A Search for Knowledge
BY THE time I had traveled around the world a few times and had seen the plight of much of humanity, I decided that religion was illogical and confusing. But I had a yearning for knowledge and understanding. There seemed to be so much evidence pointing to the existence of a God, and yet, at the same time, other things indicated that none could exist.
I immigrated to New Zealand, married and took a job in radio and, later, television. By specializing in documentary production I was able to satisfy to some extent my thirst for knowledge, spending many hours doing research in libraries and newspaper offices. Partly with a view to advancement in my job and partly because philosophy promised to increase my knowledge, I enrolled in our local university for a study of philosophy.
From the start, I was fascinated. Philosophy promised limitless fields of knowledge. Dictionaries define it as “the knowledge of the causes and laws of all things.” I liked the way it examined man’s reasoning processes, since it seemed to me that man’s faulty thinking lay at the roots of the world’s problems.
But What Is Truth?
New Zealand has great natural beauty, and one day I was so moved by the sheer magnificence of creation that I felt impelled to praise the Creator. I asked that I might be allowed the privilege of knowing him.
A week or two later, a small boy, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, offered me the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. I had never seen them before and had never heard of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I still had memories of self-righteous, ignorant and dogmatic people who had tried to foist impossible, self-contradictory religious ideas on me. I refused to take the magazines. But the boy was back some two weeks later with another set of them. This time he was accompanied by his father, who engaged me in conversation.
In an effort to end the discussion quickly, I asked him four of the knottiest questions that I kept for ministers and theologians. Experience had taught me that these were certain to cross the eyes of anyone with religious beliefs. Far from crossing his eyes, my questions were answered—three of them, at any rate—from the Bible he carried. Amazed, I agreed to talk with him again but I did not expect his performance to stay at this high level.
Meantime, my studies at the university were continuing. One of my greatest interests lay in trying to establish Truth.
What is Truth? I found almost as many answers to this fundamental question as there are philosophers.
The Doctrine of Empiricism said: “If you want to know what the universe is like, the only correct way to do it is to go and look for yourself, to collect facts which come to you through your senses.” The Doctrine of Rationalism had an opposite view and argued that pure reasoning alone is the ultimate authority in establishing truth. Existentialism ran across this belief, saying that the will is more important than reason. “God does not exist,” said Kierkegaard. “He is eternal.” Pragmatism suggested that “those beliefs are true which it is expedient for us to act upon and believe.” Wittgenstein felt that the limits of his language meant the limits of his world, thus he could not know more than words could convey. Descartes’ Intuitionism taught that one can only acquire theoretical knowledge by means of intuition connecting self-evident truths and that, if a person had an unclouded and attentive mind, he would get a feeling of confused conception if what he was considering was untrue.
By now I had a thoroughly confused conception about Truth. I was down to one unit of knowledge that alone seemed reliable, the one contained in the Cartesian dictum: “I think, therefore I am.” Could one know any more than that? Since all perception beyond one’s own thinking processes comes through the senses, was knowledge of the exterior world possible? Sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell were all ultimately electrical impulses in my brain. Could the exterior world be my own invention?
Some Light Begins to Shine
By this time, my wife and I had agreed somewhat reluctantly to study the Bible with two of Jehovah’s Witnesses. On the subject of Truth, we were shown a statement by Jesus Christ that was so simple it seemed at first as though he was being evasive. He said, in prayer to God: “Your word is truth.”—John 17:17.
In studying philosophy’s Coherence Theory, I had come across the suggestion that truth, ultimately, is beyond man, since all things are interconnected to such a degree that we cannot hope to attain to so much knowledge. It had said: “Presumably there is, ideally, one exhaustive and all-embracing truth—no judgments we can make can be thus exhaustive, our judgments may at best be partially true—fragments of an unattainable whole which alone would be adequate to reality.” Where else could such an all-embracing truth be but in the mind of the Creator, the possessor of all knowledge?
It was a thrilling idea, but was it provable? The only way was to put knowledge purporting to come from that Creator to the test. Since the Bible purported to be knowledge from the Creator, it seemed good to put the Bible to the test seriously.
For some time I had swung indecisively between the Doctrine of Optimism, which says that the universe is constantly tending toward a better state, and Pessimism, the belief that the world and life are essentially evil. With strong arguments for both theories, the only way to settle the paradox seemed to be Augustine’s most unsatisfactory conclusion—that everything in the universe is good, even things that appear evil.
