Quotes

Quoted below (In alphabetical order by surname):

Douglas Adams | Natalie Angier | Isaac Asimov | David Attenborough | Francis Bacon | Simon Barnes | Mike Bergin | Russell Blackford | Jacob Bronowski | Joseph Campbell | Rachel Carson | Miyoko Chu | Winston Churchill | Mark Cocker | Jerry A. Coyne | Marie Curie | Charles Darwin | Richard Dawkins | Daniel Dennett | Theodosius Dobzhansky | Sylvia Earle | Albert Einstein | Ralph Waldo Emerson | Epicurus | Ted Eubanks | Richard Feynman| Benjamin Franklin | Thomas L. Friedman | Douglas J. Futuyma | Barry Goldwater | Stephen Jay Gould | J.B.S. Haldane | Stephen Hawking | David Hume | François Jacob | Thomas Jefferson | Olivia Judson | John Keating | John Maynard Keynes | Lawrence Krauss | Aldo Leopold | Thomas Martin | Ernst Mayr | Peter Medawar | Chris Mooney | Desmond Morris | Edward R. Murrow | P.Z. Myers | Bill Nye | Barack Obama | Leslie Orgel | George Orwell | Dennis Overbye | Linus Pauling | Steven Pinker | Karl Popper | David Quammen | François-Vincent Raspail | Teddy Roosevelt | Bertrand Russell | Carl Sagan | Martin Scwhartz | Eugenie Scott | Neil Shubin | Adam Smith | C.P. Snow | Jon Stewart | Brian Switek | Henry David Thoreau | Alfred Russell Wallace | Scott Weidensaul | David Wilcove | Edward O. Wilson | Ludwig Wittgenstein | Lewis Wolpert


Quotes from Scientists, Naturalists, and Freethinkers


“Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”
- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe

“So there is a kind of terrible irony that at the point that we are best able to understand and appreciate and value the richness of life around us, we are destroying it at a higher rate than it has ever been destroyed at all. And we are losing species after species after species, day after day, just because we’re burning the stuff down for firewood.”
- Douglas Adams, “Parrots, the Universe and Everything” (2001)

“If we think that the world is here for us we will continue to destroy it the way we have been destroying it, because we think we can do no harm.”
- Douglas Adams, “Parrots, the Universe and Everything” (2001)

“. . . imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.”
- Douglas Adams, Speech at Digital Biota 2 (1998) (Post)

“If you try and take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you have on your hands is a non-working cat. Life is a level of complexity that almost lies outside our vision; it is so far beyond anything we have any means of understanding that we just think of it as a different class of object, a different class of matter; ‘life’, something that had a mysterious essence about it, was God given, and that’s the only explanation we had. The bombshell comes in 1859 when Darwin publishes ‘On the Origin of Species’. It takes a long time before we really get to grips with this and begin to understand it, because not only does it seem incredible and thoroughly demeaning to us, but it’s yet another shock to our system to discover that not only are we not the centre of the Universe and we’re not made by anything, but we started out as some kind of slime and got to where we are via being a monkey. It just doesn’t read well. “
As quoted in Richard Dawkins’ eulogy for Douglas Adams

“The trouble with most forms of transport, he thought, is basically that not one of them is worth all the bother. On Earth – when there had been an Earth, before it was demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass – the problem had been with cars. The disadvantages involved in pulling lots of black sticky slime from out of the ground where it had been safely hidden out of harm’s way, turning it into tar to cover the land with smoke to fill the air with and pouring the rest into the sea, all seemed to outweigh the advantages of being able to get more quickly from one place to another – particularly when the place you arrived at had probably become, as a result of this, very similar to the place you had left, i.e. covered with tar, full of smoke and short of fish.”
- Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe


“Now is the time of the great fall migrations, and in truth the whole world seems built for birds on the wing. Thousands of species of shorebirds, songbirds, raptors and water fowl are flying in successive waves that began last July and will continue through early November, as they abandon summer breeding grounds grown cold in favor of more clement winter homes down south. For some birds, that translocation may be nothing more than a move from New Jersey to Georgia. For others, like some sandpipers and plovers, migration means flying from as far north as the Arctic circle to the tip of Argentina, roughly 10,000 miles away.”
- Natalie Angier, “Songs and Sojourns of the Season”


“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
- Isaac Asimov, column in Newsweek (21 January 1980)


“Birds were flying from continent to continent long before we were. They reached the coldest place on Earth, Antarctica, long before we did. They can survive in the hottest of deserts. Some can remain on the wing for years at a time. They can girdle the globe. Now, we have taken over the earth and the sea and the sky, but with skill and care and knowledge, we can ensure that there is still a place on Earth for birds in all their beauty and variety — if we want to… And surely, we should.”
- Sir David Attenborough, The Life of Birds

“The tiny creatures of the undergrowth were the first creatures of any kind to colonize the land. They established the foundations of the land’s ecosystem (and) were able to transcend the limitations of their small size by bonding together in huge communities of millions. If we, and the rest of the back-boned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if the invertebrates were to disappear the land’s ecosystems would collapse. Wherever we go on land, these small creatures are within a few inches of our feet – often disregarded. We would do well to remember them.”
- Sir David Attenborough, Life in the Undergrowth


“Those who have taken upon them to lay down the law of nature as a thing already searched out and understood, whether they have spoken in simple assurance or professional affectation, have therein done philosophy and the sciences great injury. For as they have been successful in inducing belief, so they have been effective in quenching and stopping inquiry; and have done more harm by spoiling and putting an end to other men’s efforts than good by their own.”
- Sir Francis Bacon, Novum Organum

“Now my method, though hard to practice, is easy to explain; and it is this. I propose to establish progressive stages of certainty. The evidence of the sense, helped and guarded by a certain process of correction, I retain. But the mental operation which follows the act of sense I for the most part reject; and instead of it I open and lay out a new and certain path for the mind to proceed in, starting directly from the simple sensuous perception.”
- Sir Francis Bacon, Novum Organum

“Human knowledge and human power meet in one; for where the cause is not known the effect cannot be produced. Nature to be commanded must be obeyed; and that which in contemplation is as the cause is in operation as the rule.”
- Sir Francis Bacon, Novum Organum


“But before the understanding comes the wonder. Comes the delight. And that is the first aim of being a bad birdwatcher: the calm delight of the utterly normal, and the rare and sudden delight of the utterly unexpected. The only real skill involved in this perfect birdwatching moment was the willingness to look. It was not skill that gave me the sight; it was habit. I have developed the habit of looking: when I see a bird I always look, wherever I am.”
- Simon Barnes, How to be a (Bad) Birdwatcher


