Suppose you were to google the following phrase:
knowledge about or study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.
from Latin scientia, from scire ‘know.’
In other words… knowing stuff about stuff.
Science is a powerful process of knowing as long as the stuff it is trying to know is part of the physical and material world. Science as a method is feeble and often even useless in arenas that cannot be physically observed and experimented on. This feebleness, I suspect, leads many people who practice science to make an assumption that there is nothing that cannot be observed and experimented on. I challenge you to wonder why.
Science can tell you a lot about stuff that can be observed, but be careful when it tries to tell you about stuff that cannot be observed (mainly because – that is not actually “Science” proper talking at that point). From the very moment that a “scientist” claims knowledge about stuff that cannot be ascertained through observation and experiment he or she has become a philosopher and science has become mere “scientism”. You need to be on your guard and recognize the difference because we are swimming in a world of scientism today.
We all know through our own direct observation that the night sky is littered with tiny dots of light. For many years people made up stories to explain those dots of light because they could not actually observe more than what could be seen with the human eye. Eventually we invented ways of enhancing the human eye with telescopes (and later with space crafts believe it or not) and we learned that those tiny dots of light are actually other suns like our sun – only very far away. To illustrate…
That led to questions like “how far away?” and “how long does it take light to travel from there to here?”
Now don’t ask me how we figured this one out… but somehow we observed that light in our little pocket of the universe travels at 671 million miles per hour. If you superman or something and could fly at the speed of light, you would be able to circle the Earth’s equator about 7.5 times in just one second! We did some math and came up with a unit of length called a “light year” – which is about 6 trillion miles.
So here we have a star we have called Alpha Centauri which is about 4 and a half light years away – that is 27 trillion miles. And over here we have us.
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What is the stuff we actually know?
We know we see the light of a star that we named Alpha Centauri.
We know that in our laboratory light travels in a straight line at 6 trillion miles in a year.
What do we not know about this scenario?
We assume that light traveled in a straight line between Alpha Centauri and Earth – it is a reasonable assumption because as far as we can observe here, light always travels in a straight line. But… we cannot know if there are circumstances outside of our observation which are capable of altering the path of light. And actually… we know that we can alter the path of light with a simple tool called a mirror. We do not know if there are any “mirrors” between Earth and Alpha Centauri – but we assume there are not.
We also assume that the light we see traveled at a consistent speed of 671 million mph since it left Alpha Centauri. We don’t know if there are any circumstances outside of our observation which can alter the speed of light.
We don’t even know if Alpha Centauri even still exists! If we assume the light we see travelled straight and at a consistent speed, it left Alpha Centuri over 4 years ago! Just last week it could have exploded or got sucked into a black hole, or who knows what happens to stars…
Alexander Pope the 18th century satirical poet is misquoted as saying:
“a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”.
He actually said “a little learning is a dangerous thing”, I will borrow the misquote here simply because it fits and I think it is still true. I feel obliged to connect this thought with Francis Bacon’s thought – “Knowledge is Power”. We do get a sense of power from the stuff that we know and we really do not like to admit it when we don’t know something because it tends to make us feel feeble and weak – but it also makes us foolish when we assume to know stuff we don’t know, or cannot know.
Confucius said: “To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge.”
Lao Tzu said: “Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.”
Another poet said this:
“Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” T. S. Eliot will sure make you think won’t he?
I personally have learned a lot from poets and philosophers, and I even desire to one day be counted among their company myself… but I have learned even more important stuff from the bible – primarily not to place my trust in the knowledge of poets and philosophers – or even my own knowledge.
Here is something I know… If I have to carry water many miles, I am going to verify that the bucket does not have any holes in it before starting off.
Even the smartest human alive does not have the capability of full knowledge, or of uncorrupted knowledge. We know a lot about a lot of stuff but that is still very little knowledge and therefore dangerous because we tend to “assume over” the many things we don’t know.
God gives us the very gift of knowledge out of His own infinite store of knowledge. Psalm 19 tells us that creation reveals its Creator’s knowledge: “Night after night the skies display knowledge.” The vastness of God’s knowledge and creative power are on display continually and are clearly seen in what He has created, as Paul reminds us in Romans 1.
Not only is God’s knowledge infinite, but it is uncorrupted and absolute: Romans 11 says “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”. When God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, He became the very embodiment of knowledge: “. . . Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”.
Human knowledge, apart from God, is always flawed. It is vastly incomplete and easily corrupted. The Bible also refers to it as worthless when it isn’t tempered by love. Have you ever told a “science person” that their knowledge needs to be tempered by love? No? Honestly I haven’t either because I don’t think they would understand.
The knowledge we possess tends to make us proud. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” Paul says. Therefore, the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, without seeking God, is foolishness. In Ecclesiastes the Preacher says “Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom . . . but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; and the more knowledge, the more grief”.
Paul urges us to “Turn away from the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered away from faith”. Human knowledge that is opposed to God’s knowledge is no knowledge at all; rather, it is foolishness. That bucket has holes in it.
For the Christian, knowledge is a relationship. For example, when the Bible says that “Adam knew Eve”, it means (now don’t blush…) that he had physical union with her. Spiritual relationships are also described this way. Jesus used the word “know” to refer to His saving relationship with those who follow Him: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me”. It is all too easy to discount this entirely simply by becoming offended by being referred to as a sheep. But in the context of knowledge, it fits perfectly with what I am trying to say. Sheep are not all that bright – especially when domesticated – and they need a shepherd with the knowledge to keep them safe from wolves and knowledge of the landscape to keep them fed. It is knowledge that keeps the wolves hungry and the sheep fed. (As to the point about being domesticated, I think there is a huge case to be made that we are actively being domesticated by the world we live in – and not in a good way. This only increases our desperate need of a knowledgeable Shepherd.)
Christ also told His disciples, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”. By contrast, Jesus said to the unbelieving Jews, “You do not know my Father”(however “religious” they may have seemed). Therefore, to know Christ is to have a relationship with Him, to love and be loved by Him. Increasing in the knowledge of God is something all Christians are to experience as we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”.
This kind of knowledge does not fit into a test tube (although it may be safe to say that true growth as a Christian is something that is observable – if you have eyes to see it.) Science proper does not have any method for ascertaining this kind of knowledge and would be wise to simply admit the fact but that does not stop Scientism from making many foolish assumptions about its existence.