Against the grain; reflections on Technics
Tegendraads Nadenken over Techniek (Against the grain; reflections on Technics)
2601 CW Delft, 2014
Chapter 1: Techniek, Technologie en het Technische Wereldbeeld (technics, technology and the technical world picture)
It is necessary to draw a distinction between technics as the art of shaping matter by means of tools and technology, which is the science of technics. However, technics changes as a result of technology. This is the case in modern technology and it puts it apart from craft or trade-based technics such as carpentry or masonry. Carpenters and masons use their given bodily functions to make things. Their technics are human, unique, tool-based and part of a larger whole which itself is non-technical.
Nonetheless, even craft-based technics can entice us to establish our mastery over our world. In Genesis 11:1-10 we read about people who built a city and a tower that would reach up to heaven and through which the whole plain could be controlled. The power they aspired to was idolatrous.
Such idolatry is found also in modern technics. Many appreciate modern technics as a way of redemption, believing that it can solve all problems. The difference with craft-based technics is that it fits into a technical view of the world, inasmuch as we look at everything through technical glasses and everything becomes the object of scientific-technical mastery, characterised by universality and necessity. We think of the whole world as a technical construction. When we do this, we believe that every problem is a technical problem for which a technical solution should be found. This technical all-encompassing view of the world arose in modern times at the end of the Middle Ages. Since those times the predominant trend in culture has been anthropocentric. Humans are seen as the only lords and masters of the world. Of course, it is not necessary to adopt a technical view of the world and absolutise modern technics. There is room for a responsible use of modern technics.
The anthropocentric thought patterns of Renaissance, Modern Philosophy and Enlightenment are still major determinants of today’s technical, thoroughly secularised culture. Are we confronted with an idolatrous power?
Many acknowledge the anthropocentric nature of modern culture, but refuse to return to a theocentric alternative. Instead they opt for an eco-centric one. Thereby they remain locked into a dialectic of culture and nature. This dialectic demonstrates the neo-pagan character of our secularised culture. Such a dialectic parasitises on God’s creation and Christ’s power of redemption, buy without acknowledging these, it becomes a destructive power. In order to come to a liberating perspective, we must de-mask the technological view of the world as a powerful pretence and focus instead on God’s creation and Christ’s redemptive power.
The seductive power of modern technics is difficult to resist. Even a great Christian thinker such as Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) fell for it when he considered technics as a miracle surpassing Christ’s. From the perspective of eternity it is essential that we break free from the shackles of a technical/mechanistic view of the world.
Culture is only possible on the basis of technics. When technics is wrongly motivated (humans are lords and masters of the universe, believing that what can be made should be made), then, the rest of culture will be in trouble as well. If the technical world picture becomes the norm, then, it will cause many problems.
Often, we believe that technics is neutral in the sense that it depends on how we use it (Gutenberg’s invention of movable type: a step towards heaven or a step towards hell). In our days we can understand the problems of the Third World by a critique of the economic ideology of free markets (economism). Similarly, this ideology may help us understand the problems of unemployment, pollution and destruction of nature. Yet, we would come to a deeper understanding if we abandoned the blinkers of the technical world picture (technicism). The ideology of the market is based upon technicism.
Once we do this, we appreciate that the development of modern technologies (nuclear power, spaceships, cars) has required and continues to require major economic sacrifices, including large numbers of human lives. Many scientific disciplines express themselves in technical terms (including law, psychology and even theology).
So, why are Christians paying so little attention to technicism? Is it because the free market ideology is defended (the invisible hand that always works out the best solutions), whilst technics does not require any defence? Since our fall into sin the seduction of technics has been strengthened by the influence of science on technics and later on by economic powers as well.
Our autonomy is established first of all by means of modern technics and this marks the whole of culture. Since this ‘technical spirit’ and the technical world picture preceded modern science and economics, these two powers have been shaped by the technical drive to control everything. Science and economics are advanced by means of technics and technical innovations enable the further development of science and economics (spiral).
The utopias of Roger Bacon and Francis Bacon reveal this secularised view. The latter even thought that the consequences of the fall into sin could be overcome by technics. In our times Jacques Ellul and Paul Tillich, both Christians, have critiqued technicism (they call it instrumentalism).
Again, our critique focusses not on technics as such but on the ideology of scientific technics. We seek to control the whole of the world and solve all problems by means of modern technics and to guarantee ever growing material welfare. We seek an earthly paradise under a closed heaven. This technicistic spirit is immensely stimulated by economic policies. Materialism and consumerism have become rife, but at the price of boredom and spiritual emptiness. As Habakkuk put it long ago: the wicked swallow up the righteous (Hab. 1:13b). This should be seen as the deepest reason why churches become empty, thousands lose their faith, and secularisation obscures God.
The ideology of modern technics holds absolute sway over our culture, so that all of its sectors bear its imprint (health, education, agriculture, care for elderly, sick etc.). Thus, one believes that problems of poverty, unemployment and environmental degradation should be tackled by means of information technology, bio-technology, genetic engineering etc. For a time, they may seem to solve problems. Yet, they return in greater intensity. The problems should be seen as structural, due to technical developments. International politics is often influenced by technical imperialism.
Technical perfection and the technical imperative: what can be made should be made, have become the key norms of our society. As modern technics advances and is promoted as a means of lifting productivity and economic growth, workers become technically superfluous. The system needs only highly qualified people who are put under great pressure to perform, suffer burn-out and should be regularly re-trained, lest they too become unemployed.
As there is no sense of a just distribution of welfare, technicism widens the gap between rich and poor, also between rich and poor countries. If the latter adopt the same policies as the former, the problems of pollution, climate warming and depletion of rare resources will become significantly worse at the expense of future generations.
The uncritical relationship of science and technics leads to a logically-necessary development of technics. Modern technics, therefore, is large-scale, massive, universal, uniform and reductive, leading to alienation and to a business-like, cold and inwardly-split culture. The drive towards a unified Europe is a case in point. However, the more this ideal is realised the greater the number of economic refugees, the greater the environmental problems and the greater the adverse impact on third-world countries. It would be much better if a unified Europe made the norm of public justice a leading one, with a strong emphasis on social justice in the distribution of material goods.
The secularised ideas of the Enlightenment cannot be Christianised. We need to re-gain an authentic Biblical view on our cultural mandate. We should be aware how often the Bible warns against the seductions of technics. We should complement the Biblical notion of the cultural mandate with the wisdom that Solomon desired (I Kings 4:33-34), the praise of God (Ps 148), the pilgrimage of Abraham (Hebrews 11:10) and Jesus’s rejecting Satan’s suggestion that He should subject to himself all the kingdoms of the world (Matth. 4). Jesus fulfilled the meaning of culture through his death on the cross. We should become cross-bearers, seeking the righteousness of God’s kingdom (see also: Coloss. 3:1; Luke 12:34; Mark 8:36; Matth. 6:19; Rom. 12:2; Hebrews 13:14).
Our Western technology has an Egyptian-Babylonian rather than a Jewish origin.
We should be guided by love of God and neighbour. This love causes us to alienate ourselves from our technicistic culture in order to approach our neighbour (close by and far away) and our culture in love. That should also form the basis of a responsible stewardship of nature and culture. Technics and economics should be liberated from the ideologies of progress and growth. This indicates a small-scale, loving, compassionate, serving approach, in contrast to the efficiency and effectiveness cult of technicism. This is nothing but a conversion.
The task is certainly not an easy one. How can we prevent technics from having a destructive and or deceptive influence on society?
Schuurman illustrates this in terms of the so-called re-bound effect. When we manage to construct cars/machines that are much more fuel-efficient and hence have less adverse impact on the environment, then, often, a higher demand for them in a materialistic economy will more than off-set the wholesome effects. Electric cars will pollute less, but the power stations generating the power will be as polluting as before. Such tendencies remain hidden because we don’t question modern scientific technology. Hence, the production system as a whole remains large-scale and energy-intensive. Once we are prepared to reduce dynamics and prefer small-scale development, we may have a basis for sustainable development.
Technics should not develop autonomously. It should be no more than a prosthesis to the human body. An example, instead of sacrificing fertile land to the construction of motorways, one might dig tunnels.
