Quotes about belief and faith

Compiled by Jim Walker

I chose the following quotes about belief and faith, not because they apply specifically to religion, politics, or an ideology but because they apply to any form of belief or faith.


There are, in effect, two things: to know and to believe one knows. To know is science. To believe one knows is ignorance.


Every man prefers belief to the exercise of judgment.

--Seneca the Younger

Faith means not wanting to know what is true.

--Friedrich Nietzsche

Toward no crimes have men shown themselves so cold-bloodedly cruel as in punishing differences of belief.

--James Russell Lowell (Literary Essays, Witchcraft)

For ages, a deadly conflict has been waged between a few brave men and women of thought and genius upon the one side, and the great ignorant religious mass on the other. This is the war between Science and Faith. The few have appealed to reason, to honor, to law, to freedom, to the known, and to happiness here in this world. The many have appealed to prejudice, to fear, to miracle, to slavery, to the unknown, and to misery hereafter. The few have said "Think" The many have said "Believe!"

--Robert Ingersoll, (Gods)

We should be agnostic about those things for which there is no evidence. We should not hold beliefs merely because they gratify our desires for afterlife, immortality, heaven, hell, etc.

--Julian Huxley

No theory is too false, no fable too absurd, no superstition too degrading for acceptance when it has become embedded in common belief. Men will submit themselves to torture and to death, mothers will immolate [burn] their children at the bidding of beliefs they thus accept.

--Henry George

The division between faith and reason is a half-measure, till it is frankly admitted that faith has to do with fiction, and reason with fact.

--Sir Leslie Stephen

Second order effects, such as belief in belief, makes fanaticism.

--Alfred Korzybski (Science and Sanity, 1933)

As words are not the things we speak about, and structure is the only link between them, structure becomes the only content of knowledge. If we gamble on verbal structures that have no observable empirical structures, such gambling can never give us any structural information about the world. Therefore such verbal structures are structurally obsolete, and if we believe in them, they induce delusions or other semantic disturbances.

--Alfred Korzybski (Science and Sanity, 1933)

If we, who live outside asylums, act as if we lived in a fictitious world-- that is to say, if we are consistent with our beliefs-- we cannot adjust ourselves to actual conditions, and so fall into many avoidable semantic difficulties. But the so-called normal person practically never abides by his beliefs, and when his beliefs are building for him a fictitious world, he saves his neck by not abiding by them. A so-called "insane" person acts upon his beliefs, and so cannot adjust himself to a world which is quite different from his fancy.

--Alfred Korzybski (Science and Sanity, 1933)

The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it. It is not disbelief that is dangerous to our society; it is belief.

--George Bernard Shaw

[T]he ultimate decision about what is accepted as right and wrong will be made not by individual human wisdom but by the disappearance of the groups that have adhered to the "wrong" beliefs.

--F.A. Hayek

The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.

--George Orwell

It is customary to suppose that, if a belief is widespread, there must be something reasonable about it. I do not think this view can be held by anyone who has studied history. Practically all the beliefs of savages are absurd. In early civilizations there may be as much as one percent for which there is something to be said. In our own day (but at this point I must be careful), we all know that there are absurd beliefs in Soviet Russia. If we are Protestants, we know that there are absurd beliefs among Catholics. If we are Catholics, we know that there are absurd beliefs among Protestants. If we are Conservatives, we are amazed by the superstitions to be found in the Labour Party. If we are Socialists, we are aghast at the credulity of Conservatives. I do not know, dear reader, what your beliefs may be, but whatever they may be, you must concede that nine-tenths of the beliefs of nine-tenths of mankind are totally irrational. The beliefs in question are, of course, those which you do not hold. I cannot, therefore, think it presumptuous to doubt something which has long been held to be true, especially when this opinion has only prevailed in certain geographical regions, as is the case with all theological opinions. My conclusion is that there is no reason to believe any of the dogmas of traditional theology and, further, that there is no reason to wish that they were true. Man, in so far as he is not subject to natural forces, is free to work out his own destiny. The responsibility is his, and so is the opportunity.

--Bertrand Russell (Is There a God?, 1952)

FAITH, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.

--Ambrose Bierce (The Devil's Dictionary)

A man full of faith is simply one who has lost the capacity for clear and realistic thought.

--Henry Mencken

Belief is an obsolete Aristotelian category.