However, once again our Bible study gave us a logical explanation for a problem that has occupied the minds of the world’s greatest philosophers: If God is good and all-powerful, how can evil exist? Jehovah’s Witnesses showed us that an evil creature (Satan) presently rules the earth with temporary permission on the part of the Supreme God, Jehovah, for the purpose of settling a universal issue.—Job 1:7-12; John 12:31; 14:30; Rev. 12:9.
Why the General Dissatisfaction with Government?
In its very wide scope of interest, philosophy also has much to say about what constitutes good government. Plato considered that democratic government was rather like sending your television set to the butcher for repair. He felt that the mass of the people were not expert at the craft of government, so governing should be, not in their hands, but in the hands of philosopher-kings. John Stuart Mill said the test of good government was the degree to which it promotes the general mental advancement of the community and the degree to which it organizes the worth already existing in the community.
Every conceivable type of rulership has been put forward, each one, in turn, torn down by the next philosopher in line. It seemed to me that, with all the brainstorming on the subject over the centuries, we should by now have arrived at a near-perfect system of government. But there is more dissatisfaction with governments today than ever before.
The Bible cleared up the entire field in just two propositions: (1) That man is incapable of ruling himself (Jer. 10:23) and (2) That Almighty God has, in any case, already decided man’s future in this regard by arranging for a government of His own. (Dan. 2:44) I seemed to be getting a good deal more knowledge from two or three hours of Bible study than from months of delving into human philosophies.
However, I was committed to finishing the university year, so on I went.
What Moral Standards?
I had hoped to get some clear thinking on the subject of morality. But, here again, after my studies I was less convinced about anything to do with morality than before.
The Formal Principle of Morality, according to Kant’s Moral Philosophy is: “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” But, as other philosophers pointed out, the individual observation and experience of life of any two people would probably differ and so their conclusions as to what should become universal law would also vary. Multiply that by the earth’s population and you have moral chaos.
Aristotle’s moral philosophy accepted the concept of slavery because, he said, some men are slaves “by nature.” Utilitarianism claims that all actions must be determined by “two sovereign masters”—pain and pleasure. What was pleasurable was good; what was painful, bad. Because that was oversimplification, later philosophers added “higher pleasures and lower pleasures” so that choosing moral standards became rather like supermarket shopping. Any number of small pleasures could never equal one large economy-size pleasure. If now imprisoning an innocent man brings him a large dose of pain but the entire community receives twice as much pleasure from the injustice, then it is morally right to imprison him, according to the Principle of Utility.
Surely there must be a more lofty basis for morality than the pain or pleasure of humans. I learned from the Bible that God made clear to the first human pair that he is the One who decides what is good and what is bad, thus setting moral standards, that life depends on obedience to those standards, and that death results from disobedience. (Gen. 2:15-17) Surely that is the way it should be! My attention was also directed to Jesus Christ’s Golden Rule—“Just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them.” It is such a simple sounding statement, but when one really thinks it out, it is a profound piece of wisdom on the subject of morality. What absolutely beautiful philosophy!—Luke 6:31.
My study of philosophy was nearing its end. While I had not come to believe that all philosophers are fools, I had come to realize that more than intellectual capacity is needed in order to gain true wisdom. God, the “all-embracing truth” source, has not revealed all of his knowledge to man.
Man may stumble on some scraps of truth independently of God, but a very wise man of ancient times, Solomon, said: “The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of knowledge.” (Prov. 1:7) Most philosophers, great intellectuals though they may be, show no interest in Jehovah, and so he shows no interest in their search for knowledge. In fact, Jesus Christ told his followers that God actually keeps knowledge from them. (Matt. 11:25) The apostle Paul said that their worldly knowledge is foolishness with God.—1 Cor. 3:19.
Even some philosophers are ready to admit to a Principle of Nonsense in their field. Thomas Hobbs once wrote that one of man’s distinctive abilities was “the privilege of absurdity to which no living creature is subject, but man only. And, of men, those are of all most subject to it that profess philosophy.” But, strangely, many people prefer nonsense to truth. They do not wish to be accountable to God for their actions.
I go along with King David—that Jehovah’s laws, reminders and decisions constitute such superior wisdom that their value is far greater than much gold. (Ps. 19:7-11)—Contributed by an “Awake!” reader in New Zealand.
[Blurb on page 21]
If God is good and all-powerful, how can evil exist?
[Blurb on page 22]
After having tried every conceivable form of government, why has mankind not yet produced one that truly satisfies people?
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Is there not a more lofty basis for morality than the pain or the pleasure of humans?