“Migration. Isn’t that what it’s all about? We’re all, by the standard definition of the word, migrating, moving from place to place, hither and yon. Atoms migrate within molecules. Teeth migrate within mouths (though we’d rather they didn’t). But of most importance, particularly to those of us attuned to the rhythms of the natural world, are those glorious migrations of huge numbers of living creatures across the globe. And as impressive as marathon movements of humpback whales and European eels are, the migrations that really capture our collective attention are those of birds. We’re in the midst of an enormous one right now. Those of us north of the Equator are watching our boreal breeders withdraw to warmer climes while the bottom half of the world is just welcoming its austral avifauna. Migrations speak to us, not just as observers of nature but as integral parts of it. The world moves and, deep inside, we long to move with it.”
- Mike Bergin, 10,000 Birds (Post)


“There is no good reason for scientists or advocates of science to suggest that a so-called ‘transcendent world’ exists, that there are spooky beings such as gods, spirits, and the rest, or that religion in general, or any particular religion, can give us reliable information about anything of the kind. Stories of such things may well be charming, they may have cultural and aesthetic value, they may be worth preserving and studying. I don’t say that such stories are entirely without value. On the contrary, I love myth, legend, and folklore as much as anyone. Ask my friends about it if you don’t believe me. But that’s not the same as suggesting that any of these stories are actually true.”
- Russell Blackford, There is Only One World


“But nature – that is, biological evolution – has not fitted man to any specific environment. On the contrary, … he has a rather crude survival kit; and yet -this is the paradox of the human condition – one that fits him to all environments. Among the multitude of animals which scamper, fly, burrow and swim around us, man is the only one who is not locked into his environment. His imagination, his reason, his emotional subtlety and toughness, make it possible for him not to accept the environment but to change it.”
- Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man, “Lower than the Angels”

“Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known, we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgement in science stands on the edge of error, and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. In the end the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: ‘I beseech you, think it possible you may be mistaken.'”
- Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man, “Knowledge or Certainty”

“We are a scientific civilisation: that means, a civilisation in which knowledge and integrity are crucial. Science is only a Latin word for knowledge. If we do not take the next step in the ascent of man, it will be taken by people elsewhere, in Africa, in China. Should I feel that to be sad? No, not in itself. Humanity has a right to change its colour. And yet, wedded as I am to the civilisation that nurtured me, I should feel it to be infinitely sad.”
- Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man, “The Long Childhood”


“We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us — the labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”
- Joseph Campbell, Hero With a Thousand Faces

“On the surface, [holy scriptures] may appear to have been composed as conscientious history. In depth they reveal themselves to have been conceived as myths: poetic readings of the mysteries of life from a certain interested point of view. But to read a poem as a chronicle of fact is – to say the least – to miss the point. To say a little more, it is to prove oneself a dolt.”
- Joseph Campbell, Occidental Mythology: The Masks of God


“For each of us, as for the robin in Michigan or the Salmon in the Miramichi, this is a problem of ecology, of interrelationships, of interdependence. We poison the caddis flies in a stream and the salmon runs dwindle and die. We poison the gnats in a lake and the poison travels from link to link of the food chain and soon the birds of the lake margins become its victims. We spray our elms and the following springs are silent of robin song, not because we sprayed the robins directly but because the poison traveled, step by step, through the now familiar elm leaf-earthworm-robin cycle. These are matters of record, observable, part of the visible world around us. They reflect the web of life — or death — that scientists know as ecology.”
- Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

“In the sea, as on land, spring is a time for the renewal of life. During the long months of winter in the temperate zones the surface waters have been absorbing the cold. Now the heavy water begins to sink, slipping down and displacing the warmer layers below. Rich stores of minerals have been accumulating on the floor of the continental shelf — some freighted down the rivers from the lands; some derived from sea creatures that have died and whose remains have drifted down to the bottom; some from the shells that once encase a diatom, the streaming protoplasm of a radiolarian, or the transparent tissues of a pteropod. Nothing is wasted in the sea; every particle of material is used over and over again, first by one creature, then by another. And when in spring the waters are deeply stirred, the warm bottom water brings to the surface a rich supply of minerals, ready for use by new forms of life.”
- Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us (Post)


“…People who watch a banded gray catbird outside their window all summer will find it hard not to wonder exactly where it’s spending the winter, or to marvel that science still doesn’t have the answer. And if the catbird doesn’t come back, they, too, will inevitably wonder why.”
- Miyoko Chu, Songbird Journeys


“Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
- Winston Churchill, Speech in the House of Commons (1947-11-11)


“Most binoculars allow you about eight degrees of vision. It means that for the moments you hold them to your eyes, the other 352 degrees are completely excluded. Anything within the orbit of those eight degrees is magnified and enhanced, while everything else — job, relationship, money, sex — is consigned to the aura of darkness around you. That, in a nutshell is the joy , the magic, of binoculars. They convert life into something else, something almost abstract, something purer, clearer, usually more beautiful and almost always something you’d never really seen that way before. That’s what birders are hooked on — not the physical object, the complex prisms and lenses of binoculars, but their wondrous alchemical power to transform you and your state of being. When I saw those Meadow Pipits grovelling around in fields at Lightwood, or that Short-eared Owl sailing above the moors at Goldsitch Moss it was this new way of seeing, as much as the birds themselves, which transfixed me. And life could never be the same again.”
- Mark Cocker, Birders: Tales of a Tribe


“Atheist books such as The God Delusion and The End of Faith have, by exposing the dangers of faith and the lack of evidence for the God of Abraham, become best-sellers. Science nibbles at religion from the other end, relentlessly consuming divine explanations and replacing them with material ones. Evolution took a huge bite a while back, and recent work on the brain has shown no evidence for souls, spirits, or any part of our personality or behavior distinct from the lump of jelly in our head. We now know that the universe did not require a creator. Science is even studying the origin of morality. So religious claims retreat into the ever-shrinking gaps not yet filled by science. And, although to be an atheist in America is still to be an outcast, America’s fastest-growing brand of belief is non-belief.”
- Jerry A. Coyne, “Science and religion aren’t friends”


“We must not forget that when radium was discovered no one knew that it would prove useful in hospitals. The work was one of pure science. And this is a proof that scientific work must not be considered from the point of view of the direct usefulness of it. It must be done for itself, for the beauty of science, and then there is always the chance that a scientific discovery may become like the radium a benefit for humanity.”
- Marie Curie, Lecture at Vassar College (14 May 1921)

‎”Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
- Marie Curie, as quoted in Our Precarious Habitat (1973) by Melvin A. Benarde

“Humanity needs practical men, who get the most out of their work, and, without forgetting the general good, safeguard their own interests. But humanity also needs dreamers, for whom the disinterested development of an enterprise is so captivating that it becomes impossible for them to devote their care to their own material profit. Without doubt, these dreamers do not deserve wealth, because they do not desire it. Even so, a well-organized society should assure to such workers the efficient means of accomplishing their task, in a life freed from material care and freely consecrated to research.”
- Marie Curie, as quoted in Astrophysics of the Diffuse Universe


