Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Thomas Henry Huxley, aka T.H. Huxley and Darwin's Bulldog

English Biologist, Anatomist, Teacher and Writer

"It is an error to imagine that evolution signifies a constant tendency to increased perfection. That process undoubtedly involves a constant remodeling of the organism in adaption to new conditions; but it depends on the nature of those conditions whether the direction of the modifications effected shall be upward or downward."

"If a little knowledge is dangerous, where is the man who has so much as to be out of danger?"

"It is not who is right, but what is right, that is of importance."

"Men are certainly not born free and equal in natural qualities; when they are born, the predicates “free” and “equal” I the political sense are not applicable to them; and as they develop year by year, the differences in the political potentialities with which they really are born, become more and more obviously converted into actual differences - the inequality of political faculty shows itself to be a necessary consequence of the inequality of natural faculty."

"Logical consequences are the scarecrows of fools and the beacons of wise men."

"Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned; and however early a man's training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly."

"Sit down before a fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion. Follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing."

"Only one absolute certainty is possible to man, namely, that at any given moment the feeling which he has exists."

"The improver of knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, skepticism is the highest of duties, blind faith the one unpardonable sin."

"The great end of life is not knowledge but action."

"There is no alleviation for the sufferings of mankind except veracity of thought and of action, and the resolute facing of the world as it is when the garment of make-believe by which pious hands have hidden its uglier features is stripped off.."

"The only medicine for suffering, crime, and all the other woes fo mankind, is wisdom. Teach a man to read and write, and yo have put into his hands the great keys of the wisdom box. But it is quite another matter whether he ever opens the box or not."

"There is the greatest practical benefit in making a few failures early in life."

"We are conscious automata, endowed with free will in the only intelligible sense of that much-abused term - inasmuch as in many respects we are able to do as we like - but none the less parts of the great series of causes and effects which, in unbroken continuity, composes that which is, and has been, and shall be - the sum of existence."

"What we call rational grounds for our beliefs are often extremely irrational attempts to justify our instincts."

"We live in a world which is full of misery and ignorance, and the plain duty of each and all of us is to try to make the little corner he can influence somewhat less miserable and somewhat less ignorant than it was before he entered it."

"A drop of water is as powerful as a thunder-bolt."

"For the aims of my own career, I want to promote the increase of natural knowledge, and to forward the application of scientific methods of investigation to all the problems of life, in the conviction that there is no alleviation for the sufferings of mankind except veracity of thought and action, and the resolute facing of the world as it is, when the garment of make-believe is stripped off."

"It is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions."

"When you cannot prove that people are wrong, but only that they are absurd, the best course is to let them alone."

"Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority."

"Science is simply common sense at its best - that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic."

"Science is, I believe, nothing but trained and organized common sense, differing from the latter only as a veteran may differ from a raw recruit; and its methods differ from those of common-sense only so far as the guardsman’s cut and thrust differ from the manner in which a savage wields his club."

"Sit down before fact like a little child and be prepared to give up every preconceived notion. Follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses Nature leads or you shall learn nothing."

"The highest conceivable form of human society is that in which the desire to do what is best for the whole, dominates and limits the action of every member of that society."

"The question of questions for mankind - the problem which underlies all others, and is more deeply interesting than any other - is the ascertainment of the placed which man occupies in nature and of his relations to the universe of things. Whence our race has come; what are the limits of our power over nature, and of nature’s power over us; to what goal we are tending; are the problems which present themselves anew and with undiminished interest to every man born into the world."

"The birth of science was the death of superstition."

"Time, whose tooth gnaws away everything else, is powerless against truth; and the lapse of more than two thousand years has not weakened the force of these wise words."

"Those who refuse to go beyond fact, rarely go as far..."

"This may not be the best of all possible worlds, but to say that it is the worst is mere petulant nonsense."

"I find no difficulty in imagining that, at some former period, this universe was not in existence, and that it made its appearance in consequence of the volition of some pre-existing Being."

