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Origins + Science

Origins and Science

The Logic of Scientific Discovery

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This is the book where Popper first introduced his famous "solution" to the problem of induction. Originally publish in German in 1934, this version is Popper’s own English translation undertaken in the 1950s. It should go without saying that the book is a classic in philosophic epistemology — perhaps the most important such work to appear since Hume’s "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding." Popper argues that scientific theories can never be proven, merely tested and corroborated. Scientific inquiry is distinguished from all other types of investigation by its testability, or, as Popper put, by the falsifiability of its theories. Unfalsifiable theories are unscientific precisely because they cannot be tested. ~ Greg Nyquist at Amazon.com

Albert Einstein on a Dim View of God

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I’m not an atheist, and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written these books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations. I am fascinated by Spinoza’s pantheism because he is the first philosopher to deal with the soul and body as one, not two separate things.

William Jennings Bryan on the Degradation of Man

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No circle is reserved for man alone… He is, according to the diagram, shut up in the little circle entitled ‘Mammals,’ with thirty-four hundred and ninety-nine other species of mammals…. What shall we say of the intelligence, not to say religion, of those who are so particular to distinguish between fishes and reptiles and birds, but put a man with an immortal soul in the same circle with the wolf, the hyena, and the skunk? What must be the impression made upon children by such a degradation of man?

Miguel de Unamuno on Man at the Center

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Yes, yes, I see it all! — an enormous social activity, a mighty civilization, a profuseness of science, of art, of industry, of morality, and afterwards, when we have filled the world with industrial marvels, with great factories, with roads, museums, and libraries, we shall fall exhausted at the foot of it all, and it will subsist — for whom? Was man made for science or was science made for man? ¶ “Why!” the reader will exclaim again, “we are coming back to what the Catechism says: ‘Q. For whom did God create the world? A. For man.'” Well, why not? — so ought the man who is a man to reply. The ant, if it took account of these matters and were a person, would reply “For the ant,” and it would reply rightly. The world is made for consciousness, for each consciousness.

Henry Cabot Lodge on the Persistence of Myth

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Every one who has studied history is familiar with the myths which crowd its pages. I do not mean by this the frankly mythical tales which tell of gods and goddesses, of the divine founders of nations, tribes, and families, or those in which the Middle Ages delighted and which were replete with angels and devils, with witches and sorcerers, with magic and miracles. The myths to which I refer are those which masquerade as history, which are moden as well as ancient, which make no pretence to the supernatural, but which, being either pure invention or a huge growth from some little seed of fact, possess all the characteristics of their great namesakes which have rejoiced the world for centuries, awakened almost every emotion of which the human heart is capable, and from which the historian and the man of science have been able to learn innumerable lessons as to the toughs and beliefs, the hopes and fears, of primitive man. These historical myths grow up silently. Some of them reign for centuries. Modern research has exposed many of ancient lineage and long acceptance, has torn away the mask and revealed them in their true character. Yet the historical myth rarely dies. No exposure seems able to kill it. Expelled from every book of authority, from every dictionary and encyclopedia, it will still live on among the great mass of humanity. The reason for this tenacity of life is not far to seek. The myth, or the tradition, as it is sometimes called, has necessarily a touch of the imagination, and imagination is almost always more fascinating than truth. The historical myth, indeed, would not exist at all if it did not profess to tell something which people for one reason or another, like to believe, and which appeals strongly to some emotion or passion, and so to human nature.

Wilberforce and Huxley on ‘Yo Momma’ and Ape Ancestry

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In the course of a debate between Bishop Wilberforce and Huxley, in which Huxley defended the doctrine of evolution, the Bishop said: “I should like to ask Professor Huxley as to his belief in being descended from an ape. Is it on his grandfather’s or his grandmother’s side that the ape ancestry comes in?” Then, in a graver tone, he asserted that the views of Huxley were contrary to the revelations of Scripture. In the course of his refutation Huxley said: “I asserted — and I repeat — that a man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather. If there were any ancestor whom I should feel shame in recalling, it would rather be a man who plunges into scientific questions with which he has no real acquaintance, only to obscure them by an aimless rhetoric, and to distract the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice.”

