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Monday, 17 January 2011

The Narrowing, Part IV: Different kinds of knowledge

Varieties of Knowledge
So much mischief has been caused by our refusal  - or inability - to discern between varieties of knowledge, and to give them appropriate attention or weight.

Scientific knowledge concerns itself with details of natural law, chronology, amount, size, and so on. This kind of knowledge is immensely helpful for getting rockets to the moon, designing integrated circuits, writing out a blow by blow account of some battle and the like. But apart from these sorts of matters, it is largely irrelevant to the great issues of meaning in life. 

Life Knowledge, on the other hand, the kind of knowledge we use in our real daily lives, concerns itself with  much greater matters such as love, beauty, happiness, suffering, death and eternity.

Ever since the enlightenment, which we prefer to call The Narrowing, Scientific knowledge has been regarded as the ONLY kind of knowledge, or if other kinds are admitted, at least the most important kind of knowledge. So when reconstructing a historical event for example, what matters most of all  is the exact sequence, number, timeline, position, speed, and so on.

The Scientific Commentators
Some commentaries on books of the Bible are written more by scientists than theologians: authors whose whole outlook has been so shaped by The Narrowing, that they read the Bible as a scientific text and worry themselves endlessly with when this happened, how that happened, and so on. They are either surprised that the Bible refuses to yield this knowledge, or if they are of a critical mind, judge the Bible for its resolute refusal to collaborate with them. The classic case is the death and resurrection accounts. Despite 2000 years and about 2000 million man and woman hours, they stubbornly refuse to yield a blow-by-blow chronology. Every attempt is blown apart by the next scholar!

Foolish 'scientific commentators' then damn the texts for their failure to yield a "scientific chronology", never once asking if the problem lies with themselves and their here-today-and-gone-tomorrow world view.

Perhaps, just perhaps, there is a reason why the Gospel writers refuse to bother with "this happened at XY.AA hours followed by this at XY.AA + 43 seconds.." ad boringeum kind of knowledge.....

Why the Bible won't yield scientific accounts
....perhaps there are good reasons the Bible refuses to bow to the little gods of human reason and science. Rather big reasons such as:

(1) Who cares? So what if you could work out a detailed chronology of who came to the tomb at what time when? What lives would be changed by such data? What benefit for mankind?

(2) Meaning doesn't arise from scientific data. The meaning of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, does not arise from a precise chronology of events, but from an understanding of the significance of these events: since He died we are forgiven, since He rose, we too will one day rise, since He is our Life and Pioneer!

(3) The Bible is bothered with peoples from all time, not one tiny western passing blip of a community. One day people will look back at this silly western age and wonder why they were so wrapped up in one kind of (rather trivial) knowledge. Perhaps Rising China will be that people. The Bible wasn't written for us alone, to satisfy our silly pre-occupations. It was written for all peoples, living across all ages. Hence it rises above the demands of so-called Scientific Knowledge.

Scripture, don't get me wrong, is never ever 'wrong' on scientific details; it's just indifferent to them. But if you come with a 'scientific knoweldge' mindset you'll probably get real mad at Scripture because it won't play ball, and so you'll end up criticising it rather than learning from it. 

What makes great commentators and timeless preachers is their resolute refusal to bother too much with these questions, knowing that they are foolish pre-occupations of a passing day. Instead they bother themselves with matters of much greater significance, such as love and life and death, hell and heaven, God and Christ.

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