Site Loader

As paradoxical as it may seem, knowledge, famously acknowledged as a source of power, is said to exhibit a positive correlation with doubt, which is not exactly a manifestation of strength. The title proposes that knowing with confidence is only possible when we know little. In the context of this claim, it is necessary to distinguish the implications of the key words, “confidence”, and “doubt”. Confidence and doubt, antipodes that form the backbone of our beliefs, can be defined respectively as the possession and lack of conviction about the truth of something. It is also important to make the distinction between confidence or doubt, as a state of mind, and true or false, as a description of the status of a knowledge claim. To what extent does increasing our knowledge result in the development of our conceptual schemes? To what extent can we know with confidence when we know little? And lastly, to what extent does more knowledge increase doubt? Although more knowledge does in many occasions give us confidence, there exists a positive correlation between the amount of knowledge we possess and the doubt we feel. This essay explores these questions in the domains of natural sciences and religion.
There are many instances in natural sciences and religion when we can experience confidence only when we know little, and gaining more knowledge increases our doubt. One interpretation of this claim is by considering ignorance, the state of inexperience and idiocy. “In expanding the field of knowledge, we but increase the horizon of ignorance”. By uncovering more knowledge, we become cognizant of more of what is hidden. We notice that there will always be so much that we are yet to learn. This awareness is the only remedy against slipping into ignorance, and with it we learn to leave space for doubt, since new knowledge might be uncovered that disproves what we previously knew with confidence.
The history of natural science is filled with such occurrences. Examples that I have come across during our biology courses are the Davson-Danielli membrane model and the evolutionary reclassification of plant families. Davson and Danielli, proposed a model of cell membrane structure consisting of layers of protein adjacent to a phospholipid bilayer on both sides. This hypothesis, based on evidence from high magnification electron micrographs, was later falsified and replaced by Singer and Nicholson’s theory, stating that proteins occupy a variety of positions in the membrane. This falsification was based on further evidence obtained from fluorescent antibody tagging and improved biochemical techniques. Another example is the initial evolutionary classification of the Scrophulariaceae plant family based on morphology, which was later disproved based on evidence from cladistics and the comparison of chloroplast gene base sequences. Advanced molecular methods have been repeatedly introduced causing significant changes in the classification of many organisms. Consequently, as our knowledge broadens, we discover new methods, and we falsify previous hypotheses or even theories. These falsifications, aside from creating knowledge, induce questioning and doubt.
Another interpretation of this claim is in relation to our conceptual schemes. Our minds are targeted by loads of information, however, by prioritizing and leaving out what is dispensable or irrational, what remains is the knowledge we have confidence in. Deductively, when we know little, it is easier to process the information, and have faith that our knowledge accurately reflects reality. As one gets familiarized with different alternatives, or controversies, the concepts of unity and accuracy become fading notions. Therefore, while knowing little, our conceptual schemes are basic, but with the growth of knowledge, they develop and become more critical and evaluative.
This claim can be applied to many instances in religion. Growing up in a religious family, I was brought up to confidently believe that Islam was the “correct path” and was confident in my Islamic beliefs. Today, I have grown up in a world filled with diversity and am aware of not only the many different religions, but also the scientific theories that aim to disprove the existence of a higher entity. Islam stands as but one possibility among a variety of outlooks. It would be unrealistic to deny feeling doubtful about some of my Islamic beliefs as my knowledge increased.
As increasing our knowledge of sciences can increase our doubt while considering religious concepts, the contraire, in which an increasing knowledge of religion increases our doubt about various scientific procedures, can also be true. There are numerous scientifically proven procedures that are subject to controversial ethical and religious dilemmas. One infamous example is obtaining embryonic stem cells for therapeutic intentions, such as curing leukemia. Embryos are deliberately made by in-vitro fertilization(IVF) and allowed to develop until they consist of embryonic stem cells. However, there have been many religious objections, as this procedure involves the death of the embryo. Most scientific explanations prove that an embryo of few cells does not show any signs of human life and that by using IVF no human that would otherwise have lived is being denied its chance of living. Yet, by increasing one’s knowledge of religion, one may argue that it is unethical to create human lives solely for the purpose of stem cells. Therefore, in such cases increasing our knowledge of religion increases our doubts about the ethicality of certain things.
