Crushed and maimed in every battle, it yet seems never to be slain; and after a hundred defeats it is at this day as rampant, though happily not so mischievous, as in the time of Galileo.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
In Address (10 Feb 1860) to weekly evening meeting, 'On Species and Races, and their Origin', Notices of the Proceedings at the Meetings of the Members of the Royal Institution: Vol. III: 1858-1862 (1862), 199.
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I know of no department of natural science more likely to reward a man who goes into it thoroughly than anthropology. There is an immense deal to be done in the science pure and simple, and it is one of those branches of inquiry which brings one into contact with the great problems of humanity in every direction.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
…...
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If at this moment I am not a worn-out, debauched, useless carcass of a man, if it has been or will be my fate to advance the cause of science, if I feel that I have a shadow of a claim on the love of those about me, if in the supreme moment when I looked down into my boy’s grave my sorrow was full of submission and without bitterness, it is because these agencies have worked upon me, and not because I have ever cared whether my poor personality shall remain distinct forever from the All from whence it came and whither it goes.
And thus, my dear Kingsley, you will understand what my position is. I may be quite wrong, and in that case I know I shall have to pay the penalty for being wrong. But I can only say with Luther, “Gott helfe mir, ich kann nichts anders [God help me, I cannot do otherwise].”
— Thomas Henry Huxley
In Letter (23 Sep 1860) to Charles Kingsley, Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (1901), 237.
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If I may paraphrase Hobbes's well-known aphorism, I would say that 'books are the money of Literature, but only the counters of Science.'
— Thomas Henry Huxley
'Universities: Actual and Ideal' (1874). In Collected Essays (1893), Vol. 3, 213.
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If one of these people, in whom the chance-worship of our remoter ancestors thus strangely survives, should be within reach of the sea when a heavy gale is blowing, let him betake himself to the shore and watch the scene. Let him note the infinite variety of form and size of the tossing waves out at sea; or against the curves of their foam-crested breakers, as they dash against the rocks; let him listen to the roar and scream of the shingle as it is cast up and torn down the beach; or look at the flakes of foam as they drive hither and thither before the wind: or note the play of colours, which answers a gleam of sunshine as it falls upon their myriad bubbles. Surely here, if anywhere, he will say that chance is supreme, and bend the knee as one who has entered the very penetralia of his divinity. But the man of science knows that here, as everywhere, perfect order is manifested; that there is not a curve of the waves, not a note in the howling chorus, not a rainbow-glint on a bubble, which is other than a necessary consequence of the ascertained laws of nature; and that with a sufficient knowledge of the conditions, competent physico-mathematical skill could account for, and indeed predict, every one of these 'chance' events.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
In 'On the Reception of the Origin of Species'. In Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Including an Autobiographical Chapter (1888), Vol. 2, 200-1.
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In its earliest development knowledge is self-sown. Impressions force themselves upon men’s senses whether they will or not, and often against their will. The amount of interest in which these impressions awaken is determined by the coarser pains and pleasures which they carry in their train or by mere curiosity; and reason deals with the materials supplied to it as far as that interest carries it, and no further. Such common knowledge is rather brought than sought; and such ratiocination is little more than the working of a blind intellectual instinct. It is only when the mind passes beyond this condition that it begins to evolve science. When simple curiosity passes into the love of knowledge as such, and the gratification of the æsthetic sense of the beauty of completeness and accuracy seems more desirable that the easy indolence of ignorance; when the finding out of the causes of things becomes a source of joy, and he is accounted happy who is successful in the search, common knowledge passes into what our forefathers called natural history, whence there is but a step to that which used to be termed natural philosophy, and now passes by the name of physical science.
In this final state of knowledge the phenomena of nature are regarded as one continuous series of causes and effects; and the ultimate object of science is to trace out that series, from the term which is nearest to us, to that which is at the farthest limit accessible to our means of investigation.
The course of nature as it is, as it has been, and as it will be, is the object of scientific inquiry; whatever lies beyond, above, or below this is outside science. But the philosopher need not despair at the limitation on his field of labor; in relation to the human mind Nature is boundless; and, though nowhere inaccessible, she is everywhere unfathomable.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
The Crayfish: an Introduction to the Study of Zoölogy (1880), 2-3. Excerpted in Popular Science (Apr 1880), 16, 789-790.
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In science, as in art, and, as I believe, in every other sphere of human activity, there may be wisdom in a multitude of counsellors, but it is only in one or two of them. And in scientific inquiry, at any rate, it is to that one or two that we must look for light and guidance.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
'The Progress of Science'. Collected essays (1898), Vol. 1, 57.
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In science, as in life, learning and knowledge are distinct, and the study of things, and not of books, is the source of the latter.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
In 'On The Study of Zoology', Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews (1870), 112.
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Modern civilisation rests upon physical science; take away her gifts to our own country, and our position among the leading nations of the world is gone to-morrow; for it is physical science only that makes intelligence and moral energy stronger than brute force
— Thomas Henry Huxley
By Thomas Henry Huxley and Henrietta A. Huxley (ed.), Aphorisms and Reflections (1908), 80.
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Physiology is the experimental science par excellence of all sciences; that in which there is least to be learnt by mere observation, and that which affords the greatest field for the exercise of those faculties which characterize the experimental philosopher.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
In 'Educational Value of Natural History Sciences', Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews (1870), 90.
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Psychology is a part of the science of life or biology. … As the physiologist inquires into the way in which the so-called “functions” of the body are performed, so the psychologist studies the so-called “faculties” of the mind.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
In Hume (1879), 50.
