Sunday, February 18, 2018

Tech and Science: Have They Become One?

One more excerpt from Mere Science and Christian Faithnow available. 
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When teaching my Science and Religion class, I start by presenting key definitions, move
to Ian Barbour’s four-part typology for relating science and religion, examine the critical historical figures (Copernicus, Newton, Galileo, Darwin, Scopes, Collins, Dawkins, and so on), move into scientific and theological methods, and discuss how the Big Bang relates to the teaching about God’s creation of the world. During these lectures the class listens pleasantly and occasionally interacts with me. When I move on to nanobots, Kurzweil’s singularity, Ex Machina and The Matrix, the future of technology, and whether Skynet is possible, the students begin to sit up in their seats. They achieve the highest level of engagement for academic life in California: they “share.” They have much more to say here, or at least they believe they do. Technology fascinates in a way that pure science does not.

Why this shift? For emerging adults, technology is ubiquitous. They are digital natives. And even though I grew up about five miles from where Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs created the prototype of the Apple I on Sunday, June 29, 1975, I’m not a digital native. In fact, here’s a confession: the first time I typed on a computer was in graduate school. (When I offer my students that tidbit, the looks are priceless.) So, since technology has had an enduring presence in the lives of eighteen- to thirty-year-olds, it’s reasonable to conclude that technology and social media have significantly affected their psychological development and human flourishing. Technology and its use has had a massive import on their spiritual lives.

Even more significant, there’s a perception factor: These digital natives gravitate toward discussions of technology because they sense the presence of pressing life issues, whereas they often perceive “science” as heady and abstract. When I say that I study “religion and science,” I often get the response, “Oh that’s not for me. I’m not that brainy.” But it’s different when I ask students to think about whether being “wired in” to a smartphone produces anxiety, how virtual community affects “real” relationships, and so on. My experience is that emerging adults tend toward pragmatism over theoretical speculation over a question such as, “Does quantum physics offer a place for divine action?” It doesn’t resonate.

Purists want to distinguish science from technology. While I’m sensitive to the differences, I don’t believe this strategy works. Simply put, eighteen- to thirty-year-olds have only known a technologically saturated world. Therefore technology must be prominent in any discussion with them involving scientific and theological method, interactions with evolutionary biology, cosmology, and the like.

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