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Prophet Quotes (21 quotes)

In a 1852 letter, Nightingale records the opinion of a young surgeon:
The account he gives of nurses beats everything that even I know of. This young prophet says that they are all drunkards, without exception, Sisters and all, and that there are but two whom the surgeon can trust to give the patients their medicines.
Letter to Miss H. Bonham Carter (8 Jan 1852), quoted in Edward Tyas Cook, The Life of Florence Nightingale (1914), Vol. 1, 116.
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Lyveris to-forn us
Useden to marke
For selkouthes that thei seighen,
Hir sones for to teche;
And helden it an heigh science
Hir wittes to knowe.
Ac thorugh hir science soothly
Was nevere no soule y-saved,
Ne broght by hir bokes
To blisse ne to joye;
For alle hir kynde knowynges
Come but of diverse sightes.
Patriarkes and prophetes
Repreveden hir science,
And seiden hir wordes and hir wisdomes
Nas but a folye
And to the clergie of Crist
Counted it but a trufle.

Our ancestors in olden days used to record
The strange things they saw, and teach them to their sons;
And they held it a high science, to have knowledge of such things.
But no soul was ever saved by all that science,
Nor brought by books into eternal bliss;
Their science was only a series of sundry observations.
So patriarchs and prophets disapproved of their science,
And said their so-called words of wisdom were but folly—
And compared with Christian philosophy, a contemptible thing.
In William Langland and B. Thomas Wright (ed.) The Vision and Creed of Piers Ploughman (1842), 235-236. Modern translation by Terrence Tiller in Piers Plowman (1981, 1999), 123.
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Almost daily we shudder as prophets of doom announce the impending end of civilization and universe. We are being asphyxiated, they say, by the smoke of the industry; we are suffocating in the ever growing mountain of rubbish. Every new project depicts its measureable effects and is denounced by protesters screaming about catastrophe, the upsetting of the land, the assault on nature. If we accepted this new mythology we would have to stop pushing roads through the forest, harnessing rivers to produce the electricity, breaking grounds to extract metals, enriching the soil with chemicals, killing insects, combating viruses … But progress—basically, an effort to organise a corner of land and make it more favourable for human life—cannot be baited. Without the science of pomiculture, for example, trees will bear fruits that are small, bitter, hard, indigestible, and sour. Progress is desirable.
Anonymous
Uncredited. In Lachman Mehta, Stolen Treasure (2012), 117.
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I agree with your remark about loving your enemy as far as actions are concerned. But for me the cognitive basis is the trust in an unrestricted causality. ‘I cannot hate him, because he must do what he does.’ That means for me more Spinoza than the prophets.
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If one purges the Judaism of the Prophets and Christianity as Jesus Christ taught it of all subsequent additions, especially those of the priests, one is left with a teaching which is capable of curing all the social ills of humanity.
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In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”? Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.'
Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994), 52.
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It is a lovely and terrible wilderness, such as wilderness as Christ and the prophets went out into; harshly and beautifully colored, broken and worn until its bones are exposed, its great sky without a smudge of taint from Technocracy, and in hidden corners and pockets under its cliffs the sudden poetry of springs.
Letter (3 Dec 1960) written to David E. Pesonen of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission. Collected in 'Coda: Wilderness Letter', The Sound of Mountain Water: The Changing American West (1969), 153.
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It is often assumed that because the young child is not competent to study geometry systematically he need be taught nothing geometrical; that because it would be foolish to present to him physics and mechanics as sciences it is useless to present to him any physical or mechanical principles.
An error of like origin, which has wrought incalculable mischief, denies to the scholar the use of the symbols and methods of algebra in connection with his early essays in numbers because, forsooth, he is not as yet capable of mastering quadratics! … The whole infant generation, wrestling with arithmetic, seek for a sign and groan and travail together in pain for the want of it; but no sign is given them save the sign of the prophet Jonah, the withered gourd, fruitless endeavor, wasted strength.
From presidential address (9 Sep 1884) to the General Meeting of the American Social Science Association, 'Industrial Education', printed in Journal of Social Science (1885), 19, 121. Collected in Francis Amasa Walker, Discussions in Education (1899), 132.
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Judged superficially, a progressive saturation of the germ plasm of a species with mutant genes a majority of which are deleterious in their effects is a destructive process, a sort of deterioration of the genotype which threatens the very existence of the species and can finally lead only to its extinction. The eugenical Jeremiahs keep constantly before our eyes the nightmare of human populations accumulating recessive genes that produce pathological effects when homozygous. These prophets of doom seem to be unaware of the fact that wild species in the state of nature fare in this respect no better than man does with all the artificality of his surroundings, and yet life has not come to an end on this planet. The eschatological cries proclaiming the failure of natural selection to operate in human populations have more to do with political beliefs than with scientific findings.
Genetics and Origin of Species (1937), 126.
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Man carries the world in his head, the whole astronomy and chemistry suspended in a thought. Because the history of nature is charactered in his brain, therefore he is the prophet and discoverer of her secrets. Every known fact in natural science was divined by the presentiment of somebody, before it was actually verified.
Essay, 'Nature', in Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alfred Riggs Ferguson (ed.) and Jean Ferguson Carr (ed.), The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Volume III, Essays: Second Series (1984), 106-107.
