British academy


The 39th British Academy Conversazione

Professor Janet Browne
Professor of History of Medicine, University College, London


Mr John Lucas
Formerly Fellow and Tutor, Merton College, Oxford

at the British Academy

6 November 2003

To read the transcripts of the first Huxley-Wilberforce debate, please go to:

According to the legend, Bishop Wilberforce ('Soapy Sam') at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Oxford on Saturday, June 30th, 1860, turned to Thomas Huxley, and asked him 'Is it on your grandfather's or your grandmother's side that you claim descent from a monkey'; whereupon Huxley delivered a devastating rebuke, thereby establishing the primacy of scientific truth over ecclesiastical obscurantism. Although the legend is historically untrue in almost every detail, its persistence suggests that it may nonetheless be true in some deeper, mythical, sense.

To explore this possibility the British Academy has invited Professor Janet Browne to be a neo-Huxley confronting Mr Lucas, as a neo-Wilberforce, with each reconsidering their earlier arguments enjoying the benefit of hindsight 143 years later.

Tea will be served at 4.45pm and the meeting will start at 5.15pm and finish at 7.45pm, when a buffet supper will be served. You are welcome to attend the meeting free of charge, and to bring guests. Graduate students are always welcome. All those attending are warmly encouraged to stay to supper afterwards, when there will be an opportunity to meet the speakers and continue discussion with other members of the company in an informal setting. (Supper, including wine, costs £11.00 per person).

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