Monday, October 31, 2016


Despite going to church my entire life, until very recently I was not aware that the narrative we receive in Church about Genesis was not the only possible option. Stumbling over Dumbrell's assessment that 'good' in the first chapter of Genesis probably only means efficient - as in ecological systems are 'efficient', was quite the surprise.

The story is a bit complex but the early church fathers accepted the Greek view that the soul was immortal - even if the Christian view was that the body died and were then raised to life in the future. I have been listening to Iain Provan's (Prof at Regent College in Vancouver) talks to Gospel Conversations and lo and behold he makes the point that  'immortality of the soul' was the invention of a dude called "Athenagoras, the Athenian", taken up by Tertullian ( , then Augustine. 

Tertullian makes the following comment in Concerning the Resurrection of the Flesh (translation by Souter 1921: 7): 

I will therefore make use even of the opinion of one Plato, when he proclaims: "every soul is [im]mortal" it seems the translator made a mistake with this sentence given the context. 

 - Tertullian wanting to use the lesser (Greek philosophy to to support the stronger arguments in Christian text.

Later Tertullian (1) writes:

... would not the living and true God have cleansed any worthless material by His working, and healed it from every illness? or will this conclusion remain, that man fashioned God in a more honourable way than God fashioned man?
... This being so, you have both the clay made glorious by the hand of God, and the flesh made yet more glorious by the breath of God, by which the flesh laid aside the crude state of mud and took on the adornments of the soul.
So while Tertullian does not explictly (it seems) suggest that human were created 'perfect' it is probably not a far stretch. By the time we get to Athanasius it seems generally accepted that we go from incorruptible to corruption to incorruptible

And so little by little we have the building up of the argument that the Genesis texts supports the view so many Christians unquestioningly support today - Eden was the cradle of the first perfect humans (who then 'fell').

But we do have reason to question this... As we have already seen good = efficient not perfect.

What then of Eden. Surely the first clue that all is not as it should be with the tradition (leaving aside science for time being) is that Eden was a definable garden - a geographically separate place - not the whole Earth.

8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin[d] and onyx are also there.)13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush.[e] 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
Now before going further it is important to repeat something that John Walton started every class with:

The Genesis text is written for us not to us. To explain in my words - Shakespeare's plays can stand alone. They are readable, even understandable at some level because they grapple with the human condition in a recognisable way but unless you know the Elizabethan period in England and something about the art of play writing you will miss as much as you gain from them. So we could say Shakespeare's plays were written for us but not to us.

So to Eden.

In Mesopotamia cities as we would understand that term - economically diverse agglomerations of living spaces (homes) and commercial activity were outcome not the primary purpose of the building of a city. The primary purpose was the construction of a temple complex. The most original entities of the cities weren't really what we would think of as cities as all. The Ziggurat-Temple-Garden complex was the city initially at least.

Every city had a god and thus every city had a Ziggurat.
The plan of the temple was rectangular with the corners pointing in cardinal directions to symbolize the four rivers which flow from the mountain to the four world regions.
I haven't seen it mentioned elsewhere but John Walton indicated that the purpose of a Ziggurat was so that the God could come down to Earth and live in the Ziggurat (note the Babel link).

The Ziggurat was a temple for the city god to come down from the heavens and be served and rule, residing in the temple (note Genesis connection a and differences).

