As I sit here typing on my computer, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the wealth of knowledge and benefits science has brought us. In fact, it’s so easy that we have to a great extent forgotten the appalling depths of our ignorance.
How can I say that? Very simple: the quantity of unknowns in the universe is by definition unknowable. This gives us Layne’s First Law of General Ignorance: We don’t know how much we don’t know. If we know, then, that the extent of our ignorance is unknowable, we know that at least one thing is unknowable. But we don’t know if there’s anything else that Man cannot comprehend or will not be able to comprehend at some future date. Therefore, the corollary to the First Law: We don’t know how much we can’t know.
Got a headache yet?
Most thought systems have to start with at least some assumptions that neither need nor admit of proof. For instance, you can’t get anywhere in plane geometry if you don’t accept that “a line is the shortest distance between two points”, or in algebra if a2 = b2 + c2 is merely an opinion. Likewise, reason has a fundamental assumption that “a thing cannot both be and not-be at the same time and in the same manner”.
Why can’t we take atheism as self-evidential? This seems to be the answer the New Atheist prefers, given that philosophers since Socrates have known that it’s impossible to prove that something does not exist. In law, we take it as a necessary presumption of justice that a person accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty. Are there not situations in which we can safely presume that a theory is false until proven true?