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Cheap Thoughts on Science


Science and Religion


Every great scientific truth goes through three states: first, people say it conflicts with the Bible; next, they say it has been discovered before; lastly, they say they always believed it.
     Jean Louis Agassiz


Religion cannot object to science on moral grounds. The history of religious intolerance forbids it.
     Isaac Asimov


Often, a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other parts of the world, about the motions and orbits of the stars and even their size and distances, ... and this knowledge he holds with certainty from reason and experience. It is thus offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talk nonsense about such things, claiming that what he is saying is based in Scripture. ... The shame is not so much that an ignorant person is laughed at, but rather that people outside the faith believe that we hold such opinions, and thus ... are rejected as ignorant and unlearned.
     St. Augustine


I see no good reasons why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feeling of anyone.
     Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species 
     by Means of Natural Selection (1859)


If you can approach the world’s complexities, both its glories and its horrors, with an attitude of humble curiosity, acknowledging that however deeply you have seen, you have only just scratched the surface, you will find worlds within worlds, beauties you could not heretofore imagine, and your own mundane preoccupations will shrink to proper size, not all that important in the greater scheme of things.
     Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking the Spell (2006)


Science not only purifies the religious impulse of the dross of its anthropomorphism but also contributes to a religious spiritualization of our understanding of life.
     Albert Einstein


The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.
     Albert Einstein


What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of "humility." This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.
     Albert Einstein


The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.
     Albert Einstein, The World As I See It (1934)


The cosmic religious experience is the strongest and the noblest driving force behind scientific research.
     Albert Einstein, quoted in his obituary (April 19, 1955)


My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.
     Albert Einstein, quoted in Banesh Hoffman, 
     Albert Einstein, Creator and Rebel (1972)


The religion that is afraid of science dishonors God and commits suicide.
     Ralph Waldo Emerson


I do not feel obliged to believe that same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect had intended for us to forgo their use.
     Galileo Galilei


Take note, theologians, that in your desire to make matters of faith out of propositions relating to the fixity of sun and earth you run the risk of eventually having to condemn as heretics those who would declare the earth to stand still and the sun to change position — eventually, I say, at such a time as it might be physically or logically proved that the earth moves and the sun stands still.
     Galileo Galilei, Dialogue


It is surely harmful to souls to make it a heresy to believe what is proved.
     Galileo Galilei, The Authority of Scripture 
     in Philosophical Controversies


It vexes me when they would constrain science by the authority of the Scriptures, and yet do not consider themselves bound to answer reason and experiment.
     Galileo Galilei, The Authority of Scripture 
     in Philosophical Controversies


... to base religious beliefs on an estimate of what science cannot do is as foolhardy as it is blasphemous.
     Gerald Holton, Einstein, History, and Other Passions: The Rebellion 
     against Science at the End of the Twentieth Century (1996)


Science commits suicide when it adopts a creed.
     Thomas Henry [T. H.] Huxley


The birth of science was the death of superstition.
     Thomas Henry [T. H.] Huxley


True science and true religion are twin sisters, and the separation of either from the other is sure to prove the death of both. Science prospers exactly in proportion as it is religious; and religion flourishes in exact proportion to the scientific depth and firmness of its bases.
     Thomas Henry [T. H.] Huxley


I have said that the man of science is the sworn interpreter of nature in the high court of reason. But of what avail is his honest speech, if ignorance is the assessor of the judge, and prejudice the foreman of the jury? I hardly know of a great physical truth whose universal reception has not been preceded by an epoch in which the most estimable persons have maintained that the phenomena investigated were directly dependent on the Divine Will, and that the attempt to investigate them was not only futile but blasphemous. And there is a wonderful tenacity of life about this sort of opposition to physical science. Crushed and maimed in every battle, it yet never seems to be slain; and after a hundred defeats it is at this day as rampant, though happily not so mischievous, as in the time of Galileo.
     Thomas Henry [T. H.] Huxley, 1860


There is, however, a deeper problem caused by the opponents of evolution, but it is not a problem for science. It is a problem for religion. ... If a lack of scientific explanation is proof of God's existence, the counterlogic is unimpeachable: a successful scientific explanation is an argument against God. That's why this reasoning, ultimately, is much more dangerous to religion than it is to science. ... The reason it doesn't, of course, is because the original premise is flawed. The Western God created a material world that is home to both humans and daffodils. ... I suggest that if God is real, we should be able to find Him somewhere else — in the bright light of human knowledge, spiritual and scientific.
     Kenneth R. Miller, Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search 
     for Common Ground Between God and Evolution (1999)


It is admitted, on all hands, that the Scriptures are not intended to resolve physical questions, or to explain matters in no way related to the morality of human actions; and if, in consequence of this principle, a considerable latitude of interpretation were not allowed, we should continue at this moment to believe, that the earth is flat; that the sun moves round the earth; and that the circumference of a circle is no more than three times its diameter.
     John Playfair


Matter, in the view of contemporary physics, is everything we had hoped spirit to be, and more.
     Chet Raymo, Skeptics and True Believers: The Exhilarating 
     Connection Between Science and Religion (1999)


Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual. ... The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.
     Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: 
     Science As A Candle in the Dark (1995)


No contemporary religion and no New Age belief seems to me to take sufficient account of the grandeur, magnificence, subtlety and intricacy of the Universe revealed by science.
     Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: 
     Science As A Candle in the Dark (1995)


Faith is clearly not enough for many people. They crave hard evidence, scientific proof. They long for the scientific seal of approval, but are unwilling to put up with the rigorous standards of evidence that impart credibility to that seal.
     Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: 
     Science As A Candle in the Dark (1995)


Science and religion are separate spheres of knowledge. Science is a process of inquiry aimed at building a testable body of knowledge constantly open to rejection or confirmation; its "truths" are provisional, fluid, and changing. Religion is the affirmation of a set of beliefs aimed at providing morals and meaning; its Truths are final, confirmed by God. ... Because we live in the Age of Science and no longer the Age of Faith, temptations abound to use the former to bolster the latter. Such attempts always fail for the fundamental reason that religion ultimately depends on faith. The whole point of faith, in fact, is to believe regardless of the evidence, which is the very antithesis of science.
     Michael Shermer, "O Ye of Little Faith: Cracking the Bible Code 
     and Other 'Proofs' of God" (SKEPTIC, 5:2 1997, p. 50)


Most of the dogmatic religions have exhibited a perverse talent for taking the wrong side on the most important concepts in the material universe, from the structure of the solar system to the origin of man.
     George Gaylord Simpson


It has always puzzled me that so many religious people have taken it for granted that God favors those who believe in him. Isn't it possible that the actual God is a scientific God who has little patience with beliefs founded on faith rather than evidence?
     Raymond Smullyan, 5000 B.C. and Other 
     Philosophical Fantasies


Religion will not regain its old power until it can face change in the same spirit as does science.
     Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (1925)