Ignorance about ignorance

I have just started reading Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show On Earth – The Evidence for Evolution and was discussing it (evolution) with a work colleague the other morning. He mentioned that he was not aware of the validity of evolution as his religious upbringing had steered his thinking about the concept in a negative direction.

This is nothing new. It is quite common for those with a religious bent to assert that evolution is just a theory, as if it was merely a silly proposition or conjecture. It’s not their fault that they were led into thinking so by their parents and religious instructors. I am convinced that these people usually find no need to question the authority of  elders, as it would be construed as disrespectful. Invariably there would be no need to seek out substitutes or alternatives. I mentioned to my colleague that ignorance, although regularly referred to as not being a virtue, would in this instance not be a major transgression.

Ignorance merely points to a lack of knowledge, even though most people use the word to imply something more sinister. However, wilful ignorance is another matter entirely. When one actively disengages one’s mind from searching for, or educating himself or herself about the alternatives, when a dogmatically held belief is shown to be wanting, then that constitutes wilful ignorance.

I remember my colleague responding that “new-found knowledge invariably upsets one’s lifestyle, routine, beliefs, even relationships and thus caused more problems,” when we were interrupted and I could not finish my argument. I sincerely believe that he is open-minded and willing to embrace new knowledge, so for his benefit, my response follows:

Knowledge can never be regarded as harmful by itself. There is no harm in finding things out; you are not obligated to accept what you find. What could be harmful, is the manner in which you choose to use that knowledge. You could use it for good or bad purposes. The key is to evaluate new knowledge critically before accepting or rejecting it. Any other treatment of new knowledge has more chances of causing negative changes in your life. The simple truth is that the truth is not always pretty or palatable.

Truth is good; actively seek it. Change is good; embrace it.

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