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“We know with confidence only when we know little; with knowledge doubt
increases” (adapted from JW von Goethe). Discuss this statement with reference to
two areas of knowledge.

In 2016 British politician, Michael Gove, argued in favour of Brexit by saying that his country
had had “enough of experts.”1 His comment was ridiculed on social media platforms and
named as a perfect example2 of the Dunning-Kruger Effect: the cognitive bias in which
individuals, who are unskilled in social and intellectual domains, overestimate their abilities.3
Beyond the realm of psychology, in the world of epistemology, we ask ourselves how
“expertise” — vast knowledge of a specific topic — influences the confidence that we have
over such knowledge. Therefore, to address such issue in this essay, I will consider two
knowledge questions. First: to what extent do discoveries and propositions of new models
affect our certainty of our shared knowledge in the human sciences? Second: to what extent
do supporting evidence and challenging theories change individuals’ certainty of their
religious knowledge systems?

Although objections, such as The Gettier Problem, exist, the majority consensus among
modern philosophers for the definition of knowledge is that which Plato proposed: a justified
true belief.4 For this essay we must primarily consider a posteriori knowledge — knowledge
gained from experience — because this type is the one that when acquired challenges our
previous thoughts.5

For the essay, knowing “with confidence” is defined as certainty — the state of being definite
or lacking doubts about something.6 From Pyrrho to modern philosophers, thinkers have
questioned the extent to which humans can be certain of their knowledge. Today, most
philosophers would argue that a significant degree of doubt remains in almost anything that
we supposedly know. In fact, St. Augustine of Hippo and René Descartes argue that we can

Katz, I. (2017)
Idiocy and expertise. (2016)
Kruger, J. and Dunning, D. (1999)
4 (n.d.)
Encyclopedia Britannica. (n.d.)
6 (n.d.)
only be certain of our existence.7 Whether doubt stems from academic or Pyrrhonian
skepticism, we must ask ourselves whether exposure to new knowledge leads us to the
resolution of such doubt or merely, to an increase in it.

Knowledge serves the purpose of solving doubts, leading us to higher levels of certainty of
the justified true believes that we have. In the human sciences, theories and models can be
proposed as solutions of doubts that were held. For example, contemporary economists,
such as Daniel Kahneman, have determined themselves to solve the question of why
consumers do not always make decisions to maximize their pleasure, as thought by classical
economic theory. As a response, they have developed theories in the novel field of
behavioural economics, where they assert that countless biases and habits pull humans
away from rationality. Alternatively, data and results of specific cases and experiments can
help us determine the validity and accuracy of our shared knowledge in the human sciences
by confirming or contradicting the results that the theories and models would have predicted.
To that extent, new knowledge contributes to solving doubts that previously existed.

We must consider how new theories and evidence interact with our previous knowledge of a
topic. Often, new knowledge will not directly challenge nor support the old; instead, it will
introduce an equally valid justified true belief. This is frequently seen in the human sciences,
where variables cannot be completely controlled, leading to many perspectives and theories
being simultaneously true. For example, in economics, there is no consensus on a
rudimentary mechanism of how the macroeconomy works. In 1817, economist, David
Ricardo, put forth the principal theories of the classical school of thought, which argued that
economic policies that encourage consumption only led to more inflation and do not affect a
country’s long-run national income.8 This economic doctrine dominated the field for over a
century.9 In 1936, the Great Depression impacted the world; in the United States, twelve
million people lost their jobs, and real GDP decreased by forty percent.10 At this time,
Keynes revolutionized economics by showing that a decrease in demand had caused the
recession and only by encouraging consumption, the New Deal Policies were effective in
ending with the crisis.11 The theories of Keynes were inherently opposite to those of Ricardo;
yet, evidence of the validity of both deliberations appears in different scenarios, and different
economists — from Krugman to Friedman — support the different schools of thought.
Economists were confident of classical theory knowledge until Keynesian economics were

Buckingham, Will. (2011). p. 120 -124
Blink, J. and Dorton, I. (2012).
9 (n.d.)
Wheelock, David C. (2009). P. 133 - 148
11 (n.d.)
introduced. To that extent, In the human sciences, new theories often promote doubt by
presenting themselves as equally valid alternatives to our previous knowledge, not allowing
us to determine the correct approach.

