While there are many books written about the use of technology from a faith perspective, very few are written for those who are actually designing and creating technology – the engineers and designers. Several years ago I got together with two other veteran engineers and Christian college professors to set about writing a book that would be suitable for Christian students and practitioners in engineering, computer science, and related technical fields. What follows is an excerpt from the first chapter of our recently released book titled A Christian Field Guide to Technology for Engineers and Designers (InterVarsity Academic Press, 2022).1
What drives humans to create technology? Some have suggested that invention is the result of Darwinian selection and that creating tools to survive is simply an evolutionary skill that developed over time, corroborating the old adage that necessity is the mother of invention. While some creative abilities that our ancestors employed to survive still endure, such as harnessing fire for energy, other creative endeavors are now directed toward crafting the arguably less essential jet skis and big screen televisions. Others have suggested that invention is a type of technological determinism, assuming that technological progress is inevitable, implying that engineers are compelled by some impersonal force. Still others have suggested that invention is driven primarily by consumerism and materialism, which creates the demand for what invention supplies.
Is invention only driven by the instinct for survival or the instinct of greed? Neither survival nor greed led us to the first flight at Kitty Hawk or the first majestic cathedral. They were driven by delight in creating something new and beautiful and noble. Technology always serves a purpose or seeks to achieve a goal by solving problems. The best technology delights us with intuitive melding of form and function, and in some ways this aesthetic makes it a product of not only science but also of art. Although calculation and logic are fundamental to modern technology, the development of technology is a creative activity. We do not calculate a new technology, we design it. In the end, our best technology is derived not from our base instincts but from our noblest dreams…
The impulse to create technology is fueled by our dreams and our imagination. “In dreams begins responsibility,” wrote the poet William Butler Yeats. He may not have been thinking of technology, but he understood that yearnings hint at responsibility and ultimate purposes. Technology has deeply religious roots. Our yearnings and imagination reflect personal values shaped by desires and longings within our hearts. They are glimpses of the ultimate dream: the longing to see the new creation and the new Jerusalem. Technology grows out of our human character endowed with the image of the Creator. It grows out of biblical callings to care for the creation, to love God, and to love our neighbor. Done well, our technological dreams become reality in building God’s kingdom. Done poorly, our technological dreams become nightmares that pervert creation and harm our neighbor.
Most dreams fade away, but those shaped by the Spirit of God do not. This creative spirit is poured out on engineers who continue to see visions and dream dreams, prophetically pointing to a coming kingdom. The Christian faith does not restrain engineers from having extravagant ideas but encourages us to imagine what God desires. As Christians, our dreams must be animated by the biblical story, and our hearts must be tuned to a vision of God’s coming kingdom. Christian engineers need to equip themselves with more than technical competency; they need to cultivate an imagination for how things ought to be. That imagination must be shaped by faith in Jesus Christ, in whom and through whom and for whom all things exist.
There is more to the story of technology than simply dreaming. Our design and use of technology start with dreaming but are also influenced by a variety of other factors. Achieving dreams consistent with our Christian faith in the complex context of real life is the subject of the rest of this field guide. We begin in chapter two with the Scriptures by reviewing the biblical story and describing how it can inform our understanding of technology. Chapter three dispels the myth that technology is objectively neutral in order to make the case that we must exercise responsibility. As an aid to wise design, chapter four introduces one of the key concepts of the book: design norms for responsibly creating and evaluating technology. While the norms from this chapter provide a framework for guiding God-honoring designs, chapter five looks at how norms and virtues can inform and expand the topic of professional ethics. Chapter six examines the impact of sin on our technological work and products. Chapter seven provides a historical perspective, encouraging us to continually “zoom out” to see and imagine the big picture when immersed in the minutiae of a complex project. Leaping forward from the lessons of history, in chapter eight we hope that by pointing our design efforts to our broader eschatological hope, we can avoid undue utopianism or pessimism. In chapter nine we demonstrate technology design as a legitimate Christian calling, making the case that an engineer or scientist need not quit her job in order to serve Christ fully and faithfully. We end the book by addressing some concerns you might have about how one practically lives out their faith in the design of technology. Chapter ten takes the form of letters to a young engineer, giving practical real-world examples of how the ideas of this book become real —where the rubber meets the road.
Taken from A Christian Field Guide to Technology for Engineers and Designers by Ethan J. Brue, Derek C. Schuurman, and Steven H. VanderLeest Copyright (c) 2022 by Ethan J. Brue, Derek C. Schuurman, and Steven H. VanderLeest. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com.
- Note that the book includes a companion website where we plan to collect additional materials and teaching resources to accompany the book.