The Ziggurat-Temple-Garden Complex this post I’d like to focus on how Genesis 2 describes our relationship to the rest of creation. These relationships are given deeper significance when we recognize that the garden is being described as a temple-like “sacred space,” not just an ordinary garden. There are numerous clues in the passage that this is the case. John Walton writes that the Garden/temple parallels “are givens that are simply assumed by the author and audience”1 of Genesis, but we completely miss them if we take fail to read the text the way the ancient author and audience would have. In the Ancient Near East (ANE), all sacred space was conceived of as something like a temple; it was a place where humans would serve God and experience their closest access to Him. Thus in ANE cultures, a temple complex was seen as being the apex and a microcosm of creation and the earthly abode of the god(s). Descriptions of temples often pictured a river flowing from under the temple and flowing out through an adjacent garden, symbolizing the fertile extravagance of the divine provision. A temple garden would be no mere backyard vegetable patch, but rather an elaborate, beautifully landscaped botanical park. The same temple/river picture can be seen in the description of the eschatological temple in Ezekiel (ch. 47) and Revelation (chs. 21-22, where the final temple is God Himself). Sound familiar? In Genesis 2 we also have a river flowing “from Eden [‘Abundance’] to water the garden” (v. 10). Quoted from and based on 1. John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 125.
Thus in the ancient near east gardens were somewhere for the gods to walk but private and walled off from everybody except maybe the priests. 

Now the Genesis story images that idea with important pivot. Yahweh did come walking and thus that would make Adam and Eve more like priests (such as when the Tabernacle was built in Israel's Exodus. But Adam and Eve are not there to serve God, the garden is for there pleasure. However, they maybe there to walk with and learn from God.  Nothing in the account suggests that Adam and Eve were the first humans, once reading in the light of the ANE literature they are more like Israel's line of patriarchs / matriarchs, priests (Moses / Aaron) or prophets. God intervenes into history to direct people towards him. 

The story inverts the usual reasoning of the Mesopotamians - than the gods want people to serve them. The Genesis story is that the Earth and the Garden are established for people. 
So Eden is a place for people to learn from Yahweh who he is and what he expects but then we trip up.

(1) In reading through Steenberg's book , he does not bring attention to Tertullian thinking of creation as perfect at commencement.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Spiritual Guidance for Artificial Intelligences

Sorry, but September has been busy so my new series will continue when I get a chance. So this month I turn to Q Ideas and recent talks by Keven Kelly.

Absolutely worth viewing.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Do you want to read something interesting about "efficiency"

Lately I have been spending a lot of time trying to better understand the early chapters of Genesis and the nature of sin. This is because it appears so critical to the foundations of writers of technology from a Christian perspective. In part this involved taking a class with John Walton  at Regent College this summer.

I won't go into it much here but Walton is becoming known for is his recent work outlining his understanding that the early chapters of Genesis are not primarily talking about the creation of material matter. Instead, he claims that the chapters are outlining a view that God creating an orderly functional home for humans and animals. As he states in his book "The Lost World of Adam and Eve" this is the difference between a House and a Home story. We have for a long time read Genesis as a house story - structure, plumbing etc. Walton wants us to see it as a home story - order and function. God creating an ordered place for animals and humans. 

Now, in attempting to understand the extent to which Walton has extended what has already been discussed about Genesis, I started to read what other OT Hebrew competent scholars would say of Genesis 1, so I got hold of "The Search For Order" by Dumbrell. Dumbrell was a Prof at Australia's Moore College - hardly a 'liberal' seminary.

Any follower of the topic of Christianity and technology would be familiar that for Ellul (as one example) one of the big problems is that the drive for technology as he perceives it is that - it is all about efficiency. I think his view exaggerates its significance but I won't pursue that here.

Anyway, what I want to highlight in this post is the following quote from Dumbrell.
The word ţôb (good) has a very broad range of meanings, and the translation of it must depend entirely on the immediate context. The adjective, which can certainly mean aesthetical or ethical good, need not be understood in terms of perfection in the context of Genesis 1. However, ţôb would be the word to use if one wanted to convey the concept of ultimate perfection (whatever that would mean, since it presupposes a standard of comparison). If ţôb in Genesis 1 conveys the concept of a perfect universe, the concept is without parallel in the Old Testament. In the context of Genesis 1:31 the meaning of ţôb is best taken as “efficient” (Kohler and Baumgartner 1958: 349). Thus, the emphasis in the narrative of creation in Genesis 1 is upon the complete correspondence between divine intention and the universe, which was suitable to fulfil the purpose for which it was brought into being (1994: 20-21). 
I can't help but see this at the very least as humourous and heading towards a large dose of irony. The devastating criticism of modern technology by Ellul was that it was efficient. 

