This is the eleventh of a 13-part series on the Atheopagan Principles as I described them in my essay, “How I Became an Atheopagan”. To read the whole series, click on “Atheopagan Principles” in the tag cloud to the right.
The eleventh Atheopagan Principle reads, “I understand that knowledge is never complete. There is always more to be learned.” It tells us to be curious and open-minded.
This is a core value for anyone following a scientific cosmology, because science must be open to learning that its previous conclusions were inaccurate or incomplete if it is presented with evidence which compels a change in understanding.
It doesn’t mean believing or taking seriously any old suggestion. But it does mean being genuinely open to new possibilities if it appears there is good reason for believing them.
This can be challenging. We like our beliefs—if we didn’t, most of us probably would have chosen different ones. It gives people comfort to feel that they have somewhat of a handle on the nature of the Universe and reality, at least insofar as what we directly experience goes.
But we do learn new things. It’s been a very long time since anything new was learned that fundamentally changed human understanding of physical reality itself at the human scale, but we’re always learning more about the brain and how it functions, and that can tell us a lot, too. And though the Standard Model of Cosmology has thus far passed muster with every challenge we have thrown at it, it is at least theoretically possible that some body of evidence will come along to make us rethink parts of it, at least.
My only point here is that if you’re going to be scientific, you can’t be about certainty. You can be about near-certainty, but that’s not the same thing. We are nearly certain that an aerodynamically neutral object dropped at the surface of the Earth will fall at 9.8 meters per second per second. We have never experienced any deviation from this. However, there is always a possibility—however remote—that some new data will come along that leads us to reconsider this.
This principle applies in relation to people, too. What we don’t know about a person will always be more than what we do, because we will never be inside their consciousness. Being curious keeps us engaged with the other person, and we can learn more.
Curiosity is a joyful way to approach the world, because the Cosmos is fascinating! Learning more about how it works and its many extraordinary phenomena is a way to deepen our celebration of living, and remaining curious about our friends and fellow humans a way to deepen our relationships.