On Ignorance

One of the most insightful stories from antiquity is found in Plato’s “The Apology” (20c-24e). Here Socrates, at his trial, gives an account of how he developed a reputation for wisdom. It began, he relates, when his friend Chaerephon asked the Oracle of Delphi if there was anyone wiser than Socrates – and was told that no one was. Socrates was puzzled when his friend told him this because his self-assessment was that he possessed no particular wisdom at all.  So, to perhaps disprove the Oracle, he visited and questioned various men of Athens who were reputed to be wise. And the surprising result was that, while these people thought themselves wise, upon examination Socrates could see that they had a false sense of their own wisdom.  A “great abundance of human beings who suppose they know something, but know little or nothing” (23c). And, Socrates discovered, people generally are displeased when this knowledge-gap is pointed out to them. He was consequently executed by the Athenians for “corrupting” their youth.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://spectrummagazine.org/article/2016/03/31/ignorance
1 Like

The issue would be better if one were to use Paul. what did he know, how did he gain that knowledge about himself and about God. what persuaded him? We would rather argue over the ages of the earth which is past fining out. But we know our own hearts and seek a remedy rejecting Paul’s solution except as a as a last resource. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews puts it square. The Christ event is more than redemptive history. It provides the faith, hope, and love to sustain and guide us through three score and ten. Tom Z


My understanding is this:
Christian truth is unlike philosophical truth in that there is no benefit promised to the one who gives mental assent (or “lip service”) to the propositional truths of Christianity. It is only the one who demonstrates those truths by living them out daily (making decisions accordingly, feeding, clothing, and healing those in need, etc.) who receives the benefit.

Christian ignorance would therefore be determined by what is “undone” rather that by what is “unknown”*.

Part of our ignorance may be our use of the words “belief” and “know/knowledge”* Words which, in the teachings of Jesus, appear to have had more to do with practical life demonstrations and intimate connections to the Spirit of God than with one’s mental assent to (or awareness of) any particular set of facts or lines of reasoning. Jesus speaks to this idea in Matthew 7:21, Luke 8:21, and John 13. Included in the invitation of Jesus to follow/believe in Him, was the understanding that the “believer” would take the yoke (teachings, way of life) of Jesus upon himself and follow in His footsteps.

There are some “Christians” who spend their time trying to convince others that they possess a set of facts that are superior to any other set of facts, and if others will just agree that those are the “right” set of facts, then they can “go to heaven”. These people are causing both themselves and their neighbors to miss out on the healing nature (“salvation”) of Jesus and his teachings.


A book by Michael Schemer, 'The Believing Brain…How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truth, states the following: “We believe before we reason. Once beliefs are formed, we seek out confirmatory arguments and evidence to justify them. We ignore contrary evidence or make up rationalizations to explain it away. We do not like to admit we are wrong. We seldom change our minds.”

With the above in mind cf. the following.

Seven Minimal Facts that tie Adventism to the Reformation

"Habermas takes an approach (for scholarly agreement) called the “minimal facts.” He wants to see where scholars — even liberal ones — agree on certain basic facts that apply to divisive issues. It’s like Sergeant Friday from Dragnet, “Just the facts, Ma’am. Just the facts.”

But what about skeptical scholars? Habermas has two rules for assigning something as a “minimal fact.”

The two rules for minimal facts are

  1. I will use not one bit of data which is not attested from several sources. I have several strong reasons to accept these as facts.

  2. Because that evidence is so good, that’s why the vast majority of critical scholars get on board with these minimal facts and allow them." (Dr. Jerry Newcombe, abridged).

Seven minimal facts that reveal the little horn of Daniel 8:9. represents the Roman Empire only as opposed to Antiochus Epiphanies, Rome pagan and papal, or the Papacy only.

  1. The little horn of Daniel 8:9, The Roman Empire, overthrew the Greek Empire.

  2. The little horn of 7:8, the Papacy, arose in the midst of the 10 kings who carved out their kingdoms in the Western division of the Roman Empire.

  3. The Roman Emperor, Justinian, placed the Papacy head of all the Roman churches, Eastern and Western, in 538 A.D.

  4. The Papal kingdoms in the West were actually vassal kingdoms of Eastern Rome.

  5. The Papal kingdoms eventually broke away from Eastern Rome and set up the Holy Roman Empire in 800 A.D. or 955 A.D.

  6. The Holy Roman Empire in the West, and the Eastern Roman Empire, ruled concurrently until Eastern Rome fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 A.D.

