Quintessential Quotations

Science And Knowledge


Evolution and Faith

If single acts (of creation) would evince design, how much more a vast universe, that by inherent laws gradually builded itself, and then created its own plants and animals, a universe so adjusted that it left by the way the poorest things, and steadily wrought toward more complex, ingenious, and beautiful results! Who designed this mighty machine, created matter, gave to it its laws, and impressed upon it that tendency which has brought forth the almost infinite results on the globe, and wrought them into a perfect system? Design by wholesale is greater than design by retail.

Henry Ward Beecher
quoted in Vernon Blackmore and Andrew Page, Evolution: The Great Debate. Oxford, etc.: Lion Publishing, 1989.

That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms . . . that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins — all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built.

Bertrand Russell
Quoted in Vernon Blackmore and Andrew Page, Evolution: The Great Debate. Oxford, etc.: Lion Publishing, 1989.

The one absolutely impossible conception of God is that which represents him as an occasional visitor. Science has pushed the deist's God further and further away, and at the moment when it seemed as if he would be thrust out altogether, Darwinism appeared, and, under the disguise of a foe, did the work of a friend. It has conferred upon philosophy and religion an inestimable benefit, by showing us that we may choose between two alternatives. Either God is everywhere present in nature, or he is nowhere.

Aubrey Moore
quoted in Vernon Blackmore and Andrew Page, Evolution: The Great Debate. Oxford, etc.: Lion Publishing, 1989.

The hypothesis of special creation is not only a mere specious mask for our ignorance; its existence in Biology marks the youth and imperfection of the science. For what is the history of every science but the history of the elimination of the notion of creative, or other interferences, with the natural order of the phenomena?

Harmonious order governing eternally continuous progress — the web and woof of matter and force interweaving by slow degrees, without a broken thread, that veil which lies between us and the Infinite — that universe which alone we know or can know; such is the picture which science draws of the world.

Thomas Huxley
quoted in Vernon Blackmore and Andrew Page, Evolution: The Great Debate. Oxford, etc.: Lion Publishing, 1989.

The ultimate task will be to melt down the gods and magic and all supernatural entities.

Julian Huxley
quoted in Vernon Blackmore and Andrew Page, Evolution: The Great Debate. Oxford, etc.: Lion Publishing, 1989.

If the situation is not to lead to chaos, despair or escapism, man must reunify his life within the framework of a satisfactory idea-system. He needs to use his best efforts of knowledge and imagination to build a system of thought and belief which will provide both a supporting framework for his present existence, an ultimate or ideal goal for his future development as a species, and a guide or directive for practical action. This new idea-system, whose birth we of the mid-twentieth century are witnessing, I shall simply call "humanism."

It must be focused on man . . . It must be organized around the facts and ideas of evolution . . . It will have nothing to do with Absolutes, including absolute truth, absolute morality, absolute perfection and absolute authority.

Julian Huxley
quoted in Vernon Blackmore and Andrew Page, Evolution: The Great Debate. Oxford, etc.: Lion Publishing, 1989.

A creation of evolutionary type (God making things make themselves) has for long seemed to some great minds the most beautiful form imaginable in which God could act in his universe.

Tielhard de Chardin
quoted in Vernon Blackmore and Andrew Page, Evolution: The Great Debate. Oxford, etc.: Lion Publishing, 1989.

I am actually weary of telling people that I do not pretend to adduce direct evidence of one species changing into another, but I believe that this view is in the main correct, because so many phenomena can thus be grouped and explained.

Charles Darwin
Quoted in Vernon Blackmore and Andrew Page, Evolution: The Great Debate. Oxford, etc.: Lion Publishing, 1989.

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Occam's Razor

Non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem! ("Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity.")

Thomas Occam [also spelled Ockham]
quoted in J. Allan Hobson, The Dreaming Brain

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On Chemistry

The best years of my life have been passed in the ardent study of medical and chemical science. Chemistry, especially, has always had irresistible attractions for me, from the enormous, the illimitable power which the knowledge of it confers. Chemists, I assert it emphatically, might sway, if they pleased, the destinies of humanity. Let me explain this before I go further.

