Friday, June 10, 2005


"If a faithful account was rendered of Man's ideas upon Divinity, he would be obliged to acknowledge, that for the most part the word "gods" has been used to express the concealed, remote, unknown causes of the effects he witnessed; that he applies this term when the spring of the natural, the source of known causes, ceases to be visible: as soon as he loses the thread of these causes, or as soon as his mind can no longer follow the chain, he solves the difficulty, terminates his research, by ascribing it to his gods . . . . When, therefore, he ascribes to his gods the production of some phenomenon . . . does he, in fact, do any thing more than substitute for the darkness of his own mind, a sound to which he has been accustomed to listen with reverential awe?" —Paul Heinrich Dietrich, Baron von Holbach, Systeme de la Nature, London, 1770


Following are the intellectual conditions by which a nation grows great. Let's hope that under the Bushite fundamentalists America does not slip into superstitious and religious ignorance which will make us a second rate nation. Already we are behind Europe and some Asian countries in economic and educational standards, and our health care is also falling behind. I hope that some future historian may not have to speak of the U.S. as a place science and reason were "once upon a time" honored.

"Never before or since has Holland been the world power it was then. A small country, forced to live by its wits, its foreign policy contained a strong pacifist element. Because of its tolerance for unorthodox opinions, it was a haven for intellectuals who were refugees from censorship and thought control elsewhere in Europe—much as the United States benefited enormously in the 1930's by the exodus of intellectuals from Nazi-dominated Europe. So seventeenth-century Holland was the home of the great Jewish philosopher Spinoza, whom Einstein admired; of Descartes, a pivotal figure in the history of mathematics and philosophy; and of John Locke, a political scientist who influenced a group of philosophically inclined revolutionaries named Paine, Hamilton, Adams, Franklin and Jefferson. Never before or since has Holland been graced by such a galaxy of artists and scientists, philosophers and mathematicians.

The connection between Holland as an exploratory power and Holland as an intellectual and cultural center was very strong. The improvement of sailing ships encouraged technology of all kinds. People enjoyed working with their hands. Inventions were prized. Technological advance required the freest possible pursuit of knowledge, so Holland became the leading publisher and bookseller in Europe, translating works written in other languages and permitting the publication of works proscribed elsewhere. Adventures into exotic lands and encounters with strange societies shook complacency, challenged thinkers to reconsider the prevailing wisdom and showed that ideas that had been accepted for thousands of years—for example, on geography—were fundamentally in error. In a time when kings and emperors ruled much of the world, the Dutch Republic was governed, more than any other nation, by the people. The openness of the society and its encouragement of the life of the mind, its material well-being and its commitment to the exploration and utilization of new worlds generated a joyful confidence in the human enterprise." (from Sagan's COSMOS, pp. 141-143)

"'Irrationality' originally meant only that a number could not be expressed as a ratio." —Carl Sagan in COSMOS.

"Now 'irrationality' is synonymous with evangelical Christianity." —George Thomas

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