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Obras de Adrian Desmond

Associated Works

The Descent of Man (1871) — Editor, algumas edições1,603 cópias, 14 resenhas


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"Huxley: From Devil’s Disciple to Evolution’s Hight Priest" is a lengthy biography of Thomas Henry Huxley by Adrian Desmond. It might be more accurate to say it is a history of his time, 1825-1895, concentrating on the development of science in England, for which which he had to battle against the entrenched and incestuous counter-forces of class, politics, universities and state-sponsored religion.

It was Huxley who coined the word "agnostic" to characterize his views. Before that, there wasn’t any good word, "atheist" being mentioned but yet entirely wrong, so "agnostic" was born of self-defense, signifying nothing against religion other than accepting the facts of nature (science) irrespective of dogma or any other contradictory assertion. (Huxley learned on his own more theology than many clerics of his time possessed.) But as soon as developing science contradicted religious dogma, the forces of the Anglican Church opposed science, and its wealth and influence soon attracted the upper classes, educators, and politicians into its battle.

This opposition made it exceedingly difficult for talented men not of privileged birth, men of merit like Huxley, to advance or even get started against class, scholastic, and economic barriers. There was no money in science. Huxley had to incur onerous debts for books alone. Science was being done in England only by men who did not have to work for a living. Huxley, self-taught, devoted his life to changing this and was highly successful, also promoting women where possible. He was instrumental in introducing scientific education into Britain, where the universities had been finishing schools for the pampered. As scientist, publicist, lecturer, writer and lobbyist, he could hardly bear to turn down any position from which he could have a positive influence and so probably worked himself into an unnaturally early death.

Charles Darwin came out with "The Origin of Species" in 1859. He had put off publication for nearly 20 years because of foreseen troubles mostly with the Anglican Church. Oddly enough, although Huxley found abundant ammunition in the "Origin", he personally dismissed its central idea, natural selection, for about eight years and lectured widely in Darwin’s defense without mentioning the process. Darwin noticed this. But Huxley gradually came to tolerate it after carefully considering the abilities of British pigeon fanciers to produce in a few generations, by selective breeding, numerous extreme varieties of pigeons (human selection).

Huxley also had to do battle with the wholly inappropriate and dangerous attempts to apply evolutionary processes set out in the "Origin" to society, economics, ethics, race, politics, international competition and empire. Towards the end he was practically defending uncorrupted faith and intelligent conservatism against socialism, Communism and anarchism.

For a lengthy biography, there seems to be oddly little about Huxley. I never got much sense of the man. Also there is precious little science for a book featuring Huxley and Darwin. This is mostly a history book about science-impacted sectors of British society and institutions of the time, clearly not written by a scientist. I would greatly have preferred it the other way around. Huxley was a distinguished scientist, perhaps (for example) the finest comparative anatomist of his day. He concluded correctly, for example, that birds had evolved from small dinosaurs. His was a golden age of science, and he was its most powerful instrument.
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KENNERLYDAN | outras 4 resenhas | Jul 11, 2021 |
Few Englishmen have had a more profound – and controversial – impact on history than Charles Darwin. Born in 1809 to a prosperous family of doctors and manufacturers, he received training first as a doctor and then a clergymen before embracing a career as a naturalist. His five-year voyage on the “Beagle” became the defining experience of his life, inspiring him to reevaluate natural history and giving him a wealth of material to study. Establishing a career as a gentleman scientist, he gradually came to embrace the concept of “natural selection”, yet shied from publishing his conclusions until prodded by a similar paper by Alfred Russell Wallace. Publication of “The Origin of Species” in 1859 triggered an onslaught on controversy, one that did not deter Darwin from continuing his biological studies until his death in 1882.

Darwin’s life has received enormous attention – so much so, as Adrian Desmond, James Moore, and Janet Browne note in the preface to this book, that today “historians know more about his career than his family did, and in respects . . . they even know more about the man.” Such a massive amount of information can prove difficult to summarize, but the three authors rove more than capable of the task. Taken from their entry on Darwin for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, each draw upon their particular specialty - Desmond on the politics of evolution, evolution and Darwin’s colleagues, Moore on the secular and religious contexts, and Browne on the history of botany – to present a comprehensive portrait of Darwin, one that captures the amazing range of his natural studies. Supplemented with a final chapter on his legacy, the book serves as a good introduction to the famous naturalist, as well as a guide to the mountain of further literature on his life and legacy.
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MacDad | 1 outra resenha | Mar 27, 2020 |
The power of Darwinism fascinates. The theory of evolution through natural selection devastated every secular and sacred shibboleth held tightly for millennia. What has most impressed me is the utter victory of naturalism over super naturalism and, as logic inevitably demands, the complete redefinition of man's place in the universe. Even 150 years after its arrival on the intellectual stage the controversy rages, not among scientists certainly, but in the desperate and fragile efforts to disparage it by proponents of creationism and intellectual design. To my mind, the reality of naturalistic origins does not allow any foot hold for supernatural first causes. But, to me, this does not lead us to nihilism, but suggests a path of optimism for the future of the planet.

In On the Origins of Species, Darwin was cautious about explicitly expressing the implications of his theory on the matter of man's place in existence. He was certainly aware that such a conclusion would immediately be drawn and most certainly it was. Even such a stalwart scientific supporter as Asa Gray could not abandon the anchor of divinity as the ultimate first cause.

This fascinating book focuses on the relationship of Darwin's work to his strong abolitionist beliefs and to the debate raging on the morality of slavery. Darwin, his family and circle were among the staunchest abolitionists in England, advocating vigorously for emancipation in the Commonwealth and the Americas. Darwin's scientific logic compellingly supported the notion that the races of human kind had a unitary ancestor and were not distinct species. The so-called polygenisists held that the races were created separately and as species distinct from each other could be placed in a hierarchy of superiority without moral qualms. Great store was placed on the discernible differences among the races, but Darwin's work said these were not species differentiation but rather variations caused by environmental factors. The most obvious evidence for species commonality was the success of inter-racial reproduction.

In the context of the intense and ugly racism of the 19th century, Darwin's view was scorned by other scientists and polemicists who were determined to prove the racial superiority of Caucasians and, hence, the morality of subjugating the lesser species, principally blacks. America's renowned scientist, Louis Agassiz, was the foremost of the scientists making this claim. The aura of this pseudo science was eagerly grasped by those who sought to counter the growing intensity of moral opposition to slavery. This inevitably led its adherents down the primrose path of ascribing to genetic differences the futility of the "lessor" races ever being able to achieve the lofty heights of culture and progress achieved by the Anglo-Saxon race.

Thus to Darwin we owe another debt of gratitude. By impelling us to accept our less than divine status he has opened up the potential for diminishing the effects of our hubris on the earth. Recognizing the commonality of all humans points us toward a moral stance that best positions the perpetuation of our species. After all, isn't morality a successful and highly important evolutionary trait?
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1 vote
stevesmits | outras 3 resenhas | Nov 14, 2019 |
A wonderfully written life of Darwin.
Read in Samoa June 2002.
mbmackay | outras 4 resenhas | Nov 26, 2015 |



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