[On the Galapagos Archipelago] “Why, on these small points of land, which within a late geological period must have been covered by the ocean, which are formed by basaltic lava, and therefore differ in geological character from the American continent, and which are placed under a peculiar climate – why were their aboriginal inhabitants, associated, I may add, in different proportions both in kind and number from those on the continent, and therefore acting on each other in a different manner – why were they created on American types of organization? It is probable that the islands of the Cape de Verd group resemble, in all their physical conditions, far more closely the Galapagos Islands than these latter physically resemble the coast of America.”
- Charles Darwin, Journal of Researches

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
- Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

“Owing to this struggle for life, any variation, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding, if it be in any degree profitable to an individual of any species, in its infinitely complex relationship to other organic beings and to external nature, will tend to the preservation of that individual, and will generally be inherited by its offspring. The offspring, also, will thus have a better chance of surviving, for, of the many individuals of any species which are periodically born, but a small number can survive. I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection, in order to mark its relation to man’s power of selection.”
- Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

“In the first place it should always be borne in mind what sort of intermediate forms must, on my theory, have formerly existed. I have found it difficult, when looking at any two species, to avoid picturing to myself, forms directly intermediate between them. But this is a wholly false view; we should always look for forms intermediate between each species and a common but unknown progenitor; and the progenitor will generally have differed in some respects from all its modified descendents.”
- Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

“As my conclusions have lately been much misrepresented, and it has been stated that I attribute the modification of species exclusively to natural selection, I may be permitted to remark that in the first edition of this work, and subsequently, I placed in a most conspicuous position-namely at the close of the introduction-the following words: “I am convinced that natural selection has been the main, but not the exclusive means of modification.” This has been of no avail. Great is the power of steady misinterpretation.”
- Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, quoted by Gould and Lewontin

“We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system — with all these exalted powers — Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.”
- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man

“It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”
- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man

“It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are now present, which could ever have been present. But if (and oh! what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, &c., present, that a proteine compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were found.”
- Charles Darwin, Letter to Joseph Hooker (1871)


“All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way. A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs and springs, and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind’s eye. Natural selection, the blind, unconscious automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind’s eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker.”
- Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker

“Nearly all peoples have developed their own creation myth, and the Genesis story is just the one that happened to have been adopted by one particular tribe of Middle Eastern herders. It has no more special status than the belief of a particular West African tribe that the world was created from the excrement of ants.”
- Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker

“What is it about the idea of a god that gives it its stability and penetrance in the cultural environment? The survival value of the god meme in the meme pool results from its great psychological appeal. It provides a superficially plausible answer to deep and troubling questions about existence. It suggests that injustices in this world may be rectified in the next. The ‘everlasting arms’ hold out a cushion against our own inadequacies which, like a doctor’s placebo, is none the less effective for being imaginary. These are some of the reasons why the idea of God is copied so readily by successive generations of individual brains. God exists, if only in the form of a meme with high survival value, or infective power, in the environment provided by human culture.”
- Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

“The body of a human, an eagle, a mole, a dolphin, a cheetah, a leopard frog, a swallow: these are so beautifully put together, it seems impossible to believe that the genes that program their development don’t function as a blueprint, a design, a master plan. But no: as with the computer starlings, it is all done by individual cells obeying local rules. The beautifully ‘designed’ body emerges as a consequence of rules being locally obeyed by individual cells, with no reference to anything that could be called an overall global plan. The cells of a developing embryo wheel and dance around each other like starlings in gigantic flocks. There are differences, and they are important. Unlike starlings, cells are physically attached to each other in sheets and blocks: their ‘flocks’ are called ’tissues’. When they wheel and dance like miniature starlings, the consequence is that three-dimensional shapes are formed, as tissues invaginate in response to the movement of cells; or swell or shrink due to local patterns of growth and cell death.”
- Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth


“The methods of science aren’t foolproof, but they are indefinitely perfectible. Just as important: there is a tradition of criticism that enforces improvement whenever and wherever flaws are discovered. The methods of science, like everything else under the sun, are themselves objects of scientific scrutiny, as method becomes methodology, the analysis of methods. Methodology in turn falls under the gaze of epistemology, the investigation of investigation itself–nothing is off limits to scientific questioning. The irony is that these fruits of scientific reflection, showing us the ineliminable smudges of imperfection, are sometimes used by those who are suspicious of science as their grounds for denying it a privileged status in the truth-seeking department–as if the institutions and practices they see competing with it were no worse off in these regards. But where are the examples of religious orthodoxy being simply abandoned in the face of irresistible evidence? Again and again in science, yesterday’s heresies have become today’s new orthodoxies. No religion exhibits that pattern in its history.”
- Daniel Dennett, “Postmodernism and Truth” (1998)


“Seen in the light of evolution, biology is, perhaps, intellectually the most satisfying and inspiring science. Without that light it becomes a pile of sundry facts—some of them interesting or curious but making no meaningful picture as a whole.”
- Theodosius Dobzhansky, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (1973)

“The chief reasons why so many people are loath to admit the genetic variability of socially and culturally significant traits are two. First, human equality is stubbornly confused with identity, and diversity with inequality, as though to be entitled to an equality of opportunity, people would have to be identical twins. Human diversity is not incompatible with equality. Secondly, it is futile to look for one-to-one correspondence between cultural forms and genetic traits. Cultural forms are not determined by genes, but their emergence and maintenance are made possible by the genetically conditioned human diversity.”
- Theodosius Dobzhansky, “The Problem of Human Evolution” (1963) (Post)


“We all have to take responsibility for the direction we are going. In our schools we are focusing on numbers and letters but we need, from the earliest times, to get across the concept that we are connected to nature and that we are trying to find a space to sustain ourselves.”
- Sylvia Earle, The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One


“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?”
- Albert Einstein, unsourced


“The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best part of these men’s farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title. To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth, becomes part of his daily food.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature


“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
- Epicurus


“There is no rule or law that requires birders to be conservationists, either. There is no birding license, no mandate that birders have a basic knowledge of and sensitivity to the natural world. But doesn’t being a seeing, educated, lucid, sentient creature require that you at least acknowledge the gradual, incremental dimunition of nature, of life? How is it that some birders fail to acknowledge that which is most obvious? How can one watch yet not see? Perhaps one reason is that each new generation of birders judges the world by the normal they inherit. Gulf fallouts are now a shadow of the past, for example. If you began birding recently, though, these diminished numbers are all that you have ever known.”
- Ted Eubanks, American Birding Association blog: The New Normal


“You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird… So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing — that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.”
- Richard Feynman, “What is Science?” (1969) (Post)

“Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”
- Richard Feynman, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!

