Weekly Quotes: Quotations on Philosophy, Science, Reason, Freethought
Clarence Darrow on Agnosticism
It's not been uncommon in history for agnosticism and agnostics to be denigrated for their position. Both theists and atheists have alleged that agnostics are just "sitting on the fence" and refuse to commit themselves on an issue of vital importance. Such attacks have, by and large, been the product of ignorance as to what agnosticism really is.
Eliot on Men of Maxims: Patience, Insight, Sympathy vs. General Rules
A maxim is a proverb which expresses, in a pithy and simplistic manner, some basic principle of life, relationship, morality, etc. Maxims encapsulate some acquired understanding and are phased in a manner that helps us remember them. Everyone knows lots of maxims and at times we all use maxims to help us arrive at decisions. Should we rely on them extensively, though?
Heinrich Heine on Burning Books
Two of the actions which Nazi Germany is most infamous for are probably the burning of books and the burning of people. Are the two connected? Curiously, the idea that the former would lead to the latter was famously predicted more than 100 years before the Nazi takeover of Germany by German author Heinrich Heine. What did he understand that others do not?
R. Lawrence Siegel on Public vs. Private Religion
One of the disturbing characteristics of the Christian Right's approach to the separation of church and state is the blatant hypocrisy. They are quick to promote the separation of church and state when it comes to exempting their religious groups from government oversight, but they decry separation when it is used to object to government funding...
Karl Marx on Religion: Is Religion the Opiate of the Masses?
This quote is reproduced a great deal and is probably the only Marx quote that most people are familiar with. Unfortunately, if someone is familiar with it they are likely only familiar with a small portion that, taken by itself, tends to give a distorted impression of what Marx had to say about religion.
Bertrand Russell on Skepticism
The sentiment expressed here might be considered foundation for modern, critical skepticism: the absence of good reasons for believing a proposition is itself good reason to disbelieve it, at least in the passive sense and possibly in the active sense. Whenever skeptics critique some position, a principle target of criticism is the supposed ground for that belief.
Merton on Religion and Poverty: Is Being Poor the Will of God?
Religious organizations have a long and complex history with questions about poverty, class stratification, and other economic matters. On the one hand, most religions have embedded within their traditions explicit statements about the importance of helping the poor and the dangers of too much accumulation of wealth.
Kleiman on Being Right: Why Are People So Attached to Their Opinions?
Both philosophers and theologians often attribute many of the evils committed by humans to things like greed (greed for money, power, land) or hatred (hatred of different races, religions, ethnic groups). This is not unreasonable because we can see the obvious influence of greed and hatred in so many human conflicts, both large-scale (like wars) and small-scale (like local crime).
Goodman on Quoting Scripture: Does the Devil Use Scripture?
It's not uncommon for an atheist to be very knowledgeable about scriptures - much more knowledgeable than believers tend to assume and often more knowledgeable than believers themselves. As a consequence, atheists will often find themselves quoting and arguing scripture at some length with believers.
Epictetus on Being a Better Person
No one wants to be a bad person - at least, I assume that that is the case. Where the difficulty and disagreements lie, however, is in just what constitutes a 'good person' and how one is to achieve actually being a 'good person' at all. There are a variety of theories as to how to best make moral judgments, most of which fall under the headings...
Schopenhauer on Nationalism and Pride: Is Pride in Nation Justified?
Nationalism has been a relatively popular position throughout most of the modern era. Indeed, much of what passes for modernity can be closely associated with the pursuit of nationalist aspirations, nationalist goals, or nationalist principles. And what is nationalism?
Baron de Montesquieu on Religious Wars
Religion, through warfare and various other sorts of conflict, has been at the root of a great deal of human suffering and misery. The question is not so much whether religion has played a role in all of this but, rather, how and why - because it’s clear that religion isn’t always involved in warfare or conflict...
C.S. Lewis on Faith and Religion: Do People Drift Out of Christianity?
C.S. Lewis is one of the most popular of modern Christian apologists, but his popularity is based upon a reputation that isn%u2019t entirely deserved. His arguments in defense of Christianity are largely superficial and unconvincing to anyone except those who are already believers or who aren%u2019t especially skilled when it comes to critical thinking.
Eric Hoffer on Dissent and Disagreement
There are many who don't seem to like disagreement - debates and arguments make them uncomfortable because they don't handle conflict very well. This is understandable, but it's not a reason to avoid disagreement and debate entirely. The fact of the matter is, too much agreement would be far worse than disagreement. We need to be able to disagree in order to learn.
Andre Maurois on Arguments and Opinions
Everyone participates in arguments or debates from time to time and, thus, understands the need to be able to defend their positions. Some may do this well and others may do it poorly, but this doesn’t mean that they actually understand what it is they are supposed to be defending in the first place. This may sound strange, but it's more common...
