Looking Back at “Wherever It Leads”

I was looking for a quote from Thomas Huxley, and having found it, found out that part of the context has become a favorite among “intelligent design” creationism advocates. What I was looking for I’ve italicized, and what the IDC advocates like to use I’ve put in bold.

It was badly received by the generation to which it was first addressed, and the outpouring of angry nonsense to which it gave rise is sad to think upon. But the present generation will probably behave just as badly if another Darwin should arise, and inflict upon them that which the generality of mankind most hate—the necessity of revising their convictions. Let them, then, be charitable to us ancients; and if they behave no better than the men of my day to some new benefactor, let them recollect that, after all, our wrath did not come to much, and vented itself chiefly in the bad language of sanctimonious scolds. Let them as speedily perform a strategic right-about-face, and follow the truth wherever it leads.

— Thomas Henry Huxley

‘On the Reception of the Origin of Species’. In F. Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Including an Autobiographical Chapter (1888), Vol. 2, 204.

It is pretty ironic that the folks continuing the tradition of spewing “angry nonsense” nonetheless enthusiastically use phrasing from later in the same quote.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

6 thoughts on “Looking Back at “Wherever It Leads”

  • 2010/10/06 at 10:32 am

    Except that Huxley, and they, are probably echoing it from earlier sources, especially Plato’s Socrates, e.g., The Republic 394d: “we must follow the argument wherever, like a wind, it may lead us.”

  • 2010/10/07 at 6:07 am

    That seems reasonable. Informed IDC advocates, though, might take Huxley’s usage into account for the associations the phrase has acquired over time.

  • 2010/11/14 at 9:17 pm

    “…follow the truth wherever it leads” is often used by ID and creationists quite happily I might add. One cannot say that about the establishment crowd of the modern era. Mandelbrot is an example, he was part of the establishment, he was told by the consensus that geometry was out dated, only useful for school children. Mandelbrot disagreed saying, “clouds are not spheres and mountains are not cones.” The establishment was angry at him for that response and his continued work on it, how dare he think otherwise, he didn’t want to be a maverick but he had no choice, they isolated him for decades.

    Staring in 1982, and ever since then, fractal geometry discovered by Mandelbrot has been used in numerous areas of science like biology, medicine, chemistry, physics, earth science, cosmology, computer science, astronomy, many of the engineering disciplines, and of course, mathematics.

    You say by pharasing, “It is pretty ironic that the folks continuing the tradition of spewing “angry nonsense” nonetheless enthusiastically…”

    What is really pretty ironic, the “Thomas Huxley” crowd conduct themselves as those who they accuse of doing wrong and then turn around and do it themselves, enthusiastically and religiously because they believe they are in the right. This means if the likes of Mandelbrot bowed to the establishment’s beliefs, we wouldn’t have fractal geometry! How sad, the “Thomas Huxley” crowd is with their bad behavior.

  • 2010/11/17 at 9:41 pm


    Eh? You seem to have regurgitated word salad there.

    Arguments have a structure. Take a course in logic, pass it, and get back to us then.

  • 2010/12/01 at 7:59 pm

    I know it was 6 years ago but in Meyere’s hopeless Monster you wrote:

    proteins can lose 80% or more of their sequence similarity and retain the same structure and function

    Just using simple logic it is easy to demonstrate that this isn’t true. For a protein with 150 amino acids, that means there are 10^195 sequences. What’s 80% of 10^195? 8 * 10^194. This would mean that of all the proteins in existence the first 193 amino acids would have to be completely irrelevant and only the final one or two would have any meaning. That certainly can’t be true because then the proteins wouldn’t fold correctly.

  • 2010/12/01 at 11:31 pm

    Uh, Bob, that originally came with protein sequences showing exactly that point. The BLAST interface changed since then, but the point remains that the 80% claim was grounded in hard, empirical fact.

    20% sequence similarity for a 150 amino acid protein means 30 of the amino acids are shared between the two variants being compared. If you are looking for a fraction of 150 via “simple logic” and get the answer “193”, it should raise some flags. I don’t recall how long the protein example Nick found was, but I’m betting it was a good deal longer.

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