Science in Christian Perspective
Robert A. Wauzzinski
Ball State University
Muncie, Indiana 47306-0500
From: PSCF 48 (September 1996): 144-153
Technological optimists believe in the religiously autonomous use of Reason for the domination of nature to the end of "progress." Complete human betterment is thought to come through technical innovation. After a brief overview of the history of optimism, we will focus upon the representative thought of Julian Simon and R. Buckminster Fuller. We will conclude this article with an attempt to discern the strengths and weaknesses of technological optimism from a biblical view.
Evolving Optimism: An Overview
Technological optimists believe that all forms of perennial human problems always can be corrected with technical solutions, given enough time and resources. The major concepts we will address include religion, the unity-diversity of life, autonomy, progress, Reason-rationality, nature domination, and, of course, technology.
Human life is diverse, like the liberal arts curriculum, in the sense that there are many different ways of functioning or being in life. While diverse, life manifests a basic wholeness. One may liken this diversity to rooms in a house that are different in character. It is the love of a family, however, that unifies mere architectural diversity, making it a home.1 When the apostle Paul confesses in Col. 1:17 that creation coheres in Christ, he is speaking about the wholeness of reality. Therefore, we may conclude that however much academics necessarily separate reality into disciplines, an underlying wholeness roots creation in Christ. Because life is diverse yet rooted, we may talk about the place or room technology is allotted to by the optimists. Their basic religious or root convictions give answer to the place or importance allotted to technology.
To speak of life being rooted is to talk about the depths of life. Something or someone anchors life in a real or a pretended way: Christ or an idol is the religious way of speaking. So to the spatial metaphor depth we add ultimate to signify that which is believed to be of paramount importance for life.2
Optimists are ultimately committed to human autonomyóself-lawóas the root of technological activity in particular and life more generally. "Man is the measure of all things" is their credo. Optimists turn to Reason3 as the authority source for science and technology. They used Reason to free humanity from the "self-inflicted nonage" or legalized period of immaturity inflicted upon the West by the Church. Secular thinkers inspired to some extent by the Renaissance (1300-1600) and considerably by the Enlightenment (1700-1800) turned from divine revelation to Reason for authority.4
Neither pride nor experience would allow the mere confession of autonomy to substitute for the substance of remaking culture after the image of Humanity. Nature had to be remade so that the autonomous personality could bend nature to serve Reason. Science was the program, practical technology the fruit. Nature, mechanistically conceived, was to be systematically separated into countable atomistic bits to the end of manipulation and control. This rationally inspired, empirically directed eighteenth century attempt was bent on the subjugation of nature.5 Domination meant freedom from the forces that long have controlled us: economic want, disease, natural laws, and ignorance.
Technological events prior to the eighteenth century blazed the trail for freedom so conceived. The introduction of the lateen or triangular sail, swinging rudder, deeper hulls, and the advent of the compass enabled fourteenth century Europeans to increase trade while expanding their literal world view. Increased material abundance and navigational mastery resulted, while traveling stress diminished. Technological optimism drew inspiration from these navigational improvements that contributed, circa 1400, to the Renaissance or "rebirth." We will return to this rebirth in a moment.
Most technological optimists during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries increasingly turned to a mechanistic view of reality. Interpretations of Sir Isaac Newton's universal gravitational laws reinforced an ethos that led to the nineteenth century Industrial Revolution. Older views, like those of Reformation theologian John Calvin that called nature a "symphony of service," gave way to the majority voice of philosopher-mathematician Rene Descartes. He called nature a "great machine made by the hand of God" whose laws were supposed to be as predictable as those of the machine. The human body functioned similarly. These laws, like freedom, were believed to function autonomously.