Benjamin Franklin on Church & State
It is common for religious groups to petition the government to support them in some fashion - this shouldn’t be surprising because as long as the government is in the habit of offering support to different organizations, it should be expected for religious groups to join in with all of the secular groups asking for aid.
John Locke on Reason and Faith
Debates about religion often end up becoming debates about reason and faith - in particular, whether faith is a valid means for acquiring knowledge and what the limits of reason might be. Religious believers often say that faith is important, but this seems to be contradicted by the extent to which they rely on reason.
Daniel Dennett on Bad Arguments
There are more bad arguments out there than good ones - that’s only to be expected, considering how much easier it is to construct a bad argument than a good one. For any of the beliefs you may hold, you can probably find bad arguments defending it if you try a little bit. When faced with someone using one of those bad arguments in order to defend a belief you happen to hold, what do you do?
Tiruvalluvar on Reasoning
It can be very difficult to reason with people who are themselves unfamiliar to reason well - or even what sound reasoning really looks like. Critical thinking and reasoning skills aren't taught explicitly in most schools, so most people are unfamiliar with things like logic and fallacies. So how does one reason with people who don't understand how to reason?
Richard Chenevix Trench on Logic and Reason
Not many people study the nature of logic - it's a complicated subject and often difficult to understand. Ignorance of logic, however, is just as detrimental to good reasoning as ignorance of grammar is detrimental to good use of language. Unfortuantely, few people understand these connections.
Carl Sagan on Science: No Forbidden Questions in Science
Science and the scientific method is very important for modern society. This has upset many people because the methodology of science can act like an acid on traditional beliefs: the almost ruthless questioning is difficult to hold up against and, under the pressure of scientific inquiry, many traditional beliefs have had to be abandoned.
William Ian Beardmore Beveridge on Language
Language is obviously a primary means by which we communicate with one another; what many may not realize, however, is that it is also a primary means by which we think in the first place. Our ideas and thoughts are structured by the language we use and, thus, greater clarity in language can result in greater clarity of thinking and reasoning.
Freidrich Nietzsche on Doubt, Faith, and Sin
The conflict between Christians and nonbelievers often revolves around the questions of faith and doubt, sometimes depicted as questions of gullibility and skepticism. Christians, on the one hand, have generally promoted faith as having positive value and even being a virtue while doubt, in contrast, is commonly denigrated...
Bertrand Russell on Meaning and Definitions
One of the complaints sometimes heard about philosophy and logic is that they can act overly concerned with 'triffles' - little things which, it is thought, no sane person would find much to bother about. Thus do philosophers and logicians toil away and waste their time over matters like the nature of definitions, the meaning of the words like...
Baruch Spinoza on Philosophy & Faith: What's the Difference?
Religion (or faith) and philosophy are often compared and contrasted. Theologians and religious apologists typically come down on the side of religion and faith while philosophers typically come down on the side of philosophy - is anyone surprised.
David Hume on Skepticism and Belief: Why Bother With Silly Tales?
British philosopher David Hume wrote some very important works on empiricism and skepticism; in fact, skeptics today continue to use his insights and ideas when critiquing the beliefs and arguments of believers. But does the mere fact that we know how to critique a belief mean that we should bother? Sometimes, shouldn't we wonder what the point of it all really is?
Marcus Aurelius on Opinions: Why Do We Values Others' Opinions of Us
Both as emperor of Rome and Stoic philosopher, we can imagine that Marcus Aurelius spent a lot of time observing human nature - especially in the arena of politics. Here, he identifies what he considers to be an interesting contradiction between basic the human predilection to be egotistical and a equally strong predilection to submit to peer pressure.
Gutman on Secular vs. Religious Standards of Reasoning
In a religiously diverse society, secular standards of reasoning accommodate greater agreement upon a common education than religious faith. ... The case rests instead on the claim that secular standards constitute a better basis upon which to build a common education for citizenship than any set of sectarian religious beliefs
Commager on Loyalty and Dissent
What is the new loyalty? It is, above all, conformity. It is the uncritical and unquestioning acceptance of America as it is - the political institutions, the social relationships, the economic practices. It rejects inquiry into the race question or socialized medicine, or public housing or into the wisdom or validity of our foreign policy.
Immanuel Kant on Freedom and Thought
Certainly one may say, 'Freedom to speak or write can be taken from us by a superior power, but never the freedom to think!' But how much, and how correctly, would we think if we did not think, as it were, in common with others, with whom we mutually communicate!
Arthur Schopenhauer on Books and Learning
Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents.
