Monday, March 10, 2008

A Christian World View and Technology - Part III

In parts I and II of this series of posts, I discussed technology from the aspect of whether or not it should be used at all, and then if the production of any particular technology should preclude its use. So far, I have determined that a Christian world view can allow the use of modern technology, if such technology is not produced or constructed in a way that is biblically disallowed (such as using abusive slave labor).

In this part, I hope to conclude my thoughts for now on the subject by looking at the actual use of technology. To me, this is both the clearest and also the most open aspect of a biblical, Christian world view of technology.

We have examples, both Old and New Testament, of use of technology contemporary with the user. Where such use is for a righteous purpose, it is endorsed. Where it is used for an unrighteous purpose, it is condemned. One such example is the construction of the Ark of the Covenant [Exodus 25:10-22] versus the golden calf at Mt. Sinai [Exodus 32:1-7].

Both items took approximately the same skill and technological knowledge to produce. Both used similar if not identical parts in their production, especially the gold. But the significant differences between them were not the type of technology used in their production, nor in their material composition, but the purposes for which they were made, and how they were used. The Ark was made specifically by the command of God for a holy purpose, whereas the golden calf was made to render sacrifice and worship to a false god.

While the Ark of the Covenant and the golden calf are obviously different in many ways, I compare them to point out that it was their purpose and use that was the primary distinguishing factors in being acceptable to God, not the materials or tools used in their construction.

So, then, what constitutes a righteous versus an unrighteous use of technology?

For the most part, the Christian disciple is given plenty of direction in this regard. Do not use technology to: show dishonor to God, worship a false God, steal, lie, murder, and so forth [Exodus 20:1-17, Matthew 5:17-31 in particular]. In other words, if you shouldn't do it with your lips or bare hands, don't do it using some tool of technology either. Lying through a phone is no better than lying directly into someone's ear, and posting it on a web page does not remove the sin from the lie, either.

Unfortunately, in the category of "Thou Shalt Not", one of the more frequently occurring issues on technology is not so much recognizing when its use is inappropriate, but rather contending with temptation in the ease of its use for inappropriate purposes. With the rise of modern technology, and especially computers, mobile phones, and the Internet, things can be done very quickly with almost no effort at all. It can now only take seconds to spread rumors and lies about a neighbor around the world, and assassinate someone's character in an online forum. The opportunity to lust after another is only a search engine away. You can squander your life's savings in a foolish fit of gambling and wanton spending without even leaving your living room.

With the increased efficiency of technology comes the ability to sin (or expose yourself to sin) in an instant. Add the ability to remain largely anonymous in the online world, and it becomes more incumbent upon the Christian to exercise true discipline when using modern technology. There is, then, an even greater responsibility to avoid the appearance of evil [I Thessalonians 5:22], and to not use modern technology for selfish and sinful reasons. It is helpful to recall that, even if no man finds you out, there are no secrets with the Lord [Luke 8:17].

But, in addition to the "Thou Shalt Not" aspect of the Christian world view of technology, I think there is the equally important and often overlooked aspect of "Thou Shalt." Christ told us that loving God and loving our neighbor is the sum and fulfilling of the law [Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:29-31, Romans 13:10]. Not only does the law (and love) include restrictions on what not to do to each other, but it also carries a responsibility that there are certain things we should do one for another. We should honor our parents, bear up one another's burdens, and treat one another with respect. The Christian view of technology should drive us to seek out the righteous and beneficial uses of technology, while avoiding the evil uses.

Do you have a friend or neighbor that is blind? If so, did you know that there are computer software programs for reading text out loud for the blind? (NVDA, AbilityHub) Did you also know that there is an online library of great literary works, free to use for everyone? (Project Gutenberg) Now, do you have some skill with setting up computers (or know someone who does)? If so, you could set up a computer for your blind friend/neighbor so that, perhaps for the first time in their life, they could have access to the Bible, not to mention great literary works such as Pilgrim's Progress, Moby Dick, Great Expectations, and Pride and Prejudice.

This is a relatively simple example, but how many similar examples can we put together, all showing how we can use modern technology in a godly way? Prosthetic limbs and cybernetics (as other examples) can give new mobility or improved quality of life, but your particular abilities may lend to less dramatic, but no less godly endeavors. Use a computer to organize the birth dates (or other special dates) of family, friends, and members of your local congregation. Then, use it to send cards or letters in a timely way. It can mean the world to a little elderly lady, forced to reside in a nursing home, to receive a meaningful note that reminds her that she is not forgotten. Such encouragement, as little as it may seem to us at times, is part of a pure religion before God [James 1:27].

