Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Was Thomas Henry Huxley the first science journalist?


Science historian Michael Flannery discusses how Darwin’s man Huxley (1825–1895) helped set people up for a “science” worldview via popular public lectures:

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.

The entire subjective part of reality is denied, or at least doubted. That is now the norm. Including with intelligent design theorists, the subjective part of reality is denied. They mostly assert God as scientific fact based on evidence, not as their personal subjective belief. It's a total catastrophy. mohammadnursyamsu
All the “hygiene and sanitation” in the world doesn’t save you.
No, it prevents it.
There are estimated to be roughly one rat for every human, especially in big cities, and guess where they mostly live. In the miles of sewers that “hygiene and proper sanitation” has provided!
Better down there than up here. The sewers move human effluent away from humans, so also move rats away from humans. Bob O'H
Way off target again, Seversky. You never tire of being wrong. It is spread by fleas living on rats. “Sanitation” meaning flush toilets and clean water have no effect on the spread. As to mitigating impact - from bite to burial is 6 to 7 days. All the “hygiene and sanitation” in the world doesn’t save you. The only hope is powerful antibiotics. There are estimated to be roughly one rat for every human, especially in big cities, and guess where they mostly live. In the miles of sewers that “hygiene and proper sanitation” has provided! Huxley wasn’t stupid, he was wrong- that’s all. I’m surprised you did come out with Play #5 - “that’s the way science progresses, by hypotheses …” You should stick to that one - at least it’s mostly true. Belfast
I would say Huxley was right. Proper hygiene and sanitation would not have stopped the plague but it would have greatly mitigated its impact and Europe would not have lost around a third of its population. If any support is required for what should be an obvious case then we have only to look to the work of Florence Nightingale and her nurses caring for British soldiers in the Crimea from 1855 and, more specifically, the work of the Sanitary Commission sent by the British government to improve the conditions in the hospitals there.
Florence is most widely known for her role during the Crimean War between Great Britain and Russia. She was sent to the Barrack Hospital at Scutari, Turkey, where she cared for thousands of sick and wounded British troops. She had 38 nurses to help care for soldiers with wide-ranging maladies, such as frostbite, gangrene, dysentery and cholera. During her first winter, 4,077 soldiers died; ten times more soldiers died from disease than from battle wounds. In 1855, a sanitary commission was sent to Scutari. They flushed out sewers, cleaned out overflowing latrines and cesspits, and removed a dead horse that was contaminating the drinking water. With such changes, the mortality rate dropped from 42.7 percent to 2.2 percent over a few months. (My emphasis)

Leave a Reply