The Philosophical Institution and Professor Huxley

The Witness

January 14,1862

[1] It is far from our design to express either opposition or indifference to the admirable Institution and its many costly schemes and arrangements for the intellectual advancement of various classes in our city. Its title might have been objected to as rather pretentious, had not the assumption of it be almost every small "Mutual Improvement Society" in our cities, towns, and villages been a familiar fact, and had not Philosophy been in our days not only brought from the lofty region where she "commenced with the skies" and with such transcendental spirits of earth as Socrates and Plato, down to the academic groves and guarded cloisters in which the disciples of these great men give a smattering of their own knowledge, and act as a sort of pupil-teachers; but also led forth from these comparatively select haunts, into the public streets, and to the tune of "the march of intellect in the nineteenth century," marshalled to the market-place, where she was required to explain her profound secrets in a way that should be intelligible to the indiscriminate throng , and whence she was afterwards taken to preside over an aspiring "Infant School." It may be doubted whether, along with a change in her seat, range, and votaries, there has not also been a change upon Philosophy herself; and whether, in so far as she has been popularized and cheapened, she has not also been made to forego her high character and mission. Moreover, every art and every branch of knowledge are not dignified with the sounding name of Philosophy; and all societies that pursue either of them rejoice in the name of "Philosophical." The city Institution with which we are about to deal is unquestionably far better entitled than any of these to such a description, though we cannot altogether regard its membership as constituted by so many Platos, or its studies and exercises as purely, or even predominantly, philosophical. The ticket of membership is not a passport into the temple of wisdom, much less a certificate of philosophical attainment. We should, indeed, rejoice to see the monopoly of philosophy really broken up and the whole of our city population entering upon the hitherto fenced field, digging for the long hidden and interdicted treasures, and proving themselves a great congregation of profound sages; but the requisite leisure genius, (including inclination as well as capacity), and training, are lacking, we fear with many in such a multitude, and the Institution cannot supply what is wanting. It is with various classes in Edinburgh a favourite Institution, and in certain respects has been eminently successful; whilst there is also the promise of a signal increase for its future activity and prosperity. Still, scarcely enough has been done to justify the select title conferred at its birth and its progress can hardly be defined a march of intellect in and through Philosophy. The Institution is very valuable for its library, which is already large and choice–for its reading rooms, fully provided with the freshest stock of current periodical literature, and placed in almost hourly communication with the telegraphs of Europe, –and for the ancient and foreign language classes regularly taught in connection with it. Its capital recommendation, however, in the estimate of our fellow-citizens, is that it furnishes courses of lectures, delivered annually during winter. Nor can it be denied that the most of these are of very high merit and value, the services of men, –most of them celebrated, and all of them perfectly well-known in the country–having been engaged for this important department. Still, there is, with the view of meeting the tastes of all of the members, and of avoiding exhaustiveness and monotony, so great a variety of subject, chosen, too, out of all the fields of knowledge, that the members can neither be taught nor trained in any one branch or section of "Philosophy." The syllabus of a single session’s predilections resemble the index to an encyclopaedia, and gives us a lovely idea of the abrupt, irregular, and incoherent way in which the lecturers sweep from pole to pole of the intellect, and alight at all points of the compass for an hour’s superficial survey.