Therefore, belief in a Deistic God followed. The Christian God who providentiallyópersonally and omnipotentlyórules over the universe was believed to be irrelevant for a mechanistic autonomous universe. A "Clockmaker" was needed that would leave us alone to remake reality for ourselves. Thus, Descartes' arrogant religious candor states:
it is possible to arrive at knowledge which is most useful in life, and that instead of speculative philosophy taught in the schools, a practical philosophy can be taught by which, knowing the effects of fire, water, air, the stars, the heavens, and all other bodies that surround us, as distinctly as we know the truths of mathematics, we might put them in the same way to all uses for which they are appropriate, and thereby make ourselves, as it were, masters and processors of nature.6
Such statements portray the secularization, possibly even the bastardization, of humankind's stewardly role as caretaker. The "cultural mandate" or God's command in Genesis 1 and 2 given to humanity through Adam and Eve to cultivate the earth to the glory and service of the Lord is transformed into a means of proud domination. If laws could be known, then they could be manipulated. They had to be manipulated; our freedom demanded it. This demand for freedom led, in turn, to the technological imperative: everything that can be done should be done as quickly as possible.
Much was at stake, not the least of which was "progress." Total social and human betterment became equated with improvements in science and technology. If science was the method of progress and technology the tool of progress, then increased economic abundance was the reward of progress. Economic rewards were known, literally, as bits of utility or happiness. The Industrial Revolution was supposed to be the complete cultural realization of this kingdom of happy, autonomous humanity.7 "May technology be praised."8 Therefore, in the rational scientific subjugation of nature through the practical tool of technology with the rewards being economic pleasure, we can locate the optimists' confidence in technology to produce a better life.
The American character was readily attracted to optimism during our national infancy. Abundance was worshiped and the oceanic boundaries were secured under the aegis of the thinly veiled secular call to a "manifest destiny," an American version of nature subjugation.9 As our nation struggled for unity and identity, we turned to celebrated technological projects that in turn became our common religion. Thus, in 1839 the Reverend James T. Austin echoed the sentiments of a nation when he spoke of the hopes for steam power:
It is to bring mankind into a common brotherhood; annihilate space and time in the intercourse of human life; increase social relations; draw close ties between philanthropy and benevolence; multiply common benefits and religion into an empire which they have all but nominally possessed in the conduct of mankind 10
The thought that sin effects all that we do apparently did not occur to Reverend Austin until after the carnage of the Civil War. This blithe ignorance would return after the uncivil war only to be emasculated in the trenches of World War I. Indeed, beliefs die hard.
The nineteenth century was an age of optimistic swagger. Technical and economic betterment became increasingly equated with total human betterment and was accepted as an article of faith.11 Want, ignorance, superstition, and poverty were supposed to regress as we progressed. We say "supposed" because the norm of progress functioned as a secular ethical imperative. The hope and the practical realities of improved roads, production, transportation, communication, and steam power pulled us into the stream of grand expectations in the nineteenth century. Gears exceeded muscles, mass-production outraced crafts, and science proved superstition to be incorrect: these were all evidences of progress for the human condition. Technology was thought to be conquering perennial human problems. Of course, all of this optimism came in the absence of a biblical and realistic view of sin that affects all that we touch. Perhaps the technological display in the Civil War, World War I, and World War II are God's exclamation points for our naivetÈ and futile trust in our babbling towers.
The nineteenth century was an age of optimistic swagger. Technical and economic betterment became increasingly equated with total human betterment and was accepted as an article of faith.
Historical and literary regression may clarify our thinking by placing this notion of progress in sharp relief. The ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome lacked at least one practice and two beliefs requisite for acceptance of the idea of progress. There was neither systematic, empirical investigation nor manipulation of nature. Certainly there were grand projects, like the pyramids, but these were the exceptions rather than the scientific rule. Further, the concepts of economic "happiness" and democracy were not universally applied. This is especially the case for the slave, upon whose shoulders these civilizations rested. Thus, widespread technology was not possible.
