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    superstition


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It is no defense of superstition and pseudoscience to say that it brings solace and comfort to people, and that therefore we “elitists” should not claim to know better and to take it away from the less sophisticated. If solace and comfort are how we judge the worth of something, then consider that tobacco brings solace and comfort to smokers; alcohol brings it to drinkers; drugs of all kinds bring it to addicts; the fall of cards and the run of horses bring it to gamblers; cruelty and violence bring it to sociopaths. Judge by solace and comfort only and there is no behavior we ought to interfere with.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
“The Never-ending Fight,” The Humanist (Mar/Apr 1989)
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Added on 12-Aug-21 | Last updated 12-Aug-21
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To make sure that my blasphemy is thoroughly expressed, I hereby state my opinion that the notion of a god is a basic superstition, that there is no evidence for the existence of any god(s), that devils, demons, angels and saints are myths, that there is no life after death, heaven nor hell, that the Pope is a dangerous, bigoted, medieval dinosaur, and that the Holy Ghost is a comic-book character worthy of laughter and derision. I accuse the Christian god of murder by allowing the Holocaust to take place — not to mention the “ethnic cleansing” presently being performed by Christians in our world — and I condemn and vilify this mythical deity for encouraging racial prejudice and commanding the degradation of women. (This comprehensive statement was arrived at by examining the statutes of those seven states that have remained in the Dark Ages, so that I might satisfy their definitions of blasphemy.)

James Randi
James Randi (1928-2020) Canadian-American stage magician ("The Amazing Randi") and scientific skeptic. [b. Randall James Hamilton Zwinge]
Skeptic Magazine (1995)


Written in an unsuccessful attempt to garner an official charge of blasphemy from any of those seven states that still had such laws on the books.
 
Added on 4-Aug-21 | Last updated 4-Aug-21
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If we are to have another contest in the near future of our national existence, I predict that the dividing line will not be Mason’s and Dixon’s, but between patriotism and intelligence on the one side, and superstition, ambition, and ignorance on the other.

Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) American military leader, US President (1869-77)
Speech, Army of the Tennessee, Des Moines (29 Sep 1876)
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Advocating free, non-sectarian, public education.
 
Added on 17-May-21 | Last updated 17-May-21
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To become a popular religion, it is only necessary for a superstition to enslave a philosophy.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
“The Idea of Progress”, Romanes Lecture, Oxford (27 May 1920)
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Added on 17-Aug-20 | Last updated 17-Aug-20
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We may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us. Ideas of the Stone Age exist side by side with the latest scientific thought. Only a fraction of mankind has emerged from the Dark Ages, and in the most lucid brains, as Logan Pearsall Smith has said, we come upon “nests of woolly caterpillars.”

Bergen Evans (1904-1978) American educator, writer, lexicographer
The Natural History of Nonsense, ch. 1 “Adam’s Navel” (1946)
 
Added on 13-May-20 | Last updated 13-May-20
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Forasmuch as the feast of the nativity of Christ, Easter, Whitsuntide, and other festivals, commonly called holy-days, have been heretofore superstitiously used and observed; be it ordained, that the said feasts, and all other festivals, commonly called holy-days, be no longer observed as festivals; any law, statute, custom, constitution, or canon, to the contrary in anywise not withstanding.

(Other Authors and Sources)
Puritan law passed in the British Parliament (8 Jun 1647)
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Quoted in Daniel Neal, The History of the Puritans, Vol. 2 (1837).
 
Added on 16-Dec-19 | Last updated 16-Dec-19
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We boast our emancipation from many superstitions; but if we have broken any idols, it is through a transfer of idolatry. What have I gained, that I no longer immolate a bull to Jove or to Neptune, or a mouse to Hecate; that I do not tremble before the Eumenides, or the Catholic Purgatory, or the Calvinistic Judgment-day, — if I quake at opinion, the public opinion as we call it; or at the threat of assault, or contumely, or bad neighbors, or poverty, or mutilation, or at the rumor of revolution, or of murder? If I quake, what matters it what I quake at?

