Please describe the love-hate relationship Thomas Henry Huxley had with science.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Though Huxley was a self-taught man of renown in the sciences--having gained awards and acknowledgments from his own and other governments, like Sweden, that awarded him the Order of the Golden Star in 1837, and Germany, that awarded him an honorary doctorate--and a great advocate for Darwin's work, he had strong disagreements with scientific theories being presented in his day. Thus, on this count, one might say he had a "love-hate relationship" with science, though, strictly speaking, using the phrase "love-hate relationship" is probably an inaccurate representation that Huxley himself would argue against.

Huxley's disagreements with scientific theory might be illustrated by his scathing reviews and arguments against Robert Chambers' and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck's work in evolution and transmutation [sudden shift of one species into another], denouncing them as being speculative and having insufficient evidence to be supported. Since these were ideas put forth by leading scientists of his day, including, for example, Georges Cuvier and Charles Lyell, it may be possible to style this opposition and, in some respects, antagonism, as a love-hate relationship with science: Huxley did not unthinkingly support the scientific theories put forth simply because of the scientific prestige or renown of the proponent of the theory. This independence of thought may have been the unexpected result of what began as a decided disadvantage, that being the end of his formal education at age ten, after only two years of schooling, a disadvantage forcing him to read and think for himself as he orchestrated his own education.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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On one distinct level, Huxley loved the sciences.  He did extensive work in different branches of science. His work in anatomy and scientific endeavor is well- detailed, including his founding a cellular component of human hair. Huxley believed in the power of science, seen in his defense of Darwin during the evolutionary debates that swarmed England after the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of the Species.  Darwin trusted him so much in science that Huxley was one of the few to read an advance copy of the work before it was published.  Known as "Darwin's bulldog," Huxley established himself as a defender of scientific rigor in how he vehemently defended Darwin's work and the scientific process.  

Furthering Huxley's love of science would be how Huxley developed the term "agnostic."  Yet, it is in this realm where one can see how Huxley did not believe that science had "all of the answers."  As much as Huxley loved the sciences, he did not necessarily embrace the idea that science could provide all of the guidance that human beings needed.  Huxley argued that a firm foundation in the Humanities was needed for human beings to fully understand their place in the world and for the advancement of a social entity.  Huxley was not a fan of Comte's notion of Positivism, a belief system that advocated a zealous and almost blind love of science.  Huxley understood that an over-dependence on science is as ineffective as a lack of reliance on it.  In his Evolution and Ethics, Huxley argued that " a moral education could not be taught without religion." In order for individuals to advance, Huxley suggested that both rigorous science must accompany humanities instruction.  It might not amount to a hatred of science, but it shows that Huxley understood that human beings do not advance through a singular embrace of the good.  There has to be pluralistic notions of truth in order for individual and social progress to be evident.  It is in this where I think that one can see that Huxley holds a nuanced view towards science.

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