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My collection of (mostly) quotations and links (mostly) about skepticism, science, philosophical naturalism, freethought and humanism. Mostly. (Formerly “Un bon mot ne prouve rien”.)
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I have an urgent plea to scientists and all thinking people. We need to focus our attention on one goal, which will not be reached in the lifetime of the youngest among us but has to be achieved someday if humanity is to survive: That goal is the replacement of foolish faith and its vanities with something more sublime–knowledge and understanding that is securely based on observable reality.

Victor Stenger, “The Rising Antiscience

Victor Stenger

h/t Jesper Both Pedersen @ WEIT

Science is not a “belief system” but a process and methodology for seeking an objective reality. Of course because scientific exploration is a human endeavor it comes with all the flaws of humanity: ego, short-sightedness, corruption and greed. But unlike a “belief system” such as religion untethered to an objective truth, science is over time self-policing; competing scientists have a strong incentive to corroborate and build on the findings of others; but equally, to prove other scientists wrong by means that can be duplicated by others.

Jeff Schweitzer, “Science Is Not Religion”, HuffPo

Jeff Schweitzer

How wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed farther and farther back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (1997, p. 311)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

h/t WEIT

Science knows it doesn’t know everything, otherwise it’d stop. … Just ’cos science doesn’t know everything doesn’t mean you can fill in the gaps with whatever fairy-tale most appeals to you!

Dara Ó Briain

Dara Ó Briain

Atheist Superbowl commercial, 2013

Philosophy does not produce knowledge; that is the job of science. Philosophy examines ways knowledge is claimed to be produced, and the implications of what that knowledge might be for other views we hold.

John S. Wilkins, “Does philosophy generate knowledge?


The fact that we humans have been able to understand so much about how the natural world works, in our incredibly limited region of space over a remarkably short period of time, is a triumph of the human spirit, one in which we can all be justifiably proud.

Sean Carroll, “Does the Universe Need God?”, The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity, ed. James B. Stump and Alan G. Padgett

Sean Carroll

All of my knowledge of the universe is contingent. Personally I start here:


From cogito ergo sum, which itself comes from a contingent position of doubt, I don’t think there’s any way of deciding between solipsism on the one hand and materialism on the other. The decision is arbitrary. Solipsism seems to allow anything I imagine to be both real and unreal. Solipsism is the ultimate philosophy that in explaining everything explains nothing. So I choose materialism. I contingently presume there really is a world out there that I’m looking at.

This rules out the various philosophies that rely on reason alone, the Idealisms and Rationalisms and the like, because whatever you can imagine about, idealise about, reason about, can always be thwarted by taking that extra step into solipsism.

Empiricism seems the best option. Once we go down that route we come to science. And science gives us Evolution. And evolution tells us that all early creatures didn’t have brains; and of those that did acquire brains few, and possibly only one, have been able to reason. Reason is an add-on, and evolutionary upgrade. So, if that earlier choice of going for empiricism over rationalism is right, then the evidence it supplies suggests that we were always experiential creatures and that our reason adds to that capacity to experience to give us empiricism: reasoning about our experiences. It’s consistent, self-affirming, but still obviously contingent.

From there we also learn, come to know, how fallible we are, in both our capacities to experience and reason. And all the science we have about the brain should be screaming out that we do not have certainties, we cannot be sure about many things that we imagine might be the case, and that the only reliable way to compensate for these fallibilities is through science – but, again, it’s still contingent.


This leaves us with a few ideas that are as close to certainty as anything. One is that all the mysterious stuff that does not have scientific evidence to support it is highly suspect (which turns out to be all of it). Another is that the internal conflicts and the inconsistencies of these mythical stories should make them highly suspect. At least to the extent that they cannot be relied upon for the prescription of rules. They are totally inadequate as authorities on how to live. They go way beyond the contingency I’ve expressed so far.

One particular tragedy is that believers are so enamoured by their particular belief system that they are grossly offended by the comparisons between their beliefs and beliefs in fairies; they really do not see how appropriate that comparison is. They are so locked into the history of their belief they mistake that belief system for a description of actuality; they mistake the reality of the religion (the religion itself exists) for the reality of its content.

This commitment is not the case with atheists. We can even entertain the God hypothesis – the hypothesis of the religious that there is some entity that has something akin to agency and intelligence (i.e they apply the illusion that we have free-will onto their illusion of a deity and they let this convince them that both free-wills are real – ironic). But, maybe free-will does actually exist in some entity, though it does not exist in us. We can entertain this hypothesis too. But there we have to stop, because not one jot of evidence exists to support these hypotheses.

Just let an atheist claim that neuroscience can tell us something about love and the theist gets all empirical on his ass. And yet the theist can infer all sorts of mystical, miracle, personal God, goodness and evil, heaven and hell crap – all from the simple God hypothesis.

When there is so little empirical support for an imagined deity, and so much empirical support for craziness, if you are lucky (unfortunate) enough to experience a ‘revelation’ how the hell do you know you’ve really had one? When something odd happens in your head why on earth would you suspect divine intervention over having a bit of a funny do? And I’m sorry, but Alvin Plantinga is crazy. Oh, hang on, I get the connection. You have to have a little craziness in order for your craziness to convince you you’ve had a revelation. Is that how it works? Is that what makes some of them certain in their belief? Is certainty a form of craziness?

Anyway, we atheists are not certain. Just pretty sure. How often do we have to spell it out that this is a contingent position and not one of certainty. How ignorant do the faithful have to be on this issue? How could any respectable theologian seriously miss the contingency underlying atheism?

It will be useful in taking a second look at science and religion to understand the true nature of the search for objective truth. Science is not just another enterprise like medicine or enginerering or theology. It is the wellspring of all the knowledge we have of the real world that can be tested and fitted to preexisting knowledge. It is the arsenal of technologies and inferential mathematics needed to distinguish the true from the false. It formulates the principles and formulas that tie all this knowledge together. Science belongs to everybody. Its constituent parts can be challenged by anybody in the world who has sufficient information to do so. It is not just ‘another way of knowing’ as often claimed, making it coequal with religious faith. The conflict between scientific knowledge and the teachings of organized religions is irreconcilable. The chasm will continue to widen and cause no end of trouble as long as religious leaders go on making unsupportable claims about supernatural causes of reality.

E. O. Wilson, The Social Conquest of Earth (2012), p. 295

E. O. Wilson

h/t WEIT

The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion and politics, but it is not the path to knowledge; it has no place in the endeavor of science.

Carl Sagan, Cosmos (1980) (via rosyeyes)

Carl Sagan

Photo: Bill Ray, from the Cosmos dust jacket

(via rosyeyes-deactivated20140105)