Thomas Henry Huxley Quotes

Thomas Henry Huxley, 1825 – 1895

Born: 4 May 1825, Ealing, Middlesex, England
Died: 29 June 1895, Eastbourne, Sussex, England

Huxley had only two years of formal schooling but held short apprenticeships with three physicians before spending a year at a low-budget medical school at seventeen; at twenty he won the gold medals for anatomy and physiology in tests at the University of London. He didn’t take the final exams that would have allowed him to practice medicine, but convinced the Royal Navy to make him ship’s surgeon on a journey into the South Pacific during which he studied and classified marine micro-organisms. On his return he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society based on his research, the following year he was elected to the Council and later served as President. Despite his lack of formal education, he was regarded as the finest comparative anatomist of the age and he had a great influence on the establishment of scientific education. Although he never completely accepted Darwin’s theory of natural selection, he was called “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his active and effective destruction of all arguments for any other theories. The man who first pointed out the evolutionary relationship between dinosaurs and modern birds coined the word “agnostic” to describe his religious beliefs.

Thomas Henry Huxley quotes:

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.
    Thomas Henry Huxley – debate with Bishop Wilberforce at the British Association, Oxford (30 June 1860)

A man’s worst difficulties begin when he is able to do as he likes.
    Thomas Henry Huxley

A world of facts lies outside and beyond the world of words.
    Thomas Henry Huxley

Agnosticism 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

Anyone 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 – “The Progress of Science 1837-1887” (1887)

Anyone who is practically acquainted with scientific work is aware that those who refuse to go beyond fact, rarely get as far as fact.
    Thomas Henry Huxley – “The Progress of Science 1837-1887” (1887)

As for your doctrines I am prepared to go to the Stake if requisite…. I trust you will not allow yourself to be in any way disgusted or annoyed by the considerable abuse & misrepresentation which unless I greatly mistake is in store for you…. And as to the curs which will bark and yelp — you must recollect that some of your friends at any rate are endowed with an amount of combativeness which (though you have often & justly rebuked it) may stand you in good stead — I am sharpening up my claws and beak in readiness.
    Thomas Henry Huxley – letter to Charles Darwin (23 Nov 1859)

As I stood behind the coffin of my little son the other day, with my mind bent on anything but disputation, the officiating minister read, as part of his duty, the words, ‘If the dead rise not again, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ I cannot tell you how inexpressibly they shocked me. Paul had neither wife nor child, or he must have known that his alternative involved a blasphemy against all that well best and noblest in human nature. I could have laughed with scorn. What! Because I am face to face with irreparable loss, because I have given back to the source from whence it came, the cause of a great happiness, still retaining through all my life the blessings which have sprung and will spring from that cause, I am to renounce my manhood, and, howling, grovel in bestiality? Why, the very apes know better, and if you shoot their young, the poor brutes grieve their grief out and do not immediately seek distraction in a gorge.
    Thomas Henry Huxley – letter to Charles Kingsley (23 Sep 1860)

Books are the money of Literature, but only the counters of Science.
    Thomas Henry Huxley

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 Zo?logy (1880)

Cosmic evolution may teach us how the good and evil tendencies of man may have come about; but, in itself, it is incompetent to furnish any better reason why what we call good is preferable to what we call evil than we had before. Some day, I doubt not, we shall arrive at an understanding of the evolution of the aesthetic faculty; but all the understanding in the world will neither increase nor diminish the force of the intuition that this is beautiful and that is ugly.
    Thomas Henry Huxley – “Evolution and Ethics” (1893)

Deduction, which takes us from the general proposition to facts again — teaches us, if I may so say, to anticipate from the ticket what is inside the bundle.
    Thomas Henry Huxley – “On the Educational Value of the Natural History Sciences” (1854)

Ecclesiasticism in science is only unfaithfulness to truth.
    Thomas Henry Huxley

Economy does not lie in sparing money, but in spending it wisely.
    Thomas Henry Huxley

Education is the instruction of the intellect in the laws of Nature.
    Thomas Henry Huxley

Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority.

Thomas Henry Huxley
Every variety of philosophical and theological opinion was represented there [The Metaphysical Society], and expressed itself with entire openness; most of my colleages were -ists of one sort or another; and, however kind and friendly they might be, I, the man without a rag of a label to cover himself with, could not fail to have some of the uneasy feelings which must have beset the historical fox when, after leaving the trap in which his tail remained, he presented himself to his normally elongated companions. So I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of ‘agnostic’.

Thomas Henry Huxley

“Agnosticism” (1889)
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 (1896)
Follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss Nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.

Thomas Henry Huxley
For every man the world is as fresh as it was at the first day, and as full of untold novelties for him who has the eyes to see them.