[2] Our intention, however, is not to notice the defects obviously attaching to the rapid, complete, and grotesque change of subjects in the different courses of one winter’s lectures, though these defects call for prompt consideration and amendment. We have a simple question, yet one of no small importance and interest to the Christian public, to put regarding the directors’ meaning and motives in engaging Professor Huxley to appear on the Institution’s platform, and exhibit his anti-scriptural and most debasing theory of the origin and kindred of Man. That theory is viewed by all theologians, and by the great body of Christians of all denominations, as standing in blasphemous contradiction to Bible narrative and doctrine, whilst almost all the masters in philosophy and science utterly repudiate it as untenable and absurd. Was it then indispensable to the creed or the culture of the members–especially the youthful ones–of the Institution that the advocate of the vilest and beastliest paradox ever vented in ancient or modern times amongst Pagans or Christians, should be invited for a handsome consideration, to expound and defend it? Have those members made such a prodigious progress in Philosophy, and attained to such a sublime intellectual elevation, that, in order to keep them duly humble, or simply to furnish the most striking of contrasts, they must be told that they have each and all directly sprung from apes, and that the gorilla of our day is their elder brother, though some sinister chance has doomed him as yet to a shorter thumb and lighter brain, and though hitherto the speechless and reason-lacking animal has never stepped forward to assert his relationship, his and his parents, and to claim the first and largest share in the inheritance of humanity? What conceivable good end would be gained by bringing this Professor and his ignoble hobby upon the platform of the Edinburgh Institution? We wonder greatly that he and the Directors, along with the shadow of the creature hailed by them as a brother were not entirely left to themselves in the lecture-room. On behalf of the dignity of humanity, the members ought unanimously to have deserted the Hall–if, indeed, they should not have adopted a more emphatic mode of protesting against the foul outrage committed upon them individually, and upon the whole species as "made in the likeness of God!" It seems, however, that the strange proceedings of the Directors in hiring a person to parade the monkey as the father and the brother of all men, were fully sanctioned by the members of the "Philosophical," who also applauded the lecturer, and did so with extra vigor and enthusiasm in those passages which most explicitly and bluntly asserted the original and absolute identity of man and ape. It is surprising that, at the close of the lectures, the hearers refrained from forming themselves into a "Gorilla Emancipation Society," and from concerting some prompt measures for humanizing and civilizing their unfortunate brother as a significant earnest of what they intend to do for the whole fraternity of apes. It may be easier, however, for the kindred-loving members of the "Philosophical," when aiming at one common level for them and the gorilla, to step down to his position than to bring himself up to theirs–to degrade and sink themselves to his state, than to elevate him to theirs –though, fortunately for the grand distinctions of humanity, no man, by any amount of moral and intellectual self-abnegation, can cast himself down into identity of nature or destiny with even the highest type of an irrational animal; he may, with serious sense, fall beneath the brute, but it cannot place himself beside them. Sceptical followers of science have frequently assured us that the poor negro could not at least for several ages, and unless his race intermixed with the European, be civilized or Christianized, and that all attempts to bring him, or any less remote descendant than his great-great-great-great-grandchild within the pale of a Church were hopeless; but now the science ("falsely so-called") of sceptics leads them with an outrageous inconsistency which yet is fully characteristic, to rush into the opposite extreme, and to hold that their dearly beloved monkey brother is capable of a speedy assumption of all the grand distinctions of man.

[3] It will be strange if our fellow-citizens outside the "Philosophical" do not press the pertinent question why Edinburgh and one of her leading Institutions should have been compromised by the two exhibitions of last week in Queen Street Hall. Are we next to have the author of the "Vestiges" engaged by the Directors to state and maintain, on the Institution’s platform, his theory of all terrestrial existence? This would be far fairer, and to the youth of our city less injurious, since this theory has now been many years before the public, and has fallen dead within the circle of the sciences, every one of which inflicted upon it blows both disfiguring and fatal, until its whole body, from top to toe, was one ugly gash; but Professor Huxley’s theory has as yet the recommendation of novelty; nor has there been time for its complete demolition, –at least the conclusive facts and arguments against it are comparatively unknown among our intelligent young men. Will the "Philosophical" by and by produce in the Hall some apostle of Mormonism? Even this would be a less offensive, mischievous, and inexcusable exhibition than was made in the recent two lectures by Professor Huxley. Let us not be misunderstood as denying or disliking or seeking either to curtail or hamper, the rights of free inquiry, on the part of the lecturer, or of any person who may also publish to the world, a speech or writing, the course and issue of his unfettered speculations. But we do emphatically deny that the platform of such an Institution as the Edinburgh "Philosophical" is the proper place for broaching and defending such suspicious novelties as are the pets of Professor Huxley; and we cannot but reprobate severely the conduct of the Directors in inviting, or even permitting, him to mount his hobby there. When our young men have for months–with the assurance of receiving no harm to their Biblical faith, but treat instruction and delight for their minds–been listening to admirable lectures on history, poetry, and music, unexpectedly and without warning this anti-Scriptural theory regarding the origin of man is insinuated, and to many an experienced and unarmed hearer its novelty may render it so seductive as to lead him astray from Revealed Truth. Had the Directors such and other equally sad contingencies before their eyes when they engaged the Professor to propound and advocate the brotherhood of man with monkey?

[4] We have in this paper dealt exclusively with the share which the Directors of the Institution took in the last week’s unseemly exhibition. We shall next examine these exhibitions themselves, and discuss Professor Huxley’s odious, absurd, and mischievous theory, that we have all sprung from apes.

