A Theology of Technology

by Paul Danielson (and no he's not the one that comes up when you google the name)

Note: This was written in 1985 (many years ago as it is now December, 2010!) by someone I know. It is not important whether you agree or disagree with any or all of this. It is, however, important that one consider everything that is here. It is an interesting perspective and I think all - believers and non-believers alike - would agree that it is worth at least considering other perspectives in order to challenge our thinking and either solidify our point of view, or even cause it to be altered!

Note 2: Curious about the HMS Sheffield story below, I went to find out more about it. Interestingly, wikipedia and a couple other sources didn't mention anything about a malfunction. I did find what seems to be NASA records at http://www.narcap.org/articles/rp1374.pdf and also this http://hmsmaxton.tripod.com/hmsmaxtonm1165suezcanalclearance1974/id13.html so… just thought that was interesting!

Introduction

How exciting it is to be alive as we enter the Twenty-First Century. My Father, born in 1893, began his life before the Model T Ford, the radio, the television, the atomic bomb, the microwave oven, the refridgerator, the zipper, the laser, the computer, artificial satellites, and a host of other relatively recent technological breakthroughs that we take for granted.

The rapid advance in modern technology has changed the way we look at everything. The ease and speed with which we travel, the thirty seconds it takes to heat a muffin, the live scenes from all over the world that we watch on the daily news, the diagnostic computer check-ups for our automobiles, prenatal corrective surgery, smart credit cards, religious programming actually coming to us from the heavens via satellite, the rapid turn-over of textbooks in all areas of study - all this and much more give us the exciting sense of living on the cutting edge of modern civilization. Technology has delivered and we are impressed. If the problem can be stated, technology has the answer.

Developments have been so fast and so far-reaching that we have lagged behind in evaluating the social and moral implications. Test-tube babies have been brought to birth before we can answer the rightness of the process. Abortion pills are available when our nation is still divided over the way to treat the unborn. Too easily the determinate factor is economics.

Given the greed and evil tendencies well documented in human and social behavior, there is an immediate need to intelligent, ethical, and courageous men and women to prophetically address these advances. This is not to say that there is not already a significant vanguard of thinkers and writers at work. Those like Pierre Teilhad De Chardin, Jacques Ellul, C. S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley, Harvey Cox, Egbert Schuurman, David Lyons, Michael Shallis, Dirk Hanson, and Oliver O'Donevan have from various backgrounds expressed a genuine concern for our technological society.

The subject that I shall address relates to the theology of technology. To be more precise, there are dangerous idolatrous tendencies facing our Twenty First Century technologically oriented society. Many current writers have implied this danger. Few have developed their thinking beyond the following brief statements as they pass to other important issues.

"Technology is a leading figure in the pantheon of secular idols today." John Steel, Eternity, March, 1985, p. 13.

"The power of technique, mysterious though scientific, which covers the whole earth with its networks of waves, wires, and papers, is to the technician the abstract idol which gives him a reason for living and even for joy." Jaques Ellul, The Technological Society, 1964, Vantage Books, p. 144.

"In general, modern man has placed his faith in technological development." Egbert Schuurman, Technology and the Future. Wedge Publication Foundation, Toronto, 1980, p. 79.

The desire to be like God, while present since the fall, is becoming a technological possibility." Sojourners, June/July, 1983, p. 18.

"Is information technology not treated today as if it could become the savior, at least of Western economics? Did I hear someone say that Silicon Valley holds the keys to the kingdom? … Others, without Christian convictions, see the same: a new form of idolatry." The Silicon Society, Eerdmans, 1986, p.p. 26, 27.

Now there are four statements I will make about the theology of technology. The first will be a definition of idolatry. Second, the biblical basis of what makes God God as seen in Psalm 139. Third, to show the tendency of our society to attribute to technology these basic characteristics of God from Psalm 139. And, finally, it would be like a monitor without a mouse if I did not indicate how the approach I have taken can be used in effective Christian communication to those who are caught up in the worship of technology.

