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Tubal-Cain’s Forge

Technology has the power to shape our lives, though often in ways we do not expect.  We may seek to control things which do not belong to us.  We may exalt technology as a mysterious and mystifying power over our lives.  We may even look to technology as security for an uncertain tomorrow.  But one thing is clear:  the same forge which brings forth the plow shapes the sword.  Technology is both a blessing and a curse.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Episode: 74

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Cain’s Folly

After being sent away from the presence of the Lord, Cain built a city and named it after his son Enoch in Genesis 4. This city should not be confused for our own understanding of a city: a relatively open place where many people live. Rather, the city of Enoch was likely more of a fortress, designed to protect Cain from those who sought his life in revenge for Abel. Cain also sought to stay put instead of wandering, somewhat contrary to the Lord’s judgment upon him. The fortress-city of Enoch was built in the land of Nod, that is, the land of wandering, away from the presence of the Lord.

Just as Genesis 5 will outline the line from Adam to Noah in ten generations, Genesis 4 outlines the line of Cain to the children of Lamech in seven. Lamech’s boast in Genesis 4:23-24 shows the fruit of that line in unbridled evil. Instead of heeding the Lord’s mercy toward Cain as an opportunity for repentance, Cain’s descendants have used it as a pretext for further wickedness. Shall we also presume on the Lord’s mercy?

At any rate, the sons of Lamech also discover and employ certain kinds of technology. Jubal invents a number of musical instruments, and Tubal-Cain begins to forge metals. Both of these technologies can and will be put to a godly use (such as the building of the tabernacle). Yet it is noteworthy that they find their origin in the cursed line of Cain. Having lost sight of heaven, they have instead set their sights on the world.

One could interpret this as a sign of God’s free mercies. Has He not, after all, used the pagans to produce much that is good in this world? Does He not make His sun to rise and send His rain on the just and on the unjust? I think it is equally likely, however, that this is a slight indictment. Cain built a wall for an evil purpose. Having lost his trust in the Lord through his sins, Cain resorts instead to a worldly solution and employs the technology of a wall to that end. What is a wall compared to the living God? Likewise, Jubal and Tubal-Cain undoubtedly employed these things for evil ends, all in the service of idolatry. Instead of relying on God, they have begun to rely on the works of their own hands.

As noted above, these inventions will be used for godly ends, per the Lord’s commands. Yet there is a substantial difference in employing technology when commanded to do so by God and doing so in the place of God. The former is heeding the voice of the Lord and following after Him in all that He says. The latter is trusting in the works of our hands to save us from perceived problems and ascribing to them, consciously or not, the aspects of divinity.

Created to Work

The Lord created man to labor, as seen in Genesis 2. There, prior to the fall into sin, Adam tended the garden in Eden. A future where man no longer has to work because his needs are perfectly met–the dream of technocrats, futurists, and communists of old–is not valid. Working is part of what it means to be human, and the Lord creates so that we also may improve and tend what He gives.

Technology existed also in the days of Adam, even if it is not explicitly mentioned. Moses notes that gold adorned the land of Havilah near Eden. Even if it is likely that this is meant to educate his contemporary audience, gold in any substantial quantity can only be obtained through the use of technology. Ezekiel 28:11-19, where the king of Tyre is compared to Adam, describes some of the beauty of Eden and the perfection of Adam in gold and precious stones.

Thus, because man needs technology to labor, and because man was created to labor (Isaiah 65 even describes the life to come as one in which men will labor and enjoy the fruits of that labor), the use of technology is a part of being a creation of God. The difficulty enters in only when that technology is employed for ungodly ends, as will be seen in future posts.

WFS began our discussion of technology and the Christian in this episode:
Technological Society and Its Future

Technological Society and Its Future

Technology is the means by which we obtain certain goals, and using technology is part of being human.  Yet in an age when technology increasingly dominates our lives, what does the Word of God have to say about it?  Join us as we discuss why technology isn’t a neutral issue, some of what the Lord says about it, and why bringing up the Amish is a red herring.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Regular Guest: Rev. Adam Koontz

Episode: 68

Join our Facebook group Word Fitly Posting to discuss this episode or any other topic. Follow us on Twitter: @wordfitly. Send us a message: [email protected] Subscribe to the podcast: RSS Feed, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcasting app.