Mind, they say, rules the world. But what rules the mind? The body. The body (follow me closely here) lies at the mercy of the most omnipotent of all potentates -- the Chemist. Give me -- Fosco -- chemistry; and when Shakespeare has conceived Hamlet, and sits down to execute the conception -- with a few grains of powder dropped into his daily food, I will reduce his mind, by the action of his body, till his pen pours out the most abject drivel that has ever degraded paper. Under similar circumstances, revive me the illustrious Newton. I guarantee that, when he sees the apple fall, he shall eat it, instead of discovering the principle of gravitation. Nero's dinner shall transform Nero into the mildest of me before he has done digesting it; and the morning draught of Alexander the Great shall make Alexander run for his life, at the first sight of the enemy, the same afternoon. On my sacred word of honor, it is lucky for society that modern chemists are, by incomprehensible good fortune, the most harmless of mankind. The mass are worthy fathers of families who keep shops. The few are philosophers besotted with admiration for the sound of their own lecturing voices; visionaries who waste their lives on fantastic impossibilities; or quacks whose ambition soars no higher than our corns. Thus Society escapes; and the illimitable power of chemistry remains the slave of the most superficial and the most insignificant ends.

Wilkie Collins
The Woman in White, The Third Epoch, The Count's Narrative

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Quantum Physics and Philosophy

It is very difficult to make an accurate prediction, especially about the future.

Niels Bohr
quoted in The Mind's Sky, by Timothy Ferris

The only object of theoretical physics is to calculate results that can be compared with experiment, and it is quite unnecessary that any satisfying description of the whole course of the phenomena should be given.

Paul Dirac
quoted in The Rise of the New Physics, Volume One by A. d'Abro

The world is one substance. As satisfying as this discovery may be to philosophers, it is profoundly distressing to physicists as long as they do not understand the nature of that substance. For if quantumstuff is all there is and you don't understand quantumstuff, your ignorance is complete.

Nick Herbert
Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics

We wish to obtain a representation of phenomena and form an image of them in our minds. Till now, we have always attempted to form these images by means of the ordinary notions of time and space. These notions are perhaps innate; in any case they have been developed by our daily observations. For me, these notions are clear, and I confess that I am unable to gain any idea of physics without them...

For me, an electron is a corpuscle which at any given instant is situated at a determinate point of space, and if I believe that at the following instant this corpuscle is situated elsewhere, I attempt to imagine its path, which is a line in space. And if this electron meets an atom and penetrates into its interior and, after several adventures, leaves the atom, I attempt to construct a theory in which this electron has retained its individuality...

I would like to retain this ideal of other days and describe everything that occurs in this world in terms of clear pictures.

Hendrik Lorentz
quoted in The Rise of the New Physics, Volume One by A. d'Abro

I think it is safe to say that no one understands quantum mechanics. Do not keep saying to yourself if you can possibly avoid it, "But how can it be like that?" because you will go "down the drain" into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that.

Richard Feynman
quoted in Arne A. Wyller, Planetary Mind.

I don't like it, and I'm sorry I ever had anything to do with it.

Erwin Schrodinger
quoted in In Search of Schrödinger's Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality, by John Gribbin

We are all agreed that your theory is crazy; the question that divides us, is whether it is crazy enough.

Niels Bohr
quoted in Arne A. Wyller, Planetary Mind.

I remember discussions with Bohr which went through many hours till very late at night and ended almost in despair, and when at the end of the discussion I went alone for a walk in the neighboring park I repeated to myself again and again the question: "Can nature possibly be as absurd as it seemed to us in these atomic experiments?"

Werner Heisenberg
quoted in Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics, by Nick Herbert

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Reductionism

I cannot think of a single example of a simpler level of organization "explaining" the operations in entirety of a more complex one.

Richard Restak
The Modular Brain

In spite of its achievements, thermodynamics suffers from the limitations common to all phenomenological theories. Because it restricts its attention to the macroscopic properties of bodies, it fails to anticipate many phenomena which find their interpretation in the interplay of underlying microscopic processes, and which have since been clarified by the more speculative theories of the hidden-occurrence type.

