Craig M. Gay - "Modern Technology and the Human Future"
12:10AM Jul 8, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
Today it's our distinct pleasure to be speaking with Dr. Craig M. Gay author of the text that we'll be discussing today, Modern Technology and the Human Future: a Christian Appraisal, and Professor of interdisciplinary studies at Regent College in Vancouver. Dr. Gay, thank you so much for being with us today. My pleasure, Dr. Gay as we begin, you confront the dark potential of in the rise of technology. If I can read just a sentence from your book on page two, you write modern technologies have unquestionably increased productivity, making new material freedoms possible but they have also seemed to undermine the prudence we require to exercise these freedoms wisely and judiciously. What led you to write this book?
Well, the book comes out of a longtime Standing interest that I have had in
trying to understand
where we are and what's going on.
I, when I use a single word to describe that interest, I use the word modernity. But my job is as Professor of interdisciplinary studies at Regent College has basically been trying to help students to understand where we are in what's going on.
And technology obviously, comes up.
Now, more specifically, the book
arose out of a course that I've been teaching at Regent college for quite a number of years. I was trying to remember for how long but it's been at least 10 called Christianity and modern technology.
And I think the book also
has risen just because I become concerned myself about where our technology G's are
seem to be taking us.
So personal interest also figures into this.
Let me see if I can just ask
a curiosity question. What do you see is the most significant technological innovation of your lifetime?
That was a great question. I thought about that.
I think if you expand my lifetime just a little bit, maybe extend it back to around 1950.
I'd have to say that
it's the advent of the digital computer
in which I have forgotten Exactly. You know, how this is dated.
But even more specifically, and this is definitely within my lifetime, is the advent of the microprocessor. And then following on from this, the networking of digital computers,
it's very clear from your book, that You are concerned about the potential abuse of technology. Was there any particular moment in your own development where this heightened concern became awakened?
No, I don't think so. It's it's I mean, I can't remember any specific event or time.
It's just it's just been a feeling I've had, especially probably over the last 10 or 15 years, but the impact of I mean, if anything, it's been the experience of raising kids in this new world of digital technology and screens and iPhones and you know, and so forth.
And the challenges that that's posed,
but no, nothing, no single event that I can point to great. Dr. Gate.
You speak throughout the book of the quote, automatic machine technologies, would you be willing to help us understand precisely what you mean by By dispraise
I don't know that it's the best phrase.
I use the word machine in the sense that these are technologies and systems that take advantage of modern science and modern scientific findings to very carefully
adjust means to ends.
And these are systems that
in a sense use nature, including human beings to accomplish human purposes. Now, the word automatic a, is just simply says that the machines and machine systems have been designed and developed to function automatically, which is simply to say, unimpeded, as much as possible by human frailty and Human failing. And what this means in practice today is that these are machines and machine systems that have been augmented, and amplified by digital digital computers.
Dr. K, is modern
technology merely a tool. And by that I mean a tool by which we can do good or evil, a tool by which we can cause life to flourish or be diminished. Whereas modern talk technology inherently bent towards good or evil outcomes. What's your view?
Yeah, no, that's a good question.
I'm going to I'm going to bend it in a slightly different direction.
And this is the sort of the line I take in the book, and I'm following. While I cite the philosopher Martin Heidegger,
but also others
who have argued that the essence of modern technology is not really technology per se, but but rather it. It's an outlook. It's a way of being in the world, in which we imagined the world as a kind of vast machine comprised of objects, or quite literally, of stuff that we are free to put to use, as we see fit. And within this worldview, we we do talk about good or evil outcomes. But how the words Good and Evil are defined is basically up to us. The terms are simply relative to human desiring and to the human exercise of power. And, I mean, I think that's a big problem. It seems to me that before we can even begin to realize Answer the questions about the development and use of modern technologies that we're going to need to begin from within an entirely different way of being in the world. One that understands the world as a creation that is not ours to simply use and re engineer as we see fit, but rather as a creation that has been given to us to love and to steward. Now, so long as we continue to view the world as simply stuff, as
stuff that we are free to use,
and so long as we continue to believe that we,
well, we can use this stuff that we find in the world more or less as we see fit. I don't think will stand much of a chance. of redirecting modern technology to more humane and fruitful ends. Now put some differently. I think we stand, no chance of being able to satisfactorily answer the kinds of questions currently being put to us in respect to modern technological development unless we first know where we are, who we are, and the kinds of people that God desires us to become.
So that's how I would spend that question.
It's really a question more about us than it is about the technologies
So what I hear you saying and please correct me or help redefine this. What I hear you saying is that it will be impossible for us to use technology morally from a materialistic worldview? Am I am I oversimplifying your position.
