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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label technology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label technology. Show all posts

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Thank Christianity for the Technology Revolution

The standard narrative of secularists is that religion offers a backwards view of the world that is outdated in our technologically advanced culture. But as historians have looked back upon the development of technology, one can see that Christianity creates the fertile soil in which technological advancements can grow. In his book The Book That Made Your World: How The Bible Created The Soul Of Western Civilization, Vishal Mangalwadi makes this point well.  He writes:

Professor David Landes studied clock making in China and concluded that the development of technology is not merely a matter of ingenuity. The Chinese had technical ability, yet clock making did not become an industry, nor did it become a source of continuing and growing technological innovations in China as it did in Europe. Why? The Chinese were keen neither to know time nor to organize their lives accordingly.

 The development of the watermill illustrates that culture is as important for the development of technology as ingenuity is. In 1935, Marc Bloch published his finding that the watermill had been invented at least a century before Christ. Later, its usefulness for grinding grain was known in Afghanistan, on the border of geographic India. Almost everyone needed to grind grain, yet the use of the watermill never spread in Hindu, Buddhist, or (later) Islamic cultures. Christian monks in Europe were the first to begin the widespread use of the watermill for grinding and for developing power machinery.

 The above question was the topic of a 1961 Oxford Symposium on Scientific Change, spearheaded by Alistair Crombie. The best answer was given by Marburg historian Ernst Benz, who published a seminal essay in 1964, “Fondamenti Christiani della Tecnica Occidentale.” It demonstrated that “Christian beliefs provided the rationale, and faith the motive energy for western technology.” Benz had studied and experienced Buddhism in Japan. The antitechnological impulses in Zen led him to explore whether Europe’s technological advances were somehow rooted in Christian beliefs and attitudes. His research led him to the conclusion that the biblical worldview was indeed the key to understanding Western technology.
Technology flourished just as science flourished in the West because Christianity valued God as creator and it valued seeking the understanding of God's creation. Following God's example, creating and mastering creation leads to the technological explosion we enjoy today. So no matter which technology you've chosen to read this post, the fact you can read it at all is a result of the Christian worldview. 

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Future, Cyborgs, and Satanism

The Psychology Today web site just published an article by psychologist and futurist Zoltan Istvan on "The Three Laws of Transhumanism and Artificial Intelligence" (h/t @amy_k_hall). Istvan is a big proponent of transhumanism, which basically is integrating technologies into our lives and our bodies "to acquire new capacities," both physical and mental.1 In other words, transhumanists see a day where humanity will merge with technology to create super-humans.

In his article, Istvan recounts Issac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics in his fictional story series I, Robot, which center on the idea that human life must be sustained above any robot's survival. Asimov created the three laws in order to show how mankind can be valued and protected above his own technology, even if that technology is capable of feats that would destroy their makers (think The Terminator.) But Istvan is unsatisfied with these and instead offers three laws of his own. He writes:
In general, a human will is defined by its genes, the environment, and the psychological make-up of its brain. However, a sophisticated artificial intelligence will be able to upgrade its "will." Its plasticity will know no bounds, as our brains do. In my philosophical novel The Transhumanist Wager, I put forth the idea that all humans desire to reach a state of perfect personal power—to be omnipotent in the universe. I call this a Will to Evolution. The idea is built into my Three Laws of Transhumanism, which form the essence of the book's philosophy, Teleological Egocentric Functionalism (TEF). Here are the three laws:

1) A transhumanist must safeguard one's own existence above all else.

2) A transhumanist must strive to achieve omnipotence as expediently as possible—so long as one's actions do not conflict with the First Law.

3) A transhumanist must safeguard value in the universe—so long as one's actions do not conflict with the First and Second Laws.
So, Istvan feels that for transhumans one must be self-centered and self-advancing. That shouldn't be too much of a surprise given that the transuhuman movement is all about becoming a superman (perhaps a god?) in comparison to humanity today. Still, the fact that Istvan doesn't seem to see the unworkable moral implications gives me great pause.

An Old Lie with a Shiny New Finish

In reading Istvan's three laws, I quickly saw that these were not new. In fact, they are eerily similar to a moral principle that was put forth in the early 20th century by a man who others also claimed was a visionary. The principle of "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law"2 was channeled by occultist Aleister Crowley as he wrote The Book of the Law (Liber AL vel Legis sub figura CCXX),3  the foundational book for his new religious philosophy of Thelema. Not only does this equate to Istvan's first law, but Istvan also echoes Crowley's dictum of "Love is the law, love under will" in his other two laws.  So, here we have a modern transhumanist that is recapitulating the moral philosophy of an occultist who said he received it from a spirit voice! This isn't something new; it's a lie that's very, very old. In fact, it's pretty much as old as mankind being tempted to transcend his current state of being and become like God knowing good from evil. That offer didn't work out very well for us, either.

The scary thing about all this is that Istvan cannot see how self-serving and dangerous such a moral system would actually be. Who defines what "safeguarding value in the universe" is? If omnipotence is a goal, then my existence is more valuable than another's. Is this not the fundamental principle claimed by every single act of genocidal terror that humanity has witnessed in the last 100 years? 

