Having proved that William Paley is the progenitor of this quotation, the question remains, “How did this quotation get misattributed to Herbert Spencer?”
An overview of my research on Herbert Spencer will help eliminate the possibility that Spencer himself ever quoted Paley. This interlude is an important discussion of the deductive process in my research, as much as it is a presentation of the preponderance of evidence against Spencer ever having anything to do with this quotation. There is also a rumor that the quotation is from Spencer’s Principles of Biology that I will eliminate.
I began my research on the assumption that the quotation was probably Spencer’s. It was just a matter of finding where he said it. In the space of a year I was satisfied that I had uncovered all but a few remote and unlikely Spencerian sources. At that point the probability that I would find the quotation in Spencer became so small that I decided to try some new Boolean searches on Google. This quickly led me to William Paley.
One of the remarkable things about Herbert Spencer is that he was highly organized and had trustees who took good care of his written material after he died. The work of the researcher is made a lot easier by the availability of these materials, though anyone would be easily daunted by the size and scope of his complete works.
I have access to The Complete Works of Herbert Spencer published on CD-ROM by InteLex Corporation in their Past Masters series. I compared the contents of the InteLex Spencer to listings at the British Public Library, lists of his works by his American publisher D. Appleton & Company, the list given by Spencer’s biographer David Duncan, and Spencer’s own record of his writings in the pages of his Autobiography. The InteLex Complete Spencer is as complete Spencer ever compiled. In brief, the contents of the disc are as follows:
Education: Intellectual, Moral, And Physical (1860)
Social Statics (Abridged And Revised), Together With The Man Versus The State (1892)
A System of Synthetic Philosophy: First Principles (4th edition) (1898)
The Principles Of Biology (Revised And Enlarged Edition) (1898-1899)
The Principles Of Psychology (3rd edition) (1880)
The Principles Of Ethics (1893)
The Principles Of Sociology (1898)
The Study Of Sociology (9th edition) (1880)
The Inadequacy Of "Natural Selection." (1893-1894)
Facts And Comments (1902)
Various Fragments (1897)
Essays: Scientific, Political, And Speculative - 'Library Edition. Containing Seven Essays Not Before Republished And Various Other Additions'. Three Volumes. (1892)
Life and Letters of Herbert Spencer by David Duncan (1908)
The disc is fully searchable using Boolean operators. None of the unique word combinations and phrases from the quotation appear anywhere on the disc.
The texts on the disc are among the latest editions of Spencer’s works. These late editions include front matter and appendices not found in earlier editions while retaining the earlier material as well. Many of the appendices were first published as articles and letters to popular journals or as pamphlets.
I have compared some of the early editions of his major works with more recent ones, including Principles of Biology, Principles of Psychology, and Principles of Sociology. I also examined First Principles and The Study of Sociology in their original prepublication serial form. The first edition of First Principles (1862) is searchable online on more than one web site. Most of the revisions Spencer made were subtle matters of written style, but substantive omissions in later editions were rare. Substantive additions however were common.
One example of a large omission from a later edition is the entire chapter The Right to Ignore the State from Social Statics (1851). But this chapter has been republished in some modern editions, and is also searchable online at The Online Library of Liberty web site (http://oll.libertyfund.org/) along with several other political essays which were not authorized for republication by Spencer.
There is one major item missing from the InteLex CD-ROM. That is the eight-volume Descriptive Sociology (1873-1881). These volumes are a common omission from most studies of Herbert Spencer. Aside from some brief introductory remarks by Spencer these large volumes are vast tables and charts of ethnographical data that he used as the empirical evidence for his Principles of Sociology. I reviewed these books. There is no exposition anywhere in them, and no place for pithy quotation.
Since the quotation does not appear in any of Spencer’s major works, the next most likely place for it to exist would be in something Spencer wrote for a periodical but which was never republished. Spencer’s close friend, authorized biographer, and trustee, David Duncan, has prepared a thorough list of articles and letters which Spencer wrote to journals, magazines, and newspapers. The list is included in an appendix to Duncan’s The Life and Letters of Herbert Spencer (1908). In it, I count over 100 articles and letters spanning the years 1836 through 1903 which were never republished.
I have exhumed all but 27 of
these items. The items I have not reviewed were not available to me in the
Many of the remaining articles can be eliminated as candidates which could have contained the quotation based on context alone. One can be eliminated because there is no extant copy of the magazine in which it appeared. Others can be eliminated because Spencer wrote them anonymously. On probabilistic ground alone I find it nearly impossible that Spencer would have quoted Paley in the few obscure items that remain, but there are other reasons to abandon any notion that Spencer would have ever quoted Paley which I will cover shortly. Appendix B of this paper lists of all these remaining articles with descriptions of their content and my contextual reasons for rejecting candidates when I have them.
To check the completeness of David Duncan’s list, I searched the indexes of all volumes of several of the periodicals to which Spencer is known to have made contributions, including: The Zoist, The Nineteenth Century, The Popular Science Monthly, The Contemporary Review, and Nature. There were a handful of items that were not included in Duncan’s list, but they were later included as essays or appendices that were republished, widely read, and are included on the InteLex CD-ROM. Duncan’s list is a rare and wonderful resource. If there are any “lost” works of Spencer, they were probably lost on most contemporaries who would have quoted him.
David Duncan tells us of Spencer’s personal correspondence:
“His literary industry was untiring. Not only were his published writings voluminous, but his correspondence was very great. The limit imposed on the writer of this volume has rendered it impossible to reproduce more than a small fraction of his letters.” 