Um, yeah, I mean, I'd have to think about just how to condense that sentiment down to the least possible number of words, but our development of modern technology emerges out of a worldview out of out of a way of seeing the world and of seeing ourselves within the world.
real and meaningful correction to
modern technological development is
I think, is going to need to come from a fundamentally different way of seeing the world and of viewing the human human purposes within the world. Now, yes, it's true.
I would reject materialism along the lines, it's not a word I use
very often, but
certainly a world that is closed to
to God is is is not
is not one that I think will fruitfully enable us to answer any of these questions, especially about, you know, good and evil.
Dr. Gay in your book, you note that, quote, modern technology has by and large developed within the matrix of capitalism, you stated on page 81. What does this reality say about the rule that modern technology should or should not play in in Christian life?
Well, I mean, I, I was thinking about this.
Let me just say a couple of things. I think it tells us in the first instance,
that we ought to be skeptical of what
Albert Boardman who was the fellow I cite in the book Cause the promise of technology to improve the quality of our lives. Of course, that's that's a promise that we hear a lot about.
And, of course, it might be true.
Some of the technologies might improve the quality of our lives. But of course, this this promise is usually made by people who stand to profit from our use, and consumption of their products.
And it's just, you know,
I think we need to take this with a grain of salt.
I think it also tells us that the entire drift of modern technological development is is not necessarily toward making the world a better place. Again, it might in certain respects, I mean, it has I mean, there's no
no argument about that,
in many respects, but modern technology jiZ are designed, developed and deployed primarily to make money. Full stop.
that's why people devote themselves to doing this work. For the most part, I mean, there are always exceptions to that. But and that just that's just something to keep in mind.
I guess, to summarize that sentiment, the word to Christians would simply be
behind the modern technological system.
Dr. Gaya, I find that technology of technological optimist, very helpful. I do not identify as a technological optimist. That is one who thinks that technology is going to fund improve the fundamental human condition. And yet of course, technology has lots of applications that we do us all the time. What do you make of this language technological optimism or pessimism?
Well, I don't like it. I mean, I don't think it's very useful.
I mean, I don't like the terms optimism and pessimism, I don't think they're there. They're not Christian terms. They don't express Christian sentiments.
I, you know,
my own sense is that we're, and I borrow this phrase from my friend Jim Packer, who said that Christian ethics is always about making the best of a bad situation. And, you know, I think that's the situation we're in were obviously grateful for many of the technologies and technological systems that we are in, involved in and then surrounded by,
but at the same time, more We're aware that
things can always be made better.
I mean, I it seems to me that that's the question how can we use these these systems and technologies and devices and so forth,
genuinely improve the quality of life
and not to diminish it.
And the other concern in the book is that we're by and
large, inadvertently allowing our devices to diminish the quality of our lives. And I mean, I suppose where the the the idea of technological optimism plays in here is that people
that these new technologies
Yes, they appear to be diverging away from ordinary embodied human being But that's just the next phase in evolution, and that we will adapt to this, and that new possibilities and prospects will open up as we as we do as we do adapt. And there's a kind of optimism built into that view, which I don't share. I mean, I think No, I mean that why would Why would we do that great.
Dr. Gay one of the the critical parts of your argument, if I if I understand your book correctly, is that the diminishment of life is one of the chief accusations that you bring against at least the application of modern technology. How is it that you differentiate between diminishment and change or reshaping some form of more neutrally stated reshaping? So one could say that certainly modern technology, the prevalence of the screen etc, is changing our literacy is it is it destroying our literacy or replacing it with another form of literacy? Is technology diminishing our lives or simply reshaping our lives. How do you argue for your view, sir?
No, I mean, those are great questions. And I, I don't have great answers for them. I mean, I think there is research being done and then research that has been done about the differences for example, how we take information in on screens over and against how we take information in, in text form. As far as I understand, the research seems to indicate that we that it's better for us in terms of thought and retention, to read words and take information in as text We just don't, we don't process things in the same way. And, and and as deeply when we when we do this on screen. I don't know. I mean, that research is ongoing. The fulcrum that I use for my argument is and then the end, the terms I use are embodied, human, ordinary, embodied human being.
Because it seems to me that
the Christian religion places a very high value for a number of very good and substantial reasons on ordinary embodied human beings. This is face to face interaction in real time,
in real, actual places.
And so that's where I, I would argue that we ought to use our technologies to enhance that experience
and not today. diminish it. Dr. Gates, the Christian doctrine of the incarnation, that is that God's Son, Jesus Christ became a flesh and blood man for the sake of our salvation that must inform the Christian perspective on modern technology. How in your view, is the Incarnation shape our understanding of modern technology?
Well, I mean, this ties into what we were just talking about, that the doctrines of the Incarnation
and the resurrection
are, I was, I was looking at synonyms to use here enormous, resounding, unambiguous, endorsements of embodied human being.
affirm that it is and that it will continue to be in ordinary embodied relationships with each other and with creative nature, that human beings will Be and will become most fully themselves.
