The entries on this page are direct quotes from the works cited (except for text in square brackets), references for which can be found in the Bibliography. For reviews of some of these titles, see the list on Sphex. For posts see the glossary category.

Main subpages: Critical Thinking Evolution


adaptation  advertising affairs  agnosticism altruism altruism (reciprocal) coincidence confirmation bias  Coolidge effect  courtship  coyness  Euthyphro dilemma evolutionary psychology  evolutionary success story  emotion  equivocation  fidelity  fitness  fitness indicator  fitness matching  genes humptydumptying  inclusive fitness reproduction scepticism superstition tax  words



…advertising is disciplined manipulation, held to standards of at least partial honesty by the requirements of credibility… (Seabright 2012:31)

The advertisement may be wasteful, but its wastefulness is precisely the point… (Seabright 2012:33)


[The agnostic] claims ignorance as to the truth of a certain matter. … Evasive agnosticism is the attitude that attempts to pass off vincible ignorance as if it were invincible ignorance. (McInerny 2005:93)


The primary founders of the American republic were deists and the case can be made that the republic was not founded on Christian principles, as is so often asserted, but on deist principles. (Stenger 2009:16)

‘‘The Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.’’ [John Adams] (Stenger 2009:23)

Jefferson’s ‘‘creator’’ in the Declaration of Independence was the deist god. (Stenger 2009:28)


Animism, though by definition mistaken, is neither simple nor ambiguous. …distinguishing what is alive from what is not is intrinsically difficult and that animism stems in part from this difficulty. … My claim that animism results from a perceptual strategy (namely, when in doubt whether something is alive, assume that it is) draws on three linked observations: perception is interpretation, interpretation aims at significance, and significance generally corresponds to the degree of organization perceived. (Guthrie 1993:41)

Animism, then, seems intrinsic to perception. It is grounded in a sound perceptual strategy: to discover as much significance as possible by interpreting things and events with the most significant model. Significance in turn depends upon organization, and an organism typically is more significant than inorganic matter. An account of animism thus needs no speculation about death and dreams, no inability to tell self from other, no wish fulfillment, and no peculiar irrationality. Instead, animism is a thread of interpretation that necessarily runs throughout perception. The mistake embodied in animism—a mistake we can discover only after the fact—is the price of our need to discover living organisms. It is a cost occasionally incurred by any animal that perceives. (Guthrie 1993:61)

Animism means attributing a soul… to an entity, and it can be found in many religions as well as in secular supernaturalism. (Hood 2009:112)


…both secular rationalists and theologians find anthropomorphism embarrassing. Secular thinkers, especially scientists, see it as an unfortunate and persistent flaw in human thought. Theologians see it as a discomfiting sign that conceptions of God may be limited by, or even founded on, conceptions of ourselves. (Guthrie 1993:64)

Anthropomorphism… is an illusion, even though like many illusions it is one result of a strategy that otherwise works well. (Guthrie 1993:82)

Anthropomorphism may best be explained as the result of an attempt to see not what we want to see or what is easy to see, but what is important to see: what may affect us for better or worse. (Guthrie 1993:82–83)

Indeed, anthropomorphism offers the greatest intellectual coherence possible. As humans are coherent yet uniquely diverse, so models based on them bring coherence to unique diversity. The points needs underscoring, because the standard views of anthropomorphism, as we saw above, claim just the opposite: that anthropomorphism is oddly irrational and is based in confusion, in wishful thinking, or in both. Once we see that anthropomorphism results from our most powerful model, we can see that we are bound to engage in it everywhere, not only inevitably but also reasonably. (Guthrie 1993:89–90)

The cause of anthropomorphism—the effort after meaning—is the same in all art forms, whether commercial, folk, tribal, or fine. (Guthrie 1993:131)

This propensity to think of the natural world in social terms is perhaps most evident in the ubiquitous use of anthropomorphic thinking — attributing animals with humanlike minds. (Mithen 1996:49)

Anthropomorphic thinking is something that pervades our own everyday lives. We indulge in anthropomorphic thinking in our relations with pets by attributing to them feelings, purposes and intentions. (Mithen 1996:187–88)


The term ‘‘apologetics’’ comes from the Greek word apologia, which does not mean ‘‘apology’’ in the sense of saying you’re sorry for something; it means, instead, to make a ‘‘reasoned defense’’ of the faith. Christian apologetics is devoted to showing not only that faith in Christ is reasonable, but that the Christian message is demonstrably true… (Ehrman 2011:4)


In Christendom, Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas combined biblical with Greek views to ratify the amoral treatment of animals. Aquinas wrote, ‘‘By the divine providence [animals are intended for man’s use… Hence it is not wrong for man to make use of them, either by killing or in any other way whatsoever.’’ (Pinker 2011:459)


Archaeology may therefore not only be able to contribute, it may hold the key to an understanding of the modern mind. (Mithen 1996:5)

Arrow of time

…the arrow of time is defined by the second law of thermodynamics… It is important to keep in mind, then, that the universe has no fundamental direction of time. Effects can precede causes and the whole idea of creation, which has a built-in assumption on the direction of time, needs to be rethought. (Stenger 2009:83)


Art reflects “this tendency of ours to look for meaning rather than to take in the real appearance of the world.” (Guthrie quoting Ernst Gombrich 1993:130)


The artist simulates not reality, but only those aspects of it that are important to us. (Guthrie 1993:130)


Until somebody claims to see Christopher Hitchens’ face in a tree stump, idiots must stop claiming that atheism is a religion. There’s one little difference. Religion is defined as the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, and atheism is — precisely not that. Atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sex position. But when it comes to religion, we’re not two sides of the same coin, and you don’t get to put your unreason up on the same shelf with my reason. (Bill Maher, excerpt from February 11, 2012 episode of Freethought Radio)

Atheist fundamentalist

There are dogmatists of every stripe, but God know what an atheist fundamentalist would look like. … Secular liberalism is not a religion. (Dacey 2008:11)

Atheist, new

A new atheist is just any old atheist that the Catholic Church can’t legally set on fire any more. (PZ Myers at the Global Atheist Convention, Melbourne, March 2010)


The stuff of the universe, Lucretius proposed, is an infinite number of atoms moving randomly through space… (Greenblatt 2012:5–6)

The core of this vision may be traced back to a single incandescent idea: that everything that has ever existed and everything that will ever exist is put together out of indestructible building blocks, irreducibly small in size, unimaginably vast in number. … atoms. (Greenblatt 2012:73)

Atomism absolutely denied the key distinction between substance and accidents, and therefore threatened the whole magnificent intellectual edifice resting on Aristotelian foundations. … “Faith must take first place among all other laws of philosophy,” declared a Jesuit spokesman in 1624, “so that what, by established authority, is the word of God may not be exposed to falsity.” (Greenblatt 2012:253)

Atomism, explained the inquisitor, is incompatible with the second canon of the thirteenth session of the Council of Trent, the session that spelled out the dogma of the Eucharist. (Greenblatt 2012:255)

Atomism is atheism. (Stenger 2013:13)

The atomic theory of Leucippus and Democritus can be characterized by the simple phrase “atoms and the void.” Everything is made of atoms, even gods and the soul. (Stenger 2013:23)

Authority of science

…abstract and difficult theories which cannot be understood or evaluated by the laity are presumably proved in a fashion which can be understood by all, that is, through their technological applications. Readiness to accept the authority of science rests, to a considerable extent, upon its daily demonstration of power. Were it not for such indirect demonstration, the continued social support of that science which is intellectually incomprehensible to the public would hardly be nourished on faith alone. (Merton 1996:282)


Autistic children seem to be unaware of what other people are thinking, indeed they seem to be unaware that other people may have thoughts in their minds at all. (Mithen 1996:59)


This is the worst thing about the cult of awareness. It does not mean education, designed to impart knowledge and understanding. It is awareness designed to attract attention, alarm and publicity, which often ripples panic and bad statistics in its wake. (McCartney 2012:174)


The emotion of awe is most often triggered when we face situations with two features: vastness (something overwhelms us and makes us feel small) and a need for accommodation (that is, our experience is not easily assimilated into our existing mental structures; we must ‘‘accommodate’’ the experience by changing those structures). Awe acts like a kind of reset button: it makes people forget themselves and their petty concerns. Awe opens people to new possibilities, values, and directions in life. Awe is one of the emotions most closely linked to the hive switch, along with collective love and collective joy. (Haidt 2012:228)



All human babies are born prematurely relative to other primate babies. Human babies are less competent and more vulnerable at birth than almost any other mammal. (Miller 2001:386)


By making a fetish of balance, and insisting too rigidly that both sides of a story are told, it becomes very easy to mislead. In science, opposing views do not always have equal merit. (Henderson 2012:71)

Balance is only an argument for dealing equally with two ideas that have equal validity. The issue was whether ‘Creation Science’ is a valid science; if so it should clearly be treated in a balanced way; if not, then ‘balance’ is irrelevant. (Thouless and Thouless 2011:72–73)

Barnum statements

I believe I’m in spirit. I’m looking for a lady who has either just lost weight, or is thinking about losing weight [pause to milk audience laughter] or has been talking to someone about losing weight. (Ian D. Montfort)

Bayes’s Theorem

Bayes’s Theorem thus tells us what we are warranted in believing at any given time, fully acknowledging that this can change with new information. (Carrier 2012:53)

[Bayes’s Theorem] tells us what we are warranted in believing, not what is “true” in any absolute sense. … we are always and only warranted in believing what we know and what is logically entailed by what we know. (Carrier 2012:276)


These circumstances upset some people, because they seem unfair. We can modify our physical attractiveness only in limited ways, and some people are born better looking than others. Beauty is not distributed democratically. A woman cannot alter her age, and a woman’s reproductive value declines more sharply with age than a man’s; evolution deals women a cruel hand, at least in this regard. Women fight the decline through cosmetics, through plastic surgery, through aerobics classes… (Buss 2003:70–71)

But standards of attractiveness are not arbitrary—they reflect cues to youth and health, and hence to reproductive value. Beauty is not merely skin deep. It reflects internal reproductive capabilities. (Buss 2003:71)


…we must necessarily have many false beliefs. But the more rationally and informedly we form our beliefs, the fewer of them that will be false, and if we proportion our belief to the evidence appropriately, we are thereby acknowledging the frequency of beliefs of a given type… (Carrier 2012:267)

To say that you believe something is to say that that information successfully passed through your mind without triggering the emotions of confusion or humor, but quite possibly having triggered the sense of insight. (Hurley et al. 2011:91)

A belief is a commitment to a fact about the world. (Hurley et al. 2011:104)

While we each have billions of long-term memory beliefs, at any particular moment we have only a few active beliefs. (Hurley et al. 2011:106)

For traditional Christians, belief is the heart of the Christian religion. … This focus on belief is not characteristic of all religions. In the ancient Near East, the birthplace of Christianity, pagan religions placed little emphasis on belief. (Valerie Tarico in Loftus 2010:48)

(See also orthodoxy.)


See this wiki page for a long list.


The Hebrew Bible is obsessed with revenge… (Pinker 2011:529)


…it is a fundamental fact of biology that such an expenditure of energy needs a purpose, even if that purpose has expired or been directed to new ends. (Hurley et al. 2011:45)


She is seeing, if by seeing we mean experiencing the light and acquiring knowledge about its location, but she is blind, if by blind we mean that she is not aware of having seen. Her eyes are projecting the movie of reality on the little theatre screen in her head, but the audience is in the lobby getting popcorn. (Gilbert 2007:62)


[Petrarch] “… books give delight to the very marrow of one’s bones. They speak to us, consult with us, and join with us in a living and intense intimacy.” (Greenblatt 2012:119)


All brains, from the simplest nervous systems of invertebrates to our own magnificent organs, are anticipation-generators. Their primary function is to extract information on the fly from the world around them and generate expectations that will serve the organism well in its odyssey through an uncertain and often hostile world. (Hurley et al. 2011:93)

Brain tissue is far more expensive than muscle to grow and maintain, yet natural selection has nevertheless given equally sophisticated brains to men and women. (Seabright 2012:71)


Buddhism in fact has many gods, from local bodhisattvas to the Buddha himself. (Guthrie 1993:191)


They say the burka is a form of clothing; yes if you accept the chastity belt as a form of clothing. Yes, if you accept foot binding as a form of footwear, then yes the burka is a form of clothing. Rather, it is a symbol of the oppression and suppression of women. How can anyone who defends women’s rights support it? (Maryam Namazie)



…in the case of a finite number of discrete entities, such as the chemical elements or the human genes, certainty is an appropriate word. (Cromer 1993:17)


…the chaos associated with nonlinear systems is more accurately denoted as deterministic chaos. (Stenger 2009:149)

Chaos deals specifically with nonlinear, dissipative systems with an external driving force. These systems can be complex but also as simple as a pendulum. (Stenger 2009:150)


Charm sounds like a nice, comforting thing, but it’s not: almost by definition, not everyone has it, or not when they need it, and for everyone whose charm is working, someone else is left seething and frustrated. (Seabright 2012:146)


According to Lancelot, ‘‘The customs of the Kingdom of Logres are such that if a lady or a maiden travels by herself, she fears no one. But if she travels in the company of a knight and another knight can win her in battle, the winner can take a lady or a maiden in any way he desires without incurring shame or blame.’’ Presumably that is not what most people today mean by the word chivalry. (Pinker, quoting Richard Kauper, 2011:18)


Medieval Christendom was a culture of cruelty. … Sadistic tortures were also inflicted by the Christian church during its inquisitions, witch hunts, and religious wars. (Pinker 2011:132)


What was ridiculous about Christianity, from the perspective of a cultivated pagan, was not only its language… but also its exaltation of divine humiliation and pain conjoined with an arrogant triumphalism. (Greenblatt 2012:97)

If Lucretius offered a moralized and purified version of the Roman pleasure principle, Christianity offered a moralized and purified version of the Roman pain principle. (Greenblatt 2012:104–5)


The Church was a landlord, wealthier than the greatest nobles in the realm, and it possessed the worldly power to enforce its rents and all its other rights and privileges. (Greenblatt 2012:36)


Claustration, or the concealment of women to prevent their contact with potential sexual partners, provides a vivid example of mate monopolization. (Buss 2003:136)


By moving from the partial Pyrrhonism of doubting the reliability of our senses, to the metaphysical Pyrrhonism of the dream hypothesis, doubting the reality of our knowledge, to the total Pyrrhonism of the demon hypothesis, doubting the reliability of our rational faculties, we finally discover the cogito, a truth so subjectively certain that we are incapable of doubting it at all. (Popkin 1979:191)


Cognition just refers to information processing, which includes higher cognition (such as conscious reasoning) as well as lower cognition (such as visual perception and memory retrieval). (Haidt 2012:44)


The Criterion of Coherence assumes that anything that coheres with what has been established with other criteria is also historical. … Coherent material can be fabricated precisely because it coheres with other beliefs about Jesus… Everyone knows “good fiction is often just as `coherent’ as historical fact.” Indeed it can even be more so—for coherence is easy to create by design… coherence is just as common and expected on hypotheses of fabrication. (Carrier 2012:169)


…believers in ESP have a poorer understanding of random processes, such as coin-flipping, than nonbelievers do. … Many people subscribe to a form of religious determinism that attributes all earthly events to God’s direct influence and leaves no room for unplanned happenings or random processes, and several modern writers, including Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Arthur Koestler, and D. H. Lawrence, have all expressed the view that mere coincidence does not exist. (Vyse 1997:102)

Cold reading

…con artists can use cold reading to convince complete strangers that they know all about them. It relies on the clever use of language, careful observation, intelligent guesswork, and the production of vague and ambiguous statements that the sitter interprets (and remembers) as being more specific than they actually were. In a skilled practitioner, cold reading can produce much more impressive results than the rather amateurish readings produced by most psychics. [To avoid misunderstanding, Professor French is not claiming that Sally Morgan is a con artist] (Chris French on Sally Morgan)


The ethic of community is based on the idea that people are, first and foremost, members of larger entities such as families, teams, armies, companies, tribes, and nations. These larger entities are more than the sum of the people who compose them… (Haidt 2012:99–100)

Complex system

A complex system is composed of many different systems that interact and produce emergent properties that are greater than the sum of their parts and cannot be reduced to the properties of the constituent parts. The classic example that is easily understandable is traffic. (Gazzaniga 2011:71)


complexity can arise naturally from simplicity. (Stenger 2009:151)


