Charles Darwin wrote, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much who positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

While Chuck and I don’t see eye-to-eye on much, this quote resonated with me.  I have experienced the truth of what he said both in my own life, and observed it in others’.  Indeed, the truth Darwin captured here reaches farther than the sciences; it extends to virtually all areas of knowledge.

While not original to me, I have often said that the more I learn the more I realize I don’t know.  Sometimes this means the solving of one problem leads to other problems I was previously unaware of—winning one battle only to start five more.  Other times this means that in my attempt to solve a problem, the problem is exacerbated, because I come to realize that the question is much more difficult and the answer much less apparent than I had originally thought.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying the more one learns about any subject the more confused or agnostic they will become about that subject.  Indeed, it will often be the case that study will bring one to a very firm conclusion.  There are times, however, when I have firmly believed X, only to lose my confidence in the truth of X after having studied the issue in more depth.  Sometimes this means changing my belief from X to Y, but other times it means no longer knowing whether to believe X, Y, or Z since all of them seem to be supported by good reasons.  Until there is sufficient evidence to tip the scales in favor of one position versus another, one is left in a state of agnosticism concerning the issue.

Even if the scales are tipped in favor of one option over the others so that one comes to adopt Y rather than X or Z, they will often hold to Y only tentatively, or with reservations, always aware that there are good arguments against Y, and good reasons to adopt X and Z.  For those who have never studied the issue out, such a disposition appears to be one of cowardice or compromise.  That perspective, however, is a luxury only the ignorant can enjoy.

Experience tells me Darwin was right: ignorance often breeds high degrees of confidence—a confidence the informed can’t always enjoy.  Sometimes facts and arguments have a way of complicating what is otherwise a very clear picture of reality.  Other times facts and arguments have a way of making clear what otherwise isn’t.  We should not be afraid to seek knowledge simply because it may decrease our confidence in X, for many times it will increase it.

For those who desire the truth, the path of knowledge is a necessary one, even if that means living with some uncertainties in life.  Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s still ignorance.  I would rather gain knowledge and be confused and uncertain about the truth than to risk being confident about a falsity.  While uncertainty is never fun, sometimes it’s the only path from falsity to truth.  For those who treasure truth above all else, the path of uncertainty is a necessary evil on the journey of knowledge.  So before you throw stones at the person walking this path, you might do well to ask them if they know something you may not know.  If you’re lucky, working together you will both reach the desires destination.

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