Nonetheless, Spencer’s personal correspondence would be a highly unlikely place to find him quoting Paley. It is unlikely that any private letters would have been made public while he was still alive. Any publication of private letters, posthumous or contemporary, probably would have been in autobiographies and biographies of his correspondents. This raises the question of why this quotation as attributed to Spencer cannot be traced even to a good secondary source.
Perhaps the greatest difficulty in
believing that Spencer would have ever quoted Paley are
his admitted and well known lack of reading and his cursory knowledge of major
philosophers let alone theologians like Paley. In a
letter to Sir Leslie Stephen, dated 2
July 1899, Spencer candidly describes his reading habits and the
little he knew of Paley and others:
“When with my uncle, from thirteen to sixteen, my acquirements were limited to Euclid, algebra, trigonometry, mechanics, and the first part of Newton's Principia. To this equipment I never added. During my eight years of engineering life I read next to nothing—even of professional literature. Then as always, I was an impatient reader and read nothing continuously except novels and travels, and of these but little. I am in fact constitutionally idle. I doubt whether during all these years I ever read any serious book for an hour at a stretch. You may judge of my condition with regard to knowledge from the fact that during all my life up to the time Social Statics was written, there had been a copy of Locke on my father's shelves which I never read—I am not certain that I ever took it down. And the same holds of all other books of philosophical kinds. I never read any of Bacon's writings, save his essays. I never looked into Hobbes until, when writing the essay on "The Social Organism," I wanted to see the details of his grotesque conception. It was the same with Politics and with Ethics. At the time Social Statics was written I knew of Paley nothing more than that he enunciated the doctrine of expediency; and of Bentham I knew only that he was the promulgator of the Greatest Happiness principle. The doctrines of other ethical writers referred to were known by me only through references to them here and there met with. I never then looked into any of their books; and, moreover, I have never since looked into any of their books. When about twenty-three I happened to get hold of Mill's Logic, then recently published, and read with approval his criticism of the Syllogism. When twenty-four I met with a translation of Kant and read the first few pages. Forthwith, rejecting his doctrine of Time and Space, I read no further. My ignorance of ancient philosophical writers was absolute. After Social Statics was published (in 1851) I made the acquaintance of Mr. Lewes, and one result was that I read his Biographical History of Philosophy.... And, shortly after that (in 1852), a present of Mill's Logic having been made to me by George Eliot, I read that through: one result being that I made an attack upon one of his doctrines in the Westminster.
“Since those days I have done nothing worth mentioning to fill up the implied deficiencies. Twice or thrice I have taken up Plato's Dialogues and have quickly put them down with more or less irritation. And of Aristotle I know even less than of Plato.
“If you ask how there comes such an amount of incorporated fact as is found in Social Statics, my reply is that when preparing to write it I read up in those directions in which I expected to find materials for generalisation. I did not trouble myself with the generalisations of others.
“And that indeed indicates my general attitude. All along I have looked at things through my own eyes and not through the eyes of others. I believe that it is in some measure because I have gone direct to Nature, and have escaped the warping influences of traditional beliefs, that I have reached the views I have reached....
“My own course—not intentionally pursued, but spontaneously pursued—may be characterised as little reading and much thinking, and thinking about facts learned at first hand. Perhaps I should add, that my interest all along has been mainly in the science of Life, physical, mental and social. I hold that the study of the science of Life under all its aspects is the true preparation for a teacher of Ethics. And it must be the science of Life as it is conceived now, and not as it was conceived in past times.” 
Beatrice Webb, a life-long friend of Spencer, recollects a conversation she had with the biologist and evolutionist Thomas H. Huxley, another close friend of Spencer. She reports that Huxley explained to her:
“Spencer never knew [the theories of his time]. He elaborated his theory [of evolution] from his inner consciousness. He is the most original of thinkers, though he has never invented a new thought. He never reads; merely picks up what will help him to illustrate his theories. He is a great constructor. The form he has given to his gigantic system is entirely original. Not one of the component factors is new, but he has not borrowed them.” 
Spencer was plagued by a nervous condition from the age of 35 that would leave him bed ridden for days or weeks. He tells us in several places throughout his Autobiography that the attacks would come with mental or physical exertion, characterized by “this feeling in the head which gave warning that something was going wrong…. A disastrous relapse soon followed if I tried to do more.” 
“At that time and always afterwards, reading had the same effect as working; no matter what the nature of the reading. During periods of relapse a column of a newspaper would suffice to put my head wrong; and when at my best I could not, after my morning's work, read even a novel for long without suffering. …Ordinarily my habit was that of taking up a book or periodical for half or three-quarters of an hour in the afternoon. Reading in the evening for that length of that time destroyed part of the rest I ordinarily got. The implied cutting off from nearly all literature save that which I could utilize, and from a large part of this, was one of the heaviest of my deprivations.”  [emphasis added]
The evidence that the quotation has survived in obscure places makes it even more unlikely that Spencer would have read anything containing it. Moreover, Spencer was an ardent agnostic. He read little theological or religious material.
At long last we can safely abandon the possibility that Herbert Spencer ever had any connection to the quotation that was built around Paley’s words. Before considering how the misattribution to Spencer may have happened, there is a rumor that needs to be squashed.
Several weeks after I began my research I discovered a web page devoted to the question of the quotation’s origin. The page was created by an A.A. enthusiast on the domain www.aabibliography.com. I also discovered two Yahoo! Group message boards named A.A. History Buffs and A.A. History Lovers where there were occasional conversations amongst A.A. members concerning this quotation. Unfortunately, their efforts have created some confusion and rumors about the quotation’s origin.
