On the difference between the worlds most clever and dedicated citizens:
I could spend the entirety of my adult life studying the nature of the plant kingdom and know nothing still of the nature of mathematics; respectively. True academics, people who dedicate their life to the pursuit of knowledge, can focus greatly on only one or two things; and only upon one if they really wish to amass a whole understanding; or at least the ultimate understanding their potential allows.
The wise man accepts the most basic principle as his starting point, and adds flesh to the skeleton as his reason and knowledge allows. The other buys into a premise, or is indentured, and spends his life trying to convince others ‘there is no debt’.
You see, in that respect, mans pursuit of knowledge is quite limited. If you wish to understand its nature, give someone a pair of binoculars and ask him to describe the nature of a very big room. You can’t tell him beforehand where this room is, or what is in it. You cannot tell him if it’s stripped bare or filled with things. You can only give him site and a line.
There are two important types of men. One knows before he scans the room he can only take in a very small portion of it at one time, albeit, with great detail. He begins with what he knows he can see, and it is only after spending quite a lot more time than is usual to scan every corner of the perimeter and face of the area, that he is permitted to put those portions together to form a mental picture of the room in its entirety, and of its contents.
Before you ever see his results you may conclude that his new-found vision gives him an unfair advantage; a level of sophistication in fact that appears to almost inspire envy in you, the observer. “When I look at a wall, I don’t see the minute changes in the pattern of paint, or the texture of the wood; the detail in the wainscoting or the fissures of the stained glass”.
But after this man has finished looking upon every centimetre of this room, has he acquired a more sophisticated picture of the room? Or has he acquired a very sophisticated picture of the room as portions? Has his memory failed him? Are you able to look at the pieces of a puzzle disassembled and mentally picture the finished product? But surely he is able to swipe around quickly enough to get a very crude general picture of things. I mean, if he wants to, he can see things as we cannot, and as most cannot. And then he can also almost see things as we can.
You see, although his focus and his gaze permit him an unadulterated and never before seen look at the world, at the room, he loses the room itself, in a way. He can gaze quickly and see the room, but in a way much like the rotors of a plane spun a high velocity appear as if they were one solid mass. The thing which affords him such precision and beauty costs him general knowledge and his periphery.
He must see everything in fine detail, or he mustn’t see at all. But as a starting point, all he must do is gather enough evidence to confirm the hypothesis that there is in fact more to the room he is in than the square inch or two he is looking at. It would seem a very inappropriate starting point to suggest before any investigation that he is looking at the hall of a Church, or the interior of a the Prime-ministers home. But such a thing is unspeakable to this type of man.
Our beliefs are informed by the knowledge we acquire. The more narrow the scope of that knowledge, the more particular the beliefs. How can a biologist believe in the same way the same things that a mathematician believes? Surely men like Richard Dawkins have the occasion to believe what they believe, but I’d wager that’s because they’ve spent so much time discussing what it is they believe, and less time frantically chasing truth in their area of expertise.
But the same is true for the Christian. He spends so much time focusing on the bible that he loses his periphery entirely and himself along with it. Once he accepts one single premise, the torrent of obfuscation floods his senses and blinds him to any contrary truth.
The first man says ‘I’m wearing binoculars, so I won’t speculate on the nature of the room I’m in before I have a long look at it; instead I’ll focus on this spot, in the manner that interests me most; you can get back to me later’. The other man, before ever entering the room, confidently and boldly asserts that he will soon gaze upon the taj mahal. And he proceeds to spend the rest of his life confirming that hypothesis; even if he finds absolutely no evidence whatsoever to substantiate it.
The former is the Atheist, and the latter the Religious. Both stand at the very limit of their knowledge. The experience inspires one, and frightens the other.