Monday, September 10, 2007

Lacunae, Part 1b - Faith & Knowledge

Knowledge can seem to be one of the trickiest concepts in the Gospel. On the one hand, you have the Tree of Knowledge which fruit Adam and Eve ate and as a result were punished “for their sakes” by being banned from the Garden of Eden and from the Tree of Life and put in a position of labor and toil for the rest of their days. On the other hand, we are taught to seek knowledge and learning. With this dichotomy within knowledge itself it is no wonder that though the possession of knowledge is generally seen as good, the seeking of knowledge can be seen as very bad. Rather, to explain further, the methods of seeking knowledge are strictly proscribed. As spoken of in my last post, we have two sides of this coin, those who (in the extreme) believe that faith exceeds a need for knowledge (the “sheep”), and those who believe that knowledge is the ultimate necessity (the “unfaithful”). In the eyes of the faithful, we are allowed and encouraged to seek knowledge, but we must do it in a certain way in order to remain on the “Lord’s side”. Such a search for knowledge may even be seen as unnecessary. To the seekers, knowledge is vital, and restricting the methods of knowledge seeking is often considered oppressive and blinding. I’d like to fill this gap within the concept of knowledge before attempting to fill the gap between knowledge and faith.

To begin to sift through the meaning of knowledge, I would first like to examine two types of knowledge separately. For simplification, I will call one type of knowledge Fact and the other Truth.

Facts are simple statements that cannot be refuted (without delving into hyperphilosophy). For example, I can state that I am tall. Including enough qualifiers to satisfy any arguments of relativity (such as to say that I am tall in relation to the average human female), this is a statement of fact. It is irrefutable. Common facts include statements such as “the sky is blue,” “an apple falls when dropped,” or “during gamete formation each member of the allelic pair separates from the other member to form the genetic constitution of the gamete,” otherwise known as Mendel’s First Law of Genetics.

Science, by definition, is a method by which to pursue the discovery of facts. In science, the qualifiers are examined and controlled in an effort to determine what, exactly, causes observable effects. Once all contributing factors are examined and a final understanding of a given situation is achieved, science is 100% accurate. It is irrefutable. (Note that I said ALL contributing factors. Scientific conclusions often change because factors not previously accounted for or properly understood have to be included. Assuming that every contributing factor has been included and accounted for, science is 100% accurate.)

I don’t want to delve too deeply into all the what-ifs of science. That’s a subject for another discussion entirely and any further attempt to explain what I mean will probably only muddy the waters of what I’m truly trying to discuss, and that is the nature of knowledge. Hopefully, you’re with me so far.

The second type of knowledge I mentioned is Truth. Truth is more than fact. Truth describes the actual nature of a thing. Truth is what we are all actually yearning for, actually wanting in our search for knowledge. To illustrate my meaning, let’s assume that we are discussing my daughter. I could list millions of facts about her. She has a beautiful smile. She likes to eat dirt. She is tall for her age. I could go on forever, especially if I were to get down to descriptions about how her cells function. However, even were I to state every possible fact about her, it would fail to describe what she truly is, the essence of her that awes me every day of my life. There is something about her that is more than a sum of her facts. In order to get a sense of that something, one has to understand her true nature, at least in part.

Compare a fact to a stone. It is solid, real, and you can throw it at people’s heads. If you were to take all the facts about my daughter and pile them one on top of the other in an attempt to build a tower that eventually describes her unique nature, you would fail as assuredly as an attempt to build a tower to heaven fails. You can’t reach heaven by building a tower of stones, and you can’t reach the truth by merely assembling a pile of facts.

The Lord teaches us that in order to understand Truth, we have to be taught by the Spirit. No amount of secular searching will ever find the truth. Though the assembly of facts may prepare our minds to understand the truth, and the facts may round out the truth, they are not the truth, and never can be. No matter how well reasoned, no matter how compelling the argument, a purely secular learning will never encompass an understanding of things “as they really are.” That is why so many will learn and learn and learn and never know the truth.

Though it may offend the faithful, however, seeking facts is necessary to our existence. We cannot ignore the search for knowledge, and facts are part of that search. The Spirit cannot inspire you with knowledge of the ultimate nature of the universe if you don't even understand the scientific nature of the universe. You cannot get a sense of my daughter's true nature without possessing at least some facts about her. On the flip side, though this may be offensive to some who have dedicated their lives to factual seeking, such seeking cannot bring understanding. The simplest primitive can come to a greater knowledge of truth without ever seeing a book than the greatest professors of knowledge in the world. How this is accomplished is the subject for my next installment, which shall hopefully bring the concepts of faith and knowledge together.


