Celebrating 23 Years on the Web
Find science on or your birthday

Today in Science History - Quickie Quiz
Who said: “I have no satisfaction in formulas unless I feel their arithmetical magnitude.”
more quiz questions >>
Thumbnail of Ashley Montagu (source)
Ashley Montagu
(28 Jun 1905 - 26 Nov 1999)

British anthropologist who is noted for his works popularizing anthropology and science, including The Elephant Man.

Ashley Montagu
“Certainty is never an end, but a search”

Illustrated Quote - Medium (500 x 250 px)

“For the scientist, certainty is never an end, but a search; not the ordering of certainty, but its exploration.”
— Ashley Montagu
In Science and Creationism (1984).

More Ashley Montagu quotes on science >>

As editor, Ashley Montagu wrote an Introduction to a compilation of essays denouncing creationism, with contributors including Stephen Jay Gould and Isaac Asimov, called Science and Creationism. One reviewer described the book as, “One of the most substantial and scholarly counterattacks against creationism to date.” Montagu wrote his own criticism of the fundamentalists attempting to impose their beliefs in public school classrooms.

Montagu contrasted the basis of true scientific investigation with the fundamentalist who assert their certainty based on faith alone. Using the word “bigot” to describe a person who is narrowly or intolerantly devoted to his or her opinions and prejudices, he wrote:

“The scientist believes in proof without certainty, the bigot in certainty without proof.”

He continued, “I am not aware of any observations or experiments that the "Scientific Creationists have carried out in order to support or reinforce their claims, and therefore there must be the strongest objection to their terming what they are doing ‘science’ and to calling themselves scientists.”

About certainty in science, Montagu also wrote:

“As a scientist, no scientist can be a fundamentalist in his attitude toward truth. Scientists do not believe in fundamental and absolute certainties. For the scientist, certainty is never an end, but a search; not the ordering of certainty, but its exploration. For the scientist, certainty represents the highest degree of probability which attaches to a particular judgment at a particular time level, a judgment or conclusion that has been arrived at by experiment, inference, or observation, for all good observation and inference, in fact, involves experiment of some sort, by a consensus of independent scientists. Scientists … believe that all knowledge is infinitely perfectible.”

The book providing these quotes was written in 1985. Thirty years later, the same words ring true concerning the effects of climate change that is already in progress. Industries unwilling to reform their polluting practices evade addressing what science has identified as the highest probability. Naysaying politicians and partisan media object every way possible to ridicule the lack of certainty. But Science deals with the highest probability, and in the case of climate change, has refined that understanding over decades.

The naysayers want to continue to jaw-bone as in a fatuous “debate,” to deny the reality of proof, and marginalize scientists. This approach has been called the “War on Science.”

Interestingly, this same label was used nearly two centuries ago. In 1836, an article in The Knickerbocker, a New York magazine, was titled “Warfare of Misguided Zeal upon Science.”1 The pages were captioned “Warfare upon Science,” which is of course, essentially the same as today's name of the “War on Science.”

The Kickerbocker article outlines the motivations and strategy of those opposing science, and they are prescient in their similarity to the tactics of today. The article begins by quoting the even earlier words of Malebranche on the enemies of truth:2

“The hypocrites make use of the appearance of sacred truths, revered by all the world, in order to oppose new truths, by particular interests; they attack truth with the image of truth; and, in their hearts, make a scoff of what the world respects; they establish, for themselves, in the minds of men, a reputation the more solid and the more formidable, as what they thus abuse is more sacred. These persons are, then, the strongest, the most powerful, and the most formidable enemies of truth.”

The next quote from the article is even more clearly a reflection of today’s War on Science, says Franz Gall:3

“There is a kind of objection which new truths never escape. Ignorance, prejudice, envy, and often bad faith, endeavor to combat these truths. If they cannot attack the principles of a doctrine, they try, at least, to render it suspected, by the dangerous consequences of which they accuse it.”

In the case of climate change, the attackers’ “image of truth” is the claim to natural cycles in eras (before man’s pollution). The “dangerous consequences” are now claims of billions of wasted dollars on unnecessary pollution controls, meaning greatly increased utility bills, and of course, increased taxes.

1 From 'Warfare of Misguided Zeal upon Science', The Knickerbocker: Or, New-York Monthly Magazine (Dec 1836), 8, 66.
2 Nicolas Malebranche (1638–1715), as quoted by Franz Josef Gall in On the Functions of the Brain and of Each of Its Parts (1835), 195. Gall cites the source, cryptically, “L. c. tom. 2. p48.”
3 op. cit., 195.

See also:
  • Science Quotes by Ashley Montagu.
  • 28 Jun - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Montagu's birth.
  • Ashley Montagu - context of quote “The scientist believes in proof” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Ashley Montagu - context of quote “Certainty is never an end, but a search” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Ashley Montagu - context of quote “Servomechanism … mass-produced by unskilled labor” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Ashley Montagu - context of quote “Servomechanism … mass-produced by unskilled labor” - Large image (800 x 400 px)

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
Quotations by:Albert EinsteinIsaac NewtonLord KelvinCharles DarwinSrinivasa RamanujanCarl SaganFlorence NightingaleThomas EdisonAristotleMarie CurieBenjamin FranklinWinston ChurchillGalileo GalileiSigmund FreudRobert BunsenLouis PasteurTheodore RooseveltAbraham LincolnRonald ReaganLeonardo DaVinciMichio KakuKarl PopperJohann GoetheRobert OppenheimerCharles Kettering  ... (more people)

Quotations about:Atomic  BombBiologyChemistryDeforestationEngineeringAnatomyAstronomyBacteriaBiochemistryBotanyConservationDinosaurEnvironmentFractalGeneticsGeologyHistory of ScienceInventionJupiterKnowledgeLoveMathematicsMeasurementMedicineNatural ResourceOrganic ChemistryPhysicsPhysicianQuantum TheoryResearchScience and ArtTeacherTechnologyUniverseVolcanoVirusWind PowerWomen ScientistsX-RaysYouthZoology  ... (more topics)

- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton

by Ian Ellis
who invites your feedback
Thank you for sharing.
Today in Science History
Sign up for Newsletter
with quiz, quotes and more.