However, it seems like when you read in Genesis 1 "and it was good" we could equally translate it as ... "and it was efficient"

So God saw what he had made and saw that it was functional and efficient - oh dear.....

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Norris Clarke S.J. #4

Norris Clarke describes himself as a metaphysican not predominantly a theologian.
The difference may take some explaining.

"One and the Many" (2001)

“although the scope of the metaphysical is universal, embracing all being, its method of investigation is strictly philosophical. i.e. drawing on the resources of natural reason alone as applied to our common human experience, without taking its data or its conclusions from any higher source of wisdom transcending the human, such as divine revelation and its theological explication. Should the metaphysician as a personal thinker, however, judge these to be authentic, they should be respected; and occasionally they can be sources of new illumination on the deeper meaning of the natural order itself, so as to stimulate natural reason to look more deeply into our human experience to discern what it may have overlooked before. This is to respect the great guiding principle of medieval Christian thinkers’ who were both theologians and philosophers, namely that God has spoken to us in two great books: The Book of Nature where created things speak to us directly, and the The Book of Revelation, where God himself reveals to us his own inner nature , his free gifts and special plans for humanity. These two books written by the same author can not contradict each other.

Clarke’s life’s work was devoted to as he called it the ‘creative retrieval’ of Thomistic thought.

"Explorations in Metaphysics: Being God: Person" (1994)

p107. The modern church in exploring ways to better connect with the wider population has reconnected with its long tradition of emphaising relationality. Relationships between the trinity, us and God and  us as collective individuals in need to be a community. But this leaves us somewhat unembodied. 

Clarke seems to me to offer a way out of this without denying relationality.

Explorations in Metaphysics. 
"To Be is to be substance in relation".

Thus, for humans as material substance to exist and have relationship is be be physical and not mere vapour. Indeed as Clarke implies the second you materially exist you exist within a complex web of relations. Indeed this completely is true and more and more fields of science have begun to emphasis substance-in-relation network analysis over the last 20 years or so – but Clarke provides us with a metaphysical interpretation not a sociological one.

In every finite (created) substance there is a more primordial relation of receptivity constitutive of its very being before it can pour over into action at all: namely, that it has received its very act of existence from another, ultimately from God, the source of all existence. Thus we should describe every created being as possessing its own existence from another, in itself and oriented toward others – a triadic rather than just a dyadic structure.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Norris Clarke S.J. #3

Technology and Man: A Christian Vision
Author(s): W. Norris Clarke, S. J.
Source: Technology and Culture, Vol. 3, No. 4, Proceedings of the Encyclopaedia Britannica
Conference on the Technological Order (Autumn, 1962), pp. 422-442

Just a word to the reader - please stick with it to the end. The journey I promise is worthwhile.


.... I shall now set myself to sketching the broad outlines of the view of technology identified above. The clearest way of doing this would undoubtedly be to move down from above, that is, from God and His plan for man and the universe down to technology as an element in this plan. But in fact I am going to follow the opposite path, that is, to advance in a series of ascending spirals beginning from what is closer to us, from what is more immediately determinable and more widely agreed upon about the relation of technology to man, then rising to the analysis of man as a hierarchy of spirit over matter, next to the theistic vision of the origin and meaning of human life, and finally up to the full Christian vision of man's present and ultimate destiny, a vision accessible only to those who believe in the Christian Revelation given by God to His Church. The purpose of following this ascending path is that, in an audience like this, including as it does persons of all shades of religion or lack of it, I may be able to keep as many of you with me on the ascent for as long a time as your own principles can stand it.

…. It is that technology, being a partial activity of man, can be properly evaluated only if it is set in the context of the total reality and good of man and not judged as a self-sufficient whole exclusively in terms of its own inner laws and dynamism. The same is true of any partial human activity, such as, for example, athletics, or recreation, or business, etc. Thus it would be a dangerous distortion of perspective to say that whatever is good for the advance of athletics is good for man, just as it would be to say that whatever is good for General Motors is good for the country.

