A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
Do you think that knowledge and truth are the same thing? For example, you know that you have fingerprints that are unique. It is shown to be true through practical application. Because of this, our criminal justice system can rely on it. Your mobile phone might be using it to protect your information. Obviously, there are people who try to cheat the system, but this does not alter the belief that our fingerprints are unique. We know this and it is evidently true.
Words like see, believe, recognise, know and understand, are used to support what we think true. I might see a small creature in a tree and believe that it is a bird. A closer look supports my belief. Looking even closer I might recognise that the bird is a sparrow. My knowledge of sparrows might allow me to identify if it is a male, female or fledgling. I might even have enough understanding of ornithology to say whether the bird is a town sparrow or tree sparrow. The mistake we make as humans, about knowledge and truth, is in assuming that the bird is a sparrow without sufficient information.
The point I am making is that a small amount of information limits the truth of what we see or think. The danger comes from assuming that my knowledge is the truth! Science is a powerful tool for discovering things and understanding how things work. Scientists use facts available to them in order to provide a theory. They need to trust the facts, interpret them and understand them. Their discoveries allow them to make predictions, offer understanding and knowledge from their research. We know that some scientific theory is open to argument and inevitable change. Unless the information used is perfect, there cannot be a perfect explanation. Knowledge is not truth. Science attempts to be truthful. So, a scientific statement about the creature in the tree would be, “Using the knowledge I have and what I can see, the creature in the tree is most probably a bird!”
I might claim knowledge about something, but I am only expressing an opinion, a point of view. Scientists and philosophers search for knowledge and understanding, they try to make sense of everything. This searching has led some people to wonder if truth exists. There is a problem of logic here. If the statement is true – then truth exists; if the statement is not true, then something we understand as truth is making the judgement. This discussion is at the root of a great deal of intellectual thought. It continues in a circle of argument that never resolves. The usual conclusion is that without perfect knowledge we can only have an approximate truth. This has encouraged the idea that one person’s ‘truth’ is as good as anyone else’s. A scientist has written:
“As a scientist, I don’t believe science will ever discover God whether God exists. Nor do I believe religion will ever prove it. [Alan Lightman- see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Lightman
The apostle Paul wrote:
1 Corinthians 13:9-12 NIV (9) For we know in part and we prophesy in part, (10) but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. (11) When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. (12) Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
Paul is accepting the limits we have on knowing the truth. However, he describes perfection. He refers to God, the One Who has full knowledge of everything and everyone. This is the key difference between Science and the Christian faith. A scientist will acknowledge imperfect understanding; a Christian will acknowledge their own imperfect understanding but choose to accept what God has revealed in the Bible as truth from the One Who has perfect knowledge.
A simple example of this is that Science provides possible explanations for the origin of the universe and all that is in it. God has said, “I created it!”. Isaiah wrote:
Isaiah 40:28 NIV Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
Isaiah 45:18 NIV For this is what the LORD says— he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited— he says: “I am the LORD, and there is no other.
The Christian can say truthfully, “Using the knowledge I have I can safely say that I know God exists!” The statement is based on the Bible, personal experience, the evidence in creation and the fact of millions having the same knowledge. This demands faith. The Christian statement is one of faith that God exists and is perfect in knowledge and truth. The Christian argument states that God has made and is making it clear that He exists. Whether we believe it or not makes no difference to this fact.
Romans 1:20 NIV For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Scientists do not rule out the existence of some kind of force that created the ‘Big Bang’ but do not believe in the God revealed in the Bible. Albert Einstein did not discount the idea of a creator but wanted to understand how the universe was created and what might be the nature of the force that created everything.
My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality. Morality is of the highest importance – but for us, not for God.” (Albert Einstein)
Einstein uses the word, ‘reality’ rather than knowledge or truth. He admits the limits of human ability to grasp reality. The Christian grasps reality through faith in God. Let’s move on and examine what the Christian can know and experience of reality. The New Testament writers use several different Greek words that are mostly translated into the English word ‘know’. These are:
GINOSKO = meaning to recognise or understand; in a progressive way
EPIGINOSKO = meaning to fully understand so that one discerns clearly; implying something that is obvious
OIDA = meaning to perceive or see; implying a complete realisation or understanding
EPISTAMAI = meaning to know about something
GNORIZO = meaning to discover the truth [we use this word in IGNORANT]
GNOSIS = knowledge un the sense of actively learning
(From this word we have AGNOSTIC – not knowing and GNOSTIC – describing special knowledge available for the few.)
EPIGNOSIS = having exact, full understanding or knowledge
Realising that there are different intentions in what Paul, for example, might mean by ‘know’ is very helpful in seeking the truth.
The apostle John wrote:
1 John 3:14 NIV We know [ from OIDA – be aware of] that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.
1 John 3:18-19 NIV Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.19 This then is how we know [GINOSKO – recognize] that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence.
John 15:15 NIV I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know [OIDA] his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known [GNORIZO – truth explained, revealed] to you. These are examples of the Christian relationship to knowledge of the truth. We can see the truth, we are recognising it in our changed lives, we are receiving it from God through His Word.
Paul could write:
2 Timothy 1:12 NIV That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know [ whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.
2 Timothy 4:7-8 NIV I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (8) Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
Decades ago, in my late teens, I attended some Billy Graham meetings relayed from Scotland. I attended in my leathers and holding my crash helmet. My motorbike was parked in the church car park. Each night I heard the challenge to “Come forward and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour”. I knew I had already done this! But I felt like God wanted me to step out there for Him. The last night of the meetings, Billy Graham said something different. He challenged Christians to come to the front of the church and make it obvious that we believed in Jesus. So, I stepped out there! A steward came up to me and invited me to sit with Him to receive Christ as my Saviour. He was a bit put out that I claimed to be a Christian already. He didn’t know what to do. At that point, a leader from our church walked by. He came up to me and said, “Well, what do you know?” I gave a good imitation of a goldfish! He explained it to me. The Bible teaches us to trust in the Lord. To accept what He has said. He showed me some words in the First Letter of John. I have already included them on a previous page. I realized that I knew Jesus, that He had forgiven me, saved me, and would keep me. It was an immediate and unforgettable spiritual experience.
I can sum up all this about knowledge by quoting a children’s chorus:
Jesus loves me
This I know
For the Bible
Tells me so!