We can reveal the many problems with Huxley’s scientistic dystopia by working through it point-by-point. Huxley wants to present us with “the facts” and he does so by suggesting that good old sanitation rather than faith in God would have alleviated the plague. Although Huxley couldn’t have known this in 1866, plague is not primarily a sanitary problem; it is caused by Yersinia pestis, a gram-negative bacterium discovered in 1894 that infests fleas residing on rats. Thus the plague has a complex rat-flea-human vector relationship. Less than one hundred years after Huxley’s self-assured pronouncements on the plague, historian Charles F. Mullett pointed out that claiming the plague was a matter of sanitation and overcrowding is too simplistic, “to be unwashed and promiscuous did not in themselves cause the plague” (300). Stephen Porter’s The Great Plague goes further. He argues that cleanliness “is unlikely to have been a major factor in the absence of the plague in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries” (171). More likely is that some type of herd immunity to the Y. pestis bacteria was acquired by rats and/or people.
We can forgive Huxley for not knowing this, but can we forgive him for his adamant portrayal of scientific “facts”? Today we know his discussion of the plague is scientifically wrong. But Huxley should have been better acquainted with his history. Had he actually read Defoe instead of just citing him, he would have known that all kinds of naturalistic causes were given for the plague — comets, poor planetary alignments, earthquakes, weather, all took their respective places in the list of “causes” of this pestilential visitation. Huxley’s privileging of scientific facts is wrong; these facts are no better than the context in which they are formed. I do not doubt that prayerful contemplation — always a useful aid in adversity — would have been a better response to the plague than any of the naturalistic claims about it at the time. And Huxley’s claims notwithstanding, the plague would not have been averted much less removed with just a little more broom work.Michael Flannery, “Sunday with the Devil’s Acolyte — Thomas Henry Huxley” at Evolution News and Science Today (September 14, 2021)
What Huxley was marketing was not a correct analysis of the cause of the plague but one that promoted materialism. Today, for example, we constantly hear similar stuff like – just for example – “science is closing in on the human mind” or “apes think like people.” They can’t help it, of course, but Huxley’s career might help us understand better how it got started.
You may also wish to read: The final materialist quest: A war on the reality of the mind Going to war with the very concept is an approach even George Orwell did not think up. When George Orwell wrote 1984, he addressed destroying minds, not denying their possibility and changing the language associated with them.