In economics the value of a good should include its ecological footprint.
We need to develop frameworks for testing the appropriateness of technics, founded upon justice as the coherence of the order of creation and redemption. That order is God’s order. This implies a large variety of norms. Thus, bio-technology, information technology, genetic engineering, nano-technology will be restricted or even ruled out. Culture will develop more sustainably and will be more stable, whilst the true meaning of technics is recovered.
Chapter 2: Geloof, Wetenschap en Techniek, verschuivende Fronten (Faith, science and technics, shifting frontlines)
The history of Christianity shows the importance of considering the relationship between faith and science and its claims. Not only because of the major achievements of science, but also because the philosophy behind it has become ever more opposed to religion and particularly to the Christian one.
In general, more attention has been paid to the relationship of faith and science, especially the physical sciences, than to the relationship of faith and technics. One appears to assume that the latter is encompassed by the former. However, if so, then it must be the science of technics, i.e. technology, and not technics itself. Science concerns knowledge. Technics is what is made by means of tools (machines, reactors, robots, computers, etc.). It is a major cultural power.
Is the current strong technical development, which is always related to economics, a danger to Christians through the pressure it exerts on their faith? Our culture has become thoroughly secularised and is spiritually empty. Should we not reflect urgently on the relationship of faith, technics and technology?
The predominant view is that science discovers the truth and that everything can be explained because of its material basis. This ignores that God is the Creator who maintains the whole cosmos from moment to moment. Science suggests that a Big Bang originated our world. Similarly, one denies the resurrection of the dead, because nobody has ever witnessed a dead body regaining life. Much thought has been spent on research into the origin of all. Does evolution explain how our present world came into being?
We should never be afraid of facts. Evolution within the realms of plants and animals is well documented and verified using normal scientific practice (micro-evolution of species). We should refrain from speculative constructions because this leads to evolutionism, which is a view of life and the world. We should also beware of creationism, which is an attempt to use the Bible as a science textbook. This is indicative of over-estimating the importance of human theoretical thought. Such thought accepts no limits, a characteristic of rationalism. If we think that by theoretical thought the whole of reality may be grasped and mapped, then, we do not glorify our Creator God. The creation cannot be fathomed, because it will always harbour mysteries that cannot be charted due to its being the work of almighty God. Scientific knowledge is always limited knowledge. It is universal, abstract and reductive. Miracles, for instance, fall outside its scope, because they are unique events occurring in the fullness of life. The miracle of the creation has been revealed to us in the Word of God and should be believed, therefore.
Reformational Christian philosophy has attempted to account for the relationship between the Christian faith and science, because this tradition begins with the light of the Revelation, within which theoretical thought ought to move and which should lead to a view on science. This has two advantages:
It provides consistency. Of course, biblical faith as such should guarantee consistency. Yet, a structural analysis will help.
As sciences, culture and technics keep developing a structural view ensures that we do not overlook important things.
Various attempts at formulating the relationship between the Christian faith and science are discussed:
The Crowning Theory
This is the view that says that science is part of nature and as such independent of faith, but complemented or crowned by faith in the area of grace. Thomas of Aquinas (1225-1274) would say that the area of faith is the same as theology (theology as the queen of the sciences). This concept involves a synthesis of two faiths: faith in the autonomy of science and the Christian faith, elaborated in theology. Any conflicts between the two were decided by the church hierarchy. It has caused major damage to the church’s credibility (Galilei).
Protestants often have the same view, except that one accepts the autonomy of science and complements it with a personal witness of faith. However, the two are not integrated. One may be evolutionist when doing science, without recognising the faith on which it is based, and witness to God’s creation as a believer. Sooner or later this does not work.
Separating Faith and Science
Science and culture are seen as areas of life separate from the area set aside for faith, usually in terms of special days or activities. The Christian faith is privatised. This happens also frequently in politics, economics and business. Often, the underlying clash between two faiths ends with a victory for science due to certainty based upon logic. The resulting secularisation of science strengthens secularisation in general, due to the key role assigned to science.
Rejecting the separation theory one formulates a set of starting points or basic tenets, which should form the foundation of science. It is an attempt to integrate the two. This is not as easy as it seems. How do you find the right basic tenets? Often basic principles chosen prove to be wrong or inadequate at a later stage. The faith underlying science is accepted, uncritically.
Faith regulates thinking
The key question is: which faith guides our thinking? Faith and thought are two different human functions. Hebrews 11:1 cannot be applied to science. Yet, it is the same person who says: I believe and I think. The two find their unity in the human heart as the centre of human existence. However, our heart is often divided. Faith is the key factor at the back of all we do or think. As such it directs our whole life. Scientific thinking presupposes non-scientific thought and is supported, even stimulated by faith or trust. Faith regulates all of our functions.
Secularised (autonomous) science fails to acknowledge any limits and, hence, tends to become speculative. The Christian faith regulates our scientific work, by acknowledging the normative limits to the latter in a normative meaning perspective, which aims at the glory and honour of the Creator. This needs emphasising, because the belief in human autonomy has become stronger and stronger since the Greeks. It has been conquering all the sciences by abstract and logical systems. The faith in autonomy is directed at rational scientific knowledge and in this way encompasses the whole of culture and closes it off to God. This is rationalism. Scientific truth is seen as the whole truth. However, theoretical knowledge is very limited, being universal and abstract. Christians confess that Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. This Truth is incompatible with the absolutised truth of theory.
The truth of faith cannot be proven logically, rationally or theoretically (Hebr. 11:3). Thinking cannot reveal the right relationship of faith and science. Christian scientists should seek faith, wisdom, prudence and caution. What is not by faith is sin (Romans 12:2, Romans 14:23; II Cor. 10:5; Ephes. 4:23). Christ is the source of wisdom. The destiny of scientific work is the glory of God. New scientific findings should deepen our wonder at the wisdom and power of God.
Rationalism has lost a lot of its power in the 20th century due to developments such as Einstein’s theory of relativity, Heisenberg’s uncertainty relation, the influence of social factors (Kuhn’s paradigm shifts) or Feyerabend’s view that all knowledge is scientific knowledge. One accepts and uses now a plurality of methods. However, if one accepts everything as science one might be taken in by irrationalism. The only good thing about these developments is that a Christian approach is accepted more easily.
Despite the variety of approaches to scientific knowledge and practice, what they all have in common is that they should serve to control the environment. Science should be useful in this respect. We see a shift from truth to utility, especially in pragmatism. The confrontation between faith and science shifts thereby to culture as a whole, which begins to bear the imprint of technics and economics. The criterion is: advancing material welfare. Faith in the possibility of controlling life is accompanied by a belief in progress. Recent advances in science and technology call forth questions of faith. With new developments such as genetic engineering of plants, animals and people, communication technics and nano-technics, humans are pretending to create life. This means that students are confronted not only by an idolatrous worship of science but also by a society that features a major increase in human power through science and technics. This technical-scientific culture is a secularised culture.
From faith in control to technical thinking
Descartes (1596-1650) once said that humans are the lords and masters of the world through their mastery of the laws of physics. Francis Bacon (1561-1626) believed that the lost paradise could be regained by science and technics. In our days this faith is still very much at work, meaning that only problems that may be solved by science and technics are recognised as problems. Problems involving reflection and the humanities are ignored. There is spiritual emptiness behind the scientific-technical façade. If technological thinking is everything one cannot even consider life as such; it is reduced to something technical that can be improved by biotechnology. Similarly, communication technology is based upon thought patterns which force users to behave similarly. When we are busy technically day in day out, our heart will be influenced by it. We will not advance in wisdom or in meaningful deep relationships with others, despite a plurality of interactions.
We experience our humanity also by the instruments we use and the culture we live in. We are more and more part of the Babel-culture of our days. We are living under a closed heaven with a technical view of life and the world. Yet, this culture has been experiencing crises. This should provide an opening for an authentic Christian approach (Gen 1, Psalm 8): Who is the Creator? And what is the meaning of the creation? What is a basic Christian approach?
This is a major challenge to Christian engineers.
