The man known as ‘Darwin’s Bulldog,’ who worked tirelessly to promote and popularize the nascent field of evolutionary biology, like any conscientious scientist, had a skeptical side, and in keeping with that this post’s title derives from his having coined the word, “agnostic,” which is more or less used today in it’s original sense of a philosophical position of skepticism toward the human ability to truly know the reality or unreality of the Divine.
Often given to heated debates with eminent theologians, and the grandfather of 20th century biologist Julian Huxley, he was also the quintessential rationalist, and his insights on the nature of human self-deception were profound, for even when we are sincere to others in what we say, we may not necessarily be as sincere with ourselves, and so relate untruths that we will swear to as being true.
Such are the limits of human introspection, the fallacy of thinking it infallible, and the ease with which we unknowingly B.S. others for B.S.ing ourselves. No one’s self-honesty is perfect–We all have limits–And we all delude ourselves when wishes, biases, and our feelings come into play in influencing our reason, when this happens thus leading us astray, sometimes with tragic results…
Trust a witness in all matters in which neither his self-interest, his passions, his prejudices, nor the love of the marvelous is strongly concerned. When they are involved, require corroborative evidence in exact proportion to the contravention of probability by the thing testified.
—Thomas Henry Huxley [1825-1895]