Thinking Quotes

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Alphabetical index

"Men have never fully used [their] powers to advance the good in life, because they have waited upon some power external to themselves and to nature to do the work they are responsible for doing."

"The routine of custom tends to deaden even scientific inquiry; it stands in the way of discovery and of the active scientific worker. For discovery and inquiry are synonymous as an occupation. Science is a pursuit, not a coming into possession of the immutable; new theories as points of view are more prized than discoveries that quantitatively increase the store on hand." (from Reconstruction in Philosophy, p. xvii)

"Reason is experimental intelligence, conceived after the pattern of science, and used in the creation of social arts; it has something to do. It liberates man from the bondage of the past, due to ignorance and accident hardened into custom. It projects a better future and assists man in its realization. And its operation is always subject to test in experience... The principles which man projects as guides... are not dogmas. They are hypotheses to be worked out in practice, and to be rejected, corrected and expanded as they fail or succeed in giving our present experience the guidance it requires. We may call them programmes of action, but since they are to be used in making our future acts less blind, more directed, they are flexible. Intelligence is not something possessed once for all. It is in constant process of forming, and its retention requires constant alertness in observing consequences, an open-minded will to learn and courage in re-adjustment." (ibid., p. 96)

"Time and memory are true artists; they remould reality nearer to the heart's desire." (ibid., p. 104)

"In the degree in which life is uneasy and troubled, fancy is stirred to frame pictures of a contrary state of things. By reading the characteristic features of any man's castles in the air you can make a shrewd guess as to his underlying desires which are frustrated." (ibid., p. 104)

"It is not truly realistic or scientific to take short views, to sacrifice the future to immediate pressure, to ignore facts and forces that are disagreeable and to magnify the enduring quality of whatever falls in with immediate desire. It is false that the evils of the situation arise from absence of ideals; they spring from wrong ideals." (ibid., p. 130)

"Intelligent thinking means an increment of freedom in action--an emancipation from chance and fatality. 'Thought' represents the suggestion of a way of response that is different from that which would have been followed if intelligent observation had not effected an inference as to the future." (ibid., p. 144)

-- John Dewey


"A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death."

"[My] deep religiosity... found an abrupt ending at the age of twelve, through the reading of popular scientific books." (as quoted in Einstein, History, and Other Passions, p. 172)

"It is quite clear to me that the religious paradise of youth, which [I] lost, was a first attempt to free myself from the chains of the 'merely personal,' from an existence which is dominated by wishes, hopes, and primitive feelings." (as quoted in Einstein, History, and Other Passions, p. 172)

"A human being is part of the whole, called by us 'Universe'; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest--a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compasion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely but striving for such achievement is, in itself, a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security." (as quoted in Quantum Reality, Beyond the New Physics, p. 250)

-- Albert Einstein


"To surrender to ignorance and call it God has always been premature, and it remains premature today."
--
Isaac Asimov


"I have never seen the slightest scientific proof of the religious theories of heaven and hell, of future life for individuals, or of a personal God."
--
Thomas Edison


"Accustomed to trace the operation of general causes, and the exemplification of general laws, in circumstances where the uninformed and unenquiring eye perceives neither novelty nor beauty, [the scientist and natural philosopher] walks in the midst of wonders."
--
John Herschel (as quoted on page 124 of Emerson: The Mind on Fire)


"In religion and politics, people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination."

"[The Bible] has noble poetry in it... and some good morals and a wealth of obscenity, and upwards of a thousand lies."

"I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn't know."

"A man is accepted into church for what he believes--and turned out for what he knows."

"I have seen several entirely sincere people who thought they were (permanent) Seekers after Truth. They sought diligently, persistently, carefully, cautiously, profoundly, with perfect honesty and nicely adjusted judgment--until they believed that without doubt or question they had found the Truth. That was the end of the search. The man spent the rest of his life hunting up shingles wherewith to protect his Truth from the weather. If he was seeking after political Truth he found it in one or another of the hundred political gospels which govern men in the earth; if he was seeking after the Only True Religion he found it in one or another of the three thousand that are on the market. In any case, when he found the Truth he sought no further; but from that day forth, with his soldering-iron in one hand and his bludgeon in the other he tinkered its leaks and reasoned with objectors." (from What is Man?)

