Sunday, April 13, 2008

101 Atheist Quotes

I just came across a very good list of 101 atheist quotes collected by The Atheist Blogger; there are several gems so check it out. My favorite (among the ones not familiar to me): "The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike." - Delos B. McKown.

There are, I should note, a number of apparent misquotes and misattributions. Mark Twain (d. 1910), for example, surely could not have known the universe was billions of years old and the quote attributed to Hobbes (assuming "Thomas Hobbs" refers to Thomas Hobbes) fails my smell test (and Google knows it not).

Hat tip: David Spurrett.


  1. Hey, thanks for the linkback!

    I researched the majority of these quotes beforehand, and both Google and Yahoo return many claims attributing the quote to Mark Twain. The age of the Universe was well known when he was alive..."billions and billions of years" isn't a new theory :P.

    Also, try searching Yahoo next time (I prefer it over Google) - Thomas Hobbes

    You will find a load of references attributing the quote to Hobbes.

    Cheers for reading :D

  2. Hi Adrian,

    The billions estimate for the age of the universe was first proffered in the 20th century: Since Twain died in 1910, I'm guessing Kelvin's estimate of 24 million years was most widely known when he was still writing. So it looks unlikely that Twain wrote that. But I'd be happy to stand corrected if you can find a reference to a text of Twain's.

    As for Hobbes, that quote doesn't pass my smell test because, intuitively, it's not the sort of think I think Hobbes would have written. And the link you provide has the quote only in "lists of quotes" (same as Google finds) but such lists are notoriously bad at attribution. Again, if you can provide a textual reference I'd be happy to stand corrected.

    It's a good list though. :-)

  3. Well people like Aristotle and the like first proposed the idea of an "infinite" universe (the idea that the universe never had a beginning). Anyway, seems to quote it, and has sourced it to "The God Delusion", I'm not saying this is accurate, just that an influential book has listed the quote.

    As for the Thomas Hobbes quote, I'll have to admit defeat there :D I couldn't find it anywhere. My previous source was evidently inaccurate. I've removed it from the page (replaced by "anonymous"). Still a good quote :D

  4. Yeah, it looks very, very unlikely Hobbes would have written that. (Were pills even invented in the 17th century?).

    On Twain... well, if he thought the universe were infinite, why not say trillions? Or Quadrillions? Or 'for an infinity'? Besides, quotes are so often just copied and repeated without source checking that I would not be surprised at all if Dawkins was guilty of the same. It's highly suspicious, for example, that I can't find the quote with Google Book search.

  5. Actually, I was wrong that Twain couldn't have know the universe was billions of years old. In 1895 one John Perry published a paper in Nature advocating an age of billions of years or more, see:

  6. In 1691, Edmund Halley (yeah, the guy of comet fame) pointed out that if the oceans of Earth were originally fresh water, it would take at least 100 million and possibly as long as a billion years for the mineral content carried down by the rivers to build up the oceans' present-day salt concentration. The uncertainties in this approach should be manifest — rates change, the starting point isn't known, etc. — but it does show people thinking in billion-year timescales, back when Isaac Newton was still kickin' around being a jerk to everybody!

    I first read about this in an Isaac Asimov book called Beginnings: The Story of Origins — Life, the Earth, the Universe (1989 paperback).