Defining Idolatry

Technology and idolatry are not new in human experience. Many ancient expressions of both are readily available from many sources. For our present purpose we will be defining idolatry as anything that is allowed to come between the Creator and His creation and thus to usurp the place of the Creator in the mind and life of the creature.

That Which Makes God God

Psalm 139 is noted for its magnificent statements concerning the three major attributes of the God of Scripture.

Verses 1-6 speak of God's omniscience which can be readily seen in the following phrases:

"O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD."

In other words, that which makes God God is that He knows all things. No other creature has ever been able to make this claim. God is characterized as possessing absolute and infinite knowledge and He alone is therefore worthy of our worship.

Verses 7-12 tell of God's omnipresence as indicated by these expressions:

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If … if … if … if … if … you are there."

That which makes God God is that He is present everywhere at the same time. Though Satan may be spoken of as walking back and forth throughout the earth (Job 1:6, 7); Zechariah tells us (4:10) that the eyes of the LORD run throughout the whole earth. For this alone is God worthy of our worship.

Verses 13-22 credit God with omnipotence. He is all-powerful. This Psalm very wisely describes God's power in two seemingly opposite demonstrations. First, in verses 13-18 God's power is shown in His ability to create life. "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb." Secondly, in verses 19-22 God's power is shown in His ability to destroy - the wicked. To this day no one has been able to destroy the wicked. But the Psalmist expresses great confidence in the ability of God to do so.

This third revelation of what makes God God is His great power by which we live and move and have our existence; and by which in His sovereign time He has promised to destroy the wicked. The ability to create and to destroy is what makes God alone worthy of our worship.

The result of this threefold revelation of the attributes of God causes the Psalmist in verses 23 and 24 to submit to God's lordship over his life.

Though our modern technological society tends to deny the living God of Scripture, we nevertheless desperately seek these three attributes of omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence for our lives. Our generation has tended to transfer these God-like qualities to the technological advances we have made. The deception is that we think we have now found a way to actually have the attributes of God at our disposal without having to acknowledge the God of these attributes.

The Idolatry of Technology

Having defined idolatry, and having examined from Psalm 139 that which makes God God; we are now ready to illustrate specific tendencies of modern society to ascribe to technology that which Scripture says uniquley belongs to God. We will do this by following the threefoldpattern already established from Psalm 139.

Omniscience

The rapid development of the computer is without question the most significant factor inman's increased ability to know more about everything than has ever been possible before. Everyone who has felt its penetrating and almost instantaneous delivery of pertinent and personal information is ina momentary state of amazement. It borders on a God-like experience that has caused many to bow in worship before this idol of man's own making.

For exampole, there is a shipping company in Florida that needs to know the weather patterns around the world so that theu can safely and economically plan their shipping schedules. In their office they have satellite scanning equipment that can instantaneously tell them relevant weather conditions all over the world. Once their twenty and forty foot containers are on land many of them are placed on flatbed train cars that travel throughout the United States and Canada. The company is able to know exactly where any one of their shipments is by means of bar lines painted on the sides of each container and then read by scanners along the tracks. The vital statistics are immediately availabe intheir head office.

While pastoring a church on Long Islandm I received a simploe postcard from a non-church organization offering to provide me with the names and addresses of nineteen familes per month that were moving into the community. What caught my attention was that the postcard had come from Atlanta, Georgia, complete with the800 number. Sure enough, for a certain free they could provide me with the above information via their computer data system./

A new and exciting expereince for many people around th world is the Internet. Those on-line experience feelings of unlimited knowledge and even power at their finger tips. Through their modems they are able to "travel" at ease throughout the world at almost the speed of light searching for people and information.

Currently computer research in many countries centers on the creation of Fifth Generation or smart computers that can think like people. Simultaneously, extensive research is being done on the brain, believing that it will be the paradigm for this next generation of computers.

