Sir Julian Sorell Huxley was a leading voice of scientific humanism in the English-speaking world for more than forty years. Educated as a biologist and serving for many years as a professor of biology and zoology at American and British universities, he also addressed himself to the perplexing problem of science’s role in its social contexts. Although much of his published work is of a highly specialized scientific nature, he was also concerned with philosophical questions in numerous collections of essays.
Huxley’s family is notable for its high intellectual capacities and achievements. His father, Leonard Huxley, was both a noted educator and essayist, while his grandfather, Thomas Henry Huxley, was a famed scientist. Julian Huxley’s great-uncle was Matthew Arnold, the critic. The noted author Aldous Huxley was his brother, while his half brother, A. F. Huxley, won the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Sir Julian Huxley was educated at Eton and Oxford Universities, and he began his career as a lecturer in zoology at Balliol College, Oxford, in 1911. After three years in the United States at Rice Institute (where he founded the Department of Biology), he returned to England in 1916 to serve in the British armed forces during World War I. Immediately after the war, he returned to Oxford, where he remained until 1925. It was during this period that he began his prolific publication of scientific and humanistic works. His ability to make complicated scientific concepts comprehensible to the layperson, and his frequent radio lectures, fostered growing public interest in scientific developments.
After 1926, Huxley became increasingly active in international scientific affairs. His visits to Africa, initially for the British Colonial Office, resulted in publications that describe scientific problems in connection with astute political and social observations. His firsthand analyses of Soviet science are temperate views of both the weaknesses and strengths of the Soviet Union’s system of scientific inquiry. As the first director of the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization (UNESCO), he was responsible for that organization’s initial programs, and he is credited with making UNESCO a valuable agency of the United Nations.
Although he was often controversial—because of, among other things, his advocacy of eugenics to improve the human race and the atheism imputed to him—Huxley was a powerful force in keeping scientists aware of their humanistic obligations and in...
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