Scientific knowledge is always abstract, functional and universal. It never involves the fullness of life and reality. The reality in which we live is like a diamond. Turn it a little and you get another colour.
Truth is not an event or an abstract theory. It is a Person, Christ, the Fulness of God, who entered creation, the greatest miracle of history.
Evolutionistic thinking has brought forth something important. Everything seems to be similar to something else; there is order and regularity. For Christians this points to our Creator God. It involves sphere universality (a concept of reformational philosophy).
Time is not just a linear concept, with a beginning and an end. It cannot be defined, being a divine mystery. Time and eternity are far beyond our understanding. Evolutionistic schemes are, therefore, incredibly superficial.
The Greeks believed that being and thinking are the same (Parmenides, about 500 BC). It is still a basic understanding in our days. When confronted with problems we resort to the latest theories instead of considering the limits of science and theory. The statement is false, however. If we start thinking apart from Biblical truth we fall quickly into the trap of rationalism.
We should not harmonise faith and science. If we do so logically, we end up with science. It is better to let some problems alone, because they might not be solvable. Thinking cannot produce definitive answers. Let us be modestly wise and prepared to let our wonderment grow about the greatness and glory of God (Isaiah 40, Ps. 104, Ps 148, Eccle. 7:24).
The danger of positivism (meaning that only that which can be empirically verified or falsified makes sense) is that it declares everything beyond verification or falsification as nonsense.
Chapter 3: Bevrijding van het technische wereldbeeld-Uitdaging tot een andere ethiek (Liberation from the technical world picture-challenge to a different ethics).
The author has always seen himself as responsible for the development of culture and technology. As Christians we should think critically, given our faith, about the major issues raised by modern technics. This involves an ethical reflection about its motivations. Secular technical universities have realised the importance of ethical reflection by making the subject compulsory, albeit teaching it in a descriptive rather than a normative sense, featuring practical case studies. Schuurman emphasises the need for a normative ethical approach.
Present technology has realised many promises and still holds many promises. One is so blinded by this that one is not prepared to consider it critically. Modernity and post-modernity alike do not discern potentially disastrous effects. Is this because of their silent worship of technics? It is often said to contribute to the quality of life. Rarely would its downsides be discussed.
Indeed, our culture is led by a technical world-image, meaning that the whole of reality is appreciated as technically controllable. The more we appropriate reality in this way, the more also we alienate ourselves from it, because the guidance exercised by technical models in the interpretation of reality coincides with a levelling, reduction and even destruction of that same reality. That is the problem of modern technics. It manifests itself in environmental problems, but also in the reduction of human relationships (which become superficial and business-like) and in internal tensions. Yet, we uncritically overvalue technics. Hence the need for an ethics of technics.
Since this scientifically based technics has been brought forth by a Jewish-Christian tradition, we should ask whether that tradition can say something about its ethics, the more so since many see this tradition as the source of many current problems.
An ethics of technics is necessary
The old craft-based technics was based on inter-human relationships, had few negative effects, which could be identified, and was only a sector of culture, rather than its master. It was embedded in the natural order. There was no need for an ethical approach.
By contrast, modern technics has been developing so fast in such a short time, especially through business corporations, and so overwhelmingly that it has become a world-wide system. Without this technics, culture would collapse. Technics and economics form one whole. We have no experience in handling the problems of this development.
Advantages achieved in 200 years
Longer life-span; healthier environment; much hard work taken care of by mechanisation, automation, robotisation. Access to information. Medical technics able to solve many health problems.
Our culture has become a one-dimensional technical culture. Everything is directed by what is technically possible. Humanities are evaluated as less important that physical/technical sciences. Threats of nuclear war and nuclear accidents; major loss of bio-diversity. Climate warming. Genetic engineering. Cloning, even of people, is considered. We drown in information. There is less and less face-to-face contact between people.
Within technics itself there are major problems, as the systems are so complex that operators do not always know how to react to unforeseen problems. Accidents such as Tschernobyl, Fukushima, Bhopal, are cases in point.
Power over technics?
In former times we were only threatened by nature. Today we are threatened by technics as well. Is it possible to limit and control technical power?
What is ethics?
However defined, ethics is concerned with humans’s good or responsible acting. So what is such acting with respect to technics? It should be in accordance with right motives and good values or norms. It is multi-disciplinary: how we should respond to all normative aspects of reality. Although there is no unity anymore in our time as to what is a human being, history, the meaning of technics, culture and future, there is, nonetheless a main common trend.
The overwhelming trend may be called technical thinking. It has deep roots. In this development faith in creation disappears more and more and with it belief in a Creator God. This is because technical thinking presupposes the autonomy of the thinker. It fails to acknowledge the limitedness of human thinking. Descartes is the father of this thinking. He used rational technical thinking, so that particularly the physical sciences became the instrument of manipulating reality to man’s ends so as to solve all problems. In his view the laws of mechanics are the same as laws for nature. On the whole nature is a set of automata (mechanisation of world view). Once you know the power relationships you can calculate and guide nature. The meaning of reality is merely that it is useful to humans. We see this applied in bio-technology and genetic engineering. Technical thinking is hungry or imperialistic and totalitarian.
Francis Bacon thought similarly: knowledge is power. To overcome nature we must obey her. Humanity should be its absolute master. He represented this in his utopia New Atlantis. More recently, Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) said: Technics is eternal as God the Father, it redeems life as God the Son and sanctifies life as God the Spirit.
The Enlightenment of the 18th century strengthened this trend, especially through its emphasis on empirical testing and development (progress). It saw no limits to this drive. Non-scientific authorities were not allowed or acknowledged. The denial of God became definite. The ideology of technology (Habermas) precludes fundamental questions.
David Noble has documented many cases of a technical expectation of salvation. Many key technologists display a worshipful attitude to technology.
The technical world-image
The absolutisation of technical thinking implies a considerable loss of reality. What does not fit in the technical model is ignored or forgotten. Reality is a technical whole to be improved by technology. This technical image is constantly updated. However, it is a human construction and works as a paradigm for culture or ethical framework within one thinks and acts. It has normative significance. What can be thought by means of the natural physical/biological sciences and made technically is the real world.
The problem resides not so much in technics, but rather in the technical image. It marks and stamps the whole of society. Technical-economic powers are the main drivers. Through the greed of consumerism we all become participants.
The world-image is scientific-technical, which means that it is functional, universal and rational. As such it is reductive and levelling and sometimes destructive (nature, environment, economic development.
Usual ethical recipe (motifs, values and norms)
Even ethics is controlled by technical thinking, featuring risk-avoiding behaviour by acting cautiously and self-controlled (technical ethics). This comes down to streamlining and correcting the course of technical development, albeit by dealing with symptoms. As a result it becomes almost impossible to change course or to develop real alternatives. The technical mentality is not questioned. We remain imprisoned by current technics. At the back of this is the drive to master our environment by chasing technical artificiality. Humans are seen as captains of a technical world that should bring progress, serve our self-interest (our lifestyle is not negotiable, President Bush, PS) and growing consumption for everybody as an added value (greed). Ecological, human and social contextual values are ignored.
The norms that are rendered by the values of the technical world-image are: effectiveness, efficiency, standardisation, success, safety, reliability, maximum profit, without considering the costs for humanity, environment, society and nature. Material values and norms hold the upper hand.
However, there are increasingly problems that cannot be technically solved: loss of biodiversity (in one generation half of all species have been lost) and sustainability.
The technical world-image also powers current economics, so that economic growth is very one-sided. Sustainability is unattainable in this perspective.
Reality is no more than a set of instrumental values to support the
technical construction we are erecting. Plants and animals are appreciated only in terms of the material values they represent for science and technics.
Heisenberg once said that humankind has become similar to the captain of a ship consisting of such a mass of steel and iron that the ship’s magnet reacts to the ship’s mass of iron rather than to the North pole, so that he is unable to find the right direction.