(*) Hence a first essential principle for the wise use of technology in any culture is the conviction that it cannot (without profoundly disruptive effects) be made an end in itself, allowed to develop and be applied, throttle wide open, with no other guiding principle than the unfolding of its own intrinsic potentialities at the fastest possible tempo. This conviction must be firmly held and acted on by the leaders of our society, from the gov-ernment down, and impressed by appropriate control from above, if necessary, on the decision-makers within technology itself, if they are not able or willing to see its necessity under their own initiative. As a matter of fact, many of the latter already do see it quite as clearly as anyone else. This vision may not always be equally shared, however, on the lower echelons of technological planning and execution.
Response. First, I wholeheartedly agree that technology is one among many activities of humankind and thinking it different is a mistake.

Second, Clarke here makes an interesting logical mis-step and one that is common to those outside the study of technology. Just as it would be impossible to control human activities in recreation or athletics then it is equally impossible to control technology. We can curb it we hopefully create incentives to push it in the right direction but control - NO! Look how difficult it is to police doping - we think it is a bad thing but stopping it .... Even now some suggest two tiered Olympics one where literally anything goes and the other a clean Olympics. Would that be a good thing? There are no planners of technology and it is impossible to understand the ripple effects of a single technology on society … and the more complex the interacting systems the more impossible planning becomes. Just think how hard it would have been for Apple to imagine Uber when they were creating the smartphone. The point is technology is an ecosystem - where a new plant or animal is introduced into a particular system there is little knowing what the repercussions will be because the interdependencies are so varied and complex - so with technology. Good directions ultimately come from the moral health of the population.

(*) According to this analysis of man, the fundamental role of the whole material universe is to serve as a theater and instrument for the gradual evolution of man, both individual and race, to full self-consciousness, self-mastery, self-development, and self-expression of his free, conscious spirit in and through matter. Accordingly, the role of technology is twofold. Its first aim is liberation of man from servitude to matter. That is to say, its role is to free man's energies more and more from their primitive state of almost total absorption in sheer brute physical labor as an essential condition for physical survival. By inventing more and more effective techniques for getting nature to work for him instead of against him, man frees himself progressively from absorption in fulfilling his elementary animal needs, in fact from exhausting physical labor in achieving any of his goals, lower or higher. The energy thus liberated can be diverted upwards into his various higher and more characteristically human levels of activity, i. e., more and more penetrated by spirit. The fundamental principle of technology at work here is that in proportion as any activity of man depends more predominantly on sheer physical effort, especially of a routine repeti-tive kind, so much the more apt is it to be handled by machines, releasing the person himself for other activities requiring skills of a more intellectual and creative order. Thus technology is an indispensable instrument in man's progressive self-realization of his nature and dignity as a man, that is, as superior to all the lower levels of non-rational material beings. The second function of technology looks in the opposite direction from the first. The first was to liberate or elevate man above servitude to matter. The second looks back again toward matter. It becomes the instrument whereby the liberated spirit of man can turn again toward the material world and dominate it in a new active way, making it a medium for the spirit's creative self-expression and self-realization.

Response. The language is too strong for my 21st century ear – knowing how far we have over stretched our little planet. I certainly react negatively to the language here, but I also feel there is something deeper that my reaction to the superficial and indeed maybe Clarke's own being of his time failed him in conveying what may be deeper in his mind. There is something deep here that appeals to me and something almost contradictory in Clarke. As I have struggled with my own understanding of the role of technology in a Christian context the thing that stands out most starkly to me is how early in the human record we collectively starting making tools. Language and stone axes date back a long way. It has been my own discovery of Clarke that has given me a language for this The created human being in a material universe – this above all else points to the nature of technology making under God. We inhabit physicality not by accident but by design. God designed it this way and the manipulation of material matter and it is almost unimaginable that under these conditions we would not have manipulated matter and thereby introduced technologies. Maybe he is too quick and too directional in his vision of humankind but I feel an elemental truth that humans are learning creativeness from the master creator in a physical universe.

