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Who said: “Nature does nothing in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.”
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Skeptical Quotes (20 quotes)
Skeptically Quotes

A hot topic of late, expressed most notably in Bernie Siegel’s best-selling books, has emphasized the role of positive attitude in combating such serious diseases as cancer. From the depths of my skeptical and rationalist soul, I ask the Lord to protect me from California touchie-feeliedom.
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A moment's consideration of this case shows what a really great advance in the theory and practise of breeding has been obtained through the discovery of Mendel's law. What a puzzle this case would have presented to the biologist ten years ago! Agouti crossed with chocolate gives in the second filial generation (not in the first) four varieties, viz., agouti, chocolate, black and cinnamon. We could only have shaken our heads and looked wise (or skeptical).
Then we had no explanation to offer for such occurrences other than the 'instability of color characters under domestication,' the 'effects of inbreeding,' 'maternal impressions.' Serious consideration would have been given to the proximity of cages containing both black and cinnamon-agouti mice.
Now we have a simple, rational explanation, which anyone can put to the test. We are able to predict the production of new varieties, and to produce them.
We must not, of course, in our exuberance, conclude that the powers of the hybridizer know no limits. The result under consideration consists, after all, only in the making of new combinations of unit characters, but it is much to know that these units exist and that all conceivable combinations of them are ordinarily capable of production. This valuable knowledge we owe to the discoverer and to the rediscoverers of Mendel's law.
'New Colour Variety of the Guinea Pig', Science, 1908, 28, 250-252.
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As immoral and unethical as this may be [to clone a human], there is a real chance that could have had some success. This is a pure numbers game. If they have devoted enough resources and they had access to enough eggs, there is a distinct possibility. But, again, without any scientific data, one has to be extremely skeptical.
Commenting on the announcement of the purported birth of the first cloned human.
Transcript of TV interview by Sanjay Gupta aired on CNN (27 Dec 2002).
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At the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes—an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive they may be, and the most ruthless skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense.
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1997), 304.
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At times the mathematician has the passion of a poet or a conqueror, the rigor of his arguments is that of a responsible statesman or, more simply, of a concerned father, and his tolerance and resignation are those of an old sage; he is revolutionary and conservative, skeptical and yet faithfully optimistic.
Max Dehn
Address (18 Jan 1928) at the University of Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Trans. by Abe Schenitzer, and published in 'The Mentality of the Mathematician: A Characterization', The Mathematical Intelligencer (1983), 5, No. 2. As quoted in Michael Fitzgerald and Ioan James, The Mind of the Mathematician (2007), 6.
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Characteristically skeptical of the idea that living things would faithfully follow mathematical formulas, [Robert Harper] seized upon factors in corn which seemed to blend in the hybrid—rather than be represented by plus or minus signs, and put several seasons into throwing doubt upon the concept of immutable hypothetical units of inheritance concocted to account for selected results.
In 'Robert Almer Harper', National Academy Biographical Memoirs (1948), 25, 233-234.
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Few men speak humbly of humility, chastely of chastity, skeptically of skepticism.
From Pensées (1670), Sect. 6, Aphorism 20, as translated in W.H. Auden and L. Kronenberger (eds.) The Viking Book of Aphorisms (1966), 38. From the original French, “Peu parlent de l’humilité humblement; peu, de la chasteté chastement; peu, du pyrrhonisme en doutant,” in 'Pensées', Oeuvres Complètes (1864), Vol. 1, 276.
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For a scientist must indeed be freely imaginative and yet skeptical, creative and yet a critic. There is a sense in which he must be free, but another in which his thought must be very preceisely regimented; there is poetry in science, but also a lot of bookkeeping.
The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice and Other Classic Essays on Science (1996), 63.
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I am pessimistic about the human race because it is too ingenious for its own good. Our approach to nature is to beat it into submission. We would stand a better chance of survival if we accommodated ourselves to this planet and viewed it appreciatively instead of skeptically and dictatorially.
