Huxley's Skeletons

Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), known as ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’ for his fierce defense of the Theory of Evolution, was a British biologist who did not agree with many of Darwin’s conjectures, but was more concerned with the science of comparative anatomy than natural selection. Huxley published a volume titled “Evidence as to man’s place in nature” (London, Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate, 1863), in which the above diagram appeared.  It shows the skeletons of the Gibbon, Orangutan, Chimpanzee, Gorilla, and Man. The diagram is to scale, expept for the Gibbon for some reason, which is presented as twice the natural size in scale to the other figures. Nevertheless, the similarity to humans is remarkable. It is worth mentioning Alfred Wallace Russel, co-discoverer of natural selection, but relatively unknown because he was more adventurer than writer. But his scientific work predates some of the conjectures made by Darwin. Indeed Wallace disagreed with many of Darwin’s ideas also and has been called a ‘Heretic in Darwin’s Court’.

The story of evolution is a fascinating one. Darwin is the kingpin, but his was not the only scientific interpretation. It seems popular today to take Darwin to task. This is reasonable to do so, but should be done so on scientific grounds, not religious preference. Intelligent design? Where is the science in this? If it is to compete with evolution theory then it must open itself up to criticism. I maintain that religion cannot do this because if one part is thrown into question, then all parts are thrown into question. Science invites this by peer review, religion does not and has a long history of suppressing the freedom of ideas.

Imagine a meeting of minds: Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ignatius of Loyola versus Darwin, Huxley and Wallace. Now that would be a fascinating debate! 16th century religious reformation versus 19th century scientific reformation. The current dialog will continue in the 21st century and the choice of opinion is open, but until religion opens its doors to scrutiny, I don’t see that ‘intelligent design’ is an option considering over ‘natural selection’, as embodied by evolution theory. What would Darwin’s Bulldog say about all this, I wonder?

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