“There is one feature I notice that is generally missing in “cargo cult science”… It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty — a kind of leaning over backwards… For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid — not only what you think is right about it… Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them.”
- Richard Feynman, “Cargo Cult Science” (1974)


“The art of concluding from experience and observation consists in evaluating probabilities, in estimating if they are high or numerous enough to constitute proof. This type of calculation is more complicated and more difficult than one might think. It demands a great sagacity generally above the power of common people. The success of charlatans, sorcerors, and alchemists—and all those who abuse public credulity—is founded on errors in this type of calculation.”
- Benjamin Franklin, quoted in Bully for Brontosaurus by Stephen Jay Gould


“America is the greatest engine of innovation that has ever existed, and it can’t be duplicated anytime soon, because it is the product of a multitude of factors: extreme freedom of thought, an emphasis on independent thinking, a steady immigration of new minds, a risk-taking culture with no stigma attached to trying and failing, a noncorrupt bureaucracy, and financial markets and a venture capital system that are unrivaled at taking new ideas and turning them into global products.”
- Thomas L. Friedman, “The Secret of Our Sauce”, NY Times (March 07, 2004)


“Biological (or organic) evolution is change in the properties of populations of organisms or groups of such populations, over the course of generations. The development, or ontogeny, of an individual organism is not considered evolution: individual organisms do not evolve. The changes in populations that are considered evolutionary are those that are ‘heritable’ via the genetic material from one generation to the next. Biological evolution may be slight or substantial; it embraces everything from slight changes in the proportions of different forms of a gene within a population, such as the alleles that determine the different human blood types, to the alterations that led from the earliest organisms to dinosaurs, bees, snapdragons, and humans.”
- Douglas J. Futuyma, Evolutionary Biology (Post)


“On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in A, B, C, and D. Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of conservatism.”
- Barry Goldwater, Speech in the US Senate (16 September 1981)


“Organisms are not billiard balls, propelled by simple and measurable external forces to predictable new positions on life’s pool table. Sufficiently complex systems have greater richness. Organisms have a history that constrains their future in myriad, subtle ways.”
- Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda’s Thumb

“Evolution is a theory of organic change, but it does not imply, as many people assume, that ceaseless flux is the irreducible state of nature and that structure is but a temporary incarnation of the moment. Change is more often a rapid transition between stable states than a continuous transformation at slow and steady rates. We live in a world of structure and legitimate distinction. Species are the units of nature’s morphology.”
- Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda’s Thumb

“The theory of natural selection arose neither as a workmanlike induction from nature’s fact, nor as a mysterious bolt from Darwin’s subconscious, triggered by an accidental reading of Malthus. It emerged instead as the result of a conscious and productive search, proceeding in a ramifying but ordered manner, and utilizing both the facts of natural history and an astonishing broad range of insights from disparate disciplines far from his own.”
- Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda’s Thumb

“Well evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts don’t go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s in this century, but apples didn’t suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin’s proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered.”
- Stephen Jay Gould, “Evolution as Fact and Theory” in Discover (1981) (Post)

“The sequence [allocated in most texts] from jellyfish to trilobite to nautiloid to armored fish to dinosaur to monkey to human is no lineage at all, but a chronological set of termini on unrelated evolutionary trunks. Moreover life shows no trend to complexity in the usual sense – only an asymmetrical expansion of diversity around a starting point constrained to be simple.”
Attributed to Stephen Jay Gould, unsourced

“I believe […] that we can still have a genre of scientific books suitable for and accessible alike to professionals and interested laypeople. The concepts of science, in all their richness and ambiguity, can be presented without any compromise, without any simplification counting as distortion, in language accessible to all intelligent people. […] I hope that this book can be read with profit both in seminars for graduate students and—if the movie stinks and you forgot your sleeping pills—on the businessman’s special to Tokyo.”
- Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life

“There is no progress in evolution. The fact of evolutionary change through time doesn’t represent progress as we know it. Progress is not inevitable. Much of evolution is downward in terms of morphological complexity, rather than upward. We’re not marching toward some greater thing. The actual history of life is awfully damn curious in the light of our usual expectation that there’s some predictable drive toward a generally increasing complexity in time. If that’s so, life certainly took its time about it: five-sixths of the history of life is the story of single-celled creatures only.”
- Stephen Jay Gould, The Third Culture

“The human mind delights in finding pattern—so much so that we often mistake coincidence or forced analogy for profound meaning. No other habit of thought lies so deeply within the soul of a small creature trying to make sense of a complex world not constructed for it.”
- Stephen Jay Gould, The Flamingo’s Smile

“Science is an integral part of culture. It’s not this foreign thing, done by an arcane priesthood. It’s one of the glories of the human intellectual tradition.”
- Stephen Jay Gould, in The Independent (24 Jan 1990)


“My practise as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world. And I should be a coward if I did not state my theoretical views in public.”
- JBS Haldane, quoted in Evolution-the Fossils Say Yes!

“I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”
- JBS Haldane, Possible Worlds and Other Papers

“I believe that the biologist is the most romantic figure on earth at the present day. At first sight he seems to be just a poor little scrubby underpaid man, groping blindly amid the mazes of the ultra-microscopic, engaging in bitter and lifelong quarrels over the nephridia of flatworms, waking perhaps one morning to find that someone whose name he has never heard has demolished by a few crucial experiments the work which he had hoped would render him immortal. There is real tragedy in his life, but he knows that he has a responsibility which he dare not disclaim, and he is urged on, apart from all utilitarian considerations, by something or someone which he feels to be higher than himself.”
- J.B.S. Haldane, “Daedalus, or Science and the Future” (1923)

“Scientific education and religious education are incompatible. The clergy have ceased to interfere with education at the advanced state, with which I am directly concerned, but they have still got control of that of children. This means that the children have to learn about Adam and Noah instead of about Evolution; about David who killed Goliath, instead of Koch who killed cholera; about Christ’s ascent into heaven instead of Montgolfier’s and Wright’s. Worse than that, they are taught that it is a virtue to accept statements without adequate evidence, which leaves them a prey to quacks of every kind in later life, and makes it very difficult for them to accept the methods of thought which are successful in science.”
- J.B.S. Haldane, unsourced


“Many people would claim that the boundary conditions are not part of physics but belong to metaphysics or religion. They would claim that nature had complete freedom to start the universe off any way it wanted. That may be so, but it could also have made it evolve in a completely arbitrary and random manner. Yet all the evidence is that it evolves in a regular way according to certain laws. It would therefore seem reasonable to suppose that there are also laws governing the boundary conditions.”
- Stephen Hawking, “The Quantum State of the Universe”, Nuclear Physics (1984)

“One could say: “The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary.” The universe would be completely self-contained and not affected by anything outside itself. It would neither be created nor destroyed. It would just BE.”
- Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time


“In our reasonings concerning matter of fact, there are all imaginable degrees of assurance, from the highest certainty to the lowest species of moral evidence. A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence.”
- David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding


