Naturally Artificial: The Interaction of Technology and Nature

In my previous post we explored the two components of the theology of creation and the importance of both. This is a continuation of that discussion (because Nikki said it was too long for one post)…

Nature as Revealing God

If we ignore the importance of nature as a revelation of God’s beauty, we can quickly turn to an exploitative approach to nature. If we treat nature as merely a resource, a source of extraction of goods, and fail to value the preservation of the beauty of creation. If agricultural or genetic engineering is coupled with species elimination, we have are ignoring God’s design of diversity in creation. Even within technology, we can be guided by the principles of God’s creation. When we engineer for homogeneity, we are not engineering according to God’s style. If we engineer without regard for sustainability, we are not follow God’s approach.

If we ignore God, the creator, it is quite reasonable to erroneously value nature for nothing more than its means of providing resources for humans. But acknowledging a creator demands that we put a value on nature as God’s artwork, something with a value worth preserving beyond just its utility to humanity. Those who worship God, should be those most invested in protecting and honoring God’s creation, yet Christians have acquired a reputation for having the least concern for our planet, our climate, and the creation that surrounds us.

Likewise, this concept is important for how we treat people. We live in a world where people tend to be assessed by what they can produce, their performance. Yet God’s creation reveals beauty that goes far beyond just resource production. The beauty of creation has so many facets and intricacies that no one can be truly appreciated if only seen for their function. Likewise as we approach others, we must look for beauty beyond just productivity. We must appreciate the beauty of diversity, of the uniqueness of individuals, the wide range of gifts that God has given people.

Delegated Creation

On the other hand if we ignore the important of the delegation of creation, it is easy to fall for the appeal to nature fallacy. And not only does the theology of creation teach us that the concept that God has called man to create and design, but the Bible also teaches that while nature may reveal God, nature itself is fallen (Rom 8:19-22), and natural instincts and the natural process of “natural selection” are ruthless, God has called man to step above these. I recently saw Monkey Kingdom, a great documentary of the life and society of monkeys. One thing was clear: monkeys are horrifyingly ruthless towards each other. They have brutal caste systems and the elites will hoard food and inflict horrible punishment on lower caste who attempt to break rank. The natural systems, societies, and structures of monkeys and man are broken and ruthless, God has called us to challenge these with a greater concept of society.

This has implications for how we assess (or can’t assess) ethics, organization, and morality as well. While God’s design reveals His purpose, the delegation and progression of creation means that we can not hold up an image of original creation as an infallible blueprint for morality. We can’t use Adam and Eve as a definition of proper moral living.

This also means we can’t assume that there are “natural” forms of economics or governance that are superior. There are no easy solutions from simple economic models or democratic structures, we are constantly challenged to think, innovate, and consider new ways of improving upon our systems. Simply letting things be is rarely the answer.

Appeal to nature fallacy can lead astray in everyday ways as well. Millions flock to “natural” foods, remedies, and other products that often lack any substantial verification of superiority, and are merely marketed on the basis of being more natural. The tremendous commercial success of organic products has largely been attributed to the appeal to nature, and fear of the artificial. Where these products help improve labor practices, increase species diversity, and reduce antibiotic resistance they are to be welcome and appreciated, but the intuitive superiority of their naturalness is easily overestimated. For many, this “naturalism” distortions may simply lead to extra spending, but for others, on the edge of development, where small improvements in agricultural efficiency can provide the opportunity to properly feed one’s family, advances in genetic engineering can be a matter of life and death, with thousands of lives at stake. Distorted perspectives may not have big consequences for us, but denying the opportunities of engineering, that God has given us, can really mean life or death for others.

If we are to properly respond to God’s design of delegated creation, it means that God has invited us into creation in every aspect. We can’t inconsistently assume that we can rightly engineer computer chips and attempt to actively influence people’s beliefs, while we ignore God’s invitation into creating that also extends to genetic engineering, sophisticated medical and pharmaceutical innovations as well.

Likewise, environmental protection is critical to helping to preserve the beauty of God’s creation, but excessive zeal is manifested in the attitude that any and all human interaction with nature and consumption of natural resources is negative and should be avoided. Shortly after Nikki and I were married, we had the opportunity to go to Switzerland. One of the things that I was very impressed by was not only the beauty of the mountains (of course!), but how the homes that dotted the hillsides actually accented and added to the beauty of the amazing mountain valleys. In the states it seems there is often either total take over of develop-able land, or complete protection. But in Switzerland, I was amazed at how thoughtful design can actually complement nature.

God intends for man to continue to invent, dream, innovate, and create with everything from electronics to genetics, while still being guided by the principles of creation: caring and providing for for others, while cherishing the principles of beauty, diversity and sustainability. Let us embrace both of these aspects of creation.

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One response to “Naturally Artificial: The Interaction of Technology and Nature

  1. Great post Kris! Gave me somethings to think about. An aside: I have been delighted by psalms that describes God’s love for his creation, how beautiful God finds it.

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