Thursday, March 16, 2023

Technology and the Christian


Technology is a part of our existence. 

It is to be expected that people, who are created in the image of God, will create things that improve our lives on planet Earth.

There is no doubt that we have benefited from all sorts of technologies that we don’t give a second thought to because they are normal part of our daily lives. 

Wheels, hammers, plows, indoor plumbing, printed books, and cars are all examples of technology that has influenced our lives to such a degree that we don’t even think about them. These technologies allow us to travel more quickly, feed more people, and inform  larger audiences than we could without them.

Most, if not all, technology has pros and cons. Cars have made travel easier and faster, but they also use up enormous amounts of resources and add pollution in the environment. A technology that sticks around usually has a net benefit, as people believe that its pros outweighs its cons.

We are moving into a new wave of technology. Technologies that are going to challenge our beliefs about what it means to be human and our purpose in this world. In many ways this is an extension of the wave of technology we have already adopted: personal computers, internet, search engines, smartphones, and social media. 

Since we didn’t do a good job of thinking through the impact of these new technologies, which have brought a net benefit to our culture, we are experience some profound negative consequences. Things like depression, loneliness, and despair are on the rise. Take for instance this article, A Week Off Social Media Boosts Mental Health, that shows a link between our social media usage and our mental well being.

The last few days I have been doing some thinking around the subjects of Artificial Intelligence and Trans-humanism (I have also thought about the use of psychedelics as a way to explore the spiritual side of life), because these are going to be a reality in our culture before we know it, and as people who follow Jesus we will need to know how to respond.

Artificial Intelligence focuses on the development of machines that give them the ability to make decisions, problem solve, learn, and create. AI will allow computers to create things faster than people can create and that will be indistinguishable from what people can create.

Transhumanism is a philosophy and movement that advocates for the use of advanced technologies to enhance human abilities, both physical and cognitive. The goal of transhumanism is to transcend the limitations of the human condition and create a post-human future in which people are healthier, stronger, more intelligent, and more resilient than ever before.

I am not qualified to talk about these things in depth. With that acknowledgment, I have thought about these issues and how to help followers of Jesus to think rightly about them. The following are 5 topics I think are important to address if Christians are going to intelligently engage in the conversation.

  1. What is means to be human. When God created human beings in His image what does that mean? Part of what it means is to accept that we have limitations, and that in those limitations we learn to trust in God’s provision and help. Humans are also tasked with being productive and not just consume.
  2. The difference between wisdom and knowledge. We have had the knowledge of the world at our fingertips for a few years now, but with AI we will be able to access it in such a way that it will make education as we know it obsolete. One of the Bible’s main themes is wisdom, and wisdom isn’t simply acquired through knowledge. Wisdom, which is the knowledge for living well in God’s world, comes from prayer, personal relationships, experience, and contemplation. Wisdom can’t be downloaded from a computer into our minds.
  3. The importance of the Body. This is the reason why I am so big on talking about Resurrection and New Creation. The Christian Hope is not our souls going to Heaven when we die,is but receiving new bodies to live in God’s renewed Creation. To be human is to have a body and we experience the world through our bodies. Our bodies matter and we should be good stewards of these bodies that God has given to us as we prepare for God’s New Creation.
  4. What is reality? Discerning what is real from what is fake and what is true from what is false is going to become more and more difficult. We won’t be able to tell if an image was taken with a camera or generated by a computer. Animated movies will be impossible to distinguish from live action movies. We might even begin to wonder if life is real or if we are just part of some big simulation. Getting away from devices, unplugging from the matrix, and enjoying real places and people will be essential.
  5. The importance of connectedness with people and the rest of creation. We are experiencing a growing numbness already with the world around us. Reading about tragedies and experiencing the lives of others through YouTube disconnects us from the realities of everyday life. The more we engage in our own personal interfaces with technology the more life becomes about us and our desires, and we loose the connection to the people around us.

This is a quick summary of the ponderings I have done the last few days. I am not posing as an expert on these issues. Rather, I am pointing out the areas I think are crucial for Christians to think through so we enter into the conversation thoughtfully and productively rather than reactively. It is crucial for Christians to be able to thoughtfully participate conversation and bring a unique God-centered perspective to these issues.

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