Quotations About Doubt and Skepticism

quotations about doubt

In the interview I conducted with the author of Doubt: A History, Jennifer Michael Hecht, many great quotations about doubt found their way into the book chapter. She is erudite and a great exponent of philosophy and literature, but quotations about doubt, skepticism, and atheism by great minds throughout the ages aptly supplement the discussion.

These quotations appeared in the chapter on “Doubt” in the book Values & Ethics: From Living Room to Boardroom. Here is a podcast of the interview which led to the chapter in the book. 


“The leading fact in belief, according to my viewpoint, is our primitive credulity; we begin by believing everything.” ~ Alexander Bain

“The extent to which beliefs are based upon evidence is very much less than believers suppose.” ~ Bertrand Russell

“Imagine a world in which generations of human beings come to believe that certain films were made by God, or that specific software was coded by him. Imagine a future in which millions of our descendants murder each other over rival interpretations of Star Wars or Windows 98. Could anything be more ridiculous?” ~ Sam Harris

“If there is a God, it’s going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything a theologian of any religion has ever proposed

“Belief is the natural state of things. It is the default option. We just believe. We believe all sorts of things. Belief is natural; disbelief, skepticism, science, is not natural.” Michael Shermer

“As seekers of the truth, you will be wise to withhold judgment and not simply put your trust in the writings of the ancients. You must question and critically examine those writings from every side. You must submit only to argument and experiment, not to the sayings of any person, for every human being is vulnerable to all kinds of imperfection. We must also suspect and question our own ideas as we perform our investigations to avoid falling into prejudice or careless thinking.” ~ Ibn al-Hasan

“Some men consider a godless world to be a terrifying prospect; others experience it as a refreshing, exhilarating challenge. How a person will react to atheism depends only on himself—and the extent to which he is willing to assume responsibility for his own choices and actions.” ~ George H. Smith

“The more I learned about the history of religion, the more my earlier misgivings appeared justified. The doctrines that I had accepted without question as a child were indeed man-made, constructed over a long period. Science seemed to have disposed of the Creator God, and Biblical scholars had proved that Jesus had never claimed to be divine. As an epileptic, I had flashes of vision that I knew to be a mere neurobiological defect; had the visions and raptures of the saints also been a mere mental quirk?” ~ Karen Armstrong

You are reading quotations about doubt on ValuesoftheWise.com

“Religion will possess strength to the extent that it codifies and puts into enduring, poetic form the highest values of humanity consistent with empirical knowledge. That is the only way to provide compelling moral leadership. Blind faith, no matter how passionately expressed, will not suffice.” ~ Edward O. Wilson

“I find every sect, as far as reason will help them, makes use of it gladly: and where it fails them, they cry out, ‘It is matter of faith, and above reason.’” ~ John Locke

“The skeptic does not mean he who doubts, but he who investigates or researches, as opposed to he who asserts and thinks he has found.” ~ Miguel de Unamuno

“I don’t propose to tell anybody what to believe, but for me, believing when there is no compelling evidence is a mistake. The idea is to withhold belief until there is compelling evidence. If the universe does not comply with our predispositions, okay now we have a wrenching obligation to accommodate to the way the universe really is.” ~ Carl Sagan

“…there is a final reason why money can’t buy happiness: the things that really matter aren’t sold in stores. Love, friendship, family, respect, a place in the community, the belief that your life has purpose – those are the essentials of human fulfillment, and they cannot be purchased with cash.” ~ Greg Easterbrook

“I observe God’s Golden Rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. If you want healthcare, ensure that every man, woman, and child has healthcare. If you want a home to call your own, ensure that everyone in the United States has a home. You want to have enough to eat; then you have to ensure that every person has enough to eat. If this sounds like Socialism, it is not; it is Christianity at its core.” ~ Donna Reuter

“If you see some great and beautiful building, would you infer, because the architect is not immediately visible, that it must have been built by mice and weasels?” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

“Throughout his Meditations (A.D. 167), the emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius, moving in the unstable world of Roman politics, continually reminded himself that any comment made about his character or achievements had to be subjected to the test of reason before he allowed it to affect his self-conception.” ~ Alain de Botton

You are reading quotations about doubt on ValuesoftheWise.com

“Nature, and Nature’s Laws, lay hid in Night/ God said, ‘Let Newton be!’, and All was Light.” ~ Alexander Pope

“The outcome of philosophy is always precarious, and often unforeseeable.” ~ Irving Singer

“Many large-hearted people for whom the absence of religious belief was a consciously-felt loss are grateful to Friedrich Nietzsche for giving them the lead.” ~ Bryan Magee

“What we know of the external world factually takes the form of phenomena. The question is: How accurately does our mental representation of reality reflect actual reality? Immanuel Kant makes a distinction between phenomena and the realm beyond experience, which he refers to as noumena – the thing as it really is.” ~ Daniel N. Robinson

“To be boosted by an illusion is not to live better than to live in harmony with the truth; it is not nearly so safe, not nearly so sweet, and not nearly so fruitful. These refusals to part with a decayed illusion are really an infection to the mind. Believe, certainly; we cannot help believing; but believe rationally, holding what seems certain for certain, what seems probable for probable, what seems desirable for desirable, and what seems false for false.” ~ George Santayana

