Less Understanding in an Age of Knowledge
Sociologists and anthropologists today talk about an advanced age of knowledge and technology… the emergence of the Age of the Anthropocene. By that, they mean we are living in an epoch where planet Earth is now under the control of humankind. In the 1990s, these notions started to become very popular, as Wall Street and its cousins around the world fanned up a massive technology investment boom.
Anything to do with information—information technology (IT), the Internet, computer software, intellectual property rights, patents… etc.,—became sought-after investments. Then came the stock market bust. The share values of many of the companies in these fields crashed to fractions of their highs. Some disappeared. However (as is usually the case with new technologies), while some shareholders may end up being wiped out, technology itself—i.e., “the technological “know-how”—does not bust. It carries on.
Hardly a decade later, a new technology boom began, only this time its focus was upon smartphones and data related applications… “Big Data” as it came to be called. Social Media took off (i.e. Facebook), and so did the smartphone, particularly the Apple iPhone. Seen overall, the smartphone proved to be the most rapidly adopted consumer device ever in history.
As a result, more and more of the world’s population is interlinked through the supporting data networks than ever before. (Please see the first two articles in this series for further background.)
These new technologies and powerful information networks that have emerged have radically changed the focus and mindset of the world. We wager to say that many of these new technologies and networks are surely facilitating key endtime trends such as worldwide interconnection, and a world convergence in other key respects—ideologies of consumerism, humanism, ecumenicism and narcissism. In fact, we have called the smartphone “the end of technology,” as no more technology developments are required for all prophetic Scriptures to be fulfilled… every “jot and tittle” (Matthew 5:18).
All technological inventions today produce data—reams of it. In fact, so much so that it is virtually impossible to measure.
And Knowledge Shall Increase?
Information has been booming in recent decades, as studies show. The School for Information Systems and Management at the University of California, Berkeley, at one time produced studies that estimated the amount and growth of information in the world. Back in October of 2003, they provided their findings for the end of 2002. They estimated that so much information was produced worldwide that year, that it would amount to 30 feet of books for each person living on earth.
According to their research, this represented an increase of total information in the world of 30% in one year (a similar rate to that of previous years). At that pace, total information ever existing in the world would double every 3 years.
Researchers measure information in terms of what are called exabytes—an electronic storage unit. To get a sense of the scale of this unit, consider that one typical typewritten page would amount to approximately 2,000 bytes. The number of bytes in one exabyte would require 18 zeros. This number is so large it is difficult to conceive.
According to the study’s estimate, all the words spoken by all human beings that ever lived would amount to 5 exabytes of information. Interestingly, for the three-year period surveyed by the above-mentioned report, total recorded information increased by 5.4 exabytes… in other words, by more than all the words ever spoken in human creation.
How quaint these estimates now appear in retrospect. In 2007, in an update of this report, the university study group estimated that more than 295 exabytes of data had been recorded or stored by humankind, far more than they had predicted. The reader by now will agree that the boom in data during our time is beyond conception.
The Bible’s View on Knowledge
No doubt, information is booming. As such, some Bible prophecy experts make the case that the data and knowledge explosion being witnessed today represents the fulfillment of a specific prophecy. They refer to Daniel 12:4: “But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.” They often equate the increase in knowledge with the explosion of data and information.
But is this digital information anything more than just data? Is there much knowledge to be found today? Has there really been a boom in knowledge? What is the state of knowledge in the world today?
These are questions worth investigating. To do so, we must consult the Bible.
The Bible has the first and last word on knowledge. Let us take a moment to dwell on this concept. Says the Bible: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:1-4).
Knowledge has always existed. It has never changed, and finds its complete genesis in God and His physical creation. Knowledge of eternal significance concerns the knowledge of God and His purposes. The only thing that has changed is man’s understanding, and more importantly, mankind’s willingness to understand. And, understanding begins with the recognition of God’s sovereignty and truth, says the Bible. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).
Scripture allows us no excuse for lacking this type of knowledge. All of creation points to God. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).
Here we clearly see that knowledge is the foundational information that matters for eternity.
Prophecy: Words on Knowledge
Is an endtime boom in knowledge prophesied in the Bible? Bible prophecy may indeed provide some insights on the phenomenon of an endtime information boom. However, as we shall see, rather than prophesying a rise in knowledge, it is a boom in ignorance that will mark an endtime world.
An increase in information—trivia, distractions and cares of this world—is definitely in alignment with the last days. As we have reviewed before, information—the vast, vast preponderance of which is trivia or meaningless data—has boomed.
Some also infer from this verse that not only will knowledge increase, but also travel. For a number of reasons, it is not likely that this text refers to such phenomena at all. In the first instance, it would be difficult to conclude that this passage refers to more knowledge in the form of new revelation. Here the original word used for “knowledge” is more aptly defined as the “act of knowing.”
