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Professor Huxley’s Lectures
by [?]

Biologist like Professor Huxley have, as popular lecturers, the advantage over scientific men in other fields, of occupying themselves with what is to ninety-nine men and women out of a hundred the most momentous of all problems–the manner in which life on this globe began, and in which men and other animals came to be what they are. The doctrine of evolution as a solution of these problems, or of one of them, derives additional interest from the fact that in many minds it runs counter to ideas which a very large proportion of the population above the age of thirty imbibed with the earliest and most impressive portion of their education. Down to 1850 the bulk of intelligent men and women believed that the world, and all that is therein, originated in the precise manner described in the first chapter of Genesis, and about six thousand years ago. Most of the adaptations, or attempts at adaptation, of what is called the Mosaic account of the creation, of the chronological theories of the geologists and evolutionists by theologians and Biblical scholars have been made within that period, and it may be safely said that it is only within ten or fifteen years that any clear knowledge of the “conflict between science and religion” has reached that portion of the people who take a lively or, indeed, any interest, in religious matters. It would not, in fact, be rash to say that little or nothing is known about this conflict to this hour among the great body of Methodists or Catholics, or the evangelical portion of other denominations, and that their religious outlook is little, if at all, affected by it. One would never detect, for instance, in Mr. Moody’s preaching, any indication that he had ever heard of any such conflict, or that the doctrines of the orthodox Protestant Church had undergone any sensible modification within a hundred years. Professor Huxley and men like him, therefore, make their appearance now not simply as manipulators of a most interesting subject, but as disturbers of beliefs which are widely spread, deeply rooted, and surrounded by the tenderest and most sacred associations of human existence.

That under such circumstances he has met with so little opposition is, on the whole, rather surprising. As far as our observation has gone, no strong hostility whatever to himself or his teachings has been shown, except in one or two instances, by either the clergy or the religious press. Indeed, ministers formed a very prominent and attentive portion of his audience at the recent lectures at Chickering Hall. But it has been made very apparent by the articles and letters which these lectures have called out in the newspapers that the religious public has hardly understood him. The collision between the theologians and the scientific men has been very slight among us; and, indeed, the waves of the controversy hardly reached this country until the storm had passed away in Europe, so that it is difficult for Americans to appreciate the combative tone of Mr. Huxley’s oratory. Of this difficulty the effect of his substitution of Milton for Moses as the historian of the creation, on the night of his first lecture, has furnished an amusing illustration. The audience, or at least that portion of it which was gifted with any sense of humor, saw the joke and laughed over it heartily. It was simply a telling rhetorical device, intended to point a sarcasm directed against the biblical commentators who have been trying to extract the doctrines of evolution from the first chapter of Genesis. But many of the newspapers all over the country took it up seriously, and the professor must, if he saw them, have enjoyed mightily the various letters and articles which have endeavored in solemn earnest to show that Milton was not justly entitled to the rank of a scientific expositor, and that it was a cowardly thing in the lecturer to attack Moses over Milton’s shoulders. Whenever Professor Huxley enters on the defence of his science, as distinguished from the exposition of it, there are traces in his language of the gaudium certaminis which has found expression in so many hard-fought fields in his own country, and which has made him perhaps the most formidable antagonist, in so far as dialectics go, that the transcendental philosophers have ever encountered. He is, par excellence, a fighting man, but certainly his pugnacity diminishes neither his worth nor his capacity.