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Q. What’s the difference between ignorance and indifference?
A. I don’t know and I don’t care!
That old joke sounded clever the first couple of times I heard it. And this isn’t the first time that I’ve repeated it. Yet God’s people must not be indifferent about ignorance. God speaks this warning through the prophet Hosea: My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. – Hosea 4:6
In the Bible, God counsels us to obtain knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Knowledge can simply be gathered. But without the ability to apply it, knowledge isn’t of much use. That is where understanding comes in. Understanding combines knowledge with an ability to judge and comprehend the subject matter at hand. Wisdom is the possession of a superior level of understanding, the ability to consistently use good sense and judgment.
Here’s an example from my scholastic days. I generally did well in high school, but most of my best subjects were in math and science. At that time, my career goal was in the area of urban planning and transportation engineering. So I made an investment in an expensive must-have reference book: The Handbook of Chemistry and Physics.
For the benefit of those who are not familiar with this massive volume, it has the dimensions of a large dictionary, is about 3 inches thick, printed on thin paper. This book is jammed with 2076 pages of formulas, tables, constants, charts, and other facts.
Here is where understanding comes into the picture. Even with my science background, as I thumbed through the book at random today, I came upon many items that I never learned or understood. There are also a number of items that I recognize but have forgotten how to use them. Therefore, large sections of the information in this book are useless knowledge to me at this time.
Furthermore, the edition I own is the 49th edition. The latest edition is the 95th. There are now over 2600 pages of information, and that is after many of the mathematical tables have been removed since they are now readily available with a computer or calculator. As scientific knowledge multiplies, the editors of the Handbook have to constantly evaluate what should be added and what is no longer essential.
Of course, new discoveries also mean that some items that were listed 45 years ago have been clarified or corrected. Some of the material in my edition is no longer reliable. It is out of date. One example of interest to some readers of this blog is related to diethylstilbestrol (DES), a synthetic compound with estrogenic properties which a number of male to female transsexuals have learned that their mothers’ took while pregnant with them. DES is still listed as a treatment for prostate cancer. A more effective pharmaceutical treatment without estrogenic properties replaced DES in common use for prostate cancer in 1985. While DES use during pregnancy was not mentioned in the Handbook, it was not banned until two years after my edition was published. It is no longer manufactured or marketed in the United States since 1997.
No person can know everything. Only God is all-knowing. But collectively, within the body of Christ, it is incumbent upon us to remain aware of the latest additions to the wealth of knowledge in the world’s possession. This means awareness of what are hypotheses, what are theories, what are measured results, and what results have been reproduced and confirmed elsewhere. If that which is proven fact conflicts with man’s interpretation of God’s word, then we must reexamine the interpretation, comparing Scripture with Scripture, until we arrive at an interpretation and understanding that conforms to scientific fact.
This is what is so disturbing about some within the body of Christ, who ignore the proliferation of studies and case studies that demonstrate that the concepts of male and female (both physically and mentally) cannot be put into neat and separate little boxes and that there is a growing amount of evidence of a physical component to an incongruent gender identity; at the same time ignoring the personal testimony of the effort made by transsexual Christians to conform their gender identity to their physical appearance, through prayer and study of the Bible and exercise of faith, only to see our need to live authentically grow stronger and stronger. This is what is so disturbing about being rebuked for relying on science by a brother in Christ and former friend, who ironically has a Ph.D. in a scientific field and by profession (before his recent retirement) designed clinical studies for a major pharmaceutical company.
The war between Christianity and science is a canard whose origins were perpetrated in the 1800’s to discredit Christianity. Yet the story took root and has been repeated so often, it is now considered common knowledge by Christians and the secular world alike. Academic research relying on original sources to debunk this outrageous lie has been ignored for nearly 20 years. Shame on any Christians who have bought into a fraud that was meant to falsely accuse us and embarrass us.