In religious knowledge systems, most knowledge is gained through faith. Today, with
increased religious freedom and public debate, 16% of the world’s population identifies as
religiously unaffiliated.12 This changing religious landscape significantly stems from
increased demands for support to their religious knowledge systems from other ways of
knowing, such as sense perception, needed to claim observation-based knowledge. As a
consequence, discoveries and evidence that support religious systems’ established beliefs
play fundamental roles in strengthening individuals’ confidence in their religion. For example,
In 1947 a Bedouin boy found a 2,000-year-old scroll in a cave on the shore of the Dead Sea.
After his discovery, thousands of other manuscript fragments were found in eleven caves in
the area. These scrolls were written by The Essens, a group of educated priests who were
banished from Jerusalem.13 Within the scrolls, narrations of life in Israel at the time and the
earliest version of the Old Testament can be found.14 This discovery revolutionized religious
knowledge by presenting an insight of ancient Judaism and the social structures at the time.
It significantly boosted the confidence of Judaism’s knowledge by showing religious texts
that were written in 250 BCE and agreed with the current version of the Old Testament. 15
The Dead Scrolls gave support from language and sense perception, different ways of
knowing than faith, promoting confidence of Judaism’s religious knowledge system. To that
extent, discoveries like this can contribute to having less doubt.

When having discussions about religious knowledge systems, the content of the gained
knowledge tends to be far more relevant than the amount. Discoveries and new found
evidence that align with preconceived and cultural values and ideas do not tend to have as
much impact on individuals’ confidence of their knowledge as findings that challenge their
innate values and ideas. Consider the greater access to information with technology’s
digitalization and reduced legal restrictions on religious liberty that has led to the increased
open discourse and discussion on religion in the last decades. As a consequence more
people with religious convictions — those that have been taught by their communities since
their early ages — have been confronted with scientific theories that contradict their religious
beliefs. This has partially led to global religious affiliation significantly declining in the last

Lipka, Michael and Mcclendon David. (2017).
Sussman, Ayala and Ruth, Peled. (n.d.).
14 (n.d.)
decades. In fact, only between 2007 and 2014, religiously unaffiliated individuals in the
United States increased from 16.1% to 22.8%.16 These individuals face the dilemma of
denying the scientific discoveries or accepting problems with the testimony of their holy
scriptures. Those that become religiously unaffiliated become more doubtful of a knowledge
system that they used to firmly embrace and respectively with science for those that deny
science. In any case, individuals gain doubt with challenging new knowledge.

We must consider that newly acquired knowledge does not uniformly affect all individuals.
David Hume argued that a posteriori knowledge is gained not because of the existence of
causes and effects but due to the relationships that we project onto events.17 However,
those concluded relationships are dependent on each individual’s context; they impact their
knowledge differently. Countering the claim of the previous paragraph, we must think of the
impact of new knowledge in an environment where individuals have strong biases. For
example, individuals that have been raised and taught in strongly religious communities will
tend to be affected less by contradicting scientific discoveries that challenge their religious
knowledge systems. Bertrand Russell said that Faith “is a firm belief in something for which
there is no evidence.¨18 Individuals with strong religious convictions give more importance to
faith, traditions, and beliefs than other ways of knowing, as those tend to have already
significantly shaped their lives. New knowledge affects each individuals’ synthetic knowledge
— that gained from observation and experimentation — depending on each person’s biases.
For example, although the Darwinian theory of evolution was presented almost two centuries
ago, 40% of Americans still deny human evolution.19 The dichotomy of choosing between
denying religion or science is not even necessarily true. Many individuals experience
cognitive dissonance and agree with new knowledge, without denying their previous
contradicting thoughts. Some would even argue that exposure to new knowledge can
strengthen previous contradicting thoughts. British-American author, Lesley Hazleton argues
that doubt is essential for faith.20 The exercise of believing in a divinity is bolstered when
individuals consciously deny challenging knowledge. To that extent, confidence might
remain static, even when faced with confronting justified true beliefs.

Across this essay, the areas of knowledge of the human sciences and religious knowledge
systems have been analysed to discuss how the exposure to new perspectives, theories,
models, and evidence affect our shared and personal knowledge. On the one hand, more

Pew Research Center. (2015).
Hume, David. (2007)
18 (n.d.)
19 (2017)
Hazleton, L. (2013)
doubt about justified true beliefs that individuals previously held arise when the new
knowledge is contradicting. If the new knowledge can coexist with the previous knowledge,
individuals will inevitably be in a position of less certainty; now two ideas can be equally true,
and there is no clear answer. On the other hand, new knowledge can foster more confidence
when that knowledge was lacking to confirm certain theories or hypotheses. Finally, it must
be considered that individuals’ personal knowledge is not uniform and that specific biases
and contexts affect individuals’ confidence of certain topics differently.

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