J. B. S. Haldane, fully John Burdon Sanderson Haldane

J. B. S.
Haldane, fully John Burdon Sanderson Haldane

English Geneticist, Biologist, Author

Author Quotes

We cannot separate the phenomena of life from those of its environment.

We must, I think, regard the normal death as a feature characteristic of life. Normal death is sometimes regarded as a wearing out of the machinery of life; but it is evidently a quite unsuitable metaphor, since living structure, when we consider it closely, can easily be seen to be constantly renewing itself, so that it cannot be regarded as mere machinery which necessarily wears out. Normal death must apparently be regarded from the biological standpoint as a means by which room is made for further more definite development of life.

The idea of protoplasm, which was really a name for our ignorance, [is] only a little less misleading than the expression Vital force.

The reality of God?s existence appears as love in the manifestation of goodness, beauty, and truth? Apart from God?s existence as living and active, existence has no ultimate meaning. However far we may look backwards in time, we cannot reach a time when the ordered beauty of the heavens ? that beauty which seems overwhelming when we contemplate it ? was not present. The existence of truth, order and beauty are eternal, since God is eternal.

The time has gone by when a Huxley could believe that while science might indeed remold traditional mythology, traditional morals were impregnable and sacrosanct to it. We must learn not to take traditional morals too seriously. And it is just because even the least dogmatic of religions tends to associate itself with some kind of unalterable moral tradition, that there can be no truce between science and religion.

The world shall perish not for lack of wonders, but for lack of wonder

There are 400,000 species of beetles on this planet, but only 8,000 species of mammals.

There does not seem to be any particular reason why a religion should not arise with an ethic as fluid as Hindu mythology, but it has not yet arisen. Christianity has probably the most flexible morals of any religion, because Jesus left no code of law behind him like Moses or Muhammad, and his moral precepts are so different from those of ordinary life that no society has ever made any serious attempt to carry them out, such as was possible in the case of Israel and Islam. But every Christian church has tried to impose a code of morals of some kind for which it has claimed divine sanction. As these codes have always been opposed to those of the gospels a loophole has been left for moral progress such as hardly exists in other religions. This is no doubt an argument for Christianity as against other religions, but not as against none at all, or as against a religion which will frankly admit that its mythology and morals are provisional. That is the only sort of religion that would satisfy the scientific mind, and it is very doubtful whether it could properly be called a religion at all.

To the biologist the problem of socialism appears largely as a problem of size. The extreme socialists desire to run every nation as a single business concern. I do not suppose that Henry Ford would find much difficulty in running Andorra or Luxembourg on a socialistic basis. He has already more men on his pay-roll than their population. It is conceivable that a syndicate of Fords, if we could find them, would make Belgium Ltd. or Denmark Inc. pay their way. But while nationalization of certain industries is an obvious possibility in the largest of states, I find it no easier to picture a completely socialized British Empire or United States than an elephant turning somersaults or a hippopotamus jumping a hedge.

Until politics are a branch of science we shall do well to regard political and social reforms as experiments rather than short-cuts to the millennium.

(a) That life had a supernatural origin, (b) That it originated from inorganic materials, and (c) That life is a constituent of the Universe and can only arise from pre-existing life. The first hypothesis, he said, should be taken seriously, and he would proceed to do so. From the fact that there are 400,000 species of beetle on this planet, but only 8,000 species of mammals, he concluded that the Creator, if he exists, has a special preference for beetles, and so we might be more likely to meet them than any other type of animal on a planet which would support life.

If human beings could be propagated by cutting, like apple trees, aristocracy would be biologically sound.

Right conduct is essentially bound up with truth.

A discussion between Haldane and a friend began to take a predictable turn. The friend said with a sigh, 'It's no use going on. I know what you will say next, and I know what you will do next.' The distinguished scientist promptly sat down on the floor, turned two back somersaults, and returned to his seat. 'There,' he said with a smile. 'That's to prove that you're not always right.'

If one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of his creation it would appear that God has a special fondness for stars and beetles.

Right conduct, truth, and beauty are only different aspects of what is fundamentally the same. Right conduct embodies co-ordinated wholeness, which can be, and often is, called beautiful. It also embodies truth, as standing for a true perception of the relations between different individuals. Similarly, truth as being essentially motivated, involves not only a true realization of co-ordinated relations, but also the furthering of them. In a similar way, beauty involves both truth or right perception and the co-ordinated wholeness which we find also in right conduct.

A man is free in proportion as his perceptions and his actions express his personality in spite of the variety of forms which perceptions and motives take.

In our perceptions of beauty, and particularly perhaps of beauty in nature, we are participating directly in divine perception, however imperfectly.

Science affects the average man and woman in two ways already. He or she benefits by its application driving a motor-car or omnibus instead of a horse-drawn vehicle, being treated for disease by a doctor or surgeon rather than a witch, and being killed with an automatic pistol or shell in place of a dagger or a battle-axe.

An inordinate fondness for beetles.

In the development and the maintenance of a living organism the coordination is very clear. The development of each part can be shown to be dependent on that of other parts, including the immediate environment; and the more closely development and maintenance are studied the more evident does this become. But the particular manner in which the parts and the environment influence one another is such that the specific structure and activities of the organism are maintained. They are unmistakably developed and maintained as a whole, and this is what we mean when we say that the organism lives a specific life. The conception of its life enables us to predict the general behavior of its parts so long as it is alive, and in particular it enables us to predict the general manner of its reproduction from a rudimentary part of the same organism? it is this co-ordinated maintenance that we call life.

So far from being an isolated phenomenon the late war is only an example of the disruptive result that we may constantly expect from the progress of science.

An ounce of algebra is worth a ton of verbal argument.

In ultimate analysis, the universe can be nothing less than the progressive manifestation of God.

Teleology is like a mistress to a biologist: he cannot live without her but he's unwilling to be seen with her in public.

Author Picture
First Name
J. B. S.
Last Name
Haldane, fully John Burdon Sanderson Haldane
Birth Date
Death Date

English Geneticist, Biologist, Author