Science in Christian Perspective
The Modern Technocratic Society: The Church's Response
Department of History and Government
Le Tourneau College
Longview, Texas 75602
From: JASA 33 (September 1981): 178-180.
The role of technology in modern society has been a topic of increasing importance during the last two decades. In the 1960's the American commitment to putting a man on the moon dominated our nation's imagination. The protests of the counterculture in the late sixties and early seventies are viewed by many as a rebellion against the mechanization of man and society. More recently the dangers of nuclear technology have become matters of everyday discussion. As America began a new decade, doubts surfaced that questioned whether the price of technological development has been too high. People are beginning to wonder who is really in control-man or his machines.
Criticism of technology and its application is rife. It is pictured as threatening to take over society a la the computer Hal in Space Odessey: 2001 or as contributing to the belief that man is only a highly complex machine that science has yet to fully understand. Theodore Roszak in The Making of a Counter Culture describes the subtle and often negative influence technical-managerial experts (technocrats) have in our society and the dangers that exist as society defers decision-making to their totalitarian mindset. Jacques Ellus in The Technological Society and other works also attempts to describe the mole-like growth of what he calls technique, and its increasing influence on man and society. Many see a bleak picture. Society appears drifting towards some sort of irresistible technical revolution that will remake man; even more depressing is the belief modern man is already caught up in Orwellian events e cannot escape.
The impact of technology on our life is dramatically evident in the controversy over atomic energy. Nuclear power is used as an example of technology out of control. It is an inherently evil technology in the eyes of many. Recently several Western scientists 'involved in atomic energy development in the 1930's and 1940's have questioned whether they should have participated in atomic research after seeing its later destructive military applications. However, they have failed to seriously consider what today's world would be like if Hitter's scientists had possessed a total monopoly on nuclear knowledge. His concern was entirely military. Western stewardship of atomic energy is not above criticism (in fact it leaves much to be desired and may be the best example of technocratic management), but it must be recognized that in democratic states influenced by Judaeo-Christian ethics, technological research can be studied and applied in societies that have better political and moral safeguards against misuse.
Any technology or scientific research will ultimately have a possible military application or a tendency for abuse, if not in the generation it was invented, perhaps in a later one. To prevent the abuse of technology all scientific research would cease. The social and moral consequences of such a step would be disastrous for society and unacceptable to the sick, to the lazy and the comfortable. If there is a societal need, and even often when there is no apparent one, a technology, including nuclear power, is developed. Unless there is a world government to control research and application a scientist or engineer somewhere will be curious enough to study some aspect of the unknown. Moreover, to stop all technical research hinders positive contributions in the form of future technical spin-offs. Knowledge builds on knowledge. A technology that can bring a Hiroshima can also bring hope to a cancer patient. This dilemma presents society with a decision, one that has moral consequences.
Decisions are made on the basis of values. Values, therefore, are fundamental to the development and use of technical information. If there is a problem with technology, it results from the value system in which it is applied. To spend time and money on the development of the electric hair drier instead of nutritutional research indicates a social choice based on certain values about life. To focus on atomic energy development instead of solar energy reflects a scientific judgment based on certain values and conditions created by those values.
television series, The Ascent of Man, Josef Bronowski made an interesting
comparison of the modern industrial era with the state of agricultural
technology in 5000 B.C. He points out that machines seem to be threats to modern
society, Yet seven thousand years ago as man moved from a nomadic to an
agricultural existence, a similar danger was menacing society. It was the danger
inherent in domesticating an animal that could lessen the drudgery of farm life,
the horse. Initially the domestication of the horse threatened the supply of
grain in society. While it enabled the farmer to cultivate more land, the horse
consumed so much more food than other domesticated creatures that it threatened
to bring starvation by eating the farmers' own grain. Later the horse was used
for military purposes by nomads who wanted to raid the grain supplies of their
settled neighbors. Ancient man could use the horse for good or evil purposes. He
also had to face danger inherent in mastering equine technology. Today we might
see this challenge as a minor problem in the history of society, especially when
faced with the dangers of the atom, but for ancient man it was a serious problem with life and death choices.
