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Too Little Knowledge or Infinite Potential for Discovery?

How much does any one of us know?

Even the brightest, like a Hawking, an Einstein, or a Ross only knows a fraction of what can be known. Do we corporately even possess knowledge of 0.01% of what can be known of reality?

When it comes to knowledge, and our ongoing acquisition of it, defeasible reasoning is the play of the day. Defeasible reasoning is basically belief revision—necessitated because we know so very little about what can be known of the reality that surrounds us—a reality through which we navigate life despite our pervasive ignorance.

This concept and the following series of questions go much deeper than the apologetic tactic of trying to get an atheist to transition to an agnostic by asking him how much he thinks he knows of reality and what there is to know. Or by asking him how much the most intelligent person he is aware of might know about reality. One percent? One tenth of a percent? Even less? Then following up with the concept, that if there is 99% or 99.9% or greater percent unknown, isn’t it at least reasonable to consider that God may exist as part of that unknown reality?

There Is So Much More to Know!

In conjunction with considering our pervasive ignorance and the need for defeasible reasoning, I have been contemplating the ever-increasing, often surprising, and unimagined complexity of the human genome, its controlling epigenetic molecules and signals, the diversity and complexity of protein modifications (e.g., post-translational modifications, including information-bearing glycosylations), and the striking complexity of cellular systems, pathways, networks, and signaling mechanisms (biochemical, electrochemical, mechanotransduction, etc.). We collectively know quite a bit about many intricacies of well-studied genomes, signaling and regulatory molecules, protein modifications, cellular systems, and organismic development, but the extent of what we don’t yet know is so unimaginably more in regard to these things. I am overwhelmed at the complexity of these systems and wonder how long it will take us to unpack them.

Not a problem! That’s why scientists will have endless work to pursue. We continue to revise beliefs in small and sometimes large ways with every new scientific discovery.

Is It Bad? Or Is It Just Unknown Or Mismanaged?

Now consider this, what if it is only, or primarily, our lack of current knowledge that allows us to reach conclusions that one day might be considered false (like the percent of the human genome that is of functional relevance)? What if a lack of current knowledge also causes us to brand naturally occurring things—for instance, earthquakes, bacteria, and viruses—as evil or bad? What if a lack of knowledge and a failure of adequate management of nature allows bad manifestations and outcomes from an otherwise critically good creation?

What if the ultimate function or purpose of a system is very good but obscured by ignorance beneath a veneer of “bad”—or of “somewhat good”? What if we judge something as mostly bad because of ignorance of the thing itself or ignorance leading to our mismanagement?Or what if bad things for individuals or society occur—neither by a failure to recognize something’s proper function nor lack of knowledge of how to rightly manage it—but by a failure to implement change for good due to competing reasons (such as immediate personal or corporate monetary gain)? In other words, even obviously good things can easily be bad under poor management.

Consider the three things I listed above. Earthquakes result from the movement of Earth’s crust (plate tectonics). Scientists have discovered that the movements of the continental plates are critical for recycling chemicals and nutrients and regulating global temperatures that sustain life on Earth. Likewise, we’ve discovered that the vast majority of life is single-celled life and that prokaryotes (like bacteria) are critical for maintaining the availability of key elements and organic molecules for higher organisms to live and thrive. Bacteria play key symbiotic roles in ecology and in organismal physiology and metabolism as well. And viruses—well, viruses are gems that keep Earth from being nothing more than a giant ball of bacteria and other single-celled masters of reproduction.

Plate tectonics keep our planet habitable. Bacteria critically contribute to biogeochemical and precipitation cycles as well as ecological harmony and organisms’ essential microbiomes. And viruses critically open ecological space for survival of higher organisms. All good, or at least more good than bad. But what if there is more, much more innate good to be discovered if we only persist in inquiry and examination?

What if we could predict when and where earthquakes would happen? What if we could harvest and store energy from earthquakes by developing a much deeper understanding of plate tectonics? What if, by hijacking bacterial immune systems or commandeering viruses as tools, we gain understanding and a capacity to manipulate cells in need of repair or removal? Scientists now have CRISPR, discovered in a bacterial immune system, to use as a versatile tool for managing crops, animals, and human disease. And we’ve engineered and employed viruses for delivering payloads for medical applications and in discovering the workings of our own cellular machinery and the molecular foundations for life.

What if this is only the beginning of imagined potential applications that emerge from ongoing studies of such things as plate tectonics, bacteria, and viruses?

People Love Discovery, and God Loves to Be Discovered

For some people it’s discovering a deal so good we express it as “a steal.” For others it’s sheer exuberance in finding some precious item or perhaps a friend we once considered lost. Maybe it’s a great band, a fabulous restaurant, a creative artist, or a magnificent park. Discovering something new delights us all! Many who choose science choose it for this very reason, as do many theologians. We’ve made vocations from discovering utterly new things and old things once obscured.

A robust Christian theology lies at the foundation of understanding nature this way and fosters delight in discovery. Creation was designed as good and providentially supplied for our discovery, delight, and careful management. Despite our prevailing ignorance, in each discovery we find the handiwork of a good and beautiful Creator. This is what the scholars at Reasons to Believe endeavor to do for each scientific discovery—to show you the harmony between science and the God of the Bible.

We believe that God reveals himself in nature, in the scriptures, and ultimately in the person of Jesus Christ. As we explore the good in nature we unveil the heart of a personal Creator. With each discovery we see added layers of complexity and an ever deeper engineering cleverness. All that surrounds us sustains and allows our flourishing. And all we discover reveals the power and nature of God.

This idea is at the heart of the biblical story—God delights in our discoveries, especially when they point to the grandeur of the Creator. He desires restored relationship with those created in his image, male and female. He desires our restored relationship with him, his creation, and with one another. God reveals himself in nature because he wants to be known. He reveals himself just enough so people will seek him even more. He taps into our curiosity and love of discovery and mystery. He created us with these innate characteristics. He invites us to the great hunt and promises we will find him when we seek him with all our hearts.

The delight of an infinite Creator who creates so we can eternally discover more and come to fuller knowledge, but always have still more to discover and delight in as we thrive in righteous, redemptive relationships with creation and each other: this is the Christian story. This beautiful, good, true, hope-filled, and purposeful story.

But Isn’t Science Amoral?

I was recently in a long conversation with an atheist who commented that science is amoral. We discussed how science is morally neutral but people who do science are not. And to my surprise, he judged people as basically bad, concluding that evolution has produced a type of selfish apex predator. As we talked, he admitted that his worldview was one without hope. This was the coherent outcome of his self-examined understanding of an atheistic, evolutionary worldview.

I shared with him the work we do at Reasons to Believe and how we strive to show that science harmonizes with a biblical view of God in a true story of redemption, hope, purpose, forgiveness, and a new creation. I invited him to read some of our blogs and C. S. Lewis’s Abolition of Man. I shared the hope I have for him. It seemed to be the thing that resonated with him the most. We’re in touch by email. He has bought and started the book. We hope to meet again to continue our conversation soon.

Our World Needs Hope.

This is our vocation, created for discovery and relationship, made new in Jesus Christ, appointed ambassadors for the reconciliation of others. Our world needs hope. We Christians need to be men and women of faith, courage, deep compassion, and humility. We need to embody the hope of our powerful, good, and loving Creator and share how he reveals himself in order to be known. It is our privilege at Reasons to Believe as scientists, theologians, and evangelists to unpack and share these mysteries with those around us and to encourage and equip other believers to do the same. Thanks be to God!

Additional Resources (for further discovery!):