Thomas Henry Huxley
For these two years I have been gravitating towards your doctrines, and since the publication of your primula paper with accelerated velocity. By about this time next year I expect to have shot past you, and to find you pitching into me for being more Darwinian than yourself. However, you have set me going, and must just take the consequences, for I warn you I will stop at no point so long as clear reasoning will take me further.

Thomas Henry Huxley

letter to Charles Darwin
Freedom and order are not incompatible … truth is strength … free discussion is the very life of truth.

Thomas Henry Huxley
Genius as an explosive power beats gunpowder hollow; and if knowledge, which should give that power guidance, is wanting, the chances are not small that the rocket will simply run amuck among friends and foes.

Thomas Henry Huxley
Give unqualified assent to no propositions but those the truth of which is so clear and distinct that they cannot be doubted. The enunciation of this first great commandment of science consecrated doubt.

Thomas Henry Huxley
History warns us … that it is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions.

Thomas Henry Huxley

“The Coming of Age of the Origin of Species” (1880)
I am too much of a skeptic to deny the possibility of anything.

Thomas Henry Huxley

letter to Herbert Spencer (22 Mar 1886)
I believe that history might be, and ought to be, taught in a new fashion so as to make the meaning of it as a process of evolution intelligible to the young.

Thomas Henry Huxley
I can assure you that there is the greatest practical benefit in making a few failures early in life.

Thomas Henry Huxley
I care not what subject is taught if only it be taught well.

Thomas Henry Huxley
I do not say think as I think, but think in my way. Fear no shadows, least of all in that great spectre of personal unhappiness which binds half the world to orthodoxy.

Thomas Henry Huxley

I know no study which is so unutterably saddening as that of the evolution of humanity, as it is set forth in the annals of history. Out of the darkness of prehistoric ages man emerges with the marks of his lowly origin strong upon him. He is a brute, only more intelligent than the other brutes, a blind prey to impulses, which as often as not led him to destruction; a victim to endless illusions, which make his mental existence a terror and a burden, and fill his physical life with barren toil and battle.

Thomas Henry Huxley

“Agnosticism” (1889)
I really see no harm which can come of giving our children a little knowledge of physiology…. The instruction must be real, based upon observation, eked out by good explanatory diagrams and models, and conveyed by a teacher whose own knowledge has been acquired by a study of the facts; and not the mere catechismal parrot-work which too often usurps the place of elementary teaching.

Thomas Henry Huxley

Science and Culture (1882)
I take it that the good of mankind means the attainment, by every man, of all the happiness which he can enjoy without diminishing the happiness of his fellow men.

Thomas Henry Huxley
I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of ‘agnostic’.

Thomas Henry Huxley
If a little knowledge is dangerous, where is the man who has so much as to be out of danger?

Thomas Henry Huxley
If a man cannot do brain work without stimulants of any kind, he had better turn to hand work. It is an indication on Nature’s part that she did not mean him to be a head worker.

Thomas Henry Huxley
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)
If individuality has no play, society does not advance; if individuality breaks out of all bounds, society perishes.

Thomas Henry Huxley
If some great Power would agree to make me always think what is true and do what is right, on condition of being turned into a sort of clock and wound up every morning before I got out of bed, I should instantly close with the offer.

Thomas Henry Huxley

“Discourse Touching the Method of Using One’s Reason Rightly and of Seeking Scientific Truth” (1870)
If the question is put to me, would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather or a man highly endowed by nature and possessed of great means of influence, and yet who employs these faculties and that influence for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion – I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape.

Thomas Henry Huxley
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.

Thomas Henry Huxley

letter to Dr. Dyster (9 Sep 1860)
If there is anything in the world which I do firmly believe in, it is the universal validity of the law of causation.

Thomas Henry Huxley

“Science and Morals” (1886)
In matters of intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard for any other consideration.

Thomas Henry Huxley
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 1837-1887” (1887)
In scientific work, those who refuse to go beyond fact rarely get as far as fact.

Thomas Henry Huxley

Irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors.

Thomas Henry Huxley

Science and Culture (1882)
It is an error to imagine that evolution signifies a constant tendency to increased perfection. That process undoubtedly involves a constant remodeling of the organism in adaptation to new conditions; but it depends on the nature of those conditions whether the directions of the modifications effected shall be upward or downward.

Thomas Henry Huxley

“The Struggle for Existence in Human Society” (1888)
It is because the body is a machine that education is possible. Education is the formation of habits, a super inducing of an artificial organization upon the natural organization of the body.

Thomas Henry Huxley
It is not to be forgotten that what we call rational grounds for our beliefs are often extremely irrational attempts to justify our instincts.

Thomas Henry Huxley
It is not who is right, but what is right, that is important.

