Academic journal article Ethics & Medicine

Theology and Technology: Mapping the Questions

Academic journal article Ethics & Medicine

Theology and Technology: Mapping the Questions

Article excerpt

Introduction

Modern life is technological to a different degree-if not in another way entirely- than previous human cultures. Some may view technology as a simple issue: our tools are external to us, and we must simply decide how to use them. This stance can be especially tempting in the realm of biotechnology and biomedicine: technology can develop separately from evaluation of when or how to use it. Our world is advancing at a rapid pace technologically, and we must decide when to pick up the "hammer" and what to hit with it. Technology, some say, is neutral.

But is this really the case? Oftentimes, Christians evaluate technology based on the assumption that technology, as a tool, is a neutral device to which human agents give moral significance by the way they choose to use it. Careful analysis of theological treatments of technology, however, demonstrates that the technological question is deeper than this and that it requires a nuanced method to answer it well. A theological approach to technology must decide how exactly to ask and answer the "technological question." By "technological question" I mean a broad consideration of technology in general which then provides the foundation for evaluating particular technologies; so the "technological question" is really a way of summing up under one head various technological questions. Theological assessments must recognize that while different types of technology are indeed different, there are also dimensions that they share. A theologian proposing an ethics of IVF, for example, is asking and answering the technological question by thinking through a specific concern: human reproduction and how human action, via technologies, has implications for it. The question is asked by one seeking to think more broadly about the ethos of technology, or the relationship between nature and human alteration of nature. The technological question also comes up in the discussion of genetic enhancement. All of these approaches, of differing degrees of specificity, are asking and answering the technological question.

Bringing all of these discussions together can be difficult. In what follows, I attempt to draw these different treatments into conversation with one another by exploring how different thinkers ask and answer various technological questions from theological perspectives. This is not an exercise in exhaustively relaying the methodology of each individual; rather, it is an attempt to draw a map of pertinent starting points, sources, foci, and sub-questions. In addition, the thinkers mentioned are obviously not exhaustive-anyone who has explored this topic can readily add additional important people or works. Instead, I sought breadth and variety in the types of questions asked. As we will see, this breadth and variety includes social and disciplinary location, assessments of the promise of technology, general approach, the stance toward technology in general, the role of sources such as philosophy and Scripture, and dominant sub-questions in the discourse. This map provides insight into how deep the questions of technology go and provides something of a path forward in the way technology invites theological reflection and assessment. In particular, the map will show that disciplinary location plays an influential role in the stance taken toward technology, which shapes the way the question is asked in a profound way. Then, in analyzing the way the question is answered, it will become clear that while philosophical sources are often useful for diagnostic purposes, the most promising and interesting answers come from thinkers using Scripture in an imaginative and vision-shaping way.

In the following article, I will focus on the thought of ten figures. I selected them based on several factors, including a desire for variety in subject matter (from general to specific) and diversity within bounds of theological tradition (all are generally Christian, save for one Jewish voice). …

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