On the Origin of Species: or, the Causes of the Phenomena of Organic Nature
In these circumstances, those who disencumber the subject of its difficulties, simplify its statements, relieve it of technicalities, and bring it so distinctly within the horizon of ordinary apprehension that persons of common sense may judge for themselves, perform an invaluable service. Such is the character of the present volume.
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A prolific essayist as well as author of hundreds of scientific papers, Huxley was one of the most eloquent of all English writers on the natural sciences. SMTHH , 2, , The first Neanderthal fossils were discovered shortly after the publication of The Origin. Huxley recognized that the Neanderthals were not significantly different from modern humans and correctly anticipated that the findings of paleontology would push the origin of humans back to a far earlier epoch than anyone had previously imagined.
If humankind was that ancient, clearly this was evidence against the creation hypothesis. The Darwinian hypothesis was the only hypothesis that could make sense of these ancient human fossils. Is it, indeed, true, that the Poet, or the Philosopher, or the Artist whose genius is the glory of his age, is degraded from his high estate by the undoubted historical probability, not to say certainty, that he is the direct descendant of some naked and bestial savage. Is mother-love vile because a hen shows it, or fidelity base because dogs possess it? Even if humans came from the brutes, they were not of them.
However, the relationship of ethical and evolutionary theory to the history of philosophy was something that deeply interested him. In his Romanes Lecture Huxley maintained that he did not think the doctrine of evolution could give us an ethics to live by. Even if one accepts that evolution has produced creatures such as ourselves with a moral sense, it does not follow that we can look to evolution to define the content of what we call moral.
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But as the immoral sentiments have no less been evolved, there is so far, as much natural sanction for the one as the other. The thief and the murderer follow nature just as much as the philanthropist. Cosmic evolution may teach us how the good and the 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.
Evolution and Ethics , , Huxley was optimistic about the insights that evolution could provide for human society. In the s, he believed that the key to successfully playing the game of life was learning the rules of the game and those rules were the laws of nature. To learn the rules one must turn to the teacher who was Nature herself.
Herbert Spencer had articulated the advantages of applying evolutionary theory to social behavior, espousing an ethic that became known as Social Darwinism. Thus, he was against any sort of safety net such as the poor laws, for they only contributed to the survival of the least fit. Such policies might lessen the inequalities, but it also rewarded and promoted the survival of the unfit, which would lead to the deterioration of society.
Huxley responded to the harsh extreme individualism of Spencer, claiming that:.
The structure of evolutionary theory
Laws and moral precepts are directed to the end of curbing the cosmic process and reminding the individual of his duty to the community. Evolution and Ethics , Moore, attacked evolutionary ethics on the grounds of committing the naturalistic fallacy. Just because nature is a certain way does not mean nature ought to be that way.
Huxley denied this. Thus, we cannot assume that applying the principles of evolution to the social realm would result in the progress and improvement of society. In such an environment, the lichen and diatoms might be the most fit. Furthermore, the strict definition of Darwinian fitness is reproductive success. In spite of a vast literature that has accumulated in both science and philosophy since Huxley wrote Evolution and Ethics , he provided us with one of the clearest articulations of the problem of evolutionary ethics Lyons, He also recognized that great theoretical power of The Origin.
Yet underlying much of his scientific work and even more his popular writing was his desire to keep theological questions distinct from scientific ones, which also served as a powerful rhetorical strategy to convince people of his position. George Mivart accepted evolution, but believed that it was constrained along certain lines by the creator.
He also maintained that evolution was compatible with the teachings of the Church. He had received much of his scientific training with Huxley for whom he had profound respect.
Mivart raised a series of scientific objections as to why natural selection could not account for the origin of species. He appeared to be more interested in promulgating his anti-Catholicism than defending Darwinism. Some of the objections that Mivart had raised were also ones that Huxley had, such as the importance of saltations. This two-pronged strategy had been very powerful and so why did he change his tactics?
For those who believe in evolution, the teachings of the Church are utterly false, but for those who believe that Catholic doctrine is correct then evolution must be false. There was no middle ground for Huxley. The conflicts surrounding Darwinism were complex and cannot be reduced to an analysis that just describes science at war with theology Lindberg and Numbers Huxley was guilty at times of oversimplifying the relationship between the two.
Many people accepted evolution and still kept their faith. However, he correctly recognized that the battle for the acceptance of evolution had to be fought on theological grounds not only in the public arena, but also within the scientific community. It was only through empirical techniques guided by an underlying skepticism that we would improve our understanding of the natural world.
As he stated time and again, this was his goal in life—to better understand the natural world. Such views meant that Huxley was often accused of being an atheist. Agnostic is truly the best word to describe him, but Huxley did not view agnosticism as a philosophy or creed. Huxley believed there were limits to what was knowable, but at the same time he was a tireless advocate of the importance of gathering and evaluating evidence for holding any belief.
Comparing the two he found evidence for the former lacking and considerable evidence for the latter. Victorians embraced the many new advances in science and technology, but at the same time they worried that some findings were leading to a materialistic world devoid of spiritual meaning.
Huxley was a critical voice in these discussions as Victorians strived to make sense of a rapidly changing society.
The Wider Domain of Evolutionary Thought , ed. Oldroyd and I. Langham, The Netherlands, D. Reidel Publishing Co. Brooke John H. Francis Darwin, London, John Murray, Dawson W. Science and Education , New York, D.
Darwin's experimental natural history | SpringerLink
Leonard Huxley, New York, D. Foster and E. Mivart George J. First, many scientific investigations do not involve experiments or direct observation. Astronomers cannot hold stars in their hands and geologists cannot go back in time, but both scientists can learn a great deal about the universe through observation and comparison. In the same way, evolutionary biologists can test their ideas about the history of life on Earth by making observations in the real world. Second, though we can't run an experiment that will tell us how the dinosaur lineage radiated, we can study many aspects of evolution with controlled experiments in a laboratory setting.
In organisms with short generation times e.
And in some cases, biologists have observed evolution occurring in the wild. To learn more about rapid evolution in the wild, visit our news story on climate change , our news story on the evolution of PCB-resistant fish , or our research profile on the evolution fish size in response to our fishing practices. To learn more about the nature of science , visit the Understanding Science website. In everyday language, theory is often used to mean a hunch with little evidential support.
Scientific theories, on the other hand, are broad explanations for a wide range of phenomena. In order to be accepted by the scientific community, a theory must be strongly supported by many different lines of evidence. To learn more about the nature of scientific theories , visit the Understanding Science website.