Many people’s favorite character from the 1993 film Jurassic Park is the mathematician, Dr. Ian Malcom, played by Jeff Goldbloom. Goldbloom’s character delivers some of the film’s most iconic lines, only some of which are appropriate to repeat in a homily. In one scene, Dr. Malcom is at a table surrounded by fellow scientists as well as the creator of the park, Dr. John Hammond. Dr. Hammond and his collogues have found a way to bring dinosaurs back to life and are almost entirely optimistic about the park and the kind of money its prehistoric main attraction can bring in. As they sit around the table, laughing and joking about this, Malcom interrupts and delivers his iconic monologue: “Gee, the lack of humility before nature that is being displayed here, staggers me. Don’t you see the danger inherent in what you are doing here?…I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you are using here…You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it…and now you’re selling it….Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Malcom’s concluding remark in this scene is a succinct description of what some have called the “scientific imperative:” If you can do something using the method and means of modern science, you should do it. This principle underlines the more general distinction between knowledge and wisdom. The word “science,” in the original Greek, just means a body of knowledge. Knowledge, as the old saying goes, is power: it gives you access to the nature of reality, and what you can and cannot do with that reality. Wisdom, on the other hand, is concerned less with “can” than “should.” Knowledge gives power; wisdom tells you what to do with that power. Wisdom instructs you on the best use of the power that knowledge brings. It may also instruct you not to use that power altogether.

Faced with the advent of a power more dangerous that the resurrection of the dinosaurs—faced with the discovery of nuclear power and the arms race that accompanied it—it’s easy to appreciate this word of caution from the Second Vatican Council: “The intellectual nature of the human person is perfected by wisdom and needs to be, for wisdom gently attracts the mind of man to a quest and a love for what is true and good. Steeped in wisdom, man passes through visible realities to those which are unseen. Our era needs such wisdom more than bygone ages if the discoveries made by man are to be further humanized. For the future of the world stands in peril unless wiser men are forthcoming” (Gaudium et Spes, paragraph 15).

Promulgated in 1965, amidst the Cold War, these words come from the conciliar document titled Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Behind these words we can hear a genuine fear of nuclear Armageddon. “[T]he future of the world stands in peril unless wiser men are forthcoming.” Advances in modern science, acquisition of ever more astonishing scientific knowledge, gives us access to unprecedented levels of power. To use that power appropriately, to discern whether than power should be used at all, requires wisdom.

This is the virtue that Solomon asks for in our first reading. He could have asked for the things in life that would have given him power directly—long life, riches, the lives of his enemies—but instead he asked for wisdom, that he might be able to distinguish between what is right, and should be done, and what is wrong, and should not be done. This is what Solomon wanted, and God gave him what he asked for, as well as what he did not ask for.

When we think of wisdom in this way, as instructing us about what is best in any given situation, we might think of it as restrictive. Wisdom, we may be tempted to think, shackles us in our pursuit of knowledge. “It may be valuable for those who are older and set in their ways, but not for the adventuresome types—not for those who are young, full of energy, and are on the leading edge of new discoveries. Wisdom is for philosophers, who spend their days in dark and dusty attics, but not for those of us out in the world, who are interested in progress and are ready to make a difference.”

On the contrary, wisdom, Vatican II says, “gently attracts the mind of man to a quest and a love for what is true and good.” This is the kind of quest we see in display in our gospel in the parables of the buried treasure and the pearl of great price. The treasure-hunter and the merchant looking for fine pears are adventuresome types, and it is precisely their pursuit of what is truly best in life—a quest which wisdom sets them on—that makes them bold, exciting, and willing to take risks. 

Wisdom sets us on a quest not just for knowledge, for what is merely true and good, but for the highest truths and greatest goods. Wisdom, as Vatican II also says, helps us turn our eyes not only to the visible world, which we can understand using the scientific method, but to the invisible world, whose nature we can only understand through Divine Revelation. Wisdom does not shackle us in our pursuit of knowledge, though it may caution us in the use of power that comes from that knowledge. Wisdom, rather, prevents us from being content with understanding what is temporary and changing, and urges us on to a knowledge and love of the One who is Eternal and Unchanging.

As exciting as it might be to resurrect dinosaurs, although there are obvious and compelling reasons not to try to do so, there is nothing more exciting than pursuing the kingdom of God. The greatest adventure in life, the adventure which true wisdom sets us on, is coming to know and love the God who created the dinosaurs. What must God be like, that He made such remarkable creatures? Amen.