G.K. Chesterton on Saving Humanity

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When we have for some few frantic centuries tortured ourselves to save minkind, it will then be “time enough” to discuss whether they can possibly be saved. When, in the case of infant mortality, for example, we have exhausted ourselves with the earth-shaking efforts required to save the life of every individual baby, it will then be time enough to consider whether every individual baby would not have been happier dead. We are to remove mountains and bring the millenium, because then we can have a quiet moment to discuss whether the millenium is at all desirable. Here we have the low-water mark of the impotence of the sad reformer. And here we have the reason of the the paradoxical triumph of the happy one. His triumph is a religious triumph; it rests upon his perpetual assertion of the value of the human soul and of human daily life. It rests upon his assertion that human life is enjoyable because it is human. And he will never admit, like so many compassionate pessimists, that human life ever ceases to be human. He does not merely pity the lowness of men; he feels an insult to their elevation. Brute pity should be given only to the brutes. Cruelty to animals is cruelty and a vile thing; but cruelty to a man is not tyranny, it is rebellion, for man is loyal. Now, the practical weakness of the vast mass of modern pity for the poor and the oppressed is precisely that it is merely pity; the pity is pitiful, but not respectful. Men feel that the cruelty to the poor is a kind of cruelty to animals. They never feel that it is injustice to equals; nay, it is treachery to comrades. This dark, scientific pity, this brutal pity, has an elemental sincerity of its own; but it is entirely useless for all ends of social reform. Democracy swept Europe with the sabre when it was founded upon the Rights of Man. It has done literally nothing at all since it has been founded only upon the wrongs of man. Or, more strictly speaking, its recent failures have been due to its not admitting the existence of any rights or wrongs, or indeed of any humanity. Evolution (the sinister enemy of revolution) does not especially deny the existence of God; what it does deny is the existence of man. And all the despair about the poor, and the cold and repugnant pity for them, has been largely due to the vague sense that they have literally relapsed into the state of the lower animals.

George Gabriel Stokes on Natural Theology

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In a similar way we may conceive that progress may be made in natural theology in either of two ways: by deducing consequences from what we know or observe, or by assuming for trial the truth of a
statement made on whatever authority it may be, and then examining whether the supposition of its truth so falls in with such knowledge as we possess, or such phenomena as we observe, as to lead us to a conviction that the statement does indeed express the truth. It may be that the statement comes from a source which professes to be a revelation made from God to man. But such an employment of it as I have just described is strictly analogous to our procedure in the study of physical science, and does not therefore seem to be precluded by the terms of the foundation of this lectureship.

Robert Green Ingersoll on Fact and Faith

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We have passed midnight in the great struggle between Fact and Faith, between Science and Superstition. The brand of intellectual inferiority is now upon the orthodox brain. There is nothing grander than to rescue from the leprosy of slander the reputation of a good and generous man. Nothing can be nearer just than to benefit our benefactors. The Infidels of one age have been the aureoled saints of the next. The destroyers of the old are the creators of the new. The old passes away, and the new becomes old. There is in the intellectual world, as in the material, decay and growth, and ever by the grave of buried age stand youth and joy. The history of intellectual progress is written in the lives of Infidels. Political rights have been preserved by traitors — the liberty of the mind by heretics. To attack the king was treason — to dispute the priest was blasphemy. The sword and cross were allies. They defended each other. The throne and altar were twins — vultures from the same egg.

Andrew Dickson White on the Struggle for Scientific Liberty

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I purpose to present an outline of the great sacred struggle for the liberty of science — a struggle which has lasted for so many centuries, and which yet continues. A hard contest it has been a war waged longer with battles fiercer with sieges more persistent with strategy more shrewd than in any of the comparatively transient warfare of Caesar or Napoleon or Moltke. ¶ I shall ask you to go with me through some of the most protracted sieges and over some of the hardest fought battle fields of this war We will look well at the combatants we will listen to the battle cries we will note the strategy of leaders the cut and thrust of champions the weight of missiles the temper of weapons we will look also at the truces and treaties and note the delusive impotency of all compromises in which the warriors for scientific truth have consented to receive direction or bias from the best of men uninspired by the scientific spirit, or unfamiliar with scientific methods.