Many A.A. members take a passionate interest in the history of their organization. To some, the book Alcoholics Anonymous is like a bible, and they are curious about Herbert Spencer and the origin of this quotation that appears in their book.
Several of the A.A. enthusiasts state variously that they attempted to read, paid someone to read, or knew of someone who did read all of Spencer’s works. The aabibliography.com web page also mentions an unsuccessful attempt by the A.A. organization to find the origin of the quotation.
In the A.A. circles online there is a rumor that the quotation is from Herbert Spencer’s Principles of Biology. But this is absolutely false. There were two editions of Biology (Vol. I. – 1864, revised 1898; Vol. II. – 1867, revised 1899). I have perused both. I have also searched the text of the latest edition on the InteLex CD-ROM. The quotation simply never has existed in Spencer’s Biology.
The researchers who are rumored to have read all of Spencer’s works would have collectively uncovered the quotation early on if Biology were the source. It is one of the most available of Spencer’s works, and one of the most widely studied in his time. Moreover, there are only so many pages in Biology that could even feasibly contain the sort of rhetoric we find in that quotation. Both volumes are devoted to a cool exposition and interpretation of biological data.
I don’t believe it is necessary to give any more evidence or reason against this rumor. But it may be helpful to offer a theory on how this one got started. There was only one thing I encountered in my research that put the quotation anywhere near Principles of Biology.
George Seldes includes a variation of the quotation in his dictionary of quotations The Great Thoughts (1960). I believe this rumor was conceived when somebody misread Seldes’s Ibid. markings. The next full page shows a scanned image of Selde’s page in question:
In the lower left corner of the page, the Ibid. markings following the first quotation from Principles of Biology are clear, but at the bottom of the page the “condemnation before investigation” quotation appears with little room for an Ibid. marking of its own, had it been intended. But Seldes was simply closing his section on Spencer with two quotes for which he had no sources. The second of these no-source quotations appears at the top of the right-hand column on the page.
As I was putting the final touches on this article I was surprised to discover the following discussion between two A.A. members on the usenet group alt.recovery.aa from September 1998. I believe it confirms my suspicions about the genesis of this rumor:
A.A. member #1: “George Seldes attributes it to Spencer, but without source given. It may be from Principles of Biology, as the 3 quotes preceding it are from that work. The middle of those 3 is ‘Our lives are universally shortened by our ignorance’, which lends at least some slight weight to that interpretation.”
A.A. member #2: “I rather like the quote listed here as an example: ‘Our lives are universally shortened by our ignorance.’ At least we have a reference to ‘Principles of Biology.’ Who's going to a library to actually verify???” 
We don’t have any evidence that Seldes, his contributors, or his editing staff ever verified any of these Spencer quotations. He gives no source for the very last of them (on “landed property”). It is a misquote, or rather a reduction of two lengthy paragraphs from Chapter IX of Social Statics.
On page 649 there are other errors. Among them, he incorrectly cites the following quotation’s source as Social Statics, but it is actually from Principles of Ethics:
“A man’s liberties are none the less aggressed upon because those who coerce him do so in the belief that he will be benefitted[sic].” 
There is no reason to believe the attribution to Spencer might be correct simply because the quotation is printed in a dictionary of quotations.
What follows is a history of the quotation as misattributed to Herbert Spencer.
Herbert Spencer is most famous for his phrase “survival of the fittest,” although the phrase is commonly misattributed to Charles Darwin. Spencer used the phrase to mean essentially the same thing as Darwin’s “natural selection.” Spencer’s second most famous quotation is arguably the one that includes the phrase “contempt prior to investigation.”
Because the “contempt prior to investigation” quotation is not Spencer’s, an overview of his life and philosophy might be out of place in this paper, but since the title and the framing of the central thesis borrow from his phrase “survival of the fittest,” it would be good to give some relevant information.
I won’t pretend to do Spencer’s grand and complex system justice in this brief summary. I will merely draw out a few very general points.
Spencer’s first writings on evolution predate Darwin’s Origin of Species. His philosophy may be briefly described as a theory of a law of evolution that pervades the universe. Natural selection, or survival of the fittest, was not enough to account for evolution. He identified several physical laws that came into play, and his Synthetic Philosophy is an exploration of the effects and direction of these evolutionary laws in biology, psychology, morality, and society.
Politically he was a classical liberal and fierce opponent of socialism. He was a tireless defender of individual rights and a critic of government interference. Metaphysically speaking he was agnostic. His close friend Thomas H. Huxley is credited with coining the term “agnosticism.” Spencer was content to live with an unknowable “Unknown.” The human mind, by nature of the way it knows things, is just not able to know some things.
As in the section on Paley, I will take these attributions to Spencer chronologically and give descriptions of their general arguments or the movements they represent. My purpose is to draw out some of the themes that suggest that these authors may have been quoting from a common original source or from each other. This will sketch a very rough lineage for the quotation as attributed to Herbert Spencer.
Here the theme of alternative knowledge continues in unorthodox healing, the religious fringe, and occult mysticism. Alcoholics Anonymous, though once a little known unorthodox movement, has become widely accepted and their book widely published. One of the consequences of this is that the quotation has been widely accepted as Herbert Spencer’s own words. The Internet has also spawned new generations of misquotation.
