As intelligent creatures, we humans are prone to the arrogance of certainty. We convince ourselves that we completely understand other individuals, other cultures or the field of study in which we have personal experience. Of course, this is rarely, if ever, the case and our assumption leads to personal, domestic, societal or even international conflict.
The long and ongoing battle between science and religion highlights this human trait. Religious zealots often point to the wealth of scientific theories which, in later times, proved to be inaccurate. Yet, this is the nature of science, defined by its sequence from theory to experimentation to conclusion. Furthermore, science has advanced, and will continue to advance, by remaining open to new theories that challenge established doctrine; new data is welcome, whether it supports traditional concepts or redirects our point of view. Religion, on the other hand, based on a belief system that discourages investigation and condemns doubt, is protected by rigid dogma; in the world of the true believer, proof is neither necessary nor desired.
While religion highlights our tendency to be self-righteous, it has plenty of company in the political arena, as the current Republican primary candidates so clearly demonstrate; the invasion of Iraq was, after all, based on the false conviction that Sadam had nuclear weapons. Human society would do well to trade in our arrogance of certainty for a more open-minded and cooperative approach to our many problems.