-- Mark Twain


"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
--
Margaret Mead


"Gods are fragile things; they may be killed by a whiff of science or a dose of common sense."
-- Chapman Cohen


"Part of the power of Emerson's individualism is his insistence, at crucial moments, that individualism does not mean isolation or self-sufficiency. This is not a paradox, for it is only the strong individual who can frankly concede the sometimes surprising extent of his own dependence." (Emerson: The Mind on Fire p. 88)

"Just as science is more immediate and exciting than the history of science, so is insight more compelling than a history of insight." (p. 227)

"[Emerson] was interested not in the bookworm, not even in the thinker, only in Man Thinking." (p. 264)

"If death is the end of everything, then living is everything." (p. 375)

-- Robert D. Richardson


"The great end in religious instruction, is not to stamp our minds upon the young, but to stir up their own; not to make them see with our eyes, but to look inquiringly and steadily with their own; not to give them a definite amount of knowledge, but to inspire a fervent love of truth; not to form an outward regularity, but to touch inward springs; not to bind them by ineradicable prejudices to our particular sect or peculiar notions, but to prepare them for impartial, conscientious judging of whatever subjects may be offered to their decision; not to burden memory, but to quicken and strengthen the power of thought;" (as quoted on page 30 of A Chosen Faith)

"It is an important truth that the ultimate reliance of a human being must be on his own mind." (as quoted on page 47 of Emerson: The Mind on Fire)

-- William Channing


"I have an almost complete disregard of precedent and a faith in the possibility of something better. It irritates me to be told how things always have been done . . . I defy the tyranny of precedent. I cannot afford the luxury of a closed mind. I go for anything new that might improve the past." (as quoted on page 41 of A Chosen Faith)
-- Clara Barton


"I can doubt everything, except one thing, and that is the very fact that I doubt."
--
Rene Descartes (1596 - 1650)


"I've come to the conclusion that there can be little or no dialogue between 'proclaimers of truth' (religious and secular ideologues) and 'discoverers of truth' (empiricists). The former tend to debate, the latter tend to discuss."
--
Edward H. Ashment


"Perhaps the greatest lesson [Huxley] learned from reading Carlyle was that real religion, that emotive feeling for Truth and Beauty, could flourish in the absence of an idolatrous theology." (from Huxley, p. 79)

On Huxley encountering natives on a remote island... "Untouched people; not necessarily noble savages, but apparently happy ones. They lived in a land of plenty, ready to share their bananas and guavas and coconuts. They were to be envied for their 'primitive simplicity and kind-heartedness'. Where was that 'malady of thought' afflicting industrial England? [Huxley] realized that 'civilization as we call it would be rather a curse than a blessing to them'. Huxley knew the fate in store for them, slamming the 'mistaken goodness of the "Stigginses" of Exeter Hall, who would send missionaries to these men to tell them that they will all infallibly be damned'." (p. 120)

"[William Henry] Flower [the Anglican] too praised evolution as a cleansing solvent, dissolving the dross which had 'encrusted' Christianity 'in the days of ignorance and superstition'." (p. 305)

"Science was tearing through the 'fine-spun ecclesiastical cobwebs' to behold a new cosmos, in which our Earth is merely an 'eccentric speck' -- a world of evolution 'and unchanging causation'. It invited new ways of thinking. It demanded a new rationale for belief. With science's truths the only accessible ones, 'blind faith' was no longer admirable but 'the one unpardonable sin'." (p. 345)

"A man got up [after one of Huxley's 'sermons'] and said 'they had never heard anything like that in Norwich before'. Never 'did Science seem so vast and mere creeds so little'." (p. 366)

-- Adrian Desmond


...it may be that there is no God, that "the existence of all that is beautiful and in any sense good is but the accidental and ineffective byproduct of blindly swirling atoms," that we are alone in a world that cares nothing for us or for the values that we create and sustain - that we and they are here for a moment only, and gone, and that eventually there will be left no trace of us in the universe. "A man may well believe that this dredful thing is true. But only the fool will say in his heart that he is glad that it is true."
--
Sterling M. McMurrin


"Life is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel."
-- Horace Walpole


"Whenever a poet or preacher, chief or wizard spouts gibberish, the human race spends centuries deciphering the message."

"I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth."

"If two things don't fit, but you believe both of them, thinking that somewhere, hidden, there must be a third thing that connects them, that's credulity."

"I believe that you can reach the point where there is no longer any difference between developing the habit of pretending to believe and developing the habit of believing."

"When men stop believing in God, it isn't that they then believe in nothing: they believe in everything."

"When we traded the results of our fantasies, it seemed to us--and rightly--that we had proceeded by unwarranted associations, by shortcuts so extraordinary that, if anyone had accused us of really believing them, we would have been ashamed."

"All of us were slowly losing that intellectual light that allows you always to tell the similar from the identical, the metaphorical from the real."

-- Umberto Eco


"Philosophy itself cannot but benefit from our disputes, for if our conceptions prove true, new achievements will be made; if false, their refutation will further confirm the original doctrines." (as quoted in Galileo at Work : His Scientific Biography, p. 108)

"I do not think it is necessary to believe that the same God who has given us our senses, reason, and intelligence wished us to abandon their use, giving us by some other means the information that we could gain through them." (ibid., p. 226)

"I truly believe the book of philosophy to be that which stands perpetually open before our eyes, though since it is written in characters different from those of our alphabet it cannot be read by everyone." (ibid., p. 412)

