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Quotes From “Darwin’s Bulldog”

Poking around YouTube recently about comparative anatomy (yes, it’s a thing we do) this clip from the Crash Course channel popped up and we were immediately engaged by teacher Hank Green’s take on convergent evolution.

 

What is convergent evolution?

 

Here’s Hank: “For example, a tuna, a Penguin, and a seal are all animals that spend all or a lot of their time in the water. One is a fish, one is a bird, one is a mammal. But all three of them have a suite of similar features, the most notable being a really sleek, fusiform body that can move through the water like nobody’s business … But of course those 3 animals have very different evolutionary origins. Each of these three marine animals have independently converged on similar body shapes because they live in the same environment and need to do the same sorts of things. So instances of convergent evolution can make linking physical structure of an animal to its evolutionary history a little bit tricky. Which is why for a long time nobody really put much stock in comparative anatomy as proof of evolution—that is, until Thomas Henry Huxley came along.”

 

And that sent us (happily) down a rabbit hole pondering the legendary Huxley, who became known as “Darwin’s Bulldog” because he championed the scientist’s work with such zeal.


If you don’t know or didn’t remember, Huxley is known for his famous debate with Archbishop Samuel Wilberforce. 

 

The year was 1860. The scene was the annual meeting of the British Association at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Wilberforce criticized Darwin’s theory on scientific grounds, arguing that the theory was not supported by facts. Wilberforce also said that the greatest names in science were opposed to theory.

 

Now here’s where it gets a bit iffy in terms of what might or might not have been said. There could be a bit of legend that got built up over the years, but allegedly Wilberforce asked Huxley if he considered himself descended from a monkey on his grandmother’s side or his grandfather’s side.

 

According to many accounts, Huxley said something to the effect that he would not be ashamed to have a monkey for his ancestor, but he would be ashamed to be connected with a man who used his great gifts to obscure the truth. 

 

Take that! (Actually, reports are that the “debate” was highly entertaining and not all that confrontational.)

 

But Huxley turned out to be a great quote machine over the years. 

 

A few gems-

 

“The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability.”

 

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

 

“Science and literature are not two things, but two sides of one thing.”

 

“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.”

 

“The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.”

 

“All truth, in the long run, is only common sense clarified.”

 

Thomas Huxley sounds like our kind of guy.

 

And now, back to comparative anatomy videos on YouTube …

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