In this sense, it is not knowledge that increases but rather the knowing of it. Also significant is the fact that this statement is mentioned right after the point that Daniel is instructed to “seal up the words.” As such, this would indicate that the explanation of the vision Daniel received is closed until such time that “knowing” would unlock its message. We are safer to interpret this passage as referring to an increase in understanding of historical prophecy and Scripture, not an increase of knowledge in its original sense.
Probably the most convincing argument is that, since all of Daniel’s prophecies are concerned with the object of the Jewish people and their future, the statement applies purely to them. Just as the Scripture, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6) is expressly spoken to the Jews, so Daniel’s prophecy of an increase of knowledge likely only applies to the Jews. The word “knowledge” here does not refer to technical and scientific information, but rather to the knowing of God’s plan and His laws.
The prophets had often castigated the Hebrews for their lack of knowledge. “[Israel’s] watchmen are blind; they all lack knowledge,” said Isaiah (56:10a). Hosea confirms that the knowledge being lacked refers to the ignorance of God and His laws. “Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children” (Hosea 4:6).
During the last days, the Jewish people will again come to an increasing understanding of their destiny and purpose. Finally, at the end of the Great Tribulation, a remnant will arrive at a full understanding. “Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding. In those days, when your numbers have increased greatly in the land, declares the LORD…” (Jeremiah 3:15-16).
Today’s boom in technology and science certainly provides evidence of increased understanding (and in that sense, a body of human knowledge). However, this phenomenon would not qualify as the meaning of the prophecy of increased knowledge. If anything, the Bible much more clearly talks about increasing ignorance and forsaking of knowledge.
Points to Ponder
Information is flooding the world—technology, entertainment and media, communications networks …etc. Yet, interestingly, scientists claim that the amount of data we have today in the world is still less than 1% of the information stored in all the DNA molecules of a single human being.
Also, this study surmised that all the computational power of all general-purpose computers in the world would still be less than that generated by nerve impulses executed by a single human being.
Consider how great God is shown to be in these comparisons. What God has created, moreover, is real knowledge and real information… real knowing. It is not a random pile of meaningless statistical noise. It represents true knowledge – the knowing of God’s cosmic plans. Human-derived data may have its uses, but for the most part it consists of trivia.
If anything, today’s information boom is an assault upon knowledge—a distraction to its recognition and understanding. It is this aspect that finds alignment with Bible prophecy, and applies to the entire world. Scripture clearly indicates that in the last days people would be taken up with the cares and anxieties of the world and its things (2 Timothy 3:1-5; James 5:1-5). It clearly is a world that is distracted and far from knowing and fearing God.
Despite this mind-jamming and diversionary onslaught, true knowledge is there for the knowing by anyone. We are given the ability to discern and to acknowledge it, and to willingly respond. The Bible calls this ability prudence and wisdom. It is given to both Jews and Gentiles, and is operative in both the old and new covenants.
The truths of eternity and God’s plan for the cosmos and salvation remain secure. God preserves knowledge… it does not change. “The eyes of the LORD keep watch over knowledge, but he frustrates the words of the unfaithful” (Proverbs 22:12).
There is another prophetic aspect of today’s information explosion that speaks to us living in the Western world. It is significant that information is expanding and more accessible than ever before in these last days. Even though we live in an age of institutionalized corruption and deception, anyone wishing to pursue truth can do so as perhaps never before. Key, crucial facts are all found in the public domain today—a surprising amount available free over the Internet from even the remotest parts of the earth.
When this cosmos finally wraps up and humanity sits in front of the Judgment Seat, there will be no excuse for the world not to have recognized the signs of the times… the season of Christ’s soon-coming return. There won’t be any clemency offered to the pleas of involuntary delusion, blindness, misinformation, and organized agendas of deception. The information was available all around. There will be no excuse for not being able to recognize the season of Christ’s soon-coming return.
Its interpretation is unlocked by the messages and warnings found in God’s informational database—the Bible. This information too has been more available than ever before (ignoring some of its corrupted versions), and its gospels more broadly accessible to the average person… to even lambs and the simple-minded. After all, the world’s population has more literacy skills than ever in history, and the Bible is available in more forms (electronic text, recordings, printed … etc.) than ever before.
Moreover, understanding the most important truths of the Bible doesn’t require theological training, mysticism, allegorizing, ordainment, an ecclesiastical intermediary, secret revelation, or knowledge of what certain theologians or early fathers may have said. The Bible says what it says, and God knows how to say what He means. “You do not need anyone to teach you” other than the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:27). If it were otherwise, the very character of God would be in question.
The Psalmist had this prayer: “Do good to your servant according to your word, O LORD. Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands” (Psalm 119:65-66). We can be sure that the knowledge of God will never disappear.
Says Isaiah, “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).
May we increase in knowledge and understanding of the Lord in these very last days.
About the Author: Wilfred J. Hahn is a global economist/strategist. Formerly a top-ranked global analyst, research director for a major Wall Street investment bank, and head of Canada’s largest global investment operation, his writings focus on the endtime roles of money, economics and globalization. He has been quoted around the world and his writings reproduced in numerous other publications and languages. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.