Thursday, February 01, 2007

Of apes and men

I was reminded the other day of an exchange between the erstwhile Bishop of Winchester, Samuel Wilberforce, and Charles Darwin's friend, Thomas Huxley.
On Saturday, June 30th, 1860, six months after the publication of the Origin of Species, evolution was the topic of a meeting of the British Association. Seven hundred people showed up. An American, Dr. Draper, was to speak on the "Intellectual Development of Europe Considered with Reference to the Views of Mr. Darwin." He spoke for an hour, and then other speakers took off on the theme. A number of churchmen were on the platform, among them Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.
Wilberforce rose to speak. The great anatomist, Sir Richard Owen, had coached him. However, Wilberforce was not deeply grounded in the sciences. He castigated the theory with good humour and made it appear absurd. The crowd loved it. The agnostic Thomas Huxley had been coaxed into attending the meeting. Wilberforce, carried away with words, turned to Huxley with a mocking question. Was it through his grandfather or grandmother that he claimed descent from a monkey?
The audience called on Huxley. He rose with defiance. Explaining Darwin's key ideas, he exposed what he claimed was Wilberforce's ignorance and error. He would not be ashamed of a monkey in his ancestry, he said. He would be ashamed to be "connected with a man who used great gifts to obscure the truth."


Blogger kinglear said...

That'll be NuLabour then?

10:33 pm  

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