Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Dare to know

By Ali Sina
Hermit crab carries a shell on its back. This borrowed home provides shelter and protection from predators. When the crab feels threatened, it pulls into its shell to hide. Hermit crab does not leave its shell unless it no longer provides safety. Then it finds another shell to relocates.

We humans use faith for the same purpose that the hermit crab uses shell. Faith gives us security. We do not abandon our faith, unless we find something better. Very few people can live truly free from faith. Faiths come in all shapes and forms. Not all faiths are theistic. Materialism is also a faith. Communism, which is a “sect” of materialism, is an atheistic faith. The carnage that this faith did during the last century, in Soviet Union under Stalin; in China during the Cultural Revolution, and in Cambodia under Pol Pot, and virtually anywhere communists came to power or were striving to come to power, is only surpassed by the carnage of Islam.
Not all faiths are murderous, but all faiths are blind. In his first missile to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul says, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” (1 Corinthians 1:21). He then adds, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness" (1 Corinthians 3:19) Imam a Ghazzali (1058 – 1111) also praised blind faith when he said: “Where the claims of reason come into conflict with revelation, reason must yield to revelation.” (Tahafut al-falasafa, the Incoherence of Philosophers)Do not think that those who have left religion are automatically faith-free. Many atheists are as blinded by their faith in materialism as religious people are with their "God delusion". Francium is said to be the least stable of the first 103 elements on the periodic table. Less than an ounce of it exists on the Earth at any one time. Free thinking is just as rare as Francium. Do not believe it, when atheists tell you that they are free thinkers. They have switched faith, but free thinkers they are not. They believe in materialism. I know many religious people who are far more free thinkers than many atheists. Atheism has nothing to do with free thinking. Not only most atheists oppose free thinking, they vehemently negate any innovative idea that challenges the materialistic view of the world and become vicious.
In the words of the physicist Max Planck, “science progresses funeral by funeral.” Socrates, who chose poison over silence, in his trial said, “The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.” Socrates was charged with two crimes: He did not believe in the gods of the Athenians, and he “corrupted the young.” How did this alleged corruption happen? He went to the streets (a precursor of the Internet) and spoke of his maverick ideas to the young people who gathered to listen. He told them not to believe in the orthodoxy taught by the establishment, but to use their own intelligence and think. He taught them to use logic in lieu of faith. Although a gentle soul, Socrates was seen by the majority of the Athenians as a trouble maker, a revolutionary and a corrupter.
In the words of Australian biologist Jeremy Griffith, the director of Foundation for Humanity’s Adulthood “The Copernican model of our solar system, which showed that Earth was not the centre of the universe, was staunchly rejected by the scientific establishment and by religious zealots of Copernicus’ time. In fact Copernicus delayed publication of his theory until the last days of his life in 1543 because he feared persecution. Fifty seven years later Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake for teaching Copernican theory and when Galileo upheld the same belief some ten years after Bruno’s incineration he was also made to endure horrific persecution.” [1]
When Galileo advocated Copernican ideas, he was accused of putting ideas that were contrary to religious teaching, which claimed that the Earth was fixed and the center of the universe. He went to his friends for support. They showed him their shoulders. He was denounced to the Inquisition and despite his age and frail health; he was forced to travel to Rome to stand trial. In order to avoid being burnt on stake he recanted, but spent the last eight years of his life in confinement. The Copernican theory was declared “false and erroneous” and Galileo’s book was banned by decree.
Darwin so feared opposition that he did not publish his book for eight years. When he did, he was ‘greeted with violent and malicious criticism’ (The Origin of Species, title page, 1968 Penguin edn). He was even accused of being psychotic. He was so fiercely attacked that he wrote: ‘I have got fairly sick of hostile reviews…I can pretty plainly see that, if my view is ever to be generally adopted, it will be by young men growing up and replacing the old workers’ (Charles Darwin, ed. Francis Darwin, 1902, p.244).
