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Irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors. - Thomas Henry Huxley

Science in the broadest sense refers to any system of objective knowledge. In a more restricted sense, science refers to a system of acquiring knowledge based on the scientific method, as well as to the organized body of knowledge humans have gained by such research.


  • Great theories are expansive; failures mire us in dogmatism and tunnel vision.
  • It is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.
  • Irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors.
    • Thomas Henry Huxley, Friday evening discourse at the Royal Institution, 1880
    • "On the Coming of Age of the Origin of Species", Collected Essays, vol. 2, p. 227
  • Results rarely specify their causes unambiguously. If we have no direct evidence of fossils or human chronicles, if we are forced to infer a process only from its modern results, then we are usually stymied or reduced to speculation about probabilities. For many roads lead to almost any Rome.
  • The great tragedy of Science — the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.
    • Thomas Henry Huxley, Presidential Address at the British Association for 1870
    • "Biogenesis and Abiogenesis", Collected Essays, vol. 8, p. 229
    • Common variant: The great tragedy of Science — the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly little fact.
  • The story of a theory's failure often strikes readers as sad and unsatisfying. Since science thrives on self-correction, we who practice this most challenging of human arts do not share such a feeling. We may be unhappy if a favored hypothesis loses or chagrined if theories that we proposed prove inadequate. But refutation almost always contains positive lessons that overwhelm disappointment, even when [...] no new and comprehensive theory has yet filled the void.
  • It may be true, that as Francis Thompson noted, "Thou canst not stir a flower without troubling a star", but in computing the motion of stars and planets, the effects of flowers do not loom large. It is the disregarding of the effect of flowers on stars that allows progress in astronomy. Appropriate abstraction is critical to progress in science.
    • Herman Shugart
    • Quoted in Smith, Shugart and Woodward, eds, 1997. Plant Functional Types, p 20. Cambridge University Press.
  • The antagonism between science and religion, about which we hear so much, appears to me purely factitious, fabricated on the one hand by short-sighted religious people, who confound [...] theology with religion; and on the other by equally short-sighted scientific people who forget that science takes for its province only that which is susceptible of clear intellectual comprehension.
    • Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–1895), "The Interpreters of Genesis and the Interpreters of Nature" (1885)
  • This political movement has patently demonstrated that it will not defend the integrity of science in any case in which science runs afoul of its core political constituencies. In so doing, it has ceded any right to govern a technologically advanced and sophisticated nation.
  • Obviously something is wrong with the entire argument of "obviousness".
    • Paul Lazarsfeld, 1949, about the interpretation of results in social science as obvious.
    • "The American Soldier — An Expository Review", Public Opinion Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 377-404, 380
  • We're science: we're all about coulda, not shoulda!
    • Patton Oswalt (track "The Miracle of Childbirth", on Werewolves and Lollipops)
  • I'm not anti-science, I'm anti the way science is sometimes used.

Scientific scepticism

  • Scientific skepticism is considered good. […] Under this principle, one must question, doubt, or suspend judgment until sufficient information is available. Skeptics demand that evidence and proof be offered before conclusions can be drawn. […] One must thoughtfully gather evidence and be persuaded by the evidence rather than by prejudice, bias, or uncritical thinking.
  • Isaac Asimov was a famous scientific skeptic. He had this to say:
    Don't you believe in flying saucers, they ask me? Don't you believe in telepathy? — in ancient astronauts? — in the Bermuda triangle? — in life after death?
    No, I reply. No, no, no, no, and again no.
    One person recently, goaded into desperation by the litany of unrelieved negation, burst out "Don't you believe in anything?"
    "Yes", I said. "I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I'll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be."
  • To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient truths; both dispense with the necessity of reflection.
    • Henri Poincaré
    • Brown, Harold Chapman (April 23, 1914). "The Work of Henri Poincare". The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods 11 (9): pp. 225-236. ISSN 0160-9335.


