Qwerky Quotes for the Inquisitive: Tobias Smollet

The human mind derives all of its knowledge from experience; no experience can give us an insight into what preceded our existence, into what is to follow it, nor into what supports it at present. In what manner have we received life? What is the spring upon which it depends? How is our brain capable of ideas and memory? In what manner do our limbs obey every motion of the will? Of all this we are entirely ignorant… The most profound philosophers are no more able to solve these questions than the most ignorant of men. All these questions may be reduced to the vulgar proverb: Was the hen before the egg, or the egg before the hen? The proverb is rather low, but it confounds the utmost penetration of human wisdom, which is utterly at a loss with regard to first principles of things without supernatural assistance.

Tobias Smollet, footnote from Voltaire’s The Lisbon Earthquake as contained in The Portable Voltaire


12 thoughts on “Qwerky Quotes for the Inquisitive: Tobias Smollet

  1. Fortunately, the ‘confounding’ proverb is no longer valid because we have a way – method – to actually investigate these questions. It’s called methodological naturalism and it works consistently and reliably well to produce a non-stop stream of highly useful applications we can trust (and we do). We no longer need to grant confidence to such ignorant propositions as the necessity for supernatural assistance and interventions to explain what we don’t know; what we now need to do is grant confidence to the productive method of inquiry we call science and stop pretending that it is insufficient..


    1. Let me quote Macrobius:

      “You jest about what you suppose to be a triviality, in asking whether the hen came first from an egg or the egg from a hen, but the point should be regarded as one of importance, one worthy of discussion, and careful discussion at that.”

      So, which came first, the hen or the egg? How does methodological naturalism explain it? What evidence does methodological naturalism offer to the inquisitive among us? And does explaining how something works solve where it came from?

      I do hope you’ll try to answer these. Your post-and-run behavior lately has been a little bit silly.


  2. “It’s really an example of what Dawkins calls the discontinuous mind. There were birds, laying eggs, which we would not call chickens. Many generations later, there were descendant birds, also laying eggs, which we would call chickens. In between, there’s a continuum of bird generations, in which no two adjacent samples would be considered of distinct species. Where do you draw the line between pre-chicken and chicken? The real answer is that you don’t. Given perfect sampling, there is no line at all. Only via the extinction of intermediates can there be species at all.

    But Jerry’s overall conclusion is necessarily correct. If you insisted on drawing a line, it would be one demarcated by DNA, and that DNA would be inside an egg, building the world’s first chicken.” (Source – comment 16)


    1. Thanks for replying, man!

      Now I’ve got more questions:

      1) You quoted someone. Thanks. But that’s not evidence. Where’s the evidence? (Experiment name; scientist who conducted experiment; discovery of intermediate non-chicken-to-chicken fossil; etc.)

      Today, when we see a hen, it lays eggs. Then that egg, given proper care and environment, becomes a chicken. Now, put all the hens in the world in a laboratory, and at the end of the day you’re going to have a lot of eggs that produce chickens.

      2) Have we ever observed a hen laying something that is not an egg?

      3) Have we ever observed a non-chicken coming out of a chicken egg?

      4) And if we don’t see it happening today, why should we believe that it happened in the remote past which we can’t observe?


  3. ‘Chick’ it out yourself for #1.

    This kind of question shows you haven’t a clue what evolution means if you honestly think this is a good question. It’s just a smokescreen.

    Speciation by natural selection over time is not a process verified by one’s eyes within a single generation from but by accumulated evidence from multiple strands of inquiry, and yes, there is nothing but evidence to show physical changes over time to bring about what we call chickens. We should follow the evidence rather than simply believe and understand why evolution is fact rather than a different kind of religious belief. To highlight the differences consider these two examples:

    Let’s compare how evolution is verified with, for example with belief in Adam and Eve.

    A good example of how evolution is revealed is of Tiktaalik. That fossil is a transitional species midway between aquatic vertebrates (finned fish) and four-limbed vertebrates living on land. It was found by predicting from the theory of evolution that such a transition occurred, and by further predicting from the extensive fossil record that the fish-to-land transition was approximately 360 million years ago, before which there is nothing in the fossil record showing any four-legged vertebrates living on land. Relying on geology, an appropriately aged and conveniently exposed rock stratum was located in the Canadian Arctic that had once been an ancient shoreline. That’s where the search was conducted, and where Tiktaalik was found — exactly when and where it was predicted to have lived — simultaneously confirming the validity of evolution theory, the fossil record, and geology. That’s why historical science is scientific, even if the past can’t be re-created in a laboratory.