Empirical turn and post-modernism
Philosophers such as Martin Heidegger (1889-1956) and Jacques Ellul (1912-1994) are aware of these problems but believe that technical development is autonomous i.e. you cannot change it. Post-modernists do not accept this and try to find alternatives by means of practical case studies, which are abstracted from the whole of technical development. They do not pay attention to the structural development of technics or to what the place of technics is or should be in reality. To be sure, the variety in technical situations should be recognised. One should go to the roots of problems by considering not only the general basic structure of technics but also individual developments. There are deep-seated communal developments that influence all cases and which cannot be fathomed by analysing actors. The trend of specialisation means that we know more and more of less and less and become unable to seek a re-orientation of culture, with a different place for technics.
What is to be appreciated in post-modernism is that it emphasises the pole of freedom in the ethos of the Enlightenment rather than the pole of control.
Cosmological and ethical deficits
The preponderance of technical mastery cannot do justice to the plurality of the dimensions and coherence of reality, let alone to its dependence on the divine origin and the transcendental direction of everything.
The ethical deficit is that everything is reduced to useful objects. It is a deficit of love because it does not acknowledge the peculiar nature and uniqueness of things. Animals are seen as producers of utility for people. It should be possible to technically improve people (Sloterdijk).
Enlightening the Enlightenment
The spirit of modernity coincides with a technical development that proceeds without any brakes being applied. A critique of this development implies a critique of the autonomy-postulate of the Enlightenment. It is becoming clear that absolute control and absolute freedom cannot suffice to sustain a culture. In this connection, Kant said that we should have the courage to use our own reason, i.e. to control reality for our ends. Rather than abandoning the ideal of the Enlightenment, given the problems it is causing, one tries to supplement it (Adorno, Horkheimer) with a new ecological ethics and an ethics of guiding the technical system (Hastedt). This amounts to an adaptation of the technical world-image.
Reformational philosophy exerts a fundamental critique of the Enlightenment, its pretence of human autonomy, intellectual hubris and will to power. We should put it in the light of God’s revelation (Ps 36:10) so that we may find a way between technical paradise and technical apocalypse. In terms of Heisenberg’s metaphor, the ship’s captain should orient himself again by the stars in the sky. We live in a created world, in which we fell into sin, but in which redemption has become possible through Christ’s work on the cross.
Getting rid of the cosmological and ethical deficits
The whole of reality should be seen as a created reality which is presented or gifted to science prior to its existence; a reality which in all of its aspects depends on God as the Origin. The most intense relationship between God and His creation is that of love; for God and neighbour. This is the concentration of all motives, values, norms. On it depend all the law and the prophets. This twofold love should be the starting point of an ethics of technics. It includes special attention to all that is weak and vulnerable and a recognition that the cosmos is full of earthly and heavenly mysteries. The contexts of ecological and social values should be acknowledged.
A renewed image of culture
Hans Jonas: seen from the moon our planet appears as a beautiful unique place within a gigantic cosmos. As travellers to the moon we must return to it in order to survive. However, we will also see that the earth is endangered by technical-economic developments.
A responsible development of culture should be based upon the values of a garden that develops into a garden-city in which nature, culture and technics are in balance and in which there is place for all people and for all that lives. They occur within an unbreakable coherence. Humans are not to be lords and masters but rather nurturers, keepers and caterers. They may develop the creation as a precious gift (carefully removing it from its packaging). This leads to cultivating, caring, protecting and harvesting. The earth’s fertility is maintained. The acceleration and trend towards ever larger scales is transformed to a speed and scale that is compatible with the living-together-of humans and creation. As good stewards we should depend on the interest of the capital (the whole cosmos) entrusted to us.
Through Christ’s work of redemption there is a renewed perspective, a healing of a creation marred by the devastation caused by our fall into sin such that the meaning of everything: the kingdom of God keeps beckoning us (Matth 16:26).
An ethics of responsibility
Deontology and teleology are unsuitable for a dynamical and complex modern technics. It is a dynamic system with world-wide effects as a result of science and technology embodied by and pushed by large business corporations (SWE: science, world, economics). There are so many actors involved in this dynamics that the old ethics cannot suffice anymore.
Deontology has led to a pragmatic reinterpretation of former rules. Nor can the fixed objectives of teleology do much good because the means should also be evaluated. An approach based upon “rules of the game” is also inadequate because the rules may be changed. The approaches of deontology and game-theory have resulted in technical ethics.
The way out is an ethics of responsibility. It has its origin in theology (Niebuhr, Barth, World Council of Churches, 1948). Everyone who is involved in the scientific-technical enterprise should respond as one authorised, as a steward. One not only bears responsibility but one must also give an account of oneself: which image of culture and ethos, which norms, values, motives guides one’s actions in the scientific-technical enterprise? This includes the notion of calling, which is a positive notion of how technical possibilities may help those in need. In terms of the garden-city (community house) the issue is how to keep the garden-city fit for living by all.
Renewal of motives
The technical ethos of our time is absolutized power of control (in science: knowledge is power; in technics: what can be made should be made). In industrial agriculture harvesting on the basis of unlimited scientific-technical control results in over-exploitation of rare resources such as fertile soil. A materialistic economic system strengthens these technical powers. The only values served are growth of power, large-scale and concentration.
By contrast, in a sound ethics the criterion of love of God and neighbour means that actors do not serve themselves but their neighbours in need. Their focus is not their own interest, but that of others. This implies a divergence of various cultural manifestations. In science one seeks a growth of wisdom, in technics the emphasis falls on building and keeping; in agriculture on harvesting, nurturing and keeping, in business on proper stewardship, in politics on serving and public justice. Thus culture may begin to flourish.
Science: growing in wisdom
Technical thinking focussed on mastering the world implies that science views the world from the perspective of its being able to be computed and to be forecast even when scientists believe they are merely acting out of curiosity. Given a cultural setting that values the technical above all, science has become technicistic. Only when the Origin is acknowledged and one refuses an instrumental science, will it be possible to work from a right relationship to reality. It should be integrated in the fullness of day-to-day experienced reality. This prevents experiential reality from being distorted by functionalism or reduced to being merely useful for materialistic humanity. This should deepen responsibility for our common garden-city. It should foster inter-disciplinary studies. The basis for technics should be widened, including ecology and economics as basic scientific disciplines.
Technics as prosthesis
Technology should not become an instrument of scientific-technical control.
Invention is the heart of technology. More should be done to stimulate responsible creativity. When technics is appreciated as a prosthesis, humans, individually and communally will remain in charge. No doubt, costs will be higher, but current technology is too cheap.
Ecological values comprise the maintenance of bio-diversity, clean water, air and soil, replenishing and maintaining soil fertility, combatting climate warming.
Technical and economic values comprise: keeping the world habitable, safety, reliability, meeting basic needs of food and health countering threats from nature, fighting disease and suffering, reducing the physical/mental burden of work, etc. Spiritual growth, personal relationships and community are of key importance.
Social values include a sense of community, justice, care, sober-mindedness, strengthening information and communication. Rest, having time and meaningful spirituality seem to be lost values in our technical culture.
Integral framework of norms; simultaneous and many-sided application
Technics should serve a wide variety of life-forms in culture, such that the
garden-city develops properly.
With a good ethos and motivation we should try to steer a proper course. This will be helped by constant checking in terms of normative principles or values, which cover all the relations between technics, humans, nature and society, and the norms concerned.
The framework of normative principles-derived from the philosophical account of structure or cosmology of reformational philosophy (especially its view of 14/15 modes of existence) provides a guide to a responsible technical development. Cultural/historic norms include the norms of effectiveness, harmony between: continuity and discontinuity, large scale and small scale, integration and differentiation, universality and individuality; norms of clear information and open communication; harmony between humans, nature, technics and society; norms of stewardship, efficiency, doing justice to all actors, care and respect for all involved in technical development; service, faith and trust. All this should result in a rich flourishing of culture.
Consequences of a re-orientation of culture
The contrast of the two perspectives outlined so far should not blind us to the fact that they occur together. The technical world-image parasitises on created reality. Hence, there are no rigid dividing lines. Choosing the right direction remains a task, implies a struggle and excludes attitudes of taking things easy. The task of developing the creation (Gen 1:28) should be seen in the context of a garden as a community-house.
Ethical framework of evaluation (checklist)
It is important to set right priorities. Going for high-tech things such as space travel, whilst large numbers of people suffer hunger is wrong.