"“Learn what is true in order to do what is right,” is the summary of the whole duty of man, for all who are unable to satisfy their mental hunger with the east wind of authority."

"Education is the instruction of the intellect in the laws of Nature, under which name I include not merely thins and their forces, but men and their ways; and the fashioning of eh affections and of the will to an earnest and loving desire to move in harmony with those laws."

"History warns us that it is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions."

"Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned, and however early a person's training begins, it is probably the last lesson that they learn thoroughly."

"Man, physical, intellectual, and moral, is as much a part of nature, as purely a product of the cosmic process, as the humbles weed."

"Sit down before fact as a little child be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss nature leads, or you shall learn nothing."

"The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land."

"While it is the summit of human wisdom to learn the limit of our faculties, it may be wise to recollect that we have no more right to make denials than to put forth affirmatives about what lies beyond that limit."

"The safety of morality lies neither in the adoption of this or that philosophical speculation, or this or that theological creed, but in a real and living belief in that fixed order of nature which sends social disorganization upon the track of immorality, as surely as its sends physical disease after physical trespasses."

"The chess-board is the world; the pieces are the phenomena of the universe; the rules of the game are what we call the laws of Nature. The player on the other side is hidden from us. We know that his play is always fair, and patient. But also we know, to our cost, that he never overlooks a mistake, or makes the smallest allowance for ignorance."

"A great chapter of the history of the world is written in the chalk. Few passages in the history of man can be supported by such an overwhelming mass of direct and indirect evidence as that which testifies to the truth of the fragment of the history of the globe, which I hope to enable you to read, with your own eyes, tonight."

"A man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather. If there were an ancestor whom I should feel shame in recalling it would rather be a man ? a man of restless and versatile intellect ? who... plunges into scientific questions with which he has no real acquaintance, only to obscure them by an aimless rhetoric, and distract the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice."

"A man's worst difficulties begin when he is able to do as he likes."

"A small beginning has led us to a great ending. If I were to put the bit of chalk with which we started into the hot but obscure flame of burning hydrogen, it would presently shine like the sun. It seems to me that this physical metamorphosis is no false image of what has been the result of our subjecting it to a jet of fervent, though nowise brilliant, thought to-night. It has become luminous, and its clear rays, penetrating the abyss of the remote past, have brought within our ken some stages of the evolution of the earth. And in the shifting "without haste, but without rest" of the land and sea, as in the endless variation of the forms assumed by living beings, we have observed nothing but the natural product of the forces originally possessed by the substance of the universe."

"According to Teleology, each organism is like a rifle bullet fired straight at a mark; according to Darwin, organisms are like grapeshot of which one hits something and the rest fall wide. For the teleologist an organism exists because it was made for the conditions in which it is found; for the Darwinian an organism exists because, out of many of its kind, it is the only one which has been able to persist in the conditions in which it is found."

"A well-worn adage advises those who set out upon a great enterprise to count the cost, yet some of the greatest enterprises have succeeded because the people who undertook them did not count the cost."

"A world of facts lies outside and beyond the world of words."

"Agnosticism is not a creed but a method, the essence of which lies in the vigorous application of a single principle ...Positively the principle may be expressed as in matters of intellect, do not pretend conclusions are certain that are not demonstrated or demonstrable."

"Agnosticism is not properly described as a "negative" creed, nor indeed as a creed of any kind, except in so far as it expresses absolute faith in the validity of a principle which is as much ethical as intellectual. This principle may be stated in various ways, but they all amount to this: that it is wrong for a man to say that he is certain of the objective truth of any proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty. This is what agnosticism asserts; and, in my opinion, it is all that is essential to agnosticism. That which agnostics deny and repudiate as immoral is the contrary doctrine, that there are propositions which men ought to believe, without logically satisfactory evidence; and that reprobation ought to attach to the profession of disbelief in such inadequately supported propositions. The justification of the agnostic principle lies in the success which follows upon its application, whether in the field of natural or in that of civil history; and in the fact that, so far as these topics are concerned, no sane man thinks of denying its validity."