A. d'Abro
The Rise of the New Physics, Volume One

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Science and the Meaning of Life

To me the most astounding fact in the universe, even more astounding than the flight of the Monarch butterfly, is the power of mind that drives my fingers as I write these words. Somehow, by natural processes still totally mysterious, a million butterfly brains working together in a human skull have the power to dream, to calculate, to see and to hear, to speak and to listen, to translate thoughts and feelings into marks on paper which other brains can interpret. Mind, through the long course of biological evolution, has established itself as a moving force in our little corner of the universe. Here on this small planet, mind has infiltrated matter and has taken control.

Freeman Dyson
How Will It All End?, in Infinite in All Directions

It appears to me that the tendency of mind to infiltrate and control matter is a law of nature. Individual minds die and individual planets may be destroyed. But, as Thomas Wright said, "The catastrophe of a world, such as ours, or even the total dissolution of a system of worlds, may possibly be no more to the great Author of Nature, than the most common accident of life with us." The infiltration of mind into the universe will not be permanently halted by any catastrophe or any barrier that I can imagine. If our species does not choose to lead the way, others will do so, or may have already done so... The universe is like a fertile soil spread out all around us, ready for the seeds of mind to sprout and grow. Ultimately, late or soon, mind will come into its heritage.

Freeman Dyson
How Will It All End?, in Infinite in All Directions

Any mingling of knowledge with values is unlawful, forbidden.

Jacques Monod
in Chance and Necessity, quoted by Freeman Dyson in Infinite in All Directions

To be an Error and be Cast out is a part of God's Design.

William Blake
quoted in Infinite in All Directions, by Freeman Dyson

The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.

Steven Weinberg
in The First Three Minutes, quoted by Freeman Dyson in Infinite in All Directions

I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it is passed beyond the scale of our comprehension. God may be considered to be either a world-soul or a collection of world-souls. We are the chief inlets of God on this planet at the present stage of his development.

Freeman Dyson
How Will It All End?, in Infinite in All Directions

When we examine matter in the finest detail in the experiments of particle physics, we see it behaving as an active agent rather than an inert substance. Its actions are in the strict sense unpredictable. It makes what appear to be arbitrary choices between alternative possibilities. Between matter as we observe it in the laboratory and mind as we observe it in our own consciousness, there seems to be only a difference in degree but not in kind. If God exists and is accessible to us, then his mind and ours may likewise differ from each other only in degree and not in kind. We stand, in a manner of speaking, midway between the unpredictability of matter and the unpredictability of God. Our minds may receive inputs equally from matter and from God. This view of our place in the cosmos may not be true, but it is at least logically consistent and compatible with the active nature of matter as revealed in the experiments of modern physics. Therefore, I say, speaking as a physicist, scientific materialism and religious transcendentalism are neither incompatible nor mutually exclusive. We have learned that matter is weird stuff. It is weird enough, so that it does not limit God's freedom to make it do what he pleases.

Freeman Dyson
In Praise of Diversity, in Infinite in All Directions

I happened to meet Charles Hartshorne at a meeting in Minnesota and we had a serious conversation. After we had talked for a while he informed me that my theological standpoint is Socinian. Socinus was an Italian heretic who lived in the sixteenth century. If I remember correctly what Hartshorne said, the main tenet of the Socinian heresy is that God is neither omniscient nor omnipotent. He learns and grows as the universe unfolds...

The great virtue of my version of the Socinian theology is that it leaves room at the top for diversity. Just as the greatness of the creation lies in its diversity, so does also the greatness of the creator. Many world-souls are better than one. When mind grows to fill the universe, it comes as a diversifier as well as a unifier.

Freeman Dyson
How Will It All End? in Infinite in All Directions

Humanity looks to me like a magnificent beginning but not the last word. Small children often have a better grasp of these questions than grown-ups. It happened to me that I adopted a stepdaughter. I moved into her family when she was five years old. Before that, she had been living alone with her mother. Soon after I moved in, she saw me for the first time naked. "Did God really make you like that?" she asked with some astonishment. "Couldn't he have made you better?" That is a question that every scientific humanist should be confronted with, at least once in a lifetime. The only honest answer is, of course, yes.

