Isaac Asimov — a Quote


“Why continue? Because we must. Because we have the call. Because it is nobler to fight for rationality without winning than to give up in the face of continued defeats. Because whatever true progress humanity makes is through the rationality of the occasional individual and because any one individual we may win for the cause may do more for humanity than a hundred thousand who hug their superstitions to their breast.”

Ike Asimov on Theology & Hell


“If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words. I think he would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God, and whose every deed is foul, foul, foul.

I would also want a God who would not allow a Hell. Infinite torture can only be a punishment for infinite evil, and I don’t believe that infinite evil can be said to exist even in the case of Hitler. Besides, if most human governments are civilized enough to try to eliminate torture and outlaw cruel and unusual punishments, can we expect anything less of an all-merciful God?

I feel that if there were an afterlife, punishment for evil would be reasonable and of a fixed term. And I feel that the longest and worst punishment should be reserved for those who slandered God by inventing Hell.”

Ike’s Coming Out


Dr. Asimov was one of the first scientific skeptics I was introduced to through my SF fandom in my early teens by way of his numerous nonfiction works, such as the collection of essays, X stands for Unknown, particularly the last chapter, which I would cause much gratuitous eldritch mischief to get a new copy of…

*chortle* *waves tentacles*

Anyhoo, though it’s not set in stone that you have to be an atheist to be a skeptic, and I know two words to refute the claim that you do – Martin Gardner – I found Asimov’s status as a religious nonbeliever unsurprising, but the quote below puts that status, and what it meant to him, in his own words, more succinctly and perhaps more accurately than I suspect myself to at times.

It would seem that there are facts we must all face, realities we must confront, or be taken by our own subtle and powerful means of self-deception…

I also thought it interesting that he had written a bit of biblical scholarship that I’m interested in locating a good copy of also, since the best commentary on written works is done through honest, and therefore fair, critical scrutiny…par for the course for a good skeptic like Asimov.

It was he who pointed me in the direction of the passage Isaiah 40:22 in the Old Testament describing part of the cosmology of the early Hebrews, gotten from the science of the Babylonians (the best in that region at the time, though far short of where we are now) featuring a flat, circular Earth, and an interesting reference to grasshoppers as a metaphor of smallness and thus insignificance…

…since bacteria or viruses were an unknown then.

Asimov was not known for modesty, kinda like Troythulu, and throughout his works I’ve found his honesty about this and other matters refreshing. If you were an idiot, he would tell you so, in as articulate, polite, and devastatingly a manner as possible given the considerable intellectual resources at his disposal…

But his wit, brilliance, well-mannered charm, and the strength of his friendships go unchallenged to this day…

…and so here’s the quote…

I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I’ve been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn’t have. Somehow, it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I’m a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.

Isaac Asimov (Russian: Айзек Азимов; c. January 2, 1920[1] – April 6, 1992)

Ike could explain darn near any concept easily to perhaps even the densest of us, and indeed, he has been called “the Great Explainer” by none other than the subject of yesterday’s post, Carl Sagan.

I’ve got a long way to catch up with the works of such a prolific author, but that’s something to be done in due time. Fnord.

The Great Explainer Discusses Coincidence


Dr. Isaac Asimov, head-and-shoulders portrait,...

Image via Wikipedia

This is something I run into a lot with paranormal believers: the reflexive tendency to attribute anything, any odd event that they can’t make immediate sense of, with supernatural meaning, as something inexplicable…”beyond science” as it were.

But you know…Somehow I think not…

Ike Asimov was keenly aware of this in his dealings with people in general – and not just kooks – but perfectly sane, otherwise reasonable people unaware of the laws of probability, which, let’s face it, are pretty hard for even the smartest of us without the hands-on training to understand them.

Humans suck at intuitively judging probability, particularly such things as the Monty Hall problem, the Birthday Paradox and the Law of large numbers for starters.

It’s why humans had to invent statistics, to allow us to overcome that natural handicap through education. It’s one reason we have education, such as that sometimes is…

Knowledge is power, and not just knowledge we can use for practical purposes, but knowledge for its own sake, contrary to instrumentalist ideology.

People are entirely too disbelieving of coincidence. They are far too ready to dismiss it and to build arcane structures of extremely rickety substance in order to avoid it. I, on the other hand, see coincidence everywhere as an inevitable consequence of the laws of probability, according to which having no unusual coincidence is far more unusual than any coincidence could possibly be.

Isaac Asimov

Dr. Asimov, you’ve hit the nail right on the head, and I doubt at this point that I could have put it better myself. Peace out…