Thinking Quotes

Alphabetical index

"That which is unchallenged and exercised as habit rapidly becomes ritual. When this occurs, dissent becomes an object of surprise, if not resentment."
-- B. Carmon Hardy

"For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions, even on important subjects, which I once thought right but found to be otherwise." (from the closing speech at the Constitutional Convention of 1787)

"'tis his honesty that brought upon him the character of a heretic." (letter to Benjamin Vaughan mentioning Dr. Priestley)

-- Benjamin Franklin

"Religion is like chemotherapy, it may solve one problem, but it can cause a million more."
-- John Bledsoe

"Is man one of God's blunders? Or is God one of man's blunders?"

"Faith: not *wanting* to know what is true."

"The Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad."

"God is a thought who makes crooked all that is straight."

-- Friedrich Nietzsche (the latter from Thus Spake Zarathustra)

"One man's religion is another man's belly laugh."

"The most ridiculous concept ever perpetrated by H. Sapiens is that the Lord God of Creation, Shaper and Ruler of the Universes, wants the sacharrine adoration of his creations, that he can be persuaded by their prayers, and becomes petulant if he does not recieve this flattery. Yet this ridiculous notion, without one real shred of evidence to bolster it, has gone on to found one of the oldest, largest and least productive industries in history."

"Sin lies only in hurting other people unnecessarily. All other "sins" are invented nonsense."

-- Robert A. Heinlein

"All absolute power demoralizes its possessor. To that all history bears witness. And if it be a spiritual power which rules men's consciences, the danger is only so much greater, for the possession of such a power exercises a specially treacherous fascination, while it is peculiarly conducive to self-deceit, because the lust of dominion, when it has become a passion, is only too easily in this case excused under the plea of zeal for the salvation of others."
-- Professor J.H. von Dullinger -- who was subsequently excommunicated from the Roman Catholic church (1871)

"The Bible is not my book and Christianity is not my religion. I could never give assent to the long complicated statements of Christian dogma."

"...Let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man--this race and that race and the other race being inferior, and therefore they must be placed in and inferior position...Let us discard all these things, and unite as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal." Speech, Chicago, Illinois, July 10, 1858

-- Abraham Lincoln

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."

"There is not a truth existing which I fear... or would wish unknown to the whole world."

"I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature."

"Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear". (from The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson)

-- Thomas Jefferson

"However sugarcoated and ambiguous, every form of authoritarianism must start with a belief in some group's greater right to power, whether that right is justified by sex, race, class, religion, or all four. However far it may expand, the progression inevitably rests on unequal power and airtight roles within the family."

"It's an incredible con job when you think about it, to believe something now in exchange for something after death. Even corporations with their reward systems don't try to make it posthumous."

-- Gloria Steinem

"The fundamentalists, by 'knowing' the answers before they start (examining evolution), and then forcing nature into their straitjacket of their discredited preconceptions, lie outside the domain of science--or of any honest intellectual inquiry." ( from 2000 Years of Disbelief : Famous People With the Courage to Doubt, Note that I didn't know Gould had used the term 'honest intellectual inquiry' before I named my page. It must have been our psychic connection. ;) )

"Skepticism's bad rap arises from the impression that, however necessary the activity, it can only be regarded as a negative removal of false claims. Not so... Proper debunking is done in the interest of an alternate model of explanation, not as a nihilistic exercise. The alternate model is rationality itself, tied to moral decency--the most powerful joint instrument for good that our planet has ever known." (Why People Believe Weird Things : Pseudoscience, Superstition & Other Confusions of Our Time, p. xii)

"The more important the subject and the closer it cuts to the bone of our hopes and needs, the more we are likely to err in establishing a framework for analysis." (p. 30)

"The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best--and therefore never scrutinize or question." (p. 57)

"Look in the mirror, and don't be tempted to equate transient domination with either intrinsic superiority or prospects for extended survival." (p. 73)

"We are glorious accidents of an unpredictable process with no drive to complexity, not the expected results of evolutionary principles that yearn to produce a creature capable of understanding the mode of its own necessary construction." (p. 216)

-- Stephen Jay Gould the latter quoes from Full House

"doing what little one can to increase the general stock of knowledge is as respectable an object of life, as one can in any likelihood pursue" (Darwin, p. 139)

On seeing the marsupials in Australia for the first time and comparing them to placental mammals: "An unbeliever . . . might exclaim 'Surely two distinct Creators must have been at work'" (p. 178)

"we can allow satellites, planets, suns, universe, nay whole systems of universe[s,] to be governed by laws, but the smallest insect, we wish to be created at once by special act" (p. 218)

"a scientific man ought to have no wishes, no affections, -- a mere heart of stone." (p. 457)

"I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars." (p. 479)

"I am turned into a sort of machine for observing facts & grinding out conclusions." (p. 644)

