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August 16, 2006

An Agnostic's Courage

thomas_huxley.jpg In July 1860, Thomas Huxley engaged in his famous face-off with the bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, over Darwin's theory.

Bishop Wilberforce: "If anyone were to be willing to trace his descent through an ape as his grandfather, would he be willing to trace his descent similarly on the side of his grandmother?"

Huxley: "If then…the question is put to me would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather or a man highly endowed by nature and possessed of great means of influence and yet who employs those faculties and that influence for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion, I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape."

A couple of months later Huxley's beloved eldest son died.

Huxley is responsible for the neologism "agnoticism." In defense of his new creed he proclaimed:

In matters of the intellect do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.

However, Huxley was anything but uncertain in his opposition to "that clericalism, which in England, as everywhere else,…is the deadly enemy of science."

And when a friend implied, gently, after his son's death, that the biologist might miss the comforts of religion, Huxley's response could not have been more staunch and unbending:

Had I lived a couple of centuries earlier, I could have fancied a devil scoffing at me…and asking me what profit it was to have stripped myself of the hopes and consolations of the mass of mankind? To which my only reply was and is: Oh devil! Truth is better than much profit….If wife and child and name and fame were all to be lost to me one after the other as the penalty, still I will not lie.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at August 16, 2006 4:58 PM


Their is such a thing of individuals who do not have a soul. If you do not have a soul you cannot have G-d.
My wife and I do have a soul therefore we do have G-d. He has come to us to tell everyone to come together in love for him and each other. We have a web site explaining his request in detail. Please read.
In G-ds LOVE

Posted by: Randy at August 16, 2006 2:33 PM

Our web site is www.cjandrandy.com

Posted by: Randy at August 16, 2006 2:35 PM

Okay now whoever this Randy is, it sure is disconcerting when in the midst of wondering if I should continue on this journey to discover that there is no god, that it is the "Christians" that are more a catlyst to deconversion than any atheist ever could be!

Posted by: Bonnie Kim at August 16, 2006 4:22 PM

I think most of us on the dark side have come to realize how it is difficult to impossible to change someone's mind about superstitions.

It is the good, God fearing people of faith that are required to save us from our reason.

Posted by: Jay Saul at August 16, 2006 4:59 PM

Huxley's admirable comments are uncannily similar to more contemporary expressions of 'postcoloniality', which I've been reading lately; been discovering lots of parallels between the experience of trying to unburden oneself of christian/religious discourse re: this blog and that of undoing the multiple legacies of imperialism.

But specifically for now: Canadian writer Robert Kroetsch writing in the 1970s on Margaret Atwood's novel _Surfacing_ and Rudy Wiebe's _The Temptation of Big Bear_ begins by quoting Heidegger on the nature of translation and the connection of 'naming' to historically specific experience (one that religious discourse completely erases, in my view)--a quote worth posting to this blog, I think, as it's come to my mind frequently reading various comments:

"*Roman thought takes over the Greek words without a corresponding, equally authentic experience of what they say, without the Greek word*. The rootlessness of Western thought begins with this translation" (_Poetry, Language, Thought_, 23). [this was, e.g., the context for my asking Mitch, in a previous post, if he'd considered the implications of using Cicero to 'know' Carneades...]

Here's the end of Kroetsch's essay, which really reminds me of Huxley's refusal to be defined in the terms of christianity: "It is possible that the old obsessive notion of identity and ego, is itself a spent fiction, that these ... writers are discovering something essentially new, something essential not only to Canadians but to the world they would uncreate. Whatever the case, they dare the ultimate *contra-diction*: they uncreate themselves into existencce. Like Heidegger they will accept that the root meaning of the word truth is un-concealing, dis-closing, dis-covering, un-hiding. Or to put it in prairie terms, they will, like Rudy Wiebe's Big Bear, even when locked up in the Stony Mountain pen, with the Archbishop generously in attendance -- even then they will be loyal to their own first visions. Offered the consolation and pride of the old names, they will 'decline to be christened'" ("Unhiding the Hidden: Recent Canadian Fiction," 1974).

Just found the parallels interesting, thought others might. Apologies for the length.

Posted by: JM at August 16, 2006 8:28 PM

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