  7. The Roman Empire was divided between two different religious powers, the Papacy in the West, and the Muslims in the East.

The reformations throughout the various Christian ages have evolved from the concept of minimal facts. This concept, that is just as valid today, presents a challenge for all Adventists regarding the prophecies of Daniel 8 and the reason for our being.

Ranald McLeish,

1 Like

But if you know that you know, you’re not being arrogant. You just know. There is no virtue in ignorance; neither is there virtue in feigning ignorance as a gesture of humility. Some people just know…

I know that I do not kow - that simply is the essence of wisdom.

The idea is paraphrased by Paul : Out of a part we gain our knowledge, out of a part we prophesy - literal translation of 1. Cr. 13 : 9. Just a small slice of the pie is our source. Here and now : See verse 12. Our hope lets us not be condemned for eternity to sit in Platons cave.


Yes, we can “know” what we “know”.
BUT, is that ALL there is to “know”?
In my contact with other Christians, my contact with my Jewish Rabbi, I have learned a lot new thoughts, ideas that I did not know about.
My “know-ing” has increased.
Persons in the 1200-1300 saw God as the “God of the Unknowing”. Some things beyond our ability to ever know, but on the other hand, there is an ever increasing understanding about God that we learn.
The same is true about His Book. New cognition about things read can keep jumping out of old, familiar passages.
Paul keeps talking about the “HEARING of the word”. HEARING someone else read the word, I listen. I find it is times when I am HEARING and processing what I am HEARING that I have additional “light bulbs” go on in my head. Gain a new thought that I would NOT have recognized had I just silently read, or even read out loud to myself.
We need to do more OUTLOUD reading of the Word in Church. Listening to the Word being read OUTLOUD by someone else in Church.

Greeks vs Gallileo. Greeks said two balls of different sizes would fall at different rates. The bigger one would hit the ground first. That was true until late 1500s. Gallileo took two balls up the Pizza Tower, dropped them off, and both hit the ground at the same time. He later proved mathematically why this was so.
The Greeks “knew” what they knew. Gallileo “knew” what he knew. His findings helped us to make landings on Mars.
I saw a program this week on Public Television. Was on Mathematics. Math is a component of everything in the Universe. The question was even asked – Is God a Mathematician?
“Knowing – Knowledge” is progressive. In just the world of Mathematics, there is STILL MORE to Know.
So in the Spiritual world, in Understanding God, in Understanding EVERY THING there is in the Word.

We can ALWAYS say what it is we “know”, and that will be true. BUT, we are Unable to Name the things we DO NOT KNOW.

4/3 EDIT–The ancient Greeks used words like omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent**emphasized text to describe God, but THESE WORDS just don’t appear in the Old Testament. The ancient Jews never would have talked about God in those abstract Greek terms. — Red Letter Revolution, pg 8.

4/4EDIT-- According to Barth, Romans 5 is a good discussion on Ignorance, and being accountable, not accountable for Ignorance.

4/4EDIT – Regarding INCLUSIVENESS By The Third World Seventh day Adventists.
Apparently there is a problem in some African countries of Seventh day Adventists in one tribe being able to see that Seventh day Adventists in another tribe are Spiritual Brothers and Sisters in Christ.
As is known by an eye-witness, it was the conference president, a member of one tribe, who brought a mob and helped to execute by chopping with long knives and clubs the wife and children of a Seventh day Adventist member of another tribe.
Something like this goes way beyond the acceptance of a woman as a leader in a local congregation.
Something was WRONG in our BASIC THEOLOGY teaching for this to have happened to Seventh day Adventists BY Seventh day Adventists.
And then we in North American and Europe want these persons to Vote on something as high level in thinking and reasoning as The Place Of Women In The Church!!!


Thank-you Rich for approaching this problem.

I find this to be absolutely true!
But then you refute it!

While “The Apology” illustrates the truth of not-knowing and the concomitant humility, it does not cover all types of knowledge. It obviously distinguishes between techné and sophia, which does not generally fall under the definition of knowledge, though it uses the known as foundational for it’s consideration.

The “Outline of Knowledge” indicates ten (or more) types of knowledge. Techné seems to fall under what we now refer to as a posterior knowledge, “knowledge dependent on experience or empirical evidence, as with most aspects of science and personal knowledge.” It is (as noted) know-how, Procedural Knowledge, as contrasted with Descriptive and Acquaintive Knowledge (see Bertrand Russell). It is also Tacit Knowledge (as opposed to Explicit Knowledge) in that it is non-transferable, the information about the process does not provide the practice upon which it is based.

