Naturalism Quotes


Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.

About once or twice every month I engage in public debates with those whose pressing need it is to woo and to win the approval of supernatural beings. Very often, when I give my view that there is no supernatural dimension, and certainly not one that is only or especially available to the faithful, and that the natural world is wonderful enough—and even miraculous enough if you insist—I attract pitying looks and anxious questions. How, in that case, I am asked, do I find meaning and purpose in life? How does a mere and gross materialist, with no expectation of a life to come, decide what, if anything, is worth caring about?
Depending on my mood, I sometimes but not always refrain from pointing out what a breathtakingly insulting and patronizing question this is. (It is on a par with the equally subtle inquiry: Since you don't believe in our god, what stops you from stealing and lying and raping and killing to your heart's content?) Just as the answer to the latter question is: self-respect and the desire for the respect of others—while in the meantime it is precisely those who think they have divine permission who are truly capable of any atrocity—so the answer to the first question falls into two parts. A life that partakes even a little of friendship, love, irony, humor, parenthood, literature, and music, and the chance to take part in battles for the liberation of others cannot be called 'meaningless' except if the person living it is also an existentialist and elects to call it so. It could be that all existence is a pointless joke, but it is not in fact possible to live one's everyday life as if this were so. Whereas if one sought to define meaninglessness and futility, the idea that a human life should be expended in the guilty, fearful, self-obsessed propitiation of supernatural nonentities… but there, there. Enough.

Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality.

Immortality    Naturalism    Nature    Practical    Science    Sierra    Time

Study, along the lines which the theologies have mapped, will never lead us to discovery of the fundamental facts of our existence. That goal must be attained by means of exact science and can only be achieved by such means. The fact that man, for ages, has superstitiously believed in what he calls a God does not prove at all that his theory has been right. There have been many gods – all makeshifts, born of inability to fathom the deep fundamental truth. There must be something at the bottom of existence, and man, in ignorance, being unable to discover what it is through reason, because his reason has been so imperfect, undeveloped, has used, instead, imagination, and created figments, of one kind or another, which, according to the country he was born in, the suggestions of his environment, satisfied him for the time being. Not one of all the gods of all the various theologies has ever really been proved. We accept no ordinary scientific fact without the final proof; why should we, then, be satisfied in this most mighty of all matters, with a mere theory?
Destruction of false theories will not decrease the sum of human happiness in future, any more than it has in the past... The days of miracles have passed. I do not believe, of course, that there was ever any day of actual miracles. I cannot understand that there were ever any miracles at all. My guide must be my reason, and at thought of miracles my reason is rebellious. Personally, I do not believe that Christ laid claim to doing miracles, or asserted that he had miraculous power...
Our intelligence is the aggregate intelligence of the cells which make us up. There is no soul, distinct from mind, and what we speak of as the mind is just the aggregate intelligence of cells. It is fallacious to declare that we have souls apart from animal intelligence, apart from brains. It is the brain that keeps us going. There is nothing beyond that.
Life goes on endlessly, but no more in human beings than in other animals, or, for that matter, than in vegetables. Life, collectively, must be immortal, human beings, individually, cannot be, as I see it, for they are not the individuals – they are mere aggregates of cells.
There is no supernatural. We are continually learning new things. There are powers within us which have not yet been developed and they will develop. We shall learn things of ourselves, which will be full of wonders, but none of them will be beyond the natural.
[
Columbian Magazine interview
]

Destruction    Falsehood    Gods    Immortality    Inspirational    Makeshift    Miracles    Naturalism    Reason    Satisfaction    Science    Soul    Study    Superstitious    Theology    Theory    Truth    Wonder

My atheism, like that of
Spinoza
, is true piety towards the universe and denies only gods fashioned by men in their own image, to be servants of their human interests.

When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples.

The Open Boat

Stephen Crane

The Open Boat

But recently I have learned from discussions with a variety of scientists and other non-philosophers (e.g., the scientists participating with me in the
Sean Carroll
workshop on the future of naturalism) that they lean the other way: free will, in their view, is obviously incompatible with naturalism, with determinism, and very likely incoherent against any background, so they cheerfully insist that of course they don't have free will, couldn’t have free will, but so what? It has nothing to do with morality or the meaning of life. Their advice to me at the symposium was simple: recast my pressing question as whether naturalism (materialism, determinism, science...) has any implications for what we may call moral competence. For instance, does neuroscience show that we cannot be responsible for our choices, cannot justifiably be praised or blamed, rewarded or punished? Abandon the term 'free will' to the libertarians and other incompatibilists, who can pursue their fantasies untroubled. Note that this is not a dismissal of the important issues; it’s a proposal about which camp gets to use, and define, the term. I am beginning to appreciate the benefits of discarding the term 'free will' altogether, but that course too involves a lot of heavy lifting, if one is to avoid being misunderstood.