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It is therefore easy to see why the churches have always fought science and persecuted its devotees. On the other hand, I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research. Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer work in theoretical science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue. What a deep conviction of the rationality of the universe and what a yearning to understand, were it but a feeble reflection of the mind revealed in this world, Kepler and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary labor in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics! Those whose acquaintance with scientific research is derived chiefly from its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the mentality of the men who, surrounded by a skeptical world, have shown the way to kindred spirits scattered wide through the world and through the centuries. Only one who has devoted his life to similar ends can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and given them the strength to remain true to their purpose in spite of countless failures. It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man such strength. A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people.
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It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas … If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you … On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful ideas from the worthless ones.
In 'The Burden of Skepticism', Skeptical Inquirer (Fall 1987), 12, No. 1.
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My view, the skeptical one, holds that we may be as far away from an understanding of elementary particles as Newton's successors were from quantum mechanics. Like them, we have two tremendous tasks ahead of us. One is to study and explore the mathematics of the existing theories. The existing quantum field-theories may or may not be correct, but they certainly conceal mathematical depths which will take the genius of an Euler or a Hamilton to plumb. Our second task is to press on with the exploration of the wide range of physical phenomena of which the existing theories take no account. This means pressing on with experiments in the fashionable area of particle physics. Outstanding among the areas of physics which have been left out of recent theories of elementary particles are gravitation and cosmology
In Scientific American (Sep 1958). As cited in '50, 100 & 150 years ago', Scientific American (Sep 2008), 299, No. 3, 14.
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No man who has not a decently skeptical mind can claim to be civilized. Euclid taught me that without assumptions there is no proof. Therefore, in any argument, examine the assumptions. Then, in the alleged proof, be alert for inexplicit assumptions. Euclid’s notorious oversights drove this lesson home. Thanks to him, I am (I hope!) immune to all propaganda, including that of mathematics itself.
In 'What Mathematics Has Meant to Me', Mathematics Magazine (Jan-Feb 1951), 24, 161.
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Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep insights can be winnowed from deep nonsense.
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Some ideas are better than others. The machinery for distinguishing them is an essential tool in dealing with the world and especially in dealing with the future. And it is precisely the mix of these two modes of thought [skeptical scrutiny and openness to new ideas] that is central to the success of science.
In 'The Burden of Skepticism', Skeptical Inquirer (Fall 1987), 12, No. 1.
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That is the biggest fool thing we have ever done. The [atomic] bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives.
[A skeptical comment on the U.S. Atomic Bomb Project, to President Harry S. Truman in 1945.]
Memoirs: Year of Decisions (1955), Vol. 1, 11.
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The major religions on the Earth contradict each other left and right. You can’t all be correct. And what if all of you are wrong? It’s a possibility, you know. You must care about the truth, right? Well, the way to winnow through all the differing contentions is to be skeptical. I’m not any more skeptical about your religious beliefs than I am about every new scientific idea I hear about. But in my line of work, they’re called hypotheses, not inspiration and not revelation.
Contact (1997), 162.
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The method of science is tried and true. It is not perfect, it’s just the best we have. And to abandon it, with its skeptical protocols, is the pathway to a dark age.
From a sound clip from CSICOP, now CSI (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry). If you know a more specific citation, please contact Webmaster.
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Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true. The consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression. Mistrust of every kind of author ity grew out of this experience, a skeptical attitude toward the convictions that were alive in any specific social environment–an attitude that has never again left me, even though, later on, it has been tempered by a better insight into the causal connections.
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[The enigmatical motto of Marischal College, Aberdeen: They say; what say they; let them say.] It expresses the three stages of an undergraduate’s career. “They say”—in his first year he accepts everything he is told as if it were inspired. “What say they”—in his second year he is skeptical and asks that question. “Let them say” expresses the attitude of contempt characteristic of his third year.
As quoted, without citation, in Alexander Macfarlane, 'Henry John Stephen Smith', Lectures on Ten British Mathematicians of the Nineteenth Century (1916), 100-101.
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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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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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- 10 -
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