All this must cause one to meditate deeply on the vision of John in Revelation 13:14-18. "… He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast … He was given power to give breath to the image of the beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed … This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666." The implications of this passage are far beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that Scripture foresees a time when man and his idol image machine appear to be one and the same.

It is not without significance that the first temptation in the Garden of Eden was to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Though this at first seems facetious, may I suggest with modern terminology that it was a "binary" tree. Could "good and evil" have a counterpart with "positive and negative" numbers so basic in computer programming? On the lighter side, is it not interesting that one computer company should choose for its logo an apple? Furthermore, this apple has a bite taken out of it which corresponds to the computer language word, "byte," which is a basic piece of knowledge.

My only observation at this point is that modern man feels free to use terminology and concepts rooted in Scripture to describe his technology without expressing any need to accept the God of Scripture.

Side Note: Interestingly, Mr. Jobs apparently sold his first Apple I computer to a local shop for $500, who proceeded to mark it up 1/3 for profit, and it literally sold for $666.66.

Omnipresence

Technological developments in methods of transportation have given us the ability to drastically reduce the distance and time between point A and point B. A hundred years ago it would have taken a week to travel from New York to California. Today it is a trip of a few hours. Point A and point B seem to be getting closer. But what if point A and point B could be as one? To literally be in two places at the same time is a God-like experience. Thanks to technology we are well on our way to this goal.

Television has given us a sense of alter-presence. Many of us have literally watched men walk on the Moon while we were sitting on earth in our living room. Great advances in Oceanography have been made with underwater robotic cameras while scientists above have seen the same scenes on their video screens.

In December, 1985, I attended a gathering of 12,000 people in Manila, Philippines sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ. But wait a minute. That is not the whole picture. Each night for a week we held service with 600,000 other people around the world. With perfect hand motions our song leader drew out our worship from behind his podium in Kenya, Africa where thousands of people had gathered. We were then led in prayer by another in Europe. Evangelist Luis Palau preached in Spanish from Spain with English and Tagalog interpretations being provided in Manila. Bill Bright added his comments from the United States of America. Then, one of our own group gave his personal testimony to those listening from all over the world. So what if it was 1:00 A.M. Philippine time! By means of satellite communication we had the fantastic feeling of being all over the world at the same time. It was a taste of heavenly fellowship while still on earth.

In another direction, while discussing technology and theology with an advanced research scientist of Bell Laboratories, he mentioned that the term, "omnipresence", was a familiar word among his colleagues. He described it this way. When a moving particle in a confined area is accelerated to a certain velocity, that particle for all measurable purposes is considered to be in two places at the same time. This experiment is not without practical application in telephone communications.

To even assimilate omnipresent experiences with technology is an awesome God-like experience for mere mortals. For many the temptation to replace the God of Scripture for the new model of technology has become an idolatrous affair.

Omnipotence

In theology the three basic attributes of God's omniscience, omnipresence, and His omnipotence are often interlocking. The same is happening in modern technology. Advances in knowledge and alter-presence have also advanced the disciplines of power we are about to observe. How small are the two keys that are being perfected to unlock the kingdom of omnipotence! I am referring to the splicing of the gene and splitting of the atom. Let us look at these one at a time.

One: The Ability to Create Life

The possibility of creating life is awesome to man. It is God-like. What power! We are so close to its secrets. There are about five billion components to the DNA. At the price of about one dollar per component research has now classified the DNA. We are now in the process of reconstructing the very fabric of life.

During the early stages of research development in optical fibers, my friend at the Bell Laboratories mentioned his struggle of conscience. He realized that if he rearranged the molecular structure of silicon, the conducting capabilities of the fibers would be increased many fold. His struggle was that he was planning to alter and "improve" one of God's basic building blocks.

This has now been done and the world seems none the worse for better telecommunications. Yesterday the basic structure of sand was changed; but the haunting thought is that today it is flesh and blood that are being restructured - it is us!

