Mere Science and Christian Faith: Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults, Chapter 6- Calling Out the Good in Technology
We are reviewing the book, Mere Science and Christian Faith, by Greg Cootsona, subtitled Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults. Today we look at Chapter 6- Calling Out the Good in Technology. Greg wants to begin a conversation about the effect of technology on the faith of emerging adults. Culturally, popular films often tell us a lot about ourselves. He says that recent films that focus on artificial intelligence (AI) and robots exemplifies a cultural landscape that affects how emerging adults see religion and science. Certainly the Matrix films, beginning with the original, The Matrix in 1999 would qualify as such an example. Here is the Wikipedia summary (in case you’ve been living under a rock all this time):
The series features a cyberpunk story of the technological fall of man, in which a self-aware artificial intelligence has wiped most of humanity from the Earth except for those it enslaves in a virtual reality system as a farmed power source, and the relatively few remaining humans who are free of that system. The A.I. (Matrix) agenda is to destroy all humans who are free, considering them a threat/disease. The story incorporates references to numerous philosophical and religious ideas.
The Matrix was followed by the sequels, The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003). They were successful movies that did spark a number of discussions at the time, but are probably more germane to the older end of the emerging adult spectrum. Phrases like “unplugged from the matrix” and “red-pilled” have entered the lexicon of contemporary jargon, and comparisons with Neo to Christ were numerous at the time.
Cootsona also notes a more recent film (which I have not seen), Ex Machina (2014), which depicts the creation of the beautiful and ultimately dangerous robot Ava. (Greg says, “Ava sounds a great deal like the biblical “Eve” to my ears—it seems we haven’t strayed too far from the previous chapter”). Ava has been created to pass the Turing Test, which evaluates a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior indistinguishable from a human being’s.
Although these, and other movies featuring AI seem dystopian, and Greg thinks we fear technology and its power over us; but he thinks the church can’t be content to merely offer warnings—he thinks we also need to call out the good in technology. This is because, in his experience, the primary science that meets the faith of most 18-30 year-olds is technology. (I see his point, but I can’t help but think “the church’s” opinion of technology is already irrelevant to most emerging adults.)
In this chapter he wants to look at three broadly grouped (and somewhat disparate) categories of technology: screens, community, and the future. What do screens on smartphones, laptops, and tablets (essentially the Internet in your hand) do for us and to us? How does virtual community relate to the old-fashioned kind, where people are in the same place at the same time? And lastly, what is the future of technology going to bring?
In Cootsona’s experience in his college classes, emerging adults tend toward the pragmatic over theoretical speculation. A question like, “Does quantum physics offer a place for divine action” does not resonate with them. For emerging adults, technology is ubiquitous. They are digital natives. We seem to mark history in terms of technological advance. The rise of cities and farming, the use of bronze and then iron for tools and weapons, the feat of Roman roadways, the Gutenberg press… and so on.
So, today, let’s have a discussion of technology, particularly smartphones, and our emerging adults. Let’s discuss the pros and the cons. For example, Greg brings up researcher and technologist Jane McGonigal and her 2010 TED talk, “Gaming Can Make a Better World”. She promotes the theory that computer games can actually lead to human community! Cootsona says:
McGonigal reveals that the world spends three billion hours a week playing online games—which shocks the audience—and then doubles down by asserting that we need to do more gaming. How could that be the case? Because problem-solving skills developed in those virtual situations could be employed in cracking real-world problems, she says.
He then makes a few reflections on technology and the Christian faith, after all he says, technology is here no matter what, let’s use it well and for the good. First technology makes life easier—the information at our fingertips often represents a positive contribution to our lives. If you’ve ever used Google-Maps to find your destination, you know what he’s talking about. For his second point he says:
The second point is that this nonphysical world created by computer technology seems analogous to heaven in Christianity. The materialistic bias of our culture places a huge question mark in our mind that anything exists besides what we can touch, taste, and feel. We have returned in some ways to a daily sense of the “spiritual” (I use the term advisedly), or at least the nonphysical, which supports our central Christian conviction that “we live by faith, not by sight” (2Corinthians 5:7).
Third, Greg says, technology can spread the gospel. YouTube and YouVersion app, for example. It certainly makes Bible reading and study easier with Biblegateway and other tech helps. Fourth—and this may sound hackneyed but Greg says it’s nonetheless true—the Internet keeps us in touch and helps us to pray more effectively.
Feel free to discuss. And feel free to have your discussion ignored by your children and grandchildren. But, hey, I’m listening… just let me finish this text message… OK, what now?