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Character,” Essays: Second Series (1844)
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Added on 13-Nov-18 | Last updated 13-Nov-18
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The superstitious man is to the knave, what the slave is to the tyrant; nay more — the superstitious man is governed by the fanatic, and becomes a fanatic himself.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
“Superstition,” Philosophical Dictionary (1764) [tr. Fleming (1901)]
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Alt. trans.: "The superstitious man is to the rascal what the slave is to the tyrant." [tr. Besterman (1971)]
 
Added on 8-Jun-17 | Last updated 8-Jun-17
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Be it observed, that the most superstitious times have always been those of the most horrible crimes.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
“Superstition,” sec. 4, Philosophical Dictionary (1764) [tr. Besterman (1971)]
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Added on 2-Jun-17 | Last updated 2-Jun-17
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Men run out of one superstition into an opposite superstition.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“The Scholar,” lecture, University of Virginia (28 Jun 1876)
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Added on 19-May-17 | Last updated 22-Feb-22
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Sickness and sorrows come and go, but a superstitious soul hath no rest.

Robert Burton (1577-1640) English scholar
The Anatomy of Melancholy, 3.4.1.3 (1621-51)
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Added on 21-Apr-17 | Last updated 2-May-17
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Nothing is useless. A superstition is a hamper or a basket to carry useful lessons in.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (1836)
 
Added on 8-Aug-16 | Last updated 8-Aug-16
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And therefore it was a good answer that was made by one who, when they showed him hanging in a temple a picture of those who had paid their vows as having escaped shipwreck, and would have him say whether he did not now acknowledge the power of the gods — “Aye,” asked he again, “but where are they painted that were drowned after their vows?” And such is the way of all superstition, whether in astrology, dreams, omens, divine judgments, or the like; wherein men, having a delight in such vanities, mark the events where they are fulfilled, but where they fail, though this happen much oftener, neglect and pass them by.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
Novum Organum, Book 1, Aphorism 46 (1620)
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Added on 7-Jul-16 | Last updated 7-Jul-16
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We are all tattooed in our cradles with the beliefs of our tribe; the record may seem superficial, but it is indelible. You cannot educate a man wholly out of the superstitious fears which were implanted in his imagination, no matter how utterly his reason may reject them.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809-1894) American poet, essayist, scholar
The Poet at the Breakfast-Table (1872)
 
Added on 10-Apr-15 | Last updated 10-Apr-15
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The worst of superstitions is to think
One’s own most bearable.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) German playwright, philosopher, dramiturg, writer
Nathan the Wise, Act 4, sc. 2 (1779)


Alt. trans.: "The worst superstition is to consider our own tolerable."
 
Added on 18-Mar-15 | Last updated 18-Mar-15
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The superstition in which we grew up,
Though we may recognize it, does not lose
Its power over us — Not all are free
Who make mock of their chains.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) German playwright, philosopher, dramiturg, writer
Nathan the Wise (1779) [tr. Morgan (1955)]


Alt. trans.: "The superstition in which we were brought up never loses its power over us, even after we understand it." [In J. K. Hoyt & Anna L. Ward (eds.), The Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations (1881)]
 
Added on 23-Jan-15 | Last updated 2-Jun-17
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At any given moment, public opinion is a chaos of superstition, misinformation, and prejudice.

Gore Vidal (1925-2012) American novelist, dramatist, critic
“Sex and the Law,” Partisan Review (Summer 1965)
 
Added on 27-Nov-12 | Last updated 28-Jan-20
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At least when the Emperor Justinian, a sky-god man, decided to outlaw sodomy, he had to come up with a good practical reason, which he did. It is well known, Justinian declared, that buggery is a principal cause of earthquakes, and so must be prohibited. But our sky-godders, always eager to hate, still quote Leviticus, as if that looney text had anything useful to say about anything except, perhaps, the inadvisability of eating shellfish in the Jerusalem area.