We can get in trouble when we are sloppy in our knowledge of Scripture. In this case, we need to remember that Paul did not warn Timothy (and all people) against all use of science; he warned against “science falsely so called”. (1st Timothy 6:20) We can also look at the example of Daniel, one of the most faithful and obedient of God’s servants despite living in captivity in Babylon, as well as his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (who many are more familiar under the names Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego). These four were among the children of Israel chosen for training by Nebuchadnezzar’s servant, Ashpenaz, based in part on being “skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science”. (Daniel 1:4) When these four are eventually set apart from all the others, we learn that it was God who “gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom”. (Daniel 1:17) Who are we to go against God?
Apparently there was junk science in Paul’s day and there is evidence of junk science now. A man of great wisdom wrote these words under the guidance of the Holy Spirit: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) But we can find no disapproval in the word of God against the acquisition of knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Nor did “much learning” drive Paul insane.
In other words, God finds no fault in the pursuit of pure science. The word itself comes from the Latin word for “knowledge” based on the verb “to know”. Here are the seven meanings of “science” with key words highlighted:
– a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws:
– systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.
– any of the branches of natural or physical science.
– systematized knowledge in general.
– knowledge, as of facts or principles; knowledge gained by systematic study.
– a particular branch of knowledge.
– skill, especially reflecting a precise application of facts or principles; proficiency.
Against all these things, God has no law. But to be aware of the things of God, to know what Paul wrote to Timothy or about the godly gifts bestowed upon Daniel and his friends, we need to systematically grow in knowledge of God’s word through continual study.
I expressed my thoughts on this matter in a recent discussion with a dear transsexual Christian friend (and also a scientist!) who I met through this blog. She had expressed the belief that “there is lot more gray in the bible than the simple black and white that is so often touted to be the case in God’s word.” Here is the main part of my reply:
I actually look at it differently. I believe the Bible is black and white. In some ways it has to be, since God doesn’t change, His word is forever settled in heaven and His yes is yes and His no is no.
From my point of view, it isn’t a matter of black and white versus gray. It is a matter of how simple it is. And some things are simple. The basic message that you can come to Christ by faith, childlike faith, is simple enough that young children and unlearned adults can understand and respond to it positively.
But in deeper matters of theology, it takes time and study to harmonize the various passages of God’s word. It takes work and effort. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” – 2nd Timothy 2:15
The best analogy I can come up with is computer graphics. I am not an expert so I do not know all of terms. But I understand the concepts. Did you know that there are two ways to achieve gray in computer graphics? One way is grayscale. That is a method of adjusting the relative darkness of a pixel. So if a printer is printing a grayscale page, 100% ink equates to black. Anything less than that and you start getting into lighter and darker shades of gray.
But the older method, the only method which certain devices (e.g. laser printers and fax machines) can process, is a binary image. Now if your image resolution is comparable to the video game “Pong”, it will be very difficult to achieve gray. To achieve gray instead of a splotchy black and white image, you need a lot of pixels per square inch (i.e., very tiny pixels, so tiny that it would be almost impossible to see one pixel of black on an otherwise white screen with the naked eye – maybe it would be impossible these days). With high resolution, provide enough magnification and you can see that what looks to be gray is really a combination of very tiny black and white dots.
Over time, ways were found to create processes to make pixels smaller and the resolution better. Each development and advance is like another time of studying the word, except each technology advance improves what you can create; each Bible study improves the amount of detail you can see. And the more detail you can see, the better you know, using Ecclesiastes 3 as an example, when it is right to kill or heal, to speak or be silent, to love or hate, to wage war or make peace. And that would also be true about discerning when it is acceptable in God’s sight to change the gender identity you present to the world.
Almost by necessity to cope with a complex world, people tend to simplify whenever possible. Overdo simplification when it comes to Christianity, turn the microscopic pixels of God’s word into large polka dots, try to squeeze an infinite God into a tight box: you will run into serious error sooner or later.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. – Isaiah 55:8