40 Quotations

(1) "All humans by nature desire to know"

 - Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book 1(A) Note: Most quotations state "men" instead of "humans", but evidently these are mistranslations.


(2) "Most educated people are aware that we are the outcome of nearly 4 billion years of Darwinian selection, but many tend to think that humans are somehow the culmination. Our sun, however, is less than halfway through its lifespan. It will not be humans who watch the sun's demise, 6 billion years from now.  Any creatures that then exist will be as different from us as we are from bacteria or amoebae."

 - Martin Rees, Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics, Cambridge University, at a lecture in the spring of 2006 at the Hay-on-Wye book festival. 


(3)  "A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; 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."

 - Albert Einstein, "Religion and Science", New York Times Magazine, November 9, 1930 


(4) "In science, there is only physics. All the rest is stamp collecting."

 - attr. to Ernest Rutherford.  However, his Nobel prize was in Chemistry.


(5)  "I am surrounded by priests who repeat incessantly that their kingdom is not of this world, and yet they lay their hands on everything they can get."

 - Napoleon Bonaparte]


(6)  It is as though a gardener looked at an old oak tree and remarked, wonderingly: "Isn’t it strange that no major new boughs have appeared on this tree for many years. These days, all the new growth appears to be at the twig level !"

 - Richard Dawkins, Review of "Full House", remarking on development of individual species:


(7)  "...the assertion that culture explains the whole of human variation may be taken seriously when there are reports of war parties of women raiding surrounding settlements to capture men as husbands."

 - -John Tooby & Leda Cosmides


(8)  "The fact that the supernatural has no place in our explanations, in our understanding of so much about the universe and life, doesn't diminish the awe..." 

- Richard Dawkins


(9)  "...when two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly halfway between them. It is possible for one side to be simply wrong."

 - Richard Dawkins


(10)  The nobility of science as a human endeavor was well encapsulated by the physicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar when he used the Icarus metaphor in praise of Sir Arthur Eddington. He said, "Let us see how high we can fly before the sun melts the wax in our wings."


(11)  The following interview is excerpted from a conversation between "Mother Jones" contributing writer Michael Krasny and Richard Dawkins, the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University and author of The Selfish Gene, River Out of Eden, and Climbing Mount Improbable. The interview took place on March 17, 1997, at San Francisco's Herbst Theater at a California Academy of Sciences benefit.


Q: You're known for your atheism and your comment that "religion is a virus." Are you more tolerant toward religion these days?

A: No. I am often asked to explain as a biologist why religion has such a hold. The theory is this: When a child is young, for good Darwinian reasons, it would be valuable if the child believed everything it's told. A child needs to learn a language, it needs to learn the social customs of its people, it needs to learn all sorts of rules -- like don't put your finger in the fire, and don't pick up snakes, and don't eat red berries. There are lots of things that for good survival reasons a child needs to learn.

So it's understandable that Darwinian natural selection would have built into the child's brain the rule of thumb, "Be fantastically gullible; believe everything you're told by your elders and betters."

That's a good rule, and it works. But any rule that says "Believe everything you're told" is automatically going to be vulnerable to parasitization. Computers, for example, are vulnerable to parasitization because they believe all they're told. If you tell them in the right programming language, they'll do it. Computer viruses work by somebody writing a program that says, "Duplicate me and, while you're at it, erase this entire disk."

My point is that the survival mechanism that makes children's brains believe what they're told -- for good reason -- is automatically vulnerable to parasitic codes such as "You must believe in the great juju in the sky," or "You must kneel down and face east and pray five times a day." These codes are then passed down through generations. And there's no obvious reason why it should stop.

There's an additional factor in the virus theory, which is that those viruses that are good at surviving will be the ones that are more likely to survive. So, if the virus says, "If you don't believe in this you will go to hell when you die," that's a pretty potent threat, especially to a child. Or, if it says, "When you become a little bit older you will meet people who will tell you the opposite of this, and they will have remarkably plausible arguments and they'll have lots of what they'll call evidence on their side and you'll be really tempted to believe it, but the more tempted you are, the more that's just Satan getting at you." This is exactly what many creationists in this country have been primed with.


Q: You've said that when you discovered Darwin, everything fell into place. You felt a peace of mind. How was your atheism confirmed by Darwinism?