Life was subject to fate or moria. Especially in Greece, this notion of ironclad historical determinism applied to people and to the gods. Our destiny, or at least intellectual focus, lay beyond the world of the senses. A focus on the world of the formsó fixed, immutable intellectual constructs ó served to undercut attention to the world of the senses. Indeed technical skills were known as the adulterine arts. The term adulterine comes from the root word adultery which means to pollute or to defile. When applied to the technical arts, it meant that participation in these arts soiled or corrupted the soul because the intellectual focus shifted away from the world of the formsóThe Good, The True, and The Beautifulóto the corruptible, changing world of the senses.12
The reader must note two points. First, ancient cultures generally maintained a verticalism. That is, their focus upward to an intellectually abstract world came at the expense of a systematic understanding of our world. Corrupted Rome was the exception through her grand civil engineering projects like the Colosseum. Further, the Greek focus was upon the world of the forms: the products of their minds.
Second, the Horizontalism of the Enlightenment, or a focus primarily upon this world, afforded a secular alternative to the pagan one just outlined. Accordingly, human technological and scientific Reason attempted to bring salvation or human betterment. We secularly mimic in science, technology, and economics what Christ promised only to his disciples: abundant life. Note that abundant life, as defined by horizontalism, is equated with increasing amounts of economic and technological goodies. Could this be what our Lord called Mammon? Horizontalism roots its salvation in Reason; finds its task in technology; realizes its hope in economics.
Medieval Christianity advanced our view of technology, up to a point. From biblical religion they took a view of the creation as "very good" and a view of labor as created with dignity. Technology was one way to "be fruitful and multiply." And so professor Lynn White, noted historian of medieval technology, is correct when he says that the technical arts advanced because of medieval monasteries.
Yet there is much White misses. This world was not the final goal for the monk; heaven was. Just as the cathedrals pointed upward, the eye and mind looked upward beyond this world to the next. Technology developed but mostly in service to the church, the center of the Middle Ages. Biblical, not secular themes, dominated stained-glass windows. Clearly secularóliterally meaning outside the churchómeans were to serve sacred or church ends. One may conclude that in this milieu, progress in a more holistic, multidimensional sense, is pursued ambivalently.13 Ambivalence starts when technically competent monks nevertheless undercut their efforts, because an eschatologically redeemed earth is not in their world view. Further, Aristotelian views of the relative unworth of the body and its associated activities keep the pious person more attentive to the rational, immortal soul and its other-world destination. Further, the kingdom of Godóthe reign of God over all creationówas truncated by the focus upon the institutional church. The message is clear: technology takes a backseat to church activities. Nowhere do the Scriptures require the church to mediate the coming of the kingdom, nor us to aspire to heaven apart from a redeemed earth. This synthesis of the Christian religion with Greek thought frustrated biblically directed technological development.
Autonomy, material abundance, nature domination, Reason, and faith in the human personality to achieve secular salvation are the claims and the activities of optimism.
We must return to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The "rebirth" of classical learning and a nurtured optimism gave birth to a belief in the value and the dignity of the individual. To the extent that the individual prospered, it was thought all of society prospered. This meant individual technical achievements and persons were hailed as harbingers of progress. In 1540, Vanoccio Biringuccio wrote Pirotechnia or Work on Fire. This scholarly but highly readable book vaulted him into immediate prominence and became the basis for modern mass production.14
Sometimes the lust for freedom turns violent. Such was the case for the French Revolution of 1789. The French Encyclopediasts added another element to our collective belief in progress. Intellect, morals, and our bodies could be perfected. The chief impediments to perfectibility were the fetters of history. All external restraint, even the calendar and our gender differences must be removed, then progress would be ensured. Schools for educators, bureaucracies for reformers, and material abundance for the masses were to be the means and the masters respectively for the dawn of a new era. Manipulation and control of persons and societyótechniqueóbecame for the first time in the latter part of the eighteenth century a universally agreed upon means for achieving progress. Thus, the eighteenth century only increased the mechanistic view, this time in the name of freedom! The success of the French and less violent but no less autonomous, American revolutions enshrined the norm of progress for modernity because America became the chief symbol of "First (therefore most desired) World" technology. Consequently, optimism promotes an ecumenical and cosmopolitan standard:
Studies conducted by Soviet specialists and experts from various international organizations show that nuclear energy is now the only reliable type of energy that can satisfy our energy-hungry world.15
This hubris was exposed two months later when Chernobyl erupted.