Napoleon
, when hearing about
Laplace
's latest book, said, '
M.
Laplace
, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its creator
.'
Laplace
responds, 'Je n'avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là. (
I had no need of that hypothesis
.)

Science is opposed to theological dogmas because science is founded on fact. To me, the universe is simply a great machine which never came into being and never will end. The human being is no exception to the natural order. Man, like the universe, is a machine. Nothing enters our minds or determines our actions which is not directly or indirectly a response to stimuli beating upon our sense organs from without. Owing to the similarity of our construction and the sameness of our environment, we respond in like manner to similar stimuli, and from the concordance of our reactions, understanding is born. In the course of ages, mechanisms of infinite complexity are developed, but what we call 'soul' or 'spirit,' is nothing more than the sum of the functionings of the body. When this functioning ceases, the 'soul' or the 'spirit' ceases likewise.
I expressed these ideas long before the behaviorists, led by Pavlov in Russia and by Watson in the United States, proclaimed their new psychology. This apparently mechanistic conception is not antagonistic to an ethical conception of life.

The complexity of the simplest known type of cell is so great that it is impossible to accept that such an object could have been thrown together suddenly by some kind of freakish, vastly improbable, event. Such an occurrence would be indistinguishable from a miracle.

We ought to regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its antecedent state and as the cause of the state that is to follow. An intelligence knowing all the forces acting in nature at a given instant, as well as the momentary positions of all things in the universe, would be able to comprehend in one single formula the motions of the largest bodies as well as the lightest atoms in the world, provided that its intellect were sufficiently powerful to subject all data to analysis; to it nothing would be uncertain, the future as well as the past would be present to its eyes. The perfection that the human mind has been able to give to astronomy affords but a feeble outline of such an intelligence.

Analysis    Astronomy    Certainty    Comprehension    Data    Determinism    Eyes    Formula    Free will    Human mind    Intelligence    Lack of free will    Mind    Motion    Naturalism    Nature    Omniscience    Past    Perfection    Physics    Present    Science    Space    Time    Universe

How came the bodies of animals to be contrived with so much art, and for what ends were their several parts?
Was the eye contrived without skill in Opticks, and the ear without knowledge of sounds?...and these things being rightly dispatch’d, does it not appear from phænomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent...?

Opticks

Isaac Newton

Opticks

There is no indisputable proof for the big bang," said Hollus. "And there is none for evolution. And yet you accept those. Why hold the question of whether there is a creator to a higher standard?

Calculating God

Robert J. Sawyer

Calculating God

In the abstract, it might be tempting to imagine that irreducible complexity simply requires multiple simultaneous mutations - that evolution might be far chancier than we thought, but still possible. Such an appeal to brute luck can never be refuted... Luck is metaphysical speculation; scientific explanations invoke causes.

The very comprehensibility of the world points to an intelligence behind the world. Indeed, science would be impossible if our intelligence were not adapted to the intelligibility of the world. The match between our intelligence and the intelligibility of the world is no accident. Nor can it properly be attributed to natural selection, which places a premium on survival and reproduction and has no stake in truth or conscious thought. Indeed, meat-puppet robots are just fine as the output of a Darwinian evolutionary process.

God without dominion, providence, and final causes, is nothing else but Fate and Nature. Blind metaphysical necessity, which is certainly the same always and everywhere, could produce no variety of things. All that diversity of natural things which we find suited to different times and places could arise from nothing but the ideas and will of a Being necessarily existing.

I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuffed with the stuff that is course, and stuffed with the stuff that is fine, one of the nation, of many nations, the smallest the same and the the largest

Song of Myself

Walt Whitman

Song of Myself
Maternal    Nation    Nationality    Naturalism    Nature    Old    Paternal    Poetry    Self    Wisdom    Youth    Youthful

I am, indeed, an absolute materialist so far as actual belief goes; with not a shred of credence in any form of supernaturalism—religion, spiritualism, transcendentalism, metempsychosis, or immortality.

The natural is so awesome that we need not go beyond it.

But if you do know what is taught by plants and weather, you are in on the gossip and can feel truly at home. The sum of a field's forces [become] what we call very loosely the 'spirit of the place.' To know the spirit of a place is to realize that you are a part of a part and that the whole is made or parts, each of which in a whole. You start with the part you are whole in.