Jay F. Rosenberg on Suffering: Can Suffering be Requited? Can Suffering Be...
I am suspicious of the notion of unrequited suffering, in particular, of its inescapable implication that suffering can be 'requited'. Suffering is not a debit entry in some ledger, something that can be offset by an appropriate credit on another page. Suffering is intrinsic disvalue. Positive consequences may flow from it, but it cannot thereby...
Charles S. Peirce on Reason, Belief, and Logic: Why Don't People Study More...
Few persons care to study logic, because everybody conceives himself to be proficient enough in the art of reasoning already. But I observe that this satisfaction is limited to one's own ratiocination, and does not extend to that of other men.
W. Somerset Maugham on Metaphysics: Finding Reasons for What We Already Believe
It has been said that metaphysics is the finding of bad reasons for what we believe on instinct.
H.L. Mencken on Mortality & Unbelief: Are Agnostics Afraid of Hell and...
In every unbeliever's heart there is an uneasy feeling that, after all, he may awake after death and find himself immortal. This is his punishment for his unbelief. This is the agnostic's Hell.
J. Michael Straczynski on Religion and God: Is God Merely the Product of our...
If I take a lamp and shine it toward the wall, a bright spot will appear on the wall. The lamp is our search for truth ... for understanding. Too often, we assume that the light on the wall is God, but the light is not the goal of the search, it is the result of the search. The more intense the search, the brighter the light on the wall...
Thomas Paine on Theology & Christianity: Is There Any God to Study in...
The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion.
Cyril Connolly on Faith & Sin: Do Unbelievers Retain Faith in Sin Without God?
Those of us who were brought up as Christians and who have lost our faith have retained the Christian sense of sin without the saving belief in redemption. This poisons our thought and so paralyzes us in action.
Jeanette B. Welch on God & the Constitution
The word God does not appear in the Constitution. It grants neither the president nor the Congress any religious powers. ...The framers of the Constitution had learned the importance of protecting religious freedom. The colonies had a long history of intolerance and persecution enforced by the state...
Jonathan Z. Smith on the Definition of Religion
...while there is a staggering amount of data, phenomena, of human experiences and expressions that might be characterized in one culture or another, by one criterion or another, as religion - there is no data for religion. Religion is solely the creation of the scholar's study...
Robert S. Alley on Religion & Accommodation
As currently employed, the very concept of accommodation suggests the need of the state to define that to which it is making accommodation. And accommodate to what? Who is to accommodate whom? Which demands require accommodation? ... Would it be so simple to substitute for "it's just a little prayer" the phrase "it's just a little satan adoration"?
Abe Fortas on Government Neutrality Towards Religion
Government in our democracy, state and national, must be neutral in matters of religious theory, doctrine, and practice. It may not be hostile to any religion or to the advocacy of no-religion; and it may not aid, foster, or promote one religion or religious theory against another or even against the militant opposite...
Luke Timothy Johnson on Christian Millenarianism
Millenarianism appeals to the marginalized, those whose expectations of power, possessions, or prestige have been disappointed - the relatively deprived who take their deprivation absolutely. Apocalyptic visions appeal to them because these visions let their hostility and resentment find a religiously acceptable release in a God who does the work of judgment for them.
Abraham Lincoln on Human Purposes and God's Will
Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them.
A. A. Milne on Agnosticism & Religion
The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief—call it what you will—than any book ever written; it has emptied more churches than all the counterattractions of cinema, motor bicycle and golf course.
H.L. Mencken on Agnosticism & Religion
All great religions, in order to escape absurdity, have to admit a dilution of agnosticism. It is only the savage, whether of the African bush or the American gospel tent, who pretends to know the will and intent of God exactly and completely.
Thomas Henry Huxley on Agnosticism
In matters of the intellect follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration... and do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable. That I take to be the agnostic faith, which if a man keep whole and undefiled, he shall not be ashamed to look the universe in the...
Sydney J. Harris on Agnosticism & Atheism
Agnosticism is a perfectly respectable and tenable philosophical position; it is not dogmatic and makes no pronouncements about the ultimate truths of the universe. It remains open to evidence and persuasion; lacking faith, it nevertheless does not deride faith. Atheism, on the other hand, is as unyielding and dogmatic about religious belief as...
Baruch Spinoza on Miracles: Ignorance vs. Philosophy
Those who wish to seek out the cause of miracles, and to understand the things of nature as philosophers, and not to stare at them in astonishment like fools, are soon considered heretical and impious, and proclaimed as such by those whom the mob adores as the interpreters of nature and the gods.
Francis Bacon on Chance and Superstition: Probability, Coincidence, and the...