Homeopathic World – “Ignorance in High Places”
article by John Henry Clarke
John Henry Clarke uses the quotation in the December 1931 issue of The Homeopathic World: A Popular Journal of Medical, Social, and Sanitary Sceince. The article’s title is Ignorance in High Places. It is a strong defense and attack on some anti-homeopathic comments of Sir Farquhar Buzzard which were delivered to the students at Guys Hospital earlier that year. Clarke writes:
“Fortunately those who are
open-minded and intelligent enough to investigate for themselves in an unbiased
manner find that Homoeopathy is based on a law and is essentially scientific,
while its results are incomparably superior to those of ordinary medicine. But
students have not had the same opportunities of learning to sift truth from
chaff, and it is a great pity that at the outset of their careers, they should
be presented with false conceptions of the only scientific system of medicine
it will be in their power to study, and this by a person of Sir Farquhar Buzzard’s standing and presumed knowledge. To
condemn "homoeopathy"…or any other system without a careful and
unbiased enquiry is an eminently unscientific procedure.
”(We feel safe in assuming that Homoeopathy has not had this careful and unbiased enquiry from Sir Farquhar Buzzard, as we have never known anyone giving it such enquiry to remain unconvinced of its truth and value. Truth always reveals itself to the mind that really seeks it).
”As Herbert Spencer said, ‘There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance that principle is contempt prior to investigation.’” 
Clarke died on 24 November 1931. His article was published posthumously by J. Ellis Barker, his friend who took over editorship of The Homeopathic World upon his death. Clarke’s article almost seems to be written around the Spencer quotation, or vice-versa. It is possible that Barker took some editorial liberties with his friend’s article, and added the quotation, perhaps modifying it slightly to fit Clarke’s article, and perhaps falsifying the attribution to Herbert Spencer.
1931: Miracles of Healing and How They are Done
by J. Ellis Barker
In the same year Clarke’s article appeared, J. Ellis Barker uses the quotation twice in his book Miracles of Healing and How They are Done.
First he uses it as an epigraph to his first chapter. A few pages later, he reiterates the quotation in another context:
“If one asks a physician or surgeon for his opinion on homœopathy, and I have done this very frequently, one is usually told without hesitation: ‘Homœopathy is quite worthless, sheer quackery,’ and if, as I have done, one asks upon what knowledge that sweeping condemnation is based, the usual answer is: ‘I do not know anything about homœopathy and I do not want to know anything about it.’ Herbert Spencer caustically wrote:--
‘There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.’” 
Barker clearly liked this quotation. For him it seemed to sum up the resistance he felt from the medical establishment to accept homeopathy as a legitimate healing art. Clarke and Barker devoted a lot of writing to attacking the medical establishment and defending homeopathy as superior to orthodox medicine. Miracles of Healing follows suit. 
It may be helpful to give some examples of the things that put homeopathy at odds with traditional medicine. He discusses some of the general principles of homeopathic cure including a phrase he attributes to Hippocrates, “Similia similibus curantur” (Likes are cured by likes.)  This is the etymological basis of the word: homo(same)-eopathy.
As opposed to allopathy, or traditional medicine, which treats symptoms in terms of opposites, homeopathy’s basic principle was to use concoctions that would produce similar symptoms as the ones produced by the illness being treated. Another basic principle of homeopathy is that of the “infinitely small” dose. Elements or chemicals were diluted in water to give potencies of 1 decillionth of 1 grain or smaller.  This practice also contrasted with the allopathic practice of giving large doses of substances.
Whereas traditional medicine was increasingly empirical, homeopathy relied on a practice called “proving” in which the homeopathic practitioner would take a dose himself to test the effectiveness of a treatment. Barker asserts that “testing remedies on healthy observant doctors and medical students is not only infinitely more humane but infinitely more fruitful and scientific that the methods practiced by orthodox medical men.” 
He admits that “it is perfectly fair to assume that a very large percentage of the homeopathic cures are due not to the treatment given, but to the magnetic influence and the powerful personality of the homeopathic physician.”  This is almost certainly a reference to the “animal magnetism” of Mesmerism (today hypnotism) which certainly paralleled homeopathy as an unorthodox healing art, and even had some occult connections.
A large portion of Miracles of Healing is composed of quotations from a multitude of physicians, homeopaths, and other notables. For the source citations he includes a bibliographical index. The index is alphabetical by surname of quoted persons. His source citations adequately include the title and date of publication of his source, followed by the page number in Miracles of Healing where he used the quotation. The source citation for the Spencer quotation is as follows:
SPENCER, HERBERT . . Works, 1, 6 
The citation is presumably a general reference to Spencer’s complete works, or perhaps more specifically to Works published by Williams & Norgate of London in 1902. This collection of Spencer’s works is listed in the British Public Library catalogue which includes this description: “A made-up copy consisting of Synthetic Philosophy, Essays, Social Statics, Study of Sociology, Education, Facts and Comments, and Various Fragments, pamphlets and brochures.”
A librarian at the British Library generously provided me with a detailed list of the exact contents of Works. The contents of Works at the British Library are duplicated in the Complete Works of Herbert Spencer by InteLex on CD-ROM.
Barker’s citation of Works is bogus. Most of his bibliographical index is more complete, but there are other vague citations such as the source citation Writings for a quotation from Paracelcus. Had he known which of Spencer’s works contained the quotation he would have given the title of the volume, essay, or article. Instead, Barker sent his readers searching through tens of thousands of pages of Spencer’s writings to verify the quotation.
As for Barker’s true secondary source, we can only speculate. But there may be a connection here to some of the authors who quoted Paley. Garver’s Brother of the Third Degree as relates to Steinmetz’s Freemasonry: Its Hidden Meaning suggests the quotation has also survived in Masonic literature. Homeopathy and Freemasonry do have some connections. The man considered to be the father of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnneman (1755-1843) was a member of the Freemasons, and studied the works of Paracelsus (1493-1541), the noted alchemist and radical physician whose work presaged homeopathy. John Henry Clarke was an admirer of both men, and in 1922 wrote a short book which compared their careers. 