The reason the very concept of God has become at once so impoverished, so thoroughly mythical, and ultimately so incredible for so many modern persons is not because of all the interesting things we have learned over the past few centuries, but because of all the vital things we have forgotten.

God    Naturalism    Reason    Theism

It is either coincidence piled on top of coincidence," said Hollus, "or it is deliberate design.

Calculating God

Robert J. Sawyer

Calculating God

I believe in you and me. I'm like Albert Schweitzer and Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein in that I have a respect for life -- in any form. I believe in nature, in the birds, the sea, the sky, in everything I can see or that there is real evidence for. If these things are what you mean by God, then I believe in God. But I don't believe in a personal God to whom I look for comfort or for a natural on the next roll of the dice.

Why is it that showers and even storms seem to come by chance, so that many people think it quite natural to pray for rain or fine weather, though they would consider it ridiculous to ask for an eclipse by prayer?

Chance    Eclipse    Natural    Naturalism    Rain    Ridiculous    Superstition    Weather

If there is a Creator-God, it has used methods of creation that are indistinguishable from nature, it has declined to make itself known for all of recorded history, it doesn't intervene in affairs on earth, and has made itself impossible to observe. Even if you believe in that God... why would you think it would want to be worshiped?

Atheism    Deism    Deity    God    History    Intervention    Naturalism

The most essential prediction of Darwinism is that, given an astronomical number of chances, unintelligent processes can make seemingly-designed systems, ones of the complexity of those found in the cell. ID specifically denies this, predicting that in the absence of intelligent input no such systems would develop. So Darwinism and ID make clear, opposite predictions of what we should find when we examine genetic results from a stupendous number of organisms that are under relentless pressure from natural selection. The recent genetic results are a stringent test. The results: 1) Darwinism’s prediction is falsified; 2) Design’s prediction is confirmed.

My foregrounds are imaginary, my backgrounds real.

The race is now on between the technoscientific and scientific forces that are destroying the living environment and those that can be harnessed to save it. . . . If the race is won, humanity can emerge in far better condition than when it entered, and with most of the diversity of life still intact.

The Future Of Life

E. O. Wilson

The Future Of Life

Science makes people reach selflessly for truth and objectivity; it teaches people to accept reality, with wonder and admiration, not to mention the deep awe and joy that the natural order of things brings to the true scientist.

Admiration    Awe    Joy    Naturalism    Objectivity    Relaity    Science    Scientist    Selfless    Teach    Truth    Wonder

The theory of phlogiston was an inversion of the true nature of combustion. Removing phlogiston was in reality adding oxygen, while adding phlogiston was actually removing oxygen. The theory was a total misrepresentation of reality. Phlogiston did not even exist, and yet its existence was firmly believed and the theory adhered to rigidly for nearly one hundred years throughout the eighteenth century. ... As experimentation continued the properties of phlogiston became more bizarre and contradictory. But instead of questioning the existence of this mysterious substance it was made to serve more comprehensive purposes. ... For the skeptic or indeed to anyone prepared to step out of the circle of Darwinian belief, it is not hard to find inversions of common sense in modern evolutionary thought which are strikingly reminiscent of the mental gymnastics of the phlogiston chemists or the medieval astronomers.
To the skeptic, the proposition that the genetic programmes of higher organisms, consisting of something close to a thousand million bits of information, equivalent to the sequence of letters in a small library of one thousand volumes, containing in encoded form countless thousands of intricate algorithms controlling, specifying and ordering the growth and development of billions and billions of cells into the form of a complex organism, were composed by a purely random process is simply an affront to reason. But to the Darwinist the idea is accepted without a ripple of doubt - the paradigm takes precedence!

The universe, the whole mass of things that are, is corporeal, that is to say, body, and hath the dimensions of magnitude, length, breadth and depth. Every part of the universe is ‘body’ and that which is not ‘body’ is no part of the universe, and because the universe is all, that which is no part of it is nothing, and consequently nowhere.

Will be but corpses dressed in frocks,
who cannot speak to birds or rocks.


Einstein
has a feeling for the central order of things. He can detect it in the simplicity of natural laws. We may take it that he felt this simplicity very strongly and directly during his discovery of the theory of relativity. Admittedly, this is a far cry from the contents of religion. I don't believe
Einstein
is tied to any religious tradition, and I rather think the idea of a personal God is entirely foreign to him.

Materialism sets us free from sin-by proving that there is no such thing as sin. There's just antisocial behavior, which we can control with measures like laws and educational programs.