Modern technics should fit appropriately the actual unique situation of humans, nature, culture and landscape and environment. Often, a lot of damage inflicted could have been prevented by proper care. A combination of extreme poverty in metropoles, and empty rural areas, with high-tech industries, destroys age-old cultures and indicates an inappropriate use of modern technics. We should strive for an appropriate use.
Dangerous waste materials produced by technics should not be acceptable. We are dependent on fragile eco-systems.
Industrial agriculture is causing ever greater problems. This should stimulate biological-ecological agriculture.
Genetic engineering (GE) tends to see plants as pieces of lego. There is no life in the technical model of plants. Hence, GE has many as yet hidden problems. It has unpredictable effects and is possibly irreversible. It should be subject to ethical and juridical controls, with a “no, unless” approach.
Seeing today’s threatening problems and the modest nature of science and technics, we become more creative in finding alternatives such as developing energy from incinerating waste, recycling, renewable energy etc. Research is necessary as to how nuclear wastes can be made safe.
Via politics it should be possible to choose a different direction for both technics and economics, especially in an international context (Amos 5:24). Social policies have led to many improvements over the years. The same could happen with respect to technology.
It should be possible to make business enterprises responsible for damages caused by their technics as part of their societal responsibilities.
Perfection is impossible (Gen 3; thorns and thistles). Eventually, by God’s intervention our disturbed earth will be transformed into a garden-city (Rev. 21:9-22:5), populated by people made free to the glory of being God’s children (Romans 8). This hopeful perspective also entails obligations such that they inspire an ethics different from the present one.
Chapter 4: De uitdaging van de islamitische technologiekritiek (the challenge of islamitic critiques of technology)
Religion is the root of all human functioning. It is not just a variable alongside others such as politics, sport or science. Religion has an integral and radical significance.
Islamic critique of technology has two sources:
Spiritual, peace-loving muslims
Violent, radical ones.
Technics in Islam
Since Mohammed’s death in 632 until about 1200 Islam was strongly influenced by the Greek-Hellenistic world. Islam views science as taking place within a universe created by Allah. This universe shows order, regularity and balance. It is an aesthetic whole. For 500 years philosophy and science flourished, culminating in the Arab civilisation of 9th and 10th centuries. Scientific experiments and technical questions were part of it. Trade was encouraged and provided the basis for a further development of science and technics.
The West owes much to the Arab world for its scientific development. Since the 11th century there is stagnation in Arab lands. Traditionalism and isolation have become key features. Some modern Muslim scholars want to promote modern science and technology, albeit by criticising the Western ethics of technology.
Influence of Western Enlightenment
Similarly, resistance against Western faith in progress remains strong. Islam should give modernisation a moral compass.
Reactions in Islam
There is a fundamentalist group who rejects science, technology and progress, also when advocated by Arab leaders. Hence, terrorists attack Western countries as well as political and economic leaders in their own countries. Others do accept science/technology but wish to do so with a spiritual conviction. These three groups, in their own way, are in conflict with the West. Given its growing Muslim population Europe, will experience increasing cultural tensions.
Foes of the West
Americanism (industrialisation, capitalism, economic liberalism) or mechanistic civilisation destroys cultures, according to Muslims. Globalisation strengthens this cold, rationalistic, soulless machine-based culture. The West lacks spirituality. Western materialism is the Western religion, at war with the worship of the divine spirit, and which, therefore, should be killed off (Occidentalism).
The basis for such terrorism resides within Western culture itself.
Dooyeweerd (1894-1977), one of the founders of reformational Christian philosophy, saw the origin of Western dialectics in the pretence of autonomy of humans, people without God. This leads to an anthropocentric view of the world, without openness to the transcendent God, and in which one seeks self-glorification by means of science and subsequently in technics. Both humans and the world may be fulfilled by means of modern technics. All this has called forth gigantic powers and tensions, with enormous material welfare, but at the expense of freedom and the environment. We are on a volcano that is about to erupt. Absolutised freedom cannot coexist with absolutised order (through science/technology).
Since the Enlightenment the powers of science, technology and economics have been strengthened by prevailing philosophies (positivism, pragmatism and system-thinking). Cultural problems caused by outdated technics should be solved by new technics. On the other hand, the opposite pole of the dialectics has been represented by existentialism, neo-marxism and counter-culture. Each sees human freedom threatened by technology.
Everybody experiences this tension because modern science/technics expands ad infinitum within a finite creation.
Primacy of scientific-technical ideal of control
This pole has the upperhand because it utilises objective cultural powers manifested in systems theory, information technology, computerisation and genetic engineering. Economic powers use these and thereby reinforce their hold over people and society. Most people love the new gadgets and expect even more technical ‘blessings’.
Present dialectics is very serious
The unlimited scientific-technical dynamics has brought massive problems: depletion of raw materials, climate warming; destruction of the natural world, pollution, diminishing human freedom, and growing inequality.
The tensions can erupt any time in severe upheavals. What is new is that the opposition comes from outside the Western world (Islam), but nestles itself in Western culture using an objective cultural power (terrorism) as well as Internet.
Critique of Islamist ideologists
Sayyid Qutb wanted a pure Islam and a destruction of the West. He responded to Western arrogance by Islamic intolerance.
In contrast, Mohammed Iqbal criticises the West from a Muslim perspective: limitless scientific-technological development, financial power of capitalism, inherent economic exploitation, and secularisation: humans are disconnected from Allah and serve idols. Yet, the Unity of Allah remains for him the basis of thinking about science and technology and should be reflected in harmony, justice, equality, solidarity and care for nature and environment.
Mohammed Abdus Salam argues that Allah has put everything in heaven and earth at the service of humans. Muslim scientists should get insights into the world and, hence, in Allah’s plan. Science should be an integral part of human society. For success we should be thankful to Allah. He stresses the importance of the universality of science and technology to promote material welfare. For the right motivation we should go back to the initial period of high Islamic culture, when the torch of science/technics was passed on from generation to generation.
Christian-philosophic critique of technology
Islam identifies Christianity and Enlightenment. To be sure, the latter has Christian roots, but tends to ignore them, increasingly, or opposes them. However, sources within Christianity have critiqued the Enlightenment. The conflict between the ideal of scientific/technical mastery and the ideal of freedom could become catastrophic for a globalising world culture. Western culture is being internally undermined and externally threatened. Habermas (modern Enlightenment philosopher) wants more religion. Huntingdon believes that the collisions between Islam and the West are due to the weakening of Christianity.
Christianity should plead for a transformation of our culture on the basis of a strong conviction. Hans Küng, a Roman Catholic theologian, has advocated a “global ethics”. However, too much attention is focussed on economic issues rather than on the Enlightenment ideals of freedom, science and technology, as drivers of current tensions and problems, and as standing in inner tensions to each other. Values and norms should not be sourced from the technical world image, because it offers no sure direction. This insight is necessary because the technical forms the basis of culture. By seeking technical solutions for problems, new problems are pre=programmed. The high flight of technics asks for an anchor in transcendence. Instead of the technical word image of the Enlightenment we need to be guided by a development of culture from the Biblical image of the garden to a garden-city. In this way Christianity agrees with reformist Islam in its resistance to a materialistic culture.
Reformist Islam and Christianity may together help achieve a paradigm shift (Kuhn)
Kuhn has shown that a crisis in science tends to result in a new paradigm for its further development. In such crises fundamental questions are raised. Would the current crisis offer a possibility for a paradigm shift?
The conflict between industrial and biological-ecological agriculture shows that such a shift may indeed be possible because the former causes more and more problems. Biological agriculture appears to offer solutions, whilst proponents of the former plead for an ecological approach.
The issues raised by climate warming (ever more obvious) might also stimulate alternatives and a change in ethos. However changes will work out, the process will be one of a series of small steps. What have we forgotten? Religions will make a contribution to this process of change. The cultural experiment of the Enlightenment has failed.
The machine-model will have to be replaced by a formation of culture that seeks the protection of life. Technics and science should not destroy life in all of its rich variety, but rather serve it. Despite fundamental objections to Islamic doctrine, which cannot be bridged, there is a common understanding between Islam and Christianity that may help to bring about a change in culture as both may accept the garden-model. Without such agreement (contributed by a lack of faith on the part of Christianity and an absence of reformist Islam), the fight between the pretences of the Enlightenment and Islam will intensify, with increasing Islamic violence. This should make us pessimistic about the future.