Outsourcing Conscience: A Response to Yuval Noah Harari

When Yuval Noah Harari (author of best-selling books Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, 2011 and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, 2017) thinks about artificial intelligence, he doesn’t picture robots gaining sentience and exterminating humanity. He does picture the increasing irrelevance of certain classes, growing global inequality, and a shift in authority from humanity to data-driven algorithms. The last of these is not really a prediction, but a fairly linear extrapolation of historical technological trends.

Technology develops because of the human drive to make work simpler, more efficient, or more effective. Pushing back against the curse (Gen. 3:17-19), men have managed to leverage their unique rational capacities in mitigating some consequences of sin. Or at least it seems that way. Perhaps technology has just permitted men to redistribute the effects of the curse. And that may be one of the reasons why it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven – he does not feel the sweat of his face in bringing forth thorns and thistles. On the other hand, the insatiability of men remains as a reminder of the first sin. Efficiency should mean an opportunity to work less, but it is often used instead as a means to produce more.

By now we have moved far beyond the simple jigs that automate and optimize mechanical tasks. The questions we ask of technology are no longer simply quantitative, but also qualitative. Having mastered the realm of objectivity, technology now promises to help us deal with our subjectivity. Instead of asking, “How can I do this?” we have begun to ask, “What should I do?” Data is invaluable because it permits humanity to outsource the most difficult task of decision-making.

This already happens extensively in trivial ways. Netflix offers recommendations that match your watching history. Amazon suggests products that complement products you have already purchased. Yelp lets you tap into to the experiences and opinions of countless strangers as you choose a restaurant. But even in its infancy, information technology was promising to make much more critical decisions for us. In 1959, a couple of Stanford students used a mainframe and punch cards with survey data to match prospective romantic partners. Now by swiping left or right you can not only help build the enormous data-set but benefit from its algorithmic matchmaking output in real-time.

Harari is wary of these advances because he perceives the potential for manipulation. Every algorithm has been written by somebody, and not everybody has humanity’s best interests in mind. We are nonetheless extremely susceptible to technological suggestion because our expectations are so low. The computers just need to make somewhat better decisions than us most of the time in order for us to find them to be trustworthy. Considering how often we make bad decisions that’s a minor hurdle.

That susceptibility, however, tells us more about ourselves than Harari observes. In the first place, our interest in reliable decision-making belies our craving for authority. We learn quickly in life that people are untrustworthy and easily tempted to abuse authority. But that cannot erase our resonance with the ordered character of creation. We are meant to be under authority, and when artificial intelligence promises that authority without the vicissitudes of earthly fathers, we are happily imprinted.

Still, a more damning fact about humanity underlies that susceptibility. Unmistakably aware that “none is righteous, no, not one” (Ro. 3:10), we are always in pursuit of acquittal. That makes the promise of sound decision-making extremely attractive. By outsourcing our consciences to artificial intelligence, we have so much to gain. We gain certainty in the face of our own mixed feelings. Combined with accurate biometric sensors, technology could even correct for our changing feelings and help us to make decisions that will minimize the sensation of guilt. We also gain a scapegoat. Our love for having someone to blame should surprise no one, exhibited first in the Garden of Eden and now every time a child excuses himself by saying, “My brother told me to do it.” What could be better than the victimless blame-shifting afforded by having a computer make your decisions?

All of that is enough to warrant caution. If technology is used to numb or deflect pangs of conscience, then it has indeed become an instrument of the devil. But more fundamentally, we should know better because sound, objective decision-making could never favor humanity. Suppose you could gather all the data and crunch all the numbers. Let us say that you can measure not just actions but also motives. You would discover only one solution to all the ethical questions posed by humanity – eternal judgment. After all, a purely objective and consistent moral system must finally resemble God’s Holy Law. And by that standard, there is only one possible outcome. Artificial intelligence could not choose life in the end. For that, what we need is an authority who favors humanity against better judgment and in spite of the data.