This finding, that people will readily fabricate reasons to explain their own behavior, is called “confabulation.” Confabulation is so frequent in work with split-brain patients and other people suffering brain damage that Gazzaniga refers to the language centers on the left side of the brain as the interpreter module, whose job is to give a running commentary on whatever the self is doing, even though the interpreter module has no access to the real causes or motives of the self’s behavior. (Haidt 2006:8)

Confirmation bias

The confirmation bias is the mother of all misconceptions. It is the tendency to interpret new information so that it becomes compatible with our existing theories, beliefs and convictions. In other words, we filter out any new information that contradicts our existing views… (Dobelli 2013:23)

…the tendency to seek out and interpret new evidence in ways that confirm what you already think. People are quite good at challenging statements made by other people, but if it’s your belief, then it’s your possession… (Haidt 2012:79–80)

Conflict between science and religion

Science and religion are on divergent paths, growing ever farther apart as knowledge expands. (Park 2008:4)

…two contrasting kinds of knowledge: supernaturally revealed knowledge and that which comes from scientific thought and observation — two warring empires of the mind. This epistemological question lies at the root of the present conflict between religion and science. (David Lewis-Williams 2010:8)


…what we are suggesting is that, without confusion, there would be no underlying sense that contradiction exists (and is bad!) at all. (Hurley et al. 2011:85)

…an unresolved epistemic concern. (Hurley et al. 2011:184)


Hence, generating consensus is a slow process that radiates outward in circles of authority… Proper historical argument consists of seeking this growth of consensus and entails everything that that requires… (Carrier 2012:21)

Because conclusions that logically follow from public facts are exactly those in which there should be a consensus, and anyone who accepts such conclusions will join that consensus—whereas conclusions that do not logically follow from public facts should be rejected… (Carrier 2012:22)

Background knowledge ideally represents the established consensus of experts, which can include a consensus that there is no consensus; while the evidence represents the facts that everyone agrees need explanation. (Carrier 2012:79)

…the reason expert consensus is so important\dots is that when the competent reporting witnesses are extremely numerous\dots the probability of mass error or deceptive collusion becomes extremely small. … And such dialogue almost invariably creates agreement. (Carrier 2012:212)

…the scientific consensus is not threatened by individual mistakes or controversies, but is a broad conclusion drawn from multiple branches of research. (Henderson 2012:241)

Therefore, agreement or consensus, not truth, is the proper aim of inquiry. (Lynch 2012:124)

The objective of Science… is a consensus of rational opinion over the widest possible field. (Ziman 1968:9)

The argument is that Science is unique in striving for, and insisting on, a consensus. (Ziman 1968:13)

To change the consensus, you must, paradoxically, demonstrate that you understand and accept it as it is. (Ziman 1968:64)

Nothing could bring out more vividly the consensus principle. A great scientific discovery does not exist by the moral authority or literary skill of its creator, but by the recognition and appropriation by the whole scientific community. (Ziman 1968:70)

…the allegiance of the scientist is towards the creation of a consensus. (Ziman 1968:78)

The consensus itself does not progress by infinitesimal steps. …one does much better to wait until one has built up a strong case for a substantial advance… (Ziman 1968:98)


A contradictory statement in effect speaks against itself, for it is saying something that does not correspond to the objective facts. The avoidance of contradiction, therefore, is simply the avoidance of falsehood. (McInerny 2005:28–29)

Another way I can allow myself to hold on to statements that contradict the facts is deliberately to refrain from examining the facts to which the statements refer. (McInerny 2005:29)


If you see one hundred insects working together toward a common goal, it’s a sure bet they’re siblings. But when you see one hundred people working on a construction site or marching off to war, you’d be astonished if they all turned out to be members of one large family. Human beings are the world champions of cooperation beyond kinship, and we do it in large part by creating systems of formal and informal accountability. (Haidt 2012:74–75)

[Tomasello] ‘‘It is inconceivable that you would ever see two chimpanzees carrying a log together.’’ (Haidt 2012:204)

The coevolution of tribal minds and tribal cultures didn’t just prepare us for war; it also prepared us for far more peaceful coexistence within our groups, and, in modern times, for cooperation on a vast scale as well. (Haidt 2012:212)

(See also groupishness, hive switch.)


A revolutionary is not a crank who has been vindicated. Cranks and revolutionaries constitute two distinct classes of thinkers, and history can never succeed in making one out of the other. (Radner and Radner 1982:21)

So when we call someone a crank we refer to that person only insofar as he or she is guilty of defective scientific reasoning. This in no way implies a judgment about the author’s character or intentions. (Radner and Radner 1982:25)

Another common characteristic of cranks is their isolation from the scientific community. … What is important for determining whether someone is a crank is not whether he or she is listened to by scientists but whether he or she listens to them. A crank is defined not by place in society but by mode of operation. (Radner and Radner 1982:28)


…talking about time having two directions throws most theologians into a tizzy. All theological discussions about creation assume an absolute direction of time and causality that is fundamentally wrong. (Stenger 2009:247)


Creativity is not just a side-effect of chaotic neural activity in large brains: it evolved for a reason, partly as an indicator of intelligence and youthfulness, and partly as a way of playing upon our attraction to novelty. (Miller 2001:392)

Criterion of dissimilarity

Any tradition of Jesus that is dissimilar to what the early Christians would have likely wanted to say about him is more likely authentic. … who would make up a story that the Savior came from Nazareth…? (Ehrman 2009:154)


…curiosity was said by the Church to be a mortal sin. To indulge it was to risk an eternity in hell. (Greenblatt 2012:16)

A passion for antiquity could certainly not be justified on the basis of curiosity alone, for curiosity had long been rigorously condemned as a mortal sin. (Greenblatt 2012:118)

If insight is like orgasm… curiosity might be the analogue of lust. The epistemic hunger of curiosity—a burning desire to find reason and order—prompts us to fervently advance upon situations that require explanatory exertion… that ultimately leads to that religiously adored moment of insight. (Hurley et al. 2011:79)


A cynic is someone who makes emphatically negative estimates without sufficient evidence. (McInerny 2005:93)



Typological constructs in Daniel, for example, do not in any way reflect real memories by or about Daniel. That book is wholly a forgery. How are we to conclude that Jesus is being any more “remembered” in the Gospels than the real Daniel is in the Book of Daniel? (Carrier 2012:191)


Darwin’s theory… opened up a way of thinking about the universe that goes far beyond biology. It was the beginning of naturalism. (Park 2008:27)


[Above all, Benedict] wanted to prevent these readings from provoking discussion or debate: “No one should presume to ask a question about the reading or about anything else…” … any questions, however innocuous, could raise the prospects of a discussion, a discussion that would imply that religious doctrines were open to inquiry and argument. (Greenblatt 2012:27)


Natural deceit tricks animals into seeing other animals as inanimate or into simply not seeing them at all. In consequence, all must scan the apparently inanimate world for signs of life. (Guthrie 1993:51)

Deception is a very deep feature of life. It occurs at all levels… and seems… necessary. (Trivers 2011:6)

Deception infects all the fundamental relationships in life… It always amazes me to hear some economists say that the costs of deceptive excesses in our economy… will naturally be checked by market forces. (Trivers 2011:7)

Decision making

We believe we have freedom to choose but in many instances, the choices occur in the absence of any deliberation and often under the influence of others. … You may be surprised to discover that you are effectively blind for about an average two hours on every waking day but you would never know this. … This simple biological quirk is just one of the many different ways that our brain hides its true operations from our consciousness. (Hood 2012:217)


…a delusion is any belief that is not merely false, but easily shown to be false on even a cursory check of the facts, yet held with a conviction out of all proportion to the evidence. … A delusion becomes pathological when this belief is held with absolute conviction even in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary. (Richard Carrier in Loftus 2010:412)


…democracies aren’t simply organizing a struggle for power between competing interests; democratic politics isn’t war by other means. Democracies are, or should be, spaces of reasons. (Lynch 2012:8)

Democracies are essentially set up to allow for mutual deliberation involving the exchange of public reason—reasons that can be recognized by standards other than your own. (Lynch 2012:8–9)

The very act of giving and asking for reasons has tremendous political importance. This is because it is part of what we mean by a democratic state that, at least in theory, such states are governed by reason. In a democracy, disagreements between citizens are to be handled in the arena of reason alone, and arguments that legitimate the various uses of political power by citizens and the state must be backed by reasons. And crucially, the reasons in question cannot be reasons of force or manipulation. Beating a person up is a very easy way to ‘‘convince’’ them; fear and pain are tried and true motivators. But these are not the sorts of ‘‘reasons’’ that can be counted as legitimate in a democracy. I cannot justify my political claims to you by simply wielding power over you, for doing so violates the fundamental liberal democratic principle that I treat you with equal respect. Rather, I must try to persuade you that my view of the facts is closer to the truth than your own. Only then do I treat you as an autonomous, rational being who is capable of judging on her own what to believe. (Lynch 2012:39)


…demonology must possess a higher sanction than any other Christian dogma, except, perhaps, those of the Resurrection and of the Messiahship of Jesus… (Huxley 1992:204)

And, therefore, those who question the demonology, or try to explain it away, deny the truth of what Jesus said, and are, in ecclesiastical terminology, ‘‘Infidels’’ just as much as those who deny the spirituality of God. (Huxley 1992:205)


Descartes was committed to the existence of the soul, granted to humans by God, and the soul was the locus of consciousness. (Pinker 2011:459)


For a discussion to be ideal in the Habermasian sense it is not enough that those who do the arguing obey the principles of discourse ethics with one another; even those who do not speak up must be regarded as members of the group (otherwise it does not include all affected persons), and every member of the group must have a non-manipulative attitude towards every other. With respect to those who are unable to argue well, there is always William James’s beautiful demand that ‘‘we listen to the cries of the wounded.’’ (Putnam 2002:130)


Dissonance is the psychological discomfort we feel when we hold beliefs or attitudes that conflict. The theory says we are motivated to reduce dissonance by either adjusting our beliefs and attitudes or rationalizing them. (Law 2011b:18)

Cognitive dissonance is a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions (ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions) that are psychologically inconsistent… Dissonance is disquieting because to hold two ideas that contradict each other is to flirt with absurdity… (Tavris and Aronson 2008:13)

Dissonance theory also exploded the self-flattering idea that we humans… process information logically. (Tavris and Aronson 2008:18)


Divorce is a human universal that occurs in all known cultures. Our separation strategies involve a variety of psychological mechanisms. (Buss 2003:11)


In Islamic religion, two types of supernatural non-humans are officially recognized — angels and djinns. Djinns are distinct from the spirits of the dead and demons, and were created before humans existed. While angels are made of light, djinns were generated from smokeless fire. … While confirming their existence, the Koran is clear that the djinn do not have predictive powers or the ability to discover hidden things. … Djinns cause harm but are also deemed an important source of counter-magic to heal and protect. (Davies 2012:92–93)


…the close cousin of confusion, doubt, an also negative but less strong sensation which indicates not quite a full contradiction but a partial inconsistency. (Hurley et al. 2011:79)


For Descartes it is not only that mental events are distinct from physical events. They also belong to a distinct kind of substance—immaterial substance—a kind of ghost-stuff or ectoplasm. …there are two kinds of bearers of properties as well. Of course this is theologically convenient: it opens the way to the immortality of the soul, since there is no reason for soul-stuff to have the same life span as anything like a physical body. But substance dualism is not compulsory. (Blackburn 2001:51)

Babies are natural-born dualists. (Bloom 2004:xiii)


Economic strategies

Both males and females use economic strategies to strike a sexual bargain. … By economic strategies I mean systematic ways of negotiating over things they value, whether these are obviously economic goods like money and food, or other, nonmonetary resources like time, effort, and self-esteem. (Seabright 2012:4)


Who ever heard of a ‘‘wet oxygen atom’’? … Emergence has become a hot topic in philosophy and theology. Many find the notion that we are ‘‘nothing but quarks and electrons’’ repellent and seek ways to show that we are ‘‘something more.’’ (Stenger 2009:155)

I will maintain that emergence is both reductive and materialist. (Stenger 2009:157)


Emotions occur in steps, the first of which is to appraise something that just happened based on whether it advanced or hindered your goals. These appraisals are a kind of information processing; they are cognitions. (Haidt 2012:44)

Emotions are not dumb. Damasio’s patients made terrible decisions because they were deprived of emotional input into their decision making. Emotions are a kind of information processing. Contrasting emotion with cognition is therefore as pointless as contrasting rain with weather, or cars with vehicles. (Haidt 2012:45)

[We] want to draw an even more radical conclusion: Emotions are not a set of important subsystems sitting alongside the cognitive subsystems; in the brain, all prioritizing, all organizing, all demoting and promoting, starting and stopping, enhancing and squelching within cognitive processes, is done by what we refer to as the cognitive emotions or, more precisely, the epistemic emotions. (Hurley et al. 2011:66)

…emotions always have valence; they are positive or negative. Valence means that events that we sense through these kinds of feedback loops are not just things that we recognize can benefit or injure us, but things that we perceive as good or bad for those reasons. (Hurley et al. 2011:69–70)

In sum, an emotion is an internally induced pleasure or pain—a valenced perception—caused by a variety of processes of transduction of information in the world. In being valenced, they provide value—a sort of default motivation—to their associated stimuli. We are not indifferent to emotionally valenced perceptions. (Hurley et al. 2011:72)

Both the English words emotion and motivation derive from the same Latin root, movere (meaning “to move”), indicating that, early on, it was recognized that the emotions are motivations to action. (Hurley et al. 2011:73)

We are not natural-born thinkers—we have to be taught both when and how to think. Of course, this requires supervision… a kind of auto-supervision performed within the system, by the epistemic emotions, which tell us—just as pain tells us when to withdraw a hand from a heat source—when to question, when to imagine, and when to laugh. (Hurley et al. 2011:78)

…the emotions, broadly construed, are rational motivators that encourage us to do the right things at the right times in order to balance all the survival and reproductive needs we face… the most complex problems—problems that require open-ended thinking—are also solved by a certain set of emotions: curiosity, boredom, doubt, confusion, insight, mirth, and the like. (Hurley et al. 2011:81)

The emotions are rational, but the system is heuristic driver of behavior that operates on incomplete information… (Hurley et al. 2011:82)

[In 1884 William James published an article entitled “What is an emotion?”] James set out to answer his question by asking another: do we run from a bear because we are afraid or are we afraid because we run? [The essence of James’s proposal was simple:] It was premised on the fact that emotions are often accompanied by bodily responses (racing heart, tight stomach, sweaty palms, tense muscles, and so on) and that we can sense what is going on inside our body much the same as we can sense what is going on in the outside world. … The mental aspect of emotion, the feeling, is a slave to its physiology, not vice versa… (LeDoux 1998:43–44)

On the one hand are those [emotions] that seem simplest and are arguably universal: fear, happiness, anger, sadness, surprise, and disgust are the usual examples. These sorts of emotions seem characterized by what some psychologists call ‘‘affect programs’’—widely shared responses due to mechanisms that are not within conscious control. But sometimes when we are talking about emotions we are talking about very complex states: resentment is one example; regret is another. These states often seem built out of multiple components—affective and cognitive components. (Lynch 2012:23)

The emotions are internal regulators that ensure that people reap the benefits of social life—reciprocal exchange and cooperative action—without suffering the costs, namely exploitation by cheaters and social parasites. We sympathize with, trust, and feel grateful to those who are likely to cooperate with us, rewarding them with our own cooperation. And we get angry at or ostracize those who are likely to cheat, withdrawing cooperation or meting out punishment. (Pinker 2011:490)

The emotions can be thought of as natural selection’s way of embodying some of the necessary rules of behavior. This understanding of some aspects of behavior has come to be known as the ‘‘somatic markers hypothesis.’’ (Seabright 2012:40–41)


…how can humans treat other people as objects? (Baron-Cohen 2011:1)

The insight that underlying empathy erosion is people turning people into objects goes back at least to Martin Buber When our empathy is switched off, we are solely in the ‘I’ mode. Treating other people as if they were just objects is one of the worst things you can do to another human being, to ignore their subjectivity, their thoughts and feelings. (Baron-Cohen 2011:5)

Empathy occurs when we suspend our single-minded focus of attention, and instead adopt a double-minded focus of attention. … When empathy is switched off, we think only about our own interests. When empathy is switched on, we focus on other people’s interests too. Sometimes attention is compared to a spotlight… (Baron-Cohen 2011:10)