  1. I love this post. Your wonderful explanation of the difference between "truth" and "facts," and how it can help us distinguish between them as we seek both knowledge and truth has really helped me clarify several concepts which will help me think more deeply about the relationship between faith and knowledge.

    I don't really think that history is in the same category as chemistry or biology, and yet we often seem to treat it as a comparable science, because it does seem to discover and study a lot of irrefutable data.

    For me, one of the problems in reading and discussing historical data is when information about the past is too easily labeled as "facts."

    If that information is presented by a reputable historian, most of us (including me) tend to accept it as accurate.

    However, we then usually automatically make a couple of tricky mental jumps. We label "data" as "facts;" and based on our interpretation of those "facts," we think we now intellectually "know the truth" about some condition, person or event that existed in the past.

    Perhaps that is one reason why our intellectual perceptions sometimes impede, rather than facilitate our being taught truth by the Spirit.

  2. This is well done. I also like to consider that which is learned by living, which to me is a key part of where faith comes in.

    A possible interpretation of this scripture:

    John 7:17
    17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or [whether] I speak of myself.

    is that if we obey in faith, we will learn and understand. I have found this to be very, very real. While I totally agree that we cannot go along without learning facts as a basis of our knowledge, I do not believe that one has to have facts in order to be taught the truth of all things.

    Consider Moses, or John, or the Brother of Jared or others who were shown all things. I'm certain they didn't know science in any way that would resemble what scientific facts look like, and yet what knowledge they had! They had everything opened up to them, they had knowledge of past, present and future and of God's nature as well, and who knows what else. I get the sense from stories like those that we really, really underestimate the power of faith (as action and living, not just the opposite of knowledge/hope/believing). That's my sense anyway. Kind of in a barely-scratching-the-surface kind of way.

    This is something I have actually wanted to write about for some time...what intelligence (light and truth) means.

  3. Thank you Roann, I like your perspective on the science of history. It's not an aspect of science I've ever delved into.

    M&M - This isn't exactly something I was going to explore in these posts. (I think I bit off more than I can chew. I could write a zillion posts and not even explain faith fully.) I think you are completely right, though. Faith is a lot more than we think it is.

    To be concise, I believe there are levels of faith. Most of us operate on the less-than-a-mustard-seed realm of faith.

    I had an experience once that showed me how very little true faith I have. It was very humbling. Even now, I'm ashamed of what happened. But I believe it was a teaching tool. I believe that some day, I can achieve the level of faith God expects of me.

    The sort of faith I'm discussing here is what I think of as a medium-low faith. To have faith in God's ability to teach you all things, whether by study or by vision, is far beyond most individual's level of faith. I thought perhaps I'd start smaller than mountain-moving faith. To most of us the power to exert control over our physical environments is so far beyond our understanding at the moment that it seems unattainable. The faith to open one's heart to the teachings of the Spirit, however, is more within reach.

    The exercise of truth faith can be a frightening thing. I still tremble inside when I think about my experience. For just a moment, the Lord revealed to me the power that could be mine, were I to possess the faith he desires for all His children. That is a very daunting thing. Beautiful, but daunting.

  4. Actually, Silver, that was kind of what I was getting at -- not the move-the-mountain kind, but the learn-more kind. My point in bringing up those three examples was not to overwhelm (because it overwhelms me!) but to point out that they really had less book knowledge than any of us could ever hope for, but they had faith that God could teach and show them all things, and they acted accordingly. I think that is the fastest track to knowledge, even as we study and learn along the way because that is also important to God.

    Am I making sense? Prolly not..this is a deep topic!

  5. M&M - That is at least part of the conclusion I am aiming for - that faith is part of the process of knowledge, and that not only are the two not mutually exclusive, but that they cannot be separated.

    You are right that these are very deep topics. I understand the sentiment behind frustration at the limitations of language to describe what I mean. I feel that in my study on these topics, I have learned things that sound flat and awkward when put into words. However, I thought I would give it a try.

    I really enjoy the fact that I can write about these things where others can give me feedback. I enjoy exchanging ideas.

  6. I know it took me a while to get back to you. I think that you have laid everything out well as you explain the search for truth and the need to seek knowledge. I look forward to your tying it all together in your next post.


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