Great Quotes

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Doubt everything. Find your own light.

-Last words of Gotama Buddha, in Theravada tradition

Men think epilepsy divine, merely because they do not understand it. But if they called everything divine which they do not understand, why, there would be no end of divine things.


"The gods can either take away evil from the world and will not, or, being willing to do so, cannot; or they neither can nor will, or lastly, they are able and willing.

"If they have the will to remove evil and cannot, then they are not omnipotent. If they can but will not, then they are not benevolent. If they are neither able nor willing, they are neither omnipotent nor benevolent.

"Lastly, if they are both able and willing to annihilate evil, why does it exist?"

-Epicurus, ("Aphorisms," cited in Seldes, "The Great Thoughts")

Nature free at once and rid of her haughty lords is seen to do all things spontaneously of herself without the meddling of the gods.


We must not believe the many, who say that only free people ought to be educated, but we should rather believe the philosophers who say that only the educated are free.

-Epictetus (Discourses)

*Ubi dubium ibi libertas:*

Where there is doubt, there is freedom

-Latan proverb

Argumentation cannot suffice for the discovery of a new work, since the subtlety of Nature is greater many times than the subtlety of argument.

-Francis Bacon

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.

-Blaise Pascal

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. For these men know that once ignorance is put aside that wonderment would be taken away which is the only means by which their authority is preserved.


There is nothing which can better deserve our patronage than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.

-George Washington (address to Congress, 8 January, 1790)

Those who invalidate reason ought seriously to consider whether they argue against reason with or without reason; if with reason, then they establish the principles that they are laboring to dethrone: but if they argue without reason (which, in order to be consistent with themselves they must do), they are out of reach of rational conviction, nor do they deserve a rational argument.

-Ethan Allen

And the day will come, when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as His Father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva, in the brain of Jupiter.

-Thomas Jefferson (to John Adams, 1823)

I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved -- the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!

-John Adams (letter to Thomas Jefferson)

Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is no more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifiying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory to itself than this thing called Christianity.

-Thomas Paine (The Age of Reason)

Do me the justice to remember that I have always supported the right of every man to his opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right makes a slave of himself to present opinion because he precludes himself the right of changing it. The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall.

-Thomas Paine

Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law.

-Thomas Paine

Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize humankind.

­Thomas Paine

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

- Thomas Paine (The Age of Reason)

What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.

-James Madison (A Memorial and Remonstrance, 1785)

There has never been a good war or a bad peace.

-Benjamin Franklin

The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.

-John Stuart Mill (On Liberty, 1859)

I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the South is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes-- a justifier of the most appalling barbarity, a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds, and a dark shelter under which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection. Where I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to that enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. . . I. . . hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.

-Frederick Douglass (After the Escape)

I will not attack your doctrines nor your creeds if they accord liberty to me. If they hold thought to be dangerous - if they aver that doubt is a crime, then I attack them one and all, because they enslave the minds of men.

-Robert Ingersoll (The Ghosts)

For ages, a deadly conflict has been waged between a few brave men and women of thought and genius upon the one side, and the great ignorant religious mass on the other. This is the war between Science and Faith. The few have appealed to reason, to honor, to law, to freedom, to the known, and to happiness here in this world. The many have appealed to prejudice, to fear, to miracle, to slavery, to the unknown, and to misery hereafter. The few have said "Think" The many have said "Believe!"

-Ingersoll, (Gods)

Where knowledge ends, religion begins.

-Benjamin Disraeli

Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion - several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn't straight.

-Mark Twain

The greatest progress that the human race has made lies in learning how to make correct inferences.

-Nietzsche (Human, All-Too Human)

The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of woman's emancipation.

-Elizabeth Cady Stanton

The bible teaches that women brought sin and death into the world, that she precipitated the fall of the race, that she was arraigned before the judgment seat of Heaven, tried, condemned and sentenced. Marriage for her was to be a condition of bondage, maternity a period suffering and anguish, and in silence and subjection, she was to play the role of a dependent on man's bounty for all her material wants, and for all the information she might desire... Here is the Bible position of woman briefly summed up.

­Elizabeth Cady Stanton

If all people learned to think in the non-Aristotelian manner of quantum mechanics, the world would change so radically that most of what we call "stupidity" and even a great deal of what we consider "insanity" might disappear, and the "intractable" problems of war, poverty and injustice would suddenly seem a great deal closer to solution.