“It is hard to realize that the living world as we know it is just one among many possibilities; that its actual structure results from the history of the earth. Yet living organisms are historical structures: literally creations of history. They represent, not a perfect product of engineering, but a patchwork of odd sets pieced together when and where opportunities arose. For the opportunism of natural selection is not simply a matter of indifference to the structure and operation of its products. It reflects the very nature of a historical process full of contingency.”
- François Jacob, “Evolution and Tinkering” in Science magazine (1977) (Post)


“And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions…. error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it…. I deem the essential principles of our government…. Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; … freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected.”
- Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address

“A wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.”
- Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”
- Thomas Jefferson, inscribed on the Jefferson Memorial, abridged from original Letter to H. Tompkinson (AKA Samuel Kercheval) (1816)


“When I was in school, Biology was a subject that seemed as exciting as a clump of cotton wool. It was a dreary exercise in the memorization and regurgitation of apparently unconnected facts. Only later did I learn about evolution and how it transforms biology from that mass of cotton wool into a magnificent tapestry, a tapestry we can contemplate and begin to understand. Some people want to think of humans as the product of a special creation, separate from other living things. I am not among them; I am glad it is not so. I am proud to be part of the riot of nature, to know that the same forces that produced me also produced bees, giant ferns and microbes that live at the bottom of the sea. For me, the knowledge that we evolved is a source of solace and hope. I find it a relief that plagues and cancers and wasp larvae that eat caterpillars alive are the result of the impartial – and comprehensible – forces of evolution rather than the caprices of a deity. More than that, I find that in viewing ourselves as one species out of hundreds of millions, we become more remarkable, not less so. No other animal that I have heard of can live so peaceably in such close quarters with so many individuals that are unrelated. No other animal routinely bothers to help the sick and the dying, or tries to save those hurt in an earthquake or flood. Which is not to say that we are all we might wish to be. But in putting ourselves into our place in nature, in comparing ourselves with other species, we have a real hope of reaching a better understanding, and appreciation, of ourselves.”
- Olivia Judson, “Why I’m Happy I Evolved” (2006)


“They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? – – Carpe – – hear it? – – Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary. “
- John Keating, fictional character in Peter Weir’s movie Dead Poets Society

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
- John Keating, fictional character in Peter Weir’s movie Dead Poets Society


“The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is past the ocean is flat again.”
- John Maynard Keynes, A Tract on Monetary Reform


“I think that’s what makes science special. As a scientist and someone who tries, for better or worse, to extol the virtues of science in a society that doesn’t appreciate many of those virtues, I think that ultimately the good stuff wins out even if it takes a while to do it. Because the final arbiter of success isn’t people. In science, it’s experiments. It’s the ability to make it work. If it works, then people buy into it, whether they like it or not. And I really think that’s profoundly important. That, and the oft-misunderstood fact that science doesn’t prove things to be true. Science only proves things to be false. That’s all it does. But that alone is something that doesn’t happen in almost any other area of human activity. The fact that you can say, “That’s garbage, don’t talk about it any more.” The earth isn’t flat. We don’t need to have critical thinking classes to debate or discuss it. You just go around it, end of story. And the ability to throw out ideas that aren’t productive is, to me, what makes science unique and what allows for progress. You don’t have to keep wasting your time on the wrong things, because the wrong things are obvious. The right things may not be obvious, but the wrong things should be. And if I could just convince people of that, I think it would go a long way to getting people to have a perspective of science that is useful.”
- Lawrence Krauss, in an interview for SEED magazine

“A scientist can be a [religious] believer. But professionally, at least, he can’t act like one.”
- Lawrence Krauss, God and Science Don’t Mix


“A land ethic…reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in
turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land. Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal. Conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this capacity.”
- Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac


“The goal of science is to find those ideas that can withstand the long and hard barrage of evidence-based argument. That lesson must be experienced anew by the members of each generation, irrespective of their careers. Mastery of scientific concepts and theories is a necessary starting point, but it serves only as a prerequisite to joining the never-ending dialogue. Students must learn first-hand how to both imaginatively create new hypotheses and to dispassionately critique them. Many commentators have rightly implored us to make certain that young people encounter the “thrill” of discovery. While this is undeniably desirable, it is arguably even more crucial that they experience the agony (if only on a modest scale) of having a pet hypothesis demolished by facts.”
- Thomas Martin, “Scientific Literacy and the Habit of Discourse” (2007)


“[A]nyone who writes about “Darwin’s theory of evolution” in the singular, without segregating the theories of gradual evolution, common descent, speciation, and the mechanism of natural selection, will be quite unable to discuss the subject competently. Most major theories of biology were, when first proposed, such composites. Their history and their impact cannot be understood unless the various components are separated and studied independently.”
- Ernst Mayr, The Growth of Biological Thought

“Because I hate beating around the bush, I have sometimes been called dogmatic. I think this is the wrong epithet for my attitude. A dogmatic person insists on being right, regardless of opposing evidence. This has never been my attitude and, indeed, I pride myself on having changed my mind on frequent occasions. However, it is true that my tactic is to make sweeping categorical statements. Whether or not this is a fault, in the free world of the interchange of scientific ideas, is debatable. My own feeling is that it leads more quickly to the ultimate solution of scientific problems than a cautious sitting on the fence.”
- Ernst Mayr, The Growth of Biological Thought


“To be creative, scientists need libraries and laboratories and the company of other scientists; certainly a quiet and untroubled life is a help. A scientist’s work is in no way deepened or made more cogent by privation, anxiety, distress, or emotional harassment. To be sure, the private lives of scientists may be strangely and even comically mixed up, but not in ways that have any special bearing on the nature and quality of their work. If a scientist were to cut off an ear, no one would interpret such an action as evidence of an unhappy torment of creativity; nor will a scientist be excused any bizarrerie, however extravagant, on the grounds that he is a scientist, however brilliant.”
- Sir Peter Medawar, Advice to a Young Scientist

“We cannot point to a single definitive solution of any one of the problems that confront us — political, economic, social or moral, that is, having to do with the conduct of life. We are still beginners, and for that reason may hope to improve. To deride the hope of progress is the ultimate fatuity, the last word in poverty of spirit and meanness of mind. There is no need to be dismayed by the fact that we cannot yet envisage a definitive solution of our problems, a resting-place beyond which we need not try to go.”
- Sir Peter Medawar, Presidential Address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Exeter, 3 September 1969


“[The PBS Minisieries] Evolution‘s attempt to divorce Darwinian science from atheism, though well intentioned, is finally naive. Darwinism presents an explanation for life’s origins that lacks any supernatural element and emphasizes a cruel and violent process of natural selection that is tough to square with the notion of a benevolent God. Because of this, many students who study evolution will find themselves questioning the religions they have grown up with. What’s insidious is that Evolution allows fundamentalists to say this, but not evolutionists.”
- Chris Mooney, Darwin’s Sanitized Idea