A: Before I discovered Darwin, I was fascinated by the apparent design and beauty of living things. I knew enough biology to know that living creatures are prodigiously complicated and elegant. They look exactly as though they'd been designed. That was why I believed in a divine creator. Because I had been so persuaded by this argument for design, when I discovered Darwinism, I had a kind of "road to Damascus" experience.

I think there is a serenity that comes from understanding, from being able to solve a mystery. And the bigger the mystery, the greater the serenity. When you think about the diversity, complexity, and beauty of life -- the elegance of the apparent design of life -- it adds up to a colossal mystery. And the solution, Darwin's solution, is quite remarkably simple. My serenity comes from the satisfaction of seeing a really, really neat, elegant explanation that can explain so much."


(12) "Seek the company of those who are looking for the truth, but run from those who have found it."

-  Attributed to Vaclav Havel (1936-2011, playwright, Czech president)


(13) "It's too late to agree with me: I've changed my mind."

 - Mahub ul Haq, a heretic among economists, who died July16 1998, aged 64.


(14) "A bird in the hand is dead".

 -  J. T. O'Hara in "The Gift of Happiness Belongs to those Who Unwrap It",            Andrews McMeel, 1998?


(15) "A man is judged by the company he avoids"

 - J. T. O'Hara, op. cit. above..


(16) "One good friend is worth 10 lousy relatives"

 - J. T. O'Hara, op. cit. above.


(17) "An optimist hasn't had much experience"

 - J. T. O'Hara, op. cit. above.


(18) "No one ever loses money by underestimating public taste"

 - "The Economist" - obituary on Lew Grade,  Dec. 19, 1998


(19) "I am an amateur-crastinator trying to decide whether to go pro-"

 - Tony Ward tag line, January 2000.


(20) "If a husband, all alone in a forest, expresses an opinion, is he still wrong?"

  - Tony Ward tag line, 1997


 (21) "I'm exhausted from not talking"

 - attr. to Sam Goldwyn.


(22) "It's no accident that Chauvin was a Frenchman" - attributed to a frustrated French would-be wine importer - imports command less than 5% of the French market.


(23) "Cum grano salis"

 - Pliny the Elder in Naturalis Historia, referring to the discovery of an antidote to poisons. 


(24)  "If the human brain were simple enough for us to understand, we would be too simple to understand it."

 - anonymous


(25) "Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatum"

 - (Occam's razor - use a minimal set of entities and concepts).


(26) "Be very very careful what you put into that head, because you will never, ever get it out."

 - Cardinal Wolsey (1475? - 1530), referring to the education of boys.


(27) "The early bird trains the late worm"

 - Tony Ward tag line, Feb. 2000


(28)  "The common procrastinator works for money. I waste time for the pure pleasure it gives me ..."

 - Tony Ward tag line March 2000


(29) "The second mouse gets the cheese"

 - Tony Ward tag line, Feb. 2000.


(30) "If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment."

 -  attr. to Ernest Rutherford.


(31) "... man was forced to invent work in order to escape the strain of having to think"

 - Hercule Poirot in Agatha Christie's "Death on the Nile"


(32)  "All things by immortal power,

               Near or far,


               To each other are,

                That thou canst not stir a flower

                Without troubling of a star ....  "

  From "Mistress of Vision" by Francis Thompson (1857-1907), referring to "fields" - gravitational, electric, magnetic and who knows what others there are that exist in Nature.


(33) "A ... field is a mathematical function we use to avoid the idea of action at a distance."

 - Richard Feynman (1918 - 1988) in "The Feynman Lectures on Physics", Volume II, p. 15-7.  Do they exist? - We really don't know. (JMS)


(34) "Dean is to faculty as hydrant is to dog."

 - Alfred Kahn (1917 - 2010), father of deregulation in the USA in the 1970's,  former dean of Cornell's College of Arts and Sciences.


(35) "Never make forecasts, especially about the future."

 - Attributed to Samuel Goldman. 


(36) "I believe that a scientist looking at a non-scientific problem is just as dumb as the next guy."

 - Richard Feynman (1918 - 1988)


(37) "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool."

 - Richard Feynman (918 - 1988)


(38) "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves."

 - Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 2. 


(39) "My clock has stopped completely, but it is still right twice a day"

 - old English proverb

(40) "Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."

    - Steven Weinberg, Nobel physicist (1999).