The contradiction - Clarke here reads a little too neo-platonic for me. At present my imagination does not stretch in the direction of Clarke towards domination in the terms that our ears may hear that term – but being physical creatures we may learn to shape and be shaped by physicality under the spirit.

Even though this is taken from the first loop of his spiral I would suggest humankind has got itself into way too much trouble aready thinking itself LORD of the plant - something a little humbler I suggest is needed.

(*)In the traditional spiritualist vision of man, at least in the West, the tendency was all too frequently to look on matter primarily as the negation, the opposite of spirit, weighing it down, imprisoning it. The most effective remedy was to turn away from matter towards a world of pure uncontaminated spirit. Now matter appears rather as a kind of complement or correlative to spirit, not radically opposed to it and closed to it, but mysteriously open and apt, if properly handled, to receive the impression of spirit and to serve as medium for the spirit's own self-expression and self-development. The Thomistic doctrine of the natural union of soul and body, not as a punishment but for the good of the soul, and of the soul as the natural "form" or informing principle of the body, here takes on a depth and richness of meaning which might have startled, as it would also have delighted, I am sure, even St. Thomas Aquinas himself. For now the whole material universe becomes, as it were, an extension of man's own body, and thus becomes informed by his soul in an indirect and instrumental way. The fundamental moral principle relevant here is that man's new-found power over matter should be used according to the proper order of values, that is, for the expression and fulfillment of his higher and more spiritual capacities, and not merely for his greater material and sensual self-indulgence and catering to the body.
Response. This vision of the unification of ‘soul’ and ‘material’ seems completely obvious – just as McGilchrist in the “Master and its Emissary” points to the human’s brain’s division, specialisation and essential unity. The words slip through the fingers like sand  - a little illusively but much to ponder.

(*)Let us now mount one rung higher in our ascending spiral. The previous level established the order of subordination between matter and spirit and therefore oriented the aim of technology upwards as an instrument for the life of spirit. But it left undetermined just what was the deeper significance and ultimate goal of man's self-development through the mighty power of technology which he has now made his servant. Here the theistic vision of man and the universe opens up new horizons. Man's own origin and destiny now emerge not as a mere accident of landing on top of the heap of the world of matter by some lucky turn of the blind wheel of chance. They are the result rather of God's own creative activity, first bringing into being the material universe as a matrix and instrument for the development of the spirit of man, and then infusing each human soul into this evolving system at its appropriate in time and place. The fundamental perspective here is of man created, as the Book of Genesis puts it, " to the image and likeness of God," with a divinely given destiny to unfold and develop this image to the fullest possible extent in this life, in order to be united in eternal beatific union with Him in the next. Man's self-development and self-expression through matter, with technology as his instrument, now appear not just as the satisfaction of some egotistic drive for power and self-affirmation, but as the fulfilling of a much higher and more sacred vocation, the God-given vocation to authentic self-realization as the image of God his Creator.

Response. This is an enormous vision and one that I feel is in large part compelling. Any queasiness over language can be tempered if we were to replace the term ‘for’ with a term such as 'with'. I am not one of those that sees the Cosmos as purely created for us in some sense although that may be the case but I see it as co-entities created for themselves and each other. We were to cultivate and guard the garden – presumably from ourselves over using and destroying – overconfidence in that it is for us. Clarke writes just a couple of sentences on …. It is rather both a loving gift and a sacred trust to be used well as its Giver intended, with a sense of responsibility and stewardship to be accounted for…