    In contrast, we are to take it on an ancient text’s authority that all humanity descended from a single couple. So we look to human homology and find that Adam lived some 60, 000 years prior to Eve. showing quite clearly evidence that should NOT be so if the Genesis account were in fact true. We know that we have no single couple from which humanity descended, but rather – as in the case of the chicken, humanoids evolved . Without question, we can safely conclude that we have excellent evidence that no such couple as Adam and Eve is historically true as our single fore-bearers.


    1. Thanks again for not answer my questions.

      The paper you linked to had some interesting sentences:

      According to fossil records, the present-day chicken is believed to be a descendent of Archaeopteryx, a creature with sharp teeth and winged claws, found in the Jurassic period and thought to be more than 150 million years old.

      Experts believe that Confuciusornis may have occupied this same historic period.

      You said:

      Speciation by natural selection over time is not a process verified by one’s eyes within a single generation from but by accumulated evidence from multiple strands of inquiry, and yes, there is nothing but evidence to show physical changes over time to bring about what we call chickens.

      So, where’s the evidence? If it was supposed to be in the essay that you linked to, I didn’t see it there. After all, the first sentence dealing with origins says, “According to fossil records, the present-day chicken is believed to be a descendent of Archaeopteryx, a creature with sharp teeth and winged claws, found in the Jurassic period and thought to be more than 150 million years old.”

      Now, is there evidence or do you just have to believe it? If there’s evidence, why do we have to “believe” it?

      And let’s restate the chicken or the egg in more modern clothing, OK?

      Which came first, natural selection or the cellular material upon which it depends to begin operating?

      Or how about this one:

      Which came first, the leaf-cutter ant or the specific fungus that only grows in their colonies, without which they both die?


  4. See, now you’re just quote mining. You must of skipped over In considering the use of this seemingly flawed metaphor, it is astonishing that such a debate could remain contentious, given the shear weight of scientific and historical evidence. In fact, there really is no support for the continued use of this inaccurate metaphor and to do so may demonstrate a lack of logical sophistication.

    That describes what your doing, doesn’t it? First a smokescreen and now quote mining. Golly, I wonder what you’re up to?

    This is a good general article to get you started with lots and lots of linked studies for you to dive into to your heart’s content if you honestly wish to know how the chicken has come to be through the very best evidence we have. The same is true for your other inquiries: go find out and understand why the best explanation remains evolution.

    Or do you have some other agenda (Ya think?)? Might it be that you are intentionally trying to be dishonest with wanting any other answers to your questions so that you can continue to think yourself justified to believe Oogity Boogity is responsible – if that best describes your alternative explanation – and the best one possible?


    1. “Oogity Boogity”?

      “Shear weight of scientific and historical evidence”?!

      I thought I pointed out clearly enough that, at the end of the day, it was “belief”. When the essay started into evidence, the author used the word “believe”, not me. But you’re the “eggspert”, right? ;)

      “Quote mining”?! Are you sure you’re not a Mormon? A quote is a quote because it is taken out of its context and placed in another context. That’s what the word “quote” indicates. And since you made the charge, it’s up to you to explain how my quotation of it changes its meaning.

      tildeb, let me be quite frank: You’ve grabbed hold of a theory from over a 100 years ago and are using it to explain everything and to answer questions that even the most outspoken among your kind would not use it to answer — origins. The thoughtful quote I posted brought up the idea that the human mind is at a loss to explain the origin of things without supernatural assistance. You want to say that the chicken is a descendant of a non-chicken bird. OK. Let’s say you’re right, even though we don’t observe hens having non-chickens today. So, where did that non-chicken bird come from? Where did it get the ability to lay eggs? Eventually, when your logic traces things — anything — back to its origin, you believe everything came from nothing for no reason at all. That’s your belief and that’s your religion. I don’t buy it, thank you very much. So, if nothing produces nothing, how did we get something? I’m not asking you that, but those are the kinds of questions reality forces us to consider, just as the quote indicates.

      And you still didn’t answer all my questions, not that I’m expecting you to actually do so. Since you have that habit, I won’t be responding again until you do. Why don’t you answer them instead of changing the conversation (again) to me and my level of honesty? (That’s an tired tactic that you exercise often.)