John Tyndall on Wresting Cosmology from Theology

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The impregnable position of science may be described in a few words. We claim, and we shall wrest, from theology the entire domain of cosmological theory. All schemes and systems which thus infringe upon the domain of science must, in so far as they do this, submit to its control, and relinquish all thought of controlling it. Acting otherwise proved disastrous in the past, and it is simply fatuous to-day. Every system which would escape the fate of an organism too rigid to adjust itself to its environment, must be plastic to the extent that the growth of knowledge demands. When this truth has been thoroughly taken in, rigidity will be relaxed, exclusiveness diminished, things now deemed essential will be dropped, and elements now rejected will be assimilated. The lifting of the life is the essential point; and as long as dogmatism, fanaticism, and intolerance are kept out, various modes of leverage may be employed to raise life to a higher level.

Charles Darwin on the Need for Mechanism

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In considering the Origin of Species, it is quite conceivable that a naturalist, reflecting on the mutual affinities of organic beings, on their embryological relations, their geographical distribution, geological succession, and such other facts, might come to the conclusion that each species had not been independently created, but had descended, like varieties, from other species. Nevertheless, such a conclusion, even if well founded, would be unsatisfactory, until it could be shown how the innumerable species inhabiting this world have been modified, so as to acquire that perfection of structure and coadaptation which most justly excites our admiration.

On the Origin of Species

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The publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859 marked a dramatic turning point in scientific thought. The volume had taken Darwin more than twenty years to publish, in part because he envisioned the storm of controversy it was certain to unleash. Indeed, selling out its first edition on its first day, The Origin of Species revolutionized science, philosophy, and theology.  Darwin’s reasoned, documented arguments carefully advance his theory of natural selection and his assertion that species were not created all at once by a divine hand but started with a few simple forms that mutated and adapted over time. Whether commenting on his own poor health, discussing his experiments to test instinct in bees, or relating a conversation about a South American burrowing rodent, Darwin’s monumental achievement is surprisingly personal and delightfully readable. Its profound ideas remain controversial even today, making it the most influential book in the natural sciences ever written—an important work not just to its time but to the history of humankind. ~ Publisher’s Description

Charles Darwin on Transitional Forms

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The number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed on the earth, (must) be truly enormous. Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory.

Charles Darwin on Irreducible Complexity

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If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous successive slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case. No doubt many organs exist of which we do not know the transitional grades … We should be extremely cautious in concluding that an organ could not have been formed by transitional gradations of some kind.

Paley’s Watchmaker Argument

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In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there: I might possibly answer, that, for any thing I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever; nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, — that, for any thing I knew, the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone? why is it not as admissible in the second case, as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, viz. that, when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive (what we could not discover in the stone) that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e. g. that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that, if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, of a different size from what they are, or placed after any other manner, or in any other order, than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it.

John William Draper on the Demise of Religion

Go Whoever has had an opportunity of becoming acquainted with the mental condition of the intelligent classes in Europe and America, must have perceived that there is a great and rapidly-increasing departure from the public religious faith, and that, while among the more frank this divergence is not concealed, there is a far more extensive and far more dangerous secession, private and unacknowledged. So wide-spread and so powerful is this secession, that it can neither be treated with contempt nor with punishment. It cannot be extinguished by derision, by vituperation, or by force. The time is rapidly approaching when it will give rise to serious political results. Ecclesiastical spirit no longer inspires the policy of the world. Military fervor in behalf of faith has disappeared. Its only souvenirs are the marble effigies of crusading knights, reposing in the silent crypts of churches on their tombs.

Edmund Burke on History as Tragicomedy

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All circumstances taken together, the French revolution is the most astonishing that has hitherto happened in the world. The most wonderful things are brought about in many instances by means the most absurd and ridiculous; in the most ridiculous modes; and apparently, by the most contemptible instruments. Every thing seems out of nature in this strange chaos of levity and ferocity, and of all sorts of crimes jumbled together with all sorts of follies. In viewing this monstrous tragi-comic scene, the most opposite passions necessarily succeed, and sometimes mix with each other in the mind; alternate contempt and indignation; alternate laughter and tears; alternate scorn and horror. ¶ It cannot however be denied, that to some this strange scene appeared in quite another point of view. Into them it inspired no other sentiments than those of exultation and rapture. They saw nothing in what has been done in France, but a firm and temperate exertion of freedom; so consistent, on the whole, with morals and with piety, as to make it deserving not only of the secular applause of dashing Machiavelian politicians, but to render it a fit theme for all the devout effusions of sacred eloquence.