“For Twain, we are to the creator of the universe as a scientist’s vial of microbes would be to the Emperor of China: it’s unlikely that he even notices we exist, but impossible that he cares for some of us and is angry at others. Yet Twain had a strong belief in God: ‘The myriad wonders and glories and charms and perfections of this infinite universe’ are all ‘slaves of a system of exact and inflexible law,’ and when we realize this, ‘we seem to know—not suppose nor conjecture, but know—that the God that brought this stupendous fabric into being…is endowed with limitless power.’” ~ Jennifer Michael Hecht

“Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned.” ~ Mark Twain

“Einstein’s early suspicion of authority, which never wholly left him, was to prove of decisive importance. For without it, he would not have been able to develop the powerful independence of mind that gave him the courage to challenge established scientific beliefs and thereby revolutionize physics.” ~ Banesh Hoffmann

You are reading quotations about doubt on ValuesoftheWise.com

“Morality and religion have become so intertwined that many people cannot conceive of ethics divorced from god, even in principle—which leads to the assumption that the atheist is out to destroy values. Atheism, however, is not the destruction of morality; it is the destruction of supernatural morality.” ~ George H. Smith

“…it is nothing short of monstrous that God should look on while every criminal is allowed to achieve his purpose against the innocent.” ~ Anicius Boethius

“A lively, disinterested, persistent looking for truth is extraordinarily rare. Action and faith enslave thought, both of them in order not to be troubled or inconvenienced by reflection, criticism or doubt. ~ Henri-Frederic Amiel

“Are your opinions yours? I am talking about the idea that the majority might be wrong. To be virtuous involves not doing what everybody else does simply because they do it, since they might all be mistaken.” ~ Colin McGinn

“If there is to be toleration in the world, one of the things taught in schools must be the habit of weighing evidence, and the practice of not giving full assent to propositions which there is no reason to believe true.” ~ Bertrand Russell

“I believe that a triangle, if it could speak, would in like manner say that God is eminently triangular, and a circle that the divine nature is eminently circular; thus would every one ascribe his own attributes to God.” ~ Baruch Spinoza

“Intelligence is characterized by a natural inability to understand life.” ~ Henri Bergson

“We humanists try to behave as decently, as fairly, and as honorably as we can without any expectation of rewards or punishments in an afterlife.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

“To seek a ‘warrant’ for a given belief is to seek a justification that would distinguish the belief from a merely preferred fantasy.” ~ Daniel N. Robinson

You are reading quotations about doubt on ValuesoftheWise.com

“The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man’s image; so there can be no church whose central teachings are based on it. Hence, it is precisely among the heretics of every age that we find men who were filled with this highest kind of religious feeling and were in many cases regarded by their contemporaries as atheists; sometimes also as saints.” ~ Albert Einstein

“Do not allow yourselves to be deceived: great minds are skeptical.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

“You should start by being skeptical about anything that comes to you from any sort of power system – and about everything else too. You should be skeptical about what I tell you – why should you believe a word of it? I got my own ax to grind. So figure it out for yourself. There really is no other answer.” ~ Noam Chomsky

“The fundamentalist doesn’t guess or argue or wonder or question. He doesn’t have to; he knows. … And what the fundamentalist knows is true. It isn’t a proposition, held provisionally, to be tested by further evidence. It isn’t an argument from which he could be dissuaded by something we call reason. It isn’t something that is ever subject to change – what is fundamentally true now, by definition, must be true for all time. For the fundamentalist, there is not a category of things called facts and a separate category called values. The values of the fundamentalist are facts.” ~ Andrew Sullivan

“The courage to trust reason requires risking isolation or aloneness, and this threat is, to many, even harder to bear than the threat of [loss of] life. Yet the pursuit of the truth by necessity exposes the searcher to this very danger of isolation.” ~ Erich Fromm

“Philosophers are interested in justifying their answers to questions…that appear to reach beyond the point where science might provide us with answers. While religion tries to provide answers, it doesn’t always attempt to make a reasoned case for accepting them. Often, the answers are handed down by a religious authority to be accepted on faith.” ~ Stephen Law

“Religion is a monumental chapter in the history of human egotism.” ~ William James

“All Dogs Go to Heaven? Sorry, kids. It’s only the dogs who’ve accepted Christ.” ~ Stephen Colbert

“Rene Descartes insisted upon systematic doubt as the first principle of learning. By his light all knowledge was to be laid out and tested upon the iron frame of logic. He allowed himself only one undeniable premise, captured in the celebrated phrase Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am).” ~ E. O. Wilson

“Men think themselves free because they are conscious of their volitions and desires, but are ignorant of the causes by which they are led to wish and desire.” ~ Baruch Spinoza

“Faith: not wanting to know what is true.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

“Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true.” ~ Francis Bacon

“How thoughtful of God to arrange matters so that, wherever you happen to be born, the local religion always turns out to be the true one.” ~ Richard Dawkins


If you enjoyed these quotations about doubt and skepticism, feel free to visit https://valuesofthewise.com/wisdom-archive/ and search for hundreds more. Always free! Only on ValuesoftheWise.com

Here is Jennifer Michael Hecht’s page on Doubt: A History, her well-regarded and well-researched book. In it, one will find a wide array of quotations about doubt, skepticism, and atheism.

Here is a page about skepticism.