      I have no reason to or interest in trying to defend my level of honesty to you again. That’s just your smokescreen for you to pretend that you actually care about something anyway, though everything in your “world” is ultimately meaningless. If we’re to question the honesty of either of us, it would need to include you, too, man. My worldview requires that I be honest because, ultimately, I’m accountable to God, the God and Father of Jesus, for my words. What do you have to be accountable to? Nothing. So, whether or not you’re honest is of no consequence in your worldview and certainly not required. And, in your naturalistic view of the world, I find it amusing that you’d “waste” time here and care about what I write and draw. After all, in the end it is all just chemicals, without purpose and ultimately meaningless. Why not just let my chemicals fizz? Why are you trying to disrupt them, man?

      But I appreciate you taking time to respond. It shows deep down that you care about true things, even if such hypocritical behavior contradicts your worldview. The reason you care is because things do matter in reality. And its because that is the spark that God has put into every one of us. Even you.

      May I suggest that you also read some history books and some books on archaeology since your current view doesn’t seem to account for the knowledge found in those disciplines. Those might help you see that the little theory you cherish to explain everything is, indeed, a dying theory.

      Now why won’t you admit your a religious* zealot**? :D

      *Meaning, “relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality”, in your case, “evolution”.

      **Meaning, “a fanatical partisan”.


  5. You do not understand what evolution means. You do not understand what speciation means. You do not understand what ‘believe’ means in the context of your quote mining. You ask me questions for which you do not want answers unless they align with your theology. You demand I answer your questions which I have done yet refuse to accept them, substituting more questions at the low end of the stupid scale, meaning that they are the wrong questions if what you seek are honest answers based on understanding and knowledge. You accuse me of some kind of religious attachment to evolution, meaning a similar kind of faith-based belief in evolution that people hold for theological authority. This is factually incorrect and intentionally so, meaning your intellectual honesty is questionable when you have a religious agenda you are attempting to protect from legitimate inquiry into its truth claims. I do not suffer from such chauvinism. What I think comes from seeking out and attaining a good understanding of why evolution is true based on knowledge that informs my acceptance deduced entirely on evidence-based reasons and multiple alignments in different fields. Evolution as an explanation makes excellent sense in every case.

    Evolution is not only the best explanation we have but empowers applications in the real world that work consistently and reliably well. This is a tremendous advantage. If evolution were not true, these applications should not work… yet they do. It’s this reality that confounds your childish arguments against it. In comparison (which is unfair I’ll admit because theology produces no new knowledge, no workable applications, no source for new lines of inquiries, and makes attaining new knowledge that competes with its empty claims a moral vice!), you have nothing except a cherished ignorance.

    The authority you grant to Oogity Boogity through scripture (call it what you will – god, jesus, allah, jehovah, shiva, zeus, turtle, whatever – we know is factually wrong in many other alignments, meaning many its cosmological claims are wrong, its biological claims are wrong, its geographical claims are wrong, its historical claims are wrong, and so on. In other words your source for authority is highly dubious at best because we know many of its scriptural claims about the universe are factually wrong and seemingly incapable of adjustment to what is true. This is a problem if one want to inquire honestly about the universe.

    Yet no such problem exists in evidence-based knowledge. The kind of faith I have in MN is based on reasonable trust and confidence earned by consistency and reliability of applications that work. And this is no different in evolution: we based many useful and reliable applications on it and enjoy significant benefits. Medicine is filled with such applications. In comparison, theology offers us nothing but superstitious mumbo jumbo that cannot compete in efficacious applications. In areas like prayer and healing we know faith to be no better than placebo. We know it’s not efficacious. That’s the fact in spite of wishful thinking to the contrary.