Nor is the former "evil empire" the only nation gripped by optimism. NaivetÈ is, as we said, ecumenical. The Challenger tragedy and suffering resulted from flippant NASA attitudes. When warned that faulty O-ring construction might lead to disaster, NASA shrugged. Highly regarded Dr. Richard P. Feynaman was a member of the President's Commission on the Challenger disaster. He argued that NASA and Morton-Thiokol managers exaggerated the shuttle's reliability "to the point of fantasy."16 The issue common to both Capitalism and Communism in their misuse of technology is hubris.
Autonomy, material abundance, nature domination, Reason, and faith in the human personality to achieve secular salvation are the claims and the activities of optimism. Analyzing the thought of contemporary figures will add depth and hue to our analysis.
Julian Simon: Secular Optimist
The thought of author-scientist Julian Simon provides a striking example of the modern evolution of technological optimism. For him humans are "the ultimate resource."17 Simon roots this analysis in the notion of linear progress. Accordingly, improvements in technological areas must translate into total social and human bettermentóover time. That is, given enough timeóhence the term linearóany problem like hunger or overpopulation or pollution can be solved because humans have a nearly limitless capacity for resourcefulness. Humans are infinitely creative.
Short-run problems like air pollution from automobiles may seem perplexing. In the short run, any city's smog may be a problem. In the long run, however, the very number of people causing the problem becomes the source to mine for solutions since people are the ultimate resource.
Is the globe facing long-term economic scarcity of natural resources? "No," argues Simon. Data, which we shall soon see, indicates that the cultivation of natural resources will increase, thus reducing scarcity.
Are food shortages and famine increasing? Again argues Simon, "No." Per capita food availability has been improving for the last three decades. Further, the incidences of famine have decreased over the last century.18
The availability of usable land for agriculture is also not diminishing. Because the yields per acre continue to climb, the number of acres under cultivation has continued to drop. These and other nondeveloped acres have been converted or used for human recreation or wildlife habitat. Consequently, life for all is believed to be enhanced. This claim will occupy us in the final section.
Simon, in summary, says the ratio of newly applied technologies to rising population increases the solution to longstanding problems. Thus,
As I studied the economics of population and worked my way to the view I now holdóthat population growth, along with lengthening of human life, is a moral and material triumphómy outlook for myself and for my family and for the future of humanity became increasingly more optimistic.19
Simon links his optimism with a Capitalistic faith in the market. Mass production lowers per unit costs. This suggests a solution to the perennial problem of want. Thus,
The fall in the cost of natural resources decade after decade, and century after century, should free us from the idea that scarcity must increase sometime. Instead it should point us to trying to understand the way that technological changes are induced by the demand for the resources and for the services they provide, and the way that such changes reduce scarcity in the past.20
Simon quotes technological futurist and optimist Herbert Kahn. Kahn uses studies of base metals for projected production potentials. He and colleagues at Hudson Institute find the store of metals to be "clearly inexhaustible."21
Although not taken directly from the work of Simon, the graphs below capture Simon's views. They show the "progress" of agricultural development measured by kilogram yield per hectare from years 0 to 2,000 A.D.
Four points pertaining to these graphs need to be noted. First, the top graph is represented as the real, accomplished grain yields. The slope gives the clear impression of a noninterrupted linear progress. In reality, the bottom graph represents more accurate data for the trends that did occur. Note the dotted lines representing probable grain yields, with certainty being low because of poor recording. Thus, the top graph represents not so much a description as an improperly supported interpretation of grain yields.
Second, beliefs affect our view of the future as well. Simon draws the conclusion from such graphs that because we have "progressed," we must necessarily do so in the future. But evidence is growing that suggests that heavy mechanization, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and new hybrid crop strains may be depleting long-term soil viability.
Third, we note how belief affects science. Hope, trust, and confidence in the inevitability of progress hues data collection and interpretation. Belief fills in the literal blanks. When data is lacking, then belief about the inevitability of progress is the substitute. Pacey recognizes this by labeling the chapter "Beliefs about Progress."22
Finally, technological progress automatically is believed to mean economic progress or material gain. This is thought to occur despite missing data, damage done to other areas of life, and even moral regress. The consequences of this position lead us to believe that rich people are more moral, more refined, because they are rich: reductio ad absurdum.