This suggests there are at least two stages in empathy: recognition and response. Both are needed… Empathy therefore requires not only that you can identify another person’s feelings and thoughts, but that you respond to these with an appropriate emotion too. (Baron-Cohen 2011:11)


Disagreements are of a kind to be decided by further empirical evidence. Philosophical questions, in contrast with these questions about matters of fact, can be classified roughly as those whose solution has nothing to do with empirical matters, but depends on reasoning: on techniques like finding contradictions, showing what follows from what, exposing ambiguities, working our presuppositions, clarifying confusions and so on. (Radcliffe Richards 1994:26)


[von Mayer] made the first clear statement of what is perhaps the most important principle in physics: Energy can be neither created nor destroyed. (Stenger 2013:95–96)


…the enlightenment he [Epicurus] offered did not require sustained scientific inquiry. … you needed only to comprehend that there is a hidden natural explanation for everything that alarms or eludes you. That explanation will inevitably lead you back to atoms. If you can hold on to and repeat to yourself the simplest fact of existence—atoms and void and nothing else, atoms and void and nothing else, atoms and void and nothing else—your life will change. … The affliction—the fear of some horrendous punishment waiting for one in a realm beyond the grave—no longer weighs on most modern men and women, but it evidently did in the ancient Athens of Epicurus and the ancient Rome of Lucretius, and it did as well in the Christian world inhabited by Poggio. (Greenblatt 2012:75)

Indeed, in Lucretius’ view, Epicurus, who had died more than two centuries earlier, was nothing less than the saviour. (Greenblatt 2012:72)

What the Greek philosopher offered was not help in dying but help in living. Liberated from superstition, Epicurus taught, you would be free to pursue pleasure. (Greenblatt 2012:76)

But Christians particularly found Epicureanism a noxious threat. If you grant Epicurus his claim that the soul is immortal, wrote Tertullian, the whole fabric of Christian morality unravels. For Epicurus, human suffering is always finite: “if it is slight, he [Epicurus] says, you may despise it, if it is great it will not be long.” But to be Christian, Tertullian countered, is to believe that torture and pain last forever: “Epicurus utterly destroys religion,” wrote another Church Father; take Providence away and “confusion and disorder will overtake life.” (Greenblatt 2012:101)

A hatred of pleasure-seeking and a vision of God’s providential rage: these were the death knells of Epicureanism, henceforth branded by the faithful as “insane.” … In one of the great cultural transformations in the history of the West, the pursuit of pain triumphed over the pursuit of pleasure. (Greenblatt 2012:103)


So if anyone claims to uphold a variety of epiphenomenalism, try to be polite, but ask: What are you talking about? (Dennett 1991:405)

Epistemic principles

Epistemic principles are principles that tell us what is rational or right to believe. They include, at the most fundamental level, principles about which methods and sources of belief I should trust. So epistemic principles are normative; they are values. (Lynch 2012:38)


…in short, human epistemic capacities are emotional capacities. (Hurley et al. 2011:91)


A kind of lexical ambiguity in which the same word or phrase is used twice or more within an argument but within a different meaning. The equivocator treats the different uses of the word or phrase as if they have the same meaning. (Warburton 2008:61)

Essentialist thinking

I get angry about the physical disease that stopped his life, because he – the essence of him – didn’t want to go. I don’t think of myself as a widow. I’ve lost my lover, my best friend, and the 25 years together has gone, as if it never happened. He died in my arms so I know he won’t come back: he’s gone and I so wish he hadn’t. (Bella D’Arcy, Maldon, Essex)


To Catholics, the Eucharist is the sacrament in which God’s physical body is shown to or eaten by his people, effecting and signaling their salvation. Though worshippers appear to consume bread, they are actually eating God’s physical body—the same body born of Mary, crucified on the cross, and now sitting in heaven—transubstantiated into a wafer. (Mohr 2013:123)


An emphasis on propagating belief (i.e., evangelism) and purity of belief (i.e., orthodoxy) is only one of those strategies. (Valerie Tarico in Loftus 2010:50)


Thus the logic of evidence is often not as straightforward as many think. (Carrier 2012:74)


The word experience comes from the Latin experientia, meaning ‘to try’, whereas the word aware comes from the Greek horan, meaning ‘to see’. Experience implies participation in an event, whereas awareness implies observation of an event. … One denotes reflection while the other denotes the thing being reflected. In fact, awareness can be thought of as a kind of experience of our own experience. When two people argue about whether their dogs are conscious, one is usually using that badly bruised term to mean ‘capable of experience’ while the other is using to mean ‘capable of awareness’. Dogs are not rocks, one argues, so of course they are conscious. Dogs are not people, the other replies, so of course they are not conscious. Both arguers are probably right. (Gilbert 2007:60)


Experiment bridges the gulf between the empirical and the theoretical. The basic substance of theory is Logic, or reasoning. (Ziman 1968:36)


Explaining is not the same as explaining away. A successful scientific explanation does not prove that the thing it is explaining does not exist. It only shows that rival explanations, competing on the same ground, are false. … [Barash] points to the evolutionary explanation of altruism, and implies that it is a debunking explanation: one that proves that altruism is unreal. It does not. … Explaining how altruism comes to exist no more shows that it is not real altruism than explaining how a cake was made shows it is not a real cake. (Radcliffe Richards 2008:180)

[Sceptics purported] to show that such genetically induced altruism was not real altruism. [Their argument] involves mistaking an explanation of some phenomenon for a demonstration that it is in some way illusory. This is the basis of the familiar accusation of reductionism that is frequently made by conservative against radicals in the Darwinian debate… (Radcliffe Richards 2008:182–83)

In every scientific theory there is an aspect of generality. This aspect is indispensable, for without it a scientific theory has no explanatory power. To explain a phenomenon scientifically is to show how it follows from general laws. (Radner and Radner 1982:45)


[Helmholtz] said, ‘‘If an optician sent me that as an instrument, I should send it back to him with grave reproaches for the carelessness of his work, and demand the return of my money.’’ (Clifford 1999:17)

Eyewitness testimony

Eyewitness testimony is among the most damning of all evidence that can be used in a court of law. (Loftus 1996:v)

…testimony about an emotionally loaded incident should be treated with greater caution than testimony about a less emotional incident. (Loftus 1996:32)

…the unreliability of eyewitness identification evidence poses one of the most serious problems in the administration of criminal justice and civil litigation. (Loftus 1996:179)



The reason we pursue theories, and not merely gather facts, is that the facts alone tell us little about the world. (Carrier 2012:44)

Facts are what we work for in science, but they are not actually the currency of the community of scientists. (Firestein 2012:21)

Facts can also be thought of as objective or subjective. Both things and events are objective facts. They exist in the public domain and are in principle accessible to all. A subjective fact is one that is limited to the subject experiencing it. (McInerny 2005:5)


See faith.


There’s still a Master Narrator seen in such “meaningful coincidences.” Fate is really just God stripped of His identity but retaining His storytelling abilities. … about two-thirds of the atheists had made at least one response betraying their implicit view that “everything happens for a reason.” (Bering 2010:161)


…biology’s official definition of a female: the one with the larger sex cells. (Wright 1995:36)


In saying that feminism has a strong fundamental case, what I mean is that there are excellent reasons for thinking that women suffer from systematic social injustice because of their sex. Throughout the book I shall be taking that proposition as constituting the essence of feminism, and counting anyone who accepts it as a feminist. (Radcliffe Richards 1994:21–22)

Feminism is not concerned with a group of people it wants to benefit, but with a type of injustice it wants to eliminate. (Radcliffe Richards 1994:25–26)

File-drawer effect

…in which negative results are often not published because they aren’t interesting. In fact, negative results are just as important as positive results in science. (Stenger 2012:349–50)

Freedom of belief

Freedom of belief means permitting claims of conscience in public debate and submitting them to the same standards as other political arguments. (Dacey 2008:83)

Freudian slip

Last night I made a Freudian slip. I was having dinner with my mother, and I wanted to say, “Please pass the butter,” but it came out as, “You bitch, you ruined my life!”(Hurley et al. 2011:44)

Frontal lobe

…the frontal lobe is the critical piece of cerebral machinery that allows normal, modern human adults to project themselves into the future. Without it we are trapped in the moment… (Gilbert 2007:14)


Today, the leading approach in neuroscience is functionalism, in which the mind is what the brain does. (Stenger 2012:263)


Some of the undergraduates in a class I taught have suggested that belief in giving reasons and actually observing how various ways of life have functioned in practice, what the consequences have been, discussing objections, and so on, is just ‘‘another form of fundamentalism’’! The experience of these students with real fundamentalism must be rather limited. Anyone who has seen real fundamentalists in action knows the difference between insisting on observation and discussion and the repressive and suppressive mode of conducting discussion that is characteristic of fundamentalism. (Putnam 2002:105)


Galilean relativity

Galilean relativity

There is no observation you can perform inside a closed capsule that allows you to measure the velocity of that capsule. (Stenger 2013:66)


A reproductive cell such as a sperm or egg. (Miller 2001:440)

Gassendi, Pierre

Although as a priest he adhered to the theological elements of Church doctrine, Gassendi was a strict empiricist who insisted that knowledge of the external world is built solely on sensory evidence. (Stenger 2013:56–57)


A piece of DNA long enough to code for some biological information but short enough to survive many generations of sexual recombination. The gene is the basic unit of replication and selection in evolution. (Miller 2001:440)


The story of the Amalekites has been used to justify genocide throughout the ages. (Katherine Stewart)


‘‘God is a word banging around in the human nervous system. He exists about as much as Santa Claus.’’ (De Vries 1982:182)

Epicurus’ old questions are yet unanswered. Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil? (Hume 1998:63)

God of the gaps

As we increasingly understand how the natural world operates, say defenders of this view, our for God increasingly shrivels and it can be expected to disappear altogether—eventually. In theological parlance, this view is referred to as the ‘‘God of the gaps’’: because we need to feel in control over the fickle doings of nature, God is plugged in by default as the responsible party wherever there are gaps in our knowledge. … [Richard Feynman remarked:] ‘‘God was always invented to explain mystery. … God is always associated with those things that you do not understand.’’ (Bering 2010:143)

Since scientists can give no reason why the constants have these critical values, Collins believes there must be a supernatural explanation, namely, the God of the gaps. (Cunningham 2010:107)

By including God as a part of scientific theories, Newton was applying what we now know as the ‘‘God of the gaps’’ argument, in which God is introduced to account for some observation that the science of the time… cannot explain. (Stenger 2012:91)


But all extant Gospels are already very late stages of the “Gospel tradition,” the Gospel having already been preached for nearly an entire lifetime across three continents before any Gospel was written. (Carrier 2012:126)

…the Gospels provide considerable evidence that their authors’ honesty was not exemplary… (Carrier 2012:161)

…the Gospels of the New Testament are not eyewitness accounts of the life Jesus. Neither are the Gospels outside the New Testament, of which we have over forty, either in whole or in fragments. In fact, we do not have any eyewitness report of any kind about Jesus, written in his day. (Ehrman 2012:49)

The Gospels are filled with nonhistorical material, accounts of events that could not have happened. … At the same time, there is historical information in the Gospels. This historical material needs to be teased out by careful, critical analysis. (Ehrman 2012:71)

Gospel witnesses

…the seven independent Gospel witnesses are Mark, parts of Matthew, parts of Luke, John (in whole or in part), the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas (in whole or in part), and Papyrus Egerton 2 (in whole or in part). (Ehrman 2012:353)


Gossip is practised everywhere, enjoyed everywhere, despised everywhere. … This universal contempt for gossip stems from two equally important factors. One is that, for all we want to hear about other people’s status and sex and resources, we have equal reluctance to broadcast such information about ourselves. (Boyer 2001:141)


We also have the ability, under special circumstances, to shut down our petty selves and become like cells in a larger body, or like bees in a hive, working for the good of the group. (Haidt 2012:xv)

I do believe that you can understand most of moral psychology by viewing it as a form of enlightened self-interest… Yes, people are selfish… But it’s also true that people are groupish. (Haidt 2012:190)

When I say that human nature is groupish, I mean that our minds contain a variety of mental mechanisms that make us adept at promoting our group’s interests, in competition with other groups. … I’ll argue that group selection was falsely convicted and unfairly banished. … the third and final principle of moral psychology: Morality binds and blinds. I will suggest that human nature is mostly selfish, but with a groupish overlay that resulted from the fact that natural selection works at multiple levels simultaneously. (Haidt 2012:191)

“Words are inadequate to describe the emotion aroused by the prolonged movement in unison that drilling involved. A sense of pervasive well-being is what I recall; more specifically, a strange sense of personal enlargement; a sort of swelling out, becoming bigger than life, thanks to participation in collective ritual.” (William McNeill quoted in Haidt 2012:221)

(See also Cooperation, Hive switch.)



There seems to be little support in reality for the popular belief that we are mellowed by suffering. Happiness mellows us, not troubles; pleasure, perhaps, even more than happiness. (De Vries 1982:120)

The word happiness is used to indicate at least three related things, which we might roughly call emotional happiness, moral happiness, and judgmental happiness. (Gilbert 2007:31)

…all claims of happiness are claims from someone’s point of view — from the perspective of a single human being whose unique collection of past experiences serves as a context, a lens, a background for her evaluation of her current experience. As much as the scientist might wish for it, there isn’t a view from nowhere. (Gilbert 2007:52–53)


…differences of opinion—now branded heresy (from hairesis for “to choose”)… (David Eller in Loftus 2010:39)


The heterophenomenology method neither challenges nor accepts as entirely true the assertions of subjects, but rather maintains a constructive and sympathetic neutrality, in the hopes of compiling a definitive description of the world according to the subjects. (Dennett 1991:83)

Shakey would just be confabulating—making up a story without “realizing” it. And this possibility, in us, shows why we have to go to the roundabout trouble of treating heterophenomenology as analogous to the interpretation of fiction. As we have already seen, there are circumstances in which people are just wrong about what they are doing and how they are doing it. It is not that they lie in the experimental situation, but that they confabulate… To sum up, subjects are unwitting creators of fiction, but to say that they are unwitting is to grant that what they say is, or can be, an account of exactly how it seems to them. (Dennett 1991:94)

[The heterophenomenological method is] neutral with regard to the debates about subjective versus objective approaches to phenomenology, and about the physical or nonphysical reality of phenomenological items. … “But isn’t it embarrassing to admit, as a theorist, that you are talking about fictional entities—things that don’t exist?”
Not at all. … Heterophenomenological objects are, like centers of gravity or the Equator, abstracta, not concreta. (Dennett 1991:95–96)

We heterophenomenologists appreciate the enormous simplification you get when you posit a center of narrative gravity for a narrative-spinning human body. (Dennett 1991:418)

…the welcome—indeed, indispensable—power of adopting the intentional stance as a scientific tactic in heterophenomenology, the objective science of consciousness… (Dennett 1995:356)

An alternative to the traditional phenomenological approach is heterophenomenology… a perspective that accepts people’s claims that they have a certain phenomenological sense, but reserves judgment about their claims as to why they have that sense. Once the claims about how it seems to subjects are isolated by the heterophenomenological approach, this opens the path to using other external sources of data (and logical analysis and empirical theory-construction) to explain why in fact people have the phenomenal experiences they do. (Hurley et al. 2011:26–27)


Hierarchy only becomes widespread around the time that groups take up agriculture or domesticate animals and become more sedentary. These changes create much more private property and much larger group sizes. They also put an end to equality. (Haidt 2012:170)

The lower down the hierarchy you are, the more likely you are to have somebody pushing you around. This is a very stressful situation… (Seabright 2012:63)

Historian’s wish list

In short, if a historian were drawing up a wish list of sources for an ancient person, she would want a large number of sources that drive from near the time of the person they discuss; that are extensive in what they have to say about that person; that are disinterested, to some extent, in what they say; and that corroborate one another’s accounts without having collaborated. (Ehrman 2012:42)


History is in the past and thus never in our immediate experience. …all empirical claims about history, no matter how certain, have a nonzero probability of being false\dots And although the probability that a given claim is true (or false) may be vanishingly small and thus practically zero, it is never actually zero. It’s vital to admit this. (Carrier 2012:25)

The historian looks at all the evidence that exists now and asks what could have brought that evidence into existence. …historical explanations of evidence and events are directly equivalent to scientific theories, and as such are testable against the evidence, precisely because they make predictions about that evidence. (Carrier 2012:47)

The fact that historical theories rest on far weaker evidence relative to scientific theories, and as a result achieve far lower degrees of certainty, is a difference only in degree, not in kind. …historians seek to determine two things: what happened in the past, and why. … (1) If our theory is false, how would we know it? … (2) What’s the difference between an accidental agreement of the evidence with our theory, and an agreement produced by our theory actually being true—and how do we tell the two apart? (3) How do we distinguish merely plausible theories from probable ones, or strongly proven theories from weakly proven ones? (Carrier 2012:48)

History is thus continuous with science. The difference between them is only quantitative: history must work with much less data, of much less reliability. (Carrier 2012:105)
Historians should be Bayesians. (Carrier 2012:282)

Hive switch

My hypothesis in this chapter is that human beings are conditional hive creatures. We have the ability (under special conditions) to transcend self-interest and lose ourselves (temporarily and ecstatically) in something larger than ourselves. That ability is what I’m calling the hive switch. … The hive switch is an adaptation for making groups more cohesive, and therefore more successful in competition with other groups. (Haidt 2012:223)

(See also Cooperation, Groupishness.)