Gore Vidal (1925-2012) American novelist, dramatist, critic
“America First? America Last? America at Last?” Lowell Lecture, Harvard University (20 Apr 1992)
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Added on 13-Nov-12 | Last updated 28-Jan-20
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The judgments which Johnson passed on books were, in his own time, regarded with superstitious veneration, and, in our time, are generally treated with indiscriminate contempt. They are the judgments of a strong but enslaved understanding. The mind of the critic was hedged round by an uninterrupted fence of prejudices and superstitions. Within his narrow limits, he displayed a vigour and an activity which ought to have enabled him to clear the barrier that confined him. How it chanced that a man who reasoned on his premises so ably, should assume his premises so foolishly, is one of the great mysteries of human nature.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“Samuel Johnson,” The Edinburgh Review (Sep 1831)
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Review of John Croker's 1831 edition of James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson.
 
Added on 20-Jul-11 | Last updated 16-Jan-20
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… [P]riests of the different religious sects, who dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of day-light; and scowl on the fatal harbinger announcing the subversion of the duperies on which they live.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to José Corrêa da Serra (11 Apr 1820)
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On resistance, particularly from Presbyterians, to the founding of the University of Virginia.
 
Added on 6-Jun-11 | Last updated 10-Jul-22
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It is man’s intelligence that makes him so often behave more stupidly than the beasts. … Man is impelled to invent theories to account for what happens in the world. Unfortunately, he is not quite intelligent enough, in most cases, to find correct explanations. So that when he acts on his theories, he behaves very often like a lunatic. Thus, no animal is clever enough, when there is a drought, to imagine that the rain is being withheld by evil spirits, or as punishment for its transgressions. Therefore you never see animals going through the absurd and often horrible fooleries of magic and religion. No horse, for example would kill one of its foals to make the wind change direction. Dogs do not ritually urinate in the hope of persuading heaven to do the same and send down rain. Asses do not bray a liturgy to cloudless skies. Nor do cats attempt, by abstinence from cat’s meat, to wheedle the feline spirits into benevolence. Only man behaves with such gratuitous folly. It is the price he has to pay for being intelligent but not, as yet, intelligent enough.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) English novelist, essayist and critic
Texts and Pretexts (1932)
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Added on 31-May-11 | Last updated 23-Mar-20
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Let the human mind loose. It must be loose. It will be loose. Superstition and dogmatism cannot confine it.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to John Quincy Adams (13 Nov 1816)
 
Added on 1-Aug-08 | Last updated 29-Mar-17
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CALVIN: Do you believe our destinies are determined by the stars?
HOBBES: Nah.
CALVIN: Oh, I do.
HOBBES: Really? How come?
CALVIN: Life’s a lot more fun when you’re not responsible for your actions.

Bill Watterson (b. 1958) American cartoonist
Weirdos from Another Planet (1990)
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 20-May-14
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The root of all superstition is that men observe when a thing hits, but not when it misses.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
Sylva Sylvarum, Century 10 (1627)


Alt trans.: "It is true that that may hold in these things, which is the general root of superstition; namely, that men observe when things hit, and not when they miss; and commit to memory the one, and forget and pass over the other."
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 16-May-16
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History warns us, however, that it is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions; and, as matters now stand, it is hardly rash to anticipate that, in another twenty years, the new generation, educated under the influences of the present day, will be in danger of accepting the main doctrines of the ‘Origin of Species’ with as little reflection, and it may be with as little justification, as so many of our contemporaries, twenty years ago, rejected them. Against any such a consummation let us all devoutly pray; for the scientific spirit is of more value than its products, and irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors.

T. H. Huxley (1825-1895) English biologist [Thomas Henry Huxley]
“The Coming of Age of The Origin of Species,” lecture, Royal Institution (19 Mar 1880)
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First printed in Nature: A Weekly Illustrated Journal of Science (6 May 1880).
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 24-Nov-21
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