Science in Christian Perspective


Raymond J. Seeger
4507 Wetherill Road
Bethesda, MD 20816


From: JASA 39 (December 1987): 230-231

Julian Sorell Huxley (1887-1975) had a distinguished ancestry. His paternal grandfather was the Darwinian Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895); his maternal great grandfather was Thomas Arnold (1795-1842), headmaster of Rugby. His father. Leonard, was a classics master of Somervifle College. Oxford, founded a girls' school at Godalming in 1902.

After schooling by a governess until the age of ten, he became a day-pupil in the Hillside Preparatory School, London. where he found delight in natural history. At thirteen. he developed a lifelong interest in bird watching, particularly upon entering Eton with a scholarship, where he started a bird watching diary. At eighteen, he received a scholarship in zoology at Balliol College. Oxford. After reading about the life of Pasteur. he was inspired by the scientific method. When he was twenty-one he won the Newgate Prize in poetry. but used the award to purchase a microscope. The following year he obtained a B.A. with a first class in zoology: since that year also marked the Darwinian semicentennial. he resolved to continue his own studies in the Darwinian spirit- He received a one-year scholarship at the Naples Biok*cal Station, where he investigated sponges. His results were published in the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions. In 1912 he was appointed -Assistant Professor and Chairman of the Biology Department of the new Rice Institute in Houston, Texas. Four years later. he returned to England during World War 1.

After serving in the Army Service Corps and then in Intelligence. Huxley was made a Fellow of New College, Oxford. and Senioi Zoology Demonstrator. He married a Swiss governess. Juliette Bailor. A year later, he joined the Oxford Expedition to Spitsbergen; he always enjoyed mountaineering. In 1925 he was made Professor of Zoology at King's College, London, and the next year was given a three-year appointment as Fullerian Professor at the Royal Institution. At forty, together with H.G. Wells and his son C.P. Wells. he published the Science of Life. In 1927 he resigned from King's but retained an honorary lectureship there.

As a member of the Colonial Office Committee on Education, he went to East Africa in 1929 to survey the biological education and nature conservation there. Subsequently, he made a number of lecture tours in the U.S. and received an Oscar for his documentary film, "The Private Life of the Gannets." At forty-eight he accepted the Secretaryship of the London Zoological Society. In 1939, with Professor
C.E.M. Joad, et alia, he conducted the Brians Trust program for the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) on "Scientific Research and Social Needs," thus becoming a national figure.

In 1944, he visited West Africa for the Commission on Higher Education in the Colonies. The following year he attended the bicentennial of the Russian Academy of Science, where he heard a lecture by the quack geneticist Lysenko. He served on the Hobhouse Committee on National Parks. In 1945 he was appointed Secretary and then elected Director General of the new UNESCO (replacing the proposed UNECO) for a two-year term. He was not a good administrator in this political position, although UNESCO profited greatly by his enthusiasm and broad knowledge, as well as by the loyalty of his staff. At the end of his term, he retired to Hampstead. At seventy-one he was knighted. He gave an address on "The Evolutionary Vision" at the Darwinian Centennial at the University of Chicago, where he was a Visiting Professor. He died at the age of eighty-eight.

Huxley was fond of nature-and solitude. He was early impressed by Wordsworth's line on Tintern Abbey: "I have felt a presence . . . " He recognized the need to preserve natural beauty and to promote architectural beauty, as well as to conserve natural resources. He exhibited great versatility, and showed a marked concern for human welfare, as illustrated by the following sampling of his activities. In 1924 he gave three lectures at Rice on "The Outlook in Biology," which dealt with the relation of science and humanities, and later, in 1952, became the President of the British Humanist Association. In 1935 he published a book entitled Science and Social Needs, and was also the first President of the Association of Scientific Workers. Earlier, he had attended the World Population Conference. In 1956 he received the Lasker award of the Planned Parenthood Association in America. Although he favored the development of atomic bombs-under surveillence of the United Nations-he was among the first to oppose the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

In 1920 Huxley did some research of metamorphoses of axcolotls that made headlines. At thirty-three he began his sernipopular writing on science and society. At forty-one he joined the Society for Psychical Research, but failed to rind any proof of communication with departed spirits. With Gavin de Beer he published Principles of Experimental Embryology (1934). At forty-eight he gave the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures on "Rate Animals and the Disappearance of Wild Life." His forte was publication, particularly popularization. At fifty-five he published Evolution, the Modern Synthesis. A year later, as his grandfather had done fifty years earlier, he delivered the Homanes Lecture on "Evolutionary Ethics." In 1949 he received the Kalinga prize for popular science and the Royal Society Darwin medal for his contributions to the theory of evolution.

Huxley believed in the uniformity and unity of nature, but above all, in the continuous development of a single, ultimate world-substance. Evolutionary naturalism was his basic hypothesis; evolutionary humanism, his thesis-that is, man as the one and only agent for realizing life's further progress. Nevertheless, he claimed, "I consider myself to be a religious man, though I do not subscribe to a theistic interpretation of the religious spirit." This conclusion is based upon his own definition of religion, viz. "the reaction of the personality as a whole to its experience of the universe as a whole," particularly to "a man's holding certain things in reverence" and "his feeling and believing them to be sacred." He admitted however, that there will probably always be a conflict between naturalistic science and theistic religion.

Huxley's own confusion can be traced back to the indefiniteness of his religious heritage and the amorphism of his own religious education. His maternal great grandmother was mildly liberal and low-church orthodox. Her son, his grandfather, left the Anglican Church twice to become Roman Catholic. Another son, Matthew Arnold, upset people with his own critical faculty, despite a moral temperament and strong religious leanings. Julian claimed that his paternal grandfather, Thomas Huxley, a self-classified agnostic, was actually religious in view of his sense of reverence. As a child, Julian was wont to attend church only on festive occasions such as Christmas or Easter. He did admit, however, his enjoyment of the Eton chapel services, probably because of the prevelant atmosphere of awe and reverence.

In the reading of an essay by Archbishop William Temple, he was stimulated to study philosophy and religion so that he read much along this line. He was particularly impressed by his aunt Mary Augusta (n6c Arnold) Ward's "Robert Elsmere" (1887) with its emphasis upon social mission and its dismissal of 'legendary miracles.' His thinking about religious humanism was actually triggered in Colorado by his reading of John Morley's challenging comment, "The next great task of science will be to create a religion for humanity." In 1928 he published Religion With Revelation, which was amplified in 1956.