I am critical of the use of soundbites in discussing science, but in a few cases this can lead to some pretty memorable one-liners by scientists. For example, there is the line attributed to J.B.S. Haldane in response to the question of what can be inferred about the Creator from a study of nature: that He has “an inordinate fondness for beetles.” Similarly, when asked if it is true that only three people understand relativity, Sir Arthur Eddington is said to have replied “Who is the third?”. These particular examples may be apocryphal, of course, but they do convey some important points about nature or the difficulty in understanding complex scientific theories.
Inspired by a recent post on Evolving Thoughts, I have decided to start a collection of quotes dealing with the fact that evolution, despite being deceptively simple and thought to be well-understood by many, is actually grasped by a very small percentage of people (and I include most biologists in this claim).
“Another curious aspect of the theory of evolution is that everybody thinks he understands it. I mean philosophers, social scientists, and so on. While in fact very few people understand it, actually, as it stands, even as it stood when Darwin expressed it, and even less as we now may be able to understand it in biology.”
Jacques Monod 1975, in Problems of Scientific Revolution
“Evolution is so simple almost anyone can misunderstand it.”
David Hull, [source under investigation!]
“Most of us are happy to admit that we do not understand, say, string theory in physics, yet we are all convinced we understand evolution … Evolution must be the best-known yet worst-understood of all scientific theories.”
“If you think you understand [evolution], you don’t know nearly enough about it.”
Michael LePage 2008, New Scientist
“[Evolution] was one of those focal points of debate on which practically everybody was compelled to have some sort of opinion. Needless to say, the opinion cannot in most cases be called an informed one. Only a small proportion of those who took sides one way or the other had even a rudimentary knowledge of the facts on which the theory was based.”
Alvar Ellegard 1958, Darwin and the General Reader
If you have other examples, please post them along with citation in the comments thread!