Thomas Henry Huxley
It is one of the most saddening things in life that, try as we may, we can never be certain of making people happy, whereas we can almost always be certain of making them unhappy.

Thomas Henry Huxley
It is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions.

Thomas Henry Huxley
It is wrong for a man to say that he is certain of the objective truth of any proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty.

Thomas Henry Huxley
It sounds paradoxical to say the attainment of scientific truth has been effected, to a great extent, by the help of scientific errors.

Thomas Henry Huxley
Learn what is true in order to do what is right.

Thomas Henry Huxley
Life is like walking along a crowded street — there always seem to be fewer obstacles to getting along on the opposite pavement — and yet, if one crosses over, matters are rarely mended.

Thomas Henry Huxley

Aphorisms and Reflections, Henrietta A. Huxley, editor (1907)
Living things have no inertia, and tend to no equilibrium.

Thomas Henry Huxley

“On the Educational Value of the Natural History Sciences” (1854)
Logical consequences are the scarecrows of fools and the beacons of wise men.

Thomas Henry Huxley

“On the Hypothesis that Animals are Automata” in The Fortnightly (1874)
Make up your mind to act decidedly and take the consequences. No good is ever done in this world by hesitation.

Thomas Henry Huxley
Mathematics may be compared to a mill of exquisite workmanship, which grinds you stuff of any degree of fineness; but, nevertheless, what you get out depends upon what you put in; and as the grandest mill in the world will not extract wheat-flour from peascods, so pages of formulae will not get a definite result out of loose data.

Thomas Henry Huxley

“Geological Reform” (1869)

Men are very queer animals – a mix of horse-nervousness, ass-stubbornness and camel-malice.

Thomas Henry Huxley
My business is to teach my aspirations to conform themselves to fact, not to try and make facts harmonize with my aspirations.

Thomas Henry Huxley
My experience of the world is that things left to themselves don’t get right.

Thomas Henry Huxley
My reflection, when I first made myself master of the central idea of the ‘Origin’, was, ‘How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!’

Thomas Henry Huxley
No delusion is greater than the notion that method and industry can make up for lack of mother-wit, either in science or in practical life.

Thomas Henry Huxley
No mistake is so commonly made by clever people as that of assuming a cause to be bad because the arguments of its supporters are, to a great extent, nonsensical.

Thomas Henry Huxley
No slavery can be abolished without a double emancipation, and the master will benefit by freedom more than the freed-man.

Thomas Henry Huxley
Not far from the invention of fire must rank the invention of doubt.

Thomas Henry Huxley
Not only is the state of nature hostile to the state of art of the garden; but the principle of the horticultural process, by which the latter is created and maintained, is antithetic to that of the cosmic process. The characteristic feature of the latter is the intense and unceasing competition of the struggle for existence. The characteristic of the former is the elimination of that struggle, by the removal of the conditions which give rise to it. The tendency of the cosmic process is to bring about the adjustment of the forms of plant life to the current conditions; the tendency of the horticultural process is the adjustment of the conditions to the needs of the forms of plant life which the gardener desires to raise.

Thomas Henry Huxley

“Evolution and Ethics — Prolegomena” (1894)
Nothing can be more incorrect than the assumption one sometimes meets with, that physics has one method, chemistry another, and biology a third.

Thomas Henry Huxley
Of moral purpose I see no trace in Nature. That is an article of exclusively human manufacture and very much to our credit.

Thomas Henry Huxley
Old ladies, of both sexes, consider [On the Origin of Species] a decidedly dangerous book.

Thomas Henry Huxley
Patience and tenacity of purpose are worth more than twice their weight of cleverness.

Thomas Henry Huxley

“On Medical Education” address at University College, London (1870)
Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned; and however early a man’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.

Thomas Henry Huxley
Proclaim human equality as loudly as you like, Witless will serve his brother.

Thomas Henry Huxley

Rome is the one great spiritual organization which is able to resist and must, as a matter of life and death, the progress of science and modern civilization.

Thomas Henry Huxley
Science … warns me to be careful how I adopt a view which jumps with my preconceptions, and to require stronger evidence for such belief than for one to which I was previously hostile. My business is to teach my aspirations to conform themselves to fact, not to try and make facts harmonize with my aspirations.

Thomas Henry Huxley
Science commits suicide when it adopts a creed.

Thomas Henry Huxley

speech at the Museum, South Kensington (ca. 1886)
Science is nothing but trained and organized common sense.

Thomas Henry Huxley

Science and Education (1902)
Science is simply common sense at its best; that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.

Thomas Henry Huxley
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

Science and Education (1902)
Science reckons many prophets, but there is not even a promise of a Messiah.

Thomas Henry Huxley
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.

Thomas Henry Huxley

letter to Charles Kingsley (23 September 1860)
Size is not grandeur, and territory does not make a nation.