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My father, and the father of my father, pitched their tents here before me. … For twelve hundred years have the true believers—and, praise be to God! all true wisdom is with them alone—been settled in this country, and not one of them ever heard of a palace underground. Neither did they who went before them. But lo! here comes a Frank from many days’ journey off, and he walks up to the very place, and he takes a stick … and makes a line here, and makes a line there. Here, says he, is the palace; there, says he, is the gate; and he shows us what has been all our lives beneath our feet, without our having known anything about it. Wonderful! Wonderful! Is it by books, is it by magic, is it by your prophets, that you have learnt wisdom?
(c. 1850) To Austin Layard, the English archaeologist who discovered and excavated Nineveh and Nimrud, 1845-1861.
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Rachel Carson. Her very name evokes the beatific luminosity of the canonized. Yet Carson was not a saint, but better, a prophet—that rare soul who diverts our attention into the path of the oncoming truth.
In his Foreward to Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us (1950, 2003), xvi.
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The appearance of Professor Benjamin Peirce, whose long gray hair, straggling grizzled beard and unusually bright eyes sparkling under a soft felt hat, as he walked briskly but rather ungracefully across the college yard, fitted very well with the opinion current among us that we were looking upon a real live genius, who had a touch of the prophet in his make-up.
Writing as a Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, a former student of Peirce, in 'Benjamin Peirce: II. Reminiscences', The American Mathematical Monthly (Jan 1925), 32, No. 1, 5.
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The development of statistics are causing history to be rewritten. Till recently the historian studied nations in the aggregate, and gave us only the story of princes, dynasties, sieges, and battles. Of the people themselves—the great social body with life, growth, sources, elements, and laws of its own—he told us nothing. Now statistical inquiry leads him into the hovels, homes, workshops, mines, fields, prisons, hospitals, and all places where human nature displays its weakness and strength. In these explorations he discovers the seeds of national growth and decay, and thus becomes the prophet of his generation.
Speech (16 Dec 1867) given while a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, introducing resolution for the appointment of a committee to examine the necessities for legislation upon the subject of the ninth census to be taken the following year. Quoted in John Clark Ridpath, The Life and Work of James A. Garfield (1881), 217.
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The difference between myth and science is the difference between divine inspiration of “unaided reason” (as Bertrand Russell put it) 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.
In 'Cosmology: Myth or Science?' Journal of Astrophysics and Astronomy (1984), 5, 79-98.
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The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. Individual existence impresses him as a sort of prison and he wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole. The beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear at an early stage of development, e.g., in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism, as we have learned especially from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer, contains a much stronger element of this. The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man’s image; so that there can be no church whose central teachings are based on it. Hence it is precisely among the heretics of every age that we find men who were filled with this highest kind of religious feeling and were in many cases regarded by their contemporaries as atheists, sometimes also as saints. Looked at in this light, men like Democritus, Francis of Assisi, and Spinoza are closely akin to one another.
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The picture of scientific method drafted by modern philosophy is very different from traditional conceptions. Gone is the ideal of a universe whose course follows strict rules, a predetermined cosmos that unwinds itself like an unwinding clock. Gone is the ideal of the scientist who knows the absolute truth. The happenings of nature are like rolling dice rather than like revolving stars; they are controlled by probability laws, not by causality, and the scientist resembles a gambler more than a prophet. He can tell you only his best posits—he never knows beforehand whether they will come true. He is a better gambler, though, than the man at the green table, because his statistical methods are superior. And his goal is staked higher—the goal of foretelling the rolling dice of the cosmos. If he is asked why he follows his methods, with what title he makes his predictions, he cannot answer that he has an irrefutable knowledge of the future; he can only lay his best bets. But he can prove that they are best bets, that making them is the best he can do—and if a man does his best, what else can you ask of him?
The Rise of Scientific Philosophy (1951, 1973), 248-9. Collected in James Louis Jarrett and Sterling M. McMurrin (eds.), Contemporary Philosophy: A Book of Readings (1954), 376.
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The poetic Wheeler is a prophet, standing like Moses on the top of Mount Pisgah, looking out over the promised land that his people will one day inherit.
Spoken at a 90th birthday celebration. Quoted in Dennis Overbye, 'John A. Wheeler, Physicist Who Coined the Term Black Hole, Is Dead at 96', New York Times (14 Apr 2008).
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The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true. The specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning. … Such are the perversities of social logic.
In article, 'The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy', The Antioch Review (Summer 1948), 8, No. 2, 195-196. Included as Chap. 7 of Social Theory and Social Structure (1949), 181-195. Note: Merton coined the expression “self-fulfilling prophecy.”
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There is no prophet which preaches the superpersonal God more plainly than mathematics.
In 'Reflections on Magic Squares', Monist (1906), 147.
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Truth … and if mine eyes
Can bear its blaze, and trace its symmetries,
Measure its distance, and its advent wait,
I am no prophet—I but calculate.
From poem, 'The Prospects of the Future', collected in The Poetical Works of Charles Mackay: Now for the First Time Collected Complete in One Volume (1876), 447.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail 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) -- Carl Sagan
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