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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Technology: Some biblical basics

Let's say that technology is the application of science. The distinction between these two servants of mankind is not always clear, but let's say that science discovers phenomena, and technology puts these discoveries to use. (This Wikipedia article considers the relationship between science, technology, and engineering)

I Kings 4 says that "And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that [is] on the sea shore." (verse 29--all quotes from scripture are KJV, as it is public domain) It goes on to say that he described plants, and taught about various kinds of animals.

Proverbs 25:2b says that "the honour of kings [is] to search out a matter." These passages imply that trying to make scientific discoveries is part of what humans should be doing.

One sort of "matter" that can be searched out is how the universe is made, including how living things are made. In this sense, scientists are pursuing glory. One of the best examples of this was the astronomer Johannes Kepler, who discovered the orbits of the planets then known, and the relationships between these orbits. "When he finally hit upon that secret key to the universe, he attributed it to Divine Providence. . . 'Now, however, behold how through my effort God is being celebrated in astronomy.'" Owen Gingerich, The Eye of Heaven: Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler. (New York: American Institute of Physics, 1993. Quote is from p. 307. Gingerich gives the source of his quotation of Kepler as a letter to Maestlin, one of Kepler's teachers, written October 3, 1595.)

To bring the notion of science discovering something about God—pursuing glory—closer to our own time, Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (also known as the Human Genome Project), said "When something new is revealed about the human genome . . . I experience a feeling of awe at the realization that humanity now knows something only God knew before. It is a deeply moving sensation that helps me appreciate the spiritual side of life, and also makes the practice of science more rewarding. A lot of scientists don't know what they are missing by not exploring their spiritual feelings." (Quoted by Gregg Easterbrook in "Science and God: A Warming Trend," Science 277:890-893, 1997. Quote is from page 892.) Science, the discovery of phenomena, can be an activity that glorifies God. What about technology, putting these discoveries to use?

Some Negatives about Technology
There are at least three biblical passages that indicate how technology may be wrong, or at least misused.
First, worshipping the results of our technology is wrong, as well as just plain stupid. Isaiah 44:9-20 tells about someone making an idol and then worshipping it.

Second, pride in our accomplishments is wrong. Daniel 4:30-32 tells about the king taking pride in the city of Babylon, because he built it. (He probably didn't do any of the actually physical work himself). God should get the credit for our accomplishments.

Third, supposing that there are no limits to human ability is wrong. Genesis 11:5-9 tells about the builders of the tower of Babel, who thought that there was no limit to what they could do. According to the Bible story, God destroyed their ability to work together.

 There are times when we seem to have violated one or more of the above. Although, for example, there is at least one Christian involved at high levels of the Human Genome Project, all of the staff are not Christians, and there may be inordinate pride in the accomplishments, and some of the participants may suppose that there is no limit to human ability.

Besides the above principles, based on scriptural accounts of human experience, scripture has more general principles, including the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) which requires us to act toward others only in ways that we would wish them to act toward us, and the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:6-21), which, among other things, prohibit idolatry, murder, adultery, stealing, and coveting the possessions of others. Using technology to enslave, murder or steal the possessions of others would be violations of the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. Using the Internet to access pornography (coveting and adultery in cyberspace) also would be. Note that in all of these cases, the technology isn't intrinsically wrong, but it is put to a wrong use.

A further problem with technology is degradation of the environment. Scripture teaches that the earth is God's, not ours (Psalm 24:1). Humans were given stewardship—put in charge of the earth and its organisms (Genesis 1). Noah was to rescue not just humans, but the animals (Genesis 7). Jesus said that God is concerned about the sparrows (Matthew 10:29). It seems clear that humans have not taken the care of the earth that they should have, and technology has too often assisted in this poor stewardship of the environment, in fact, leading to its degradation.

Some Positives about Technology
Although there are ways in which we can misuse technology, there are Bible stories that seem to affirm the use of current technology, and the development of new technology.
Technological development can sometimes glorify God. Noah's ark, the tabernacle and the temple were technological constructs, and God gave instructions for the building of each of them. In the building of the temple, and other projects completed during the reign of Solomon, there was apparently extensive use of resources. Solomon sent 10,000 workers to Lebanon to cut down cedar trees each month (I Kings 5:14), in addition to the servants of King Hiram who helped them. They may have worked there for as long as seven (I Kings 6:38) or even twenty years (II Chronicles 8:1). All this was at least allowed by God, and some of it was directed by Him. Jeremiah 22:6 contains an amazing statement. This verse says that God finds the royal palace (not the temple) at Jerusalem as beautiful as the mountains of Lebanon. If God can find a human construction to be beautiful, and one that is created to satisfy human needs, then we surely can, too, at least sometimes. It would seem that technological development, by and of itself, is not wrong, although it may be done for wrong reasons, or with the wrong attitude.

Part of the image of God in humans may be the desire to create things. (See below) The fact that we can create and use technology has certainly lead to some unfortunate consequences, such as radioactive nuclear waste and child pornography on the Internet, as well as more commonplace tragedies, like deaths and injuries in highway accidents. It may also lead to our being able to alleviate some of the consequences of our own mistakes of the past, or even some of the consequences of the fall. Our desire to create things has led to the creation of great art, music and literature, plus useful articles of clothing, furniture, tools and recipes. These are fortunate consequences of technology, probably a consequence of the image of God in humans.

Technology can be used to make us better stewards and ministers. We live in a fallen world. Whatever Eden was, and was like, we aren't in it, and don't deserve to be. Fallen creatures that we are, we have done things with technology that we should not have. However, we also can do good. We can track populations of endangered species. We can help people be healthier, and obtain food that wouldn't otherwise have been available. We can enable the Good News to be spread widely and rapidly, in ways that grip the viewer, listener, or reader, using technology.

I try to be a good steward, and support uses of technology, and development of new technology, that seem designed to benefit, not harm. I try to obey the Golden Rule. I know that humans in general, and I personally, have made and will make mistakes in this area.

A verse that is very relevant to all of the above, and summarizes it nicely, is I Corinthians 10:31 ("So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.") May that summarize our uses of technology!

Is the development of technology really a part of God's image in humans?I, do not, of course, have a firm answer. God did command Adam and Eve to take care of the garden before the fall, but there does not seem to be any firm evidence that they sought knowledge, except, of course, for their desire for the forbidden fruit.
There seem to be three possibilities:
1) The pursuit and application of knowledge were present before the Fall, but the Bible says nothing about them. (The Bible says very little about any aspect of human life before the Fall.)

2) The pursuit and application of knowledge are not part of God's image, but of our fallen nature. If that's true, then God has certainly allowed this aspect of us to be used, and it is at least a God-enabled ability. Theologians generally seem to believe that creative instincts are part of God's image. They can be warped by Satan, but Satan created none of these.

3) Humans had the potential to pursue and apply knowledge before the Fall, but these were not needed in an unfallen world.

I thank many of my students, and various authors and speakers, for most or all of these ideas.

Thanks for reading!

5 comments:

Catez said...

Trackback from Allthings2all
The Science and Christianity Showcase Excerpt: I am pleased to present the Science and Christianity Showcase. Contrary to the usual experience of scientists around the globe, this first time experiment has yielded excellent results

Elvin said...

I Guess Science and religion are very much same unless you understand that fully and be practical in life

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Elvin.

Roberts said...

I Guess Science and religion are very much same unless you understand that fully and be practical in life

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Roberts.