  • Scientists are supposed to live in ivory towers. Their darkrooms and their vibration-proof benches are supposed to isolate their activities from the disturbances of common life. What they tell us is supposed to be for the ages, not for the next election. But the reality may be otherwise.
    • Simon LeVay, Queer Science: The Use and Abuse of Research into Homosexuality, 1996, Cambridge: MIT Press, ISBN 0-262-62119-3, unidentified page
  • Start by eliminating the possibility of empty models by praying that Heaven will no longer put this invention of the Devil in our way. To do this, we add a constant c to our language ...
    • Proof of the compactness theorem by Henkin's method
    • Bruno Poizat and M. Klein, A Course in Model Theory: An Introduction to Contemporary Mathematical Logic, unidentified edition, page 52
  • Who are we? The answer to this question is not only one of the tasks but the task of science.
  • I see no good reasons why the views given in this volume should shock the religious sensibilities of anyone.
    • Charles Darwin, The Origin Of Species, 1869, unidentified edition/chapter/page
  • One of the greatest gifts science has brought to the world is continuing elimination of the supernatural, and it was a lesson that my father passed on to me, that knowledge liberates mankind from superstition. We can live our lives without the constant fear that we have offended this or that deity who must be placated by incantation or sacrifice, or that we are at the mercy of devils or the Fates. With increasing knowledge, the intellectual darkness that surrounds us is illuminated and we learn more of the beauty and wonder of the natural world.
    • James D. Watson, Darwin: The Indelible Stamp: The Evolution of an Idea, 2005, Running Press, unidentified edition/chapter/page
  • Poll: Majority of Americans Reject Evolution, Accept “The Flintstones
  • The Scientific Revolution turns us away from the older sayings to discover the lost authorization in Nature. What we have been through in these last four millennia is the slow inexorable profaning of our species. And in the last part of the second millennium A.D., that process is apparently becoming complete. It is the Great Human Irony of our noblest and greatest endeavor on this planet that in the quest for authorization, in our reading of the language of God in Nature, we should read there so clearly that we have been so mistaken.
    • Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, 1976, unidentified edition/chapter/page
  • Both social and biosocial factors are necessary to interpret crosscultural studies, with the general proviso that one's research interest determines which elements, in what combinations, are significant for the provision of understanding.
    • Gilbert Herdt, Bisexuality and the Causes of Homosexuality: The Case of the Sambia, unidentified edition/chapter/page
  • That Professor Goddard with his "chair" in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react — to say that would be absurd. Of course, he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.
    • About Robert Goddard's rocket work
    • Unidentified New York Times editorial, 1921
    • Eventually retracted in New York Times, unidentified article/editorial, July 17, 1969
  • All science is either physics or stamp collecting.
    • Ernest Rutherford
    • Variation: In science, there is only physics; all the rest is stamp collecting.
  • Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.
  • Ethical axioms are found and tested not very differently from the axioms of science. Truth is what stands the test of experience.
  • Fortunately science, like that nature to which it belongs, is neither limited by time nor by space. It belongs to the world, and is of no country and of no age. The more we know, the more we feel our ignorance; the more we feel how much remains unknown; and in philosophy, the sentiment of the Macedonian hero can never apply,- there are always new worlds to conquer.
  • In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. Therefore ... in the Old Silurian Period the Mississippi River was upward of one million three hundred thousand miles long ... seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long. ... There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesome returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
  • of the strongest motives that lead men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one's own ever-shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from the personal life into the world of objective perception and thought.
  • Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one's living at it.
  • Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition.
  • Science is the pavement in the pathway to opportunities
    • Jordan Campbell
  • Science is what we understand well enough to explain to a computer. Art is everything else we do.
  • Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world.
  • Science may be described as the art of systematic oversimplification.
  • Scientific thought is the common heritage of mankind.
  • The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.
  • The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.
  • There must be no barriers for freedom of inquiry. There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors.
  • To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.
  • Physics is like sex: Sure, it may have practical results, but that is not the reason we do it.
  • The most important discoveries will provide answers to questions that we do not yet know how to ask and will concern objects we have not yet imagined.
    • John N. Bahcall, answering a question on the Hubble Space Telescope's capabilities
  • Science is always wrong. It never solves a problem without creating ten more.
  • What is a scientist after all? It is a curious person looking through a keyhole, the keyhole of nature, trying to know what's going on.
  • Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.
  • Who ordered that?
    • Theorist Isidor Isaac Rabi when the muon was identified
  • Science is nothing but developed perception, integrated intent, common sense rounded out and minutely articulated.