“….Man can contemplate his own mortality and finds the thought intolerable. Any animal will struggle to protect itself from a threat of death. Faced with a predator, it flees, hides, fights or employs some other defensive mechanism, such as death-feigning or the emission of stinking fluids. There are many self-protection mechanisms, but they all occur as a response to an immediate danger. When man contemplates his future death, it is as if, by thinking of it, he renders it immediate. His defence is to deny it. He cannot deny that his body will die and rot—the evidence is too strong for that; so he solves the problem by the invention of an immortal soul—a soul which is more ‘him’ than even his physical body is ‘him.’ If this soul can survive in an afterlife, then he has successfully defended himself against the threatened attack on his life. This gives the agents of the gods a powerful area of support. All they need to do is to remind their followers constantly of their mortality and to convince them that the afterlife itself is under the personal management of the particular gods they are promoting. The self-protective urges of their worshippers will do the rest.”
- Desmond Morris, Manwatching: A Field Guide to Human Behaviour


“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were for the moment unpopular.”
- Edward R. Murrow, See It Now


“Science uses both inductive and deductive logic. Induction is the idea generator, the process that spins out tentative hypotheses that can be evaluated by observation, experiment, and deductive logic. Science is not infallible, and no one ever claims that it is, but it has something that religion lacks: a process of testing claims against real-world observations. To claim that science is as open to abuse as religion is ignorant nonsense. You can claim virtually anything about gods in religion, and all that matters is how many rubes you can persuade to believe it. Scientific claims are constrained by evidence. Of course individuals can abuse both religion and science. The difference is that science provides objective criteria to assess the viability of truth-claims.”
- Paul Z. Myers, on Pharyngula (2009)

“I believe in time,
matter, and energy,
which make up the whole of the world.

“I believe in reason, evidence and the human mind,
the only tools we have;
they are the product of natural forces
in a majestic but impersonal universe,
grander and richer than we can imagine,
a source of endless opportunities for discovery.

“I believe in the power of doubt;
I do not seek out reassurances,
but embrace the question,
and strive to challenge my own beliefs.

“I accept human mortality.

“We have but one life,
brief and full of struggle,
leavened with love and community,
learning and exploration,
beauty and the creation of
new life, new art, and new ideas.

“I rejoice in this life that I have,
and in the grandeur of a world that preceded me,
and an earth that will abide without me.”
- Paul Z. Myers, on Pharyngula (2008)


“It’s horrible. Science is the key to our future, and if you don’t believe in science, then you’re holding everybody back. And it’s fine if you as an adult want to run around pretending or claiming that you don’t believe in evolution, but if we educate a generation of people who don’t believe in science, that’s a recipe for disaster. We talk about the Internet. That comes from science. Weather forecasting. That comes from science. The main idea in all of biology is evolution. To not teach it to our young people is wrong.”
- Bill Nye, interviewed in Popular Mechanics


“At such a difficult moment, there are those who say we cannot afford to invest in science. That support for research is somehow a luxury at a moment defined by necessities. I fundamentally disagree. Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been. And if there was ever a day that reminded us of our shared stake in science and research, it’s today.”
- Barack Obama, speech to the National Academies of Science (2009) (Post)


“Evolution is cleverer than you are.”
- Leslie Orgel, Orgel’s Second Rule


“The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”
- George Orwell, “In Front of Your Nose”, Tribune (22 March 1946)


“We don’t know, and might never know, if science has overbid its hand. When in doubt, confronted with the complexities of the world, scientists have no choice but to play their cards as if they can win, as if the universe is indeed comprehensible. That is what they have been doing for more than 2,000 years, and they are still winning.”
- Dennis Overbye, “Laws of Nature, Source Unknown” (2007)

“[The scientific] endeavor, which has transformed the world in the last few centuries, does indeed teach values. Those values, among others, are honesty, doubt, respect for evidence, openness, accountability and tolerance and indeed hunger for opposing points of view. These are the unabashedly pragmatic working principles that guide the buzzing, testing, poking, probing, argumentative, gossiping, gadgety, joking, dreaming and tendentious cloud of activity — the writer and biologist Lewis Thomas once likened it to an anthill — that is slowly and thoroughly penetrating every nook and cranny of the world.”
- Dennis Overbye, “Elevating Science, Elevating Democracy (2009)


“Science cannot be stopped. Man will gather knowledge no matter what the consequences — and we cannot predict what they will be. Science will go on — whether we are pessimistic, or are optimistic, as I am. I know that great, interesting, and valuable discoveries can be made and will be made… But I know also that still more interesting discoveries will be made that I have not the imagination to describe — and I am awaiting them, full of curiosity and enthusiasm.”
- Linus Pauling, Lecture at Yale University, “Chemical Achievement and Hope for the Future.” (October 1947) Published in Science in Progress. Sixth Series. Ed. George A. Baitsell. 100-21, (1949)

“When an old and distinguished person speaks to you, listen to him carefully and with respect — but do not believe him. Never put your trust into anything but your own intellect. Your elder, no matter whether he has gray hair or has lost his hair, no matter whether he is a Nobel laureate — may be wrong. The world progresses, year by year, century by century, as the members of the younger generation find out what was wrong among the things that their elders said. So you must always be skeptical — always think for yourself.”
- Linus Pauling, Scientist and Peacemaker (2001) by Clifford Mead and Thomas Hager


“The costs of an ignorance of science are not just practical ones like misbegotten policies, forgone cures and a unilateral disarmament in national competitiveness. There is a moral cost as well. It is an astonishing fact about our species that we understand so much about the history of the universe, the forces that make it tick, the stuff it’s made of, the origin of living things and the machinery of life. A failure to nurture this knowledge shows a philistine indifference to the magnificent achievements humanity is capable of, like allowing a great work of art to molder in a warehouse.”
- Steven Pinker, “The Known World” (2007)


“When I speak of reason or rationalism, all I mean is the conviction that we can learn through criticism of our mistakes and errors, especially through criticism by others, and eventually also through self-criticism. A rationalist is simply someone for whom it is more important to learn than to be proved right; someone who is willing to learn from others — not by simply taking over another’s opinions, but by gladly allowing others to criticize his ideas and by gladly criticizing the ideas of others. The emphasis here is on the idea of criticism or, to be more precise, critical discussion. The genuine rationalist does not think that he or anyone else is in possession of the truth; nor does he think that mere criticism as such helps us achieve new ideas. But he does think that, in the sphere of ideas, only critical discussion can help us sort the wheat from the chaff. He is well aware that acceptance or rejection of an idea is never a purely rational matter; but he thinks that only critical discussion can give us the maturity to see an idea from more and more sides and to make a correct judgement of it.”
- Sir Karl Popper, All Life is Problem Solving