Chapter 5: Transformatie van de materialistische cultuur; invloed van de techniek op de economische crisis (transformation of the materialistic culture; the influence of technics on the economic crisis)
Technics as a cultural power
Technics is at the root of many problems of culture and the threats they pose. It should also play a renewing role, both for both present and future.
The powers in our culture: economics, organisation, science, technology etc. can only be powers because of the power of technics.
What is technics?
With the industrial revolution and the advent of the computer we have arrived in a new era. Prior to these events, technics was craft based. There was a variety of technical crafts, which were handed down from one generation to the next. They fitted into society rather than being its master. Some could be used to avert natural threats; windmills, for instance. They were separated from each other.
By contrast, modern technics is strongly influenced by science, meaning that the properties of science are projected into technics. It is rational and universal.
Technics is much more than a means to an end. In order to drive a car you need a technical environment: garages, petrol pumps, roads. Similarly, a computer requires a technical network. Modern technics consists of sets of inter-acting technical networks. It forms the centre of our culture. We are living in a Technical era in a Technical Culture.
Ellul believes that modern technics is autonomous i.e. leads a life of its own, such that we can’t do anything about it. This is wrong. It remains the work of humans who should take responsibility for it. If Technics were neutral, then, humans would only determine the ends. Engineers may say that economists and politicians are responsible for any adverse consequences of the technics they develop. However, humans bear responsibility for their own contribution to culture.
The idea of the autonomy of Technics is understandable, nevertheless, because the system as a whole becomes ever more complex and keeps expanding at an accelerating pace. Many contribute to it, but nobody is able to oversee the whole. Thus, technical development appears to be autonomous. Yet, it should be possible for people to reduce the complexity and the speed of development. Apart from integration you might go for differentiation, whilst speed could be slowed to make sure that humans can live with new technics. This is not easy because so many people are involved. They differ with respect to ethics.
Is Technics ethically neutral?
Often people believe that technics is neutral inasmuch as it can be deployed for either good or evil purposes. This is not true. Modern technics uses up raw materials at an alarming rate and causes irreversible damage to nature.
Traditional crafts could be seen as extensions of our senses, our hands etc. This is not so in modern technics. We are subjected to it.
In an economic crisis we can analyse what bankers, politicians etc. have done wrong. Rarely, however, does one consider the technical structure that forms the basis of modern economics and how it might have contributed to the crisis. Technics may stimulate our greed.
Technics is value-laden, like culture, meaning that it depends on a view of the world, by which we understand who we are, what we believe the world is, let alone God and the spiritual world. Technics always implies possibilities. We choose which. Technics consists of factors and powers that go in a certain direction and only in that direction. Due to the Enlightenment technical development is ethically one-sided. This means also that current Technics has not come about by accident. Westerners have cherished particular values and norms to meet some deep needs.
Views on Technology
Until 1980 there were two main streams: transcendentalists, who were pessimists and hostile to technics, and positivists, who were optimists with a strong faith in technics. Subsequently, there was an empirical turn, meaning that the philosophy of technology became much more orientated to description in the form of case studies of particular problems, which are abstracted from technical development as a whole. The approach lacks an integral view on Technics. One ignores its structural and normative development. More recently, some philosophers are talking about ‘beyond the empirical turn’, with attention being paid to the responsibility of engineers and society as a whole.
Technics controls the development of culture
Usually such responsibility is related to economics. This is understandable given the power of money in our society. The love of money is the source of all evil, as the Bible puts it. Technics and economics in mutual interaction determine the course of culture. A key factor in this is the all-connecting influence of communication and information technics. As computer-technics keeps developing the influence is strengthened. This Technics should be seen in terms of all of its effects: ecological, economic and the crises of modern times. Being in the grip of a faith in Technics one is blinded for its often damaging side-effects. It is a deceiving power.
Technics controls also the economy
Modern economics is unthinkable without Technics. The two together may conspire to endanger our culture. Examples:
1) Bank products devised by means of computers (derivatives) were so complex that bankers did not know what they were trading. This became a major factor in the financial crisis of 2008, when they proved to be valueless. Technics turned air into money, or so one thought. Schinkel has proposed to set up world-wide inter-connected computer systems to prevent a recurrence. However, if national systems could not detect the systemic faults, why would global systems perform any better? This is like casting out the devil by the devil. It would be better if those who designed the products, were to give an account of the criteria they deployed in their designs.
2) In the Euro-crisis weak/sick countries such as Greece were unable to be detached from the Euro. They were too much interwoven with the rest of the Euro-countries. Such inter-connectedness would have been the work of computer-systems.
3) New technics such as robots, 3-D printers, nano-technology, neuro-technology, genetic technology, ICT, replace people, so that unemployment increases. Automatic production keeps increasing despite high unemployment especially of low-and semi-skilled people. The growth of the economy fails to counter this trend because Technical “progress” has been accelerating fast and concerns the economy as a whole (Martin Ford, 2010).
Blind spot for Technics
Despite enormous technical developments: the difference between life at the start of the 20th and that in the early 21st is staggering, and mainly because of technical change in conjunction with ideological, economic, social and political changes. Why does Christian reflection on our culture, even when it is critical, more often than not ignore Technics and focus almost exclusively on economic changes?
The view that technical change is morally neutral plays a key role in this. Yet, the negative features of modern technology outweigh the many positive ones. This should be obvious (environment, climate, depletion of raw materials, food safety, social safety/trust, nuclear energy, health problems, social coherence (individualisation, loss of communal values, increase in sympathy with advancing ICT). As we think positively about technics, we close our eyes to its negatives. If one is critical, one tends to reject technics in its entirety. However, this is wrong as we should appreciate it as a God-given possibility, even a mandate.
Major disasters remind us of the overly-confident Technics: Bhopal, Chernobyl, Fukushima, oil-disaster in Gulf of Mexico. Such disasters are intrinsic to current culture. Technics harbours a devastating potential of huge dimensions. Apparently, the more significant developments of Technics are, the less critical we become.
Great minds did see the dangers: Einstein feared that technical society would run wild and Heisenberg (see above) should be mentioned.
Technics has become all-pervasive. Without it globalisation would be impossible. All human ends become technical ends. Humans adapt themselves to the technical world, which blunts their critical sense. One believes that technical progress means human progress (Enlightenment). As a result we don’t see dangers. Humans become “homeless” (Meier).
Example: the technical pattern of thought incorporated into computers influences the uncritical user. The more “data” the less significance; the more interactions, the less contact; the more information, the less wisdom; the more Internet, the less spirituality. How many social media friends are ready to help you when you face a crisis?
We simply cannot afford not to reflect on Technics, a reflection which may be combined with a critique of (neo-liberal) economics and which is historically based and in its diagnosis offers hope for the future.
What is the all-encompassing cultural paradigm, a framework within which culture develops, in Western culture? How do we get another paradigm?
The technical model of culture
Since Descartes Western thinking has become technical thinking. The laws of mechanics are identical to the laws of nature. Nature is a set of automata, a machine. Once you have discovered its working you can calculate the effects of interference and manipulation.
Example: “we are our brain”: Dick Swaab interprets our brain in analogy of ICT. It shows that the technical model is abstract and, thereby unable to do justice to the coherence and fullness of reality. Indeed, they are reduced. Ray Kurzweil (2003) has stated that when we have a complete model of the brain, we could download it to a computer, meaning that eternal life could be attained as the computer would work in the same way as our brain. It is a massive error of a judgment as a dead thing is compared to eternal life. It means that humans are not seen, anymore, as central, responsibility bearing persons.
Reductions in the technical model of culture
The examples indicate that the real world is interpreted solely as a technical system by humans who apply a technical ethics, with effectiveness and efficiency as key norms. Values and norms are determined by technical possibilities. Ethics and morals are narrowed down. The future is seen as a technical paradise (Drexler, 2013). This view entails huge reductions:
There is no transcendent divine reality.