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Science and literature are not two things, but two sides of one thing.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
Reflection #296, Thomas Henry Huxley and Henrietta A. Huxley (ed.), Aphorisms and Reflections from the Works of T.H. Huxley (1907), 143.
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Science commits suicide when it adopts a creed.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
Speech at the Museum, South Kensington, on unveiling of a statue of Charles Darwin. Quoted in Herbert Spencer, 'The Factors of Organic Evolution', The Nineteenth Century (April/May 1886), 19, 770.
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Science has fulfilled her function when she has ascertained and enunciated truth.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
From Man’s Place in Nature (1894), 108-109.
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Science is simply common sense at its best—that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
In The Crayfish: An Introduction to the Study of Zoology (1880), 2.
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Science is, I believe, nothing but trained and organised common-sense, differing from the latter only as a veteran may differ from a raw recruit; and its methods differ from those of common-sense only so far as the guardsman's cut and thrust differ from the manner in which a savage wields his club.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
Lecture at St. Martin's Hall (22 Jul 1854), printed as On the Educational Value of the Natural History Sciences (1854), 12.
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Science is, I believe, nothing but trained and organized common sense.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
Lecture (22 Jul 1854) delivered at St Martin’s Hall, published as a booklet, On the Educational Value of the Natural History Sciences (1854), 12.
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Science seems to me to teach in the highest and strongest manner the great truth which is embodied in the Christian conception of entire surrender to the will of God. Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing. I have only begun to learn content and peace of mind since I have resolved at all risks to do this.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
Letter to Charles Kingsley (23 Sep 1860). In L. Huxley, The Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (1903), Vol. 1, 316.
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The antagonism between science and religion, about which we hear so much, appears to me purely factitious, fabricated on the one hand by short-sighted religious people, who confound theology with religion; and on the other by equally short-sighted scientific people who forget that science takes for its province only that which is susceptible of clear intellectual comprehension.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
…...
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The birth of science was the death of superstition.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
Widely quoted, but without citation, for example collected in Maturin Murray Ballou, Edge-Tools of Speech (1886, 1899), 440. If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster, who has not yet found it.
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The generalizations of science sweep on in ever-widening circles, and more aspiring flights, through a limitless creation.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
In 'The Darwinian Hypothesis: Darwin on the Origin of Species', Man's Place in Nature and Other Essays (1910), 337.
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The great tragedy of science—the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
President's Address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Liverpool Meeting, 14 Sep 1870. The Scientific Memoirs of Thomas Henry Huxley (1901), Vol. 3, 580.
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The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties, blind faith the one unpardonable sin. The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
In Lecture (7 Jan 1866), a Lay Sermon delivered at St. Martin’s Hall, 'Advisableness of Improving Natural Knowledge', Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews (1872), 18. Previously published in Fortnightly Review.
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The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land, to add something to the extent and the solidity of our possessions. And even a cursory glance at the history of the biological sciences during the last quarter of a century is sufficient to justify the assertion, that the most potent instrument for the extension of the realm of natural knowledge which has come into men's hands, since the publication of Newton's ‘Principia’, is Darwin's ‘Origin of Species.’
— Thomas Henry Huxley
From concluding remarks to a chapter by Thomas Huxley, 'On the Reception of the ‘Origin of Species’', the last chapter in Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887), Vol. 1, 557.
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The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
'On the Advisableness of Improving Natural knowledge' (1866). In Collected Essays (1893), Vol. 1, 41.
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The science, the art, the jurisprudence, the chief political and social theories, of the modern world have grown out of Greece and Rome—not by favour of, but in the teeth of, the fundamental teachings of early Christianity, to which science, art, and any serious occupation with the things of this world were alike despicable.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
'Agnosticism and Christianity'. Collected Essays (1900), 315.
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There is no field of biological inquiry in which the influence of the Origin of Species is not traceable; the foremost men of science in every country are either avowed champions of its leading doctrines, or at any rate abstain from opposing them; a host of young and ardent investigators seek for and find inspiration and guidance in Mr. Darwin’s great work; and the general doctrine of Evolution, to one side of which it gives expression, finds in the phenomena of biology a firm base of operations whence it may conduct its conquest of the whole realm of nature.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
From Lecture (19 Mar 1880) delivered at the Royal Institute 'The Coming of Age of The Origin of Species', printed in John Michels (ed.), Science (3 Jul 1880), 1, 15.
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To smite all humbugs, however big; to give a nobler tone to science; to set an example of abstinence from petty personal controversies, and of toleration for everything but lying. … —are these my aims?
— Thomas Henry Huxley
Journal entry (31 Dec 1856). In Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (1901), 162.
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True science and true religion are twin sisters, and the separation of either from the other is sure to prove the death of both. Science prospers exactly in proportion as it is religious; and religion flourishes in exact proportion to the scientific depth and firmness of its basis.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
As quoted from the close of a recent lecture by Huxley in 'What Knowledge is of Most Worth'. Lectures in Education, by Herbert Spencer, delivered at the Royal Institution (1855). In The Westminster Review (Jul 1859), 22. Collected in Essays on Education and Kindred Subjects (1911), 41.
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What men of science want is only a fair day's wages for more than a fair day's work.
— Thomas Henry Huxley
'Administrative Nihilism' (1871). In Collected Essays (1893), Vol. 1, 287.
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See also:
  • 4 May - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Huxley's birth.
  • Thomas Henry Huxley - Autobiography
  • Thomas Henry Huxley - context of quote “Investigation of nature is an infinite pasture-ground ” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Thomas Henry Huxley - context of quote “Investigation of nature is an infinite pasture-ground ” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Thomas Henry Huxley: The Evolution of a Scientist, by Sherrie L. Lyons. - book suggestion.
  • Booklist for Thomas Huxley.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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