Darwin was mocked for his maverick ideas. During the famous debate at Oxford in 1860 about Darwin ’s idea of natural selection Bishop Wilberforce, said, “ Darwin ’s views are contrary to the revelations of God in the Scriptures’ (Charles Darwin, ed. Francis Darwin, 1902, p.236). As a final crushing blow, he turned to Thomas Huxley, the young biologist and the champion of Darwinism who was among the audience and said: “Is the gentleman, related by his grandfather’s or grandmother’s side to an ape?” Springing to his feet, young Huxley retorted: “I would far rather be descended from a monkey on both my parents’ sides than from a man who uses his brilliant talents for arousing religious prejudice”. A roar of rage went up from the clergy, yells of delight from the Oxford students. The day was Huxley’s—and Darwin’s. (Reader’s Digest, Great Lives, Great Deeds, 1966, p.335, 336) To keep away from being abused by hostile academicians, Darwin lived a recluse life.
Griffith says, “Each of these giant strides in the journey of demystification met so much resistance that the insights were lucky to survive. Science historian Thomas Kuhn pointed out that there is no guarantee truth will survive prejudice when he wrote, ‘In science…ideas do not change simply because new facts win out over outmoded ones…Since the facts can’t speak for themselves, it is their human advocates who win or lose the day’ (Shirley C. Strum, Almost Human, 1987—Strum’s references are to Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, second edn, 1970). Similarly John Stuart Mill, in his essay On Liberty, emphasized that, ‘the dictum that truth always triumphs over persecution is one of those pleasant falsehoods which men repeat after one another till they pass into commonplaces, but which all experience refutes. History teems with instances of truth put down by persecution. If not suppressed for ever, it may be thrown back for centuries.”
These words should be engraved in gold. It is a lie to think that truth will automatically triumph over lies or that goodness will eventually win over evil on its own. This is a sweet lie that has no bases on reality and it serves to no purpose other than to lull us into inaction. Truth does not win unless someone promotes it and goodness will not triumph unless someone advance it.
Who will advance the truth? The orthodoxy will not tolerate innovative ideas that defy its paradigm. Kuhn also recognized that “revolutions in science are often initiated by an outsider—someone not locked into the current model, which hampers vision almost as much as blinders would’ (Shirley C. Strum, Almost Human, 1987, pp.164-165 of 294—Strum’s references are to Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, second edn, 1970).
Why an outsider? It is because an outsider does not know that it cannot be done. He has no idea that it is impossible. Because he is ignorant, i.e. ignorant of the conventional wisdom, he tries the “impossible,” and indulges in experiments that are deemed to be foolish. The pioneers of science and inventors are often outsiders. They are heretics, rejected by the priests of orthodoxy and barred from the tabernacle of the custodians of “knowledge.”
Not all learning is knowledge. Most people have learned a lot, but they do not know much. They are scholars, but not scouts.
Griffith says, “Even Charles Darwin was ‘a lone genius, working from his country home without any official academic position. (Geoffrey Miller, The Mating Mind, 2000, p.33 of 538). The danger of not being part of the establishment is that the ‘outsider’ is an easy, undefended target for those in the establishment who feel threatened by the outsider’s new ideas.
“The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer summarized the journey that new ideas in science have historically had to undergo when he said that ‘the reception of any successful new scientific hypothesis goes through predictable phases before being accepted’. First, ‘it is ridiculed’ and ‘violently opposed’. Second, after support begins to accumulate ‘it is stated that it may be true but it’s not particularly relevant.’ Third, ‘after it has clearly influenced the field [including members of the establishment quickly remodeling/ plagiarizing the ideas as their own discoveries] it is admitted to be true and relevant but the same critics assert that the idea is not original.’ Finally, ‘it is accepted as being self-evident’ (compiled from two references to Schopenhauer’s quote—New Scientist, 15 Nov. 1984 and PlanetHood, Ferencz and Keyes, 1988). Note that each stage of recognition is achieved in a way that protects the ego of the onlookers. The extent of insecurity in the human make-up is very apparent. Because the ego or sense of self worth of each generation becomes attached to its view of the world, paradigm shifts typically have to be introduced by new generations.