"The hypothesis is pretty; its only fault is that it is neither demonstrated nor demonstrable. Who does not see that this is purely arbitrary fiction that puts nothingness as existing and proposes nothing more than simple noncontradiciton?" (ibid., p. 169)
(Galileo was here referring to the philosophers of the time who refused to give up the idea that the moon's surface was smooth so they said that although it appeared to have mountains and craters, it was really encased in smooth transparent crystal--obviously his statement can apply to a whole host of ideas that people create in order to hang on to tradition rather than grasp reality)

"...nothing physical which sense-experience sets before our eyes, or which necessary demonstrations prove to us, ought to be called into question (much less condemned) upon the testimony of biblical passages." (as quoted in Blind Watchers of the Sky, p. 101)

-- Galileo Galilei


"I believe in the religion of reason -- the gospel of this world; in the development of the mind, in the accumulation of intellectual wealth, to the end that man may free himself from superstitious fear, to the end that he may take advantage of the forces of nature to feed and clothe the world."

"The notion that faith in Christ is to be rewarded by an eternity of bliss, while a dependence upon reason, observation, and experience merits everlasting pain, is too absurd for refutation, and can be relieved only by that unhappy mixture of insanity and ignorance called 'faith.'"

-- Robert G. Ingersoll


"My young son asked me what happens after we die. I told him we get buried under a bunch of dirt and worms eat our bodies. I guess I should have told him the truth--that most of us go to Hell and burn eternally--but I didn't want to upset him."

"If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is 'God is crying.' And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is 'Probably because of something you did.'"

-- Jack Handey


"All this [Paul's writing] is nothing better than the jargon of a conjurer who picks up phrases he does not understand to confound the credulous people who come to have their fortune told." Age of Reason
-- Thomas Paine


"It may be that Emerson is going to hell, but of one thing I am certain; he will change the climate there, and emigration will set that way." (as quoted in Emerson: The Mind on Fire, p. 97)

-- Edward Taylor (who inspired Melville's Father Mapple in Moby Dick)


"...there ... remains a huge following [of Ayn Rand's philosophy] of those who ignore the indiscretions, infidelities, and moral inconsistencies of the founder and focus instead on the positive aspects of her philosophy. There is much in it to admire, if you do not have to accept the whole package... Criticism of the founder or followers of a philosophy does not, by itself, constitute a negation of any part of the philosophy... Criticism of part of a philosophy does not gainsay the whole." (Why People Believe Weird Things, p. 122)

"Science is not the affirmation of a set of beliefs but a process of inquiry aimed at building a testable body of knowledge constantly open to rejection or confirmation. In science, knowledge is fluid and certainty fleeting. That is at the heart of its limitations. It is also its greatest strength." (p. 124)

"Myths are about the human struggle to deal with the great passages of time and life--birth, death, marriage, the transitions from childhood to adulthood to old age. They meet a need in the psychological or spiritual nature of humans that has absolutely nothing to do with science. To try to turn a myth into a science, or a science into a myth, is an insult to myths, an insult to religion, and an insult to science. In attempting to do this, creationists have missed the significance, meaning, and sublime nature of myths. They took a beautiful story of creation and re-creation and ruined it." (p. 130)

"It is sad that while science moves ahead in exciting new areas of research, fine-tuning our knowledge of how life originated and evolved, creationists remain mired in medieval debates about angels on the head of a pin and animals in the belly of an Ark." (p. 141)

"The first-cause and prime-mover argument, brilliantly proffered by St. Thomas Aquinas in the fourteenth century (and brilliantly refuted by David Hume in the eighteenth century), is easily turned aside with just one more question: Who or what caused and moved God?" (p. 146)

"Ultimately all hominids came from Africa, and therefore everyone in America should simply check the box next to 'African-American.' My maternal grandmother was German and my maternal grandfather was Greek. The next time I fill out one of those forms I am going to check 'Other' and write in the truth about my racial and cultural heritage: 'African-Greek-German-American.' And proud of it." (p. 251)

-- Michael Shermer


"I wish to propose for the reader's favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true." "On the Value of Scepticism"

"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." The Quotable Bertrand Russell p. 138

"The biggest cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid people are so sure about things and the intelligent folks are so full of doubts."

"A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the word uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence."

"Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom."

-- Bertrand Russell


"Science has never sought to ally herself with civil power. She has never subjected anyone to mental torment, physical torment, least of all death, for the purpose of promoting her ideas."
-- John W. Draper (1811-1882) U.S. chemist


"Theologian: An uncommon individual who, though possessing finite abilities, has been called by God himself who, though possessing infinite abilities, requires the assistance of the former in explaining Himself to the rest of us."
[Translation: if God existed, theologians would be out of work.]"

"God: The Preeminent Chameleon; whenever the need is felt by one or more of his followers, He oblingingly recreates himself to suit the occasion."

"The biblical concepts of sin and salvation are an integral part of Christian doctrine. Christianity first creates a problem (sin) and then offers a "solution" (salvation). This is not unlike the protection racket; you either buy "protection"--or else!"

"Jesus' last words on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" hardly seem like the words of a man who planned it that way. It doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure there is something wrong here."

-- "Rev." Donald Morgan


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