Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Happy birthday, Thomas Huxley. You won your debate, just not here, not yet

Posted by metaphorical on 4 May 2007

I would rather be the offspring of two apes than be a man and afraid to face the truth.
— Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895)

Today is Thomas Huxley’s birthday and I’m sure he’s been spinning in his grave from the moment last night when three hands went up in what passed for a debate among 10 Republican candidates for president.

The YouTube link is here. Even though seeing’s believing, here’s the NY Times transcript of this new low in American politics.

MR. VANDEHEI: Senator McCain, this comes from a Politico.com reader and was among the top vote-getters in our early rounds. They want a yes or no. Do you believe in evolution?


MR. VANDEHEI: I’m curious, is there anybody on the stage that does not agree — believe in evolution?

(Senator Brownback, Mr. Huckabee, Representative Tancredo raise their hands.)

SEN. MCCAIN: May I — may I just add to that?


SEN. MCCAIN: I believe in evolution. But I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also.

By the way, an interesting thing seems to have happened at the NY Times, when it comes to the three names.

As best I can reconstruct after the fact, Katharine Q. Seelye at the Times blogged the event while it was happening.

In her original version, the three weren’t named, though they’re there now. And so at 9:13 a commenter asked, “who were the idiots to raise their hands for not believing in evolution?” At 9:19 came the question, “Who are the ones that raised their hands they don’t believe in evolution? There were several.” And at 9:26 another said, “I hope the NYT or someone puts up a list of who exactly put up their hands to indicate they didn’t believe in evolution.”

The names, as I say, are in the text now, in square brackets, and appear as a note in the transcript, as above. They also appear in the Times’s main article on the debate, which got an opening-page photo, but the text begins on page 20 (it also has a different name in print and on the Web): ” ’08 Republicans Differ on Defining Party’s Future.”

Thomas Huxley, you’re remember, was Charles Darwin’s stand-in and pit-bull during the debate with Archbishop Samuel Wilberforce that, for England at least, settled the issue of evolution almost 150 years ago. (Samuel is the son of the abolitionist William Wilberforce, subject of the play Amazing Grace, currently on Broadway. Huxley was the grandfather of Aldous of Brave New World fame.) That it could still be alive today is shameful.

After reading The Origin of the Species, Huxley wrote to Darwin:

And as to the curs which will bark and yelp — you must recollect that some of your friends at any rate are endowed with an amount of combativeness which (though you have often & justly rebuked it) may stand you in good stead — I am sharpening up my claws and beak in readiness.

In their debate, Wilberforce famously “ridiculed evolution and asked Huxley whether he was descended from an ape on his grandmother’s side or his grandfather’s.” Huxley’s answer is recorded by posterity in the quote above, but, as a very nice Huxley biography notes, “Huxley’s own retelling of the tale was a little different, and quite a bit less dramatic:”

If then, said I, 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 & yet who employs these faculties & that influence for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion, I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape.

Where was Huxley on the stage last night as three simians posing as candidates raised their paws? Where was the outrage from seven other candidates as a mockery was being made of 2000 years of scientific progress? What was wrong with them that they are afraid to face the truth, afraid to face lunacy and call it what it is.

Some say the three candidates have rendered themselves ineligible to lead the nation; I say all 10 have. I can see where the phrase “presidential timber” comes from—the lot of them are all dumb as wood.

7 Responses to “Happy birthday, Thomas Huxley. You won your debate, just not here, not yet”

  1. Blue Athena said

    Huxley wasn’t running for office. In a democracy you have 2 options–to A)be as stupid as the voters you’re trying to win over, or to B) pretend to be. I suspect most of them are choosing B, but it really doesn’t make much difference in the end. If one had stood up and called anti-evolutionists unscientific idiots he would have been the stupidest…because he would never win a a Republican nomination.

  2. Maybe the republican candidates doesn’t believe in monkeys either there’s a lot of people who believe that chicken comes from KFC…

  3. Chaz Wyman said

    The reason there was no outrage was simple.
    It has been pointed out recently by R Dawkins in “The God Delusion” that religion enjoys an unaceptible level of reverence and immunity from criticism.
    It seems bizarre to me that country inspired by great atheists and thinkers is home to this idiotic superstition that life, the universe and everything was the special creation of a single intelligence. But even if you accept that a creator god exists surely you cannot be blind to the evidence and at least accept evolution as the means by which this creation was done?
    How is it possible in the 21st century that biblical literalist still exist?
    I say it is high time to knock religion of its faith perrch and call them down to answer some serious questions without favour or forebearance.

  4. Sing it, brother!

  5. ClaireDePlume said

    It’s very simple, and fodder for fools to knock something down and call it crap. But it’s another story entirely to speak of answers – definitive ones not horse shit ones – with TRUTH and without hurling insults.

    How do you speak to this I wonder?

    • Kathleen Gressett said

      It’s very simple really to find definitive answers, and another thing entirely to accept those answers especially those answers do not agree with your chosen, pre-ordained, pre-determined ones.

  6. ClaireDePlume said

    Beatrix Potter (1856-1943) spoke these words:

    All outward forms of religion are almost useless, and are the causes of endless strife. Believe there is a great power silently working all things for good, behave yourself and never mind the rest.

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