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A Pretence of Knowledge

The story is told of an Indian sitting in a plane next to Albert Einstein. To pass the time, Einstein proposed that they play a game. “I will ask you a question, and if you can’t answer it, you pay me fifty dollars. Then you ask me a question, and if I can’t answer it, I will pay you five hundred dollars.” The Indian knew he was no match for Einstein but figured he had enough philosophical and cultural knowledge to be able to stump Einstein sometimes, and with a ratio of ten to one, he could manage to stay in the game. Einstein went first and asked the Indian how far the earth was from the moon. The Indian was not sure of the exact number and put his hand into his pocket to give Einstein fifty dollars. Now came the Indian’s turn, and he asked, “What goes up the mountain with three legs and comes down with four legs?” Einstein paused, pondered, finally dipped his hand into his pocket and gave the man five hundred dollars. Now it was Einstein’s turn again. He said, “Before I ask you my next question, what does go up the mountain with three legs and comes down with four legs?” The Indian paused, dipped into his pocket, and gave Einstein fifty dollars. 
Ravi Zacharias in his book Jesus Among Secular Gods notes that many of us are like that Indian man because we often ask questions that are manufactured to trip up the other person, while having no answers to the question ourselves. I think this pretence of knowledge also manifests itself in the debate over public policy e.g. climate change, Covid-19. The side that is pushing the forward the "orthodox" view always seem to hold its position without any humility that they may be wrong in their analysis. The lack of a popular competiting alternative is always taken as a validation of the argument they are advancing. Like that Indian man, what seems to matter to them is not whether they in fact know the truth, but whether their opponents can prove their ignorance. 
Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2020

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