“George Bernard Shaw warned of the true nature of progress when he said that, ‘All great truths begin as blasphemies’ (from his play Annajanska, 1919).” [2]
Many Muslims tell me that after reading my articles criticizing Islam, their faith in Islam has increased. How can one’s faith increase after reading that the man whom they had believed to be a prophet of God was a mass murderer, a looter, a pedophile, a rapist and an assassin? This defies logic. What actually is happening is that they feel threatened. Their faith is challenged, and as the result, they hide deeper in their shell. They will not venture out, until that shell is completely broken and it can no longer provide protection. To achieve that goal, we must pound on it with truth until it is smashed into pieces.
Muslims are not the only people hiding in their shells. The majority of mankind needs the protective armor of a faith. We want to make sense of the world. We are afraid of the unknown. We cling to our beliefs because they give us comfort. We fear the unknown. We fear freedom.
Not too long ago I received an email (I am sorry I could not find it to publish it here) from a Muslim who said, Ali, I agree with everything you say about Islam. But I can't leave Islam because it is everything that I have. Without it I don't know what to do.
Erick Fromm in, The Fear of Freedom, (Routledge 17 May 2001) upholds the idea that capitalism frees man from a society that reduces him to a single role, but at a price. The price is isolation. Man has to find or create his place in the world. This causes anxiety. Whilst fascism, Nazism, theocracies, and all forms of authoritarianisms, satisfy man’s psychological need to belong. They provide a simple "us vs. them" ethos which gives the adherent something bigger to be a part of. Through conformity man tries to beat the anxiety of separation. That means loss of freedom and loss of independence. By conforming you belong, but you give up your wholeness and become a part of something else.
The fear of being different, to be isolated, to become an outcast, is cause for anxiety and this is what makes us humans conform – conform with the norms and dictums of the society – with its values, its standards, its mores and its wisdom. We need to find something to belong. Our community, our country, our religion and ultimately our faith/ideology give us security and the sense of belonging. They are shells that we carry along to hide within and feel safe. Therefore, we are protective of them. That is why we become defensive if our beliefs are challenged. People can become abusive, aggressive and even violent when their faith is threatened. That is why Socrates was forced to drink poison, Jordano Bruno was burned, Galileo was imprisoned, Jesus was crucified, Joan of Arc was burned to ashes and Bab was executed. They died because they pioneered new ideas that threatened the faiths of the people.
We humans have not changed much psychologically. Technologically, we have advanced, but psychologically we are still cavemen. We have changed our beliefs. We have changed our shells, but we are the same hermit crab, with the same fears that haunted our ancestors thousands of years ago.
Today the Inquisition is performed in the academia. There are dogmas that are taboos and you must not violate or you will be assaulted with vicious ferocity, until you recoil and remain silent. If you don’t, you’ll pay the price, dearly. You may not be executed literally but you’ll be mocked, vilified, insulted, called lunatic and discredited.
Yet, only those who dare to know are enlightened. Daring to know does not mean just learning, but also discovering the unkno wn. It is daring to ask questions that are not allowed to be asked, delving into worlds that are taboo, and to borrow a phrase from the Star Trek movies, “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
Answering the question of “What is Enlightenment?,” the German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote:
“Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! [dare to know] ‘Have courage to use your own understanding!’--that is the motto of enlightenment.” [3]
According to Kant, “laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a proportion of men, … gladly remain in lifelong immaturity, and why it is so easy for others to establish themselves as their guardians. It is so easy to be immature. If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me.”
Kant compares the unthinking masses to sheep and domestic livestock and says, “Having first made their domestic livestock dumb, and having carefully made sure that these docile creatures will not take a single step without the go-cart to which they are harnessed, these guardians then show them the danger that threatens them, should they attempt to walk alone. Now this danger is not actually so great, for after falling a few times they would in the end certainly learn to walk; but an example of this kind makes men timid and usually frightens them out of all further attempts.”
Let us dare to know. Let us dare to ask questions that we are told not to ask. Let us take the road less traveled. Let us not be followers but prophets unto ourselves. Let us explore the unknown. The worst thing that can happen is that we find nothing. But we shall never know until we try.
I am ignorant, but not as ignorant as to not know that I am ignorant. I will continue wondering, exploring and daring to know.

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