October 30, 1998 (Ira Pilgrim)

The Right to be Wrong

It is almost as difficult to make a man unlearn his errors as his knowledge. Mal-information is more hopeless than non-information; for error is always more busy than ignorance.

C.C. Colton, 1820

Thomas Jefferson didn't miss much, but I think that he missed a good bet by not including in the Declaration of Independence the unalienable right to be wrong. It is a right that we who live in a free society take for granted. In totalitarian or authoritarian societies people also have that right, but if they express it they might find themselves in prison or dead. The right to be wrong, like the right to breathe is really inalienable and even those people who don't believe that anyone else should have that right, have it too.

The word "evolution" is not just a word in science, it also applies to the study of most things, including religions and cultures. To the best of my knowledge everything incorporates what came before; everything evolves. Just as children incorporate what their parents are, religions and culture incorporate what came before. Just as Protestantism evolved from Catholicism and Catholicism evolved from Judaism, Judaism evolved from the religions and cultures that came before it. There is scant record of those cultures, but we can be sure that they existed. The implication in the Old Testament is that the world -at least the world that mattered- really started with the Jews, but it ain't necessarily so. What evidence exists from archaeology indicates that much of Judaism evolved from the cultures and religions of Egypt and Sumeria. In other words, things change and have always changed. A mathematician once said that "the only permanency is change".

There are people who steadfastly refuse to accept this fact. One group of people who refuse to accept this are small children who can't understand or accept the fact that their parents were once children too. Most of us grow out of this, but there are a a few who persist in their refusal to accept the fact of the evolution of almost everything. There is something very comforting about fundamentalism. It offers the comfort of something that doesn't change in a changing, and therefore disturbing, world; gimme that old time religion. If we believe that some things do not change we are back in the secure world of our childhood. Being an adult is hard and involves making decisions in an uncertain world; and a world that is continually evolving is uncertain. But it, like other illusions, do not provide as much comfort as people would like. Even fundamentalists grow old, have illnesses and die.

But, as I posited before, we all have an inalienable right to be wrong. That inalienable right also applies to school teachers, including science teachers, writers of books, clergy, and even The Pope. The doctrine of papal infallibility was promulgated in the middle of the last century. We all know that the boss is always right, even when he's wrong.

If you think that I am claiming my inalienable right to be wrong, you are mistaken. I don't have to.

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