The date is June 30, 1860. The place is the Oxford University Museum. Inside, hundreds of onlookers gather around a heated debate. The topic? Evolution versus creationism.
The Huxley-Wilberforce debate – also known as the “1860 Oxford evolution debate” – was a series of lectures about the scientific evidence for evolution and whether it could coexist with a literal interpretation of the Bible.
The debate was dominated by its two individuals: Thomas Huxley (pictured at left) and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce. Huxley, nicknamed “Darwin’s Bulldog,” was a biologist and an avid defender of Darwin’s 1859 Origin of Species. Wilberforce, also called “Soapy Sam” for his “greasy” demeanor, was the Bishop of Oxford and a proponent of biblical literalism.
The discussion is remembered both as the first public rebuff to creationism and second for a particularly memorable moment in which Huxley criticized Wilberforce by choosing to be an ape’s descendant over that of an intellectually dishonest man.
Darwin himself was too sick to attend. In his absence, the fierce debate raged on.