And this, I believe, should be the ultimate goal in a Christian world view on technology. Not necessarily to only answer the question "What must I not do?", but to also fill our lives with the answer to the question "What can I now do."

"And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." - Colossians 3:22

- ckb

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Christian World View and Technology - Part II

In A Christian World View and Technology - Part I, the first aspect of a Christian world view on technology I discussed was whether or not technology (as defined as being the craft or handiwork of mankind) is inherently sinful or evil to use. I determined it was not inherently sinful, given that technological craft of men is used by God (both Old and New Testament).

[Note: I use the term "technology" to apply to the general area of mankind's craft and ability to use and make tools for various purposes. While I do not limit the term to high-tech devices like computers and mobile phones, I believe it completely encompasses modern electronic-based technology]

So then, we look at the second aspect or question of a Christian world view on technology: if it is not inherently evil to use technology in general, are there technologies that are sinful to use due to the nature of their construction? I believe this is important to address before we can even look at the intended use of the technology. Given that we have choices in what we do, any use of something that is made is an implicit approval of how it is made.

This may seem an odd question to bring up in looking at a Christian world view at first, but I believe it is more relevant now than perhaps ever before.

Now, if the technology in question plainly requires something outright sinful or ungodly in its production, then it is incumbent on those in a Christian walk to reject the technology, or to seek an alternative that avoids the pitfalls of an evil beginning. We are commanded to be "wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" [Matthew 10:16]. Being "wise as serpents" addresses what we know and understand. Being "harmless as doves" directly addresses our behavior: what we say and do. To be wise as serpents we need to understand the way of the enemy in this world, and know about some things that we should not do. However, being harmless as doves means that what we do (and therefore, what we use to do what we do) should not bring harm.

Likewise, the Christian is commanded to "abstain from all appearance of evil." [I Thessalonians 5:22] Rather, we are to seek the good things and approve those things that are good. [Philipians 1:10, 4:8] When going about our daily activities and duties in life, we must not appear to even endorse those acts that it is our duty to avoid. We must then consider, from the perspective of serving Christ, "Will the technology I use endorse the sinful acts of others, even if I do not use it sinfully myself?"

This is why I believe this question is perhaps more directly pointed for us today than it was for those before us, even a few decades ago. When the power of technology increases, the ability to affect more and more people increases as well. As knowledge increases, the ability to make technology in more daring or destructive ways increases along with it. This applies to high-tech electronics, medical technology, or even clothing and housing construction.

Before we utilize any technology, a consistently Christian world view must be used to interpret the construction of the technology in the light of its "evilness" or goodness. We need to consider if it requires the enslavement of a people, or the destruction of the lives of others, or the death of the innocent, or some other act which would, if the technology is used, no longer render us harmless as doves.

I will not presume to make for you a comprehensive list of technologies for you to use or not use. Not only do I not have infallible knowledge, I also cannot be your conscience. Christian obedience (and therefore a Christian world view) is ultimately a matter of faith and conscience before God and the Son. And, while we are responsible for our behavior one with another in a way of Christian fellowship, we must also answer to Him before His judgment seat, and receive according as we have done [I Corinthians 5:10].

The best guide I have found then is this: can I, with a clear conscience, go before Christ and say "I used this tool, knowing how it was made."

To bring this back to computer technology specifically, I have found that I can say "yes" to computers and like technology with clear conscience, as long as I can purchase components from makers that I am satisfied do not engage in slave labor and the like. Also, I can only use software that is not stolen with clear conscience, since I place the acquiring of the technology in the same category as its construction (i.e. how it came to me).

To be concluded in A Christian World View and Technology - Part III

A Christian World View and Technology - Part I

[Note: I use the term "technology" to apply to the general area of mankind's craft and ability to use and make tools for various purposes. While I do not limit the term to high-tech devices like computers and mobile phones, I believe it completely encompasses modern electronic-based technology.]

A world view is the framework of foundational beliefs through which one interprets the world around them. Everyone has one, it is typically developed in one's youth [Proverbs 22:6], and it is seldom suddenly changed except by extraordinary events (say, being struck down on the road to Damascus [Acts 9]).

One with a Christian world view essentially regards everything in the light of Christian faith. Or rather, one should. I have to say "should" because of the relentless and pervasive warfare we have in life to adopt other world views as our own. Secular forces in America have done a pretty good job of co-opting the world view of public education and media, so that if one attempts to interpret anything (fossils, age of the world, sanctity of life, purpose of mankind) in a Christian world view, one is met with a condescending grin at best. It was not always this way, and it has not reached a 100% saturation in the educational and media "worlds", but a non-Christian (and perhaps even anti-Christian) world view is very prevalent.

