RECORD: Anon. 1860. Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Oxford Chronicle and Berks and Bucks Gazette, (21 July), p. 3.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by John van Wyhe. RN1

NOTE: See Richard England. 1860. Censoring Huxley and Wilberforce: A new source for the meeting that the Athenaeum 'Wisely Softened Down'. Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 71, pp. 371-384.


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—Professor HUXLEY, being called upon by the chairman, declined entering into the subject, alleging the undesirability of contesting a scientific subject involving nice shades of idea before a general audience, who could not be supposed to judge upon its merits.

The discussion was then commenced by the Rev. R. GRESWELL, who denied that any parallel could be drawn between the intellectual progress of man, and the physical development of the lower animals. He disputed Professor Draper's references to the history of Greece. Was it not a fact that its masterpieces in literature, the Iliad and Odyssey, were produced during its national infancy. (Hear, hear.) The theory of intellectual development advanced, he considered, was directly opposed to the known facts of the history of man. (Applause.)

—Sir B. BRODIE, who on rising was very warmly received, said he could not subscribe to the hypothesis of Mr. Darwin. Where was the demonstration that his primordial germ had existed? Man had a power of self-consciousness—a principle differing from anything found in the material world, and he did not see how this could originate in lower organisms. Moreover this power of man, being identical with the Divine Intelligence, to suppose that it could originate with matter, involved the absurdity of supposing the source of Divine power was dependent on the arrangement of matter. (Loud cries of 'hear, hear,' and much applause.)

—The BISHOP OF OXFORD, on rising, was loudly cheered. Having briefly noticed Professor Draper's arguments, and ridiculed his comparison of the marble and table, he proceeded to say that he had given the theory advanced by Mr. Darwin his most careful and anxious consideration. The conclusion he had come to was, that when tried by the principles of inductive science, philosophy or logic, it entirely broke down. (Cheers.) And to come to facts, he maintained that those brought forward utterly failed to prove his theory. The permanence of specific forms was a fact confirmed by all observation, the few exceptions that existed being confined to a few cases in certain species of plants. Take, for instance, the remains of animals, plants, and man, found in those earliest records of the human race—the Egyptian catacombs. Now, anatomists tell us that even in mummies, 4,000 years old, there is not the slightest physiological difference as compared with the race now—(hear, hear)—and so it was with animals and plants. All spoke of their identity with existing forms, and of the irresistible tendency of organised beings to assume an unalterable character. (Applause.)

Glancing at Professor Huxley's remarks, on the previous day, in a discussion with Professor Owen, the Bishop facetiously asked if he had any particular predilection for a monkey ancestry, and, if so, on which side – whether he would prefer an ape for his grandfather, and a woman for his grandmother, or a man for his grandfather, and an ape for his grandmother. (Much laughter.) But to treat the subject seriously. (Hear, hear.) The line between man and the lower animals was distinct. There was no tendency on the part of the lower animals to become the selfconscious intelligent being, man; or in man to degenerate and lose the high characteristics of mind and intelligence.

All experiments failed to show any tendency in one animal to assume the form of the other. Even in the great case of the pigeons, quoted by Mr. Darwin, he admitted that no sooner were these animals set free, than they returned to their primitive type. (Hear, hear.) Everywhere sterility attended hybridism, as was seen in the closely-allied forms of the horse and the ass. Viewing the matter in another aspect, he did consider it a most degrading assumption—(hear, hear)—that man, who, in many respects, partook of the highest attributes of God—(hear, hear)—was a mere development of the lowest forms of creation. (Applause) He could scarcely trust himself to speak upon the subject, so indignant did he feel at the idea.

He did not desire timidity in scientific investigation. (Hear, hear). Religion had nothing to fear. (Hear, hear.) But what he did protest against was the hasty adoption of unsound hypotheses and unproved assertions for the weighty realities of scientific truth. (Applause.) He did not believe that science and revelation were inimical to each other, but that what appeared irreconcilable in the present state of scientific knowledge would in the fullness of time be made manifest, and redound to the triumph of both. (Prolonged cheering.)

