I try not to think with my gut. If I'm serious about understanding the world, thinking with anything besides my brain, as tempting as that might be, is likely to get me into trouble. Really, it's okay to reserve judgement until the evidence is in.

So those who wished for some central cosmic purpose for us, or at least our world, or at least our solar system, or at least our galaxy, have been disappointed, progressively disappointed. The universe is not responsive to our ambitious expectations.

For thousands of years humans were oppressed - as some of us still are - by the notion that the universe is a marionette whose strings are pulled by a god or gods, unseen and inscrutable.

But in introducing me simultaneously to skepticism and to wonder, they taught me the two uneasily cohabiting modes of thought that are central to the scientific method.

Christiaan Huygens became simultaneously adept in languages, drawing, law, science, engineering, mathematics and music. His interests and allegiances were broad. The world is my country, he said, science my religion.

The more we want it to be true, the more careful we have to be. No witness's say-so is good enough. People make mistakes. People play practical jokes. People stretch the truth for money or attention or fame. People occasionally misunderstand what they're seeing. People sometimes even see things that aren't there.

If the Earth were as old as a person, a typical organism would be born, live and die in a sliver of a second. We are fleeting, transitional creatures, snowflakes fallen on the hearth fire.

But if humans can make new varieties of plants and animals, must not nature do so also? This related process is called natural selection. That life has changed fundamentally over the aeons is entirely clear from the alterations we have made in the beasts and vegetables during the short tenure of humans on Earth, and from the fossil evidence.

There is a place with four suns in the sky-red, white, blue, and yellow; two of them are so close together that they touch, and star-stuff flows between them. I know of a world with a million moons. I know of a sun the size of the Earth-and made of diamond....The universe is vast and awesome, and for the first time we are becoming part of it.

People are not stupid. They believe things for reasons. The last way for skeptics to get the attention of bright, curious, intelligent people is to belittle or condescend or to show arrogance toward their beliefs.

There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.

We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.

Keeping an open mind is a virtue—but, as the space engineer James Oberg once said, not so open that your brains fall out.

The nuclear arms race is like two sworn enemies standing waist deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.

Arguments from authority carry little weight – authorities have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.

A celibate clergy is an especially good idea, because it tends to suppress any hereditary propensity toward fanaticism.

The cure for a fallacious argument is a better argument, not the suppression of ideas.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.

I … had ambition not only to go farther than anyone had done before, wrote Captain James Cook, the eighteenth-century explorer of the Pacific, but as far as it was possible for man to go.

There is a reward structure in science that is very interesting: Our highest honors go to those who disprove the findings of the most revered among us. So Einstein is revered not just because he made so many fundamental contributions to science, but because he found an imperfection in the fundamental contribution of Isaac Newton.

Those who make uncritical observations or fraudulent claims lead us into error and deflect us from the major human goal of understanding how the world works. It is for this reason that playing fast and loose with the truth is a very serious matter.

You squeeze the eyedropper, and a drop of pond water drips out onto the microscope stage. You look at the projected image. The drop is full of life - strange beings swimming, crawling, tumbling; high dramas of pursuit and escape, triumph and tragedy. This is a world populated by beings far more exotic than in any science fiction movie...

You mustn't think of the Universe as a wilderness. It hasn't been that for billions of years," he said. "Think of it more as... ..cultivated.

The Apollo pictures of the whole Earth conveyed to multitudes something well known to astronomers: On the scale of the worlds - to say nothing of stars or galaxies - humans are inconsequential, a thin film of life on an obscure and solitary lump of rock and metal.

I say you don't need any more proof. There are proofs enough already. Cygnus A and all that are just for the scientists. You think it'll be hard to convince ordinary people that you're telling the truth. I think it'll be easy as pie. You think your story is too peculiar, too alien. But I've heard it before. I know it well. And I bet you do too.

Do Buddhists believe in God, or not? Ellie asked on their way to have dinner with the Abbot. Their position seems to be, Vaygay replied dryly, that their God is so great he doesn't even have to exist.

Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.

Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.

Evolution is adventitious and not foresighted. Only through the deaths of an immense number of slightly maladapted organisms are we, brains and all, here today.

The values of science and the values of democracy are concordant, in many cases indistinguishable.

The evidence, so far at least and laws of Nature aside, does not require a Designer. Maybe there is one hiding, maddeningly unwilling to be revealed. Sometimes it seems a very slender hope.

It is the responsibility of scientists never to suppress knowledge, no matter how awkward that knowledge is, no matter how it may bother those in power; we are not smart enough to decide which pieces of knowledge are permissible, and which are not. ...

Science is far from a perfect instrument of knowledge. It's just the best we have. In this respect, as in many others, it's like democracy. Science by itself cannot advocate courses of human action, but it can certainly illuminate the possible consequences of alternative courses of action.

But if intelligence is our only edge, we must learn to use it better, to sharpen it, to understand its limitations and deficiencies—to use it as cats use stealth, as walking sticks use camouflage, to make it the tool of our survival.

And because what we are doing is so horrifying, we tend not to think of it much.

Your religion assumes that people are children and need a boogeyman so they'll behave. You want people to believe in God so they'll obey the law. That's the only means that occurs to you: a strict secular police force, and the threat of punishment by an all-seeing God for whatever the police overlook. You sell human beings short.

Would not a rational society spend more on understanding and preventing, than on preparing for, the next war?

You've tapped yourself in some sort of fifth­century religious mania. Since then the Renaissance has happened, the Enlightenment has happened. Where've you been?

The nature of life on Earth and the search for life elsewhere are two sides of the same question—the search for who we are.

The symbolism seemed so apt. The same technology that can propel apocalyptic weapons from continent to continent would enable the first human voyage to another planet. It was a choice of fitting mythic power: to embrace the planet named after, rather than the madness ascribed to, the god of war.

A stars rich in europium; of distant galaxies analyzed through the collective light of a hundred billion constituent stars. Astronomical spectroscopy is an almost magical technique. It amazes me still. Auguste Comte picked a particularly unfortunate example.

But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

Our particular causality scheme has brought us to a modest and rudimentary, although in many respects heroic, series of explorations. But it is far inferior to what might have been, and may one day be.

Our psychological predispositions pros or cons must not misleads us. All that matters is the evidence, and the evident is not in.

It is called Giordano Bruno after the sixteenth-century Roman Catholic scholar who held that there are an infinity of worlds and that many are inhabited. For this and other crimes he was burned at the stake in the year 1600.

The great radio telescopes of the world are constructed in remote locations for the same reason Paul Gauguin sailed to Tahiti: For them to work well, they must be far from civilization.

A new generation gladly abandons its critical and skeptical faculties. Old slogans and hatreds are dusted off. What was only recently muttered guiltily is now offered as political axiom and agenda.

We are made of stellar ash.

The immense distances to the stars and the galaxies mean that we see everything ins pace int he past, some as they were before the Earth came to be. Telescopes are time machines.