Holy Office

The Holy Office acknowledged no limits to its supreme jurisdiction… It claimed the right to judge and, if necessary, to persecute anyone, anywhere. It was the final arbiter of orthodoxy. (Greenblatt 2012:240)


These core principles of homeopathy have no basis whatsoever in science. (Henderson 2012:186)

Homeopathy is not only a system of medicine that lacks a plausible mechanism to explain why it might work. It also fails to produce any results that need explaining. All it does for patients is invoke placebo effects, which real medicines do just as well as imaginary ones. Homeopathy is not unproven… It is disproved. … Homeopaths, however, get to play by different rules. (Henderson 2012:189)

Human being

The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future. … the squirrel that stashes a nut in my yard ‘knows’ about the future in approximately the same way that a falling rock ‘knows’ about the law of gravity — which is to say, not really. (Gilbert 2007:4)

Humanitarian Revolution

[T]he remarkable transformation in history that has left us reacting to these practices with horror. In the modern West and much of the rest of the world, capital and corporal punishments have been effectively eliminated, governments’ power to use violence against their subjects has been severely curtailed, slavery has been abolished, and people have lost their thirst for cruelty. All this happened in a narrow slice of history, beginning in the Age of Reason in the 17th century and cresting with the Enlightenment at the end of the 18th. Some of this progress—and if it isn’t progress, I don’t know what is—was propelled by ideas: by explicit arguments that institutionalized violence ought to be minimized or abolished. And some of it was propelled by a change in sensibilities. People began to sympathize with more of their fellow humans, and were no longer indifferent to their suffering. A new ideology coalesced from these forces, one that placed life and happiness at the center of values, and that used reason and evidence to motivate the design of institutions. The new ideology may be called humanism or human rights, and its sudden impact on Western life in the second half of the 18th century may be called the Humanitarian Revolution. (Pinker 2011:133)


…‘humility’ has been part of Christian morality, but the Church of England’s Catechism requiring the confirmand to undertake ‘to order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters’ helps to maintain not only the hierarchical structure of society, which may or may not be for the good of all concerned, but also the status of the rule-makers. (Hinde 2008:41)


Humor occurs when a perception of the world suddenly corrects our mistaken preconception. (Hurley et al. 2011:47)

Humor happens when an assumption is epistemically committed to in a mental space and then discovered to have been a mistake. (Hurley et al. 2011:121)

Rather, we have to learn to live with the failings of our minds, and to detect their consequences after they occur. Humor is a backup system that discovers some (though not all) of those occasional—but inevitable—times when depending on such a risky system just happens to fail. (Hurley et al. 2011:206)

…humor is that which causes a false belief to be detected in a mind, and this not only allows for knowledge-relativity, it predicts it, and explains why the category boundary is fuzzy. (Hurley et al. 2011:216)

Humor involves a mental space that contains a false belief, a mistaken construction, and hence indicates that someone is the maker of that mistake. The laugher is always the one who has just discovered the mistake, and when the mistake-discoverer is also the mistake-maker, one might suppose that the appropriate emotional response would be chagrin or dismay or even shame or anger, but nature has arranged to tilt the balance in favor of glorying in the discovery, as Hobbes says, instead of sulking. (Hurley et al. 2011:287)


Giving private meanings to words in common use. … ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty answers, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’ (Warburton 2008:79)


There, after she [Hypatia] was stripped of her clothing, her skin was flayed off with broken bits of pottery. The mob then dragged her corpse outside the city walls and burned it. Their hero Cyril was eventually made a saint. (Greenblatt 2012:92–93)


Hypnotism has it scientific origin in animal magnetism… (Davies 2012:37)


A hypothesis is an educated guess as to how things must be, or, at least, how they very likely might be. (McInerny 2005:82)

The more evidence there is for a hypothesis, the greater its degree of confirmation. And the greater the degree of confirmation, the more the hypothesis demands acceptance. A well-confirmed hypothesis is one for which there is overwhelming evidential support. A disconfirmed hypothesis is one for which there is overwhelming evidence against it. An unconfirmed hypothesis is one with minimal support. (Radner and Radner 1982:36)



Every idea in the mind is ultimately traceable to a thing, or things, actually existing in a world that is independent of and apart from the mind. An idea is the subjective evocation of an objective fact. (McInerny 2005:7)

Ideas as such are not communicable from one mind to another. They have to be carefully fitted to words… (McInerny 2005:11)


Ignorance and uncertainty are common and normal. But asserting as known or certain what in fact isn’t entails some fallacy in your reasoning. (Carrier 2012:23)

…we know for a fact that we are ignorant of far too much. (Carrier 2012:130)

…probably the greatest curtailer of freedom there is, because if someone does not know or fully grasp that the world contains certain possibilities, as far as that person is concerned they might just as well not exist. (Radcliffe Richards 1994:119)


Gombrich’s account of illusion in art is much the same as my account of animism and anthropomorphism: illusions are failed perceptual bets. (Guthrie 1993:130)


…to imagine is to experience the world as it isn’t and has never been, but as it might be. (Gilbert 2007:5)

Imagination is a powerful tool that allows us to conjure images from ‘airy nothing’. (Gilbert 2007:77)

… we fail to consider how much imagination fills in, but we also fail to consider how much it leaves out. (Gilbert 2007:101)

One of imagination’s shortcomings, then, is that it takes liberties without telling us it has done so. (Gilbert 2007:108)

The wise lend a very academic faith to every report which favours the passion of the reporter; whether it magnifies his country, his family, or himself, or in any other way strikes in with his natural inclinations and propensities. But what greater temptation than to appear a missionary, a prophet, an ambassador from heaven? Who would not encounter many dangers and difficulties, in order to attain so sublime a character? Or if, by the help of vanity and a heated imagination, a man has first made a convert of himself, and entered seriously into the delusion; who ever scruples to make use of pious frauds, in support of so holy and meritorious a cause? (David Hume E 10.29, SBN 125)

The imaginary (the absolute, ideal) is therefore justifiable in spite of its unreality. Without the imaginary factor neither science nor life in their highest form are possible. (Vaihinger 2008:44)

Inductive argument

Inductive argument thus becomes the basis for deductive argument. (McInerny 2005:84)

Inferential move

An argument expresses the heart of reasoning, the inferential move; in its simplest form it invites us to accept one idea as true on the basis of another. (McInerny 2005:84)

Information economy

In the information economy, attention is the ultimate scarce resource. (Seabright 2012:145)


My conclusion is that nature bestows upon the newborn a considerably complex brain, but one that is best seen as prewired—flexible and subject to change—rather than hardwired, fixed, and immutable. (Marcus 2004:12)

Innate does not mean unmalleable; it means organized in advance of experience. (Haidt 2012:278)

Intelligent design

Teaching intelligent design in a biology class would be like teaching astrology to a class in astronomy. (Park 2008:26)


(See Intentionality, a term which Daniel Dennett prefers to Theory of mind.)


…the sensing of the organism’s interior, what we now call interoception, expanded to detect a large number of parameters… (Damasio 2010:51)


The three-and-a-half pound meat loaf between our ears is not a simple recording device… offers us its best interpretations of the way things are. Because those interpretations are usually so good, because they usually bear such a striking resemblance to the world as it is actually constituted, we do not realize that we are seeing an interpretation. (Gilbert 2007:88)

Every word must be won by interpretation, of which common sense, science, and religion all are variants. Interpretation is not unique to humans; all animals that perceive, interpret. (Guthrie 1993:37)

Christians have repeatedly reinterpreted the Bible on slavery, women, democracy, science, the environment, and animal rights, as we become socially and scientifically enlightened. But then, if the Bible is this malleable, capable of being interpreted differently in every generation, how can exegetes really think they have the right interpretation of it at all? (Loftus 2010:19)

(See also animism and perception.)


(See Intuition.)


Philosophers like to say that subjective states are ‘irreducible’, which is to say that nothing we point to, nothing we can compare them with, and nothing we can say about their neurological underpinnings can fully substitute for the experiences themselves. Frank Zappa is reputed to have said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture… (Gilbert 2007:32)



But when it comes to the historical Jesus, we have no neutral or hostile sources of any kind… (Carrier 2012:163)

Jesus would not recognize himself in the preaching of most of his followers today. … Jesus himself was a complete supernaturalist. He believed in the Devil and demons and the forces of evil at work in this world. (Ehrman 2012:335)

…Christians went from thinking that Jesus was exalted to be the Son of God at the resurrection (thus the speeches in Acts) to thinking that he was the Son of God at his baptism to thinking that he was the Son of God from his birth to thinking that he had existed as Son of God even before his birth. (Ehrman 2012:359)


…jokes are compact, self-contained mirth-delivery systems… (Hurley et al. 2011:31)

…many jokes are enthymematic. That is, they depend on leaving one or more “premises” tacit or unexpressed. (Hurley et al. 2011:32)


It’s therefore more likely that the story of Judas’s betrayal is a literary invention, whose meaning was thought more important than any embarrassment it might cause. (Carrier 2012:152)

The betrayal story also makes no historical sense. The authorities did not need Judas… to find or identify Jesus… (Carrier 2012:153)

Thus, the story as a whole looks like fiction. … The fact that Jesus’ betrayer’s name essentially means “Jew” should already make us suspicious. (Carrier 2012:154)



Kabbalah is complex, but central to it as a practice is the use of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet (all consonants). Every letter has a hidden meaning and a numerical representation. Together, they represent the creative force of God and the building blocks of the world. Once understood, they can be used in different permutations to achieve wisdom and spiritual unity. (Davies 2012:77)


David Buss’s study of global sexual preferences found that ‘kindness’ was the single most important feature desired in a sexual partner by both men and women in every one of the 37 cultures he studied. It ranked above intelligence, above beauty, and above status. (Miller 2001:292)

Kingdom of God

Jesus’s apocalyptic message focused on the coming kingdom of God. … When people today hear the term kingdom of God, they typically think of heaven, as the place where souls go once they die. But that is not what the apocalypticists meant. For Jesus the kingdom was an actual place, here on earth, where God would rule supreme. …
This future kingdom would be brought by a cosmic judge whom Jesus called the Son of Man. (Ehrman 2012:305)


In my view, knowledge is often less important than philosophers tend to think. What matters most is being able to defend and articulate that knowledge. (Lynch 2012:x)

There are three basic components to human knowledge: first, an objective fact (e.g., a cat); second, the idea of a cat; third, the word we apply to the idea, allowing us to communicate it to others (e.g., in English, ‘‘cat’’). (McInerny 2005:9)



The meaning of lace changes with the colour. White is holy and snowy and untouchable. Red is raucous and festive, a here-come-the-girls clap-and-shriek of a fabric. Black means sex or death – sex, generally, unless you drape it over your head and sob, which is a bit un-Christmassy. Navy, dark green and burgundy are the hardest to pin down – and, therefore, perhaps the easiest to wear. (Jess Cartner-Morley)


Human language did not evolve just for courtship, so that we could all talk like Cyrano and Scheherazade. It was shaped by many other selection pressures: for communication between relatives, social display activities, and teaching things to children. (Miller 2001:386)

In the vast majority of equilibria (i.e. species) — apparently more than 99.9 percent of them — sexual signals convey no information other than fitness information. They are pure fitness indicators. Human language is the only signalling system that conveys any other sort of information in courtship. It is still a fitness indicator, but it is much more as well. (Miller 2001:388)

Language evolved as much to display our fitness as to communicate useful information. To many language researchers and philosophers, this is a scandalous idea. They regard altruistic communication as the norm, from which our self-serving fantasies might sometimes deviate. But to biologists, fitness advertisement is the norm, and language is an exceptional form of it. (Miller 2001:390)

Language is not a cultural artefact that we learn the way we learn to tell time or how the federal government works. Instead, it is a distinct piece of the biological makeup of our brains. Language is a complex, specialized skill, which develops in the child spontaneously, without conscious effort or formal instruction, is deployed without awareness of its underlying logic, is qualitatively the same in every individual, and is distinct from more general abilities to process information or behave intelligently. (Pinker 1994:18)


What an astonishing idea. What a powerful concept. What a fabulous discovery. (Gilbert 2007:9)


Laughter, like speech, must be understood as a social phenomenon, not just a feature of individual psychology or physiology, though its evolved physiological basis is very important. (Hurley et al. 2011:19)


The Leviathan theory, in a nutshell, is that law is better than war. (Pinker 2011:35)


A liberal is not the opposite of a conservative, but anyone who asserts the priority of individual liberty. (Dacey 2008:12)

Liberty Fallacy

Conscience is free, so it must be liberated from shared objective standards of rightness and truth. Call this the Liberty Fallacy. (Dacey 2008:24)


Until the early twentieth century, it was generally assumed that matter and light were two separate aspects of physical reality. Light always carried with it a hint of the occult or spiritual. (Stenger 2013:119)


…logic and language are inseparable. [Being logical] also presupposes our having a healthy respect for the firm factualness of the world in which we live, for logic is about reality. (McInerny 2005:3)

…the whole purpose of logic, of sound reasoning, is to discover the truth. (McInerny 2005:94)

The art of logic is like no other, for it goes to the very core of what we are. (McInerny 2005:131)


Contrary to common belief, love is not a recent invention of the Western leisure classes. (Buss 2003:2)

Love without evidence is stalking. (Tim Minchin)

Love may be a many-splendored thing, but its splendors do not include the abolition of conflict, so the persistence of conflict tells us nothing about the nature of love. (Seabright 2012:170)



If natural magic was occult science, demonic magic was heresy. Magic was no longer an expression of paganism but instead the perversion of Christianity. (Davies 2012:43)


Marital ties are thinner gruel: Because cuckolded males risk expending their lives unwittingly raising their rivals’ children, the correlation between the expected fitnesses of mates can be abolished or reversed by infidelity. … One strategic means for reducing the costs of cuckoldry is adjusting parental efforts according to cues indicating the likelihood of genetic parenthood… (Wilson and Daly in Barkow et al. 1992:291)

Marriage squeeze

The marriage squeeze as women age is in large measure an outcome of the sexual psychology of men and women. At the heart of this squeeze is the sharp decline in female reproductive value with age, which caused selection to favor ancestral men who preferred younger women as mates and to favor ancestral women who preferred older men with resources as mates. (Buss 2003:203)


Marxist eschatology actually mimicked Christian doctrine. In the beginning, there was a perfect world with no private property, no classes, no exploitation, and no alienation—the Garden of Eden. Then came sin, the discovery of private property, and the creation of exploiters. Humanity was cast from the Garden to suffer inequality and want. Humans then experimented with a series of modes of production, from the slave, to the feudal, to the capitalist mode, always seeking the solution and not finding it. Finally there came a true prophet with a message of salvation, Karl Marx, who preached the truth of Science. He promised redemption but was not heeded, except by his close disciples who carried the truth forward. Eventually, however, the proletariat, the carriers of the true faith, will be converted by the religious elect, the leaders of the party, and join to create a more perfect world. A final, terrible revolution will wipe out capitalism, alienation, exploitation, and inequality. After that, history will end because there sill be perfection on earth, and the true believers will have been saved. (Daniel Chirot, quoted in Pinker 2011:330)

Mate-guarding tactics

Ancestral humans needed a psychological mechanism specifically designed to alert them to potential threats from the outside, a mechanism that would regulate when to swing into action in deploying mate-guarding strategies. That mechanism is sexual jealousy. (Buss 2003:125)