Although there are some possible connections here, I was not able to establish that either Clarke or Barker were members of Freemasonry or any other occult or religious society. A more general connection is that both homeopathy and Freemasonry constitute “alternative knowledge.” Homeopathy claims to have special knowledge of the true healing arts. Freemasonry has special historical and mystical knowledge. People who are interested in one area of “alternative knowledge” may also have an interest in other areas. Our modern New Age movement is a good example of how mysticism, healing, and various occult practices all weave together. A cross-reading of this sort of material may have been how this quotation managed to arrive in the hands of Clarke or Barker, perhaps through a colleague or through a patient.
1939: Alcoholics Anonymous – “An Artist’s Concept”
by William Griffith Wilson, with personal testimonials by Ray Campbell, et al.
Alcoholics Anonymous was founded by members of an early 20th century religious movement known as the Oxford Group Movement. The founder of the Oxford Group, Frank Buchman was a Lutheran minister who had a conversion experience in 1908 which propelled him to start his own revivalist movement. Group members tried to convert others into the Oxford Group fold as a necessary part of their own continuing conversion process.  Though their focus was not on drinkers, the Oxford Group welcomed just about anyone who would join, and by one estimate almost 10% of prohibition era Oxford Group members joined to address the sin of drinking. 
A few of these reformed drinkers in the Oxford Group wanted to focus their efforts on helping alcoholics. Lead by A.A.’s chief founder, Bill Wilson, this small group of men left the ranks of the Oxford Group in 1937 and decided to author a book. The Alcoholics Anonymous movement is said to have taken its name from the title of its own book.  The well known twelve step program of A.A. is essentially a paraphrase of Oxford Group principles directed specifically at drinkers. The first part of the book Alcoholics Anonymous is a synthesis of their religious/spiritual program, while the second half is a collection of personal testimonials.
A man named Ray Campbell wrote a personal testimonial in the chapter An Artist’s Concept. Here is his epigraph and first paragraph:
"’There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which can not fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is contempt prior to investigation. --HERBERT SPENCER’
THE above quotation is descriptive of the mental attitudes of many alcoholics when the subject of religion, as a cure, is first brought to their attention. It is only when a man has tried everything else, when in utter desperation and terrific need he turns to something bigger than himself, that he gets a glimpse of the way out. It is then that contempt is replaced by hope, and hope by fulfillment.” 
Campbell goes on to emphasize that:
“It is important that at present we believe there is only one sure pathway to recovery for any alcoholic.” 
It would be difficult to trace any common ground between the Oxford Group or A.A. and any of the occult or religious movements already reviewed in this paper. Alcoholics Anonymous was however proposing an unorthodox healing method combined with religion, and so this does constitute an assertion of alternative knowledge. Campbell brought the quotation into A.A. through his own private reading. Everything that can know about Ray Campbell comes from his personal testimonial and from the memoirs of one of the earliest members of the Alcoholics Anonymous movement. 
His source may have been something he picked up along his way in his ardent search for an answer to his alcoholism. Campbell says, “…I investigated the alcoholic problem from every angle. Medicine, psychology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis absorbed my interest and supplied me with a great deal of general and specific information.” 
Barker’s Miracle Cures and How They Are Done was printed just eight years before Campbell authored his story. Barker does not discuss addiction or alcoholism, but considering Campbell’s broad investigation of the alcoholic problem, it’s likely that he found the quotation in a piece of alternative medical literature. Because his variation is identical to Barker’s, there is added evidence that this is the case.
Later in his testimony, Campbell commits what may seem a petty offense in a common misquotation of Henry David Thoreau:
“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation,” but Thoreau’s precise words in Walden were: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
In 1955 the second edition of Alcoholics Anonymous appeared. Most of the book was unchanged. However, the section of personal testimonials was revised. Campbell’s story was omitted and replaced as were several others. The Herbert Spencer quotation was inserted at the close of an appendix.
Appendix II: Spiritual Experience, opens with an explanation and a disclaimer:
“The terms ‘spiritual experience’ and ‘spiritual awakening’ are used many times in this book which, upon careful reading, shows that the personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism has manifested itself among us in many different forms.
“Yet it is true that our first printing gave many readers the impression that these personality changes, or religious experience, must be in the nature of sudden and spectacular upheavals. Happily for everyone, this conclusion is erroneous” 
The appendix goes on to misquote William James:
“Most of our experiences are what the psychologist William James calls the ‘educational variety’ because they develop slowly over a period of time.” 
In his Varieties of Religious Experience, William James never uses the terms “educational variety” or even “educational” to describe a religious experience. He does however admit “gradual” experiences of conversion. 
The appendix closes with the following two paragraphs and the quotation as attributed to Herbert Spencer:
“Most emphatically we wish to say that any alcoholic capable of honestly facing his problems in the light of our experience can recover provided he does not close his mind to all spiritual concepts. He can only be defeated by an attitude of intolerance or belligerent denial.
“We find that no one need have difficulty with the spiritual side of the program. Willingness, honesty and open mindedness are the essentials of recovery. But these are indispensable.
“’There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which can not fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is contempt prior to investigation.‘ --HERBERT SPENCER” 
This quotation has been included in every printing of the second edition (1955), the third edition (1976), and the fourth edition (2002) of Alcoholics Anonymous. There are now over 20 million copies in print. No other book that has used this quotation either attributed to Paley or Spencer has been so widely read in the past century. Most variations on the quotation are attributed to Herbert Spencer, and many of these are traceable to Alcoholics Anonymous.