-Alfred Korzybski

In spite of all the yearnings of men, no one can produce a single fact or reason to support the belief in God and in personal immortality.

-Clarence Darrow, 1938

No theory is too false, no fable too absurd, no superstition too degrading for acceptance when it has become embedded in common belief. Men will submit themselves to torture and to death, mothers will immolate [burn] their children at the bidding of beliefs they thus accept.

-Henry George

The foundation of morality is to. . . give up pretending to believe that for which there is no evidence, and repeating unintelligible propositions about things beyond the possibilities of knowledge.

-T.H. Huxley

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.

-Leo Tolstoy (On Life and Essays on Religion)

Religion is a disease. It is born of fear; it compensates through hate in the guise of authority, revelation. Religion, enthroned in a powerful social organization, can become incredibly sadistic. No religion has been more cruel than the Christian.

-Dr. George A. Dorsey

It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.

-Robert H. Jackson, U.S. Supreme Court Justice, 1950

The twin doctrines of separation of church and state and liberty of individual conscience are the marrow of our democracy, if not indeed America's most magnificent contribution to the freeing of Western man.

-Clinton Rossiter, American historian

Its first and most immediate purpose rested on the belief that a union of government and religion tends to destroy government and degrade religion.

-Justice Black describing the Establishment Clause of the 1st Ammendment

Belief is an obsolete Aristotelian category.

-Dr. jack Sarfatti, physicist

There is no Energy Shortage. There is no Energy Crisis. There is a *Crisis of Ignorance."

-R. Buckminster Fuller

I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own­ a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism.

-Albert Einstein

The Christian religion has been and still is the principle enemy of moral progress in the world.

­Bertrand Russell

The principle of science, the definition, almost, is the following: *The test of all knowledge is experiment.* Experiment is the *sole judge* of scientific "truth."

-Richard Feynman (The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol. 1)

*Observation, reason,* and *experiment* make up what we call the *scientific method.*

-Richard Feynman (The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol. 1)

A poet once said, "The whole universe is in a glass of wine." We will probably never know in what sense he meant that, for poets do not write to be understood... How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it! If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts-- physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on-- remember that nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let it give us one more final pleasure: drink it and forget it all!

-Richard Feynman (The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol. 1)

People may come along and argue philosophically that they like one better than another; but we have learned from much experience that all philosophical intuitions about what nature is going to do fail.

-Richard Feynman (The Character of Physical Law)

If you thought before that science was certain-- well, that is just an error on your part.

-Richard Feynman (The Character of Physical Law)

If science is to progress, what we need is the ability to experiment, honestly in reporting the results-- the results must be reported without somebody saying what they would like the results to have been-- and finally-- an important thing-- the intelligence to interpret the results. An important point about this intelligence is that it should not be sure ahead of time what must be. It cannot be prejudiced, and say 'That is very unlikely; I don't like that'.

-Richard Feynman (The Character of Physical Law)

It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is-- if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. That is all there is to it.

-Richard Feynman (The Character of Physical Law)

Although it is uncertain, it is necessary to make science useful. Science is only useful if it tells you about some experiment that has not been done; it is not good if it only tells you what just went on.

-Richard Feynman (The Character of Physical Law)

If you can find any other view of the world which agrees over the entire range where things have already been observed, but disagrees somewhere else, you have made a great discovery.

-Richard Feynman (The Character of Physical Law)

It is our responsibility as scientists, knowing the great progress which comes from a satisfactory philosophy of ignorance, the great progress which is the fruit of freedom of thought, to proclaim the value of this freedom; to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed and discussed; and to demand this freedom as our duty to all coming generations.

-Richard Feynman ("What Do You Care What Other People Think?")

Science is of value because it *can* produce *something.*

-Richard Feynman on "The Value of Science" ("What Do You Care What Other People Think?")

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I'm not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here....

I don't have to know the answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell. It doesn't frighten me.

-Richard Feynman (Genius, the life and science)

The human mind treats a new idea the way the body treats a strange protein; it rejects it.

-Biologist P.B. Medawar

No rational argument will have a rational effect on a man who does not want to adopt a rational attitude.

-Karl Popper

Science is expanding, and with it our vision of the universe. although this new and constantly changing view may not always give us comfort, it does have the virtue of truth according to our most effective resources for acquiring knowledge. No philosophy, moral outlook, or religion can be inconsistent with the findings of science and hope to endure among educated people.

-Heinz R. Pagels

Nothing is more dangerous than a dogmatic worldview-- nothing more constraining, more blinding to innovation, more destructive of openness to novelty.