The immanent world is reduced to the world of the technical image.
This world is just a material world, without any divine mysteries.
Nature is a technical phenomenon which can be improved upon.
Humans are blown up to lords and masters, guided ethically by his own technical will and power.
Both humans and their culture become victims of what they have brought about. Life is threatened.
The Deepwater explosion in a drill hole and resulting fire in the Gulf of Mexico (2010) threatened and killed life for about three months. Fishing and tourism are ruled out in an area as large as the Netherlands. Every new storm releases oil that still lies at the bottom of the sea. It would take $50 billion to clean it up properly. However, that would not eliminate future uncertainties such as indicated by genetically deformed shrimps and crabs which are now found in that sea.
Transformation of the technical paradigm of culture
The garden as desired (preferred) paradigm of culture
In contrast to the death of nature and life, the protection of life should be put into the centre. Science, technics and economics should serve life. A Christian view of the world starts with God as the Creator and Preserver of this world. Humans bear the image of God. Love of God and neighbour should be the central guidelines for all we are responsible for. The future is God’s future: the kingdom of God. Because of sin we are living in a world that is broken. That will be done away with when God Himself through Christ establishes His kingdom. It will be a glorious kingdom full of divine glory, infinitely wide and deep such that its citizens will not be able to get to know it all in eternity.
Why don’t Christians think so little in terms of this view? Perhaps we are more in the grip of the ideas of the Enlightenment than we believe. The Enlightenment should be enlightened by God’s Word.
The Christian biblical view of history implies a model of culture which differs completely from the technical one, which is abstract and marked by death, resulting in reductions, problems and threats.
A model which pays attention to life, for the fullness of reality and the world, should avoid such problems. Genesis 2 suggests a garden-in-development. Through history it ends with a garden-city (Rev. 21). Sure, the fall has brought thorns and thistles and a way that leads to death. Yet, it remains God’s history with a marvellous perspective. Through the cross and resurrection of Jesus it is the perspective of God’s kingdom. In Him culture will eventually, at the end of this age, truly become a garden culture. Instead of thinking-to-control, it will involve thanking-thinking, followed by a serving acting. Thus, the cosmological, anthropological and ethical deficits will be overcome. Technics should serve the life of people, society, plants, and animals. It will enrich life, administer justice and thereby reduce tensions.
Transformation of the materialistic culture
We should not have technical innovations just for the fun of it, because that only confirms the technical model.
Prevailing materialism, by science, technics and economics (for many a basic religious given) appears to be strong. It has caused many problems. Solving them by technical innovations we may make no more than 10% of the whole complex sustainable.
By contrast, the garden-city model is long-term, with given reality accepted in thanks and love as pre-given rather than something to be manipulated. It implies respect for the Owner, humility, wonderment, caution, receptiveness, love for all, disclosure of reality. Threats and problems should be confined to defined boundaries. We should welcome sustainability, although it comes to its own only in a renewed model of culture. Technics should do justice to everything of value (Brey, 2008).
A cultural critique of Technics strengthens critique of neo-liberalism
Technical computer-models of the economy should be integrated into the garden model (garden-in-development). A sound economos (household) will entail care, nurture, charity, and protection, go hand in hand with cultivating, producing and harvesting. There will be a scale and pace which foster the joint life of humans and creation; biological-ecological rather than industrial agriculture. Sustainability concerns not only the interests of future generations but also the protection/preservation/productivity of plants and animals. Bio-fuels should not be grown at the expense of foodstuffs. Keep the fruit-bearing capacity of the earth intact (Daly). Good stewardship maintains the given natural capital, also by recycling of wastes.
Politics and technics
GDP should be complemented with an indicator of well-being. Monetary transactions (national and international) should be based on computer models that have a clear understandable structure.
There are signs that there is a beginning of moves towards a garden model (greens, attempts to tackle climate warming, moves towards biological-ecological agriculture, etc.).
The ‘new’ engineer
Some examples that appeal to me as an ex civil engineer: a dam that closed the Easter Scheldt estuary, but which had openings to allow tides to move in and out so as to preserve its unique ecology and bio-diversity. Also an ecological suburb in Stockholm where all cars are parked underground and cars leave the suburb, in part, through tunnels.
Instead of large global banks, small-scale banks (Small is beautiful, Schumacher).
Chapter 6: Mens en Techniek; een uitdagende geschiedenis (Humans and Technics; a challenging history)
We are in the midst of a second technical revolution: bio-nano-neuro-ICT-technics. Even cyborgs (amalgamation man and machine).
We should think against the grain from the viewpoint of a Christian-philosophic cosmology, anthropology and ethics. This should do justice to the relationship of technics and philosophy. It should challenge our human responsibility.
History of technical tools
As humans we have been using tools since the earliest times. Using tools means that certain human functions are transferred or objectivised in tools. This makes things easier for us. The combination of science and technology to control our environment has accelerated this development. Just think of cybernetics as a way of regulating and controlling by means of machines i.e. information technics. Humans are more and more removed from the actual process and confined to the design of technics (scientifico-technical), although even in this phase machines play a role. The computer has initiated a completely new stage of development.
Computers themselves have developed from massive machines to micro-chips. Soon we may have bio-and quantum computers. They accelerate technical development. 3D printers mean that more and more one can make things individually rather than by assemblage in factories. The field of application appears to be unlimited.
Artificial intelligence is incorporated in robots (their heart is a computer) which receive information not only through programmed data, but also from sensors in artificial organs. A robot can learn from its own experience. Through automatically working robots human capabilities are incredibly enhanced.
Explosive technical development
Since 1980 our daily life has been affected by personal computers as well as by genetic, nano and neuro-technics. One of the latest is Google-Glass. It can be helpful, for example, by reminding us of somebody’s birthday. However, how about meeting somebody, via Google-Glass, who knows through Internet our personal history? Would we not become suspicious? Would we experience a real meeting? (Sherry Turkle: Alone Together).
Will the distinction between human beings and machines disappear entirely?
Nano-technics allows us to manipulate atoms such that they form conglomerates with properties that differ substantially from those of the natural conglomerates of the same atoms. We don’t know what effects they have when they enter into our bodies. We are making a new ‘nature’. There are unknown risks in this. This technic may affect life because it can also change DNA. Genetic material from one species can be built into the DNA of another one. Nano robots (very tiny ICT instruments) can be inserted into the blood stream, acting like a mini-lab to measure various properties and, depending on results, make corrections. The human spirit may be changed as well, for example by implanting chips into the brain, so that nerve cells get attached to electrodes. By means of such neuro-implantations nano-bio-information-and neuro-technics all come and work together along with the sciences involved. “Deep-Brain-Stimulation” could correct certain neurological behaviours like Parkinson disease or initiate them (changing our identity). Similarly, “Brain-Computer-Interface” technics help to overcome deafness, lack of eyesight and movement problems. Brain cells may direct the course of a mini-robot.
Attaching electrodes to nerve cells is practised already in research laboratories. This opens the way to implant technics into living brains: hybridisation of technics and spirit, with a possibility of mutual interaction. The identity of human beings may be changed. Is this ethically permissible?
The boundary between humans and machines is deleted or abolished. However, this is thinking under the aegis of imperialistic technical thinking or thinking in technical categories, without any awareness of the reductions this entails. Sure the technics may help the lame, the crippled, the deaf and the blind. It may also impoverish life by taking away people’s own responsibility and turning them into instruments.
Reflecting on the relationship of people and technics
The Reformation inspired people to view new technics as a gift from God to be used to His glory. However, this thinking has been overshadowed increasingly by the Enlightenment which used Reason to answer questions about the origin, meaning and future of human life. Science and technics have become a way of salvation (Mutschler). One sees nature as a set of forces which can be calculated and manipulated, a complicated machine. The image of the world became a mechanical image. At present we refer to a technical world image, because technics encompasses more than mechanics.
Descartes saw humans as machines, although he left space for a spirit in the machine. Philosophers following him called this speculation. De la Mettrie (1709-1751) argued that the whole of man was a machine. Nowadays people often see a human as an information processing system. In reverse, computers are ascribed, increasingly, human functions. The technical view of humans means that humans and machines are easily seen as almost identical. American philosopher Dennett says: “there is not much difference between a human and a robot”. A human is a wet robot, made of flesh and blood instead of silica and steel. Human consciousness is the result of physical material processes.
