Quotations by Haldane, J.B.S.


There is no great invention, from fire to flying, which has not been hailed as an insult to some god.

J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) English geneticist [John Burden Sanderson Haldane]
“Daedalus, or Science and the Future,” speech, Cambridge (24 Feb 1923)
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The conservative has but little to fear from the man whose reason is the servant of his passions, but let him beware of him in whom reason has become the greatest and most terrible of the passions. These are the wreckers of outworn empires and civilisations, doubters, disintegrators, deiciders.

J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) English geneticist [John Burden Sanderson Haldane]
“Daedalus, or Science and the Future,” speech, Cambridge (24 Feb 1923)
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Science is as yet in its infancy, and we can foretell little of the future save that the thing that has not been is the thing that shall be; that no beliefs, no values, no institutions are safe. So far from being an isolated phenomenon the late war is only an example of the disruptive result that we may constantly expect from the progress of science. The future will be no primrose path. It will have its own problems. Some will be the secular problems of the past, giant flowers of evil blossoming at last to their own destruction. Others will be wholly new. Whether in the end man will survive his ascensions of power we cannot tell. But the problem is no new one. It is the old paradox of freedom re-enacted with mankind for actor and the earth for stage.

J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) English geneticist [John Burden Sanderson Haldane]
“Daedalus, or Science and the Future,” speech, Cambridge (24 Feb 1923)
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Christianity has probably the most flexible morals of any religion, because Jesus left no code of law behind him like Moses or Muhammad, and his moral precepts are so different from those of ordinary life that no society has ever made any serious attempt to carry them out, such as was possible in the case of Israel and Islam. But every Christian church has tried to impose a code of morals of some kind for which it has claimed divine sanction. As these codes have always been opposed to those of the gospels a loophole has been left for moral progress such as hardly exists in other religions. This is no doubt an argument for Christianity as against other religions, but not as against none at all, or as against a religion which will frankly admit that its mythology and morals are provisional. That is the only sort of religion that would satisfy the scientific mind, and it is very doubtful whether it could properly be called a religion at all.

J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) English geneticist [John Burden Sanderson Haldane]
“Daedalus, or Science and the Future,” speech, Cambridge (24 Feb 1923)
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I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.

J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) English geneticist [John Burden Sanderson Haldane]
“On Being the Right Size,” Possible Worlds and Other Papers (1927)

Sometimes attributed to Arthur Stanley Eddington.
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In scientific thought we adopt the simplest theory which will explain all the facts under consideration and enable us to predict new facts of the same kind. The catch in this criterion lies in the word “simplest.” It is really an aesthetic canon such as we find implicit in our criticisms of poetry or painting.

J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) English geneticist [John Burden Sanderson Haldane]
“Science and Theology as Art Forms,” Possible Worlds and Other Papers (1927)
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I suppose the process of acceptance will pass through the usual four stages:
1. This is worthless nonsense,
2. This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view,
3. This is true, but quite unimportant,
4. I always said so.

J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) English geneticist [John Burden Sanderson Haldane]
“The Truth About Death,” Journal of Genetics, Vol. 58, page 464 (1963)
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Review of The Chester Beatty Research Institute Serially Abridged Life Tables, England and Wales, 1841-1960. Referring to the stages a scientific theory goes through.
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INTERVIEWER: What has the study of biology taught you about the Creator, Dr. Haldane?
HALDANE: I’m not sure, but He seems to be inordinately fond of beetles.

J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) English geneticist [John Burden Sanderson Haldane]
(Attributed)

Variations are given in a variety of sources. A direct, citeable quote on the theme can be found in J.B.S. Haldane, What is Life? (1949):
The Creator would appear as endowed with a passion for stars, on the one hand, and for beetles on the other, for the simple reason that there are nearly 300,000 species of beetle known, and perhaps more, as compared with somewhat less than 9,000 species of birds and a little over 10,000 species of mammals. Beetles are actually more numerous than the species of any other insect order. That kind of thing is characteristic of nature.
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Reality is the cage of those who lack imagination.

J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) English geneticist [John Burden Sanderson Haldane]
(Attributed)
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My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.

J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) English geneticist [John Burden Sanderson Haldane]
Fact and Faith, Preface (1934)
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