Wives in their middle to late thirties are guarded significantly less intensely than are wives in their early to middle twenties. (Buss 2003:189)

Another common practice throughout human history was for men to gather women in guarded harems. The term harem means “forbidden.” (Buss 2003:136)

Human practices such as veiling, chaperoning, chastity belts, claustration, segregation by sex, and female genital cutting appear to be culturally sanctioned mate-guarding tactics. (Pinker 2011:407)


…materialism has now become the default presumption in all of cognitive science… (Hurley et al. 2011:91)

…science has a strong case to make for a purely material reality… (Stenger 2003:25)


A very simple definition of matter is anything that kicks back when you kick it. (Stenger 2009:76)

Just three particles—the u and d quarks and the electron—are needed to describe atomic matter… (Stenger 2009:79)


Real meaning, the sort of meaning our words and ideas have, is itself an emergent product of originally meaningless processes—the algorithmic processes that have created the entire biosphere, ourselves included. (Dennett 1995:427)

If your neighbor’s dog bites you, you will probably be wary every time you walk by his property. His house and yard, as well as sight and sound of the beast, have become emotional stimuli for you because of their association with the unpleasant event. This is fear conditioning in action. It turns meaningless stimuli into warning signs, cues that signal potentially dangerous situations on the basis of past experiences with similar conditions. (LeDoux 1998:141)


Voltaire was on the money: ‘The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.’ (McCartney 2012:256)


…we are more sensitive to the beginnings and endings of experience, and remember them rather than what goes on in between. (Hood 2012:126)

The self illusion depends on stored information that has been acquired during a lifetime. These are our memories that are constructed as we interpret the world. That interpretation is guided by mechanisms that seek out certain information in the world but also by those around us who help us to make sense of it all. (Hood 2012:214)

…we must vigorously oppose… the idea that long-term memory is a storehouse of sentence-like things… that can be retrieved and moved (or copied) to a special place, working memory, rather the way data are copied from your disk drive to RAM… More important… is the mistaken image of working memory as a place where things are sent. … Working memory is simply that distributed portion of the vast neural network that is currently working, awakened, not dormant. (Nothing is moved anywhere.) (Hurley et al. 2011:106)

A growing body of research shows that new, postevent information often becomes incorporated into memory, supplementing and altering a person’s recollection. New “information” can invade us, like a Trojan horse, precisely because we do not detect its influence. Understanding how we can become tricked by revised data about a past experience is central to understanding the reconstructive nature of memory. (Loftus 1996:vii)

It is a commonly held belief that information, once acquired by the memory system, is unchangeable, and that errors in memory result either from an inability to find stored information… or from errors made during the original perception of the event… (Loftus 1996:xiii)

This three-stage analysis [acquisition, retention, retrieval] is so central to the concept of the human memory that is virtually universally accepted among psychologists. (Loftus 1996:21)

Their descriptions indicated a rather vivid “memory” for a tape recorder that was never seen. In real life, people can come to believe things that never really happened. (Loftus 1996:62)

People’s memories are fragile things. It is important to realize how easily information can be introduced into memory, to understand why this happens, and avoid it when it is undesirable. (Loftus 1996:87)

How is knowledge represented in memory? This is one of the most important but one of the toughest questions facing psychology today. (Loftus 1996:110)

Vivid memories may be produced, but who can say whether these have or have not been altered by subsequent experiences to which a person has been exposed. (Loftus 1996:115)

Memory does not work like a videotape recorder; people do not sit and passively take in information… Rather, they take in information in bits and pieces, from different sources, at different times, and integrate this information together. In a sense, people actually construct memories. (Loftus 1996:213)

Now, between the conscious lie to fool others and unconscious self-justification to fool ourselves lies a fascinating gray area, patrolled by that unreliable, self-serving historian—memory. (Tavris and Aronson 2008:6)


Men are clearly the more coercive and violent sex and are responsible for most of the socially unacceptable, illegal, and repugnant behavior in the world. (Buss 2003:165)


…no Jew ever thought the messiah would be God. … It is a Christian view only because Christians have always called Jesus the messiah and most Christians, still today, consider Jesus God. (Ehrman 2012:159)


Such an analogy, implied by the choice of words but not definitely expressed, is a metaphor. (Thouless and Thouless 2011:121)

The use of metaphor is a key part of language, structuring meaning by embedding more abstract concepts in day-to-day events… Metaphor often flies below radar and may have important unconscious effects. Euphemisms, for example, may not just soften meaning but invert it. (Trivers 2011:161)

It is the fact that our memory is content addressable that makes the very basic process of the association of ideas possible. It is what lies behind the common experience of being reminded of one thing by some aspect of another to which the first bears only a partial resemblance or analogy — indeed it is hard to imagine what our mental experience would be like if our memory did not operate in this way, and I would argue that it is a necessary condition for creative thought in all areas. The basic literary devices of metaphor and simile, for instance, rely on our capacity to see illuminating analogies between things which are superficially dissimilar. (Wilkinson 2002:107)

Methodological naturalism

There are two things to note about methodological naturalism. First, it is too restrictive. While it makes sense for scientists to prefer naturalistic explanations, there are no good grounds for ruling out supernatural explanations necessarily and in principle. Second, even if methodological naturalism were correct, it would not preclude the possibility of science-religion conversation. The sciences are naturalistic, but not in principle or by definition. (Dacey 2008:105)

The sciences cannot preclude the supernatural in principle for the general reason that there is no way to legislate in advance what may or may not be used in our scientific exploration of the world. … A significant strength of scientific inquiry is its open-endedness. It is not defined in advance by a list of the kinds of things it may or may not use in trying to understand the world. (Dacey 2008:106)

While a modest naturalism does not absolutely rule out the transcendent, it presents a powerful presumption in favor of natural causes. This is not an atheist dogma. It is a conclusion made on the basis of cumulative evidence. … Adding to this commonsense experience are over three centuries of progress in modern science in which naturalistic theories have supplanted previously accepted supernatural theories, as germs cast out demons, natural selection displaced the designer, and DNA made obsolete the élan vital. God had been outsourced. … How strong is the presumption of naturalism? Strong enough to prevent anyone from crying, “God did it” whenever there is a gap in our understanding of natural causes. (Dacey 2008:107)


See the category Militancy.


To be able to copy others is one of the most powerful skills with which humans are born. From the very beginning, babies are sophisticated people-watchers, following adults around and copying their behaviours. (Hood 2012:44)


Creationists believe that the mind sprang suddenly into existence fully formed. In their view it is a product of divine creation. They are wrong: the mind has a long evolutionary history and can be explained without recourse to supernatural powers. … A full 6 million years of evolution therefore separates the minds of modern humans and chimpanzees. (Mithen 1996:5)

how can we possibly account for one of the most remarkable features of the modern human mind: a capacity for an almost unlimited imagination? (Mithen 1996:10)

Nor does the mind solve problems in the way a computer does. The mind does something else: it creates. It thinks of things which are not ‘out there’, in the world. (Mithen 1996:34)


Mind-reading does not require that we experience the person’s experiences ourselves, nor that we care about them, only that we figure out what they are. Mind-reading may in fact comprise two abilities, one for reading thoughts (which is impaired in autism), the other for reading emotions (which is impaired in psychopathy). (Pinker 2011:575)


…miracles suspiciously happen all the time only in historical periods… that are comparatively illiterate, superstitious, or unenlightened, in conditions lacking the means of verifying no shenanigans were involved… whereas in ages and places where we have widespread education and organized skepticism and the tools and opportunity to test wild claims, the phenomena always disappear. … Even if you are a firm believer in the miraculous, the facts remain the same: most wondrous claims (by far) are bogus. Your priors must reflect that, regardless of your worldview. … Even outside the context of wondrous claims, ancient texts are full of lies and falsehoods… the frequency of resurrection stories in antiquity entails a phenomenon that should still be observed with the same frequency, yet is not… (Carrier 2012:116)

Simply by making noises with our mouths, we can reliably cause precise new combinations of ideas to arise in each other’s minds. The ability comes so naturally that we are apt to forget what a miracle it is. (Pinker 1994:15)

No miracle has ever been confirmed by science. That is, no observation has been made that cannot at least plausibly and more simply explained by known natural means. (Stenger 2012:153)

Mitochondrial Eve

Mitochondrial Eve is the woman who is the most recent direct ancestor, in the female line, of every human being alive today. (Dennett 2013:248)

Monastic life

The high walls that hedged about the mental life of the monks… were all meant to affirm unambiguously that these pious communities were the opposite of the philosophical academies of Greece or Rome, places that had thrived upon the spirit of contradiction and cultivated a restless, wide-ranging curiosity. (Greenblatt 2012:28)

It was possible, in certain monasteries at least, to hope that monks would understand what they were copying… Indeed, insofar as the copying was a form of discipline—an exercise in humility and willing embrace of pain—distaste or simple incomprehension might be preferable to engagement. Curiosity was to be avoided at all costs. … An engaged reader, Poggio knew, was prone to alter his text in order to get it to make sense, but such alterations, over centuries, inevitably led to wholesale corruptions. (Greenblatt 2012:41)


…it is the underlying mechanism of credit accounts and clearing that is the essence of money. … Money is not a commodity medium of exchange, but a social technology composed of three fundamental elements. The first is an abstract unit of value in which money is denominated. The second is a system of accounts, which keeps track of the individuals’ or the institutions’ credit or debt balances as they engage in trade with one another. The third is the possibility that the original creditor in a relationship can transfer their debtor’s obligation to a third party in settlement of some unrelated debt. … Whilst all money is credit, not all credit is money. An IOU which remains for ever a contrast between just two parties is nothing more than a loan. It is credit, but it is not money. (Martin 2013:26)

Money as currency is therefore not valuable because of its metal or other physical content as the metallist commodity theory of money claims, rather, it is a token of value. … Money’s value therefore is not ‘natural’, it is not determined by its metallic content or backing, nor does it emerge naturally from market relations. It is socially constructed. … Whatever value money is given, it represents a credit or claim on the future production of society. (Mellor 2010:14)

…money must achieve a high level of general trust, which rests on a stable social structure of authority such as well-established governments, traders or banks. … Smithin agrees that ‘the monetary order is socially constructed, rather than deriving automatically from the market’… (Mellor 2010:15)

Money that achieves value through authority is described as fiat money. … The money system therefore rests on a combination of authority, social trust and economic capacity… (Mellor 2010:16)

Money-based societies are open in the sense that social status and traditional authority becomes less important than money wealth. (Mellor 2010:21)


Montaigne fully shared Lucretius’ Epicurean skepticism about the restless striving for fame, power, and riches, and he cherished his own withdrawal from the world into the privacy of his book-lined study in the tower of his château. (Greenblatt 2012:245)

Above all, Lucretius’ fingerprints are all over Montaigne’s reflections on two of his favourite subjects: sex and death. (Greenblatt 2012:247)

To die “careless of death,” Montaigne understood, was a far more difficult goal than it sounded. (Greenblatt 2012:248)

Mother Nature

…Mother Nature is heartless—even vicious—but boundedly stupid. (Dennett 1995:479)

Mu‘tazilite school

[F]lourished during the Abbasid Age (800–1050 CE), embraced a vision of persons as free and morally responsible, and a vision of the deity as beholden to standards of justice. Steeped in Greek philosophical learning, they asserted that the Quran was revealed for a particular historical context, and must be interpreted by independent, speculative reason. (Dacey 2008:108)



Narcissists require excessive admiration and go to great lengths to evoke it from others, often in a socially charming manner. A hallmark of narcissism is a profound sense of entitlement. (Buss 2000:148)


The phenomenon of nationalism can be understood as an interaction between psychology and history. It is the welding together of three things: the emotional impulse behind tribalism; a cognitive conception of the ‘‘group’ as a people sharing a language, territory, and ancestry; and the political apparatus of government. (Pinker 2011:523–24)


…the term “Nature” covers the totality of that which is. The world of psychical phenomena appears to me to be as much part of “Nature” as the world of physical phenomena… (Huxley 1992:117)

…the idea that scientific laws are the only way to explain the world. (Park 2008:5)

Naturalism advises us to be patient. The limits of our understanding are marked with chalk, and will in time be erased by the advance of science. (Park 2008:21)

Darwin’s theory… opened up a way of thinking about the universe that goes far beyond biology. It was the beginning of naturalism. (Park 2008:27)

…the naturalism of science is methodological and not necessarily ontological. … While naturalism has proven to be a useful working assumption in science, and economy of thought demands that all natural causes be exhausted before adding new assumptions, scientists have no emotional or dogmatic attachment to this assumption. (Stenger 2003:69)


What a book a Devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low & horridly cruel works of nature! (Darwin to J. D. Hooker)


Neurons are terminally differentiated — they are right at the bottom of Waddington’s landscape, and cannot divide. Because they don’t divide, neurons don’t copy their DNA. (Carey 2012:251)

New Testament

Of the twenty-seven books found in the New Testament, only eight of them almost certainly go back to the authors to whom they are traditionally ascribed. (Ehrman 2012:181)


Keeping up with the competition in the knowledge acquisition sweepstakes puts a premium on recently discovered information. (A “quidnunc”—from the Latin for “what now?”—is a person obsessed with the very latest news. We all have—and should have—quidnunc tendencies, since the latest news creates an information gradient that may be exploited by others at our expense.) (Hurley et al. 2011:265)

Noether’s theorem

[Noether’s theorem] is not only a profound physics result; it is a profound philosophical one. (Stenger 2013:143)


The principle of nonoverlapping magisteria is contrary to Townes’s belief that science and religion are converging, and a denial of Templeton’s dream that science will confirm his Christian religious beliefs. (Park 2008:13)

Nominative determinism

In a wonderful piece of nominative determinism, this rule [which had governed obscenity since 1868] had been set out by Lord Chief Justice Cockburn—“cock burn” being the result of indulging one’s libidinous leanings with a poxy whore. (Mohr 2013:242)



Swearing an oath means calling on God to witness that a person is telling the truth or intending to fulfil a promise. … In the Bible, swearing is the foundational act of the Jewish and Christian faiths. (Mohr 2013:55)

God did the enforcing. If you broke your oath, God was supposed to punish you… (Mohr 2013:113)


Many people are also confused about what it means to speak with scientific ‘‘objectivity’’ about the human condition. … there is no impediment to our studying subjective (i.e., first-person) facts ‘‘objectively.’’ (Harris 2010:29)


Aristotle was wrong to use philosophical reasoning to determine the nature of reality. Rather, one must make careful observations and then fit these observations to mathematical models. … The eventual conquest of observation as the final arbiter of scientific truth had begun in earnest with Francis Bacon… (Stenger 2012:80)

…we must make our language fit the observed facts and not try to draw conclusions as to the facts from our use of language. (Thouless and Thouless 2011:22–23)

We can only hope to settle a question of fact by using observations or research to discover what is really the case. Then we have to use words to convey the case to other people as clearly and unambiguously as we can. (Thouless and Thouless 2011:28)


…open data is an important principle of science, which allows research to be checked by anybody who wishes to do so. (Henderson 2012:218)

Optical illusions

The errors that optical illusions induce in our perceptions are lawful, regular and systematic. They are not dumb mistakes but smart mistakes – mistakes that allow those who understand them to glimpse the elegant design and inner workings of the visual system. (Gilbert 2007:xvi)


Jesus worshippers cared tremendously about right belief, also known as orthodoxy. … This emphasis on right belief was and is unique to monotheism. (Valerie Tarico in Loftus 2010:49)

An emphasis on propagating belief (i.e., evangelism) and purity of belief (i.e., orthodoxy) is only one of those strategies. (Valerie Tarico in Loftus 2010:50)

(See also belief.)