Professor Huxley’s Theory of the Origin and Kindred of Man

The Witness

January 18, 1862

[1] Sceptics have often found fault with the Bible for what they call its systematic depreciation and vilification of human nature. The many Scripture representations of Man are, indeed, invariably dark and mortifying to his pride; and in them his moral being is seen to be corrupted in all its elements and developments, and in every part to gravitate to evil alone. Though no other book is so full as the Bible of luxuriant figures, glowing images, and bold personifications (which seem almost to give Reason to material objects, and to invest them with devotional functions in the temple of the High and Holy One), yet Man is never shown through a poetical medium, and no exaggerations, even by a single simile, is employed to exalt him in dignity or in worth. He always stands, dust upon kindred dust, the atom of a globe, with no exception even in the law of dissolution nor are his virtues elevated by the removal of one depressing sin. If in the Bible he find a warrant for Pharisaic pride, it must be in the broad declaration that he is altogether depraved–a structure of "sinful dust and ashes."

[2] Strangely enough, however, some sceptics who once disliked, while they could not disprove those humbling representations, have recently set themselves to break their idol and to inflict on man the most loathsome degradation, by assigning to him such a grotesquely low origin as was never paralleled in the monstrous absurdities of Hindu mythology. Infinite is the contrast between that wanton degradation and the well-grounded and salutary humiliation produced by Scripture narrative and doctrine. The Bible gives to fallen man a peculiarly grand origin, along with a golden morning of purity and happiness for his first day on the earth, and it also reserves for redeemed man a still more glorious destiny hereafter, and opens for him "a door in heaven." By special Divine favour he was created to be the god-like inhabitant of Eden; and, through a rare intervention of Divine compassion, he is being "created anew," to occupy higher rank, with sublime privileges and immunities, in the paradise above; and the sad and sunk interval of his history has many ennobling lights cast upon it from such a Past and such a Future. "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness," to exercise universal dominion on the earth, was the Godhead’s direct decree concerning his creation; and no secondary law either of "development" or of "selection," operating through unmeasured periods of time, was left at liberty, or commissioned, to turn the monkey race into the human. All other works of creation were formed after no model, and adjusted to no pattern; they arose according to the will, but not according to the self, or after the likeness, of the Creator. Man, however, was made in the Divine image, and by designed resemblance was the son, and not merely the creature, of God. But sceptics–even those of high scientific pretensions–are eager to forego this transcendent distinction, and to establish for themselves and their fellow-men a disgustingly low genealogy. Not more anxious and unscrupulous is some vulgar upstart in social life when trying to make out his descent from an aristocratic or well-known family, than are these sceptics to demonstrate their direct relationship to the monkey, and on their own and all human crests to displace the likeness of the Divine Parent by that of this now idolized brute! They are as wildly fanciful, as strongly bent on straining small and doubtful points into clear and weighty proofs, and as wilfully blind to the many facts that falsify their alleged discovery. They lay aside the genuine and authentic genealogy contained in God’s own book, and they bend over some unintelligible and utterly irrelevant hieroglyphics found in comparative anatomy, in order that these–interpreted in the most unscientific way–may tell them what men are, and whence they came. The monkey is at present the favourite ancestor; and museums are hunted for skeletons that may establish the claim.

Professor Huxley is strongly under the influence of the filial pride and curiosity, and has an oppressive feeling of melancholy that he and we are poor and lonely orphans in the wide universe, if apes be not our parents either according to the ordinary laws of generation, or by some mysterious method of selection. He was lately enabled by the kindness of the Directors of our Philosophical Institution, to appeal to the citizens of Edinburgh for sympathy with his sentiments and views; and in two lectures to advocate the most debasing theory that has ever been propounded before a civilized audience. We are both grieved and ashamed to learn that he met with a very considerable amount of success, if frequent applause–most liberally and emphatically given, too, when he was most explicit in arguing for the identification of man and monkey–be a fair test in this as in other cases. Surely even Mr. Buckle will now be convinced that Scotland–at least her capital –is happily rid of the "bigotry " and "intolerance" against which he lately inveighed in a ponderous volume. If these characteristics, which he treated as hereditary from time immemorial, and all but ineradicable, had not been as suddenly as by a miracle, destroyed, how could even Edinburgh have accepted the Huxley hoax, and been reconciled to the gorilla parentage? If we patronize the Professor, it will be inconsistent for us to "persecute" Mr. Buckle.

[2] In his first lecture, Professor Huxley made much of the fact that, to the eye of an anatomist, the human brain is in its first stage, the brain of a fish, next, the brain of a reptile, thirdly, the brain of a bird, fourthly, the brain of a mammal, and then the human brain proper.


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University