(*) Let us advance now to the last and (to a Christian, at least) highest rung of our ascending spiral, the specifically Christian perspective. This adds on, first, the notion of a primordial sinfulness of the human race, or Fall of man, and secondly, redemption from this state of alienation from God by the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, become man. The first of these two factors is the state of sinfulness of man stemming from a primordial aberration of the race from God, called Original Sin, and compounded further by the individual sinfulness of each human being down the ages. As a result there is a fundamental duality or ambivalence in man's will. Instead of being drawn spon-taneously toward God and his authentic good in a properly ordered manner, man tends also spontaneously toward self-centered egotism, sensuality, self-indulgence, lust for power, wealth, pride, and self-aggrandizement. In fact, unless enlightened and strengthened by divine grace, man tends more immediately and spontaneously to satisfy his lower, more material, and more selfish desires than his higher, more spiritual, and more altruistic or self-transcending desires. Thus technology must now be set in the framework of a radical ambivalence in man toward both good and evil at once, with the re-sulting very real possibility of grave misuse of this powerful instru-ment, itself morally neutral and capable of being put to either good or evil use. The danger is especially great in the case of technology, since by its fundamental orientation toward matter it puts in man's hands the power to gratify almost without limit his material and sen-sual appetites, if he wishes to turn technology primarily toward these ends. There is also the fact that technology has a peculiar power to absorb the attention of those engaged in it, by virtue of its exciting challenge and spectacularly visible results, whereas the fruits of the spiritual activities of man are less immediate, tangible, and easy to assess. Hence the alert Christian, alive to the full implications of the Christian vision of man, will look on technology with a restrained and carefully qualified optimism, seeing it as at once a great potential good for man by nature and yet in the hands of fallen and selfish human nature an almost equally potent instrument for evil. He will have none of the naive starry-eyed optimism of those who believe that man if left to himself is really a sweet, innocent, woolly white little creature who will be good as gold except for an occasional rare excursion into naughtiness, or of the a priori optimism of those who believe in the religion of automatic constant forward progress, that things are necessarily getting better and better all the time and that any progress in any field at any time is automatically good and for the benefit of man. The second element in the Christian vision is the redemption through the Son of God made man.

Response. This is carefully crafted and nuanced bit of writing that has lost none of its clarity and relevance over the years. The currently starry eyed optimists in silicon valley will do some good and some harm but their optimism is ill founded. Redemption and salvation is only found in one place

(*). One is the intrinsic goodness and dignity of matter itself, which has been sanctified and elevated by the descent into it of God Himself and His assumption of it into personal union with Himself by means of a human body formed from the basic stuff of the material universe just like any other man's. Here we see the God-man Himself using matter as an efficacious instrument or medium both for expressing His own divinity to man in a privileged, we might say, guaranteed, human image, and also for channeling the salvific effects of His divine grace to men through the seven sacraments, each a synthesis of a visible material sign informed by an efficacious spiritual power. In other words, the Incarnation and Redemption through the God-man gives Christians the perfect archetype and model of the openness of matter to spirit we spoke of earlier and its intrinsic apt-ness to serve as the medium of the spirit's self-expression and creative power. This is, as it were, a confirmation from above, by God's own example, of what man could already have discovered, at least in theory, by reflection on his own nature and the experience of working with matter, even though historically the lesson had not yet at that time become clear to him. Thus the labor of the young Jesus as a carpenter in Nazareth already lends in principle a divine sanction to the whole technological activity of man through history. And the doctrine of the ultimate resurrection of all human bodies in a new, more " spiritual-ized " mode of existence, i. e., totally open and docile to the workings of spirit within it, delivers a final coup de grace to the "angelism " of the Platonic and Manichean traditions by presaging the final " deliverance from bondage "

Response. This is such beautiful writing to me. ‘Matter working’ in an openness to God. AI developers take note the essence of humanity is bound up intrinsically in some fascinating way in our physicality and boundedness. Brain downloading and other notions it seems to me are just modern neo-platonic thought and mistake the essence of humanity.

So for me, any uncomfortableness with how Clarke expresses himself at the beginning is greatly diminished by the end when he fully puts man in his place relative to God.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Norris Clarke S.J. (#2)

I want to continue to explore the thinking of W. Norris Clarke S.J.

