We Don’t Need Complete Knowledge to Know God

asdIn my last post, I made the comment that as limited beings, we could never fully know the mind of a perfect Creator. I said that because, I think, a proper sense of humility requires that we acknowledge our limitations. If we start off our study of theology with the presupposition that complete knowledge of God is somehow possible, we will in the end be disappointed. Complete knowledge is simply not attainable.

A challenger commented on my statement by saying:

“if this is true, then all modes of worship and ideas about gods must be thrown out as imperfect and more likely error ridden. There is no way to live your life around guesses so better to live as if there’s no god and be the best person that you can be.”

The reasoning employed here is faulty in a number of respects, and as apologists, it is important to be able to recognize, and point out, where the challenger’s thinking is going astray.

Let’s begin with the conclusion: there is, of course, nothing wrong with being the “best person that you can be.” But what does “best” mean? In common usage, “best” is simply the superlative form of “good.” Products are often rated “good,” “better,” and “best.” Measuring “good” requires us to have some notion of the function of the thing in question: a laptop that doesn’t turn on would not be a “good” computer, though it might pass muster as a paper weight. Calling it “good” because it kept papers in place on the desk would sound silly though, as everyone knows what the function of a laptop is. What makes a car “good?” Great gas mileage, power and speed, or freedom from breakdowns? Again, it would depend on the use to which it is designed to be put. Perhaps a balance of all three for the average driver; an optimized blending of characteristics.

When we apply this inquiry to human beings, how does one know whether he is living his “best” life? Should he measure it by worldly success, by wealth, by the number of friends he has? Does “best” change depending on the person? On his stage of life? On his preferences?

It doesn’t take much reflection to see that the challenger is offering no guidance at all. The whole point of the religious enterprise is to get at the mind of the one who designed us and who left us here for some purpose. Understanding what he wants from us is the main way – the only way – for us to determine whether the lives we are living are “good,” let alone “best.”

But the challenger doesn’t believe this is possible for limited beings. He responds with a false dichotomy: either we can know fully the mind of an infinite being, or we should “throw out” as imperfect and “error ridden” all modes of worship; it is better, in his view, to live as if there is no god.

This may be the conclusion the challenger wishes to reach, but logic does not support it. Examples abound all around us. I have a rough idea of how this computer I am using operates. I could provide a general explanation and probably not be too far off the mark. But move into any real detail, and my lack of knowledge would soon become evident. I certainly could not take it apart or rebuild it from scratch. What conclusion should I draw from this? Because I cannot fully know the mind of the computer designer, or the intricacies of the computer hardware, am I better off living as if there were no computer? How about the electricity that powers it? Should I start lighting candles and turning off the power because I lack a detailed understanding of how transformers and circuit breakers work?

Complete knowledge of a subject is never necessary in order for the student to have gained something useful from the acquisition of knowledge. And moving closer and closer to the truth about a subject will often increase our power. Faced with limited knowledge of the workings of a computer, I am better off learning more about it, and thereby increase its usefulness, than I am in pretending that it really doesn’t work, simply because I can’t know fully how it works.

So too with the most important subject of all: the one that involves the study of who left us here, and why? Learning more about Him, and want he wants from us, is not just a “good” move. It’s the very “best” one we can make.

Posted by Al Serrato

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One Comment

  1. pj says:

    In any area of knowledge (whether engaged in by Believers or Unbelievers) I often wish to ask, “Just in general, what is your attitude about what percent of knowledge we have acquired?”

    Do we have almost all of it? e.g. Do we pretty much know the size of the universe–or have we apprehended what amounts to only one grain of sand at the seashore–in one of many dimensions?

    Do we have any of it?

    But more important than that is our position in relationship to knowledge. It seems like the temptation in the Garden was not only for knowledge–but a changed relationship to knowledge.

    We are not to acquire it so as to wield it as if we are God. But we are to submit to it so as to obey it and more fully apprehend it. This produces wisdom. It glorifies God.

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