Dogmatism & Scientific Ambiguity

Photograph of Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 mission. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the lower half of the disc, whereas Antarctica is at the top.
The Church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen its shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the Church. ~ Ferdinand Magellan

Those who proclaim to know the truth merely reveal their ignorance. We should be humble–especially metaphysicians but scientists too–about drawing definitive conclusions about perplexing topics. The universe is large and our brains are small. Yet our science should not be dismissed; it has given us the little knowledge we possess. To abandon it would set the human species back a thousand years. As Einstein said, “All our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike–and yet it the most precious thing we have.”

So as we swing on a pendulum between belief and doubt, between certainty and skepticism, we should not lose faith. “Dare to know.” That, Kant said, was the motto of the Enlightenment. With arduous scientific searching, answers will continue to be forthcoming. In the meantime, we should not despair. Let that great 20th-century scientist Richard Feynman have the last word today. 

I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything, and many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here, and what the question might mean. I might think about it a little bit, but if I can’t figure it out, then I go on to something else. But I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t have to … I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn’t frighten me.

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