The official A.A. website has some online editions of pamphlets and other official literature. One pamphlet provides topics for discussion in A.A. meetings. Number five in the list of topics is the phrase “Contempt prior to investigation.”  The phrase seems to have become part of the vernacular of the A.A. movement, and may be a shibboleth which identifies members as do some of the myriad slogans that come out of the addiction recovery movement. Later in this paper I review a number of variations of the quotation as found on the Internet. Many of these undoubtedly originated from the keyboards of recovery movement members.
1948: The Hidden Meaning of Freemasonry
by George Steinmetz
George Steinmetz uses a variation of the quote to call “average Masons” to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the religious principles of Freemasonry and Masonic symbolism:
“The only motive for this book is the fulfillment of the writer's obligations, both moral and Masonic, to assist others to such light as he has been so generously allowed to attain. The reader is asked to approach the subject matter with the words of Herbert Spencer as his guide: ‘There is a principle which is a bar against all information and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance. That principle is condemnation before investigation.’” 
Steinmetz says that other religious creeds did not provide “a satisfying meaning of life; the answer to WHY AM I HERE?” But Freemasonry provided him with an answer that met his “entire satisfaction.”  It met his intellectual demands that religious faith “be consistent with such knowledge as I possessed of natural history and material science.” 
In his variation, Steinmetz omits the phrase “which is proof against all arguments,” and uses the phrase “condemnation before investigation” rather than “contempt prior to investigation.”
When I reviewed Garver’s Brother of the Third Degree, I discussed Steinmetz’s history of Freemasonry and his explanation of the meaning of occult symbols and their mystical significance. I also discussed the possibility that the quotation may have survived in Masonic literature which could have been Steinmetz’s source.
By 1948, there were thousands of copies of Alcoholics Anonymous in print. It is quite possible that Steinmetz’s source descends directly from Alcoholics Anonymous.
1957: Your Health and Chiropractic
by Thorp McClusky
In this book we have another example of alternative knowledge asserting itself in the form of unorthodox healing arts. McClusky writes in a similar style as Barker in Miracles of Healing. He attacks the medical establishment for its prejudice and defends chiropractic as an art that can heal all manner of illness. In a chapter entitled Organized Medicine’s Private War Against Chiropractic, he says:
“The truth is that few medical doctors know anything about chiropractic. Most M.D.’s have not studied it, and it is seldom mentioned except disparagingly in medical journals.
“This medical ignorance of chiropractic was emphasized scathingly in a recent article in Medical Economics, which asked the M.D. such questions as these:
“’Have you or your medical society conducted any conclusive research to determine whether there’s any validity in chiropractic doctrine? If so, what are the specific details? If not, what makes you so positive that there’s nothing to chiropractic? What recent chiropractic textbooks have you read? Do you read the scientific articles in chiropractic journals? No? Then, since you admit your ingnoracne of progress in chiropractic, why do you come here as an expert on the subject?’
“As the great English philosopher, Herbert Spencer once observed, ‘There is a principle which is a bar against all argument, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance. This principle is condemnation without investigation.’” 
McClusky’s variation is very similar to Steinmetz’s, but he was not quoting Steinmetz.
Both have dropped a phrase, “which is proof against all…,” but McClusky has changed the first phrase…
McClusky: “There is a principle which is a bar against all argument…”
Steinmetz: “There is a principle which is a bar against all information…”
Both include the phrase “which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance.” And both conclude with a very similar phrase:
McClusky: “This principle is condemnation without investigation.”
Steinmetz: “That principle is condemnation before investigation.”
It would be difficult to link chiropractic and Freemasonry or any of the religious movements that have used the quotation. McClusky and Steinmetz may have had the same source, but they also decided to shorten the quotation in very similar ways.
On the final page of this book, McClusky leaves us with another famous quotation that has yet to be verified:
“The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease.” - Thomas Alva Edison
This quotation attributed to Edison is a favorite of chiropractors, and has been made famous by them. Researchers at the Edison Historical Society and the Palmer Chiropractic College have not found a source. Still the quotation decorates chiropractic offices, and appears on thousands of web pages. 
1960: The Great Quotations
by George Seldes
I have already reviewed George Seldes’s variation in my section Freeing Herbert Spencer where I used it to disprove a rumor that the quotation is from Spencer’s Principles of Biology. Here again is Seldes’s variation:
"There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is a proof against all argument, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance--that principle is condemnation before investigation.” 
His source may have been the same source that both McClusky and Steinmentz misquoted. All three have replaced the word “contempt” with “condemnation.” McClusky uses the phrase “condemnation without investigation” and Steinmetz uses the phrase “condemnation before investigation.”
Seldes collected his quotations from years of journalism and reading, as well as inviting contributions from an array contemporary authors, politicians, scientists, etc. This quotation could have come to him from just about anybody by 1960. The quotation had been printed in Alcoholics Anonymous for 21 years, and the A.A. movement had gained widespread acceptance.
1975: The Most Holy Principle, Volume IV: Summary
by Rulon C. Allred
Mormonism was founded by Joseph
Smith in 1830 upon the publication of his book The Book of Mormon. It tells the story of some ancient Jews who
left Jerusalem due to persecution
and sailed to North America. After a war which ended in
428 C.E., the prevailing group of Jews became what we know today as the
American Indians. And thus we return to the theme of legendary origins of
peoples as in Anglo-Israel, the origins of Freemasonry, and the origins of Christianity
Although mainstream Mormons have not practiced polygamy since 1890, there have always remained Fundamentalist Mormon sects that have continued the practice which they call “The Most Holy Principle.” Rulon C. Allred was a temporary leader of one polygamous sect up until 1977 when he was murdered by the leader of another sect which wanted to have authority over all the polygamous groups. The Most Holy Principle is Allred’s four volume historical defense of Mormon polygamy. The fourth volume is a summary of the first three volumes, and includes another variation of the quotation: 
“Rejection of the Book of Mormon is often followed by, ‘It is poison! So I did not read it.’ Those who reject a study of the holy principle of celestial plural marriage are often found making a similar statement. It is unfortunate. With the assumption of such a position, the following familiar phrase is brought to mind: ‘There is a mental attitude which is a bar against all information, which is a bar against all argument, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance. That mental attitude is condemnation before investigation.’ Those who take the same attitude will never know the ‘truth of all things.’" 
