The natural world is hard to understand. It took thousands of years for humans to discover how to investigate it. The process requires rigor, diligence and constant checking to avoid making mistakes. All conclusions are tentative and we never stop trying to refine and improve them.
Now, after almost 1,000 years, we have plucked much of the low hanging fruit from the tree of knowledge. New fundamental discoveries are becoming harder and harder to make. Now, discovering something new is likely to need teams of brilliant people and equipment costing millions or billions of dollars.
But we can be confident the process of understanding the natural world works. We have made stunning progress that affects everyone, every day of their lives. Our world has been transformed more than once and we are now on the verge of understanding how to make machines intelligent. This discovery may well prove to be more transformational than learning to farm, learning to make iron, learning to make and use electricity, learning to make machines that make things, learning how to represent the world digitally, and how to communicate at the speed of light.
However hard it is to understand the natural world, the supernatural world is evidently orders of magnitude harder. After thousands of years, we still cannot be sure a supernatural realm even exists. We have made no progress. We do not have even a single supernatural proposition that we can be confident is true. The supernatural realm is one that survives in our species through billions of varied and contradictory beliefs but no facts—not even one.
All these things are well-known to all of us, yet billions of people still believe that their distant ancestors gained an intimate knowledge of the supernatural realm through their dreams, and wrote down all we need to know. Billions believe that these ancestors, who didn’t know the shape of the Earth, what stars are or what causes earthquakes, understood the infinitely more difficult problem of the supernatural.
Seriously what is more likely, that these ancestors gained knowledge of the supernatural, or they made it up—just like they made up what causes thunder?
AAI Vice President