The Victorian era in the UK was a time of incredible intellectual activity. A lot of longstanding assumptions were being overturned by scientific advances, from the age of the Earth to the kinship of all living things. Defenders of religious orthodoxy decried what they saw as unacceptable contradictions to scripture.

Many Anglicans in the 19th century believed their church was becoming too secular. A movement called Tractarianism aiming to restore traditional elements of ritual and identity created a split in the denomination that is still evident today.

But it’s important to recognize that other religious leaders were advocates of science even when it challenged church doctrine. One of these was the Reverend Charles Kingsley. I’m about to share a letter he received from Huxley. It’s a letter that has meant a lot to me over the years.

Before I get to the letter, I want to spend a minute on Kingsley to put it in context. It’s easy to get him wrong in this story. I want you to know he was one of the good guys.

Kingsley was a chaplain to Queen Victoria and a Cambridge historian who endorsed Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. “All I have seen of it awes me,” he wrote to Darwin after viewing an advance copy of On the Origin of Species. “If you be right, I must give up much that I have believed & written.” It was his support of Darwin that brought him into contact with Huxley, who was to become the most famous public advocate of Darwin’s theory.

In September of 1860, the Huxley family suffered the death of their three-year-old son Noel—“our delight and our joy,” as Huxley wrote in his diary—from scarlet fever. “Thursday he and I had a great romp together. On Friday his restless head, with its bright blue eyes and tangled golden hair, tossed all day upon his pillow. On Saturday night the fifteenth, I carried him here into my study, and laid his cold still body here where I write.” As you’ll hear shortly, Kingsley wrote to console Huxley. Huxley’s reply to his friend is one of the great personal testaments to scientific integrity and the quest for knowledge, even when the implications of knowledge are difficult or painful.

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Dale McGowan is chief content officer of OnlySky, author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies, and founder of Foundation Beyond Belief (now GO Humanity). He holds a...