Ultimately, Istvan's view of the world is terrifying, not because I fear technology, but because I fear the evil in the human heart. By wanting to elevate himself above his limitations with nothing but his own desires to restrain him, he sends a message that humanity is worthy of being destroyed. Such beliefs don't elevate humanity, they debase it. Self-interest above all is animalistic. Culture and civilization is where one looks to the interests of others above one's self. This is pretty fundamental; most parents teach it to their children from the earliest ages. Accepting selfishness as a moral philosophy can only bode ill for the future of humanity.


1. Bostrom, Nick. "A History of Transhuman Thought." Academic Writing Across the Disciplines. Ed. Michael Rectenwald and Lisa Carl. New York: Pearson Longman, 2011. Section available online at
2. "The Book of the Law." Thelemapedia: The Encyclopedia of Thelema & Magick. Scarlet Woman Publishing, 27 Feb. 2007. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.
3. Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL Vel Legis Sub Figurâ CCXX. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Hermetic Library. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.
Image courtesy stephen bowler and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Friday, July 19, 2013

God and Our Technology

Does God care about our technology? Of course He does!  When God first created man, Genesis 2:15 tells us "The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it." Of this Keil writes, "Man was placed there to lead a life of repose, not indeed of inactivity, but in fulfillment of the course that was assigned to him."1 The idea of human beings tending and bringing out the best of God's creation has always been a part of God's plan, even before the fall.

Tending and keeping also includes learning about the creation so we can produce better and better results for everyone. That's really what our modern day technology does, when used rightly. We can marvel at the complexity and consistency of God's created order and harness that knowledge for the betterment of people and the world as a whole. Technology, when used rightly, should always bring glory to God.

However, many times we corrupt technology and use it to glorify ourselves or to serve our selfish desires. Below is a clip from Dr. Walt Russell that perfectly illustrates the point. During a recent theology class at Harvest Christian Fellowship, Dr. Russell gave a great object lesson on how instead of thanking God for the technological advances he allows us to discover, we turn technology into an idol. For the full series of talks, visit


1. Keil, C.F and F. Delitezsch.Commentary on Old Testament. (Grand Rapids:Eerdmans Pub., 1991. 84.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Do Our Virtual Relationships Make Us More Callous?

Newly appointed Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer caused quite an uproar with her recent decision to eliminate the work from home arrangements that many of the company's employees enjoy. The policy was announced in an internal memo that read, "To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together."

There is something unique and bonding about spending time with other people. Being a tech company, one would have expected Yahoo to extol the virtues and flexibility of the virtual office. However, Mayer is a smart CEO and she recognized that no matter what kind of technology she has at her disposal, it's never the same as being there.

It's not only job creativity or job efficiency that suffers from an overreliance of virtual exchanges. Psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow, in an opinion piece , describes a  recent event where two teenage boys took a drunk and nearly unconscious 16-year-old girl and decided to abuse her in nearly every way imaginable: stripped her naked in front of partygoers, urinating on her, and digitally penetrating her. When finding out that he could still stand trial for rape, one of the boys reacted by texting “I should have raped her now cos everyone thinks I did” to a friend. The friend's reply? “Yeh you should.”

While the brutality of these acts is shocking, what's even more disconcerting is the fact that the perpetrators lack of any type of remorse even now. What's worse is that the bystanders at the party chose to do nothing and the “friend” who received that text message recipient agreed with the perpetrator! How could so many young people become so callous? Ablow believes it is a result of teens consuming so much of the digital culture. He writes:

Having watched tens of thousands of YouTube videos with bizarre scenarios unfolding, having Tweeted thousands of senseless missives of no real importance, having watched contrived "Reality TV" programs in which people are posers in false dramas about love or lust or revenge, having texted millions of times, rather than truly connecting and having lost their real faces to the fake life stories of Facebook, they look upon the actual events of their lives with no more actual investment and actual concern and actual courage than they would look upon a fictional character in a movie.
Ablow may be onto something. We live in a society where fame is held up as the highest virtue. Kids post videos of themselves hoping to get more and more hits. People substitute status posts for having conversations. They gun down their friends on X-Box, complete with blood splatters and gory details. In such a world it is easy to see how people can cauterize their ability to empathize with another human being through an over emphasis on technology.

In the gospels, Jesus seems to value spending time together. He would frequently pull His disciples aside for a break from ministry. The early church placed a strong emphasis in koinonia, that is communion or fellowship. Hebrews warns us not to forsake our gathering together (Heb. 10:25), and we are told that our hope found in the promise of living with Jesus forever (Rom 6:8).

