Category Archives: Harriet Martineau

There Is No God, and Harriet Martineau Is His Prophet

Prophet: Harriet Martineau? William Tweed? John Tyndall? Auguste Comte? Robert G. Ingersoll? Karl Marx? Charles Darwin? Herbert Spencer? Henry George Atkinson? Paul Dirac? Felix Adler?
Critic: Mark Twain? Douglas William Jerrold? George Grote? J. P. Jacobsen? Isaac M. Wise? Wolfgang Pauli?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent physicist Paul Dirac was hostile toward religion, and sometimes he would lecture his colleagues on the topic. One fellow scientist responded with a humorous summary of Dirac’s metaphysical position:

There is no God and Dirac is His prophet.

Do you know who crafted this expression? Would you please explore its history?

Quote Investigator: Substantive evidence indicates that physicist Wolfgang Pauli coined the statement above, but this template has an extensive history, and many different names have appeared in analogous phrases in the past.

The earliest template matches located by QI referred to Harriet Martineau and Henry George Atkinson who together published a controversial work titled “Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development” in 1851. 1 Contemporaries believed that the duo was espousing atheism, and both faced tremendous criticism; in April 1851 a periodical about mesmerism printed a statement referring to Atkinson. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

A celebrated wit declares the great religious view of the book to be, There is no God, and Mr. Atkinson is his prophet.—Zoist.

In July 1851 a piece in “The Worcestershire Chronicle” of Worcestershire, England discussed an essay that analyzed the pair’s book. The following jest was aimed at Martineau: 3

Two valuable essays on “The History of Logic” and “Primitive Alphabets” are followed by one on “Materialism,” in which Miss Martineau and her tutor, “Henry George Atkinson, F.G.S.,” are treated to a little commonsense criticism. Her theory—so ably epitomised by a popular writer of the present day—”that there is no God, and that Miss Martineau is his prophet,” finds no quarter at the hands of the talented reviewer…

The “popular writer” was probably the dramatist Douglas William Jerrold as stated in a September 1851 newspaper item. Additional selected citations in chronological order appear below. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1851, Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development by Henry George Atkinson and Harriet Martineau, Published by Josiah P. Mendum, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1851 April, The Zoist: A Journal of Cerebral Physiology & Mesmerism and Their Applications to Human Welfare, Number 33, XVII: The Fire-away Style of Philosophy briefly Examined and Illustrated by Anti-Glorioso, Footnote, Start Page 65, Quote Page 67, Hippolyte Bailliere, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1851 July 23, Worcestershire Chronicle, Literary Notices: The Church of England Quarterly Review, Quote Page 6, Column 2, Worcestershire, England. (British Newspaper Archive)