Technology is a fundamental part of the fabric of human society. This is true not just of modern society, but it is intrinsic to humanity. Whether it is “simple” technology such as a stone weapon or a more advanced technology such as the printing press the human race has always created and used technology. Because of this fact, understanding the nature of technology can provide us with insight into certain aspects of cultural development, especially in western cultures that have been heavily influenced by the High Tech explosion and the advancement of Information Technology.
As a Christian I am called to be an active part of God’s mission in redeeming culture; renewing it so that it reflects more perfectly that purpose for which God first created culture, namely to reflect his glory in the world. Since technology is an integral component in the development of culture and culture ought to reflect the glory of God, then it behooves us to examine technology and how it affects culture and how technology itself ought to be used to reflect the glory of God. This is a vast topic and as such I must limit myself in this post to discussing some foundational points that will prepare us for seeing the affects of technology on a broader scale and better addressing technology from a biblical perspective.
“Technology is a fundamental part of the fabric of human society. This is true not just of modern society, but it is intrinsic to humanity.”
If you are like me, when someone asks you, “What then is technology? “ you probably start by thinking of the particular products that technology produces. You might think of things like microwaves, automobiles, computers, tools, etc. There is a good reason for that. One of the fundamental aspects of technology is the production of artifacts. Now, these artifacts may or may not be physical. There are technologies that define how computers will talk to one another. There are other technologies that define a particular technique for most efficiently accomplishing a task. Even though the artifacts are not physical they are still artifacts produced by technology. So, we can at the minimum say that technology is concerned with the production of artifacts.
How then does technology differ from the arts and humanities which are also heavily concerned with the production of artifacts? Some have stated that the difference between technology and the arts is that technology is heavily undergirded with theory. It is true that technology is undergirded with theory, however, only those with a simplistic view of the arts would deny that the arts themselves also have theory which helps to guide and form them. How much more then would we also recognize that science also has theory at its foundation. So all three have some aspects in common in terms of basic theories which guide them.
“The distinction between the arts, science, and technology has to do with their primary ends, or purposes toward the world and humanity.”
In light of this I would put forward that the distinction between the arts, science, and technology has to do with their primary ends, or purposes toward the world and humanity. Let us first look at the purpose of the arts, then science and finally technology. The primary purpose of the arts is to affect the emotional and aesthetic aspect of humanity. That is not to limit the arts ability to change our thinking, knowledge or actions, but that does not constitute the primary purpose. The sciences on the other hand are focused on the aspect of knowledge concerning the world. The primary purpose of science is to understand how the world is in itself.
Given the distinction between the arts and sciences, we then turn to the distinction between science and technology. Before we embark on highlighting the distinction let us acknowledge that science and technology are very tightly linked. The old adage holds true that they are like “hand in glove” in their relation to one another. Indeed, our own experience in the modern era reveals that the advancement of the one is directly dependent on the other so much so that it is hard for many to distinguish the two. However, the closeness and interdependence of the two does not eliminate the distinction between them. As with the distinction between the arts and sciences, so the distinction between science and technology is found most clearly in their primary purpose. While science seeks to understand how the world is, technology seeks to make the world into what it ought to be.
“The closeness and interdependence of [science and technology] does not eliminate the distinction between them.”
Technology is not neutral as many would have us believe. By this we do not mean that the nature of a technological artifact is absolutely good or evil. Rather, all technology is created for the purpose of changing the world into what the technologist that creates it sees as being right and good. Whether the technologist sees a perceived need to be met, a problem that needs a solution, or an opportunity that can be leveraged, he is doing so from the perspective of a specific worldview and projects that worldview through his technology onto the world. The technology he then creates is formed and derives its shape and function from the values that the technologist holds and which form the purpose for which a technology is created.
It is essential for us to understand the link between the technologists worldview and the purpose for which a technology is created. Dr. Michael Williams, a Professor as Covenant Theological Seminary, wrote an article wherein he makes this link explicit in discussing firearms. Dr. WIlliams makes the basic point that guns are not a neutral technology. They were created with the purpose in mind of killing something. Furthermore, Dr. Williams puts forward that the measure of a “good” gun, from a technical perspective, is whether or not it fulfills that purpose. A gun that fails to fire a bullet is a “bad” gun, whereas a gun that repeatedly and reliably fires a bullet and hits what it is aimed at is a “good” gun. We do not of course mean to apply a moral judgment on the action when we use the term “good” and “bad”. The moral judgment would have to take into consideration may more aspects of the context. However, what remains as fact is that the creator of the firearm deemed its creation to be valid because in at least some situation it is right to kill something (or someone). So it is it is with all technological creations, a technology comes into existence because the worldview of the technologist allows for the idea that it legitimately meets a need, rightly solves a problem, or allows for the ethical leveraging of an opportunity. The worldview of the technologist ultimately deems the change that is introduced into the world through their technology as moving the world toward the way it ought to be based on their own view of a perfect world.
|“The worldview of the technologist ultimately deems the change that is introduced into the world through their technology as moving the world toward the way it ought to be based on their own view of a perfect world.” |
As mentioned above, technology is heavily undergirded by theory which provides a basis on judging what type of technology is we are able to create before the laws of nature inhibit our creativity. However, this theory is impotent when is comes to answering the question of what type of technology should we create. This is an age old question and one which each and every technologist answers either implicitly or explicitly as they create, modify and use technology. In the coming posts we will explore how this question is answered by our own western society which is heavily reliant on technology and geared toward a pragmatic answer to that question. Our end purpose however, is not merely analytical. Each of us are affected by technology as either a creator or a user and that activity is affected directly by our own worldview. If we would truly seek to make the world into what is ought to be, then we must come to a point where we answer the question, “How should the world really be?”