In sum and in transition, the following conclusion seems evident. Optimists are not naive; they see the mistakes and the problems associated with technology. They believe (and this determines their character) that a technical solution can solve any technically related problem. If cars are polluting, then catalytic converters can clean up the mess. To technology is added more technology. Accordingly faith is demonstrated and augmented.23
The Work of R. Buckminister Fuller
We move on to consider the work of Fuller. His work encapsulates much of the interdisciplinary bent of this article. He uses philosophy, religion (traditionally understood), mathematics, engineering, economics, politics, and especially literature in his construction and promotion of technical projects. Fuller is best known for his geodesic dome: a tetrahedronic sphere whose strength per unit volume provided space and access to light at a low per unit weight and cost.
Fuller concluded from such projects that Reason could dominate nature and eventually culture. This rationality is practical or instrumental in character. Instrumental reason develops technical means to the proximate ends of successful engineering, control, and problem solving. The term "problem solving" adds a pragmatic element to his philosophy. Dominating his thought is the notion of the control that ideas give us. Ideas give us control. Control signals mastery. Mastery signals progress.
The following poem portrays his view of instrumental rationality and his ultimate commitment to his god,
I think of such of the aviator and sailor as
are in command of their faculties
on both sides of the moment.
Though you have been out in
a frothóspitting squall
on Long Island Sound or
in an ocean liner on a burgeoning sea
you have but a childlike hint of
what a nineteen-year-old's reaction is
to the pitch black shrieking dark out there
in the very cold northern elements
of unloosing spring
off Norway's coast tonight
15,000 feet up, or
fifty under, or worse
in the smashing face of itóand
here I see God.
I see God in
the instruments and in the mechanisms that work
more reliably than the limited sensory departments of
the human mechanism.
And he who is befuddled by self or
by habit, or by what others say,
by fear, by sheer chaos of unbelief in
God or in God's fundamental orderliness,
ticking along on those dials,
and he who unerringly
interprets those dials
will come through.24
Fuller's message, written after the outbreak of fighting near Oslo, Norway during World War II, seems clear. Instrumental rationality can be trusted above all to deliver us. Reason makes the instruments that mirror the nature of God and, therefore, delivers us. It delivers us from the elements of chaos inherent in the universe. Thus, humanity brings a fundamental law and progressive orderliness to the universe. This orderliness brings peace, harmony, and, of course, progress to all of reality.25 Surely this is secular providence: proud humanity attempts to order the universe though instrumental rationality. Instrumental rationality forms all the creation.
We close this section with his credo to humanity and to technology.
tonight vividly (as tacitly always)
God is articulating
through his universally reliable laws.
Laws pigeonholed by all of us
under topics starkly "scientific"ó
behavioral laws graphically maintained in performance
of impersonal instruments and mechanics
pulsing in super sensorial frequencies
which may serve yellow, black
red, white, or pink
with equal fidelity.
And I see conscious man alone
and mechanically fallible
and progressively less reliable
in personal articulation
of God's ever swifter word,
which was indeed in the beginning.
Only the mind-over-matterist,
as philosopher, scientist,
and informed technician
impersonally and universally preoccupied
is man infallible.26
Before we attempt some discernment, we must pause to reflect upon the consequences of this view for technology's place within our lives. Technology should dominate our lives fully, so concludes the optimist. If we are primarily rational-technical beings, if instrumental rationality brings salvation, if there is no creational order apart from the order man brings, if perennial human problems are to be overcome by technology, and if technical Reason is infallible, then technology must occupy increasing amounts of our time, energy, and resources. Through becoming increasingly technical, we are becoming more human because we are realizing more of our essential nature. In much the same way that theologians think that sanctification serves to fulfill and develop that which is truly human, optimists think that ever-expanding amounts of technology enhances life.
