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 relocate.
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
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
al 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
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. Many of them have switched faith,
but free thinkers they are not. They believe in materialism. Often
religious people are more free thinkers than many atheists. Atheism has
nothing to do with free thinking. Not only some 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.”
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.
Griffith, the director of Foundation for Humanity’s Adulthood writes, “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
Jordano 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.”
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
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.
so feared opposition that he did not publish his book for eight years.
When he did, he was ‘greeted with violent and malicious criticism’
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."
ed. Francis Darwin, 1902, p.244).
was derided for his ideas. During the famous debate at
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
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
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) However, to keep away from being abused by hostile
lived a recluse life.
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
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 advances it.
Who will advance the truth? The orthodoxy will not tolerate innovative
ideas that defy its paradigm. Kuhn also recognized that
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
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 mavericks and 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 know little. They are scholars, but not scouts.
says, “Even Charles Darwin was ‘a lone genius,
working from his country home without any official academic position.
(Geoffrey Miller, The
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
that ‘the reception of any
successful new scientific hypothesis goes through predictable phases
before being accepted’.
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
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,
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
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 cling to our
beliefs because they give us comfort. We fear the unknown. We fear
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.
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 the dictums of the society –
with its values, its standards, its mores and its wisdom. We need
to find something to belong to. Our peers, 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 incinerated
and Bab was executed. They
died because they pioneered new ideas that threatened the faiths of the
We humans have not changed much psychologically.
Technologically, we go to Mars, but psychologically we live in cave. We
have changed our beliefs. We have changed our shells, but we are the same
timid 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. If you are not executed, like in some parts of the
world, you will be ridiculed, insulted, called lunatic and
Yet, only those who dare to know are enlightened. Daring
to know does not mean just learning, but also discovering the unknown. 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
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 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 be
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.
If there is one thing I can be certain of is that I am ignorant. However,
I am not as ignorant as to not know that I am ignorant. Therefore I will
continue wondering, exploring and daring to know.