Professor HUXLEY followed. In reply to the Bishop's query he said that if the alternative were given him of being descended from a man conspicuous for his talents and eloquence, but who misused his gifts to ridicule the laborious investigators of science and obscure the light of scientific truth, or from the humble origin alluded to, he would far rather choose the latter than the former. (Oh, oh, and laughter and cheering.) He then defended Mr. Darwin's theory from the charge of being a mere hypothesis, and said it was an explanation of phenomena in natural history holding the same relation as the undulating theory to the phenomena of light. Did any one object to that theory because an undulation of light had never been arrested and measured? His charge against Mr. Darwin's opponents was that they did not attempt to bring forward any important fact against his theory. That theory was an explanation of facts the result of laborious research, and abounded in new facts bearing upon it. Without asserting that every part of the theory had been confirmed, he maintained that it was the best explanation of the origin of species which had yet been offered—(hear, hear)—and he did protest against this subject being dealt with by amateurs in science, and made the occasion of appeals to passion and feeling. (Applause.) With regard to the psychological distinction between man and animals, it must be remembered man himself was once a monad—a mere atom of matter—and who could say at what moment of his development he became consciously intelligent. (Hear, hear.) The question was not so much one of a transmutation or transition of species as of the production of forms which became permanent. In the course of an argument to support this position, he instanced the short-legged sheep of America, which were not produced gradually, but originated in the birth of an original parent of the whole stock, which had been kept up by a rigid system of artificial selection. (The professor, on resuming his seat, was loudly applauded.)

The BISHOP of OXFORD again rose and was received with cheers and laughter. He said he regretted that Professor Huxley had taken umbrage at what he had said. He did not know that he had said anything which could possibly give offence to Mr. Darwin's greatest friends, and as for his query to Professor Huxley he had been tempted to it by the merriment of the audience, and it was merely a passing allusion. He ridiculed Professor Huxley's appeal to authority in connection with his remarks on amateurs in science. On which side lay the authority. Sir B. Brodie, Professor Owen, and other eminent men were opposed to it, and how the Professor could talk as he had done about authority he did not know. (Laughter and cheers.) The Bishop then noticed the Professor's concluding remarks, denying the cogency of the illustrations, and after experiencing some interruptions in his scientific dicta, sat down amid loud cheers.

Professor HUXLEY rose in answer to calls for him, and said he was sure the Bishop could have no desire to mislead, but he thought he had misapprehended his remarks upon authority. What he had deprecated was authority like the Bishop's, authority derived from a reputation acquired in another sphere. (Hear, hear, and laughter.)

Dr. BIRD, who announced himself as a statistician, asserted that he could prove Mr. Darwin's theory was unsound by statistics. (Murmurs). By Mr. Darwin's theory he could prove anything. (Question) The learned doctor's remarks were cut short by the impatience of the audience.

Admiral FITZROY stated, as an old friend of Mr Darwin's, he deeply regretted the views he had put forth (loud cries of question). He denied Prof. Huxley's statement that Mr Darwin's work was a logical arrangement of facts, and was proceeding to theological considerations when the interruptions became so noisy that the chairman requested the gallant admiral to sit down. Professor BEALE said, although he was quite unable to decide the question on one side or the other, he would just notice for Professor Huxley's consideration some of the difficulties which Mr. Darwin's theory had to deal with, and among others referred especially to those vital tendencies of allied species which seemed independent of all external agents. (Cheers.)

Mr. LUBBOCK reiterated Professor Huxley's assertion that Mr. Darwin's book was the most logical and powerful arrangement of facts that had ever been given upon the subject, and expressed his willingness to accept his hypothesis in the absence of any better. He expressed his surprise at the Bishop of Oxford's reference to the Egyptian mummies, since to the naturalist as to the geologist, time was not an essential element in these changes. Time alone produced no change. (Cheers)

The Rev. R. GRESWELL rose indignantly to oppose the assertion of Professor Huxley, that man was originally an atom of matter. He denied that he was ever an atom of matter. (Oh, oh, and loud laughter, amid which the rev. gentleman sat down.)

 


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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

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