This morning I asked my four-year-old how many eggs she wanted for breakfast. After thinking about it for a few seconds she said, “umm, 6.” No, she does not have the appetite of a lumberjack. Instead, this reminded me that humans seem predisposed to making things up when they don’t know anything. Having never made eggs, my daughter has no idea how many eggs go into the small pile of scrambled eggs she can eat. One would think that after careful consideration she would say something like “I don’t have any idea” or “Dad, why do you expect me to know that?” or “my regular amount” etc. There are many reasonable responses she could make without knowing anything. Instead, she asked for 6 eggs.
The striking thing is that this behavior is not limited to four-year-olds. Perhaps it is part of human nature. Perhaps we all build habits when we are four-year-olds that persist into adulthood. I don’t know. But it seems to me that it is extremely common to fill in the gaps of our knowledge with whatever suits our fancy at the moment (this is a much broader concept than the “God of the Gaps,” it is more like the “Free Fire Zone of the Gaps”).
This tendency to make things up and state them with confidence is particularly prolific in situations where we expect there will never be knowledge to fill in the gaps. If there were many eye witnesses, or if we learn there was surveillance video tape, we immediately become less sure of our own memories of the incident. (Why is that?) If we are pontificating on theological issues or in another situation where the best kinds of evidence are tentative at best, rather than giving us greater pause, it tends to give us greater license and greater dogmatism.
This leads to the unfortunate observation that the questions shrouded in the most doubt and mystery are the questions that inspire the most strident opinions and the least tolerance of dissenting opinion.
In a related irony, education breads uncertainty. A large portion of what we learn through study are all the things we don’t know. The most knowledgeable people on a subject are usually the ones to offer the most caveats and qualifications of their conclusions. The ones who know the least are those who are the most sure of their conclusions. All of this is very unfortunate.
In conclusion, beware of uneducated people pontificating on topics of which little can be know. That is, beware of me.