Definition of ignorance

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The definition of ignorance

Letter received

My response

Thank you for your interesting site.  It is a salutory lesson to those who imagine that ignorance and superstition may be disappearing from our world. The appeal to the "what feels good to me must be true" brigade is blatant and in spite of the pseudo intellectualism and cleverness of the site, it still relies on personal ego and, to quote Dawkins, proof through incredulity. Just remember all of those who read this letter (probably none at a guess as it will never be posted on the site), the feeling that you have found truth because of your emotional reaction to a possibility is, whilst important to you, worthless in the greater area of understanding and discovery.

Thank you for the very challenging letter.  It appears that we have different beliefs on this issue, to say the least, and it appears the real challenge here isn’t in defending my beliefs, but in first establishing a basis of communication in which we can treat each other with mutual respect and truly seek to understand why we each believe as we do.  Your letter illustrates one of the greatest problems in mankind’s search for the truth on our origins.  We should be able to openly and rationally discuss the evidence and reason for, and against, both sides, as both the spontaneous generation and special creation of life are possibilities.  You’re certainly not alone in your reaction, but why is it that even intelligent people jump so quickly to the polar extremes of this issue and resort to self-righteous posturing and debasing insults?  Is that really the level at which you want to conduct any discussion?  Is that the level at which we reach “greater understanding and discovery” of the universe and the life within it?  Do we gain, or do we lose, by calling those with different beliefs “ignorant” and “superstitious,” and their life experiences “worthless?” 

Much as it might surprise you, we may have more in common than you would expect.  I was once very cynical and antagonistic towards anything even remotely spiritual or religious.   When I was single, I avoided dating women who showed any hint of being religious because I held such a strong conviction that I wouldn’t want to someday raise children into the ritual and hypocrisy of religion.  My experiences in life, however, have since changed my beliefs. 

You quoted Dawkins, so I’ll assume you’ve read some of his books and believe in at least some of what he says.  I’m no expert on his writings, but, if you would, let me use what I do know of him to illustrate a point.  Years ago, his arguments would have held great appeal for me.  Now that I have reason to have faith in God, I read Dawkins with far more skepticism rather than with a readiness to have him confirm my beliefs.

  • In one instance, Dawkins tries to demonstrate that God is unnecessary by developing computer programs which apply random changes to pre-defined forms, saying this mimics the evolution of life.  Now I see that by the very act of “programming” and defining the rules, he is playing the role of God in his own creations, yet he fails to realize that fact, and fails to even question if another intelligent being might have played the same role in our own creation.

  • In another instance, Dawkins shows how strings of random letters with no meaning can be “mutated” one by one into a Shakespearean phrase, as supposed evidence of what happened in DNA in the evolution of life.  It seems so obvious to me now though how far his model falls short of real life processes, in which only intermediate steps with completely defined and meaningful life functions survive to reproduce the next variation.  Dawkins never even accounts for the origin of the incredibly complicated process of reproduction, which he assumes in his model to have just happened on its own.

  • In "The Selfish Gene" Dawkins concludes that the gene must survive and that it doesn't care which life form is used to accomplish this goal.  Humans are no better than rats.  A dismal view, to say the least, but why stop there?  Why not say instead that matter itself doesn't care whether it exists as hydrogen or uranium atoms, organic or inorganic molecules, as long as it continues to exist?  Why not go another step further yet to say that all that really counts is the infinite source of energy from which all matter itself came?  If Dawkins would take his thinking to its logical conclusions he might be well on the road to finding the God he so passionately wants to prove does not exist.

The point I’m trying to make here is that while Dawkins writes logically, he writes only to support his own personal beliefs and never really engages the alternate hypothesis, as any good scientist should.  If you don’t share his ideologies, the weaknesses and shortcomings in his logic become very apparent.  So I ask you this question:  Do Dawkins’ followers believe him because of his infallible use of evidence and reason, or do they believe simply because it “feels good” to them too because it supports their own atheistic belief systems and personal egos?

Dawkins uses his positions as a scientist to add credibility to an overriding, and highly charged, personal agenda of atheism and secular humanism.  Wouldn’t you have to admit that his conclusions are based on much more than just the scientific evidence?  Greater scientists such as Einstein and Hawking, even though they may not speak of faith in a personal God, still express a deep sense of wonder and awe for our existence.  For others, such Von Braun, the universe itself is undeniable evidence of their God and Savior.  Dawkins, on the other hand, seems to act as someone who thinks he has it all figured out and that anyone who doesn’t see it his way is ignorant.  You objected to what you called ego and pseudo-intellectualism in my site, but wouldn’t you have to admit that Dawkins exemplifies these qualities to an extreme?  You complained that my site uses what Dawkins calls “proof through incredulity,” but Dawkins and those like him seem to think they prove their beliefs simply by displaying sufficient “intellectual” cynicism and disdain for the beliefs of others.  Is that any better?  Don’t we deserve better from great minds? 

Let's look at one other example of the "science" of evolution.  Darwin believed that natural selection and gradualism could explain all life forms.  With the fossil evidence for gradualism still lacking over a hundred years later, Gould discarded gradualism and replaced it with punctuated equilibrium, and based part of his thesis around a mathematical proof of natural selection.  Now Stephen Wolfram, a scientific genius called by some "the next Newton," has discovered a mathematical error in Gould's argument and states "natural selection is not all that important" and that organisms take form by the RULES of cellular automata.  I see DNA as a biological PROGRAM, and now science is beginning to show us that this program may contain very specific RULES for how each object defined in the program is deployed.  Is it so unreasonable to believe there is an Intelligence behind this or is it just so hard for those who take so much pride in their intellect to consider the possibility that their intellect may be like that of a flea in comparison to a Higher yet intelligence?  Human nature applies to all of us.  Could it be that there is as much blind self-righteousness in science as there is in religion in hanging on to old beliefs?