First I want to look at some of the interesting comments in the 1969 paper.
That ref again.

Furthermore, as technological development proceeds along its course among a people still endowed with a basic biological, social and moral vitality – as I believe our people still is – certain laws of equilibrium and self-correction seem to be constantly and unobtrusively at work. Thus, losses in one area are compensated for in another, or exaggeration in one direction generates its own counter-reaction in the other direction. Thus the very mobility which at present seems, at least temporarily, to be weakening our roots in the family and local community is at the same time strengthening our bonds with the rest of the world. The very increase in the perfection of communication at a distance, as in television, may eventually make it neither necessary nor desirable to move about so feverishly on a small scale as we do now. We may end up by visiting our friends and clients relaxedly on a two-way television circuit rather than by transporting ourselves physically to them along over-crowded highways or airways ….

Clarke is a philosopher not an economist but it is not too big a step to agree with him on the basis of incentives and costs. As costs rise there are incentives to generate technologies in a different direction. So globalisation has increased the movement of people around the world has been the fertile soil for Facebook and Skype - which Clarke is suggesting might be the countervailing system.

What we know now is that technology does not just conform to economics but technology sculpts the macro economics of countries.

He continues.

What of the threatened enslavement of man to machine. The danger is real. But I am convinced the that is is limited by the very inner logic of technology and laws of equilibrium of technology itself to certain transitory types of techniques and local or temporary abuses during periods of transition. The whole innate drive of technology is to substitute machines for man in all areas where monotonous, repetitive actions are the rule, and to leave man free for more intelligent, creative or supervisory work. The supposed threat of constantly increasing slavery to the machine, as some kind of inexorable drift inherent in the process of technology itself seems to me to be largely a myth., without solid historical, psychological or sociological foundation. The true dangers lie in the moral dispositions of those who use technology. The far greater peril is that men may become slaves to their fellow men rather than to the machines.

The whole innate drive of technology is to substitute machines for man in all areas where monotonous, repetitive actions are the rule, and to leave man free for more intelligent, creative or supervisory work. 

Unfortunately, here I have to depart from Clarke a little. This is the 'engineers' view - it is their judgement and perspective on what is monotonous, repetitive actions (thus of less value). The view of the workers who make a living doing these jobs does not always align with these views. And even when it does, there is difference between work of human kind and work for a specific individual. So I am always cautious about these kinds of statements., they tend to come from people who are some what insulated from the treat of technological change in the particular, not necessarily the general global scenario.

On the other hand the comment that the far greater peril is that men may become slaves to their fellow men rather than to the machines I thoroughly agree with. Culture and power - who decides and who accumulates wealth from the implementation of new technologies is what we need to pay much great attention to. 

With all the talk of looming technological unemplotyment what is missing from the debate is enslave of humans to other humans.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Someone you have probably never heard of

From time to time I dip into my collection of old books and occasionally I come up with a winner - very occasionally.

Unlike Heidegger or Ellul the 'stars in the firmament' I will almost guarantee you have never heard of W. Norris Clarke S.J. . Clarke was a Christian philosopher with a Catholic background employed at Fordham University in the USA. Clarke describes himself as a metaphysician devoted to the "creative retrieval" of the thinking of Thomas Aquinas.

I fully admit that my background is protestant covering Presbyterian, Baptist and lately Mennonite and Catholic theology is unfamiliar territory. However, I came across a short reading in

What grabbed my attention was the following comment:

This dynamic dialog of man with nature is inherent in the very presence of man as a rational animal in a material universe.

We could definitely debate 'rational animal - but we could at least agree on semi-rational. Humans are rational enough to create and work with scientific principles.  What captured my attention about this point was two fold.

1) it aligns with how I see the world - our world is physical, our God created us to be physical agents is a material universe. It is an inescapable idea for me that this is purposeful; but

2) the comment stood out more starkly because I have just finished the brilliant In Our Image by Noreen Herzfeld . She makes the stunning observation that there have been 3 standard interpretations of the idea of Image in Genesis - all of which are replicated in techniques being deployed to develop AI.

