Quote of the moment: Darwin, on confidence begotten by ignorance


Italian panel depicting Charles Darwin, created ca. 1890, on display at the Turin Museum of Human Anatomy. Wikimedia image

Italian panel depicting Charles Darwin, created ca. 1890, on display at the Turin Museum of Human Anatomy. Wikimedia image.  Darwin sits contemplating two of his works, title in Italian, Origin of Species (1859), and Descent of Man (Origin of Man), 1871

How could I have forgotten this wonderful passage from Darwin?

Maria Popova’s Literary Jukebox reminded me today.

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

– Charles Darwin, Descent of Man; Introduction, p. 2.

Today was the 205th anniversary of Darwin’s birth.

Faithful readers of this blog may recognize Darwin’s thought as very close to a description of the Dunning Kruger Effect, as indeed it is.  How many others, through the years, recognized the phenomenon, and commented on it, before Dunning and Kruger gave it scientific heft?

The quote attributed to Darwin is edited just a tiny bit from his actual statement, though without loss of effect.  Darwin, ever the hard science stickler, had limited his statement much more.  In the introduction to Descent of Man, Darwin wrote:

This work contains hardly any original facts in regard to man; but as the conclusions at which I arrived, after drawing up a rough draft, appeared to me interesting, I thought that they might interest others. It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science. The conclusion that man is the co-descendant with other species of some ancient, lower, and extinct form, is not in any degree new.

Any way the knowledge is sliced, creationists are cock-sure they’re right, when they are most solidly in the wrong.

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3 Responses to Quote of the moment: Darwin, on confidence begotten by ignorance

  1. This is a great quote, applicable far beyond the Creationism vs Evolution argument. I’m sure we’d all do well to stop and reflect on it before we start yelling at each other. Wrong or right, we are more convincing when we behave reasonably.

    Like

  2. Ed Darrell says:

    Ha!

    There is a particular form of ignorance that attaches to the know-it-all, a hubris that only makes these observations more poignant.

    Everyone ignorant? Just try to tell that to Ted Cruz, or Rand Paul, or Bill Bennett.

    Like

  3. And we are ALL ignorant. Born that way, gonna die that way; everyone who has a pulse. No exceptions.

    Like

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