volved in implementing their creations in society. Many of these
are the so-called humanists or humanistically trained in our socie-
As Christians we are not insulated from the impact and ty, people who supposedly know something of higher ethical and challenges of technology on our life even in our strictly religious pursuits. It creeps into our vocabulary as the "electronic" church. We are dependent on the automobile for church worship and fellowship. And of course in our society Christians are not isolated from the effects of a Three Mile Island incident or a credit computer memory system. Also important to Christians are the questions related to their stewardship of technological innovation and the proper response of Christians to the new society in which they are to be "salt."
Many Christians have become alarmed at some of the technological trends they see. In a recent book, Christ and The Media, Malcolm Muggeridge argues that television is an innately evil technological device because by its very nature it alters reality without appearing to do so. He chooses to see some inventions as having an inherently evil character, while others, he implies can contribute to the public good. It appears that for Muggeridge, machines themselves have qualities tending toward good or evil. Among other Christian authors a spate of books on the coming of the Anti-Christ and the end times present vivid pictures predicting how technology will be abused by malevolent forces.
Christian reactions to technology have ranged from those who willingly accept any new technology from atomic energy to television to those who would move "back to the farm" to avoid the evils of modern technical society. Some in the evangelical community share a wish to lash out at technology as the great evil of our age. Other Christians have adopted a fatalistic resignation, choosing to believe that we are doomed to be controlled by technocrats unless Christ returns. These attitudes ignore the reality that we live in a technical age and have to live out our faith in an environment that may require difficult and unusual adjustments. Since the time of Christ, the church and Christians have had to adapt to the forces and challenges of diverse cultures and technical changes. It should not be too much to expect that as the church faces the 1980's it can also be a vital force in a technocratic society.
In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in England during the First Industrial Revolution, the church successfully faced the challenge of technology. Amidst the problems and social disruption caused by new technologies, there existed a ministering church-meeting workers' spiritual and social needs; a reforming church-taking biblical stands on moral issues affecting the ap plication of technology to society (e.g. child labor laws); and final ly a renewing church-willing to let the Holy Spirit work revival and give direction in responding to society's needs.
Obviously with the computer age the ramifications of social critique of television he criticizes the message and content of that
manipulation and dehumanization by technology are greater. But
is this the fault of technology? After all machines have a maker
and designer. If man cannot harness his invention, he will find
himself in the predicament of the sorcerer's apprentice who had a
power, which unleashed effects he could not control when he used
it. To blame machines for man's technological dilemma is
analgous to blaming God for man's spiritual dilemma.
If there is a problem with technology it is how man uses and con trols it. How man uses and controls it rests largely on his world view. If his worldview stresses force, his technology will be applied to help mankind. If there is a problem with technology, it is because there is a problem with man. And the problem with man goes back to the Fall.
Too often it is easy to blame engineers and scientists and their inventions for our manipulative technical society when we should be looking to those who apply technical innovation in society - other words the politicians, teachers, journalists, businessmen, filmmakers, and those engineers and scientists who are directly involved in implementing their creations in society. Many of these are the so-called humanists or humanstically trained in our society, people who supposedly know something of higher ethiocaland social values.
For the most part engineers and scientists have been content to discover and theorize, invent and build. It has been the modern humanist who has been
envaluating technology to reconstruct society according to his hope for mankind. Society has accepted the humanists' affirmation that he has
man's best interests at heart and has believed his proclaimed aim of fighting man's depersonalization. Humanists have pictured themselves as the last hope
society has to prevent a technological Armaggedon. They have gladly accepted the engineer's lack of concern for societal applications of technology and have taken charge of making society better through machines, believing they can see the long-range implica tions of technology better than engineers and scientists. They have tried to tame or humanize the "machine." However, the problem modern humanists have, and one Francis Schaeffer documents, is
that they have built their worldview on false presuppositions of the of role of God and nature of man, and are compounding the pro blems technology is presenting. It is the one who uses and applies technology to society who gives the machine a personality or character.
