God in Technology

I am reading an absolutely FANTASTIC book called What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly. It might, however, be better titled “Where technology is headed,” or even “Technology is biology.” One of the big arguments of the book is that technology, as a product of humans’ highly developed biological brains, can be seen as part of biological development. 

After all, plenty of animals create “technologies”: apes use sticks to scoop up insects from anthills, thrushes use rocks to crack open snail shells, and corals create their own environments. These developments are part of their biological development. Therefore, human technologies, from flint arrowheads to classical music, to the iPad, could also be considered part of our biological development. The vast network of human-made technologies are part of the vast network of life.

I have to admit that I’m a little less than half of the way through this book–it’s long and dense, and my attention span these days is pathetically short. But so far, my thoughts about this book have been tending in a certain direction. Although the book never mentions God, except to gently dismiss the necessity for God in the process of evolution, I can’t help but see God peeking through everything Kelly says. Probably not his intention, but  there we are.

First of all, Kelly does a fantastic job of describing human evolution and our technological advancement. In brief (and I hope I get this right), human-like apes developed in Africa. Some left Africa and became Homo erectus (in Asia) and Homo neanderthalis (in Europe). All three of these groups used very basic tools–rocks for hitting things, mostly. But then, something changed among the Homo sapiens in Africa, and they began developing far more sophisticated tools and spread out from Africa to the rest of the habitable world. Their biology did not change, but their technology did. One of the foremost theories on why this suddenly happened, Kelly writes, is that at this point in their development, Homo sapiens invented language. Language allowed them to communicate far more complicated thoughts and plans to one another and to pass them down through generations, thus allowing them to develop higher technologies and to adapt to different climates.

All of this reminded me of C. S. Lewis’s Miracles, in which he gave a fascinating view of how Christianity fits in with evolutionary theory. Lewis suggested that humans developed evolutionarily, and then at a certain point, God gifted them with the ability to make moral/ethical decisions, and at that point, the door was open for the Fall of Man and for humans to be moral or immoral creatures. What Kelly says about language is that it allows the human mind to know itself. Language allows for metacognition. And I would think that it would also allow, therefore, for ethical thought. “Was what I did right or wrong?” That’s an example of the mind knowing itself. Therefore, mixing Lewis and Kelly, it might be that language was the tool God used to allow humans moral thought. After all, “In the beginning was the Word”–logos in Greek, which means both word and reasoning: the word in the mind, which is thought.

Another point where Kelly probably didn’t want me thinking about God but I was anyway is in the chapter I am currently on (6 out of 14–I told you I had a short attention span!). Basically, Kelly is pointing out that the steps which evolution had to take to produce self-replicating life and the complexity of organisms were so unlikely as to seem impossible, and yet they happened–and in some cases, happened multiple times in the process of evolution. Kelly asserts,

DNA did have to self-organize. By far the most remarkable think about this potent nucleus of life is that it put itself together. The most basic carbon-based ingredients [of life] are readily available in space, and even in pools on planets. But every abiotic condition (lightning, heat, warm pools, impact, freezing/thawing) we have tried as a stimulus to organize these Lego-like building blocks into the eight component sugars that make up RNA and DNA has failed to generate sustainable amounts of them. All the known pathways to creating just one of these sugars–ribose (the R in RNA) are so complicated they are difficult to reproduce in the lab and (so far) unthinkable as existing in the wild. And that is just for one of eight essential predecessor molecules. The necessary–and potentially contradictory–conditions to nurture dozens of other unstable compounds toward self-generation have not been found.

Yet here we are, so we know that these peculiar pathways can be found. At least once. But the supreme difficulty of simultaneous improbable pathways working in parallel suggests that there may be only one molecule that can negotiate this maze, self-assemble its scores of parts, self-replicate once birthed, and then unleash from its seed the head-shaking, eye-popping, mind-blowing variety and exuberance we see in life on earth. . . . The challenge is finding one that does all that and can make itself, too. So far, there are no other contenders even close to offering that kind of magic. This is why Simon Conway Morris calls DNA “the strangest molecule in the universe.” (116-17)

I think Kelly may forgive me for saying that sounds a hell of a lot like God reaching into the world to make DNA.

If we combine this view of God as the God of Nature with Kelly’s brilliant observations about the continuity between nature and technology, we can see the place of human inventiveness in God’s world. Tolkien said that in world-building fantasies, humans become sub-creators, making their own worlds (albeit on a smaller scale) as God had made us and our world. In the same way, God, the fountain of life, created a life that could create through replicating itself, so life is in God’s image. Then He made humans, whom he gave language so that they could know themselves and reason and think in moral terms, and thus He made humans in his own image, and gave us the natural ability to create through reproduction. However, through language God also gave us the ability to create everything in culture that we have created: architecture, mathematics, ballet, the internet. In ALL our creations, we are subcreators, mirroring our Creator.

I read a fantastic book on eschatology once, though I have regrettably lost the title and author. However, it suggested that the New Creation would still preserve many of the great human creations we had in this life. “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.” (Rev. 21:23-24) The author suggested that the great treasures of the world, such as the Mona Lisa, will continue to exist in the New Creation, just as we will.

Our creations, our inventions, our artistic endeavors, our discoveries are a part of the natural world and a part of our eternal work as subcreators: our contribution to the New Creation. Paradise in Eden was a garden: a melding of nature and human/divine intervention in the randomness of that nature. Our eternal Paradise is likely to be much the same.

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