--Dr. Jack Sarfatti, physicist

Beliefs are what divide people. Doubt unites them.

--Peter Ustinov

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.

--Philip K. Dick

My own opinion is that belief is the death of intelligence. As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence.

--Robert Anton Wilson, (Cosmic Trigger, 1977)

Whenever people are certain they understand our peculiar situation here on this planet, it is because they have accepted a religious Faith or a secular Ideology (Ideologies are the modern form of Faiths) and just stopped thinking.

--Robert A. Wilson (Cosmic Trigger II, 1991)

Don't believe anything. Regard things on a scale of probabilities. The things that seem most absurd, put under 'Low Probability', and the things that seem most plausible, you put under 'High Probability'. Never believe anything. Once you believe anything, you stop thinking about it. The more things you believe, the less mental activity. If you believe something, and have an opinion on every subject, then your brain activity stops entirely, which is clinically considered a sign of death, nowadays in medical practice. So put things on a scale or probability, and never believe or disbelieve anything entirely.

--Robert  Anton Wilson

Belief Systems contradict both science and ordinary "common sense." B.S. contradicts science, because it claims certitude and science can never achieve certitude: it can only say, "This model"-- or theory, or interpretation of the data-- "fits more of the facts known at this date than any rival model." We can never know if the model will fit the facts that might come to light in the next millennium or even in the next week.

--Robert Anton Wilson (TSOG: The Thing That Ate The Constitution)

Death makes me realize how deeply I have internalized the agnosticism I preach in all my books. I consider dogmatic belief and dogmatic denial very childish forms of conceit in a world of infinitely whirling complexity. None of us can see enough from one corner of space-time to know "all" about the rest of space-time.

--Robert Anton Wilson (TSOG: The Thing That Ate The Constitution)

The Principle of Uncertainty fixed once for all the realisation that all knowledge is limited. It is an irony of history that at the very time when this was being worked out there should rise, under Hitler in Germany and other tyrants elsewhere, a counter-conception: a principle of monstrous certainty. When the future looks back on the 1930s it will think of them as a crucial confrontation of culture as I have been expounding it, the ascent of man, against the throwback to the despots' belief that they have absolute certainty.

--Jacob Bronowski (The Ascent of Man "Knowledge or Certainty")

Science alone of all the subjects contains within itself the lesson of the danger of belief in the infallibility of the greatest teachers of the preceding generation.

--Richard Feynman

You can't convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it's based on a deep-seated need to believe.

--Carl Sagan

God is by definition the holder of all possible knowledge, it would be impossible for him to have faith in anything. Faith, then, is built upon ignorance and hope.

--Steve Allen (More Steve Allen, on the Bible Religion & Morality)

A faith that cannot survive collision with the truth is not worth many regrets.

--Arthur C. Clarke

'Believing' cannot tip the scales in making a historical judgement about whether something really happened. I can choose to believe that George Washington threw a silver dollar across the Rappahannock, but my believing that he did it has nothing to do with whether or not he really did do it. So also with the story of Jesus walking on water: Believing that he did it has nothing to do with whether he really did do it. 'Belief' cannot be the basis for historical conclusions; it has no direct relevance.

--Marcus J. Borg ("Faith and Scholarship," August, 1993, Bible Review)

No amount of belief makes something a fact.

--James Randi

Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.

--Richard Dawkins (On debating religion)

Faith is belief without evidence and reason; coincidentally that's also the definition of delusion.

--Richard Dawkins

There's no point of having faith if you have evidence.

--Richard Dawkins (Deschner Preis acceptance speech)

I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief.

--Gerry Spence (How to Argue and Win Every Time)

The persistence of erroneous beliefs exacerbates the widespread anachronistic failure to recognize the urgent problems that face humanity on this planet.

--Murray Gell-Mann (Quark and the Jaguar)

Here is my challenge. Name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever. And here is my second challenge. Can any reader think of a wicked statement made, or an evil action performed, precisely because of religious faith? The second question is easy to answer, is it not? The first -- I have been asking it for some time -- awaits a convincing reply. By what right, then, do the faithful assume this irritating mantle of righteousness? They have as much to apologize for as to explain.