Thomas Reid on Conjecture and Empirical Science

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There is such proneness in men of genius to invent hypotheses, and in others to acquiesce in them as the utmost which the human faculties can attain in philosophy, that it is of the last consequence to the progress of real knowledge, that men should have a clear and distinct understanding of the nature of hypotheses in philosophy, and of the regard that is due to them. ¶ Although some conjectures may have a considerable degree of probability, yet it is evidently in the nature of conjecture to be uncertain. In every case, the assent ought to be proportioned to the evidence; for to believe firmly what has but a small degree of probability, is a manifest abuse of our understanding. Now, though we may, in many cases, form very probable conjectures concerning the works of men, every conjecture we can form with regard to the works of God has as little probability as the conjectures of a child with regard to the works of a man.

Thomas Reid on Phenomenolgy and Knowing Thyself

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Mr. Hume has justly observed, that “all the sciences have a relation to human nature; and, however wide any of them may seem to run from it, they still return back by one passage or another. This is the centre and capitol of the sciences, which being once masters of, we may easily extend our conquests everywhere.” The faculties of our minds are the tools and engines we must use in every disquisition; and the better we understand their nature and force, the more successfully we shall be able to apply them.

David Hume on the Design Argument

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In a word, Cleanthes, a man who follows your hypothesis is able perhaps to assert, or conjecture, that the universe, sometime, arose from something like design: but beyond that position he cannot ascertain one single circumstance; and is left afterwards to fix every point of his theology by the utmost license of fancy and hypothesis. This world, for aught he knows, is very faulty and imperfect, compared to a superior standard; and was only the first rude essay of some infant deity, who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance: it is the work only of some dependent, inferior deity; and is the object of derision to his superiors: it is the production of old age and dotage in some superannuated deity; and ever since his death, has run on at adventures, from the first impulse and active force which it received from him. You justly give signs of horror, Demea, at these strange suppositions; but these, and a thousand more of the same kind, are Cleanthes’s suppositions, not mine. From the moment the attributes of the Deity are supposed finite, all these have place. And I cannot, for my part, think that so wild and unsettled a system of theology is, in any respect, preferable to none at all.

David Hume on the Teleological Argument

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You need only look around you, replied Philo, to satisfy yourself with regard to this question. A tree bestows order and organisation on that tree which springs from it, without knowing the order; an animal in the same manner on its offspring; a bird on its nest; and instances of this kind are even more frequent in the world than those of order, which arise from reason and contrivance. To say, that all this order in animals and vegetables proceeds ultimately from design, is begging the question; nor can that great point be ascertained otherwise than by proving, a priori, both that order is, from its nature, inseparably attached to thought; and that it can never of itself, or from original unknown principles, belong to matter.

David Hume on Blind Nature

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Look round this universe. What an immense profusion of beings, animated and organised, sensible and active! You admire this prodigious variety and fecundity. But inspect a little more narrowly these living existences, the only beings worth regarding. How hostile and destructive to each other! How insufficient all of them for their own happiness! How contemptible or odious to the spectator! The whole presents nothing but the idea of a blind Nature, impregnated by a great vivifying principle, and pouring forth from her lap, without discernment or parental care, her maimed and abortive children!

Nicolaus Copernicus on Philosophical Precedents for Heliocentrism

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For a long time, then, I reflected on this confusion in the astronomical traditions concerning the derivation of the motions of the universe’s spheres. I began to be annoyed that the movements of the world machine, created for our sake by the best and most systematic Artisan of all, were not understood with greater certainty by the philosophers, who otherwise examined so precisely the most insignificant trifles of this world. For this reason I undertook the task of rereading the works of all the philosophers which I could obtain to learn whether anyone had ever proposed other motions of the universe’s spheres than those expounded by the teachers of astronomy in the schools. And in fact first I found in Cicero that Hicetas supposed the earth to move. Later I also discovered in Plutarch that certain others were of this opinion. I have decided to set his words down here, so that they may be available to everyone: “Some think that the eart remains at rest. But Philolaus the Pythagorean believes that, like the sun and moon, it revolves around the fire in an oblique circle. Heraclides of Pontus and Exphantus the Pythagorean make the earth move, not in a progressive motion, but like a wheel in a rotation from the west to east about its own center.”