Julian Huxley was the grandson of T H Huxley (staunch supporter of Charles Darwin and creator of the term “agnostic”). He continued his grandfather’s valuable work – in 1927, he joined H G Wells and his son in producing a comprehensive book called The Science of Life, which helped to spread a general understanding of evolution and to promote Biology in the school curriculum. He believed that the study of evolution could help us to understand our own nature and behaviour. He was a professor at King’s College, London, and a pioneer in the study of animal behaviour (ethology) and conservation.
His wife wrote of him: “Julian had a gift of enhancing the moment, making a memorable event of an ordinary walk. He was intensely aware of the moods and treasures of the natural world, knew mountains and their geological structures, feeling their bones under the skin of earth and trees. I loved his all-embracing recognition – knitting together the earth and the animal world, including human beings…”
In 1935 he became one of the first directors of London Zoo. In the early sixties, he wrote articles about hunted and endangered species in Africa, which contributed to the founding of the World Wildlife Fund.
Huxley was dedicated to finding the way to a better life and to the wider access of all mankind to such a life. After World War II, when the United Nations was set up, Huxley was appointed the first Director-General of UNESCO, the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Here he was able to promote world-wide education, population control and conservation of nature.
He became the first President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union in 1952, and of Humanists UK in 1963. He saw Humanism as a replacement ‘religion’, and as such represented an important strand in post-war humanist thought. In a speech given to a conference in 1965 he spoke of the need for “a religiously and socially effective system of humanism.” And in his book Religion Without Revelation, he wrote:
“What the sciences discover about the natural world and about the origins, nature and destiny of man is the truth for religion. There is no other kind of valid knowledge. This natural knowledge, organized and applied to human fulfilment, is the basis of the new and permanent religion.” The book ends with the concept of “transhumanism”– “man remaining man, but transcending himself by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature”.
In 1961 Julian Huxley brought together 25 distinguished people to present their view of existence in a book called The Humanist Frame. He wrote: “…the increase of knowledge is driving us towards the radically new type of idea-system which I have called Evolutionary Humanism…Humanism is seminal. We must learn what it means, then disseminate Humanist ideas, and finally inject them where possible into practical affairs as a guiding framework for policy and action.”