Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture and Computer Technology by Derek Schuurman

The book deals with the question of “what faith has to do with technology.” He attempts a Christian Worldview with respect to computer technology (which he defines as “a distinct cultural activity in which human beings exercise freedom and responsibility in response to God, to unfold the hardware and software possibilities in creation with the aid of tools and procedures for practical ends or purposes.”).[1] He begins by suggesting that Computer Science can give us “a glimpse of the majesty of a powerful and wise creator.”[2] And yet, Computer technology has further strained the environment, with increases in power consumption and improper disposal and poor recycling of electronic materials.

But technology is not all good. First he remarks that, “The constant drive to continually upgrade and update computers and cell phones has left us with the ongoing problem of how to deal with the castoffs of yesterday’s technology.”[3] Then, he uses some quotations to show he agrees that technology has disrupted sleep rhythms and re-shaped human culture.

In discussing AI, he raises important questions: “Could computer hardware or software replicate the human brain? What is the connection between mind and body? What does it mean to be human? What is personhood? What is consciousness? Could a machine ever become self-aware?”[4]

Next, he discusses technology and the Fall by asking if technology was spawned by the fall. He claims, “technicism … occurs when people replace trust in God with a reliance on the possibilities of modern technology.”[5]

Of the other issues raised, one that stands out is evangelism. Schuurman sees technology as ill-equipped for sharing the gospel, which he thinks requires interpersonal relationships.[6]

Curiously, Schuurman ends with a depiction of a New Creation which includes technology: “Ultimately, creation begins in a garden but ends with a city, which implies a certain amount of cultural and technological development. Whatever shape that computer technology may take in the new earth, it will certainly be free of sin. Technology is value-laden, and in the new creation our values will be free of sin. This implies that there will be no malicious software or other computer technology that will result in harm. Some computer applications will also certainly disappear: there will be no computers used for military purposes, nor technology for diagnosing and treating illnesses. Any work involving computer technology will also be different because the nature of the work itself will be different. Work will be redeemed from the effects of the curse, and thorns and thistles will no longer frustrate our labor.”[7]

This book is a pretty good read. I think it is somewhere between From the Garden to the City and some of Neil Postman’s work. I mean that it is practical at times and philosophical at times. Neither is done extremely well, but neither is done poorly. I’m not sure that I walked away from this book with any new insights, but he did raise some interesting questions with regard to AI and Computer Science. He framed some questions, as mentioned above, which dealt with faith in these fields. Ultimately that is where the value of this book lies – in encouraging one to express their faith in the fields of technology. But that is not the express purpose of this book. The purpose of faith in a computer world is a little broad for a short book like this. But, Schuurman does an adequate job of giving an overview of the major issues. If you haven’t read other books dealing with technology and faith, then give this a read. But if you have read books on the topic of Christianity and technology, then you will probably have heard some version of what he says in this book elsewhere.



[1]Schuurman, Derek C. (2013-04-16). Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture and Computer Technology (Kindle Locations 311-313). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

 

[2](Kindle Locations 449-451).

[3](Kindle Locations 518-522).

[4]p48

[5]p70

[6]p86

[7]120

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