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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index W > Samuel Wilberforce Quotes

Samuel Wilberforce
(7 Sep 1805 - 19 Jul 1873)

English bishop remembered for debating against Darwin’s theory with Thomas Huxley at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Oxford in 1860 to discuss the theory of evolution.

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Quotes by others about Samuel Wilberforce (3)

Responding to the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce's question whether he traced his descent from an ape on his mother's or his father's side:
If then, said I, the question is put to me would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather or a man highly endowed by nature and possessing great means and influence and yet who employs those faculties for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion—I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape.
Letter to Dr. Dyster (9 Sep 1860), Huxley Papers, Imperial College of Science and Technology. Quoted in D.J. Foskett, 'Wilberforce and Huxley on Evolution' in a letter to Nature, 1953, 172, 920.
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A man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather. If there were an ancestor whom I should feel shame in recalling it would rather be a man—a man of restless and versatile intellect—who … plunges into scientific questions with which he has no real acquaintance, only to obscure them by an aimless rhetoric, and distract the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice.
As recollected in a letter written by an undergraduate, John Richard Green, writing to his friend, afterwards Professor Boyd Dawkins. This was Huxley's rebuttal to Bishop Samuel Wilberforce who ridiculed Darwin's theory of evolution at a meeting of the British Association at Oxford (30 Jun 1860). After hearing Wilberforce's speech, and before rising himself, Huxley is said to have remarked, “The Lord has delivered him into my hands!” (No transcript was taken at the time, so the words are not verbatim. The version above is commonly seen, and was said by Huxley to be fair in substance, if not wholely accurate. The letter excerpt is in Leonard Huxley (ed.), Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (1916), Vol. 1, 199. Additional accounts of the debate are given in the book.
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A century ago, Darwin and his friends were thought to be dangerous atheists, but their heresy simply replaced a benevolent personal deity called God by a benevolent impersonal deity called Evolution. In their different ways Bishop Wilberforce and T.H. Huxley both believed in Fate.
From transcript of BBC radio Reith Lecture (12 Nov 1967), 'A Runaway World', on the website.
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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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