Thursday, February 07, 2019

New Topics in Science and Religion: Contours of What's to Come

I’m fascinated by the future. Often I’m trying to discern the contours of what’s to come. And so I’ve asked friends who seem to know, “What do you think are the top ten topics to come in science and religion?” 

Before I get to the list, I heard one as-yet under appreciated answer: Big Data. This reality, 
“extremely large data sets that may be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions,” 
exists and, in some ways, describes billions of human beings. It's also the religious significance of this new reality bequeathed to us by the power of computing.

Admittedly, the presence of Big Data doesn’t have the directness of creation and evolution (How do we read Genesis 1-3 as authoritative revelation and take in human evolution?) or astrobiology (If there is life on other planets, what does that mean about God’s coming in a human being to save the world?). And yet, with a moment’s reflection, if you’re one of the 250 million or so smart phone users in the U.S., then we realize that little seven ounce device tracks us and records us and presents a data picture of who we are.

And some promote Big Data as the scientific cutting edge.
“Data is the new science. Big Data holds the answers.”Pat Gelsinger, Chief Executive Officer of VMware
Frankly, I’m just beginning to reflect on this topic. Still, I can imagine that Big Data raises at least three issues: 1) How do we as human beings conceive of the sheer volume of information? What tools do we need to help us manage these teraflops of information about us? 2) What should we do with this information? Who’s is it? This is especially tricky ethical question with healthcare. If my genetic information, for example, might lead a health care insurer dropping me from my coverage, do they have a right to know? 3) How do we cope with the “roving eyes” on us at all times? How does the Eye of Big Data relate to the omnipresence of our God? Does this give us comfort, concern, or some mix of both? Should information ever be discarded, especially that reveals our sin and separated from us “as far as the east is from the west”? (Psalm 103:12)
So what are the other nine? Here’s how I’d finish out my top ten (in some kind of loose,
descending order). The way to read this like could be “Finish the phrase ‘Religion, Science, Technology and Their Relationship to…”
  1. Artificial Intelligence and Transhumanism
  2. Climate Change
  3. Sexuality, especially Same-Sex Attraction and Gender Identity
  4. Evolution and God’s Creation (which will always be with us)
  5. Neuroscience and the Cognitive Science of Religion
  6. Genetics, especially Technologies like CRISPR cas9
  7. Astrobiology, Extraterrestrial Life
  8. Medicine, especially End of Life and Reproductive Technology
  9. Race
What do you think? What would you add?

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