Jan 5 - Faith and Technology

January 5th, 2014

About 1,200 BC a process was discovered that would become the greatest technological advance of its time, on a scale that rivalled the development of the internal combustion engine in 1860’s or the development of semiconductor microchips in the 1950’s.

It is not known who first came up with this new-fangled process. At one time, it was thought that the Hittites, who had lived in what today is Turkey, were the originators, but that isn’t at all certain now.

So what was it? It was the smelting and tempering process by which iron could be extracted, refined and shaped into all kinds of durable implements.

The number of applications for this technology was immense, including n the area of warfare.

Iron was not just harder than bronze, but it was much more available and easier to work, making possible large scale production of weapons.

More importantly for the time we are looking at, 1,000 B.C., iron was used in the construction of chariots as part of the wheels and fittings, and in order to fortify the wood, making the chariots much more durable. This is what an Egyptian war chariot looked like.

Chariots were moving platforms, each holding 2 or 3 soldiers. Chariots were devastating to an army consisting primarily of infantry soldiers. They could they easily outflank foot soldiers and were difficult to hit by archers.

The Israelite army did not have chariots, and as such it was difficult for them to defeat the Philistines, and near impossible for them to take and hold the cities of the coastal planes.

A number of years before King Saul would fall at the battle of Mt. Gilboa and the Jezreel valley, the armies of the Philistines mustered in order to avenge the killing of one of their officials in the town of Geba by King Saul’s son, Jonathan.

Now the Philistines assembled in order to attack Israel. They had 3,000 chariots and 6,000 charioteers, and an army as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They moved up (into the hill country north of Jerusalem) and camped in Michmash, east of Beth-aven.
1 Samuel 13:5

What made matters worse is that Israel was still living in the bronze age.

At that time there was no blacksmith to be fund in the whole land, because the Philistines told themselves, “The Hebrews should not make swords and spears for themselves.” All Israelites had to go down to the Philistines if they wanted a plowshare, a hoe, an axe or a sickle forged. … On the day of battle none of those who were with (King) Saul and Jonathan had a sword or spear. Only Saul and his son Jonathan had such weapons. 1 Samuel 13:19-22

Ultimately Saul and his army would defeat the Philistines, but given the odds, all of Israel considered this to have been an unequivocal miracle done by God.

Perhaps the chariots were not as big of a factor in the hills as they would have been in the flat lands. In Saul’s final battle on and around Mt. Gilboa, chariots would have been more effective and one of the reasons that things went so badly (2 Sam 1:6).

So Saul was killed and a young man by the name of David became king of Israel. At that point, Israel was oppressed by its neighbours, divided and backward, little more than a group of tribes who were scratching a living from the land.
40 years later when King David died, a lot had changed. In only one generation Israel had become one of the strongest, most prosperous nations in the Near East. In fact, in those few decades, Israel experienced one of the greatest periods of social and economic progress in its history.

What happened? Certainly David was a man with exceptional leadership ability, and he had the favor of God. But there was another reason: King David introduced into Israel a new technology – he moved them into the iron age.

He was the first ruler who consolidated the nation. He was the first to acquire chariots so that his army had a chance of winning battles outside of the hill country, down in the coastal plains (cf. 2 Sam 8:4).

And so we read,

Some time later, David attacked and defeated the Philistines. He subjugated them and ended their reign. 2 Samuel 8:1

However, despite the fact that David brought technological advance and military success to Israel, he personally faced problems that no amount of technological advance and innovation can solve.

What are some of the problems that tripped him up? One was the problem of human evil.

The problems that technology cannot solve:

1. Human Evil

This is the great contradiction even in modern society. We have pushed back the frontiers of technology. We have peered into the night sky, looking at galaxies billions of years in the past. We have harnessed the atom. We have entered an age where we have information at our fingertips.

But something is wrong. We are still helpless against the evils that inhabit the human race – greed, selfishness, anger, hate, violence, racism.

Just look at human history … it is a history of armed conflict. Wars in every generation in every part of the world. Crime and corruption and oppression. We cannot get along with other people, even those in our own family.

We have self-destructive habits we cannot break. Mankind still lies and cheats and commits fraud, whether in business, politics, labour, or sports.

Beneficial technologies and technological advancement are used for evil. Just look at the corruption that is found on the internet. Technology, horribly used. Brilliant people People writing viruses in an effort to hurt complete strangers. Stealing banking information.

The problem isn’t technology, it is something else.
Where does evil come from? Jesus told us that it comes from within our very nature:

From within, out of the human heart, proceed evil thoughts, immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, meanness, deceit, indulgence, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evils come from within and they defile humanity. Mark 7:21-23

Albert Einstein considered evil is so ingrained in human nature that he said,

It is easier to denature plutonium than to denature the evil spirit of man. Albert Einstein

Even the most sophisticated and intelligent don’t seem to be able to break this cycle. People can achieve extraordinary in every area of life but still be full of hypocrisy, doubt, self-hatred, guilt, anxiety.

King David could not free himself from his own human nature. He fell into adultery and murder.

But even in his darkest hour, he wrote a song that reflected his belief that there was hope … if only he was forgiven and redeemed by God:

O God, be merciful toward me according to your unfailing love. Blot out my transgressions according to your abundant mercy. Wash me completely from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. … Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Psalm 51:1-2,10

David recognized that his actions had separated him from his creator and he needed to have his soul restored. And he resolved to be a better person … and was.

