Knowledge is power or that is what I am told. But how does our knowing make us more capable and is that capability to know always from our own betterment?
The answer is, no, not always, and our knowledge could very well be less for our own betterment than we know. The same knowledge of the human body used by a doctor to save life can also by others to take it. Knowledge of how to start a fire gives one the ability to cook and create glass or steel, and yet it is also a tool of an arsonist. If knowledge is power it can be a destructive power. Knowledge can be power to do evil.
Increased knowledge does not equate to moral progress…
“Of all the problems which will have to be faced in the future, in my opinion, the most difficult will be those concerning the treatment of inferior races of mankind” (Leonard Darwin)
Knowledge can also be deceiving and dangerous when it is incomplete, over-interpreted or not properly contextualized. Eugenicists, like Darwin in the quote above, claimed confidently that their knowledge of science gave them the ability to decide what races of men and women should be allowed to reproduce. People too easily use knowledge that validates their own presuppositions to overreach and sometimes with deadly consequences.
The confident and exuberant knowledge based claims of one generation become the warnings to the next. Things argued as logical, reasonable, fact based and morally responsible by one generation will sometimes be regarded as the atrocities of the next. Eugenics in America has become a prime example. Very intelligent and knowledgeable men (like Nikola Tesla) argued for sterilization of races they deemed inferior. But, the results of these brilliant forward thinking men of yesteryear, we now as a society pay a price for today.
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)
One would think our knowledge of historical blunders would act to restrain our enthusiasm for allowing our knowledge today to delude us. But increased knowledge does not equate to increased wisdom or humility. Knowledge we possess can be a source of dangerous pride. Pride that can blind us to the limits of our own knowledge and ability to reason correctly from the knowledge we possess. Knowing what we do not know, being humble with what we think we know and listening to those who know differently from us can save us from our limited knowledge being our own destruction.
Known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns…
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” (Donald Rumsfeld)
Every fool in history was a likely victim of their own knowledge. History is replete with examples of well-intended and intelligent men who misjudged on the basis of the knowledge they had. I do not take Neville Chamberlain for an idiot because of his infamous “peace for our time” utterance after his meeting with Hitler gave hope of avoiding war. In retrospect, with the knowledge available even then, one could have concluded very differently than Chamberlain and Hitler’s rise may have been thwarted saving countless lives.
Many terrible mistakes might have been avoided if people would have arrived at different conclusions using the greater available evidence or even the same knowledge they had making a bad judgment. Confidence in our ability to discern from our knowledge is good. However, if our confidence is an insulation to keep us from hearing contrary opinions, if it is used to demean those who disagree and their perspectives, we are on a very dangerous road. It is with more knowledge we can realize the conclusions we reached based in prior knowledge were overconfident, arrogant and wrong.
“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22)
More knowledge is not a savior of humanity. Educated and knowledgeable people are some of the most dangerous people if they are unrestrained by moral conscience or humility. There is a story of a new king (1 Kings 12) who decided to disregard the council of older advisors, choose to follow the advice of more agreeable peers and sowed the seeds of his own destruction. We too risk the same when we seek the council of those who confirm our own biases and disregard the perspectives of those outside our own peer group or culture.
“…knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.” (1 Corinthians 8:1b-2)
Based in their knowledge people too often pick advisors who are no different from them. It is a form of self-love. From young people who turn to age-group peers, to fundamentalists (religious, scientific or otherwise) who vehemently defend their own various established dogmas and quickly dismiss any interpretation counter to their own, we need to be wary of our own potential knowledgeable ignorance. Having an abundance of fact, logic and reason does not equate to having good discernment. Knowing you could be wrong and not know what you believe you know could save you (or those you influence) plenty of sorrow and regret.
The advantage of not knowing and loving freely…
I believe we are often geared too much towards our own knowledge and not enough towards love and humility. If we were more mindful of the limits to our own knowledge or more aware of the lessons of history (and able to apply them to ourselves) we would probably not be as quick to trust our own discernment. Knowledge can lead to arrogance, but the right kind of knowledge can lead to our being humbled and able to submit to the way of love that defies common understanding.
“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)
Unpackaged: Knowing only Jesus Christ is to know only the Spirit of God and power of love, and to know only that could do more good for the world than a supercomputer of facts. Love has more power than the combined intelligence of those who unlocked the secrets of the atom and the awe-ful results of their knowledge.
The world would be better with more who had the faith (and courage) of a young woman, Maryann Kauffman, who lost her husband to a senseless act of violence and choose knowing only Jesus or forgiveness rather than bitterness. I can know without knowing that her pain is as real as anyone else’s, but evidently her love is bigger.
May we resolve to know goodness more completely and I know we will be better for it. There is no loss in willing self-sacrificial love…