However, the Bible falls into the category of Descriptive Knowledge, describing the consequences of ascribed God-given Revelations. While it is claimed that these are revelations given to us “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”, it may be well to notice that this is information and NOT true knowledge. “Of the three ways in which men think that they acquire knowledge of things—authority, reasoning, and experience—only the last is effective and able to bring peace to the intellect.” - Roger Bacon

It is my understanding that God seeks our relations - experience with us. (This seems to be quite well conveyed in the opening chapters of Genesis where He explains His responsibility for life, and mankind by extension. Yet, of all His creation, mankind alone has the capacity to partake of the Tree of Knowledge against His will, which precludes their access to the Tree of Life.) It appears in the construct of the Bible, first in illustrating, by law - a meta-physical instrument, all those many ways that are not life-giving but death-dealing, and then by the (ineffable, infallible life-giving) example of His Son, God gives proximations of His character in relation to mankind. Has He not promised to partake in our LIFE by the Holy Spirit as we partake in His?

“Yes, we know about the Resurrection of Jesus, we know about our anointing and adoption as Sons and Daughters. And because it says so I believe it to be so. Without any empirical experience, just pure determination!. And since I believe that believing the Bible to be True (regardless of the veracity of the ‘facts’) confirms that I have given up my ‘self’, my thoughts and ideas, my very identity, for the Trueness of the Bible, my ignorance will be made up by It’s gnorance.”

Is that how it works? NO! The Fruit of the Spirit includes knowledge, as well as a number of other very experiential characteristics. God, freely and incomplicitely, participates in our lives as the Holy Spirit. At least for those which have made God their glory, and …

Practice the Presence of God.

P.S.: I pray this is not (and even as I do I concur that it may be) too much of a distraction of your intent.

Addenda 1: The Road to Perdition

Addenda 2: Fundamentalism Wants to Debate You[quote]That’s why it’s impossible to debate with a fundamentalist. By replacing “my” with “God” and melding beliefs about authority with authority itself, fundamentalist vocabulary has left no room for humility, reason, openness, doubt or change.[/quote]
Addenda 3: White Privilege[quote]Frankly, it is dangerous to put the Bible into the hands of people who still worship their own group, their own country, their own denomination, or any other idolatry. They will always abuse it. - Richard Rohr[/quote]
Addenda 4: The Problem of Certainty[quote]Despite how certainty feels, it is neither a conscious choice nor even a thought process. Certainty and similar states of “knowing what we know” arise out of involuntary brain mechanisms that, like love or anger, function independently of reason. - neuroscientist Robert Burton[/quote]


I think the older we get (I’m nearly 80) the more we realize we don’t know! It’s a humbling experience, but even if we may be expert at some craft or body of knowledge, there is still SO much yet to learn, even in our area of expertise. And, unlike God, we cannot read other people’s hearts or usually know how all their life experiences have affected them. Let’s leave it to God to judge!


The headlines and the bylines of the media all scream that the world even the church are living and acting on the ID level. Reason be damned! tZ

1 Like

In his alien invasion movie a of a few years ago, Tom Cruz’ Character uses an old joke, much to the chagrin of this kids; the one about how between he and his brother, everything is known. But, of course, when asked a question he can’t answer, Tom defers to his brother, who unfortunately, never appears in the film.

I find this analogous to the “knowledge” I had–and as alluded to by Mr. Hannon–when, as a Adventist 1st Grader, I smirked at Walter Cronkite’s Reports about America’s Plan to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade, because I knew, for a fact, that the world was not going to last that long.

And, by extrapolating even a little further, this joke can also be compared to the “knowledge” possessed by anyone who claims to know God having read books about him, or who’s “knowing” is based on their relationship with God’s Son, a person neither they, nor any of his biographers, ever met, in “real” life.

But getting to the basic question of what we know about God, simple logic shows that there are two flaws with the idea any human can or should defer to, much less believe in, a supposedly all-knowing being.

First, there is no way for any human being to verify that any purported collection of information and wisdom is all-encompassing, given that all of us know that we don’t know everything.

Further, and perhaps even more importantly, there is no way any being claiming this attribute for himself can be certain that there isn’t another creature somewhere, who knows more than he does.

In other words, God can boast of his omnipotence to ignorant humans, but he can’t prove it; either to us, but more importantly, to Himself. He can only believe it, while Socrates would have doubted it, deeply.

Which puts in question all of the other “truths” offered by The Bible and any other book, “Holy” or not.