There is an imperative flavor to much of this thinking. We must become more technical because that is the way to freedom and order. This fact explains the technological imperative mentioned earlier. We must place on-lineówilly nillyóthe latest and greatest technology because our natures and salvation are believed to be dependant upon it. The consequences, if negative, be damned; we can technically fix it later. Such is the spurious reasoning behind the advent of "peaceful" nuclear energy in this country.
But does optimism encourage an overabundance of technology? Does the optimistic exaggeration of the salvific effects of technology lead to a lessening of other areas of life? Most important, we may ask if the nature of God and the nature of humanity are adequately represented by this view of life?
Discernment, again, is the attempt at wise, collective, ongoing evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of optimism. This we will attempt using a variety of biblical principles. Discussed first are the strengths.
The development of technology has been aided by optimism. The "cultural mandate" of Genesis 1 and 2 explicitly states that in developing culture through the subduing or the harnessing of nature, we fulfill our humanity. Our nature is elevated because we were supposed to become, Coram Deo, co-creators under God. Technical means are clearly part of subduing, as is made clear in Genesis 11. Technology and by extension scientific thought were given as "very good" gifts by our creator God. Their use is not the problem; their misuse is. That optimism has aided the task of subduing seems beyond doubt.
Further, there is a technical side or aspect to every problem. Because life is whole, we may conclude that technical reality impinges upon all aspects or problems. To work as if technology is universally present is to presuppose wholeness. Optimists do this, though with great exaggeration.
Because optimists find their remedies for all of life's problems in technology, they must create, then saturate culture, with technical objects.
Sadly, the entire creation, including technology, is corrupted because of sin. The idolatry of technology is known as technicism. Technicism is the exaggeration of the technical aspect at the expense of the rest of life. Technicism is the attempt to locate technical solutions to nontechnological problems. Future tragedies like those of Chernobyl and Challenger can be stopped when humility reduces the scope of technology, not by adding new systems. Because optimists find their remedies for all of life's problems in technology, they must create, then saturate culture, with technical objects. We live, therefore, in a technologically saturated society.27 The problem of hunger cannot be addressed primarily with better tractors and crop strains, as the "Green Revolution" of the 1960s ñ 1970s attempted to do. Solutions involve matters of economics and politics which ultimately find their root in the human heart: the religious center that predisposes one to caring or to hoarding.
We locate the heart of optimism's problem in technicism. Noted philosopher of technology professor Egbert Schuurman laments:
In short, technicism, or the implicit ideology of technology, is the dominant expression of the humanistic groundmotive. Technicism entails the pretension of the autonomous man to control the whole of reality: man the master seeks victory over the future. He is to have everything his way. He is to solve problems old and new, including problems caused by technicism, so as to guarantee an abundance of material progress.28
Instrumentalism is related to technicism, as idolatrous tools are related to an exaggerated claim. Instrumental rationality is the tool or the means to carry out the program of technicism. Technicism wanted to tame nature in the name of human freedom. The subjugation of nature was accomplished by Reason, in this case instrumental in nature. The course of events had to be pursued because it was believed that humanity was essentially rational in nature. Further, after the Scientific Revolution we believed that reality was essentially mechanical in nature. Synonymous with mechanical is "predictably lawful." If we could predict an event, then we could control that event through rational-technical mastery of the law in question. Thus, the entire world view was rationalistic: Humanity, nature, our method, even the Deist's god was cast in a rational-mechanical mold. That believers in Christ have not recognized this as a two hundred-year-old idolatry is painful.
To equate total human betterment with technical progress, as optimism does, is sheer reductionism. Life with its many options and joys is reduced to technical solutions.
Technicism often leads to social and human regression. While it cannot be denied that we have made significant technical strides forward, our social and human walk has too often gone backwards. Because of our technical advances, many areas of life have been damaged or obscured. Military technology has greatly advancedóso too has the destruction of life. Industrial technology has expanded production, but our natural environment suffers more now than one hundred years ago. Even a relatively benign technology like television seemingly is retarding social, emotional, and moral health, if the growing national consensus is correct.