…in many other social species, ostracism often leads to death. That’s why humans are so sensitive. As soon as it looks as though we are in danger of being ostracized, we become hyper-vigilant to those around us, looking for clues in the way people are interacting and opportunities to re-engage with the group. (Hood 2012:139)

Othello syndrome

Error Management Theory provides a powerful explanation for some important aspects of the Othello syndrome. It explains why men and women sometimes have ‘‘delusions’’ that a partner is unfaithful when he or she has remained loyal. It accounts for why men and women are highly sensitive to signals of betrayal. It explains why men and women train their eyes laserlike on rivals who flirt with their partners at parties. (Buss 2000:77–78)

Outsider test for faith

…the central thesis of the OTF is a challenge to believers to test or examine their own religious faith as if they were outsiders with the same presupposition of skepticism they use to test or examine other religious faiths. (Loftus 2010:84)



Centuries of religious pluralism under paganism… were coming to an end. (Greenblatt 2012:89)

…the word [pagan]… is etymologically related to the word “peasant.” It is an insult… (Greenblatt 2012:100)

Pascal’s wager

The strategy for discovering these patterns is, again, that of Pascal’s wager, namely, guessing high. Pascal’s version is that in the face of unresolvable uncertainty as to whether God exists, one should bet He does, since the gain if one is right outweighs the loss if one is wrong. The principle is the same in betting something is alive. (Guthrie 1993:45)


We usually think of passion as restricted to sex or love, the burning embrace or constant craving. But it has a broader meaning, referring to the drives and emotional fires that propel us in our quests through life. They sometimes glow quietly, but at other times they burst into full flame. They range from tranquil devotion to violent eruption. Their expression yields life’s deepest joys, but also the cruelest suffering. And although we commonly think of passion as a force opposed to reason and rationality, something to be tamed or overcome, passions when properly understood have a crystalline logic, precise purpose, and supreme sensibility. (Buss 2000:1–2)


Perception itself is thoroughly theoretical. It faces just the same task of discovering form and order in an inchoate world as do science and religion, and addresses the task with the same principles. (Guthrie 1993:37)

Perception is active inference, a mostly unconscious process of hypothesizing the causes of a given sensation or cluster of sensations. Stated this way, “interpretation” and “explanation” become closely related enterprises. Since multiple interpretations are possible, our choice of interpretations constitutes a guess. As the art historian Ernst Gombrich puts it, perception is betting. (Guthrie 1993:42)

Such scanning for order and meaning is continuous, because the perceptual world always is underdetermined and always is coming into being. The scanning may be at low levels (for shape, color, depth, texture, position, and motion) or at high ones (for organisms, not merely objects). At all levels, we keep trying models for fit. Perception consists in deciding on fit; but fit is relative and partial, and decisions are subject to change. (Guthrie 1993:44)

If perception is interpretation and interpretation is the fitting of data to models, then representation, in the form of models, is intrinsic to perception. Perception and representation interact as a partially closed loop; the world for everyone rests on category, guess, and metaphor, most of which escapes criticism. (Guthrie 1993:54)

(See also animism and interpretation.)


Personification thus is another form of interpreting the world at the highest level. (Guthrie 1993:130)


‘Placebo’ has come to mean a ‘dummy pill’, which connotes something derisory about the person who takes it, as though they can be fooled by some kind of ‘trick’ when they wrongly believe that they have been given something ‘real’. (McCartney 2012:255)

Placebo effects can be real and chemical — as chemical and real as anything else we do. (McCartney 2012:259)

Placebo effects are not the same thing as a placebo pill or sham operation. A placebo is inert, but the placebo effect is not. (McCartney 2012:260)

Good doctors can generate placebo effects — but they don’t need to use placebos. (McCartney 2012:261)


At best a trivial distraction, pleasure was at worst a demonic trap, figured in medieval art by those alluring women beneath whose gowns one can glimpse reptilian claws. … As every pious reader of John’s Gospel knew, Jesus wept, but there were no verses that described him laughing of smiling, let alone pursuing pleasure. (Greenblatt 2012:105)

The greatest obstacle to pleasure is not pain; it is delusion. … The answer, Lucretius thought, had to do with the power of the imagination. (Greenblatt 2012:196)


Poetry, in my view, is a system of handicaps. … These constraints [metre, rhythm, rhyme] make poetry more impressive than prose as a display of verbal intelligence and creativity. (Miller 2001:379)

In most cultures a substantial proportion of poetry is love poetry, closely associated with courtship effort. Poetry often overlaps with musical display, as in folk music with rhyming lyrics. Sung poetry demands the additional skill of holding a melody a melody while maintaining meter, rhythm, rhyme, and line-number norms. (Miller 2001:380)

Point-of-view invariance

If an objective reality exists out there that is not just a fantasy or dream, then we should be able to describe that reality in a way that does not depend on a particular point of view. …laws of physics must possess what I call point-of-view invariance. (Stenger 2009:253)

…German mathematician Emmy Noether proved a remarkable theorem that should be more widely recognized as one of the most important discoveries of the twentieth century. Noether proved that a physical model that possesses any of the three space-time symmetries I have defined will automatically contain measurable quantities that are conserved… (Stenger 2009:254)

The revolutionary implication of Noether’s theorem is that these basic laws of classical physics are not handed down from above. … If physicists wish to formulate their models in a way that does not depend on the point of view in space and time of the observer, then those models will automatically have imbedded in them the three great conservation laws. (Stenger 2009:255)

…the laws of physics look just like they should look if the universe came from nothing. There is no special point of view in nothing. (Stenger 2009:256)

In short, conservation of energy, linear momentum, angular momentum, Newton’s laws of motion, and all of special relativity follow from point-of-view invariance… (Stenger 2009:259)

Practical reason

By ‘‘practical reason,’’ I mean the ability to give reasons for one’s actions, to think about one’s own self-interest, to form a conception of the good, and to engage in critical reflection on one’s life. (Lynch 2012:99)


Female preferences, in short, determine many of the ground rules of the male contests. (Buss 2003:9)

…preferences (which are simple emotional reactions) could be formed without any conscious registration of the stimuli… Mere exposure to stimuli is enough to create preferences. (LeDoux 1998:53)

As [Robert] Zajonc put it, these results go against common sense and against the widespread assumption in psychology that we must know what something is before we can determine whether we like it or not… the experiments provided incontrovertible evidence that affective reactions could take place in the absence of conscious awareness of the stimuli. (LeDoux 1998:54–55)

In general, a preference for a sure outcome over a gamble that has higher or equal expectation is called risk averse, and the rejection of a sure thing in favor of a gamble of lower or equal expectation is called risk seeking. (Kahneman 2011:434)


Since it is an essential character of prejudice that its sources are hidden from consciousness, it might seem to be impossible for us to become aware of our prejudices so that we may become free from their influence. (Thouless and Thouless 2011:104)


Your premises must measure up with respect to two counts, truth and strength. (McInerny 2005:86)


[T]he tendency to judge historical figures by contemporary standards. … the temptation to view the past through the lens of the present is nothing short of overwhelming… Presentism occurs because we fail to recognize that our future selves won’t see the world the way we see it now. As we are about to learn, this fundamental inability to take the perspective of the person to whom the rest of our lives will happen is the most insidious problem a futurian can face. (Gilbert 2007:146,147)


What makes a principle fundamental is that you can’t justify it without employing the method that it endorses as reliable. For this reason, explicit defenses of such principles will always be subject to a charge of circularity. Hume showed that the principle of induction is like this: you can’t show that induction is reliable without employing induction. (Lynch 2012:52)

Prisoner’s Dilemma

The Prisoner’s Dilemma has been called one of the great ideas of the 20th century, because it distills the tragedy of social life into such a succinct formula. The dilemma arises in any situation in which the best individual payoff is to defect while the partner cooperates, the worst individual payoff is to cooperate while the other defects, the highest total payoff is when both cooperate, and the lowest total payoff is when both defect. (Pinker 2011:533)

Private ownership

There are many forms of private ownership. The department store chain John Lewis, an unsubsidised commercial firm in a fiercely competitive market, is owned by its employees. The Nationwide Building Society, an unsubsidised commercial firm in a fiercely competitive market, is owned by its members. The Guardian Media Group, an unsubsidised commercial firm in a fiercely competitive market, is owned by a trust set up to support its journalistic values and protect it from hostile takeover. And so on. None of the many alternatives to stock market flotation were put up for discussion by either side: it was either shareholder capitalism or the nationalised status quo. (James Meek in Sale of the century: the privatisation scam)


Progress is supposed to increase knowledge and consensus and sharpen the picture of what happened (or what we don’t know), not the reverse. Instead, Jesus scholars continue multiplying contradictory pictures of Jesus… the many contradictory versions of Jesus now confidently touted by different Jesus scholars are all so very plausible—yet not all can be true. (Carrier 2012:12)

Projection error

Funny things, we will argue, are like blurry faces—they depend on the subjective state of the audience for their existence. We are going to call this fallacious tendency—to consider the blurriness as a property of the face—the projection error. (Hurley et al. 2011:19)


Matthew has read the prophecy in Zechariah in an overly literalistic way, not realizing the poetic character of the passage. … But Matthew read the passage literally, thinking that Zechariah was imagining two different animals (a donkey and a colt), and so when he wanted Jesus to fulfill this prophecy, he had him straddling the two animals, a rather uncomfortable and somewhat undignified entrance into the city, one might think. (Ehrman 2012:202)

Prophecy per se, Spinoza then claimed, affords no certainty, and even the prophets themselves had, according to the Bible, to ask for a Divine sign to be sure they had been given a Divine Message. ‘In this respect, prophetic knowledge is inferior to natural knowledge, which needs no sign.’ (Popkin 1979:230–31)

Prophecy, one of the central religious knowledge claims on which the theological significance of the Bible rests, is reduced by Spinoza to uninteresting opinions of some people who lived long ago. (Popkin 1979:231)

Prophecies, postdated

By postdated prophecies I mean this: the book of Daniel claims to be written by a Hebrew man, Daniel, in the Babylonian exile, around 550 BCE. In actual fact, as critical scholars have long known… it was written closer to 160 BCE. When the character Daniel in the book ‘‘predicts’’ what is going to happen, the real author, pretending to be Daniel, simply indicates what already did happen. (Ehrman 2012:168)

Foresight seems all the more impressive when later, anonymous authors added ‘prophecies’ after the event… (Lane Fox 2006:318)

Editors, up-daters and deceitful inserters have thus increased our impression of long-range forecasts. (Lane Fox 2006:319)

…a sharp-eyed pagan critic, Porphyry, remarked that Daniel’s accurate knowledge stopped abruptly in 167 BC: the book, then, must have been faked at that moment because after 167, it was wrong. (Lane Fox 2006:337)


The prophets, however, claimed to speak the word of God and the visions which God brought to them… (Lane Fox 2006:317)


…the sixth sense, proprioception… that simply means knowing the position of your body, and in particular of your head, at any moment. (Firestein 2012:130)


The logic of proteanism is simple. If a rabbit fleeing from a fox always chose the single apparently shortest escape route, the consistency of its behavior would make its escape route more predictable to the fox, its body more likely to be eaten and its genes less likely to replicate. Predictability is punished by hostile animals capable of prediction. … Protean escape is probably the most widespread and successful adaptation against being eaten by predators, and is used by virtually all mobile animals on land, under water, and in the air. Proteanism explains why it is harder to predict the movements of a common housefly for the next ten seconds than the orbit of Saturn for the next ten million years. (Miller 2001:398)

The lesson of proteanism is very general: whenever one animal benefits from being able to predict something about another animal’s behavior or appearance, the second animal might benefit from making its behavior or appearance unpredictable. (Miller 2001:399)

Proteanism does not fit into this framework of scientific explanation. It is both adaptive and noisy, both functional and unpredictable — like human creativity. (Miller 2001:400)

Proxy outcomes

Lots of evidence points out that eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, grains and pulses will result in a longer, better quality life. Proxy outcomes alert! The proxy says: Fruit and vegetables are healthy. Vitamins are in fruit and vegetables. Therefore vitamins are healthy. Vitamins are good for us. (McCartney 2012:106–7)


Pseudoscientists have the attitude that sheer quantity of evidence makes up for any deficiency in the quality of individual pieces of evidence. (Radner and Radner 1982:37)

Pseudoscientists delight in irrefutable hypothesis. The reason for this is obvious. If no possible state of affairs is allowed to count against what they say, they need have no fear of the facts ever proving them wrong. But their guarantee against error is purchased at the expense of not saying anything at all about the world. If one cannot be wrong about something, then it makes no sense to speak of being right about it, either. (Radner and Radner 1982:40)

…the pseudoscientist does not care whether his scenario is consistent with accepted scientific laws. (Radner and Radner 1982:46)

[Pseudoscientists] always reply to criticism, but they never revise in light of it. They see scientific debate not as a mechanism for scientific progress but as a rhetorical contest. Nowhere is this attitude more clearly displayed than in creationism. (Radner and Radner 1982:51)


Every astrologer, homeopathist, Tarot-card reader, witch doctor, or psychoanalyst makes observations and words according to a predetermined order or plan. To call such work scientific… is to miss the essential meaning of science. These nonscientific systems are tradition bound and self-referential, working within their own closed system of ideas… (Cromer 1993:20)

Chiropractic, homeopathy, psychoanalysis, and parapsychology are examples of rival schools that formed when their founders couldn’t convince competent colleagues of their ideas. (Cromer 1993:151)

The Damn It Doll reflects one of the most entrenched convictions in our culture, fostered by the psychoanalytic belief in the benefits of catharsis: that expressing anger or behaving aggressively gets rid of anger. (Tavris and Aronson 2008:25)

…full-time hoaxes, such as psychoanalysis, preclude experimental tests… (Trivers 2011:305)

Freud claimed to have developed a detailed science of self-deception and human development: psychoanalysis. … the failure to state or develop methodologies capable of producing useful information is almost the definition of nonscience, and in this regard, psychoanalysis has been spectacularly successful. When is the last time you head of a large, double-blind study of penis envy or castration complex? (Trivers 2011:317)

…the best way to decide whether a particular body of knowledge is scientific or not is often to study the attitudes of its professional practitioners to one another’s work. … When we find them [irreconcilable ‘schools’] in a ‘scientific’ discipline, we should be on our guard. … This is the reason why for example we should be very suspicious of the claims of Psychoanalysis. (Ziman 1968:28)


To appreciate why psychology is hard, we have to stop thinking of brains as physical systems full of quantum noise and chaos, or as computational systems full of informational noise and software bugs. We have to start thinking of brains as biological systems that evolved to generate certain kinds of adaptive predictability under certain conditions of competition and courtship. (Miller 2001:400)


Whether or not the world as we inhabit is as saturated with purpose as we tend to assume, our brains are designed to impute purpose whenever and wherever possible. Purpose is like the air we breathe… (Hurley et al. 2011:94)

Human reasoning is purposeful. … Conclusions are meant to be arrived at. Argument, as the linguistic expression of human reasoning, is goal-oriented. … It is one thing to acknowledge there are certain problems that may be insoluble, that certain conclusions are beyond our reach. But it is quite another thing to adopt the principle that problems as such are insoluble and conclusions as such unreachable. That is to use reason to undermine the very of reason. (McInerny 2005:128)



[The Quakers] sought light within their own hearts and said religion should be based on personal experience rather than doctrine. (Stenger 2009:98)


That “quale” of yours is a character in good standing in the fictional world of your heterophenomenology, but what it turns out to be in the real world in your brain is just a complex of dispositions. (Dennett 1991:389)

Quantum mechanics

Quantum mechanics has what is called statistical determinism. (Stenger 2009:119)

Quantum theory also introduced chance where previously we had deterministic cause. Nothing ‘‘causes’’ an electron in an excited atom to drop to a lower energy level at a given time. … This fact refutes the claims of theistic philosophers since Aristotle, theologians since Thomas Aquinas, and contemporary apologists such as William Lane Craig, that everything must have a cause and the prime cause if God. (Stenger 2009:132)

The so-called mysteries of quantum mechanics are in its philosophical interpretation, not in its mathematics. (Stenger 2012:145)

Quantum mechanics is just a statistical theory like statistical mechanics, fundamentally reducible to particulate behavior. (Stenger 2012:155)


…if quarks are someday observed, the theory that introduced them in the first place will be falsified! (Stenger 2013:115)


Just because a question can be asked doesn’t make it a meaningful question. (Firestein 2012:120)



Developmental psychologists have shown that preschoolers profess racist attitudes that would appall their liberal parents, and that even babies prefer to interact with people of the same race and accent. (Pinker 2011:523)


…in medicine at least, RCTs are accepted as essential because they generate more dependable knowledge than any other approach. (Henderson 2012:129)

Randomization is one of the most powerful tools science has developed for conducting trials of human subjects, whether those trials are trying to assess the safety or effectiveness of a medicine, a teaching strategy or a new criminal sentence. (Henderson 2012:175)


As for their vaunted treatment of the ladies, one knight woos a princess by pledging to rape the most beautiful woman he can find on her behalf; his rival promises to send her the heads of the knights he defeats in tournaments. (Pinker 2011:18)