And all of which constantly asks us to consider Mark Twain’s warnings against “knowing things that ain’t so”.

So what can we know that is ultimately true?

Probably nothing, absolutely, and almost certainly nothing that can be put into words.


This is the problem with seeing WO as a moral issue. It extrapolates the western view to the whole world. And then calls the world to task.

To many here the moral rightness of WO is self-evident. How could it be any other way? But such is an inappropriate extrapolation.

A reasonable approach to the ignorance/knowledge dilemma is to assume that these facets of human philosophical cogitations are not verifiable in the same , let us say more reliable, ways, as technology for instance. Often in technology you are either demonstrably right, or you are dead . Adventism has provided a belief system , and an emotional home where many of us feel comfortable in putting these beliefs into practice. But where is the validation that our belief system is infallible or even “better” than others. Jesus was certainly a son of God , and according to the Jewish scriptures the ONLY son of God. This is disputed in other systems. The Mesopotamian scriptures record that Yahweh known in other times as Enlil, was a disciplinarian who married a virgin young Eloha nurse called Sud who was also a celestial settler on earth, and had children with her.Numerous men have done more miracles than Jesus. For instance Simeon Toko the African Christian Baptist avatar was murdered by Portuguese assassins several times and resurrected himself sometimes in full view of his murderers causing them to flee in panic calling him a God. Pope John the 23rd even sent a delegation to ask Toko who was he? Sai Baba the Indian avatar resurrected the dead, including an Indian Government official several times, once even in an hospital morgue. The Adventist way is a great system, but perhaps not the only path to the great beyond.

1 Like

“This is the problem with seeing WO as a moral issue. It extrapolates the western view to the whole world.”

As they extrapolate their non-western “morality” to us…will there be no end to this convoluted “logic” (i.e. ignorance)??


Despite Alan’s refusal to see equality, non-discrimination, and accepting the Holy Spirit’s gifts as non-geographical and global in scope to every corner of the world, equality of women in a culture is a barometer to mistreatment, battering women, equality of pay, and the value of girls in a society. These are moral issues.

Although this is not “self-evident” to Alan, the Scriptures are full of examples of uplifting women, the poor, the downtrodden, outsiders, and the voiceless by Christ. Restoration of rights and value is a moral issue whether it’s slavery, equality of pay, or recognizing that women DO receive gifts of spiritual leadership from the Holy Spirit provided to fill needs in geographical locations, congregations, locales, and organizations. The Scripture is quite clear on the Gifts of the Spirit and the Scriptures do not make gender exclusiveness part of the callings to preach, teach, manage, organize, donate, lead or evangelize.

I think Alan really does believe in the Priesthood of ALL Believers and the morality of Scripture on this issue in the depths of his heart.


Thanks Ken for two insightful links. They won’t of their own bring us back, though they certainly give context to from where we’ve come as Seventh-day Adventists.

That the result is only attractive in select cultures in lands distant from world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist church should be reason enough for doubt.

1 Like

“But, while there are no doubt tares in every wheat field, I suggest that Plato’s story might have a beneficial effect in reminding us of how little we humans really know, and thus how humble we should be in our search for understanding.”

Well put Mr. Hannon. I like very much that at the end you also admit:
“At least, that’s how it appears to me. But then, what do I know? “

We need to admit to ourselves when we do not know. “There are known knowns” is a phrase from a response United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave to a question at a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) news briefing on February 12, 2002 about the lack of evidence linking the government of Iraq with the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups. Rumsfeld stated a guiding principle that should be tattoooed in every theologian’s chest:
“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”

Rumsfeld is often given credit for the phrase, but the idea of unknown unknowns was actually commonly used inside NASA from much earlier. Rumsfeld himself cites NASA administrator William Graham in his memoir. “Unknown unknowns” in a talk to personnel at the Homeland Security Transition Planning Office a few days prior to Rumsfeld’s remarks, and speculates that the term may have percolated up to him and other high-ranking officials in the defense department.

The point is that some of us, including brother Neal and brother Doug, may need the full 1,000 allotted
years (millennium-if we all get there) as we discover, resolve, the “known and the unknown”.

One kind of ignorance is to exactly feel its miserably only irritates. Take marriage for example, on celibacy, on counsel the SDA pastor will irritate the future groom and bride that marriage has much pain…which rightly so. The Reverence, Fr. Cox of St. Peter counsels that celibacy has pleasures and proves and irritates; we know he is not lying from tested ignorant.