Thursday, December 04, 2008

Toward a Christian Philosophy of Technology

An interesting article here by Michael Sleasman, Managing Director and Research Scholar for The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity.

I found the categorizations in bold to be especially helpful:
Within one camp of responses are Christian thinkers such as Quentin Schultze. Schultze (Habits of the High-Tech Heart. Baker, 2002) diagnoses the prevailing cyberculture with a bad case of informationism that desperately seeks more information at greater speeds of access. He and others call for careful examination and suggest a sentimentalist rejection of these emerging technologies. By this sentimentalism rejection I mean an appeal to a less technologically available age, where the technology itself is the real problem. The technological sentimentalism expressed by these types of respondents have led to the charge that Christians are technological luddites—a pejorative charge aimed at marginalizing any critical response to the unhindered pursuit of technological progress.

Technology here is a threat, something inherently evil. This technological sentimentalism is labeled by Carl Mitcham as Ancient Skepticism, which questions the value of the new. In a worldview where tradition and longstanding practice and beliefs is valued, innovation is perceived as a wrong or an evil to be avoided. In the culture wars, technological advancement has become a divisive political topic.

On the other end of the continuum, only a small minority of the population have been involved in any sort of technological messianism. Here technology is savior of society and thus is something inherently good and to be desired. Despite only having a small following, the majority of contemporary Christians appropriate a form of chastened technological optimism, thus, defaulting to a na├»ve technological pragmatism uncritically appropriating technology via a consumerist mentality. We want what we want, when we want it. This is not only expressed in the mainstream consumer markets, but similar sentiments can be seen in medical and scientific communities as well. Technicism in its purist form is more of a cultural artifact of a secularized mindset rooted in a form of scientism—the belief that human ingenuity will solve all of problems through unhindered scientific research.

A third category of engagement is the reflection of what I have begun to refer to as technological responsibilists. Stephen Monsma offers a Christian definition of technology as “a distinct human cultural activity in which human beings exercise freedom and responsibility in response to God by forming and transforming the natural creation, with the aid of tools and procedures, for practical ends or purposes” (Monsma 1986, 19). He and others like Jacques Ellul and Albert Borgmann offer a position of critical uneasiness with the ubiquity of our technological immersion and its impacts upon our humanity. They seek to call our attention to the line between tool and homo faber that increasingly has blurred, but in a manner that demonstrates sophisticated understanding of the technologies themselves.

Read the whole thing.