Further, technical advances actually can deplete nontechnical aspects of life as often happens with too much of industrial agriculture. Mechanized tractors and chemical-intensive farming have depleted the soil and thus reduced potential yields. Agricultural progress involves more than bigger tractors. It involves political justice and economic stewardship to change distributional patterns. These patterns ultimately are rooted in the human heart, as we have argued. To equate total human betterment with technical progress, as optimism does, is sheer reductionism. Life with its many options and joys is reduced to technical solutions.
Non, supra, even technical problems must be treated in concert. Wholeness is an accurate synonym for salvation, especially so in the New Testament. Holistic solutions are the opposites of reductionistic ones. If optimism had placed technical solutions alongside other aspectual needs of life, like justice, then life could be more abundant. If they placed technical requirements in harmony with other aspectual needs, then a song of doxology would flow from my lips because salvation, literally, would have come. As it is, optimism leaves me (and you, I hope) with the false bravado of babbling towers. Discerning solutions for pressing problems involve, among other things, placing technical solutions in partnership with other areas and specialties in life. Perhaps this hope should guide our next prayer when we ask that our sins be forgiven and that his kingdom "will come on Earth as it has in heaven."
1The notion of the unity and the diversity of life is taken from the reformed Christian philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd. See his Roots of Western Culture: Pagan, Secular, and Christian (Toronto: Wedge Publishing Foundation, 1979). The diversity of life, according to Dooyeweerd, is built into the creation by the Creator God when he repeatedly says in Genesis 1 that things are made "after their kind." Dooyeweerd philosophically accounts for this truth by claiming that there are fifteen "modes" or ways of being in life. Among these modes are the mathematical, biological, aesthetic, logical, juridical, economic, "ethical," and, of course, the technical. These modes are inviolable in the sense that no mode or sphere of life can be denied or ignored with impunity. Thus, diversity is maintained in spite of the grip of idolatry or the tendency to reduce then focus upon one or a few areas of reality.
2See Chapters One and Two of my Between God and Gold: Protestant Evangelicalism and the Industrial Revolution, 1820-1914 (New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1993) for a more thorough definition of religion and how it applies to the optimistic glow that attempted to found the economics of American industrialism and the advent of industrial technology.
3For a provocative discussion of the origin and development of technical Reason, including its capitalization, see the highly regarded work of Frederick Klemm, A History of Western Technology, translated by Dorothy W. Singer (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1964), 231-266. We capitalize Reason because its religiousness has functioned as an unquestioned, dogmatically accepted source of revelation.
4I am speaking here of the philosophical movement known as German Idealism and its profound impact upon Western technological thought and practice. This movement stresses the centrality of the mind or "the spirit" over reality, itself the product of a concept. If humans and reality are essentially rational, then through the use of our understanding we must not only penetrate to the depths of human nature, but to the depths of all of reality. Penetration here does not mean mere abstract viewing. It means rearranging reality to fit our conceptual models constructed for the systematic reconstruction of reality. This analysis chiefly applies to George W. F. Hegel and also to Immanuel Kant and Rene Descartes, as well as to the realistic Idealism of John Locke, and the subjective Idealism of David Hume. See Klemm, History, 231-234.
5I am obviously arguing that Lynn White's charge that medieval Christianity is the source for the modern environmental problem is only partially correct. The Enlightenment and the Renaissance are also to blame. See Bob Goudzwaard, Capitalism and Progress, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1979), 36-54. For the view of key scientists and their view of nature see Loren Wilkenson, editor, Earth Keeping: Christian Stewardship of Natural Resources (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans), 124-134.
6Rene Descartes, Discourse on Method and the Meditations, trans. by F.E. Sutcliffe (Harmondworth, U.K.: Penguin Press, 1979), 78.
7For a penetrating analysis of the religious, social, and intellectual roots of the mechanistic philosophy, and its scientific antecedents, which fueled the Industrial Revolution see Margaret C. Jacob, The Cultural Meaning of the Scientific Revolution (New York; Alfred A. Knopf, 1988), 52-54 and 232-45. See also Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (New York: Harcourt and Brace Company, 1934), 46-48 and passim.
