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Technology: tool, toy, or god? Thoughts on Air France 447 from Richard Ingham

8 June, 2009

Ingham is the Associated Free Press’s health and science editor; he recently wrote a very suggestive short piece on the Air France 447 disaster, and what our reaction to it says, in part, about ‘technology and our faith in it.’

How do we then explain the shock that has accompanied the loss of the A330? My suspicion is that the reaction comes not so much from [the] accident itself but rather the circumstances. In short, this episode revives our fear of the unknown….

Ingham is cuttingly insightful:

Before the accident, the Atlantic was something to fly over. After it, it became a dark, deep and forbidding place — something that it had always been, in fact — with shattered bodies and a wrecked plane held in a watery grip. Such images are unsettling to our rational environment. We struggle to find an adequate explanation for the disaster, and this is worrying in a world today that craves to know causes and loves to apportion blame.

Flight 447 is a blow to the cosy notion that we have mastered Nature, can explain the Unknown, reduce Risk to a mere algorithm. This is today’s response to the ancestral fears that have always lurked on the fringes of our mind.

That notion of information and control has become deeply imbedded, thanks to the IT revolution. We have established a mental comfort zone where the techno-nanny is always around, shielding us from the unexpected, the wild and dangerous, entertaining us when we are bored, keeping us in contact with others when we are feeling a tiny bit lonely. We have developed the mindset of the silicon nursery.

After all this insight, however, Ingham leaves us with not much else to lean on, except perhaps a sober and skeptical realization of the transparency of our security blanket:

Technology has of course its uses. I’m not at all a technophobe. But I do wonder about the impact it makes on our minds, given the potential to create illusions about relationships, skew perception of risk and mask us from some of the nastier realities of the world.

Ingham isn’t anti-technology, obviously, but he does see right through its divine pretensions (or rather, our propensity to exhalt it to godlike status). At the same time, he’s not ‘pro’ anything in the place of technology. If technology is a poor god, what (or who) is a good God, who is able, not to mask us from the nastier realities of the world — and ourselves! — but to save?

As Christians, our approach in these situations should be like Paul’s at the Areopagus (Acts 17:22-34), where he simultaneously exposed the weakness of false gods, while announcing the reality of the true God revealed in Jesus Christ:

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

It’s great to unmask idols, and like Paul, we can appeal to the world’s insightful ‘poets’ (like Ingham) to do so. But without proclamation of the true God, we’re ultimately left with alternative, yet-to-be-unmasked idols.

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  1. Daniel Meyer permalink
    8 June, 2009 4:05 pm

    C.J. Mahaney gave a message called The Idol Factory that I’ve found very helpful. I’ve written about one aspect of the message that has stuck with me, to my spiritual benefit.


  2. 9 June, 2009 1:50 am

    good point b.
    your last sentence speaks to how many of us go about our presuppositionalist apologetics. we like to take our flame thrower to the ground upon which the idolator stands (we win! we win! we’ve smashed another idol!) but often we don’t ‘placard’ Christ as the only alternative, the solid ground upon which all sinners may find rest.

  3. 9 June, 2009 3:00 pm

    I had some very similar thoughts when the I-35 bridge collapsed in Minneapolis several years ago. The faith and hope of many never seems to rise higher than the things of this earth. When disaster strikes they do not have an unshakeable foundation to rest upon. Their world collapses and they can only react with either panic or despair or both. Look at the people of New York City. Their foundation was shattered on 9-11; now they live in fear, and when a plane flies too low over their skies they panic.

    Only the righteous can say, “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.”

  4. 10 June, 2009 10:57 pm

    Wow, that was well said SC.


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