13 March 2013

the gods of technology

One of the challenges of the modern world is grappling with the amount of technology that surrounds us and is available to us.  There has been much work by scientists, theologians, sociologists, philosophers, and numerous others to understand the world in which we live - one that is shaped by technology.  This is not new, for these questions have been moving alongside the advancement of technology every step of the way.  What we are faced with, however, is a barrage of technological advancement which comes from so many different angles, moving at a rate of exponential growth such as the world as never before seen.

One of the outcomes of technology and technological advancement is that it has a tendency to diminish the role of religion in a given culture.  Since the work of science and technology are perceived as bringing information into the light and answering the mysteries of the world, a natural assumption arises that such mythologies are in fact reserved for the undeveloped minds.  Yet, humans constantly seek out mystery, having what some have referred to as a 'sense of the secret' which pulls at their minds.  Unfortunately, the modern rhetoric has so much sought to remove God from the equation that the pull towards spirituality is often vague and undefined in our postmodern culture.

What was feared about these trends in culture, just a generation ago, was that it would strip humanity of its concept of the divine and leave it with a sense of technology as being divine.  In other words, science and technology were giving the answers to the world and those things which we now consider divine or mysterious are simply those things which we have yet to answer with our technological advancement and scientific achievement.  Certainly this has been the path our culture has been on these past number of years, and there is little sense that we will dramatically turn course any time soon.  The answers are seen in what we can accomplish for ourselves, and the advancements of science and technology are not bound to laboratories or mainframes.

Culturally speaking, we face a number of issues which demonstrate the same type of thought being worked out in national politics, economic theory, and healthcare (to name but just a few).  That we can provide solutions to our problems - or perceived problems - through more advancements in these areas is to assume the very context which I have outlined.  It requires the necessary removal of religion (most notably, the church) from the public sphere, although we are never void of politicians and celebrities who are willing to parade their own versions of 'spirituality' - son long as it is undefined, so as not to offend anyone.

A brilliant critique of our struggle with scientific and technological advancement is Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, where he asserts, "Technique advocates the entire remaking of life and its framework because they have been badly made" (142-143).  That is to say, once we have effectively removed the Creator from creation then we are free to rework it and remake it however we see fit.  And that is happening right now in our own culture.  The field of genetics research is one example of how science must be closely linked to ethic in order to keep the proper boundaries between God and humanity.  This, of course, has long been the case.  But once we are able to remove the necessity for God, as has been accomplished at various points in many societies throughout history, nothing good amounts.

What Ellul feared was that this type of society would no longer have a place for God or things that were supernatural.  Sadly, many areas of evangelicalism are working alongside the same groups which assume the irrelevance with God to achieve some sort of better society through the advancements of technology.  I wonder how many of these groups have ever considered that they might be embracing the very techniques which place creation above Creator.  By the way, Ellul wrote his book in 1956.

It seems as though the more we come to rely on technology the more freedom we forfeit.  In order to benefit from technology we must become part of its society, and therefore we construct lives that come to depend upon science and technology to live.  Mostly, we think of this as a good thing - especially those of us who rather enjoy using computers, fancy phones and the internet.  We are happy (and indeed blessed) by the many advancements made in science and medicine.  The warning here is that technology grows at exponential rates, and does so simultaneously in multiple directions.  Are we so certain that we are guarded from being overcome by it?  The removal of God from society doesn't happen overnight, but through an erosion.  Unfortunately, we don't always see an erosion until it is too late to do anything about it.

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