Freeman Dyson
In Praise of Diversity, in Infinite in All Directions

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Subjectivity

Get your facts first and then you can distort them as much as you please.

Mark Twain
in Kipling, From Sea to Sea, Letter 37; quoted in The Arrow of Time by Coveney and Highfield.

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The Ends Justify the Means

The science of life is a superb and dazzling lighted hall which may be reached only by passing through a long and ghastly kitchen. [Speaking of experiments on animals.]

Claude Bernard, 19th Century French physiologist
Quoted by James Burke in Scientific American, November 1996.

Being a scientist's sister, she used to say to herself, was like being the sister of a soldier who kills to save his countrymen from their foes.

H. P. Lovecraft and Adolphe de Castro
The Last Test, in The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions

What a grown man worships is truth—knowledge—science—light—the rending of the veil and the pushing back of the shadow. Knowledge, the juggernaut! There is death in our own ritual. We must kill—dissect—destroy—and all for the sake of discovery—the worship of the ineffable light. The goddess Science demands it. We test a doubtful poison by killing. How else? No thought for self—just knowledge—the effect must be known.

H. P. Lovecraft and Adolphe de Castro
The Last Test, in The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions

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The Limits of Science

Even if all possible scientific questions are answered, our problem is still not touched at all.

Ludwig Wittgentstein
Notebooks 1914-1916, quoted in The Philosophers: Their Lives and the Nature of their Thought, by Ben-Ami Scharfstein

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The Paranormal

Whether psychic phenomena are caused by the agency of spirits, or by some inner power of our own mentality, that they are caused by mind power is apparent; for they are not caused by physical force at all, but by some finer power than we, at present understand.

Ernest Holmes
quoted by Joyce Meuse, Star Scope column, in Inside, Winter 1997

Coincidence? Thank you, no. If I believed in magic as hard as some people believe in random chance and coincidence, by now I would have walked off a building thinking I could fly. But you don't have to believe in something to use it. No one ever had to believe in a chair, you'll notice. Some things are, some things aren't. Use you five sound senses and any more you may have been given, can develop, or encourage. And make up your own mind, not somebody else's.

Rosemary Edghill
Speak Daggers to Her

Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.

Winston Churchill
quoted in The Druid Way: A Journey Through an Ancient Landscape, by Philip Carr-Gomm (Shaftesbury, etc.: Element Books Ltd., 1993)

This is the kind of thing I wouldn't believe even if it were true.

Unknown
Reviewer quoted rejecting a paper on parapsychology in March, 1976 Journal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers; requoted in Robert E. Ornstein, The Mind Field: A Personal Essay, Chapter 5.

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The Search for Ultimate Truth

The chessboard is the world; the pieces are the phenomena of the universe; the rules of the game are what we call the laws of Nature. The player on the other side is hidden from us. We know that his play is always fair, just, patient. But we also know, to our cost, that he never overlooks a mistake or makes the smallest allowance for ignorance.

Thomas Henry Huxley
quoted in The Red Queen, by Matt Ridley

The scientist is in a better position than anyone else to see that we are set about with mysteries. It is his business to grapple with ghosts every day of his life and he must refuse to allow them to be laid by the process of labeling them with a primitive nomenclature. The mysteries of the universe are too great to be expressed by such simple comparisons as are implicit in either the words "spirit" or "matter."

J. M. Young
Doubt and Certainty in Science

It is of our very nature to see the universe as a place that we can talk about. In particular, you will remember, the brain tends to compute by organizing all its input into certain general patterns. It is natural for us, therefore, to try to make these grand abstractions, to seek for one formula, one model, one God, around which we can organize all our communication and the whole business of living.

J. M. Young
Doubt and Certainty in Science

I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts, the rest are details.

Albert Einstein
quoted in Quantum Reality, by Nick Herbert

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