    So when you pretend that evolution is sort of another kind of theology and rely on really terrible questions to pretend you are inquiring honestly into its supposed weaknesses, it is obvious you are practicing what we call lying for jesus. Your motivation is not to learn but to excuse your cherished ignorance to be equivalent in uncertainty. But you know this isn’t true. In fact you don’t wish to learn, you don’t wish to understand, you don’t wish to increase your knowledge and you try to shift that intellectual intransigence onto others for not doing a good enough job to move you into the light of respecting reason and what works. Well, guess what? You have every right to remain as ignorant as you want and that’s fine. But every time you go to receive modern medical healthcare, I want you to remember that the care you are receiving is based on the pillar of knowledge we call evolution and the effect you hope to receive is evidence that it is true or you wouldn’t be there to receive it. By acting so, you are admitting that even though you don’t like to admit it, you are willing to trust your life to this understanding of evolution and the efficacious applications based on it. These applications that work are not equivalent beliefs of the religious kind and you know this. Your actions to receive medical attention that works in this regard will reveal your intellectual hypocrisy when you put aside what are the equivalent theological notions – theological notions likes prayer and healing through faith alone – and go to a real medical doctor for efficacious treatment developed from our understanding of evolution. Think on this, unless you stand by the courage of your convictions and refuse medical treatment based on what you pretend is this ‘other’ kind of religion (even though you know the equivalency is completely bogus). Somehow, I don’t think you have that intellectual courage. All you have are word games and fallacies and poor rationalizations for your theology but when push comes to shove and your life – or the life of a loved one – is on the line from a simple infection, we’ll see where your actual beliefs lie. You’ll take the antibiotics, won’t you, and perhaps ask yourself an honest question for once: why do your theological beliefs force you to be such a hypocrite? Can it be that you already know your beliefs cannot be equivalently true?


    1. tildeb, you are UNIQUE. Why? Your comments are filled with claims of “truth”, calls to “honesty”, claims of “ignorance”, and sprinkles of moral and ethical concepts here and there. I sincerely don’t understand you. In a universe that is governed and guided by chance, randomness, and meaninglessness, such as the one you believe in, I’m not sure 1) why such concepts as truth, honesty, and ignorance exist there (or could exist); 2) why you would trust the imperfect by-product of a random, meaningless process to guide you. Is that what you look for in a doctor or computer?

      I’m a hypocrite. I don’t deny it. I’ve lived with the human heart for too long to deny it. If I went by my own subjective standard, I’m sure I’d make myself look OK. Sadly, the Bible shows me to be nothing but a sinner with nothing but sin in my heart and mind. But the great thing is that the sin is the very thing that qualifies me, you, and everybody else for salvation. And thank God through Jesus, His Son, that is what He is doing. And medical doctors and science can do a lot to cure physical ailments and answer scientific questions. I wouldn’t deny that. But they don’t do very much on the great “Why?” question. They have very little offer those of us who stare at the ceiling at night wondering why anything matters anyway or why we live or where life comes from and where it goes.

      What about you? Would you admit you’re a hypocrite? Or would your own standard for yourself give you a passing grade? (Convenient!) After all, you’re being very hypocritical yourself. You come here posting things as if anything actually matters anyway. Yet the universe which you believe you inhabit is one that it ultimately meaningless. Your own actions are condemning you. If life and everything related to it — including you and me — are accidents and nothing really matters anyway, why waste your time? Think about it. Things matter. What we say, believe, and do does matter, both now and ultimately. That’s why I keep a blog. That’s why I speak of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In your worldview, all of these things — every relationship, every word, every comment — is of no more value and consequence than a frog fart.

      You claim evolution is “true” and “truth”, yet the theory and its adherents take for granted the origin of life, whose origin is scientifically impossible (Life from non-life? When? Where? Who observed it? Can it be reproduced?) apart from supernatural assistance — the type of thing the quote is pointing to. If you don’t first establish A, you can’t build on it with B, C, D, and so on.

      Interesting that you mention vaccines, which, by extension, relates to germ theory and other interesting concepts. Why don’t you take a minute to read about the origin of those, if you haven’t already. You can reference people like Luis Pasteur and others. See their motivation. What kind of motivation does someone in your kind of universe have to discover vaccines, look for the cure for cancer, and so on?

      By the way, have you read the entire Bible, from cover to cover? (I don’t mean sporadic referencing, but reading. Saying you “have several versions” is not answering the question.) It’s also interesting to note that although the Bible has hundreds of medical tips — even nearly a whole book specifically for them! — there’s not one medical misconception in it (reference None of These Diseases by Drs. S. I. McMillen and David E. Stern). (In fact, you should try the soap formula in Numbers 19.) But, wait! you have little interest in actual, recorded history and facts that disagree with your worldview, right? Or, no, you are totally open to any evidence? (Readers: See whose comments give you this impression.) And the Bible is just silly, hocus pocus anyway. Oh, and you’ve actually read the whole thing, so I don’t need to tell you.