Thus, for example, the problem Muggeridge sees with television is not so much the problem with technology as the problem of who controls the technology or who creates the value system within which the technology is used. It is at this point the modern church is at its weakest. Unfortunately the church has not presented a viable Christian humanist alternative for technocratic society. Christian humanism must assert the importance and value of man
within God's creation without sacrificing the realities of man's fallen condition; it must show modern man how to control and find meaning and liberation in a technocratic society; it must forcefully proclaim man's uniqueness over the mere mechanical. Secular society has only a dim witness of a viable Christian hu manistic alternative. The result is the rise of a general hopelessness about the meaning of life in a seemingly controlled society and for Christians a feeling of resignation to events that they believe they cannot influence. Technological manipulation represents the failure of Christian humane values to influence society.
The church, instead of trying to apply humanistic Christian principles for using technology, has attempted to Christianize
secular technological applications. For example, in Muggeridge's critique of
television he criticizes the message and content of that technical medium. This is not the fault of those men involved in the invention of television; it represents a failure in our Judaeo- Christian
standards to hold and guide society and perhaps a failure of those Christian journalists or artists to know how to present, uphold, or articulate their alternatives in a pluralistic society. They have allowed God's intended image of man to be distorted by the
mechanical interpretations of television technicians who see no
value in man because they have no image of God.
While television, including Christian television, has failed to ful ly understand both the manipulative and humane implications of the mechanical, Christians in other professions have not been able to present a Christian humanistic perspective of life or technology in their respective fields either. As a result, the mechanization of man and the obscuring of his divine purpose has continued, resulting in depersonalization, manipulation, and moral turpitude. Unfortunately, far too many Christians have glorified the practical results of technology without examining its moral and spiritual effects.
The church needs to present Christian humane values in our technocratic society; it must show modern man an alternative to a mechanical determinism and do it without sacrificing biblical truth. it has to consider its response to the following questions.
-How should the church respond theologically to a technological society? Christianity can offer a realistic hope for man in a technocratic society, because it can reconcile the fallenness of man with the victory over sin man can have in a risen Christ. In Christianity we have a transcendent Being capable of giving objective guidance from outside the technocratic system.
- What role should technology play in evangelism? The church is responsible for a witness to modern man that cannot be manipulated by the mechanical into a distorted Gospel. It must intelligently evaluate the technology it is using to be sure the truth is accurately portrayed and that man's personhood is not being exploited.
-What can Christians do to influence technological application? The church must be willing to grapple with the intellectual changes of our society as it faces the ethical, social, and even technical implications of futurist technology. Too often Christians find themselves reacting to technical change instead of influencing or directing it. Christian scholars, engineers, and scientists must take the lead in evaluating change to make sure a biblical alternative is heard. If technocratic thinking is to be challenged, it should start at the policy formulation level, and this requires hard and capable thinking on the part of Christians in those areas.
-How can the church best protect the human worth? The church today must formulate a Christian humanism that speaks to man's need for a sense of who he is without deifying the human. There is an alternative to the mechanization of man-the Christian humanization of man. Only through Christ can man develop his full spiritual and life potential. Man is something, an image of God, who is dependent on God for his human purpose.
-Can Christianity renew a technological society? There must be a concern for what we could call the redemption of technology. Technologies that are being misused must be identified and envalued according to biblical standards. A technocratic society can experience God's reviving Spirit just as any other culture can.
The challenge is for Christians to begin making a mark on our technocratic society by applying and forcefully advocating a Christian value system that is integrated into the various disciplines coming under the growing influence of technocratic thinking. This can be accomplished only through clear and innovative thinking, effective scholarship, and rational criticism-all founded on God's Word, not based on some feeling or cultural bias. We must face up to the technological challenges and innovations with a faith focused on man's uniqueness in God's creation. A viable Christian humanistic perspective is needed to show the importance of man in relation to the machine. Only it can protect the true value of man, because it has the true perspective of God's purpose for His creation.