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The Ignorance Objection
June 14, 2013 J. P. Holding

The Ignorance Objection

Posted in Forum Post

There are those who engage in something I can call the Ignorance Objection. A YouTube user styled “CMrace” put it this way:


I mean honestly, pretending to know what idioms were in common usage 2000 years ago, what metaphors people used, ignoring slang, pretending you know what common usage of greek was 2000 years ago.You don’t know those things because no one knows those things. You even pretend to be a scholar when you are just an English/Lit (minor, major maybe) All this just so you can say your book is 100% true.

You don’t like this opinion ‘non-sense’ because it hits home, just like my last post. I like french fries. go ahead refute that argument. You can’t? then it must certainly be true.


I should note that CMrace repeatedly ignored the fact (and yes, it was pointed out to him repeatedly) that I used the works of credible scholars to make my arguments and did not rely merely on my own authority. But let’s get to the main objection, which I call the Ignorance Objection.

Inevitably, the Ignorance Objection is little more than an admission that the objector does not have the resources (whether in terms of information, or in terms of personal capability) to answer the arguments given. Accusations that the answers are simply made up, or merely reflect the apologist’s “opinion,” are the contrived constructions of one who has not only lost their way, but never knew where they were to begin with.

Does the Ignorance Objection have any force, though? Not at all. For one thing, it is self-refuting. To state categorically that we cannot know for sure about such things as cultural practices and idioms could only be factually defensible if the objector has done sufficient research to know that uncertainty is all that is available. But to argue this would require the arguer to have a birds-eye view, as it were, in which they know at what point certainty has been achieved. And if they know where this point is, then they have achieved the very level of certainty that they deny is possible.


I find it doubtful that Ignorance Objectors like CMrace have actually done enough research to make such claims, though. It is much more likely – since they provide no data to prove that uncertainty exists (eg, contrary readings of data each with sufficient support) – that this is little more than a white flag indicating that they have no familiarity with, or competence in, the subject matter.


Second, although scholars will acknowledge where and when uncertainty exists, there is enough information for us to have varying degrees of certainty on varying matters. Case by case is how these things must be considered, but to use the example of idioms, we have a great deal of data – a good number of texts, and comparative data on the uses of language in oral societies that persist to this day. So if we suggest that a certain passage offers an idiomatic reading, we can provide arguments based on this data. The critic’s burden is then to defuse those arguments by explaining why that data is inapplicable. They must also provide a sound epistemology for the identification of idiom which can compete with the ones that scholars have established, and show they their system “works” – that is, that it does not exclude known idioms and correctly identifies idioms otherwise.


But do we really expect the likes of CMrace to do things like this? Not at all. And that is because, as I have said, the Ignorance Objection isn’t made out of knowledge of one’s own ignorance – it is made as a way to avoid engaging arguments beyond one’s capability to address.


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