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

February 12, 2014

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.


Quote of the moment: Ebenezer Scrooge, and darkness is cheap (still, in 2012)

December 25, 2012

Roberto Innocenti, Scrooge on a dark staircase

Ebenezer Scrooge, up a dark staircase; “Darkness was cheap, and Scrooge liked it.” Illustration by Roberto Innocenti, via HornRimmedMagpie

Quote of the moment (an encore post for the season, with a bit of context thrown in later):

Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.

– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Stave 1

I thought of that line of Dickens’s when, months ago,  I read of this celebration of darkness, ignorance and calumny. Although, with the recent renewing of Limbaugh’s contract, it may no longer be true that his particular brand of darkness is cheap.

Still, it remains dark.

John Leach, Scrooge meets Ignorance and Want

Scrooge meets Ignorance and Want, the products of his stinginess (drawing by John Leech, 1809-1870)

(More about the drawing below the fold)

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Quote of the moment, Daniel Boorstin channels Kin Hubbard: Pretension to knowledge more dangerous than ignorance

February 26, 2012

Daniel Boorstin, Librarian of Congress, Information Bulletin January 2003

Daniel Boorstin, Librarian of Congress, Information Bulletin January 2003

In an earlier post I asked about the origins of this quote, and a reader capable of searching well gave us a good enough citation:   Daniel Boorstin, the late historian and former Librarian of Congress, wrote:

I have observed that the world has suffered far less from ignorance than from pretensions to knowledge. It is not skeptics or explorers but fanatics and ideologues who menace decency and progress. No agnostic ever burned anyone at the stake or tortured a pagan, a heretic, or an unbeliever.

Boorstin wrote that in an essay in  a book published in 1990, “The Amateur Spirit,” in the update of 1935’s Living Philosophies (edited by Clifton Fadiman).  You can see a more complete version of the quote here.

Isn’t that eerily similar to Kin Hubbard’s observation?  From Boorstin, the former Librarian of Congress, it carries the heft of more academic language than Hubbard’s version, but it clearly echoes the idea, doesn’t it?

Below the fold, the statement in greater context of the duty of historians.

Tip of the old scrub brush to j a higginbotham.

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Quote of the moment: Trouble? It comes from “what we know that ain’t so.”

October 15, 2011

Kin Hubbard and Will Rogers, image from Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana

Kin Hubbard and Will Rogers, image from Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana

It was a warning from a prophet of the past, and it applies to almost every controversy you can think of in 2011:

It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.

The only problem is, to whom do we attribute it?  Was it Will Rogers who said, or Frank McKinney “Kin” Hubbard, or Artemus Ward?

Virtue may be its own reward, but ignorance costs everybody, especially when it is elected or promoted to power.

More:


Quote of the moment: Charles Dickens, on Tea Party and Republican Party budget cuts

May 12, 2011

This is mostly an encore post, unfortunately made more urgent recently.

What is the driving motivation of Republican budget cuts in Texas, Wisconsin, and the rest of the nation?

Quote of the moment:

Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.

– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Stave 1

I thought of that line of Dickens’s when I read of this celebration of darkness, ignorance and calumny. Although, with the recent renewing of Limbaugh’s contract, it may no longer be true that his particular brand of darkness is cheap.

Still, it remains dark.

Scrooge meets Ignorance and Want, the products of his stinginess (drawing by John Leech, 1809-1870)

Scrooge meets Ignorance and Want, the products of his stinginess (drawing by John Leech, 1809-1870)

I was reminded of this post from three years ago by a discussion at What’s Wrong With the World (commented on earlier at the Bathtub, here), in which the principal protagonists appear to me to be wholly ignorant of the New Deal, the progressive movement and progressive ideals, and much more of U.S. history, law, and events.  In effect, I thought, that discussion was fueled by that ugly, mean little boy, Ignorance.  The angel warned Scrooge, “but most of all beware this boy [Ignorance], for on his brow I see that written which is Doom.”

(More about the drawing below the fold)

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Quote query: Where did Boorstin write this?

August 17, 2009

Daniel Boorstin, Librarian of Congress, Information Bulletin January 2003

Daniel Boorstin, Librarian of Congress, Information Bulletin January 2003

According to several sources, Daniel Boorstin, the late historian and former Librarian of Congress, wrote:

I have observed that the world has suffered far less from ignorance than from pretensions to knowledge. It is not skeptics or explorers but fanatics and ideologues who menace decency and progress. No agnostic ever burned anyone at the stake or tortured a pagan, a heretic, or an unbeliever.

Does anyone know in what book or essay, or speech, he wrote or said that, and when?


Celebrating darkness, ignorance, and calumny

August 1, 2008

Quote of the moment:

Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.

– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Stave 1

I thought of that line of Dickens’s when I read of this celebration of darkness, ignorance and calumny. Although, with the recent renewing of Limbaugh’s contract, it may no longer be true that his particular brand of darkness is cheap.

Still, it remains dark.

Scrooge meets Ignorance and Want, the products of his stinginess (drawing by John Leech, 1809-1870)

Scrooge meets Ignorance and Want, the products of his stinginess (drawing by John Leech, 1809-1870)

(More about the drawing below the fold)

Read the rest of this entry »


Europe is a country? Whom the gods destroy . . .

February 15, 2008

No.  Europe is not a country.
Was it Euripides who said, “Whom the gods destroy, they first make mad?”  Does stupid count as mad?  We might have some concerns for our nation.
I’ve told my history students they’d better know the answer to this one.  It will show up on the test. 

Also, see this story in the New York Times, “Dumb and Dumber:  Are Americans hostile to knowledge?”

Tip of the old scrub brush to the Wayback Machine.


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