--Christopher Hitchens

If you want to reason about faith, and offer a reasoned (and reason-responsive) defense of faith as an extra category of belief worthy of special consideration, I'm eager to play. I certainly grant the existence of the phenomenon of faith; what I want to see is a reasoned ground for taking faith seriously as a way of getting to the truth , and not, say, just as a way people comfort themselves and each other (a worthy function that I do take seriously). But you must not expect me to go along with your defence of faith as a path to truth if at any point you appeal to the very dispensation you are supposedly trying to justify. Before you appeal to faith when reason has you backed into a corner, think about whether you really want to abandon reason when reason is on your side.

--Daniel C. Dennett (Darwin's Dangerous Idea)

I am confident that those who believe in belief are wrong. That is, we no more need to preserve the myth of God in order to preserve a just and stable society than we needed to cling to the Gold Standard to keep our currency sound. It was a useful crutch, but we've outgrown it. Denmark, according to a recent study, is the sanest, healthiest, happiest, most crime-free nation in the world, and by and large the Danes simply ignore the God issue. We should certainly hope that those who believe in belief are wrong, because belief is waning fast, and the props are beginning to buckle.

--Daniel Dennett (The folly of pretence)

Truth does not demand belief. Scientists do not join hands every Sunday, singing, "Yes, gravity is real! I will have faith! I will be strong! I believe in my heart that what goes up, up, up must come down. Amen!" If they did, we would think they were pretty insecure about it.

--Dan Barker

Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect that core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn't fit with the core belief.

--Frantz Fanon

Belief is a beautiful armor
But makes for the heaviest sword
Like punching under water
You never can hit who you're trying for

--John Mayer (Belief)

The difference between faith and insanity is that faith is the ability to hold firmly to a conclusion that is incompatible with the evidence whereas insanity is the ability to hold firmly to a conclusion that is incompatible with the evidence.

--William Harwood (Dictionary of Contemporary Mythology, London, 1st Books, 2002)

Faith is not the result of fuzy thinking. It is the cause of it.

--Dan Barker (Losing Faith in Faith)

[O]ld beliefs die hard even when demonstrably false.

--Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)

What blinds us, or makes historical progress very difficult, is our lack of awareness that our beliefs have grown obsolete and should be put aside.... This is I think much of the problem of the modern dilemma: Direct experience has been discounted, and in its place all kinds of belief systems have been erected.... If you believe something, you are automatically precluded from believing its opposite; which means that a degree of your human freedom has been forfeited in the act of committing yourself to this belief.

--Terrence McKenna

When a belief becomes dominant in American psychological circles one can be sure of one thing: that belief refers to something that no longer exists.

--Walter A. Davis (Of Pynchon, Thanatos and Depleted Uranium. Weapons of Mass Destruction Found in Iraq, 10 Oct. 04)

The beliefs that have no bases on reality need the most defending. That gives reason why religions require propaganda machines (churches), armies and conservative politics in order to force-fit their myths into pseudo realities.

--Pelican the Politician

It's not easy to change world views. Faith has its own momentum and belief is comfortable. To restructure reality is traumatic and scary. That is why many intelligent people continue to believe: unbelief is an unknown.

--Dan Barker (Losing Faith in Faith)

There seems to be a terrible misunderstanding on the part of a great many people to the effect that when you cease to believe you may cease to behave.

--Louis Kronenberger

It does require maturity to realize that models are to be used, but not to be believed.

--Henri Theil

Reason is non-negotiable. Try to argue against it, or to exclude it from some realm of knowledge, and you've already lost the argument, because you're using reason to make your case. And no, this isn't having "faith" in reason (in the same way that some people have faith in miracles), because we don't "believe" in reason; we use reason.

--Steven Pinker (Does the empirical nature of science contradict the revelatory nature of faith?)

The typical person has no trouble believing without knowing. What people need to realize is simply that you do not need to believe to know.

--Neil deGrasse Tyson

To use the term blind faith, is to use an adjective needlessly.

--Julian Ruck

You don't have to believe in science. Science proves things to you. It doesn't require an act of faith.

--Salman Rushdie (Bill Maher Live DNC Special Edition: July 28)

The one experience that I hope every student has at some point in their lives is to have some belief you profoundly, deeply hold, proved to be wrong because that is the most eye-opening experience you can have, and as a scientist, to me, is the most exciting experience I can ever have.

--Lawrence Krauss, physicist (discussion with Richard Dawkins)

As a scientist, I don't believe anything. Science shouldn't use the word belief. There are things more likely and less likely. Science can say nothing with absolute certainty.

--Lawrence Krauss (In a debate with a Muslim)