8The doxology to technology is courtesy of noted engineer Samuel C. Floreman, in, "In Praise of Technology," in Technology and Change, edited by John Burke and Marshall Eakin, (San Francisco, CA: Boyd and Fraiser Company, 1979), 21. In fairness to Floreman it must be said that in his more recent works he repudiates optimism.
9See, therefore, Clarence E. Ayers, "The Industrial Way of Life," in Change, 425f.
10Hugo A. Meir, "Technology and Democracy, in 1800-1860," in Change, 212.
11See Bob Goudzwaard, Progress, xxii, and 161 for the religious foundation for the secular notion of progress.
12For a detailed view of the Greco-Roman view of technology, and its historical roots, see Friedreich Klemm, History, 52-150. Klemm is especially good at showing how Plato's view of the relationship of forms to matter affected not only the ancient but the medieval world as well.
13See therefore David H. Hooper, Technology, Theology, and the Idea of Progress (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1991).
14Klemm, History, 135-150.
15Valleri Legasov, Leo Feoklistov, and Igor Kusmin, "Nuclear Power Engineering and International Security," in Soviet Life (February, 1986): No: 2 (353), 14.
16Hooper, Ideas of Progress, 24 as quoting The New York Times, June 11, 1986, B 6:1.
17The phrase and subsequent analysis are taken from Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981).
18Simon, Ultimate Resource, 3-5.
20Ibid., 23. Emphasis in original.
21Simon, ibid., 38, quoting Herman Kahn, William Brown, Leon Martel, et al., The Next Two Hundred Years: A Scenario for America and the World (New York: Morrow Publishing Company, 1976), 101.
22Arnold Pacey, The Culture of Technology (MA: The MIT Press, 1984), 15. Pacey quotes the authoritative works on agricultural study done by W. G. Hoskins, "Harvest Fluctuations and English Economic History," in Agricultural Review, 16 (1968), 15-45; and Susan Fairlie, "The Corn Laws and British Wheat Production," in Economic History Review, ser. 2, 22, (1969), 109-16. For further information see Pacey, ibid., 181f.
23This article is taken from a pending book. At this point in the chapter on optimism I deal with the philosopher Karl Marx and his technological optimism. Much to my surprise, I found out that while Marx was dire about Capitalism's ability to sustain a just economy, he was a blinded optimist about technology's ability to provide a miraculous future, complete with an unparalleled level of material abundance lavished upon the successful worker, after the coming revolution when wilting Capitalism will be overcome.
24Frederick Ferre, Philosophy of Technology (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1988), 60 quoting R. Buckminster Fuller, No More Secondhand God and Other Writings (Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1963, Anchor Books, editor, 1971), x.
25Ferre, ibid., 61, quoting Fuller, ibid., vii.
26Ferre, ibid., 60, quoting, Fuller, ibid., 17. The more advanced reader may want to read more about optimism. See, then, Egbert Schuurman, Technology and the Future: A Philosophical Challenge (Toronto: Wedge Publishing Company, 1980), 177-312 for his section on the "positivists."
27I use the word saturated because I do not agree with Jacques Ellul's analysis that our society is dominated and defined by technique. He grants technique a sovereign, although evil, reign and then can only juxtapose an equally exaggerated notion of human freedom to idolatrous technique. See my article in PSCF, June 1994.
28Egbert Schuurman, "The Technological Culture Between the Times: A Philosophical Assessment of Contemporary Society," 6 (n.p., n.d.). I received this soon to be published paper from Professor Schuurman while recently visiting the Netherlands.
By "groundmotive" Schuurman means to say that there are basic religious themes that run throughout the entire course of Western Civilization. See Dooyeweerd, Roots of Western Culture on the "nature/freedom" groundmotive.
I must disagree somewhat with Professor Schuurman. I have argued in my Between God and Gold that Mammon or economism is the primary idolatry of the West. This is certainly true for the way people live their daily lives.