We throw around the word “ignorance” quite a bit. It can mean lack of knowledge, it can be an insult, there can be willful ignorance, there can be innocent ignorance. Rarely does the word get used without surrounding connotations and implications.
I was just listening to Richard Dawkins, well known scientist, author, orator, and proponent of evolution, talking on CBC Radio 1. I’m not sure what the cental topic of the interview was but it seemed to be about his career and where the world stands on evolution right now.
Dawkins commented on an American politician making reference to young-earth age. He uttered something along the lines of “staggering ignorance.” Fine. Whatever. He continued onto other subjects apparently meaning to back-up an old-age earth. So, he mentioned crystal isotopes and decay rates and transformations, etc. He also mentioned that a significant percentage of the British (50%+ as I recall) believed that humans lived with dinosaurs at one point.
The crystal example got me thinking about his comment earlier about ignorance. What level of ignorance was Dawkins operating from when he made the claim that the politician lacked critical information? That’s a rhetorical question. Maybe it’s a trick question. During the lifetime of that crystal, was Dawkins there to watch it? Indeed, what transformations did it go through? What was the nature of the original formation, the nature of the original environment? Could an alternate X, Y and Z have produced a similar result? There are probably good, scientific answers to all of these that would dispel all doubts. But the truth is we have to admit we operate in sheer ignorance about the fundamentals of this existence we inhabit. We were not there. We don’t know if some fairy jumped out, stole the crystal and replaced it with an old unwanted one.
“But we have our five senses!” Bobby cries. Susie exclaims, “But science can show without variation that there are laws which do not break under vast repetition in this reality!”
The tools of science are found in this existence. The fundamentals of science – are given to it. If we can call this existence “nature”, than science, as far as we know, has been given all that it needs to test what is natural. What is unnatural, if there is such a thing, is another existence and thus another science.
If you ask science to prove the existence of the unnatural, it will not be able to. It hasn’t been given the tools to undeniably prove or disprove the existence of the unnatural. If you can not answer this question then the depth and breadth of the ignorance you operate under is without limit.
This is why science can come to be a belief system. If you subscribe to the idea that science is the final answer on all questions then you make an unfalsifiable claim – an unscientific claim. If you hold, nonetheless, to science as absolute, it has become a belief. A reasonable man, however, will see that this inability of science to answer all questions opens the door for a mutual arrangement of mental faculty and physical science. Neither can answer the questions which lie in the other’s realm and so the pair multiply understanding.
Note here that I have not mentioned religion or faith. You might presume that religion X, offering answers where science can not and yet verifying everything that science observes, would be the ideal combination. So, science is entirely correct and you’ve got answers to which science can not attest. You might think everything is quite rosy and peachy. The truth, however, is that your faith must make sense for the reality in which you exist. To accomplish this, you must bring together and meld your heart, your mind, your faith and your science under an umbrella of sound reason. If your faith does not make sense according to what you see of the world, the people in it, its history, and of your own convictions, you have created an unreasonable belief.
In each of the heart, mind, faith and science, one is tempted to place more weight on one than the other. As such, a faith which seems to contradict science, the man of science may discard and keep searching for another faith. On the other hand, the man of faith may discard that portion of science and keep searching for another portion of science that satisifies.
Lest the knowledge of our ignorance become a fatalistic thing, remind yourself that your heart, your mind and your faith speak to things outside of this existence and so ignorance may come to knowledge and understanding via those avenues.