Allred provides no source citation, and offers no attribution. Though there is no obvious connection between Fundamentalist Mormonism and British-Israelism, there are some common beliefs in the movements. But these connections are remote and may be more a matter of coincidental theology than one movement having a direct influence on the other.  Still they may point to some cross-reading of various religious material by Mormons.
In 1937, Rulon Allred opened his own naturopathic medical practice at Salt Lake City. Could he have got the quotation through some homeopathic or naturopathic literature? 
Another possible source is through Seldes, or possibly Seldes’s own source, as both men use the phrase “condemnation before investigation.”
1982: Medical Dark Ages Circa 1984
by Ralph R. Hovnanian
This text is a manifesto for medical freedom with a focus on “alternative therapies” for cancer as being more effective than usual therapies. It has much the same oppositional spirit as Barker’s Miracles of Healing, but with a more radical political style:
“May we all unite into a politically viable effort to remove institutionalized prejudice, with a vigorous Constitutional guarantee of FREEDOM OF CHOICE IN HEALTH.” 
The title of a large section of the book is: Cancer Quotations Collage: Medical Dark Ages Circa 1984; or P.I.G / J.O.B (Prejudice, Ignorance, Greed / Jealousy, Oligarchy, Bureaucracy). This Quotations Collage is a collection from a multitude of sources. The quotations relate to healing in general, cancer treatments, and to criticism of the medical establishment as a monopolistic culture which has historically disallowed alternative treatments for its own greedy motives.
Hovnanian’s variation appears in some introductory remarks beside a series of other quotations:
“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all argument, & which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance. That principle is condemnation without investigation.” – Herbert Spencer
This quotation is very much like Seldes’s variation. The phrase “condemnation without investigation” is the same as McClusky in Your Health and Chiropractic. Hovnanian’s source was most likely from the same family of sources as McClusky’s and Seldes’s.
1992: The Pathology of Trauma
edited by J.K. Mason
This is a medical school text book, and one that is clearly of value to serious students of pathology and forensic medicine. The editor, J.K. Mason, is currently Professor Emeritus of Forensic Medicine at the University of Edinburgh. The first edition appeared in 1978 with the title The Pathology of Violent Injury. The chapters were authored by contributing experts. The quotation does not appear in this first edition.
In 1992 the second edition was published with a new look and new title, The Pathology of Trauma. Professor Mason asked the contributing authors to choose epigraphs for the new editions of their chapters. 
Many of the authors chose Shakespearean quotations. Dr. C.T. Flynn, former Chief of Medicine at Missouri’s John J. Pershing Veteran’s Administration Medical Center, chose the Paley misquotation exactly as it appears attributed to Herbert Spencer in Alcoholics Anonymous and Barker’s Miracles of Healing.
Dr. Flynn’s chapter is titled Renal Failure Following Injury and Burning. The chapter discusses how severe burns and crushing injuries can cause failure of the kidneys and subsequent death. 
I wrote to Dr. Flynn who kindly replied that his source for the quotation was the book Alcoholics Anonymous, and that he used it to reflect that had the medical establishment’s prejudices against dialysis been followed, nobody would have been saved from death by kidney failure. 
197? – Present: The Internet – A Misquotery
The Internet has been an essential tool in researching this quotation’s origins and history. It has also contributed to the spreading of the quotation and to new generations of mutations and attributions. The contexts in which we find the quotation continue to fit into the category of alternative knowledge: ghosts, Big Foots, astrology, Atlantis, British-Isralism, pyramids, Twelve-Step spirituality, homeopathy, chiropractic, faith healing, etc.
But it has also extended into sales pitches, essays on a variety of topics, and various arguments on online discussion boards. There are also a growing number of databases of quotations available as online reference works which attribute this quotation to Herbert Spencer. A Google search on the Boolean phrase (“contempt prior to investigation” +Spencer) gets over 4,200 hits. The phrase (“contempt prior to examination” +Paley) gets 7 hits.
There is no way of knowing for sure when the quotation first appeared on the Internet. It was probably first transmitted via email in the early 1970s or in the late 1970s on a usenet newsgroup or a listserv, some of the first discussion groups on networked computers. The first web pages as we know them didn’t appear until the early 1990s, and this is surely when the quotation began to replicate and mutate beyond control.
Google keeps a searchable usenet archive. The earliest use of the phrase “contempt prior to investigation” in a usenet discussion is from 1986 on the newsgroup net.sci.
The following examples are a partial survey of some of the variations that have spawned on the Internet. Because these are easily found using Google or another search engine, I am not including source citations. The variety of variations is sure to continue growing.
“Condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance,” is an abbreviated form that has been variously attributed to Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemmingway, Thomas Edison, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Some closely related versions are:
"Condemnation without Investigation is the State of Ignorance" - Waldolf Emmersen
"Condemnation without investigation is the height of foolishness." – Benjamin Franklin
“Condemnation before investigation is certain to leave one in a state of everlasting ignorance.” – Chaucer
Other relatives without attributions are:
“Condemnation without investigation is the highest form of ignorance.”