“Science must begin with myths, and with the criticism of myths.”
- Sir Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge

“True ignorance is not the absence of knowledge, but the refusal to acquire it.”
As quoted by Mark Damazer in “In Our Time’s Greatest Philosopher Vote” at In Our Time (BBC 4)

“When I speak of reason or rationalism, all I mean is the conviction that we can learn through criticism of our mistakes and errors, especially through criticism by others, and eventually also through self-criticism. A rationalist is simply someone for whom it is more important to learn than to be proved right; someone who is willing to learn from others — not by simply taking over another’s opinions, but by gladly allowing others to criticize his ideas and by gladly criticizing the ideas of others. The emphasis here is on the idea of criticism or, to be more precise, critical discussion. The genuine rationalist does not think that he or anyone else is in possession of the truth; nor does he think that mere criticism as such helps us achieve new ideas. But he does think that, in the sphere of ideas, only critical discussion can help us sort the wheat from the chaff. He is well aware that acceptance or rejection of an idea is never a purely rational matter; but he thinks that only critical discussion can give us the maturity to see an idea from more and more sides and to make a correct judgement of it.”
“On Freedom” in All Life is Problem Solving (1999)


“The colleagues and successors of Darwin and Wallace have now been at it for more than a century and a quarter, and throughout most of that effort biogeography has been their paramount tool. The patterns of species distribution have provided clues about the ways in which species originate, change, and diverge, and the question how? has remained inseparable from the question where?
- David Quammen, The Song of the Dodo (Post)

“It’s not my voice, it’s probably not yours, but it makes itself heard in the arenas of public opinion, querulous and smug and fortified by just a little knowledge, which is always a dangerous thing. So what if a bunch of species go extinct? it says. Extinction is a natural process. Darwin himself said so, didn’t he? Extinction is the complement of evolution, making room for new species to evolve. There have always been extinctions. So why worry about these extinctions currently being caused by humanity? And there has always been a pilot light burning in your furnace. So why worry when your house is on fire?”
- David Quammen, The Song of the Dodo (Post)


“Give me an organic vesicle endowed with life and I will give you the whole of the organized world.”
- François-Vincent Raspail, Nouveau système de chimie organique


“To waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed.”
- Theodore Roosevelt, State of the Union speech, 3 December 1907

“At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress. In our day it appears as the struggle of freemen to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will. At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth.”
- Theodore Roosevelt, Osawatomie Kansas – 1910


“Even if the open windows of science at first make us shiver after the cozy indoor warmth of traditional humanizing myths, in the end the fresh air brings vigor, and the great spaces have a splendor of their own.”
- Bertrand Russell, What I Believe

“I do not pretend to be able to prove that there is no God. I equally cannot prove that Satan is a fiction. The Christian god may exist; so may the gods of Olympus, or of ancient Egypt, or of Babylon. But no one of these hypotheses is more probable than any other: they lie outside the region of even probable knowledge, and therefore there is no reason to consider any of them.”
- Bertrand Russell, The Quotable Bertrand Russell

“If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”
- Bertrand Russell, “Is There a God?” (1952)

“I do not believe that a decay of dogmatic belief can do anything but good. i admit at once that the new systems of dogma, such as those of the Nazis and the Communists, are even worse than the old systems, but they could nver have acquired a hold over men’s minds if orthodox dogmatic habits had not been instilled in youth… What the world needs is not dogma, but an attitude of scientific inquiry…”
-Bertrand Russell, Human Society in Ethics and Politics (1954)


“Education on the value of free speech and the other freedoms reserved by the Bill of Rights, about what happens when you don’t have them, and about how to exercise and protect them, should be an essential prerequisite for being an American citizen — or indeed a citizen of any nation, the more so to the degree that such rights remain unprotected. If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.”
- Carl Sagan, Demon-Haunted World

“We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”
- Carl Sagan, Demon-Haunted World

“The major religions on the Earth contradict each other left and right. You can’t all be correct. And what if all of you are wrong? It’s a possibility, you know. You must care about the truth, right? Well, the way to winnow through all the differing contentions is to be skeptical. I’m not any more skeptical about your religious beliefs than I am about every new scientific idea I hear about. But in my line of work, they’re called hypotheses, not inspiration and not revelation.”
- Carl Sagan, Contact

“The significance of our lives and our fragile planet is then determined by our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life’s meaning.”
- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

“It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works — that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.”
- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

“Ann Druyan suggests and experiment: Look back again at the pale blue dot of the preceding chapter. Take a good long look at it. Stare at the dot for any length of time and try to convince yourself that God created the whole Universe for one of the 10 million or so species of life that inhabit that speck of dust. Now take it a step further: Imagine that everything was made just for a single shade of that species, or gender, or ethnic or religious subdivision. If this doesn’t strike you as unlikely, pick another dot. Imagine it to be inhabited by a different form of intelligent life. They, too, cherish the notion of a God who has created everything for their benefit. How seriously do you take their claim?”
- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

“It almost never feels like prejudice. Instead, it seems fitting and just – the idea that, because of an accident of birth, our group (whichever it is) should have a central position in the social universe. Among Pharaonic princelings and Plantagenet pretenders, children of robber barons and Central Committee bureaucrats, street gangs and conquerors of nations, members of confident majorities, obscure sects, and reviled minorities, this self-serving attitude seems as natural as breathing. It draws sustenance from the same psychic wellsprings as sexism, racism, nationalism, and the other deadly chauvinisms that plague our species. Uncommon strength of character is needed to resist the blandishments of those who assure us that we have an obvious, even God-given, superiority over our fellows. The more precarious our self-esteem, the greater our vulnerability to such appeals.”
- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

“The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”
- Carl Sagan, unsourced

“The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true. We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth — never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities. Cleverly designed experiments are the key.”
- Carl Sagan, Wonder and Skepticism


“Focusing on important questions puts us in the awkward position of being ignorant. One of the beautiful things about science is that it allows us to bumble along, getting it wrong time after time, and feel perfectly fine as long as we learn something each time. No doubt, this can be difficult for students who are accustomed to getting the answers right. No doubt, reasonable levels of confidence and emotional resilience help, but I think scientific education might do more to ease what is a very big transition: from learning what other people once discovered to making your own discoveries. The more comfortable we become with being stupid, the deeper we will wade into the unknown and the more likely we are to make big discoveries.”
- Martin Schwartz, “The Importance of Stupidity in Scientific Research” (2008) (Post)


“After the Scopes trial, antievolutionists in general were portrayed as foolish, unthinking, religious zealots. [...] accounts written in the 1930s and afterward also reinforced the view that antievolutionism was a campaign of backward (or at least premodern), uneducated, religious fanatics.”
- Eugenie C. Scott, Evolution vs. Creationism