-Stephen Jay Gould (Dinosaur in a Haystack)

The most important scientific revolutions all include, as their only common feature, the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions about our centrality in the cosmos.

-Stephen Jay Gould (Dinosaur in a Haystack)

Creationist critics often charge that evolution cannot be tested, and therefore cannot be viewed as a properly scientific subject at all. This claim is rhetorical nonsense.

-Stephen Jay Gould (Dinosaur in a Haystack)

Our creationist detractors charge that evolution is an unproved and unprovable charade-- a secular religion masquerading as science. They claim, above all, that evolution generates no predictions, never exposes itself to test, and therefore stands as dogma rather than disprovable science. This claim is nonsense. We make and test risky predictions all the time; our success is not dogma, but a highly probable indication of evolution's basic truth.

-Stephen Jay Gould (Dinosaur in a Haystack)

No rational order of divine intelligence unites species. The natural ties are genealogical along contingent pathways of history.

-Stephen Jay Gould (Dinosaur in a Haystack)

The observer cannot be left out of the description of the observation.

-Dr. John A. Wheeler, physicist

Christ died for our sins. Dare we make his martyrdom meaningless by not committing them?

-Jules Feiffer

People have murdered each other, in massive wars and guerilla actions, for many centuries, and still murder each other in the present, over Ideologies and Religions which, stated as propositions, appear neither true nor false to modern logicians-- meaningless propositions that look meaningful to the linguistically naive.

-Robert A. Wilson (Quantum Psychology, 1990)

And if the Thinker thinks passionately enough, the Prover will prove the thought so conclusively that you will never talk a person out of such a belief, even if it is something as remarkable as the notion that there is a gaseous vertebrate of astronomical heft ("GOD") who will spend all eternity torturing people who do not believe in his religion.

-Robert A. Wilson (Prometheus Rising, 1986)

The Bible tells us to be like God, and then on page after page it describes God as a mass murderer. This may be the single most important key to the political behavior of Western Civilization.

-Robert A. Wilson (Right Where You Are Sitting Now)

You don't need to take drugs to hallucinate; improper language can fill your world with phantoms and spooks of many kinds.

-Robert A. Wilson (Chaos and Beyond: The Best of Trajectories, 1994)

Of course, the United States was not originally intended to be a Christian nation. Jefferson, Washington, Franklin and most of the founding fathers were skeptics or Deists; they specifically intended a secular government with an "unbreachable wall" between church and state; they even wrote into the treaty with the Moslem nation of Tripoli a clear statement that, unlike European countries, the "United States is not, in any sense, a Christian nation." (So clearly understood was the principle of separation of church and state in those days that the treaty passed Congress without any debate on that clause, and President John Adams signed it at once, without any fear that it might jeopardize his political future.)

-Robert A. Wilson (Sex and Drugs, 1973)

Whenever people are certain they understand our peculiar situation here on this planet, it is because they have accepted a religious Faith or a secular Ideology (Ideologies are the modern from of Faiths) and just stopped thinking.

-Robert A. Wilson (Cosmic Trigger II, 1991)

One social evil for which the New Testament is clearly in part responsible is anti-Semitism.

-Steve Allen (Steve Allen, on the Bible Religion & Morality)

There is not the slightest question but that the God of the Old Testament is a jealous, vengeful God, inflicting not only on the sinful "pagans" but even on his Chosen People fire, lighting, hideous plagues and diseases, brimstone, and other curses.

-Steve Allen (Steve Allen, on the Bible Religion & Morality)

There are hundreds of millions who believe the Messiah has come. If he did, then it is unfortunately the case that his heroic sacrifice and death have *had no effect whatsoever on the very problem his coming might have been expected to address, for history demonstrates, beyond question, that we Christians have been just as dangerous, singly and en masse, as non-Christians.

-Steve Allen (Steve Allen, on the Bible Religion & Morality)

The Bible has been interpreted to justify such evil practices as, for example, slavery, the slaughter of prisoners of war, the sadistic murders of women believed to be witches, capital punishment for hundreds of offenses, polygamy, and cruelty to animals. It has been used to encourage belief in the grossest superstition and to discourage the free teaching of scientific truths. We must never forget that both good and evil flow from the Bible. It is therefore not above criticism.

-Steve Allen (Steve Allen, on the Bible Religion & Morality)

Ideas have consequences, and totally erroneous ideas are likely to have destructive consequences.