Atheism    Darwinism    Humanism    Materialism    Naturalism    Sin    Theism

We must trust to nothing but facts: These are presented to us by Nature, and cannot deceive. We ought, in every instance, to submit our reasoning to the test of experiment, and never to search for truth but by the natural road of experiment and observation.

No one disputes that seeming order can come out of the application of simple rules. But who wrote the rules?

Calculating God

Robert J. Sawyer

Calculating God

Everything has a natural explanation. The moon is not a god but a great rock and the sun a hot rock.

Yes, I'm a materialist. I'm willing to be shown wrong, but that has not happened — yet. And I admit that the reason I'm unable to accept the claims of psychic, occult, and/or supernatural wonders is because I'm locked into a world-view that demands evidence rather than blind faith, a view that insists upon the replication of all experiments — particularly those that appear to show violations of a rational world — and a view which requires open examination of the methods used to carry out those experiments.

I believe the defenders of intelligent design deserve our gratitude for challenging a scientific world view that owes some of the passion displayed by its adherents precisely to the fact that it is thought to liberate us from religion. That world view is ripe for displacement....

Scientific research is based on the idea that everything that takes place is determined by laws of nature, and therefore this holds for the action of people. For this reason, a research scientist will hardly be inclined to believe that events could be influenced by a prayer, i.e. by a wish addressed to a Supernatural Being.
- Albert Einstein, 1936, responding to a child who wrote and asked if scientists pray; quoted in: Albert Einstein: The Human Side, edited by Helen Dukas & Banesh Hoffmann

String theory is an attempt at a deeper description of nature by thinking of an elementary particle not as a little point but as a little loop of vibrating string.

Considering the way the prebiotic soup is referred to in so many discussions of the origin of life as an already established reality, it comes as something of a shock to realize that there is absolutely no positive evidence for its existence.

The more a man is imbued with the ordered regularity of all events the firmer becomes his conviction that there is no room left by the side of this ordered regularity for causes of a different nature. For him neither the rule of human nor the rule of divine will exist as an independent cause of natural events.
To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with the natural events could never be refuted, in the real sense, by science, for this doctrine can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot. But I am persuaded that such behavior on the part of the representatives of religion would not only be unworthy but also fatal.
For a doctrine which is able to maintain itself not in clear light but only in the dark, will of necessity lose its effect on mankind, with incalculable harm to human progress.
- Science and Religion (1941)

My method is atheism. I find the atheistic outlook provides a favourable background for cosmopolitan practices. Acceptance of atheism at once pulls down caste and religious barriers between man and man. There is no longer a Hindu, a Muslim or a Christian. All are human beings. Further, the atheistic outlook puts man on his legs. There is neither divine will nor fate to control his actions. The release of free will awakens Harijans [lowest caste] and the depressed classes from the stupor of inferiority into which they were pressed all these ages when they were made to believe that they were fated to be untouchables. So I find the atheistic outlook helpful for my work [helping people]. After all it is man that created god to make society moral and to silence restless inquisitiveness about the how and why of natural phenomena. Of course god was useful though a falsehood. But like all falsehoods, belief in god also gave rise to many evils in course of time and today it is not only useless but harmful to human progress. So I take to the propagation of atheism as an aid to my work. The results justify my choice.

In our forests
part divine
and makes her heart palpitate
wild and tame are one. What a delicious Sound!

The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean.

Express    Fact    Naturalism    Reliable    True

In thinking about these questions I have been stimulated by criticisms of the prevailing scientific world picture... by the defenders of intelligent design. Even though writers like
Michael Behe
and
Stephen C. Meyer
are motivated at least in part by their religious beliefs, the empirical arguments they offer against the likelihood that the origin of life and its evolutionary history can be fully explained by physics and chemistry are of great interest in themselves. Another skeptic,
David Berlinski
, has brought out these problems vividly without reference to the design inference. Even if one is not drawn to the alternative of an explanation by the actions of a designer, the problems that these iconoclasts pose for the orthodox scientific consensus should be taken seriously. They do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met. It is manifestly unfair.

For if a man by magical arts and sacrifices will bring down the moon, and darken the sun, and induce storms, or fine weather, I should not believe that there was anything divine, but human, in these things, provided the power of the divine were overpowered by human knowledge and subjected to it.

A physicist that I know commented that many other scientific disciplines, such as geology, anthropology, astronomy, are also challenged by biblical fundamentalism, but their people seem to be able to get on with their work without worrying unduly. Only Darwinians seem thrown into a frenzy that sends them running to litigation and demanding censorship. His explanation was that it's a rival religion.

There is no separate supernatural realm: all phenomena are part of one natural process of evolution.

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