In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that new forms of genetically engineered life could be granted patents. Today General Electric, among other corporations, has been officially recognized as creating and being the sole owner of a number of elemental forms of life. There is more than most suspect when they hear the upbeat commercial of General Electric - "We bring good things to life."

Biochips are now as important as microchips in the science called biotechnology. Life in the laboratory is viewed largely as a matter of chemistry. The traits of different species are being mixed and altered. It's beginning to sound like Genesis 6 all over again when the "sons of God" mixed with the "daughters of men" and offspring were the giants or nephilim/titans of old.

Such God-like power in the hands of fallen man is a fearful thing. It is no wonder God interrupted the progress on the buliding of the Tower of Babel. In Genesis 11:6 He said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them." Such judgment from God was actually an act of mercy for the future of humanity.

Two: The Ability to Destroy Life

For the first time in human history we have the ability to destroy - not only the wicked - but everyone. What power! Whether the weapons be nuclear or chemical, our investments in technology have brought us to a very precarious period of peril. Many leading scientists are having serious misgivings about what they have brought forth. Others have refused to take government contracts for destructive projects.

But at what point can fallen man deny this god of technology that has brought him so much power? Will others be able to say with Malcom Muggeridge, "I've decided to take down my aerials." No, not many are able to resist, for with even seeming omnipotence comes authority and control and the kingdom of this world.

By our very fallen nature we prefer to trust what we can see and handle. Let me illustrate this with a personal incident that began in Florida in 1980. One weekend a British naval ship sailed into the Port of Palm Beach for a scheduled Port Call. We took the opportunity to show a little hospitality by inviting eight sailors to our church for Sunday service and then home for lunch.

While returning them to their ship they invited us on board for a tour. One of the sailors inquired, "Do you want to know who my God is? Well, my God is the computerized missile system we have on our ship!" He was simply giving testimony to his complete faith in the god of technology.

Two years later the war in the Falkland Islands broke out between Argentina and Great Britain. By now you must know the name of the ship that visited the Port of Palm Beach. Yes, it was the H.M.S. Sheffield. The irony and the pathos were that they did not even have time to call upon their missile-god. Years later the reason was made public. At the crucial moment, the captain was making an emergency telephone call to Great Britain that interfered with the defense system of the ship.

In all of this we must not forget that at the heart of so much of our technological advancement is a very simple and vulnerable element that God made. It is called silicon, or simply sand. If I am not imstaken, Jesus had something to say about the foolish man who built his house upon sand. When will we learn to trust in the God of creation rather than in the creation of God?

Conclusion

Daily I meet people who are becoming more dependent on modern technology in their work and leisure. My approach is to initiate a positive conversation involving a number of the issues and examples I have related to you. By no means am I implying that technology of itself is evil. It is one of God's gracious gifts to us to be used in the fulfillment of our God-given mandate to care for the earth. But when sinful people use it as a substitute for the living God, the consequences - though not always immediate - are indeed severe.

We all need to think through this issue. The Bible has much to say to our Twenty-First Century and I am suggesting that a good place to begin is with that ancient yet authentic Psalm 139. The better we know God revealed in scripture, the better we will understand our own limitations and finiteness. The better we know God revealed in Jesus Christ, the better we will understand our role and witness as Third Millennium Christians.

Idolatry is not only the worship and trust in sticks and stones and statues. Idolatry has taken a new and powerful form in the "can-do" results of technology that seem to answer the basic longings of the human heart for someone or something better than itself.

As Christians, we must guard our own body, soul, and spirit from the subtle godlike temptations of modern life-changing advances. And then, we must be prepared to point out both the good and bad of new technology to others.

God of Concrete God of Steel

There is a poem/hymn, called "God of Concrete, God of Steel" which is fitting here. Due to copyright issues I have taken down the lyrics. Does anyone know how one can get in contact with Galaxy Music Corp, N.Y. to ask for permission to print them??

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