Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Is 'creation' technology?


As a Christian I obviously adhere to the Judeo-Christian belief that Yahweh is the author of creation. I am less concerned with specifying the how. Science it seem to me to be as good as anything we as humans have devised for discovering some truths but I don't believe it is the whole truth. For now, given that science as it uncovers more evidence for this theory or that theory holds to a particular time line for the evolution of plants and animals in the billions of years. This, I am happy to ascent to with the proviso that science updates its opinions every now and then.

I will say now that there is a point to the title of this blog, but it is a logic that will reveal itself across a mini-series.

So all that said, I love watching natural history programs. Everything is fair game, but my bias is towards documentaries on plants. The problem with animal shows is they kind of start with a presumption that because we are animals we know something about being an animal. Thus, they focus on animal behaviour and speculating on emotions and thinking etc. This gets a bit much at times. What I love about documentaries on plants is that focus on the biological mechanisms plants deploy to achieve this or that goal - such as laying down carbon ie growing. We could say that these mechanisms are a form of 'technology'.

I have just finished watching on a public broadcast channel here in Canada a BBC documentary called 'How to Grow A Planet'. Just brilliant with some of the most amazing photography I have ever seen.

The question for this blog is: "Is Creation Technology" 

So the key words are 'creation' and 'technology'. So no need to define creation, we can just define it as the God stuff - everything not made by humans.

Typically technology is defined as pretty much everything else - i.e. the human stuff.

Brian Arthur has THE best definition of technology I have come across.

His definition of “technology” has three components: (1) a means to fulfill a human purpose, (2) an  assemblage of practices and components and (3) a collection of devices and engineering practices available to a culture.  

So no luck there for turning the created order into technology. But lets play a mind game.

Put yourself in the position of Yahweh, he has a problem. He has a barren lifeless rock, but he wants it to be habitable for a species that he wants to create to be in relationship with.  How to turn barren earth without anything into an abundance of life. Interestingly, scientists and engineers are beginning to think about this exact problem, because there is the challenge of moving to live on another planet.

If you are God you need to create techniques and mechanisms to, for example, maintain a certain level of oxygen in the atmosphere that you want because it will easier to build a self sustaining system.

So lets play with the terms.

(1) a means to fulfill a human purpose,
(A) creation - a means to fulfill God's purpose {that works];

(2) an  assemblage of practices and components
(B) an assemblage of practices and components - look at how all the components of a plant or the human body are built together into one organism and those form ecosystems in particular regions which collectively form the biosphere [hey that actually works pretty well];

(3) a collection of devices and engineering practices available to a culture.  
(C) DNA is a pretty interesting collection of practices all to its own, and an enormous quantity of DNA is shared across animals and plants. Curiously across natural world technologies there is a collection and diversity - that is why we use the biological analogy for technological evolution so much [okay so I think that also  works]

So actually, using Arthur's definition we can usefully define creation as technology - from a particular perspective.

What we get blinded by is the sheer sophistication of plants and animals.

Photosynthesis is totally amazing. The BBC haven't posted their fabulous photography unfortunately. So look on line there are a ton of videos - not as beautiful or elegant as the recent series, but I'm sure they will reuse the footage or it will get to youtube eventually.

Anyway, photosynthesis takes sunlight to power the process of taking carbon dioxide combining it with water to lay down carbon in the plant and then oxygen is the waste product dissipating into the air.

Then there are plant animal interactions.
The interaction between the Orphium frutescens flower of South Africa and the carpenter bee is really interesting. The bee must hit the note of 'middle C' to get the flower to release its pollen. Watch it here.

Multiply this a million times for just a single ecosystem with the flows of water, nutrients, animals and plants - (ecosystems dynamics is my second passion), and the continuing inspiration for how I think about technology, economics and society. But the point is ecosystems scale from what is in your backyard to the entire planet with incredible complexity and diversity.


So have I convinced you, is creation a complex system of technologies.
In my next blog I will outline the implications of creation being technological in nature.