Human evil is one of the conditions that technological advance cannot solve. The second is …

2. Suffering
David could not save himself suffering the emotional pain of having his first-born son die, of seeing rape and murder among his own children, of having one of his sons lead an armed revolt against him.
And David could not escape the suffering that is inherent in old age. We are told that in his late 60’s he could no longer stay warm – even in the Mediterranean climate (1 Kings 1:1).
We live in a world where even children suffer – physically or emotionally or both. 19,000 die every day. Others are orphaned or forced into war, prostitution, pornography.
Even in the Western world, where people are most protected against poverty and violence, divorce is tearing apart families, people are cheated out of their money,
As one of Job’s friends tells him, the man who epitomizes human suffering in the OT,

Man is born unto trouble as (inevitable as) sparks fly upward. Job 5:7

Scientific and technological advance has done much to push back certain forms of human suffering, but it cannot eliminate human suffering and, at times will be the cause of it.

We may have been able to cure the plague, but our advances in medicine have also led to more and more virulent strains of bacteria that are highly resistant to antibiotics. I recently read of a new HIV strain in Russia that is especially virulent.

We may have better medication to deal with clinical depression, but why is it that depression is a disease found primarily in technologically advanced societies?

Scientific advance brought with it the possibility of nuclear, chemical and biological warfare that can wipe out life as we know it.

Technology isn’t evil, but the way it is used can be. Perhaps that is why it has been said that …

If you destroy all insect life on earth, within 100 years life as we know it would cease. However, if you destroy all human life on earth, within 100 years everything else would flourish.

This is a song that describes how David dealt with suffering:

Hear my prayers, O God. Do not hide yourself from my pleas. … My heart is in anguish within me. The terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me. Horror overwhelms me. … But I call to God, YHWH will save me. … Cast your burden on YHWH, and he will sustain you. Psalm 55:1,5,16,22

David believed that even in the midst of human suffering, there was the ability to continue on with God’s help.

There is another problem that technology cannot solve.

3. Death

Life may be prolonged, but death cannot be avoided. However, death seems to be the forbidden subject in our society. Most people live as if they will never die.

Technology may even give us the appearance of immortality. We have photos and pictures and movies in which actors are ever young. We play games where we are reborn shortly after we’re shot dead. Let me tell you, that’s not death. Death is permanent.

Young people in particular can be under the illusion they are not going to die. Some people are atheists until they are on their death beds.

When he was 78 (he’s 95 now), Billy Graham said,

The greatest surprise in life is its brevity.
Billy Graham

King David lived to 70. He could not escape the reality of his own mortality. But he had written years earlier,

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

Human evil, suffering and death are not problems that science or technology can solve. They cannot be escaped.

Given this reality, most people yearn for something of greater significance than simply existing or focusing on self-indulgence. They ask questions such as, “why am I here on this earth?” and “Where am I going after I die?”

Perhaps the answer to these problems lie in the spiritual realm.

While not a religious man, in 1930, at the age of 84, and 1 year prior to his death, the famous inventor Thomas Edison confided to a friend about his belief in a Creator:

When you see everything that happens in the world of science and in the working of the universe, you cannot deny that there is a “captain on the bridge.” Thomas Edison

One year before he died, Wernher von Braun, the rocket scientist who oversaw the Apollo missions, wrote an essay on the complementary nature of science and faith. In it he wrote,

Speaking for myself, I can only say that the grandeur of the cosmos serves to confirm my belief in the certainty of a Creator. Wernher von Braun

Blaise Pascal, one of the most brilliant scientists and most creative and intuitive of thinkers in human history,
achieved major breakthroughs in theoretical mathematics and physics, as well as in practical invention. He has a crater on the moon, a unit of pressure, as well as a computer programming language named after himself.

Many of you are likely familiar with Pascal’s bet or wager. If we cannot prove with certainty that God does or does not exist, then it is better to choose to believe in God. If God doesn’t exist, we will only lose out on some temporary luxuries and pleasures. But if God does exist, we have the chance of gaining eternal life.

However, Pascal’s faith was itself not based on this calculating, emotionless wager. On November 23, 1654, at age 31, Pascal had a profound 2 hour religious experience. He documented this experience on a piece of paper that he carefully sewed into his coat and always transferred it when he got a new one. It was only discovered by chance after his death.

In it he spoke of certainty; of experiencing God’s presence and with it incredible joy and peace. But he also wrote of the realization that he had fled from God, had renounced and crucified Jesus, and penned a prayer that he would never be separated from Jesus again and a renewed commitment which he describes as:

Renunciation (of self), total and sweet.
Complete submission to Jesus Christ and to my director.
Eternally in joy for a day’s work on the earth.
Blaise Pascal

Seldom has such a mighty intellect submitted with such humility to the authority of Christ. He believed that his own sins could be forgiven and that, when he died, he would enter into an eternity with God because he was in harmony with God based on God’s love and forgiveness.

He was just 39 years old when he died.

I entitled this sermon faith and technology because I believe that the first is the approach we should take when it comes to the problems I have discussed today.