      You have some sort of latent need for attention, I think. Otherwise, I have no reason to understand why my “ignorance” is any concern of yours in a universe that it ultimately meaningless. You have shown us your disregard for a lot of recorded human history — especially any of it that is in the Bible — and your very limited understanding of various religious teachings, including but not limited to Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and so on. My major and my major interests are not science experiments. If you want me to admit that, I have no problem doing so. You may rise up and say, “Ah ha! See! You’re an idiot! You don’t know anything about science. Believe what I tell you and shut up!” But note that I said my major wasn’t science and my major interest isn’t science experiments; I didn’t say I didn’t know anything about them. By contrast:Was your major history? Was your major theology? Was your major philosophy? If not, then does that, in turn, mean you are equally unqualified to make statements regarding religion, philosophy, and history?

      I’m also happy that you described my questions as being “on the low end of the stupid scale, meaning that they are the wrong questions if what you seek are honest answers based on understanding and knowledge”. You continue to broadcast your ignorance of a total stranger (as I am to you). That you refused to answer them directly, clearly, or both is very telling. Are you honestly trying to convince someone of your position, or are just trying to be a keyboard commando? I could throw out link after link, but I enjoy personal communication. Indulge me, please.

      By the way, my comment about you being a “religious zealot” was a tongue-in-cheek thing. I wanted to see how you’d react. ;)

      One final note: Your comments and your information are appreciated, regardless of how strongly I disagree with them. In fact, I printed out the 7-page article, read it completely, and made several notes in the margin. I even strongly AGREE with almost the entire epilogue. (It was very well written, that section at least.) I wonder if you’d do the same thing with any links I left. Would you? If you will, then just read this short, simple 2 page article from Scientific American (not a Creationist magazine), titled, “Pssst! Don’t tell the creationists, but scientists don’t have a clue how life began”. It, unlike the article you linked to, is a recent article — from February of this year, in fact. The author, John Horgan , who’s neither a Creationist or a Christian, says very bluntly, “This fact turned the origin of life into a classic chicken-or-egg puzzle: Which came first, proteins or DNA?”

      How would you answer him?

      I’m sorry that I don’t have more time to devote to replying to you on this thread.


  6. The right question for you to ask about the chicken and the egg is:

    How do we know?

    This leads us to more questions and a deeper understanding of the complexities inherent in evolution. Evolution, as anyone who knows what that term means, has nothing whatsoever to do with abiogensis. The best we will ever know about this moment are through probabilities that given enough time certain chemical reactions between elements will produce certain compounds that, when activated by energy, will make more complex compounds that will eventually link into simple proteins that link into more complex protein chains to create amino acids and so on.

    But no matter how one comes at abiogenesis, the answer to that will lead inevitably through evolution, which will then entail coming to appreciate all the good reasons based on overwhelming evidence why it is true and how powerfully it informs how we know the egg came first and led to the evolution of today’s chicken.

    But you have already rejected this entire process of honest inquiry because you think you already have a satisfactory answer that it comes from some Oogity Boogity agency… as if this is the alternative to reality-based knowledge that admits gaps and uncertainties and areas open to further investigation. Of course, failing to appreciate why this false dichotomy reveals a broken epistemology eludes those who approach understanding with an agenda to support some faith-based belief ideology. There is nothing I or anyone can do to alter you from first assuming your poor theological reasons backed by no good evidence is adequate or sufficient. If you don;t care about what is true but seek confirmation only for what you believe is true then you have already closed your mind. I merely seek to crack it open because I think every human mind is capable. And that’s why I call your questions dishonest because you do not seek honest answers. You think you already know.

    It’s not my job to answer your questions when both you and I know perfectly well that you seek only confirmation for your beliefs. I cannot provide that. But what I can offer is honest criticism of your approach, letting other readers know why and how it does not seek what is true but attempts to bolster only what you believe must be true. It is an error of method leading you into answers unaccountable to reality. I seek what is true and what is knowable about this reality whereas you have already left the building of human knowledge for aid and comfort in the revival tent.

    And, by the way, my atheism is based on academically studying scriptural incoherencies found within the bible (which necessitates reading many versions of it) and a similar although private undertaking of reading the scriptures of the world’s major theologies. They are incompatible in their truth claims, by the way, so we must somehow figure out which, if any, might actually be more accurate and perhaps even true… which means we come right back to the right question: how do we know? Belief is insufficient.


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