What, then, does it mean to have a Christian world view concerning technology? First, it means deciding whether or not the existence of technology is inherently sinful or not. If it is sinful, then the consequences of a consistent world view means not using any technology at all. While there are some who have come to some degree of this conclusion (such as the Amish), I maintain that it is not an automatic outcome of Biblical belief.

While we are commanded to be a separate people unto the Lord, the Christian disciple was never commanded to leave the world in order to do it. In fact, we are expressly told that we are not expected to depart from the world [John 17:15, I Corinthians 5:10, Titus 2:12]. While in this present world, we are expected, however, to keep ourselves unspotted from the world [John 17:14-17, Titus 2:12, James 1:27]. More can be said on this, and far better than I could attempt, but for now let's look at how this impacts our view of technology.

Excepting the Providence of God, technology is the craft of man. Being the craft of man, it must then of necessity bear the marks of its maker. Part of this is the fact that, due in no small part to the fall of man, no technology is perfect. The inherent limitations in man's intellect and imagination will forever prove an insurmountable wall around what can be accomplished. And, while this barrier may lie so far beyond what is possible today that it would boggle the average mind, the limits are nevertheless there. Mistakes can and will be made, and no technology can then be without fault. Any tool that is used must then be held suspect at some level.

Still, does this inherent limitation of imperfection then automatically merit labeling technology as "evil" or sinful? I do not believe so. Being error prone or limited does not in and of itself mean that it should not be used. Else, nothing would be usable given the inherent fallibility of man and his crafts. Added to this the precedent of godly (or at least, not-unrighteous) use of men's technology, and imperfection alone should not be the excluding factor.

Such examples of God honoring the use of the craft (i.e. technology) of man:
  • Noah's Ark [Genesis 6:14-19]
  • The Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat [Exodus 25:10-22]
  • The tabernacle and its furnishings [Exodus 26, 27]
  • Ships [Matthew 8:23, 14:13]
  • Fishing Nets [Luke 5:4, John 21:6]

Perhaps these instances may be argued as special cases, and may be types and shadows of the true figures to come. Or perhaps the technology is trivial or extremely "inferior" to today's level of craft. They nevertheless demonstrate that God is not unwilling to use or honor the handiwork of men, as imperfect as it may be, when it is done for the proper reasons.

To be continued...
A Christian World View and Technology - Part II

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Word

One aspect of Creation that has been made more poignant to me over my years of computer programming is the fact that it was done by the Word.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." [John 1:1-3]

Aside from the theological concerns of the passage, I have found it interesting to consider why the Lord has been revealed to us as "The Word" in creation (and not, say, the King, or the Lamb, or any of the many other titles and names given to Him in the scripture).

Of course, if we go back to the Genesis 1 account, we find "And God said...", so there's an immediate answer there. "God said" yields "God's Word" in action.

Beyond that, however, consider what the spoken (or written) word means to us. It is the avenue by which we exchange ideas, communicate needs and wants, and record history. In the imperative form, it is how we express things in order to get them done.

Not to belittle the act of creation in the slightest, nor to exalt mankind beyond his station, but from one point of view, one can see a similarity in issuing commands to a computer, and God the Word directing creation by the power of His command.

We, of course, lack the power to do the thing expressed merely by the virtue of us expressing it. I cannot say "remote, come here." and expect that remote on the top shelf to fly across the room into my hand. Unless we perform the action ourselves, we rely on the power of others to whom we express a command. Therefore, "Hey, son, please bring that remote to me" has more likelihood of becoming reality.

When expressing a desire to another acting agent (i.e. person), we typically rely on a certain amount of understanding and intellect in the other to carry out the expression. The amount of detail which we need to put into the expression is inversely proportional to the degree of trust in which we can place in the agent carrying out the command. That is to say, the less you trust an agent to carry out your wishes without help, the more detail you need to provide.

If I ask my son to retrieve a remote control for me, it requires very little detail (usually). If, however, I were to program even a moderately complex robot to do the same, the amount of detail that I would need to provide in the instructions would be enormous in comparison ("the shelf is 4 feet high; the remote is black and 2.5 inches wide, and is sitting one foot from the left end; etc.")