While I believe that modern tools can help us keep in touch with one another, I see many people—and particularly younger people who have never known a world without text messages and the Internet—substituting virtual togetherness for the real thing. I think that because we are created as both body and soul, there is a special something that connects us when we are with one another. Video chats or telephone calls are nice, but they are not the same thing as koinonia.  Because there is a barrier between the participants, they can only simulate human contact. What we need is less FaceTime and more face to face time with each other. Perhaps as we begin to really share ourselves with each other it will make us better at feeling what the other person feels. And I think we could use a little more empathy in the world today.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why Artificial Intelligence Isn't

photo by Fumi Yamazaki

I've had an off-and-on again discussion with an atheist friend of mine on the concept of the soul. Being an atheist, he routinely defaults to a naturalistic/materialistic understanding of the world and how things work. For example, he recently made the claim on my Facebook page that "The new thing that is emerging is 'machine life' (artificial intelligence). It will surpass us in intelligence." There are two claims being made in this statement, both of which I think are faulty and the first rests on the understanding of the second.  The primary claim that machines will someday be considered alive due to advances in artificial intelligence that are happening even now. The second is that this intelligence will allow machines to be smarter than us.

The problem here is one of language. We've heard people discuss sentience or intelligence as synonyms. Then, we see a new device, such as a smart phone or intelligence-assist devices and think that people are using the words in the same fashion.  But that is simply not true.  In the first sense, intelligence means to be able to comprehend the facts that are presented to you, to understand a concept. The biggest point of understanding is not the medium through which the concept is presented nor is it the reaction or outcome.  Understanding is an act of consciousness and consciousness has a specific kind of experience associated with it that machines can never have.

You see, machines simply are cause and effect loops. Given a specific input, a computer acts like any other mechanical device—it spits out a result based on preset programming.  This is true even if the programming has a randomizer built into it.  As computer programs become more complex we can be tempted to think the machines are "understanding" what is going on, but they aren't. They are merely acting like an extremely complicated Rube Goldberg machine and producing an outcome based on their prior programming.

Philosopher John Searle's Chinese Room thought experiment is a great example of the difference. Searle asks you to imagine a man inside a locked room with two slots in the wall. A Chines messenger will slip a question written in Chinese on a piece of paper through the door and in a little while the paper will be returned through a second slot with an answer inscribed at the bottom, also in Chinese.  The messenger and probably all observers would believe the man in the room spoke Chinese.  However, inside the room the facts are different.  The man actually speaks no Chinese at all. He just has a very large code book that will tell him "If this combination of characters appears on a piece of paper, then you should write this second combination of characters at the bottom and return the paper." The man inside the room has no idea what the question is or what the answer says. It is a qualitatively different experience than conscious understanding. (For a more detailed explanation of the Chinese Room and some great animation, see this page.)

This is exactly how artificial intelligence works.  Even the head of the Google Car project can teach you how to program your own self-driving car in just seven weeks. See the page at and look at the list of topics covered in the class.  All the programming features are simply rules in a code book that must be followed by the machine.  No understanding is required. The CPU in a computer is basically a Chinese Room, except the language is binary, 1s and 0s.

I don't think the label artificial intelligence will ever change; it's become too ingrained in our culture.  However, it still can be understood that the term intelligence can mean different things. If I say my cell phone is dead, I don't mean that at one point it was capable of biological life. In the same way if I say my phone is smart, I don't mean that it is capable of conscious understanding. We would do well to note the difference.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

2011 Top Ten Apologetics Posts

As we begin 2012, I just wanted to say thank you to all who engage with us here at Come Reason through the blog, the podcast, our Facebook page or any of the online avenues we offer. You made 2011 a banner year! We saw over 245,000 visitors from over 200 countries seeking answers to questions on faith, reason, and the Christian worldview. In the next couple days I'll be highlighting some of the more popular content we've seen from all this traffic. First up, the top ten posts of last year from our Apologetics Notes blog:
  1. The Most Penetrating Critique of New Atheism - Written by an Atheist
  2. Scientists Clinging to Blind Faith for All to See
  3. A (Not Too) Serious Christian History Quiz
  4. Ten Faith-Defending Ministries Worthy of Your Support
  5. Should Christians Cheer the Death of bin Laden?
  6. How to Answer the Evolution Question
  7. Christians and Birth Control - A Thoughtful Analysis
  8. What a New Testament Church REALLY Looks Like
  9. Jim Caviezel's Amazing Reading of the Resurrection
  10. What's an Apologetics Missions Trip?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

10 Commandments of Social Networking

This evening, my friend @BrendanStark came up with his "10 Commandments of Social Networking" which I thought were very appropriate. Even in an apologetic context, these will help you to be a better witness and open more doors of conversation with those you hope to reach.  Comment below and let me know what other commandments we should be obeying while living the digital life.

10. Thou shalt not abuse "friends" with MLM/home business sales.

9. Don't use your social networks as a confessional.

8. Don't lie.

7. Don't be a troll.

6. Don't steal another person's name with any "fake" accounts.

5. Take a sabbath break from the Internet.

4. Don't make an idol out of a celebrity (or your fans/followers a la @ladygaga).

3. Show some love. RT once in a while.

2. Don't be online "friends" with people who can screw up your marriage.

1. Use an internal filter. Think before posting things that will embarrass God, you, your family, or your friends.
Image courtesy sman5612 and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) License.
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