On Being Ignorant of One's Ignorance and Unaware of Being Unskilled

[Written by John W. Loftus] As a former Christian, especially soon after I first converted, I thought I knew the answers to the riddle of existence. The answers were all in the Bible. And I thought I could also understand the Bible well enough to know, especially before I had any advanced learning. Initially I was a Bible Thumper. My motto was: God said it. I believe it. That settles it. All of the answers were to be found in the Bible, and I thought I knew them--all of them. So without any education at all I soon had the confidence to speak to college professors I met and not be intimidated at all. And I did. I remember walking away from some conversations thinking to myself how ignorant that professor was. Yep. That's right. At that time I was what psychologists have dubbed "Unskilled and Unaware of it." And it appears to me many Christians who comment here are just as I was. They come here with the answers. Some of them do not even have a college education. And yet they offer nothing but ignorant comments. I can't convince them otherwise. They are like I once was.

Looking back on those initial years I could see clearly that I was not able to think through the issues of the Bible, especially hermeneutics, until after gaining a master's degree. I would have told you upon receiving my first master's degree that I was ignorant before then. But I kept on learning and studying. Age had a way of teaching me as well. It seems as though as every decade passed I would say I was more ignorant in the previous one. As every decade passed I see more and more wisdom in Socrates who claimed he was wise because he didn't know. According to him the wiser that a person is, then the less he claims to know. Awareness of our ignorance only comes with more knowledge.

One writer said:
The British philosopher Bertrand Russell once wrote that “the trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” This is true whether one interprets “stupid” as foolish (short on smarts) or as ignorant (short on information). Deliberately or otherwise, his sentiment echoes that of Charles Darwin, who over one hundred years ago pointed out that “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

The Internet is a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of such misplaced confidence. Online, individuals often speak with confident authority on a subject, yet their conclusions are flawed. It is likely that such individuals are completely ignorant of their ignorance. Cough.
And so let me link to this writer who in turn links to an important study that can help us determine whether we are ignorant or not. The psychological study is called, Unskilled and Unaware of it.

And it just doesn't apply to Christians, but anyone who has an overconfident assessment of their skills and abilities, including atheists.

The bottom line is that the more I know the more aware of how little I know. Get it? But there is no way to help a person who has all of the answers know how little he knows except by increasing his knowledge and experience. It's a catch-22 of sorts. Until you do know a great deal you will never really know how ignorant you are. Therefore only the ignorant are unaware of their ignorance. And only the unskilled are unaware of it too. We see this on shows like American Idol and on Who's Got Talent? Does it not surprise you how many people audition for these shows who completely lack talent and yet claim they are good? Most bad Karaoke singers do not know they cannot sing. It's not until they become better at it can they know this for themselves.

It's not that the ignorant and unskilled don't know they are at least somewhat ignorant and unskilled. They do. Just ask them. When asked even the ignorant will say so. It's just that the ignorant do not understand how truly ignorant they really are. They might think it's a small leap to knowledge when there is a mile (or several miles) to travel for it.

Again, the more we know the more we know that we don't know, and only people who know can truly know this. Got it? And only people who know can discern others who know. I can have a great conversation/dialogue with some Christians here because I can tell that they know what they are talking about (even if I disagree). And I know who they are because of what they say. It's a joy to me. In fact, if approved for publication an unnamed Christian scholar and I will be co-writing a book length dialogue about our differences because I can respect that he knows (well, at least as best as a Christian can do anyway). [I'm not defining "know" here as justified knowledge, but in terms of education and awareness, since, as you would expect, I think he's wrong].

So I'll continually be bothered daily at DC by ignorant people who are unaware of their ignorance, especially Christians. That's the nature of this beast. Worse off, they don't trust me to tell them what they should understand. They will most likely only listen when someone on their side of the fence--whom they respect--tells them.

For now I'm challenging people to consider whether they are ignorant/unskilled and unaware of it. Most Christians who comment here are. I would say this about them as a former professor of philosophy, apologetics, ethics, and the Bible. This is much more true of them now from my perspective.

So the more I know the more I know that I don't know. But I do know this: I know a hell of a lot more than most people about Christianity. I am not ignorant when it comes to Christianity. I might be wrong, but I'm not ignorant, at least not as ignorant as most of the Christians who comment here. Is this a contradiction? Not at all. For the only way for us to know something like this is to become knowledgeable. Someone can only say he knows a lot when he knows he doesn't know that much. And only the knowledgeable can have a proper assessment of this because the ignorant are ignorant of their own ignorance!