The world around us consists of complex interconnected systems that necessitate knowing and understanding constructed through multiple claims and counterclaims, which values different perspectives that we all may have. This suggests the possibility of having two sides, agreement, and disagreement, upon any existing ideas.
This statement highlights three key terms: robust knowledge, consensus, and disagreement. While knowledge is justified as facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education, robust knowledge is a strong belief. Here, consensus means a general agreement or belief and disagreement is a state of not agreeing or sharing the same perspective. This essay will attempt to examine knowledge, especially those that are controversial and have both agreement and disagreement, in the areas of natural science and history with faith and sensory perception as ways of knowing. This leads to the first knowledge question, “How can consensus and disagreement be highly valued in acquiring knowledge?”
Both consensus and disagreement are necessary for acquiring robust knowledge. In 1951, the fluoridation of water became an official policy of the US Public Health Service. It had reached 50 million people in 1960 and 67% of the population were supplied with fluoridated water in 2012. This drew a huge debate upon whether the water should be fluoridated in order to prevent tooth decay, which was an idea led by a dental officer of the US Public Health Service Dr. Trendley Dean. In 1939, another scientist Dr. Gerald Cox suggested that the fluoridation of drinking water would improve the oral health after conducting a research using rats that were fed aluminum and fluoride and resulted in becoming the first community to add fluoride to its drinking water to benefit dental health. The representative of Nebraska A.L. Miller, however, raised an objection that there had been no studies to assess the potential health risks for the senior citizens, pregnant women, and people with fluoride-related diseases. The water fluoridation was also disagreed that the early studies on the impact of the water fluoridation on dental health were considered primitive as it lacked the statistical evidence. These disagreements strengthened the idea by producing a statistical conclusion that a fluoride level of 0.7 would prevent the overuse of fluoride, as more than 70% of US population has benefited on reducing the possibility of tooth decay by 25%. The implication is that an idea without consensus and disagreement can never be strong because the knowledge can’t be approached through diverse perspective nor have alternatives but, at the same time, endless consensus and disagreement may leave the idea as a debatable topic rather than a solid conclusion.
On the other hand, it is inevitable that disagreements and consensus lead the idea to be falsified and result in an open, indefinite conclusion. This raises the related knowledge question which is “How can consensus and disagreement impede the acquiring of robust knowledge?”. The existence of coelacanths was only known by their fossils before Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, the South American museum official, first discovered the coelacanths in 1938. None of the scientists, including naturalists and paleontologists, ever thought of their existence; the coelacanths were thought to have gone extinct in the late Cretaceous period. However, in 1938, the coelacanth was discovered off the coast of South Africa. It caused scientists to revise their ideas and begin to investigate about this animal that has survived over 400 million years, although it is largely unknown, which opened the possibility that other extinct species may also be existing in a certain part of the world. The consensus is falsified by the generation of a new data, which means it has stopped the investigation and the disagreement, the existence of coelacanths, weakened the conclusion made previously. The use of sensory perception as a way of knowing, hence, confirmed the existence of the coelacanth and highlighted that consensus alone does not always provide robust knowledge. The implication is that the consensus and disagreement may impede the generation of robust knowledge.
In the area of history, there has been a latent consensus upon imposing a pluralistic approach to history with multiple perspectives. The validity of one-sided narratives has been questioned with it being biased; instead, drawing perspectives from multiple sources has been advocated. This has been made due to the biased nature of history with topic choice bias, confirmation bias, and national bias. There are several reasons why we study history. This essay will focus on which history enriches our understanding of human nature with the knowledge question of “How effective are consensus and disagreement in bringing us closer to the truth?”.
In order to reach consensus or disagree with an idea, the valid evidence is required. The evidence proposed in this process strengthens the knowledge and thus, consensus and disagreement are crucial to bringing us closer to the truth. By the late 19th century, Antarctica was the last unexplored continent on this planet. The Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole on December 14th, 1911. After 34 days, the British explorer Robert Scott reached the Pole. The world congratulated Amundsen’s achievement while England never assigned Amundsen’s victory over Scott. Instead, regardless of the truth, Scott was recognized as the first discoverer of Antarctica in England until the late 1920s and even Britannica, one of the most renowned dictionaries, updated Scott as the first discoverer. This wasn’t because of the lack of information on prior expedition, but because Amundsen wasn’t British. The diary of Amundsen and Scott from their South Pole expedition served as factual evidence to prove Amundsen’s conquering of the South Pole before Scott. With the use of language, the disagreement of England on Amundsen’s expedition to Antarctica rather contributes to the reiteration of the fact that Amundsen was the first to reach the South Pole.
Contrarily, as the truth may depend on the faith of individuals, consensus and disagreement may be futile in bringing us closer to what is called “truth”. Jim Warren Jones was a religious leader who claimed communism was a God’s will that humans should follow. With this belief, he created a group called Peoples Temple Christian Church Full Gospel, built a town in Guyana, and initiated a mass suicide in Jonestown in 1978. He deified himself and consistently exploited his adherents. However, the internal conflicts increased with more members willing to return to their normal lives and consequently, media paid attention to them over time. All of a sudden, on November 18, 1978, he was found with 912 victims in Jonestown being dead. According to the last recording tape in Jonestown, Jones commanded his followers to commit suicide by drinking cyanide-adulterated punch. The tape demonstrated a strong belief of the members towards Jones as it contained a man openly criticizing a woman who tried not to obey the command. The last notes and wills left in the town also revealed an absolute faith in him. Jones’s words were a truth to them that they were never allowed to deny nor disagree with. In the same way, as strong faith renders consensus and disagreement worthless, those are inefficient in neither bringing us closer to the truth nor shaping a robust knowledge.
From a cultural perspective and in a male-chauvinist society, in particular, females have to obey males because whatever males claim stands as an absolute rule. Foot binding, which is applying tight binding to the feet of girls aged between 4 to 9 to modify the shape of their feet, is one of the well-known traditions in China that first appeared in the early 10th century and maintained over a thousand years. This has been estimated that about 50% of Chinese females have had bound feet by the 19th century. There are several interpretations of the purpose of this tradition but the most likely because small feet were considered as an epidemic of the beauty. Females were forced to fit in certain category of beauty males made. Likewise, when male-chauvinism is propagated in a society, consensus and disagreement will never be required unless one questions the belief itself.
When confronted with disagreements, it is a natural response to re-examine the limitations. Consensus without disagreements may lead to a biased or even to a completely wrong idea because the disagreements not only lead to deeper exploration of the subject, but it also results in a robust foundation. The discussion and debate to overcome opposition are what persuades the entire community. As robust knowledge means the theory or a conclusion that can hardly be modified or has not been proven false yet, consensus and disagreement are compelling elements in the production of a robust knowledge. The theories in natural sciences manage to obtain a general consensus within the scientific community after the results of the investigations are found to be consistent and in agreement over time. It may appear that the hypothetical assumptions were not accurate, but it is undeniable that theories at their time were solid approximations of the reality. It is similar in history that a singular narrative is not reliable but a source to be considered. With this being said, both disagreement and consensus are critical for the production of knowledge and especially for robust knowledge that brings us nearer to the truth. This is because the knowledge becomes robust when the idea still exists after severe criticisms, which is considered as one of many ways to examine the strength of the idea. However, considering the definition of the term ‘require’ is the necessity of the matter, it depends on the extent of subjectivity the area of knowledge contains that varies by the nature of each area.