Gleanings from the history of the philosophy of technology
Ernst Kapp is the first philosopher of technology: man is a technical mechanism with a spirit. Tools are extensions of human functions. Put in terms of our days: the computer is an unconscious projection of the human brain. However, technics is more than projections of human functions. Technical inventions are made under God’s law which applies to the whole of the creation. Nuclear reactors, for instance, do not fit into Kapp’s scheme. Many technical inventions are inspired by natural examples. Slowly descending drones were inspired by jellyfish floating in the sea.
Man is a predator with a will to power (Nietzsche) who fights nature with his technics. Tragically, we succumb to our own technics. Culture is destroyed by technics.
What we lack as humans must be supplemented by technics (Gehlen). Modern technics should be seen from the perspective of evolution.
One of the founders of modern information theory wrote “God and Golem Inc.” Around 1580 Rabbi Löw in Prague made a homunculus of clay, which could be made alive by magic sayings. Wiener said that the machine is the modern golem, especially the self-learning and self-reproducing machine. Such a machine is God’s co-worker. God, humans and machines are all seen from the same technical perspective. God, therefore, is also an information processing machine! It is an image of God forged by technics. Man would lose in a race with machines. He becomes a gadget-worshipper. To prevent this Wiener stresses the responsibility of humans. Cyborgs should do what is degrading for humans.
As machines (computers/robots) are appreciated increasingly as human, we can read in a paper: robot says no (i.e. refuses access to an immigrant).
Information theory and computer theory should enable the making of a complete rational analysis of our mental capabilities. Mental functions include all forms of processing information. In principle this makes computers and humans identical. They have the same information processing structure. There is no such thing as an unexplainable rest of the human mind. Affection, anxiety etc. are due to the complex nature of the human machine, but in the final analysis they are physical concepts. Machines may well surpass humans. Human “freedom” is an apparent problem. Steinbuch is a believer in the power of technics to cast mountains into the sea.
Present philosophers of technics
They are all materialists, who think of people as machines and entertain great expectations of future computers. They continue working in Nietzsche’s line of will to power of a super-human and believe that evil can be overcome by computers and ignore history’s lesson of technical tyranny and the major disasters it has caused.
Peter Sloterdijk (S)
S. rejects ethics as a boundary for technics. We should not tame humans but rather grow them according to criteria developed by a specialised elite of philosophers (Plato, Republic). We need a reserve of humans. It is silly to call on God. Man should be for man a higher power (Nietzsche). This requires pre-natal selection and an elimination of unsuitable elements. S. is a super-humanist. Technics should be the guideline for ethics. S. over-estimates technical possibilities.
Being in the post-Darwin era we should accept that humans should be upgraded by means of nano-technics, genetic technics and an integration of computers and human body. New technics should overcome all diseases, feed everybody and conquer space. Soon it will be possible to upload the whole human mind on a better substratum than the human body. Humankind will coalesce with the computer e.g. by chips implanted in the brain we can become part of the Internet. Eventually we should be able to reconstruct the whole cosmos. We will be gods.
Jos de Mul
With ICT we have arrived in a new stage of human evolution which will emerge in a new human lifeform: a superman continuously connected to the Internet. Homo Sapiens 2 (we) should be replaced by Homo Sapiens 3. Humans are technical constructions. De Mul’s thinking is technical thinking. Future robots will have a free will. In a science-fiction book De Mul imagines that a human will marry a robot. He reduces the full reality of daily life to an abstract technico-scientific material construct.
From a Christian point of view this is unacceptable. We should not reject wonderful new technics, but be fully responsible for them, since we live in a world created by God, disturbed by us and redeemed by Christ. We should use them to serve people and society. Such a normative approach is absent from De Mul’s. Are we not able, from his perspective, to create a Frankenstein monster (think of unsafe nuclear reactors)? De Mul can think of risks and uncertainties such that an evolutionary future race will have no option but to eradicate current humanity.
Verbeek is much more modest than De Mul. He wants to develop an ethics of technics which allows a responsible mixing of humans and technics. Morals and technics should move together. In the Enlightenment we shifted the source of ethics from God to humans. Now we should shift it from humans to technical things. Technologies are morally laden. Technics are moral mediators.
He is right inasmuch as new technics call for a positivising of norms on the basis of established values. However, Verbeek wants that new technics prescribe a new ethics. Technical actors possess hybrid freedom and hybrid intentionality. But how could things have “intentional” freedom? Verbeek is captured by scientific-technical abstract thinking such that we surrender to the power of technics and lose our responsibility for technics.
The philosophers discussed (apart from Verbeek) have great expectations of the latest technologies and little appreciation of any possible (major) problems. They are rather optimistic given their materialistic outlook combined with the hubris of scientific-technical thinking. It is reductionist as it is abstracted from the fullness of reality. They are thinking technologically, as technology is the abstract scientific approach to reality. Technics is part of day-to-day reality (empirical). The philosophers discussed pretend to talk about the latter, but actually do so within the confines of a scientific technical mode. Such thinking deforms reality.
Can computers think?
The mathematician-philosopher Alan Turing (1950) believed that computers can think. If both people and computers answer yes/no questions (both being invisible) such that one cannot see whether computers or people provided the answers, then, the question is resolved positively. However, Turing assumed that both people and computers were information processing machines. Human thinking may be completely formalised.
The question itself stems from Enlightenment thinking: man is a machine and, therefore, is computero-morph. Yet, there is no computer-as-such. Every one of them is made or programmed by humans.
We should not talk about thinking computers. Instead, they should be seen as tools.
What computers and robots are unable to do
Creativity cannot be transferred to computers or robots. Creativity seeks a strategy to achieve something. Computers can help with the tactics.
Every human has access, often intuitively, to what is essential, because we can say I, from our spiritual centre (heart). This is not given to computers. The computer functions subjectively in the physical-chemical and spatial modes of life, but objectively in all others, and in which humans function subjectively: choosing what is new, acting economically, aesthetically, pursuing justice, caring, loving, trusting and believing. Vision, wisdom, love, empathy can never be taken over by machines.
Christian-philosophic anthropology may be called upon against wrong expectations and hypostasising of technics. Humans are far more than a physical structure. Humans are an intertwinement (enkapsis) of a physical structure, a biotic structure, a psychic structure and the human act structure. The ‘I’ is beyond analysis. I will, think, believe. In the Bible this I is related to the image of God. From the heart are the issues of life (Proverbs 4:23). Scientific-technical thinking cannot see this. How can humans expect a human future if they are conceived of as machines themselves? Of course, technics may be interwoven with humans through prostheses.
We should not allow any change in human DNA. The integrity of the human body should be beyond technical interference. Human freedom should limit thinking. Many philosophers of technology do not worry about freedom or responsibility. In their way of thinking humans are already victims of technical thinking (limitless scientific mastery).
In a christian-philosophic approach the freedom and responsibility of people should be in the forefront as a safeguard against the mis-use of technics. The secret of human creativity means that humans are always able to think of something technically new. We need an ethics of responsibility.
Genetic engineering was discussed at political level and led to restrictions being imposed. Modification within species (cis-genesis) is increasingly accepted. Almost everybody rejects engineering of reproduction. Using own stemcells is accepted, but obtaining stemcells from human embryos is subject to conflict between political views. If existing human cells could be brought back to the stage of undifferentiated stem cells, that would be ok, as it would help to cure many diseases. Many reject cloning, rightly, because it involves the whole human being.
Anthropo-technics should be considered very critically, especially when they involve the whole of the human being or interfere with the spiritual identity of humans.
Robots may be a problem because they might be so complex that they cannot be controlled and could even multiply themselves. Genetics, nano- and robotica are very powerful 21st technics. They should be subject to political controls. They are capable of causing new major accidents or could be used by terrorists, who could also do nasty things with nuclear wastes.
Critical reflection should be directed at the opening up of creation, the glory of God and the well being of all people and the protection of non-human life forms.
This is a mockup. Publish to view how it will appear live.