"I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men's minds, which follow[s] from the advance of science. It has, therefore, been always my object to avoid writing on religion, & I have confined myself to science. I may, however, have been unduly biassed by the pain which it would give some members of my family, if I aided in any way direct attacks on religion." (p. 645)

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science." (The Descent of Man)

"People complain of the unequal distribution of wealth [but it is a far greater] injustice that any one man should have the power to write so many brilliant essays... There is no one who writes like [Thomas Huxley]." (Huxley, p. 368)

-- Charles Darwin

"If God made us in His image we have certainly returned the compliment."
Voltaire (1694-1778), French philosopher, historian, author, poet

An interviewer asked Ann Druyan (Carl Sagan's wife), "Didn't [Sagan] want to believe?"
She responded,
"He didn't want to believe. He wanted to know."

"Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense."

"I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking."

"If we long to believe that the stars rise and set for us, that we are the reason there is a Universe, does science do us a disservice in deflating our conceits?"

"When you make the finding yourself--even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light--you never forget it."

"Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works."

"The world is so exquisite, with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better, it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look Death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides." (Billions and Billions p. 215)

"It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."

"There are many hypotheses in science which are wrong. That's perfectly all right; they're the aperture to finding out what's right. Science is a self-correcting process. To be accepted, new ideas must survive the most rigorous standards of evidence and scrutiny." COSMOS 13 part television series

-- Carl Sagan (most from "The Demon-Haunted World")

"I learnt the lesson on nonviolence from my wife, when I tried to bend her to my will. Her determined resistance to my will on the one hand, and her quiet submission to the suffering my stupidity involved on the other, ultimately made me ashamed of myself and cured me of my stupidity in thinking that I was born to rule over her."
-- Gandhi (as quoted in Billions and Billions p. 183)

"You go back and tell Brigham Young that I'll give up the Lord's money when he sends me a receipt signed by the Lord, and no sooner."
-- Sam Brannan (as quoted in
California Saints p. 153)

"Religion is regarded by the common people as true,
by the wise as false,
and by rulers as useful."
-- Seneca the Younger (4? B.C. - 65 A.D.)

"The Bible is a wonderful source of inspiration for those who don't understand it."
George Santayana

"I believe in treating others as I want to be treated--but I certainly don't believe in turning the other cheek and the truth is that I never knew any Christians who did either."
-- James Hervey Johnson

"If you try to impose a rigid discipline while teaching a child or a chimp you are working against the boundless curiosity and need for relaxed play that make learning possible in the first place... learning cannot be controlled; it is out of control by design. Learning emerges spontaneously, it proceeds in an individualistic and unpredictable way, and it achieves its goal in its own good time. Once triggered, learning will not stop--unless it is hijacked by conditioning." (p. 83)

"Creativity and learning are examples of innate behavior that can only be hindered, not helped, by rewards." (p. 84)

"Every biomedical researcher [who isolates and/or tortures the animal subjects] operates within a contradiction: 'We need to experiment on chimpanzees because, physiologically, they are just like us.' Why, then, is it acceptable to isolate, torture, and even destroy animals that are just like us? 'Because, psychologically, they're not like us'." (p. 320)

-- Roger Fouts in Next of Kin

"Why should I fear death? If I am, death is not. If death is, I am not. Why should I fear that which can only exist when I do not?"

"I'm sickened by all religions. Religion has divided people. I don't think there's any difference between the pope wearing a large hat and parading around with a smoking purse and an African painting his face white and praying to a rock."
-- Howard Stern

"How many things we held yesterday as articles of faith which today we tell as fables."
-- Michel E. de Montaigne

"Not by accident, you may be sure, do the Christian Scriptures make the father of knowledge a serpent--slimy, sneaking and abominable."
-- H. L. Mencken

"As men's prayers are a disease of the will, so are their creeds a disease of the intellect."

"Who is he that shall control me? Why may not I act and speak and write and think with entire freedom? What am I to the universe, or, the unvierse, what is it to me? Who hath forged the chains of wrong and right, of Opinion and Custom? And must I wear them?" Emerson: The Mind on Fire p. 51

"Life is wasted in the necessary preparation of finding what is the true way, and we die just as we enter it." p. 55

"The dead sleep in their moonless night. My business is with the living." p. 58

"All that can be done for you is nothing to what you can do for yourself." p. 69 (from Emerson's first sermon entitled "Pray without Ceasing")

"[Whenever the average intellect of the clergy declines in the balance with the average intellect of the people] the churches will be shut up and a new order of things [will] begin." p. 77

"Is it not better to intimate our astonishment as we pass through this world if it be only for a moment ere we are swallowed up in the yeast of the abyss? I will lift up my hands and say Kosmos." p. 122

"I will not live out of me
I will not see with others' eyes
My good is good, my evil ill
I would be free." p. 126
This beginning to a poem was penned when he resigned (with no future employment on the horizon) from a high paying, highly respectable position as Minister of the Second Unitarian Church of Boston because the church relied heavily on forms (like Communion)--something 20th Century UUism doesn't stress.