I mean, that's, that's basic gospel theology.
I mean here again, whatever we use our technologies for we ought to use not only our technologies, but our energies, our imaginations, our capacity for innovation. We ought to use all of these things to enhance ordinary, embodied, human being, which is to say, to render our experience of ourselves of each other, have created nature, more real, more vivid, more more engaged. That, it seems to me is that follows from the Christian affirmation of the Incarnation and the resurrection.
Dr. Gay. This is on the side, I was speaking with one of my students I teach at Moody Bible Institute. And I was recently speaking with one of my young students. And I was talking about how the I thought I was waxing eloquent on how the Incarnation must affect the way that we as Christians deal with technology. And my young students said, Oh, I get it. So just as Jesus Christ came down, and entered into our world and met us where we're at, so we, as Christian missionaries need to go where people are at which is online. What it kind of took my breath away that someone would interpret the the Incarnation from that point of view, what should I have said to my student? Well,
I don't know. I'd have to think about that.
I mean, it's interesting, I think, to just to remember that That isn't what Jesus did. That isn't what
that isn't what God does. Now. in
in in Christ in the Holy Spirit.
experiences that most often have the
largest impact upon us are real experiences with real people in real time, they're in flashed.
you know that the
the fact that the risen Christ returns to encounter is his disciples in the flesh prior to the ascension.
And of course he promises to return in the flesh.
You know that this? This has implications this isn't just
all yeah, that that happened but it doesn't really matter. No, it happened and it does matter. And I think it matters
in precisely this
sense of encouraging us to see how best to relate to each other. And I mean, I think it's probably true that
we can take the gospel online we can It is true that more and more people are spending more and more of their time online and in a virtual environment.
I think it's probably not a bad idea that we that we try and reach people in that environment in some way. But my sense would be that the purpose of doing that would be to call them out, back out of virtuality and back into
Dr. Gay What is your view of online education should seminaries and colleges Christian seminaries and colleges be doing This?
Well, I mean, the answer is,
probably. I mean, we do we do at region college. And I think it's probably on balance a good thing that we do. But I think we should never make the mistake of thinking that
online education is as good as education that happens.
Face to face
in real places in real time.
Now, of course, this isn't this isn't to say that the standard lecture model, you know, where professors are set up in front of the classroom and well, the phrase is where professors pitch and students catch.
It's not to say that that's ideal.
But I think there are things that happen in places in real time and in face to face real relationships that simply cannot be replicated online. Anyway. So I mean that my main point is to say, yes, but it but it's a kind of, it's always a kind of second best. And whenever we can we ought to encourage students and, and each other to encounter each other in in
face to face relationships.
Dr. Gay What about virtual reality churches? Some of our viewers might think that I'm joking, but it's not a joke. Some churches now exist entirely in virtual reality. And I anticipate that this is something that only the early adopters are even thinking about right now, but give it a decade or two and this may become more of a genuine controversial question. What's your view on virtual reality church?
Well, I'm a little more unequivocal
about this. So I think this is a disaster.
What are the reasons for
that it's too much trouble to actually meet together that we'd rather stay, quote, in the comfort of our own homes, unquote, as they say, I mean, I just I can't.
I mean, I can imagine
wanting to do this for the sake of people who, for a variety of reasons cannot come to church.
But I don't think that's the case for most of us.
You know, and I think if we're going to put the word virtual in front of the word church, then I would say that we're going to need to remember to put it in front of
a number of other words as well.
And and then finally, what would you make of the term virtual salvation? You know, I just, I just don't think this makes sense ultimately. Now again, can technology be used to communicate fellowship and worship to people that, you know, for whatever reason cannot come? While I'm sure it can, and why not. But
when we allow our technologies to
interpose themselves between us
then I think something's gone wrong. And that would seem to me to be the problem, basic problem in this
notion of virtual reality church,
Dr. Gay if I can close with a question that we've been asking all of the guests on this program and that is this How can Christians today pursue the Unity for which Jesus prayed in john 17?
Yeah, I mean, it's a great question. It's It's a beautiful question.
I was reading the passage again this morning. And I don't I don't know that I have a
great answer to it. But I, I would say that the most important thing we can do is to pray and to pray for a couple of things, to pray that we will not be of the world. Because as Jesus also praise the world does not know God.
And also that we pray that we will know Christ and that he will be in us
so that as Jesus goes on to pray, we may be blessed. rod into complete unity. Yeah, I think this is something that Christ can realize in us as we open ourselves up to his presence in our lives,
it's been are delighted today to be speaking with Dr. Craig M. Gay author of modern technology and the human future at Christian appraisal and Professor of interdisciplinary studies at region College in Vancouver. Dr. Gay, thank you so much for being with us.
Thank you very much.