Science and religion

See also: Creationism and Intelligent Design, Evolution
  • All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree.
  • The Christian church, in its attitude toward science, shows the mind of a more or less enlightened man of the Thirteenth Century. It no longer believes that the earth is flat, but it is still convinced that prayer can cure after medicine fails.
  • A contradiction (between science and religion) is out of the question. What follows from science are, again and again, clear indications of God's activity which can be so strongly perceived that Kepler dared to say (for us it seems daring, not for him) that he could "almost touch God with his hand in the Universe".
    • Walter Heitler
  • The deepest intelligence of philosophy and science are inseparable from a religious view of the world.
  • The difference between myth and science is the difference between divine inspiration of ‘unaided reason' on the one hand and theories developed in observational contact with the real world on the other. [It is] the difference between the belief in prophets and critical thinking, between Credo quia absurdum [I believe because it is absurd—Tertullian.] and De omnibus est dubitandum [Everything should be questioned—Descartes.]. To try to write a grand cosmical drama leads necessarily to myth. To try to let knowledge substitute ignorance in increasingly large regions of space and time is science.
  • The discovery of natural law is a meeting with God.
  • I am a Christian which means that I believe in the deity of Christ, like Tycho de Brahe, Copernicus, Descartes, Newton, Leibnitz, Pascal… like all great astronomers mathematicians of the past.
  • I stand before you as somebody who is both physicist and a priest, and I want to hold together my scientific and my religious insights and experiences. I want to hold them together, as far as I am able, without dishonesty and without compartmentalism. I don't want to be a priest on Sunday and a physicist on Monday; I want to be both on both days.
  • It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.
  • Je n'ai pas besoin de cette hypothèse.
    • Pierre-Simon Laplace
    • Translation: I have no need of that hypothesis.
    • Reputed reply to Emperor Napoleon I of France, who had asked why he hadn't mentioned God in his discourse on secular variations of the orbits of Saturn and Jupiter.
  • Matter and mind are not separate, they are aspects of one energy. Look at the mind as a function of matter and you have science; look at matter as the product of the mind and you have religion.
  • The order, the symmetry, the harmony enchant us…God is pure order. He is the originator of universal harmony.
  • Overwhelming evidences of an intelligence and benevolent intention surround us, show us the whole of nature through the work of a free will and teach us that all alive beings depend on an eternal creator-ruler.
  • Science has never sought to ally herself with civil power. She has never subjected anyone to mental torment, physical torment, least of all death, for the purpose of promoting her ideas.
  • Science seems to me to teach in the highest and strongest manner the great truth which is embodied in the Christian conception of entire surrender to the will of God. Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing. I have only begun to learn content and peace of mind since I have resolved at all risks to do this.
  • Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
  • The scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it, and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful it would not be worth knowing, and life would not be worth living. I am not speaking, of course, of the beauty which strikes the senses, of the beauty of qualities and appearances. I am far from despising this, but it has nothing to do with science. What I mean is that more intimate beauty which comes from the harmonious order of its parts, and which a pure intelligence can grasp.
  • Since religion intrinsically rejects empirical methods, there should never be any attempt to reconcile scientific theories with religion. An infinitely old universe, always evolving may not be compatible with the Book of Genesis. However, religions such as Buddhism get along without having any explicit creation mythology and are in no way contradicted by a universe without a beginning or end. Creatio ex nihilo, even as religious doctrine, only dates to around AD 200. The key is not to confuse myth and empirical results, or religion and science.
  • The wonderful arrangement and harmony of the cosmos would only originate in the plan of an almighty omniscient being. This is and remains my greatest comprehension.
  • Those to whom God has imparted religion by intuition are very fortunate and justly convinced. But to those who do not have it, we can give it only by reasoning, waiting for God to give them spiritual insight…
  • Through steady observation and a meaningful contact with the divined order of the world's structure, arranged by God's wisdom, - who would not be guided to admire the Builder who creates all!
  • We may conclude that from what science teaches us, there is in nature an order independent of man's existence, a meaningful order to which nature and man are subordinate. Both Religion and science require faith in God. For believers, God is in the beginning, and for physicists He is at the end of all considerations…..
  • Where there is the necessary technical skill to move mountains, there is no need for the faith that moves mountains.
  • "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."
  • I didn't arrive at my understanding of the fundamental laws of the universe through my rational mind


  • I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.
  • I believe there is no philosophical high-road in science, with epistemological signposts. No, we are in a jungle and find our way by trial and error, building our road behind us as we proceed.
  • Nothing in this world is to be feared... only understood.
  • Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.
  • Since the mathematicians have invaded the theory of relativity, I do not understand it myself anymore.
  • Today's scientists have substituted mathematics for experiments, and they wander off through equation after equation, and eventually build a structure which has no relation to reality.
  • You should never bet against anything in science at odds of more than about 10 to the 12 to 1 against.

Science and culture

  • Can science ever be immune from experiments conceived out of prejudices and stereotypes, conscious or not? (Which is not to suggest that it cannot in discrete areas identify and locate verifiable phenemonena in nature.) I await the study that says lesbians have a region of the hypothalamus that resembles straight men and I would not be surprised if, at this very moment, some scientist somewhere is studying brains of deceased Asians to see if they have an enlarged "math region" of the brain.
    • Kay Diaz, Z (unidentified periodical, possibly Z Magazine), unidentified article, December 1992
  • The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.
  • The general root of superstition is that men observe when things hit, and not when they miss, and commit to memory the one, and pass over the other.
  • It's not exactly rocket science.
    • Said about something easy or self-explanatory.
    • Anonymous
  • A scientist is happy, not in resting on his attainments but in the steady acquisition of fresh knowledge.
  • Tell a man that there are 300 billion stars in the universe, and he'll believe you.... Tell him that a bench has wet paint upon it and he'll have to touch it to be sure.
  • We've arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.
  • Science is the refusal to believe in the basis of hope.

Mistakes in science

  • I think that a particle must have a separate reality independent of the measurements. That is an electron has spin, location and so forth even when it is not being measured. I like to think that the moon is there even if I am not looking at it.
  • The science of Psychiatry is now where the science of Medicine was before germs were discovered.
  • There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.
  • There will never be a bigger plane built.
    • A Boeing engineer, after the first flight of the 247, a twin-engine plane that holds ten people

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