"Condemnation without investigation is ignorance"
“Condemnation without investigation, will insure ignorance forever.”
“Condemnation without investigation is the height of arrogance!"
“Condemnation without investigation is a bar to all knowledge.”
"Condemnation before investigation can not fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance."
“Condemnation Before Investigation is the Height of Stupidity!”
"Contempt, without examination, is PREJUDICE"
“Contempt prior to investigation is what enslaves a mind to Ignorance.”
“Contempt without investigation is the mark of a closed mind.”
"There is no greater ignorance than contempt prior to investigation"
“Contempt prior to examination is a bar against all information, proof against all argument, which cannot fail to keep mankind in everlasting ignorance.”
There are also several abbreviated forms that are attributed to Herbert Spencer:
"There is no bar to knowledge greater than contempt prior to examination."
“There is one principle that can keep a man in everlasting ignorance. That is contempt prior to investigation.”
"One of mankind's greatest faults is condemnation prior to investigation."
Some people have confused Herbert Spencer, the 19th century British philosopher, with Edmund Spenser, the 16th century English poet:
"There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all argument and cannot help but keep man in everlasting ignorance, which is condemnation without investigation." - Spencer, the English poet.
“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all argument, and which cannot fail to keep man in everlasting ignorance. That principle is ‘Condemnation before investigation,’” - Edmond Spencer
Many people write as if they are using their own words:
“The truth of restricted love is opposed and rejected by most religionists today. The principle of contempt prior to examination is a bar against all information and keeps man in ignorance. Truth always involves more than appears on the surface.”
…or quote others as if they were:
"Contempt prior to examination is a far greater bar to knowledge than lack of a formal education.” – Ralph Smeed
Some people attribute the quotation to themselves, as does this Washington, D.C. private investigator:
“THERE IS A PRINCIPLE WHICH IS A BAR AGAINST ALL INFORMATION, WHICH IS PROOF AGAINST ALL ARGUMENT. AND, WHICH CANNOT FAIL TO KEEP A MAN IN EVERLASTING IGNORANCE -THAT PRINCIPLE IS ‘CONDEMNATION BEFORE INVESTIGATION’” - Nicholas R. Beltrante, P.I
Jennifer Michael Hecht earned a Ph.D. in the history of science from Columbia University in 1995. Today she is a history professor at Nassau Community College, an author, and a poet. Her book Doubt: A History examines the contributions the great doubters have made through history. In the first printing of Doubt, she attributes the phrase “Contempt before investigation” to Spencer. But her use of the phrase carries a very different meaning that any other interpretation of the quotation. She uses it to describe Spencer’s “famous approach” to doubting. She is saying that Spencer saw “contempt before investigation” as a good thing:
"Many learned agnosticism from the Social Darwinist and early sociologist Herbert Spencer. Spencer liked Huxley's term[agnosticism]: he was an agnostic and his famous approach was 'Contempt before investigation.' On the matter of God he believed there is nothing to investigate so the question is best ignored.” 
This would have been Spencer’s position on the matter of God, had “Contempt before investigation” actually been his approach. One early reviewer of Doubt remarked:
“She botches Herbert Spencer's ‘contempt before investigation’ idea on page 408. Rather, as a good doubter, he said that was a cardinal sin; he did NOT advocate using ‘contempt before investigation’ as a philosophical tool.” 
Interestingly, the reviewer still treats the phrase as if it is known to be Spencer’s.
I wrote to Jennifer Hecht to establish her source for her information on Spencer. She was unable to provide one, but it is important to note that it is only the first printing of Doubt that includes the misquotation. The second printing included several corrections, and the omission of the erroneous Spencer quotation was one of them. 
Herbert Spencer is not an easy mind to get to know. He lived to witness the marginalization of his life’s work. Secondary sources often misrepresent him, and his original works are so vast that learning about him firsthand is a daunting task. This situation has contributed to the widespread acceptance of this quotation as Spencer’s. The use of the quotation in Doubt suggests that this acceptance has even begun to effect serious scholarship.
Hecht’s usage is an interesting example of how an unverifiable quotation can begin to take on new meanings, even to mean exactly the opposite of its original meaning. I hope that this paper has brought it meaning and identified a proper lineage.
Like most famous quotations, this misquotation has survived because it fit the aims of various authors. It communicated something they wanted to say, and it did it with flair. It bolstered their argument by invoking authoritative names like Paley, Spencer, Einstein, Emerson, and others.
By its nature, it survived mostly in the context of alternative knowledge. It communicated something that didn’t need saying in other contexts. For the most part it asked readers to investigate things that were hard to believe, things that challenged orthodoxies, and things that ultimately required faith.
Some 19th century author extracted a kernel of meaning from William Paley, and generated a new form that would survive in books on British-Israelism, occult secret societies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, extreme Protestant sects, and vampirology crossed with Holy Grail lore. All of the sources surveyed have some things in common that suggest a lineage to a common source.
In the 20th century it survived with a more modern attribution to Herbert Spencer, and here it found many of the same environments: unorthodox healing in homeopathy, a cross between unorthodox healing and religion in Alcoholics Anonymous, Freemasonry revisited in Steinmetz’s Hidden Meaning, more alternative healing in McClusky’s Chiropractic, fringe religion revisited in Allred’s Most Holy Principle, and still more alternative healing in Hovnavian’s Medical Dark Ages.
It was in the 20th century that some of the once alternative movements became accepted by the
established order. A.A. is the most salient example of this. Indeed the
movement has become the orthodoxy of addiction care in the