“This Biological ‘law of everything’ is that every living thing on the planet had parents. Every person you’ve ever known has biological parents, as does every bird, salamander, or shark you have ever seen. Technology may change this, thanks to cloning or some yet-to-be-invented method, but so far the law holds. To put it in a more precise form: every living thing sprang from some parental genetic information.”
- Neil Shubin, Your Inner Fish


“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations: An Inquiry into the Nature & Causes of the Wealth of Nations

“The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. A tax upon house-rents, therefore, would in general fall heaviest upon the rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be anything very unreasonable. It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.”
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations: An Inquiry into the Nature & Causes of the Wealth of Nations


“A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?”
- Charles Percy Snow, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution


“If the debate is ‘I don’t like your programs,’ or, ‘I don’t like the philosophy of the judges that you have the right to appoint,’ that’s a very different conversation than, ‘You are becoming a tyrant and subverting the constitution,’ because that’s a very emotional, loaded statement that’s not seemingly backed up by a tremendous amount of, I guess you’d call them, ‘facts.'”
- Jon Stewart, The Daily Show – April 28, 2010


“Fossils do not speak for themselves, however, and the history of science fleshes out the context in which new discoveries have been made and interpreted. The standard story that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection was so brilliant that everyone but religious zealots agreed with him is only a caricature of the truth. Darwin’s 1859 book proposed more questions than it provided answers, and the scientific endeavor to answer some of those questions has been affected just as much by contingency and chance as the history of life. The places paleontologists looked for fossils and how these fossils have been interpreted have been influenced by politics and culture, reminding us that science is a human endeavor.”
- Brian Switek, Written in Stone

“I can only wonder how we would perceive ourselves if the Neaderthals or robust australopithecines survived today. Would they help us better understand our origins, or would we destroy them out of revulsion? Perhaps it is best that we will never know. We may want to identify the epitome of “humanness,” to find comfort in some unassailable characteristic that makes us superior (be it in the eyes of God or our own), but there is no bright line dividing us from the apes. Since we are apes ourselves, I do not expect one to be found. For to ask “What makes us human?” assumes that there was some glorious moment, hidden in the past, in which we transcended some boundary and left the ape part of ourselves behind. We forget that those are labels we have created to help organize and understand nature, as if sometime in the Pleistocene there was a glorious moment when language, art, and culture swept into the world and gave us dominion over it.”
- Brian Switek, Written in Stone


“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, Your work need not be lost; That is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
- Henry David Thoreau, Walden

“It is not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support.”
- Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

“If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen. As if a town had no interest in its forests but to cut them down!”
- Henry David Thoreau, Life Without Principle


“Every species has come into existence coincident both in space and time with a pre-existing closely allied species.”
- Alfred Russell Wallace“On the Law Which Has Regulated the Introduction of New Species” (1855)


“Migratory birds bind up the corners of this increasingly fragmented globe – uniting the poles and the tropics, forests and deserts, wilderness and cities. A planet that sustains them will sustain us; their fate is our fate”
- Scott Weidensaul, Living on the Wind

“That such delicate creatures undertake these epic journeys defies belief. Only recently have scientists discovered that some shorebirds apparently fly nonstop from the southern tip of South America to the coast of New Jersey, a journey of ten days — 240 hours of uninterrupted flight. Even more remarkable are the four-ounce Arctic terns that leave the northern fringe of the continent each autumn, flying east across the Atlantic to Europe. They push south along the bulge of Africa, recross the Atlantic to the edge of South America, and spend the winter months moving east off Antarctica. In spring they reverse course, moving up southern Africa and lancing back to Canada — a figure eight inscribed on half the globe, a track that returns them, often as not, to precisely the same sheltered nook where they nested the summer before.”
- Scott Weidensaul, Living on the Wind (Post)

“What I cannot see, no matter how closely I look, is what drives this small creature, barely heavier than air, to make the journeys that it must make. What thousands of miles have passed beneath its stubby wings, which seem so ill suited to the task but which have carried it back here again. It knows, and I do not.”
- Scott Weidensaul, Living on the Wind

“Here, in a nutshell, are the twin polarities of modern birding. At one extreme you have birds as a source of inspiration and awe, as objects of curiosity, whether intensely scientific or at the layman’s more general level. At the other extreme, you have birds as tick marks on a list, as inventory, treasures in a scavenger hunt that may encompass one’s backyard or the planet, a single day or a lifetime.”
- Scott Weidensaul, Of a Feather (Post)

“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.”
- Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass


“The means by which migratory animals navigate from place to place are as diverse as the journeys themselves. Some species follow an invisible road map created by the earth’s magnetic field, which they perceive through tiny magnets in their bodies. Others rely on landmarks such as mountain ranges and coastlines, the alignment of the stars in the night sky, or olfactory cues to determine where they’re going. Some even have a principle guidance mechanism and one of more backup systems – redundancy analogous to the backup systems on commercial jets.”
- David S. Wilcove, No Way Home (Post)


“If history and science have taught us anything, it is that passion and desire are not the same as truth. The human mind evolved to believe in the gods. It did not evolve to believe in biology. Acceptance of the supernatural conveyed a great advantage throughout prehistory, when the brain was evolving. Thus it is in sharp contrast to biology, which was developed as a product of the modern age and is not underwritten by genetic algorithms. The uncomfortable truth is that the two beliefs are not factually compatible. As a result those who hunger for both intellectual and religious truth will never acquire both in full measure.”
- Edward O. Wilson, Concilience: The Unity of Knowledge

“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.”
- Edward O. Wilson, Consilience

“Few will doubt that humankind has created a planet-sized problem for itself. No one wished it so, but we are the first species to become a geophysical force, altering Earth’s climate, a role previously reserved for tectonics, sun flares, and glacial cycles. We are also the greatest destroyer of life since the ten-kilometer-wide meteorite that landed near Yucatan and ended the Age of Reptiles sixty-five million years ago. Through overpopulation we have put ourselves in danger of running out of food and water. So a very Faustian choice is upon us: whether to accept our corrosive and risky behavior as the unavoidable price of population and economic growth, or to take stock of ourselves and search for a new environmental ethic.”
- Edward O. Wilson, Consilience (p.277) (Post)

“I have argued in this book that we are human in good part because of the particular way we affiliate with other organisms. They are the matrix in which the human mind originated and is permanently rooted, and they offer the challenge and freedom innately sought. To the extent that each person can feel like a naturalist, the old excitement of the untrammeled world will be regained. I offer this as a formula of reenchantment to invigorate poetry and myth: mysterious and little known organisms live within walking distance of where you sit.”
- Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia

“The one process now going on that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us.”
- Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia


“Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in just the way in which our visual field has no limits.”
- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus


“It is not birth, marriage, or death, but gastrulation which is truly the most important time in your life.”
- Lewis Wolpert, The Triumph of the Embryo

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