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Thomas Huxley

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Thomas Henry Huxley, now immortalized as "Darwin's Bulldog," was one of the most vociferous and brilliant supporters of Darwinian theory durings its nascent days. While the body of work which he produced is voluminous, it is perhaps his review of the anatomy of Archaeopteryx lithographica (based on BMNH 37001), which is most noteworthy. Huxley was the progenitor of theropod origin, a hypothesis he substantiated via comparative osteology of Compsognathus longipes and the urvogel. Huxley summarized his argument thusly:

"Surely there is nothing very wild or illegitimate in the hypothesis that the phylum of the Class of Aves has its foot in the Dinosaurian reptiles--that these, passing through a series of such modifications as are exhibited in one of their phases by Compsognathus, have given rise to birds."

Huxley produced major reviews of these data in 1863, 1866 and most notably in 1868. Further crucial work on avian phylogeny by Huxley centered on "Ratitae" which he considered "waifs and strays" of a vast and acient assemblage of flightless, cursorial birds.

Huxley was also the intractable rival of Sir Richard Owen, the equally brilliant anatomist and grand master of the British Museum. Owen's opposition to Darwinian evolution naturally brought the two into headlong fights. Ultimately Huxley ended up severely humiliating Owen in several anatomical debates, none more so than his demonstration that Owen had misidentifed cranial elements of the London Archaeopteryx in his review thereof. In a similar vein, the feud between Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, remains legendary to this day.

Huxley, incidentally, was the forebear of the Huxley clan, which would distinguish itself in multiple ways over the years. And also he coined the term Agnostic.


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