What is knowledge?

Defined

Oxford Dictionary – “facts, information, and skill acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject

It is key to notice that what is acquired is not simply repeated or memorized. Neither is quantity taken into account. The effort cultivates a capacity to apply mentally and/or physically. Thereby knowledge will affect the individual, no less the world around them. After all, a person only practices what they understand. In the long run, is one’s understanding rooted in what is evil or holy?

History

Historia in the Greek means “inquiry, knowledge acquired by investigation” according to The Handbook of Historical Linguistics. Investigation of the past ensues through material that is an artifact, document, or commentary (layman or academic) of the period in question. The knowledge gained quite depends on the perspectives taken.

Historical understanding should be more judged by the present virtue in spite of its errors. A rigorous human view of the past can be so shrouded in self will it manifests malicious behavior, an unrestrained arbiter of fact and fiction. In contrast, a mere legend based on scant knowledge can inspire a pursuit for truth, goodness, and beauty in those whom share in it. If anything, history bears strong witness that the amount of knowledge itself is not an accurate indicator of one’s heart.

Surely, there is criticism about this seemingly na├»ve validation of stories as equal to high profile historical study. The latter can be unequivocally superior in facts, information, and demonstration of skill. The former can be far more morally influential. How many academic works of history are sadly out of touch with heartstrings, unable to stir even curiosity? A timeless tale may be a stepping stone if not bridge in a lifelong journey to understand things seen as well as unseen.

Science

The word itself means “knowledge”. Yes, of the natural world. Like history, one delves into things unwitnessed, not directly accessible to the five senses. The term became common in the late nineteenth century. Prior, ‘natural philosophy’ was the prevalent idea. There was a recognition that one needed to act on presuppositions in order to begin a consistent method. Aristotle, popular ancient Greek philosopher, had this to say in part one of book one for his work – “Physics” –

“Now what is to us plain and obvious at first is rather confused masses, the elements and principles of which become known to us later by analysis. Thus we must advance from generalities to particulars; for it is a whole that is best known to sense-perception, and a generality is a kind of whole . . . Similarly a child begins by calling all men ‘father’ and all women ‘mother’ but later on distinguishes each of them.”

Because what we know (or think we know) about the natural world may not be as accurate as we might believe, it is important to tolerate a degree of error. If one explores the efforts of any notable scientist/inventor, you will discover an extreme ratio of failure over success in experiments. A minority yet significant percentage of discoveries have been unintended. French chemist of the nineteenth century, Louise Pasteur, had this to say, “In the fields of observation, chance favors only the prepared minds”. It is not how much you know but how and an underlying why, which orders your perception. 

Materialism/naturalism is a prevalent mindset among modern scientists. Still, the scientific world at large wonders about things our five senses cannot comprehend. This fascination with the unseen is recognized across generations to be sought after, to be understood. What reenergizes an arguable reverence for the universal why is when those of the white lab coat understand there level of knowledge is still not even scratching the surface of reality. 

Leading physicist/string theorist Brian Greene states within the first page of his book “The Elegant Universe” that the top theories of physics – Einstein’s Relativity & quantum mechanics – “are mutually incompatible.” Both are recognized as insufficient for the increasingly mysterious nature of the cosmos. For the last century, an awkward hybrid of the two has been utilized for any gains in knowledge. What is to be a persistent matter of reflection is how our understanding of scientific knowledge impacts humankind, then the rest of Creation, a topic to be later explored.

Conclusion

Knowledge is an organized understanding of the acquired facts, information, and skills – consequential action will follow. It relies on learning material and immaterial substance. Book learning or labor are sources from human activity. With plenty of precedent, knowledge that turns out to be lacking in facts can still possess the quality to influence greater acquisition, which includes virtue. Is the pursuit of knowledge done with virtuous means for like ends? Does this pursuit and practice mar people, the image of God? Is it in effect deemed holy, separated from Creation as a supreme judge for what is good or evil?

“Feelings, purpose, values, make up our consciousness as much as sense impressions. We follow up the sense impressions and find that they lead into an external world discussed by science; we follow up the other elements of our being and find that they lead – not into a world of space and time, but surely somewhere.”

From chapter 15 of The Nature of the Physical World by Sir Arthur Eddington

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love. If these are yours and increase in abundance, they will keep you from being idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

2 Peter 1:5-8