Knowledge (Epistemology)

Socrates, considered the wisest Athenian, said, "If I am wise it is because I know that I know nothing." Whether that proves the stupidity of the Athenians or Socrates is unresolved, but since then philosophers have discussed the nature of knowledge. The desire to know is intrinsic to human nature. Thirst for understanding is like Scotch—the more you get the more you want; the reason a lot of people don't seem interested is that they've never had their appetites properly whetted.

Plato believed individuals are connected to a transcendent oversoul, and that knowledge is stored in this entity; knowledge, therefore, is remembered rather than gained. The Socratic method (found in Plato's dialogues) is built on this concept—teaching is simply asking questions until the learner recalls the information. John Locke (and later pragmatist philosophers) thought that humans are born with no intrinsic knowledge, though they have certain abilities enabling them to gain it. This idea became known as the tabula rasa, or blank slate, because a child's mind is a blank page waiting to be filled. Epistemology (theory of knowledge) is essentially divided between these two schools of thought—knowledge as remembrance, and knowledge as progress.

Christian epistemology falls in between. The Christian view is rooted in the universal nature of man, created in God's image. Since we're descended from Adam, we have a collective consciousness of sorts, though not in the sense of Jung's theory of archetypes. Individually, however, we obtain knowledge through perception, not as remembrance but as pre-existing knowledge the individual discovers. Knowledge is not re-created when a person learns, it is merely new to that person.

Christians should not be ignorant. Our first responsibility is to know God and what He has revealed about Himself and His creation in the Bible. But our knowledge shouldn't end there. It is important that we integrate that knowledge with what we know about the world around us. Secularists have attempted to erect their own frameworks of knowledge, purposely excluding God; Christians must respond with a thorough and consistent framework built on a foundation of knowledge of God. But we don't need to be driven by pure pragmatism—there's nothing wrong with pursuing knowledge for the sheer joy of knowing.

In 1 Corinthians 8:1 Paul says that, "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." Many Christians use this as an excuse to not pursue knowledge, saying the apostle was opposed to human learning. In the context, however, he was talking about people eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Knowledge in general does not puff up, the wrong kind of knowledge puffs up, or rather, the wrong use of knowledge. Some people in Corinth were causing their brethren to sin by eating meat sacrificed to idols; they knew there was no harm in it, but their brothers and sisters didn't, so when those who were ignorant ate the meat they were sinning against their own conscience.

God gave man the capacity to know and the curiosity to pursue knowledge. He put us in the middle of a world that is fascinating and rewards all kinds of study. Our purpose in learning, however, is not to parade our knowledge or to congratulate ourselves on a great accomplishment—instead, it is to greater glorify God and to experience the life He gave us to the best of our ability.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.


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