-Steve Allen (More Steve Allen, on the Bible Religion & Morality)

God is by definition the holder of all possible knowledge, it would be impossible for him to have faith in anything. Faith, then, is built upon ignorance and hope.

-Steve Allen (More Steve Allen, on the Bible Religion & Morality)

No actual tyrant known to history has ever been guilty of one-hundredth of the crimes, massacres, and other atrocities attributed to the Deity in the Bible.

-Steve Allen (More Steve Allen, on the Bible Religion & Morality)

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

­Gloria Steinem

Religion, society and state­ from none of these do women get their proper honour. It is religion which has created an unparalleled disparity between men and women.

-Taslima Nasreen

The prime necessity of a human being is freedom. It is the state which has forbidden women from enjoying that liberty. Religion is now the first obstacle to women's advancement. Religion pulls human beings backwards, it goes against science and progressiveness. Religion engulfs people with a fear of the supernatural, It bars people from laughing and never allows people to exercise their choice.

-Taslima Nasreen

We know that the price of seeking to force our beliefs on others is that they

might someday force theirs on us.

-Mario Cuomo

A child who is protected from all controversial ideas is as vulnerable as a child who is protected from every germ. The infection, when it comes- and it will come- may overwhelm the system, be it the immune system or the belief system.

-Jane Smiley (in the Chicago Tribune)

Superstitions typically involve seeing order where in fact there is none, and denial amounts to rejecting evidence of regularities, sometimes even ones that are staring us in the face.

-Murray Gell-Mann (Quark and the Jaguar)

I would recommend that skeptics devote even more effort than they do now to understanding the reasons why so many people want or need to believe.

-Murray Gell-Mann (Quark and the Jaguar)

The persistence of erroneous beliefs exacerbates the widespread anachronistic failure to recognize the urgent problems that face humanity on this planet.

-Murray Gell-Mann (Quark and the Jaguar)

The fact is that far more crime and child abuse has been committed by zealots in the name of God, Jesus and Mohammed than has ever been committed in the name of Satan. Many people don't like that statement, but few can argue with it.

-Kenneth V. Lanning, Supervisory Special Agent at the Behavioral Science Institution and Research Unit of the FBI Academy (from The Demon-Haunted World)

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

-Carl Sagan (The Demon-Haunted World)

Advances in medicine and agriculture have saved vastly more lives than have been lost in all the wars in history.

-Carl Sagan (The Demon-Haunted World)

At the extremes it is difficult to distinguish pseudoscience from rigid, doctrinaire religion.

-Carl Sagan (The Demon-Haunted World)

Avoidable human misery is more often caused not so much by stupidity as by ignorance, particularly our own ignorance about ourselves.

-Carl Sagan (The Demon-Haunted World)

Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy. Think of how many people rely on these prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs. Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science?

-Carl Sagan (The Demon-Haunted World)

Is it fair to be suspicious of an entire profession because of a few bad apples? There are at least two important differences, it seems to me. First, no one doubts that science actually works, whatever mistaken and fraudulent claim may from time to time be offered. But whether there are *any* "miraculous" cures from faith-healing, beyond the body's own ability to cure itself, is very much at issue. Secondly, the expose' of fraud and error in science is made almost exclusively by science. But the exposure of fraud and error in faith-healing is almost never done by other faith-healers.

-Carl Sagan (The Demon-Haunted World)

Virtually every major technological advance in the history of the human species-- back to the invention of stone tools and the domestication of fire-- has been ethically ambiguous.

-Carl Sagan (The Demon-Haunted World)

If you want to *reason* about faith, and offer a reasoned (and reason-responsive) defense of faith as an extra category of belief worthy of special consideration, I'm eager to play. I certainly grant the existence of the phenomenon of faith; what I want to see is a reasoned ground for taking faith seriously as a *way of getting to the truth*, and not, say, just as a way people comfort themselves and each other (a worthy function that I do take seriously). But you must not expect me to go along with your defence of faith as a path to truth if at any point you appeal to the very dispensation you are supposedly trying to justify. Before you appeal to faith when reason has you backed into a corner, think about whether you really want to abandon reason when reason is on your side.

-Daniel C. Dennett (Darwin's Dangerous Idea)

I think that there are no forces on this planet more dangerous to us all than the fanaticisms of fundamentalism, of all the species: Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, as well as countless smaller infections. Is there a conflict between science and religion here? There most certainly is.

-Daniel C. Dennett (Darwin's Dangerous Idea)