"Religionists are clinging to little, positive, verbal, formal versions of the moral law... while the laws of the Law, the great circling truths whose only adequate symbol is the material laws, the astronomy etc. are all unobserved, and sneered at when spoken of." p. 151

"The end of being is to know; and if you say, the end of knowledge is action,--why, yes, but the end of that action again, is knowledge." p. 153

"Nature is a language and every new fact one learns is a new word; but it is not a language taken to pieces and dead in the dictionary, but the language put together into a most significant and universal sense. I wish to learn this language--not that I may know a new grammar, but that I may read the great book which is written in that tongue." p. 155

"The exercise of all the senses is as intense pleasure, as anyone will find, who recovers the use of one after being deprived of it." p. 155-6

"Natural science sharpens the discrimination. There is no false logic in nature. All its properties are permanent: the acids and metals never lie; their yea is yea, their nay, nay. They are newly discovered but not new." p. 170

"We are always getting ready to live, but never living... The wave moves onward but the particles of which it is composed do not... It cannot be but that at intervals throughout society there are real men intermixed . . . as the carpenter puts one iron bar in his bannister for every five or six wooden ones." p. 180

"As I walked in the woods I felt what I often feel, that nothing can befal me in life,... Standing on the bare ground, with my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into the infinite space, I become happy in my universal relations. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental. I am the heir of unaccustomed beauty and power." p. 199

"when the vain speaker has sat down, and the people say 'what a good speech,' it still takes an ounce to balance an ounce." p. 203

"I will no longer confer, differ, refer, defer, prefer, or suffer. I renounce the whole tribe of fero. I embrace absolute life." p. 205

"Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?" p. 226 (original in Nature)

"Why should we grope among the dry bones of the past? The sun shines today also." p. 227

"We, as we read, must become Greeks, Romans, Turks, priest and king, martyr and executioner, that is, must fasten these images to some reality in our secret experience, or we shall see nothing, learn nothing, keep nothing." p. 258

"What is the end of human life? It is not, believe me, the chief end of man that he should make a fortune and beget children whose end is likewise to make a fortune, but it is, in few words, that he should explore himself." p. 261

"[Young persons] grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote those books." p. 265

"I believe in Eternity--that is that I can find Greece and Palestine and Italy and England and the Islands--the genius and creative principle of each and all eras in my own mind." p. 317

"Heaven walks among us ordinarily muffled in such triple or tenfold disguises that the wisest are deceived and no one suspects the days to be gods." p. 342

"To finish the moment, to find the journey's end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom." p. 403

"[The wise skeptic does not teach doubt but how] to look for the permanent in the mutable and fleeting." p. 416

"The days come and go like muffled and veiled figures sent from a distant friendly party, but they say nothing, and if we do not use the gifts they bring, they carry them as silently away." p. 438

"So far as a man thinks, he is free." p. 502

"The world exists, as I understand it, to teach the science of liberty." p. 503

"This day for all that is good and fair. It is too dear with its hopes and invitations to waste a moment on the rotten yesterdays." p. 543

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"I am content with nothing, restless and ambitious... and I despise myself for the vanity, which formed half the stimulus to my exertions. Oh would that I were one of those plodding wise fools who having once set their hand to the plough go on nothing doubting." (Huxley, p. 84)

"I do not say think as I think, but think in my way. Fear no shadows, least of all in that great spectre of personal unhappiness which binds half the world to orthodoxy." (p. 169)

"...claiming my right to follow whethersoever science should lead... it is as respectable to be modified monkey as modified dirt." (p. 253)

"Freedom and order are not incompatible... truth is strength... free discussion is the very life of truth." (p. 270)

"Cherish [Science], venerate her, follow her methods faithfully ... and the future of this people will be greater than the past." (p. 270)

"The ultimate court of appeal is observation and experiment... not authority." (p. 275)

"Cinderella [Science]... lights the fire, sweeps the house, and provides the dinner; and is rewarded by being told that she is a base creature, devoted to low and material interests. But in her garret she has fairy visions out of the ken of the pair of shrews [Theology and Philosophy] who are quarrelling downstairs. She sees the order which pervades the seeming disorder of the world; the great drama of evolution, with its full share of pity and terror, but also with abundant goodness and beauty... ; and she learns... that the foundation of morality is to [be] done, once and for all, with lying; to give up pretending to believe that for which there is no evidence." (p. 553)

"No one who has lived in the world as long as you & I have, can entertain the pious delusion that it is engineered upon principles of benevolence... the cosmos remains always beautiful and profoundly interesting in every corner--and if I had as many lives as a cat I would leave no corner unexplored." (p. 588)

"Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing." (Darwin and Design, p. 133)

-- Thomas H. Huxley

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Alphabetical index