You say my experiences are worthless.  Logically, one might thus conclude that all our experiences are equally worthless, but perhaps we should instead view other's experiences as equally valuable.  Now if I was the only person in the world who claimed to have experienced something supernatural in my life, you would be quite right in dismissing it as unscientific and unfounded.  The truth, however, is that hundreds of millions of people through history have had the same types of experiences as I that they can only explain as God touching their lives, and the same characteristics are observed to repeat in these experiences time and time again.  My experiences occurred largely in solitude, with no connection to any church or organized religion.  When I later joined a church and began to share what had drawn me there I was quite amazed to find many others with the same types of experiences that touched and changed their lives.  I find evidence of the same in literature and lyrics to songs, where others through time have recorded experiences as if I had written them myself.  Even from a scientific, rationalist view, shouldn’t an open mind consider those observations as possible evidence of an outside force at work in the human experience? 

From the tone of your letter I get the impression you think that I’m just a dimwit who probably decided to believe in God one night while feeling warm and fuzzy, singing Kumbayah around a campfire.  Odd as it may seem, my post-graduate admissions test scores put me in the 98th percentile of the group tested and my psychological profile in one standard test that describes how you relate and process information puts me in the “rationalist” category, which makes up less than 5% of the general population.  I was once quite proud of my intellect, but wrongly so since all our abilities are given to us at birth through no work of our own.  In most cases, great strengths also have complementary great weaknesses.  My wife used to refer to me as “Spock” because I looked at things so rationally and without the least bit of emotion or empathy for the other side.  It wasn’t meant as a compliment, by the way.  Coming to faith in God was the result of experiences that I couldn’t explain away rationally, as much as I wanted to, followed by many months of study of science, history, theology and scripture, as well as prayer, seeking to better understand and reconcile the world around me.  Admitting my faith to others, and to God, after my years of spiritual cynicism was a difficult and quite humbling thing to do, but one that I knew in my heart, and my mind, to be right.  Until you’ve experienced something similar you really can’t know how you would react yourself. 

I once thought like you that religion was for the simple.  I no longer believe, however, that ignorance is simply a function of what you believe.  We’re all born in complete ignorance, but with an incredible capacity for intelligence which will not be filled in any of us.  We must experience and learn throughout life to make anything of this gift.  The greater the breadth of our experiences, the greater the breadth of our capacity to use our intelligence.  I now see ignorance as a function of closing one’s mind, refusing to seek new experiences, rejecting the learnings and experiences of others, and leaning too heavily one’s own understandings.  Anyone who restricts the breadth of their experiences will be ignorant of all knowledge that can only be gained from outside that sphere.  Sadly, our pride tends to make us self-assured and self-righteous, always thinking that OURS is the right view.  We should instead be humbled by how little any of us really know in comparison to the total sum of human experience and knowledge.  We should be humbled even by how little we know at this point in our lives compared to what we have the potential to experience and learn in the years ahead.  I was once prejudiced against anything spiritual, but now I see that my beliefs were based in ignorance and a lack of any meaningful experience in that area.  Dawkins can write as "logically" as he wants, but in writing about things that he hasn’t experienced he may be little more than a blind guide trying to convince others in the darkness that there is no such thing as light.

So my challenge to you, and the purpose of my site, is that we not rely on just one view that falls within our comfort zone.  Go seek experiences and learning on both sides of this issue. Get to the point at which you can understand what (and Who) would change someone like me rather than summarily dismissing me as ignorant and worthless.  My greatest learnings in life came when I realized not how much I knew, but how very little I knew, because this opened up the door to many new areas, and once there I found I hungered for the new knowledge.  I cannot prove to you that God exists.  That is a transaction that can be conducted only between you and God.  What I hope to do, however, is to give you just enough reason to want to open the door to that pursuit.  If you haven’t already seen it, you’re welcome to take a look at another site I’ve created that gives a more personal look at my experiences and perspectives at "Snapshots of God."  I wish you the best in your pursuit of knowledge and truth.



Quote from article on Stephen Wolfram:

"Take seashells. One of the most esteemed documents of modern paleontology is Stephen Jay Gould's doctoral thesis on shells. According to Gould, the fact that there are thousands of potential shell shapes in the world, but only a half dozen actual shell forms, is evidence of natural selection. Not so, says Wolfram. He's discovered a mathematical error in Gould's argument, and that, in fact, there are only six possible shell shapes, and all of them exist in the world. In other words, you don't need natural selection to pare down evolution to a few robust forms. Rather, organisms evolve outward to fill all the possible forms available to them by the rules of cellular automata. Complexity is destiny—and Darwin becomes a footnote. "I've come to believe," says Wolfram, "that natural selection is not all that important. . . . For at least four years now, Wolfram has been challenging the mathematical center of each of the major scientific disciplines in turn: biology, chemistry, physics, philosophy, evolution, fluid dynamics, cosmology, human cognition, music theory, the material sciences—the list grows by the night. He even takes on mathematics itself. There is practically no corner of the scientific world that, in Wolfram's mind, can't be revolutionized by his model. And so chapter after chapter of the new book sets down new paths—or more accurately, throws down gauntlets—challenging scientists in those fields to rewrite their disciplines according to Wolfram's new rules."



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