On the contraire, more knowledge does not always intensify doubt. Regarding theories and hypotheses in natural sciences, falsifications do not always increase our doubt. An underlying detail is that falsifications can intensify our knowledge with confidence, as we learn with confidence that the discarded hypotheses or theories are wrong. This proves to be true in the case of both the membrane structure theories and evolutionary reclassifications.
An alternative elucidation of this counterclaim is by considering our understanding of a specific concept. We are familiarized with new information daily; however, when we are informed about a particular concept, while only understanding it on the surface, we may have doubts about it. Since our digital revolution, this has become particularly noticeable. Many are taking advantage of the naivety of others by spreading false information for unethical intentions of their own. Deductively, there is no guarantee that all we hear is reliable. Naturally, doubt and a skeptical evaluation of any premise presented to us as true is essential. However, when being familiarized with the interpretation behind a concept, we feel confident about it as we gain a deeper understanding of it. Consequently, as our knowledge increases, so does our confidence. Through the years, I have heard a lot about Darwin’s theory of evolution. I had always been doubtful about the concept, especially as the idea of us evolving from species of primates sounded ridiculous. Recently, we covered evidence for the theory of evolution in our biology courses. It is undeniable that by the understanding of the available evidence, I am more confident about the truth behind evolution.
The idea that knowledge does not increase doubt can also be proven using religion, a personal and intimate subject for most. Most of the knowledge that religion offers cannot be proved using empirical evidence and must be believed in with faith in order to have value and meaning. Consequently, believing in a particular religion and gaining more knowledge about it does not increase doubt, if not confidence. Having lengthy conversations with my grandmother made me realize that she strongly believes in her religion despite the absence of much concrete evidence, therefore it is unlikely that any amount of increased knowledge in religion may ever increase her doubt. In fact, many go as far as to consider doubt as a key to confidence in religious matters, by stating that faith involves a struggle with questioning what we know, so it goes hand in hand with doubt itself. Thus, even if increasing our knowledge intensifies our doubt, that doubt itself may lead to confidence and faith.
Finally, it is worthy to consider the universal human tendency of illusory confidence. As our knowledge increases, it seems tempting to overestimate our knowledge, basically ignoring our ignorance. We might go as far as to make up facts to impress others or satisfy our egos. Since ignorance is defined as a state of inexperience and lack of knowledge, knowledge would seem like the appropriate antidote to it; however, contrary to popular belief this might be false. In other words, the more we know the more ignorant we may be, which results in illusory confidence. Yet, an appropriate antidote is the concept of Socratic wisdom, in which Socrates states “I know one thing; that I know nothing”. One eye-catching example that clearly illustrates this problem are the statistics that illustrate how driver’s education courses, contrary to their purpose of decreasing accident rates, have been increasing them.
Conclusively, having considered various perspectives, knowledge can not only increase our doubt but can also increase our confidence. In the natural sciences, falsifications have proved to intensify both of these antipodes. Also, with the awareness of the interpretations behind a scientific concept we gain confidence about it. Yet, in the field of religion, we notice that with the development of our conceptual schemes and awareness, doubt increases. However, seeing as religion cannot be proved using empirical evidence, confidence and faith are what give it value, and so increasing our knowledge might have little to no effect. Additionally, illusory confidence is a very common issue. It is evident that this knowledge issue is of universal importance as both doubt and confidence have formed the foundation of our beliefs since ancient times. Nevertheless, it is an issue for which countless outlooks exist, especially when considering different areas of knowledge. A person’s view on this issue depends on numerous factors such as their experience, education, conceptual schemes, awareness or ignorance, or even age. Therefore, many of the afore-mentioned perspectives may prove to be wrong to other people, for example, a non-religious person may provide completely different arguments when considering doubt and confidence in religion. Yet, one can conclude that knowledge increases our doubt more than our confidence and that we can usually only know with confidence when we know little.

Post Author: admin