To review the history of violence is to experience repeated bouts of disbelief in learning how categories of violence that we deplore today were perceived in the past. The history of rape provides one of of those shocks. (Pinker 2011:394)

We read of an atrocity—say, rebel soldiers encamped on a rooftop in Uganda who passed the time by kidnapping women, tying them up, raping them, and throwing them to their deaths—shake our heads, and ask, ‘‘How could people do these things?’’ We refuse to accept obvious answers, like boredom, lust, or sport, because the suffering of the victim is so obscenely disproportionate to the benefit to the perpetrator. We take the victim’s point of view and advert to a conception of pure evil. (Pinker 2011:510)

Rational argument

To sum up, we have seen that, when it comes to shaping belief, rational argument differs from these other methods [e.g. threats, brainwashing, peer pressure, etc.] in at least two important ways: (i) reason is truth-sensitive (whereas purely causal mechanisms typically are not); (ii) while rational arguments can be causally powerful, their causal power typically derives from their normative power -– which is a distinct, non-causal form of ‘‘power’’. (Stephen Law, Good and bad ways of influencing the beliefs of others)


In this book I’ll use the word rationalist to describe anyone who believes that reasoning is the most important and reliable way to obtain moral knowledge. (Haidt 2012:7)


Apportioning your degree of confidence in a belief in accordance with your estimation of its probability of being true is precisely what we mean by rationality. (Dacey 2008:92)

If rational thinking is an emotional process, it is clearly in competition with other emotion-driven processes. (Hurley et al. 2011:90)

None of these rationales for rationality speaks to Hume’s point that rationality is merely a means to an end, and that the end depends on the thinker’s passions. Reason can lay out a road map to peace and harmony, if the reasoner wants peace and harmony. But it can also lay out a road map to war and strife, if the reasoner delights in war and strife. (Pinker 2011:647)

The point is that rationality does not dictate how ideas should be arrived at, but only that the extent to which they are believed should be proportional to the evidence. Irrational people are not the ones who reach ideas without much explicit evidence, but those who refuse to look for and consider evidence which would count for or against them. This is prejudice, a thing to which feminists must certainly be opposed. (Radcliffe Richards 1994:48)


Rationalization is reasoning in the service of falsehood. (McInerny 2005:29)

Such a rational bolstering up of a belief held on irrational grounds has been called a ‘rationalization’. When our desires lead us to believe something, our minds construct a rational set of reasons for supposing that belief to be true. The belief does not, however, follow from the reasons; the reasons follow from the belief. They are merely ‘rationalizations’ of a belief really held on irrational grounds. A sufficiently ingenious mind can rationalize any belief, however absurd. … The capacity of many people to deceive themselves by rationalization is a formidable barrier to straight thinking. (Thouless and Thouless 2011:102)


Reality is what kicks back when you kick it. (Stenger 2003:41)

We have no way of knowing whether our physics models provide us with a reliable picture of ultimate reality. They just fit the data. (Stenger 2012:144)

…we have no way of knowing what that true reality is. (Stenger 2013:70)


Reasons are universal. (Dacey 2008:18)

From a scientific perspective, it should not be surprising that reasons are by their very nature shareable… (Dacey 2008:19)

Nonetheless, it is our ability to reason, at least occasionally, that allows us to build a complicated understanding of our world, and that differentiates Homo sapiens from apes. (Hurley et al. 2011:91)

In the broadest sense of the term, reason is the ability to explain and justify our beliefs and commitments. So, to provide a reason for something is to justify or explain it. (Lynch 2012:3)

So defending reason doesn’t mean defending the idea that we are dispassionate, unintuitive robots. This shouldn’t be too surprising if we remember that by ‘‘reason’’ I mean our capacity to explain and justify, and more narrowly, our capacity to justify by appeal to some very basic methods of belief: observation and logical inference. … If reason is to engage in justification, and there can be unjustified and justified emotions and intuitions, then emotions and intuitions can be rationally evaluated. (Lynch 2012:31)


…to argue that the human body is no more than a collection of chemicals is to succumb to crudely simplistic reasoning, and to commit the fallacy of ‘‘reductionism.’’ (McInerny 2005:121)

Accusations of reductionism are usually just assertions made as though it were clear both what they meant and why they were to be understood as criticisms. … A reductive explanation is one that explains a set of phenomena by reference to a more fundamental level of explanation and uses quite different terminology. This is what happens, for instance, when heat is explained in terms of the rapid movement of minute particles. It reduces the number of separate elements in the situation, by explaining some in terms of others. There is, therefore, a clear sense in which Darwinian explanation — like all scientific explanation — is reductive. (Radcliffe Richards 2008:179)

Regression to the mean

The regression fallacy is analogous to the clustering illusion: Both represent cases of people extracting too much meaning from chance events. (Gilovich 1991:26)

…the misinterpretation of regression can lead to the formation of superstitious beliefs. (Gilovich 1991:28)

Thus, without a general appreciation of the phenomenon of regression, or without an awareness of the common fluctuations in the course of most diseases, any temporary improvement is likely to be attributed to the treatment. (Gilovich 1991:129)

[Regression to the mean] is just one of the many ‘cognitive illusions’ described in this book, the basic flaws in our reasoning apparatus which lead us to see patterns and connections in the world around us, when closer inspection reveals that in fact there are none. … many illnesses have what is called a ‘natural history’: they are bad, and then they get better. (Goldacre 2008:38)

…people frequently attribute the regression to the mean to the actions of an agent, rather than to the behaviour of any random quantity dependent on many factors. (Paulos 1999:52)

The principle that if an event is extreme (either way), the next even of the same kind is likely to be less extreme is known as ‘regression to the mean’. It affects all events in which chance plays a role. (Sutherland 2007:189)


All organized religions are superstitious delusions. (Greenblatt 2012:193)

Religions are invariably cruel. Religion always promise hope and love, but their deep, underlying structure is cruelty. This is why they are drawn to fantasies of retribution and why they inevitably stir up anxiety among their adherents. The quintessential emblem of religion—and the clearest manifestation of the perversity that lies at its core—is the sacrifice of a child by a parent. … Lucretius had in mind the sacrifice of Iphegenia by her father Agamemnon, but he may also have been aware of the Jewish story of Abraham and Isaac… (Greenblatt 2012:194)

Religions are social facts. Religions cannot be studied in lone individuals any more than hivishness can be studied in lone bees. Durkheim’s definition of religion makes its binding function clear: ‘‘A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden—beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.’’ … Many scientists misunderstand religion because they ignore this principle [morality binds and blinds] and examine only what is most visible. They focus on individuals and their supernatural beliefs, rather than on groups and their binding practices. (Haidt 2012:248)

Most religions insist on the notion that humans have immaterial souls independent of their material bodies. If a belief system does not include a soul, it is not a religion. (Stenger 2012:218)


The one great universal in the study of violence is that most of it is committed by fifteen-to-thirty-year-old men. Not only are males the more competitive sex in most mammalian species, but with Homo sapiens a man’s position in the pecking order is secured by reputation… (Pinker 2011:104–5)

Glaucon was right: people care a great deal more about appearance and reputation than about reality. … the most important principle for designing an ethical society is to make sure that everyone’s reputation is on the line all the time, so that bad behavior will always bring bad consequences. (Haidt 2012:74)

Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation! (Cassio, Othello, 2.3.248)


The meaning of respect is equivocal. It can summon up the practice of esteeming the other’s status in an honor-conscious culture, the practice of appraising the merits of the other’s projects, or the practice of recognizing the other’s equal standing in the moral community. (Dacey 2012:39)


Responsibility is not located in the brain. The brain has no area or network for responsibility. As I said before, the way to think about responsibility is that it is an interaction between people, a social contract. Responsibility reflects a rule that emerges out of one or more agents interacting in a social context, and the hope that we share is that each person will follow certain rules. An abnormal brain does not mean that the person cannot follow rules. (Gazzaniga 2011:193)


Can divine revelation be used as evidence? If it could be convincingly and independently established that the source of the information was in fact God, it would qualify as evidence. However, before you could appeal to revelation, you would need to establish the existence of the deity. Revelation depends on prior proof of God. Assuming you succeeded in proving God’s existence, you would then need to prove that the alleged revelation did in fact come from this God. (Cunningham 2010:44)


Blood revenge is explicitly endorsed in 95 percent of the world’s cultures, and wherever tribal warfare is found, it is one of the major motives. Revenge is the motive of 10 to 20 percent of homicides worldwide… (Pinker 2011:529–30)

Revenge is not confined to political and tribal hotheads but is an easily pushed button in everyone’s brains. … The neurobiology of revenge begins with the Rage circuit in the midbrain-hypothalamus-amygdala pathway, which inclines an animal who has been hurt or frustrated to lash out at the nearest likely perpetrator. (Pinker 2011:530)

Revenge requires the disabling of empathy… (Pinker 2011:531)

What is this madness called revenge? Though our psychotherapeutic culture portrays vengeance as a disease and forgiveness as the cure, the drive for revenge has a thoroughly intelligible function: deterrence. (Pinker 2011:532)



Various accounts of the sacred have spoken of a numinous or transcendent force, a mysterium tremendum; a ‘‘great and portentous power’’ inspiring ‘‘fear and admiration’’; a homology or synecdoche of the structures of the cosmos; the set-apart and forbidden; a part of an inviolable normative order immanent in the world; the fruit of valuable ‘‘investment’’ of time and creative energies; and the dignity of the person. (Dacey 2012:113)

The reasons of the sacred, if they exist, are significant. They are not to be ignored. (Dacey 2012:114)

…the values of the sacred are inviolable in a special way. They are ‘‘set apart’’ and not to be sacrificed, traded, or compromised for other values. (Dacey 2012:114)


Sacrilege is the acid that eats away misplaced sacralization. (Dacey 2012:103)


These three aspects of science—its recentness, the completeness of some of its fundamental knowledge, and its intrinsic unity—mean that for the first time in human history we have true knowledge of the nature of existence and of our place in it. This fundamental fact is often ignored. Since science is necessarily tentative and uncertain at its growing edge, the great foundation of certainty that currently exists is seldom emphasized. (Cromer 1993:17)

Science itself presupposes certain values: truth, objectivity, and [epistemic principles]. Epistemic principles are principles that tell us what is rational or right to believe. (Lynch 2012:38)

The whole scientific enterprise rests squarely upon inductive reasoning. Scientists are continually gathering up specific bits of data to see what larger patterns can be discerned from them. (McInerny 2005:83)

A strategy is needed to tell which patterns are significant, and which are merely a coincidence. It took 160,000 years before such a strategy was found. We call it science. (Park 2008:30)

[Velikovsky] seemed to think that it was indicative of the sad state of science that scientific theories needed to be revised from time to time. What Velikovsky considered a defect of science is on the contrary one of its greatest strengths. Science is by nature a self-corrective enterprise. (Radner and Radner 1982:51)

The whole ideology of Science, the principle of a freely accepted consensus, implies a society in which there is general freedom of speech and comment. (Ziman 1968:116)

(See also consensus.)

Scientific method

[The scientific method] …the most reliable tool humanity has yet developed for distinguishing truth from falsehood. (Henderson 2012:2)

If it can help us to understand the first microseconds of creation and the descent of man, the scientific method can surely improve understanding of how best to tackle the pressing social questions of our time. (Henderson 2012:9)

In fact, the scientific method has been called “what we know about how not to fool ourselves.” (Valerie Tarico in Loftus 2010:50)

The scientific method cannot be captured in a few general phrases. (Radner and Radner 1982:29)

The power of the scientific method is not that it keeps any one of us from error but that by mutual criticism and persuasion we gradually clarify and correct each other’s intuitions, until they become part of the canon of the subject. (Ziman 1968:72)

Scientific values

…the values necessary for scientific progress: embracing curiosity as a moral virtue, elevating empiricism to the status of supreme authority in all disputes of fact, and valuing the pursuit of progress. (Richard Carrier in Loftus 2010:412–13)


The view that science can ultimately explain everything… is called scientism. Actually, few scientists embrace scientism. Most accept that there may well be questions science cannot answer. … So, scientism is probably false. (Law 2011b:34)

Scientism, in this good sense, is not the belief that members of the occupational guild called “science” are particularly wise or noble. On the contrary, the defining practices of science, including open debate, peer review, and double-blind methods, are explicitly designed to circumvent the errors and sins to which scientists, being human, are vulnerable. Scientism does not mean that all current scientific hypotheses are true; most new ones are not, since the cycle of conjecture and refutation is the lifeblood of science. It is not an imperialistic drive to occupy the humanities; the promise of science is to enrich and diversify the intellectual tools of humanistic scholarship, not to obliterate them. And it is not the dogma that physical stuff is the only thing that exists. Scientists themselves are immersed in the ethereal medium of information, including the truths of mathematics, the logic of their theories, and the values that guide their enterprise. In this conception, science is of a piece with philosophy, reason, and Enlightenment humanism. It is distinguished by an explicit commitment to two ideals, and it is these that scientism seeks to export to the rest of intellectual life. (Steven Pinker, Science Is Not Your Enemy)

Second law

The second law is just a statistical law. (Stenger 2013:107)

The second law of thermodynamics… is not a law at all. (Stenger 2013:110)


Secularism… has nothing to do with metaphysics. It does not ask whether there is a divine realm. It is agnostic, if you will, on the question of God’s existence — a question that is way above its pay grade. What secularism does concern itself with are relations between Church and State. It is a flexible doctrine that can embody a lot of policy positions. Strict separationism is one, but not the only, of those positions. At its core, secularism is deeply suspicious of any entanglement between government and religion. (Jacques Berlinerblau)

Secular liberalism

Secular liberalism is not a religion. It is an intellectual and political movement that puts the freedom of the individual first, before God or government. Here a secularist is not necessarily an atheist, but someone who seeks sources of meaning, morality, and community outside of organized religion. (Dacey 2008:11–12)

Secular values

Secular values can turn a society inside out. In post-Christian Europe, entire nations have been plunged into endemic health, skyrocketing education, and hopelessly low rates of violent crime. (Dacey 2008:140)


See natural selection and sexual selection.


