It has been said by many (myself included) that it’s not what you know, but who you know. This cliché summarizes the belief that your wellbeing is better served by good connections than good information. But in recent days, I have realized that this is a false choice; maybe who you know is not very different from what you know.
My musings were sparked by hearing Steven Shapin speak about the history of science. He should know something about the topic since he teaches on it at Harvard. His recent book, Never Pure has a wonderfully long subtitle. It reads like this, “Historical Studies of Science as if It Was Produced by People with Bodies, Situated in Time, Space, Culture, and Society, and Struggling for Credibility and Authority.” I know what you are thinking, who would write such a book and why would anyone read it? But his thesis is remarkably important because it helps us understand what we know to be true.
In modern America we live with the deification of scientific discovery. In other words, scientific claims are sacred and indisputable. If a claim has scientific merits, that grants it instant infallibility. The assumption is that scientific knowledge is disembodied truth; it is separate and apart from our humanity and is consequently pure. But Shapin challenges this assumption and reminds us that science is, and always has been, a human endeavor. It is bound by human limits and susceptible to human prejudice. Science is not pure.
Shapin is not anti-science, he simply wants us to appreciate it as a human endeavor. Science cannot provide disembodied, absolute truth claims. Scientific claims are the claims of scientists. What we know is informed by who we know. This stands to reason, it also explains revelation.
Jesus’ incarnation is our reason for hope. His life, death, and resurrection make all the difference for those who believe. It also makes it possible for us to know truth. The apostle John tells us, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, ESV). Jesus came among us as the perfect man and revealed God to us. Jesus shows us that truth is not, and never was disembodied, but is personal. Always pure, Jesus’ life and teaching communicated eternal truth to those who had eyes to see and ears to hear.
So what we know is dependent on who we know, and who we know will determine what we know. In the end, it always comes back to Jesus—the truth, the life, the way.