Part of computer programming is learning that you must rely on the computer, but you cannot trust the computer. Not to say that it's plotting your eventual demise, but rather, it only "knows" what you or someone else has told it. Nothing should be assumed, and every detail will need to be thought out eventually. This leads to another post topic, that of planning and preparation. But for this topic, in order to tell the computer what to do and when, we require some form of language.

True, we can use the language of the computer itself, but that also requires the most detail in communicating what to do. Most modern programming languages have come about in order to interject a lot of assumptions into the programming language, so that more there is more in there to "trust" and less detail to have to handle on our own. Nowadays, a language is more than the syntax and commands put together for making a program, it is also the body of the APIs that are available to the developer for use. These APIs are the bulk of the "trust" that we put into the computer based on what we can assume the computer will "understand" when we issue a command or provide some data.

To bring this home, it's good to remember that, in the Babel world of computer languages and programming, choosing the best language or environment to write a piece of software should involve some considered thought on what level of detail you will need to provide to get done what you need to get done, and what assumptions can be made based on what is provided for you in the language and APIs.

By the way, in creation, the One issuing the commands was also the agent in executing the commands. Full trust, the least amount of details provided. "And God said, Let there be light: and there was light." [Genesis 1:3]

- ckb

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


"Pray without ceasing." [I Thessalonians 5:17]

One aspect of Software Development you are not likely to see in many courses is prayer. While prayer is never mentioned in the Bible regarding computer programming, we are taught that prayer should accompany every aspect of our lives.

For many, this means going to God in prayer when we or loved ones are extremely sick, or we lose a job, or some other form of life circumstance that is hard to deal with. For some, it also means giving up prayers of thanksgiving for the joys and blessings of life.

Most, I daresay, especially those who work in technical fields like IT, sequester off their professional life in their minds, to the point that prayer hardly seems relevant to a world of servers and Internet browsers.

Consider, however, Matthew 21:22

"And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive."

In teaching His disciples about faith, Jesus makes the bold, but true, statement that there are no aspects of life forbidden from the realm of prayer. We know that unrighteous or sinful desires are inherently excepted, both by the "believing" criteria, and by the expounding of Peter (3:12) and James (1:5, 4:3). But all things are to be considered, meaning that there's not anything we can think up, in belief and a righteous heart, that is disqualified.

What does this mean? Pray for your IT work.

Are you about to start a new software project? Sincerely pray that it goes well, before during and after implementation.

Are you tasked with a seemingly impossible programming task? Pray for wisdom to see it through.

If we believe that God held the rain for Elijah for three years and six months based on his prayer, we ought also to believe that God can accomplish similar work today. It's not too hard for Him to grant you wisdom to decipher any API, or figure out the root of a backup error. If you're not accustomed to it, it may seem "silly" at first. But don't let that put you off. There's nothing too big for God, and there's nothing too "mundane" for Him to concern Himself with it.

"Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. " [I Peter 5:6-7]

And, when the Lord answers your prayer, don't forget to render a prayer of thanksgiving for it.

"Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;" [Colossians 4:2]

- ckb

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The ACMS - Association of Christians in the Mathematical Sciences

I'm only casually familiar with this group, have never been a member, and have not read everything on their website. I am fine with their statement of belief, however, and what articles I've read from their journal are interesting and thought provoking.

Their first stated goal is "to encourage Christians in the mathematical sciences to explore the relationship of their faith to their discipline." Their focus is not directly on computer technology and programming, but they have more than touched on the subject over the years. I'm not aware of any similar association or professional groups oriented toward computer science and technology, so if you happen to know of one, please let me know.

A more recent article of interest is "Forming a Christian View of Computer Technology". I find it thoughtful, and it hits on a lot of the same ideas that I've had over the past few years.

- ckb

Inaugural Post

Several factors have come together to compel me to create this blog.

You see, in my "professional life", I am a computer software developer. In my "personal life", I am a Bible-believing Christian, Primitive Baptist preacher. I'll try to explain more fully another time. Something that has become more apparent to me in living these two lives concurrently (especially in the last decade) is the difficulty in practicing a godly life in the Internet age. I do not think I am alone.

This blog will provide an outlet on issues concerning Christian discipleship in the Internet age. Some questions I hope to delve into:
  • What issues confront those who seek to serve God, while trying to labor in the computer industry?
  • How can we use modern technology in a God-honoring way?
  • Do Biblical principles make for better software? (Strange question, perhaps, but the answer is: "Yes, they do.")
There will also be free software and code samples for download, and hopefully useful instructions.

I hope you find it informative, useful, and enjoyable. And most of all, I pray that it will honor Him, who died for me.

- ckb