Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor


On Being A Concerned Technologist

From: JASA 28 (March 1976): 46-47.

As professionals whose central tasks are intimately related to creative design, engineers and architects are very close to God's mandate to have thoughtful stewardship over His lovely design - His very own creation. And, not only has our creator-designer God "given" us His world, He has also made us in His image and thereby given us power and potential as creator-designers in our own modest, yet significant, fashion. This exciting ability to bring together previous experience and perception with new combinations to produce something innovative and original is a dynamic earmark of God's likeness in man. Thus man, properly viewed in this context, may himself be a creator-designer, under God, with sensitivity and responsibility.

And technologists do not design in a vacuum - they must attempt to wisely solve problems for their society; a real-life, immediate, here-and now society. These presumably "technical" problems have inherent philosophical, sociological, political, and economic facets. Therefore, to properly design for his society - for his neighbors if YOU will - the technologist must know his society. Sensitivity and responsibility will only be satisfied by creations and solutions which are fitting, germane, and congruent to his neighbors considered as individuals or as a group. To design appropriately one must have intimate knowledge of people and their needs - needs broadly considered - "needs" not just "wants".

But more than knowing is required of the Christian technologist; he must love that society. His must be a concerned and empathising action related to the long-range (not merely immediate) good of his neighbor. At this point the Christian serving his society in this role brings to bear his office as neighbor freighted with all its Biblical significance (Good Samaritan et al.). And here can be the occasion, through care-filled design, for liberating one's neighbor from the problems of hunger, fear, disease, poverty, ignorance, isolation, and the like; a healing, liberating ministry. Here too lies the perennial struggle of self versus un-self, because, as does all of life, so too technology illustrates man's natural propensity for introversion - witness our poisoned environment and plundered natural resources. We have frequently perverted our role as neighbor and sold out to a touch-and-feel philosophy that so easily goes along with working in a very real and immediate world. A Christian technology must be a positive, empathising expression of concern for one's neighbor - for his long-range, total-man good.

Thus technological growth should properly be cultural and spiritual growth as well. This area of human enterprise must be harnessed to the Kingdom and that's the challenge for Christian higher education involved with this slice of God-given reality.

And how does one go about responding to these concepts with respect to Christian higher education for engineers and architects? Let me try to indicate how one college approaches this task.

First, with respect to a knowledge of one's society, there is a real attempt to expand a student's awareness and sensitivity to his neighbor through courses such as economics, psychology, sociology, literature, history, and political science. Later on, this may be more explicit and immediate such as an exposure to anatomical mechanics, anthropometrics, market surveys, or environmental studies. Knowledge gained here is to insure that there is a real attempt at harmony between the solution-design and its users - that the results are fitting and germane to the society.

Secondly, our creator-designer as God's man in this role, must have real insight into how he may, through his endeavor, be "neighbor" to his society. This is a logical extension of the cognitive aspect for knowledge of needs and problems should natively beget concern in God's children. Curricular offerings which speak to this emphasizing aspect are philosophy, literature, religion and theology, and engineering design. These courses, among other things, are related to life style and values, to moral decision making, and with explication of the concept of neighbor-hood and thus are most vital to the training of Christian professionals.

Engineering communication and design naturally fits into a curricular approach that wishes to provide put-it-all-together, problem-solving experiences on real-life projects under the tutelage of a service oriented faculty. At the freshman level this takes on the form of design projects in which the outcome is a report complete with text and drawings. "Answers" in this situation are at the concept level i.e., basic ideas which are carefully thought out possibilities for solution. These would have to be actually analyzed, evaluated, and tested to determine true feasibility. But the problems are deliberately selected to provide people-oriented, real-life situations such as the design of a kitchen for use by the blind (architect's) or the design of cabin plumbing for rapid winterization and dewinterization at an inner-city youth camp (engineer's). It is hoped that this initial involvement will, among other things, illustrate the neighborly potential of technology i.e., its potential as a healing, liberating ministry.

In addition to the freshman design experience, the sensitivity for and responsibility toward our society is also indicated in the formal engineering courses where it becomes natural and productive to do so. It might be in a materials science course where responsibility to structural integrity or resource management are intrinsic to the subject matter.

The final in-school experience is a team project undertaken at the third year level. This action involves a problem whose "solution" is researched, designed, built, and tested and is meant to focus the whole gamut of student knowledges, skills, and attitudes on an actual societal need and provide a viable, operational answer. Recent illustrations of this type of project would be a bottle-smasher for rapid densification of bottles in a resource recovery situation by municipalities or organizations or a combination can-smasher, debabeter for similar use. Both of these items have been designed and built and are high-capacity, very low cost devices for every day use - and their plans are being shared all over North America.

Furthermore, in this particular instance, we have gone a step further. Distinct from the school, yet related to its people, we have set up a non-profit recycling effort which 1) uses the technology produced by our students, 2) provides a resource recovery action for our community 3) employs inner-city teenagers under the NYC program, 4) is managed by an engineering graduate and 5) employs Calvin students as supervisors - a good share of them engineering students. There are many "neighborly" aspects to this enterprise and we hope it may become somewhat of a pioneering instrument in this area.

James P. Bosscher
Calvin College
Grand Rapids, Michigan