Throughout his presidency, George W. Bush was the epitome of a man for whom even irrefutable evidence could not pierce his mental armor of self-justification. (Tavris and Aronson 2008:2)

That is why self-justification is more powerful and more dangerous than the explicit lie. It allows people to convince themselves that what they did was the best thing they could have done. (Tavris and Aronson 2008:4)

How do you get an honest man to lose his ethical compass? You get him to take one step at a time, and self-justification will do the rest. (Tavris and Aronson 2008:37)

By understanding prejudice as our self-justifying servant, we can better see why some prejudices are so hard to eradicate… (Tavris and Aronson 2008:65)

But most of us, most of the time, are neither telling the whole truth nor intentionally
deceiving. We aren’t lying; we’re self-justifying. (Tavris and Aronson 2008:69)

Scientific reasoning is useful to anyone in any job because it makes us face the possibility, even the dire reality, that we were mistaken. It forces us to confront our self-justifications and put them on public display for others to puncture. At its core, therefore, science is a form of arrogance control. (Tavris and Aronson 2008:108)

The remarkable thing about self-justification is that it allows us to shift from one role to the other and back again in the blink of an eye, without applying what we have learned from one role to the other. (Tavris and Aronson 2008:192)

Self-justification purrs along automatically, just beneath consciousness, protecting us from the dissonant realization that we did anything wrong. (Tavris and Aronson 2008:222)


I can be utterly sincere and dead wrong. My sincerity cannot transform falsehood into truth. Of course, one must be sincere. But one must also be right. (McInerny 2005:98)

While sincerity is no proof against error—it is just the disposition to say what you think is true without wanting to mislead—it is still a relationship that tends toward the truth. Specifically, if you are sincere, you care about the truth. … As with intellectual integrity, caring about truth is a necessary part of being sincere. Someone who couldn’t care less about the truth may end up telling the truth about this or that when it suits him, but he won’t be a sincere person. He’ll just be honest when it pays. (Lynch 2004:155)


The illumination, the inner light, produced a complete assurance, conviction or subjective certainty. And, it was claimed, the very experience of this overwhelming assurance convinced one that what one felt so certain about was also objectively true, that is, it corresponded to the actual state of affairs in the universe. One knows that one had found the true faith, and one knows this because it is the faith measured by the rule of faith, Scripture, which one knows is the rule of faith because it is the Word of God, which He has made us capable of recognizing and understanding. The basic, unquestionable beginning is the subjective certainty of, or total conviction in, the religious truth. In order to guarantee that this complete assurance is not merely a personal feeling or madness, it has to be shown that what one is assured of is objectively true, and not just what one subjectively believes to be true. Thus the quest to find ‘skyhooks’ to attach to this subjective certainty so that it can be transformed from an internal individual experience into an objective feature of the world. (Popkin 1979:190)


For most of the history of civilization, the practice of slavery was the rule rather than the exception. It was upheld in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles… violence is inherent to the definition of slavery—if a person did all the work of a slave but had the option of quitting at any time without being physically restrained or punished, we would not call him a slave—and this violence was often a regular part of a slave’s life. (Pinker 2011:153)

Sleep paralysis

The clinical condition known as sleep paralysis… can generate what seem like very real nocturnal assaults by supernatural entities. The ‘victim’ experiences temporary paralysis, auditory and visual hallucinations, and the physical sensation of a heavy weight upon the chest or throat. This has given rise to many testimonies of assault by witches, demons, ghosts, and aliens. (Davies 2012:106–7)

Social engineering

The only alternative to social engineering is complete anarchy. Taxes are a far cheaper and less coercive way to curtail harmful behavior than are laws or prescriptive regulations. (Frank 2011:123)

Somatic markers hypothesis

The somatic marker does not need to be a fully formed emotion, overtly experienced as a feeling. (That is what a ‘‘gut feeling’’ is.) It can be a covert, emotion-related signal of which the subject is not aware, in which case we refer to it as a bias. (Damasio 2010:175)

The emotions can be thought of as natural selection’s way of embodying some of the necessary rules of behavior. This understanding of some aspects of behavior has come to be known as the ‘‘somatic markers hypothesis.’’ (Seabright 2012:40–41)


The soul dies. The human soul is made of the same material as the human body. (Greenblatt 2012:192)

Descartes was committed to the existence of the soul, granted to humans by God, and the soul was the locus of consciousness. (Pinker 2011:459)


There are no angels, demons, or ghosts. Immaterial spirits of any kind do not exist. The creatures with which the Greek and Roman imagination populated the world—Fates, harpies, daemons, genii, nymphs, satyrs, dryads, celestial messengers, and the spirits of the dead—are entirely unreal. Forget them. (Greenblatt 2012:194–95)


‘‘Statement’’ has a special meaning in logic. It is a linguistic expression to which the response of either ‘‘true’’ or ‘‘false’’ is appropriate. …it is the statement that logic starts with, for it is only at the level of the statement that the question of truth or falsity is introduced, and logic is all about establishing what is true and distinguishing it from what is false. (McInerny 2005:13)

‘‘The Pearce Building is ugly’’ is an evaluative statement, and as such it combines both subjective and objective elements. Evaluative statements do not lend themselves to a simple true-or-false response. … True statements of objective fact are not open to argument; evaluative statements are. (McInerny 2005:15)

Statistical mechanics

With statistical mechanics, atoms and the void came home to stay. (Stenger 2013:104)


There seems to be little support in reality for the popular belief that we are mellowed by suffering. Happiness mellows us, not troubles; pleasure, perhaps, even more than happiness. (De Vries 1982:120)


Science has the scientific method of experiment and observation. The supernatural operates on the basis of personal experience and intuition. (Hood 2009:61)

…children see life forces everywhere. Anyone holding such misconceptions could easily succumb to a supersense. This is why I think that adult supernaturalism is the residue of childhood misconceptions that have not been truly disposed of. (Hood 2009:114)

The extant forms of Supernaturalism have deep roots in human nature… (Huxley 1992:112)

The phraseology of Supernaturalism may remain on men’s lips, but in practice they are Naturalists. … the superintendent of a lunatic asylum who substituted exorcism for rational modes of treatment would have but a short tenure in office… (Huxley 1992:116)

…all major religions teach that humans possess an additional “inner” sense that allows us to access a realm lying beyond the visible world—a divine, transcendent reality we call the supernatural. (Stenger 2012:26)

If the supernatural exists and has effects on the material world, then those effects are subject to scientific study. (Stenger 2012:290)


It’s like superstition, you know, which is what other people believe. My friends dye their hair, but I only touch mine up. [Lady Frederick] (Maugham 1999:323)

The religious use of ‘‘faith’’ implies belief in a higher power that makes things happen independent of a physical cause. This defines superstition. The two meanings of ‘‘faith’’ are thus not only different, they are exact opposites. (Park 2008:6–7)

Survival machines

We, the individual survival machines in the world, can expect to live a few more decades. But the genes in the world have an expectation of life that must be measured… in thousands and millions of years. (Dawkins 2006b:34)

Why do we and most other survival machines practise sexual reproduction? Why do our chromosomes cross over? And why do we not live for ever? (Dawkins 2006b:40)

The genes too control the behaviour of their survival machines, not directly with their fingers on puppet strings, but indirectly like the computer programmer. (Dawkins 2006b:52)

…efficient survival machines can be regarded as a compromise between conflicting selection pressures. (Dawkins 2006b:162)


In this world, suspicion is a guy thing: males are each other’s rivals and the objects of their most intense mutual scrutiny… (Seabright 2012:58)


In effect, it is because symbols have semantic features that they are symbols at all. It is in the very nature of symbols that they stand for, or represent thing; standing for and representing are semantic relations. (Crane 2008:138)

Words, which are meaning-carrying entities, are composed of letters, which in themselves carry no meaning. This gives a good idea of the difference between symbols and signals. (Hofstadter and Dennett 1981:177)

Symmetry principles

…symmetry principles are the foundation of physics. Recall that symmetry and invariance are related concepts. (Stenger 2013:141)



If we think of being taxed as akin to some unknown person confiscating something that rightfully belongs to us, it’s almost impossible not to react angrily. But taxes are more plausibly viewed through a different lens. …the high average income levels of modern industrial nations would not be possible in the absence of extensive public investments paid for by taxes. (Frank 2011:141)

A tax is generally thought of as something that only a government can levy, but this is a semantic distortion that favours the free market belief system. If a payment to an authority, public or private, is compulsory, it’s a tax. We can’t do without electricity; the electricity bill is an electricity tax. We can’t do without water; the water bill is a water tax. Some people can get by without railways, and some can’t; they pay the rail tax. Students pay the university tax. The meta-privatisation is the privatisation of the tax system itself; even, it could be said, the privatisation of us, the former citizens of Britain. (James Meek in Sale of the century: the privatisation scam)


There is a telomere at each end of every chromosome, making a total of 92 telomeres per cell in humans. They stop the DNA repair machinery from targeting the ends of chromosomes. … Telomeres play a critical role in control of ageing. …as we age, the telomeres get shorter. Eventually, they get so small that they don’t function properly anymore. (Carey 2012:269)

The telomere system is finely balanced, and so is the trade-off between ageing and cancer. (Carey 2012:272)


Wandering in a vast forest at night, I have only a faint light to guide me. A stranger appears and says to me: ‘‘My friend, you should blow out your candle in order to find your way more clearly.’’ The stranger is a theologian. (Denis Diderot)

Theory of mind

…the ability to infer another individual’s state of mind… (Dunbar 1996:70)

The criterion test for this [ToM] is what is know as the false-belief test: a child who has ToM can believe that someone else believes something to be true that the child itself knows is in fact untrue. … Autistic children consistently fail this test: they never develop ToM and they never lie. (Dunbar 1996:130)


In short, tickling is a cognitive bug—an aspect of our phenomenology that serves no purpose of its own but rather is a by-product of humor and some built-in structures of our defensive neurophysiology, each of which is good for something on its own. \dots we think it explains the fact that everyone finds the “reason why tickling is funny” to be ineffable. The belief construction is perceptual—it is still a constructed belief, but its construction is done at a level lower than conscious reasoning. (Hurley et al. 2011:225)


This means that, fundamentally, time is an integer number of Planck units. (Stenger 2009:68)

As Einstein said, “Time is what you read on a clock.” (Stenger 2013:48)

See also Arrow of time.


Tit-for-tat is defined formally as ‘‘cooperate on the first move, then on each successive move do whatever the other player did on the previous move.’’ (Frank 1988:31)

[Tit-for-Tat] could get the benefits of cooperation while at the same time keeping cheats out. (Radcliffe Richards 2008:164)


See tolerance.


Institutionalized torture in Christendom was not just an unthinking habit; it had a moral rationale. If you really believe that failing to accept Jesus as one’s savior is a ticket to fiery damnation, then torturing a person until he acknowledges this truth is doing him the biggest favor of his life: better a few hours now than an eternity later. (Pinker 2011:16–17)


Trust is based on the probabilities, which are in turn based on the evidence of past experiences, that’s why faith is not the same as trust. (Loftus 2013:224)


(See Truth.)



When we look at the history of physics, one grand principle especially stands out, that is, unification. (Stenger 2013:236)


That universe was not for Bruno a place of melancholy disenchantment. On the contrary, he found it thrilling to realize that the world has no limits in either space or time, that the grandest things are made of the smallest, that atoms, the building blocks of all that exists, link the one and the infinite. “The world is fine as it is,” he wrote, sweeping away as if they were so many cobwebs innumerable sermons on anguish, guilt, and repentance. It was pointless to search for divinity in the bruised and battered body of the Son and pointless to dream of finding the Father in some far-off heaven. … He was, a Florentine contemporary observed, “a delightful companion at the table, much given to the Epicurean life.” … The universe, in its ceaseless process of generation and destruction and regeneration, is inherently sexual. (Greenblatt 2012:237)

The atomists had found joy and wonder in the way things are: Lucretius saw the universe as a constant, intensely erotic hymn to Venus. (Greenblatt 2012:251)



The vagina was… a woman’s commodity—what a woman has to offer in the free market… (Mohr 2013:221)


It is important to be aware of the difference between truth and validity. Though often confused, they are in fact quite different. First, truth has to do only with statements, whereas validity has to do only with that structural arrangement of statements that we call an argument. (McInerny 2005:60–61)

…a valid argument: True premises yield a true conclusion. (McInerny 2005:64)

Veil analogy

Such appeals to mystery can be particularly effective if combined with a veil analogy. Suggest that the observable, scientifically investigable world is not all there is—there is a further mysterious reality hidden from us, as if behind a veil. Maintain that some of us—those lucky enough to be equipped with the right sort of transcendent faculty or insight—can glimpse this mysterious reality… insist that science… is pretty useless when it comes to establishing anything about what lies behind the veil. (Law 2011b:35)

And of course God, the ultimate agent, resides in large measure beyond the divide. … Because all these phenomena lie beyond the cosmic curtain, it’s widely supposed that belief in such things cannot be discredited by rational or scientific means. Such beliefs are all immune to rational or scientific refutation. … ‘‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’’ (Law 2011b:36)

The existence of a realm beyond matter could be easily demonstrated by one returning from an NDE, OBE, or other religious experience if that individual has important information about the world that she or no one else could possibly have known; such knowledge could be verified scientifically. (Stenger 2012:237–38)


Vigilance represents an effort to detect whether there are any signs of defection in the mate. Vigilance also conveys a message to a mate that evidence of consorting with rivals will be detected and acted upon. Other things being equal, it is reasonable to infer that people in our evolutionary past who were not vigilant experienced more defections, and hence lower reproductive success, than people who were vigilant. (Buss 2003:135–36)


It also rules out the hydraulic metaphor and most folk theories of violence, such as a thirst for blood, a death wish, a killer instinct… When a tendency to deploy violence evolves, it is always strategic. Organisms are selected to deploy violence only in circumstances where the expected benefits outweigh the expected costs. That discernment is especially true of intelligent species… (Pinker 2011:32–33)

Violence between the combatants may be called war; violence by the bystander against the combatants may be called law. (Pinker 2011:35)

Violence is a Prisoner’s Dilemma in which either side can profit by preying on the other, but both are better off if neither one tries, since mutual predation leaves each side bruised and bloodied if not dead. (Pinker 2011:647)


Virtues are social constructions. The virtues taught to children in a warrior culture are different from those taught in a farming culture or a modern industrialized culture. (Haidt 2012:122)



Many of the most wasteful aspects of our modern consumerist lifestyle are hard to understand if you think of their wastefulness as simple oversight, as though it had not occurred to us that we could live less extravagantly than we do. (Seabright 2012:36)

Wave function

No one has ever measured a wave function. (Stenger 2013:159)

[The wave function] is a purely abstract, mathematical object used for making probability calculations. (Stenger 2013:160)

Wave–particle duality

There is no wave-particle duality. Photons are just particles. … What is the source of the observed interference pattern that fits what is expected for waves? That pattern is the statistical distribution of a large ensemble of individual particle detections. … If you insist on interpreting the wave function as a ‘‘real’’ physical entity such as a water wave, then it moves faster than the speed of light… (Stenger 2009:184)


The fact is that skills acquired through hard work bring a sober and honorable return, but no more than that: the only way to make a fortune is to be skilled in ways that others cannot emulate and that are also in demand. (Seabright 2012:143)


Women, like weaverbirds, prefer men with desirable “nests.” … A woman in our evolutionary past who chose to mate with a man who was flighty, impulsive, philandering, or unable to sustain relationships found herself raising her children alone, without benefit of the resources, aid, and protection that another man might have offered. A woman who preferred to mate with a reliable man who was willing to commit to her was more likely to have children who survived and thrived. (Buss 2003:7)

Among all four thousand species of mammals… females bear the burden of internal fertilization, gestation, and lactation. (Buss 2003:20)

…women worldwide desire financial resources in a marriage partner more than men. (Buss 2003:25)

A long history of evolution by selection has fashioned the way in which women look at men as success objects. (Buss 2003:30)

Women, ‘‘fallen’’

…prostitution, adultery and loose sexual behaviour were fiercely penalized in women, but not men. (Radcliffe Richards 1994:179)

There were appalling sanctions on ‘fallen women’, which kept women bound to a particular man. (Radcliffe Richards 1994:182)


More surprising, perhaps, is the sense, driven home by every page of On the Nature of Things, that the scientific vision of the world—a vision of atoms randomly moving in an infinite universe—was in its origins imbued with a poet’s sense of wonder. Wonder did not depend on gods and demons and the dream of an afterlife; in Lucretius it welled up out of a recognition that we are made of the same matter as the stars and the oceans and all things else. (Greenblatt 2012:8)

Understanding the nature of things generates deep wonder. The realization that the universe consists of atoms and void and nothing else, that the world was not made for us by a providential creator, that we are not the center of the universe, that our emotional lives are no more distinct than our physical lives from those of all other creatures, that our souls are as material and as mortal as our bodies—all these things are not the cause for despair. On the contrary, grasping the way things really are is the crucial step toward the possibility of happiness. Human insignificance—the fact that it is not all about us and our fate—is, Lucretius insisted, the good news. (Greenblatt 2012:198–99)


Words themselves are public. (Dacey 2008:89)

The power of the word is one of the contested boundaries between magic and religion. (Davies 2012:66)

Words, which are meaning-carrying entities, are composed of letters, which in themselves carry no meaning. This gives a good idea of the difference between symbols and signals. (Hofstadter and Dennett 1981:177)

Words have been called the building blocks of language, but it is the statement that logic starts with, for it is only at the level of the statement that the question of truth or falsity is introduced, and logic is all about establishing what is true and distinguishing it from what is false. (McInerny 2005:13)

Words must be grounded in the real world in order to have any meaning. (Miller 2001:389)

Once you remove biology from human social life, what do you have? Words. (Trivers 2011:314–15)

World as other than it is

…it is not just the virtual reality experience of seeing the world through another person’s eyes that expands empathy and concern. It is also an intellectual agility—literally a kind of intelligence—which encourages one to step outside the parochial constraints of one’s birth and station, to consider hypothetical worlds, and to reflect back on the habits, impulses, and institutions that govern one’s beliefs and values. This reflective mindset may be a product of enhanced education, and it may also be a product of electronic media. (Pinker 2011:478)


The history of writing is a long, epic transformation of the magical into the ordinary. When the first scribes mastered cuneiform or hieroglyphic scripts, the knowledge they acquired was so mysterious to lay-people that it usually brought the writers priestly status as well as material rewards. (Seabright 2012:145)




And youth is a key ingredient in judging attractiveness: “Age is the monster figure of the gay world.” (Buss 2003:62)



Zoroaster was a fabled prophet who preached the divine authority of the supreme being Ahura Mazda, the source of all goodness who will eventually prevail over the forces of chaos and evil in the world. (Davies 2012:3)

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