A Little Philosophy Inclineth Mans Mind to Atheism; But Depth in Philosophy, Bringeth Mens Minds about to Religion

Francis Bacon? Theophilus Gale? David Hume? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous English philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon made an intriguing assertion about atheism. Here are three versions:

(1) A little philosophy makes men atheists, though a great deal would cure them of Atheism.

(2) A little knowledge drives man away from God, but deeper knowledge brings him back.

(3) A little knowledge may take us away from God, but further knowledge will bring us back to him.

Would you please help me to find the correct phrasing and a citation?

Quote Investigator: The 1625 collection titled “The Essayes Or Covnsels, Civill and Morall” by Francis Bacon included the original version of the statement under analysis. The spelling in the 1625 text differed from modern spelling. For example, the letters “u” and “v” were sometimes swapped. The following passage employs updated spelling. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I had rather believe all the Fables in the Legend, and the Talmud, and the Alcoran, then that this universal Frame, is without a Mind. And therefore, God never wrought Miracle, to convince Atheism, because his Ordinary Works convince it. It is true, that a little Philosophy inclineth Man’s Mind to Atheism; But depth in Philosophy, bringeth Men’s Minds about to Religion.

Below is a scan of the 1625 book page showing the text above followed by additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading A Little Philosophy Inclineth Mans Mind to Atheism; But Depth in Philosophy, Bringeth Mens Minds about to Religion

Notes:

  1. 1625, The Essayes Or Covnsels, Civill and Morall, of Francis Lo. Vervlam, Viscovnt St. Alban. Newly Written, Chapter: of Atheisme, Quote Page 90, Printed by John Haviland for Hanna Barret, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Never Attribute to Malice That Which Is Adequately Explained by Stupidity

Robert Heinlein? Napoleon Bonaparte? Ayn Rand? David Hume? Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? Robert J. Hanlon? Arthur Cushman McGiffert? William James Laidlay? Ernst Haeckel? Thomas F. Woodlock? Nick Diamos?

Dear Quote Investigator: It is easy to impute hostility to the actions of others when a situation is actually unclear. A popular insightful adage attempts to constrain this type of bitter speculation. Here are two versions:

  1. Never ascribe to malice, that which can be explained by stupidity
  2. Don’t ascribe to malice what can be plainly explained by incompetence.

This notion has been attributed to military leader Napoleon Bonaparte, to science fiction author Robert Heinlein, and to others. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive support for ascribing the statement to Napoleon Bonaparte. Robert Heinlein did include a thematically similar remark in a 1941 short story.

The earliest close match known to QI appeared in the 1980 compilation “Murphy’s Law Book Two: More Reasons Why Things Go Wrong” edited by Arthur Bloch. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

HANLON’S RAZOR:
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

The description “Hanlon’s Razor” was used because the creator was a computer programmer named Robert J. Hanlon. The phrase “Hanlon’s Razor” was analogous to the phrase “Occam’s Razor”. Both referred to heuristics designed to prune sets of hypotheses by favoring simplicity. More details about Hanlon are presented further below based on the research conducted by quotation expert Mardy Grothe appearing in the 2011 book “Neverisms”.

Many people have expressed similar thoughts over the years and additional selected citations in chronological order are shown below. Continue reading Never Attribute to Malice That Which Is Adequately Explained by Stupidity

Notes:

  1. 1980, Murphy’s Law Book Two: More Reasons Why Things Go Wrong, Compiled and Edited by Arthur Bloch, Quote Page 52, Price/Stern/Sloan Publishers Inc., Los Angeles, California. (Verified with scans)