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Thinking must never submit itself. These words were spoken by French mathematician and natural philosopher Henri Poincaré during a speech in honour of the 75th anniversary of our university in 1909. What does the quote mean today’s society for professor Marc Noppen, manager of the University Hospital Jette.



  • This article was published as a preface in mUZe magzine in September, the UZ Brussel medical magazine


Summer break is over. Such a strange world. On the on hand: our ‘Western’ (sports) summer. Euro 2016, Wimbledon, Tour de France, the Olympics… with a traditional side dish of festivals and travel. Leisure business as usual.


On the other hand, almost as in a parallel universe, distant and yet so close, bloody terror and unthinkable violence. Nice, Istanbul, Munchen, Charleroi and a little further away, Aleppo, Southern Turkey and Northern Syria… And all of this, so shortly after Paris and Brussels. Terror level? 3.


All of this in the name of ‘a’ god, ‘a’ worldview, ‘a’ philosophy. This time in name of allah the supreme. Whoever. Now it is allah, before it was ‘our’ god. Let’s just call the spade a cat: all this in the name of a ‘religion’.


I - a free thinking humanistic atheist - am fully convinced that ‘religion’ in essence aims to make a connection between people, between people and their god, resulting in numerous positive effects. Unity, a feeling of tribe, a moral and ethical code, all connected to that one higher goal. As a ‘religious atheist’ I can perfectly subscribe to that view. Even today. Doing good for the sake of good. And where possible, together with others. And this god, well, in the 21st century surely that is nothing but a metaphor? Who can object to that?


However, when religion leads to submission and blind obedience, I am no longer on board. I - and I hope the many, that hold the principles of the Enlightenment dear, with me - will never agree to that. Ni dieu, ni maître. I will never - not morally, nor spiritually, nor intellectually, nor physically…  - submit myself. For as long as I can. Yet always respectfully. Our ‘patron’ Henri Poincaré - no, not a saint - already phrased it eloquently. Our one and only true baseline. Today more than ever, something I am damn proud of.


At the time is was a - albeit political and social - local statement. Today it is a global truth, that must no more or no less safeguard our worldview and values. My personal request to you all is: (re)read these words again, reflect on them and live by them. Whatever your ‘religion’.



Henri Poincaré (1854-1912)

Thinking must never submit itself,

neither to a dogma, 

nor to a party, 

nor to a passion, 

nor to an interest, 

nor to a preconceived idea, 

nor to anything whatsoever, 

except to the facts themselves, 

because for it to submit to anything else would be the end of its existence.


Prof. dr. Marc Noppen