Thomas Henry Huxley
Surely there is a time to submit to guidance and a time to take one’s own way at all hazards.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The birth of science was the death of superstition.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The chess-board is the world, the pieces are the phenomena of the universe, the rules of the game are what we call the laws of Nature. The player on the other side is hidden from us.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The child who has been taught to make an accurate elevation, plan, and section of a pint pot has had an admirable training in accuracy of eye and hand.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The cradle of every science is surrounded by dead theologians as that of Hercules was with strangled serpents.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The deepest sin of the human mind is to believe things without evidence.

Thomas Henry Huxley

The dogma of the infallibility of the Bible is no more self-evident than is that of the infallibility of the popes.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The foundation of all morality is to have done, once and for all, with lying; to give up pretending to believe that for which there is no evidence, and repeating unintelligible propositions about things beyond the possibilities of knowledge.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The great end of life is not knowledge but action.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The great thing in the world is not so much to seek happiness as to earn peace and self-respect.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The great tragedy of Science: the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.

Thomas Henry Huxley

“Biogenesis and Abiogenesis” address his 1870 to the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1870)
The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, skepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The medieval university looked backwards; it professed to be a storehouse of old knowledge. The modern university looks forward, and is a factory of new knowledge.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The more rapidly truth is spread among mankind the better it will be for them. Only let us be sure that it is the truth.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The most considerable difference I note among men is not in their readiness to fall into error, but in their readiness to acknowledge these inevitable lapses.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The most valuable result of all education is to make you do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The only freedom I care about is the freedom to do right; the freedom to do wrong I am ready to part with on the cheapest terms to anyone who will take it of me.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The only medicine for suffering, crime, and all other woes of mankind is wisdom. Teach a man to read and write, and you have put into his hands the great keys of the wisdom box. But it is quite another thing to open the box.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The only question which any wise man can ask himself, and which any honest man will ask himself, is whether a doctrine is true or false.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The quarrels of theologians and philosophers have not been about religion, but about philosophy; and philosophers not unfrequently seem to entertain the same feeling toward theologians that sportsmen cherish toward poachers.

Thomas Henry Huxley

Hume (1878)

Thomas Henry Huxley
The rung of a ladder was never meant to rest upon, but only to hold a man’s foot long enough to enable him to put the other somewhat higher.

Thomas Henry Huxley

“On Medical Education” in Science and Education: Essays (1900)
The scientific spirit is of more value than its products, and irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The struggle for existence holds as much in the intellectual as in the physical world. A theory is a species of thinking, and its right to exist is coextensive with its power of resisting extinction by its rivals.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The ultimate court of appeal is observation and experiment … not authority.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The world is neither wise nor just, but it makes up for all its folly and injustice by being damnably sentimental.

Thomas Henry Huxley
There is but one right, and the possibilities of wrong are infinite.

Thomas Henry Huxley
There is no alleviation for the sufferings of mankind except veracity of thought and of action, and the resolute facing of the world as it is when the garment of make-believe by which pious hands have hidden its uglier features is stripped off.

Thomas Henry Huxley
There is no greater mistake than the hasty conclusion that opinions are worthless because they are badly argued.

Thomas Henry Huxley
There is no sea more dangerous than the ocean of practical politics – none in which there is more need of good pilots and of a single, unfaltering purpose when the waves rise high.

Thomas Henry Huxley
There is the greatest practical benefit in making a few failures early in life.

Thomas Henry Huxley
Thought is the labour of the intellect, reverie is its pleasure.

Thomas Henry Huxley
Thoughtfulness for others, generosity, modesty, and self-respect are the qualities which make a real gentleman or lady.

Thomas Henry Huxley
Time, whose tooth gnaws away everything else, is powerless against truth.

Thomas Henry Huxley
To a person uninstructed in natural history, his country or sea-side stroll is a walk through a gallery filled with wonderful works of art, nine-tenths of which have their faces turned to the wall.

Thomas Henry Huxley

Tolerably early in life I discovered that one of the unpardonable sins, in the eyes of most people, is for a man to presume to go about unlabeled. The world regards such a person as the police do an unmuzzled dog, not under proper control.

Thomas Henry Huxley
Truly it has been said, that to a clear eye the smallest fact is a window through which the Infinite may be seen.

Thomas Henry Huxley

“The Study of Zoology” lecture at the South Kensington Museum (14 May 1860)
Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.

Thomas Henry Huxley

inscribed on his memorial
Veracity is the heart of morality.

Thomas Henry Huxley
We live in a world which is full of misery and ignorance, and the plain duty of each and all of us is to try to make the little corner he can influence somewhat less miserable and somewhat less ignorant than it was before he entered it.

Thomas Henry Huxley

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