Quote: There is no God, and Harriet is his prophet (1851 August)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 28 14:38:20 UTC 2011

The Wikipedia entry for Wolfgang Pauli contains the following
quotation as noted by Victor. Wikipedia excerpt:

"Well, I'd say that also our friend Dirac has got a religion and the
first commandment of this religion is 'God does not exist and Paul
Dirac is his prophet'". Everybody burst into laughter, including
End excerpt.

The following comment is appended. Wikipedia excerpt:

This last quote is apparently a paraphrase of the quip about Robert
Green Ingersoll (1833–1899): "There is no God, and Ingersoll is his
End excerpt.

There is a version of this joke featuring Harriet Martineau:

Cite: 1851 August, Graham's magazine, The Use and the Economy of
Invective, Page 66, Column 2, Volume 39, Number 2, Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania. (Google Books full view)

The best criticism on Harriet Martineau's late atheistical book is
contained in the remark of a London wit, who was asked what was the
doctrine which it inculcated. He replied, "The doctrine seems to be
this; there is no God, and Harriet is his prophet."


Robert Green "Bob" Ingersoll was born on August 11, 1833. So he was 18
years old when this article was published. Here is another cite from a
month later that names the wit:

Cite: 1851 September, The International Monthly Magazine of
Literature, Science, and Art

Douglass Jerrold said the sum of their doctrine was contained in the
formula, "There is no God, and Miss Martineau is his prophet," ...


Walt Whitman did refer to Ingersoll as a prophet, but the satirical
context is missing in this cite:

With Walt Whitman in Camden
Monday May 7, 1888

He is in a way a chosen man. There always was something in the idea
that the prophets are called. Ingersoll is a prophet-he, too, is
called. He is far, far deeper than he is supposed to be, even by
radicals: we get lots of deep sea fruit out of him.



On Thu, Jan 27, 2011 at 4:51 PM, Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at gmail.com> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Pauli
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Wolfgang Pauli usually gets credit for the quit, "That's not right--it's
> not even wrong!" (or something similar, depending on source). The common
> reference for this is from Rudolph Peierls's 1960 recollections (I can't
> really call it an obituary):
> Rudolph Peierls, "Wolfgang Ernst Pauli, 1900-1958." (Royal Society, GB)
> Biographical memoirs of fellows of the Royal Society 5:174-192 (1960)
> Wiki not only highlights the whole episode in the article on Pauli:
>> Das ist nicht nur nicht richtig, es ist nicht einmal falsch! "Not only
>> is it not right, it's not even wrong!"
> but even has a separate entry for "not even wrong":
>> An argument that appears to be scientific is said to be not even wrong
>> if it cannot be falsified (i.e., tested) by experiment or cannot be
>> used to make predictions about the natural world. The phrase was
>> coined by theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who was known for his
>> colorful objections to incorrect or sloppy thinking. Rudolf Peierls
>> writes that "a friend showed [Pauli] the paper of a young physicist
>> which he suspected was not of great value but on which he wanted
>> Pauli's views. Pauli remarked sadly, 'It is not even wrong.' "
> It may be impossible to either verify or reject the origin of the
> phrase--Pauli died in 1958, leaving a large number of anecdotes about
> his life, but not a lot of biographical material, and the quip was
> originally supposed to be in German. However, recognizing Pauli's sense
> of humor, it is possible that he might have been mocking a religious
> argument that relied on a strawman statement that needed a rebuttal, e.g.,
> http://goo.gl/2yadK
> Principles of the faith in relation to sin. By Orby Shipley. 1879
>> Take three strict rules for guidance, in regard to devout jealousy
>> against falling into little sins.
>> i. Never to allow self-indulgence in any known fault, however small.
>> People, in relation to this rule, may be heard to say, " Yes ; it is
>> not right ; it is even wrong ; but, still, I do allow myself in such
>> and such a liberty."
> My brief search revealed little useful information and the statement may
> well be original with Pauli. I thought I would throw it out into the
> ether and see if anyone has the stomach to check it out deeper (and
> perhaps check it out in German as well).
>     VS-)
> PS: I was wondering about the origin because Pauli's other famous quip,
> also cited in Wiki has an alternative origin.
>> "Well, I'd say that also our friend Dirac has got a religion and the
>> first commandment of this religion is 'God does not exist and Paul
>> Dirac is his prophet'".
> As Wiki suggests, a similar statement was made much earlier about Robert
> Green Ingersoll. Although it's impossible to judge whether Pauli was
> familiar with the previous quip, the likelihood of coincidence seems
> rather small.
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list