Julian Huxley

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Huxley.jpg Sir Julian with Elephant Skull

Huxley, Julian Sorrell [Sir] (22 June 1887 - 14 February 1975)

Biologist and scientific humanist, grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley, Sir Julian Huxley was the first head of UNESCO and a key founder along with Jaap van Praag and H. J. Blackham of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). In 1956, he responded to Warren Allen Smith regarding his views of humanism:

  • My views on what humanism is can be found in my presidential address to the International Humanist and Ethical Union, which was published in The Standard (journal of the American Ethical Union) of October-November 1952.

In that address, he had said,

  • As I see it the world is undoubtedly in need of a new religion, and that religion must be founded on humanist principles. When I say religion, I do not mean merely a theology involving belief in a supernatural god or gods; nor do I mean merely a system of ethics, however exalted; nor only scientific knowledge, however extensive; nor just a practical social morality, however admirable or efficient. I mean an organized system of ideas and emotions which relate man to his destiny, beyond and above the practical affairs of every day, transcending the present and the existing systems of law and social structure. The prerequisite today is that any such religion shall appeal potentially to all mankind; and that its intellectual and rational sides shall not be incompatible with scientific knowledge but on the contrary based on it.
  • We humanists would not call ourselves humanists unless we were dissatisfied with official and traditional creeds and philosophies. But, we cannot be content with a negative attitude; we must have a constructive aim. Our humanism must have the wholeness and unity of a single pattern; but it must incorporate the diversity and variety of the different spheres of reality with which we are confronted in actual existence. Our humanism must allow for different levels of perfection in various spheres of achievement which human beings can reach in the course of their development.

“I recall the story of the philosopher and the theologian,” Huxley once wrote.

  • The two were engaged in disputation and the theologian used the old quip about a philosopher resembling a blind man, in a dark room, looking for a black cat—which wasn’t there. ‘That may be,’ said the philosopher, ‘but a theologian would have found it.’ . . . Though we can answer the question, ‘What are the Gods of actual religions,’ we can only do so by dissecting them into their components and showing their divinity to be a figment of human imagination, emotion, and rationalization. . . . But if God and immortality be repudiated, what is left? That is the question usually thrown at the atheist’s head. The orthodox believer likes to think that nothing is left. That, however, is because he has only been accustomed to think in terms of his orthodoxy. In point of fact, a great deal is left.…Buddhism in its uncorrupted form has no such belief in God nor in immortality, nor did the great nineteenth-century agnostics, nor do the orthodox Russian Communists, nor did the Stoics. Or course, the unbelievers have often been guilty of selfish or wicked actions; but so have the believers. . . . My final belief is in life.

"Operationally," Huxley wrote in Religion Without Revelation (1927, "God is beginning to resemble not a ruler, but the last fading smile of a cosmic Cheshire Cat." In that book, he called himself

  • not merely agnostic . . . I disbelieve in a personal God in any sense in which that phrase is ordinarily used. . . . I disbelieve in the existence of Heaven or Hell in any conventional Christian sense.

Speaking in New York City at the New York Ethical Society in the late 1940s or early 1950s, the eminent scientist began but found that his microphone did not work. “What a wonder science is!” he expostulated (adding choice Christian curse words). When asked about the universe’s origin, Huxley replied that he saw no logical reason why the universe had to have “originated.” It is as easy to believe that there was nothing before there was something, he reasoned, than that there was something before there was nothing. He illustrated the short period of time mankind has figured in the universe’s history: The Empire State Building, he explained, could symbolize the time the world has existed; and the time mankind has existed could be symbolized by picturing a postage stamp atop that skyscraper, which then was the world’s tallest building. “Standing upright, or flat?” a Columbia University student by the name of Warren Allen Smith pealed out, followed by Huxley’s and the audience’s laughter.

Upon heading UNESCO, from 1946 to 1948, Huxley stated that what should guide the newly formed United Nations should be “a scientific Humanism, global in extent and evolutionary in background.” In 1962, he was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association. He signed Humanist Manifesto II. When Bertrand Russell was its president, Huxley was an honorary associate of the Rationalist Press Association.

Many have forgotten, however, that not only was Huxley author with J.B.S. Haldane of Animal Biology (1927) and wrote The Humanist Frame (1962) and Religion Without Revelation (1967), with its call for an evolutionary and humanist religion, but also he was secretary of the Zoological Society of London and one of the world’s leading experts on ants.


Sir Julian suggested his son as a book reviewer for The Humanist.


{CE; CL; FFRF; HM2;HNS; HNS2; RE; TYD; WAS, 26 April 1956}