Humans seem to be a rather superstitious lot - whatever the subject, people are able to develop superstitions around it. People wear lucky clothing, carry lucky objects, and think that they have lucky numbers or days. How do such superstitious beliefs develop and what causes them to be reinforced?
Friedrich Nietzsche on Justice & Equality: Does Justice Only Exist Between...
Justice (fairness) originates among those who are approximately equally powerful... where there is no clearly recognizable predominance and a fight would mean inconclusive mutual damage, there the idea originates that one might come to an understanding and negotiate one's claims: the initial character of justice is the character of a trade.
Bertrand Russell on Science & Religion: Should Evidence or Force Decide...
When two men of science disagree, they do not invoke the secular arm; they wait for further evidence to decide the issue, because, as men of science, they know that neither is infallible. But when two theologians differ, since there is no criteria to which either can appeal, there is nothing for it but mutual hatred and an open or covert appeal...
Aristotle on Politics & Religion: Tyrants Need to be God-Fearing and Pious
A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side.
Lucretius on Mortality
There is no murky pit of hell awaiting anyone ... Mind cannot arise alone without body, or apart from sinews and blood ... You must admit, therefore, that when then body has perished, there is an end also of the spirit diffused through it. It is surely crazy to couple a mortal object with an eternal...
Leo Tolstoy on Freethought
Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking; where it is absent, discussion is apt to become worse than useless.
Don Boudreaux on Facts and Faith
A belief that is founded upon a compelling theory and that is consistently supported by plenty of empirical evidence is not properly described as "faith." As I understand the meaning of the word "faith" - especially when this word is used in an attempt to discredit a proposition - it means belief in something for no rational reason and without sufficient supporting empirical evidence.
Paul Tillich on Faith & Science
The distinction between the truth of faith and the truth of science leads to a warning, directed to theologians, not to use recent scientific discoveries to confirm the truth of faith. ... The physical theories referred to have no direct relation to the infinitely complex phenomenon of human freedom, and the emission of power in quantums has direct relation to the meaning of miracles....
Denis Diderot on Revelation and Truth
Only a very bad theologian would confuse the certainty that follows revelation with the truths that are revealed. They are entirely different things.
Mason Cooley on Theology and God
A theology whose god is a metaphor is wasting its time.
Abraham Joshua Heschel on Theology & Philosophy
Theology starts with dogmas, philosophy begins with problems. Philosophy sees the problem first, theology has the answer in advance. We must not, however, disregard another important difference. Not only are the problems of philosophy not identical with the problems of religion; their status is not the same.
John Winthrop on America & God
For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. Soe that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.
Abraham Lincoln on God and Politics
In great contests, each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time.
Albert Camus on Intellectuals
An intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself.
John Stuart Mill on God & Goodness
I will call no being good who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures; and if such a creature can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go.
Walter Lippman on Science vs. Religion
The radical novelty of modern science lies precisely in the rejection of the belief, which is at the heart of all popular religion, that the forces which move the stars and atoms are contingent upon the preferences of the human heart.
George Washington on Religious Conflict
Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause.
A.J. Ayer on the Meaninglessness of God
If "god" is a metaphysical term, then it cannot be even probable that a god exists. For to say that "God exists" is to make a metaphysical utterance which cannot be either true or false. And by the same criterion, no sentence which purports to describe the nature of a transcendent god can possess any literal significance.
Immanuel Kant on Recognizing God
Even if God were to make an immediate appearance, I would still need rational theology as a presupposition. For how am I to be certain that it is God himself who has appeared to me, or only another powerful creature?
Brian Davies on Judging God
But what is the background for judging the Creator ex nihilo? There cannot be any, in which case the God of classical theism cannot be said to be even capable of succeeding or failing. And in that case he cannot be a moral agent, for such an agent must be able either to succeed or to fail.
Don Cupitt on God's Existence
A God out there and values out there, if they existed, would be utterly useless and unintelligible to us. There is nothing to be gained by nostalgia for the old objectivism, which was in any case used only to justify arrogance, tyranny, and cruelty. People [forget] ... how utterly hateful the old pre-humanitarianism world was.
Etienne Gilson on Revelation
We cannot believe in something, be it the Word of God Himself, unless we find some sense in the formulas which we believe. And it can hardly be expected that we will believe in God's Revelation, unless we be given good reasons to think that such a Revelation has indeed taken place.
Matthew Arnold on God and Literature
The word 'God' is used in most cases as by no means a term of science or exact knowledge, but a term of poetry and eloquence, a term thrown out, so to speak, as a not fully grasped object of the speaker's consciousness - a literary term, in short; and mankind mean different things by it as their consciousness differs.
Dostoyevsky on Evil
"Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature ... and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth?"
Russell on Skepticism
"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."