1. Substantive
2. Functional
3. Relational

What stood out to me about these three conceptualisations of image both in genesis and AI largely ignore (Genesis for obvious reasons) the material and physical. But there is something inescapable about physicality. Jesus returned with a physical body. Paul reinforces that we will be resurrected with physical bodies, yet Christianity has preferenced mind over body. We move through this world and learn what is important to us as singular individuals because we have bodies. A brain downloaded onto a computer would not could have the same determinative selection and specialisation processes. We learn new things because we are in new environments and choose to learn or must learn to stay employed etc.

So what stood out to me about this comment by Clarke is that the physical is integral to the creativeness of humankind.

If you ignore this point I think you can make a strong argument along the conventional Christian lines that technology was never an intention of our creator. However, to me this argument has always had a weak spot. Looking back on human kind's time line we have been making tools for a very long time. The only thing that makes sense of this - combining theology and real history is to understand not the letter of the words but the intent behind the actions as it were. We can argue over single words and what is in the text or not in the text but this seems to miss the bigger picture.

It has always been hard for me to imagine the Ellulian universe - physical beings in a material universe and not shaping something - with hands and a mind picking up a piece of clay would soon have become a pot. A lump of copper a plate or a mirror. The earliest copper objects were formed from Native Copper found lying on the surface in amounts large enough and soft enough to bash into shapes.

We can discuss the words on the page but the bigger story tells a plainer story. If you put an agent - human beings with certain attributes into a physical universe that is constructed a particular way - then you are setting in motion a particular trajectory - one where technologies will result. In AI we are creators in the form of imago hominis (image of humans - Herzfeld) but our earlier attempts have been imago creatio - in the image of creation.

In coming months I want to explore further the writings of Norris Clarke in this blog.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Ellul on Future Technology

I came across this the other day and I could not resist posting it.

 I came across a short reading excerpted from Technological Society in "The new technology and human values" 1969.  -

The first example of piece of technology of the future highlighted by Ellul is to do with Electronic information. Given everyone today has a smartphone the "prediction" is kinda funny.

Well we still haven't done away with the reading bit, however "everything will be received and registered according to the needs of the moment" does sound remarkably true of the present age. The refrain why do we have to "learn this stuff" when we have Google is a refrain to be heard on the lips of current preteen generation. What could not have been seen by anybody was the mass production of wrong or junk information making learning and thinking more important than every.

However, I do particularly like the line: What is needed will pass directly from the machine to the brain without going through consciousness - I think that is a perfect description of Facebook and Twitter.

I will now turn to the second of the two example on the same page. This time giving an image of the whole page for context.

"Natural reproduction will be forbidden" - taking up a similar thought to Aldous Huxley. What is troubling about this is that it is as far off now as it was in the 1950s. 

All joking aside, the problem I have with both predictions are they examples of what I personally find troubling about Ellul is that given a particular smorgasbord of future predictions he has a knack deliberate or out of his own character of choosing the most negative and as the future has shown unlikely to have ever happened.

We can not even know download information into the brain and we are a long way from in and there is no way that reproductive technology will in any forseeable future track along Ellul's prediction purely on economic grounds alone.

So this then is the question if his understanding of the technology leads him to choose poor examples of the future might his philosophical position also need more questioning.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Creator God

The usual way Christians think about God - he is powerful and COULD create in an instant so he would obviously WANT to to create in an instant. 

But if you are committed to instant creationism play along and use this as a thought experiment. How does it change your view of God to think of him as enjoying the creation process. 

If you talk to a carpenter they in enjoy the process of creating more than the finished product. There was a lego builder interviewed on TV last night - he spends weeks building a meticulous model of something and when it is finished he pulls it all apart and starts building something new. God as created a world with endless creative possibilities. I am coming round to the view that instantaneousness is the way we want things - I am not so sure God does things the same way. If you have all of space and time why not be endlessly creative with it. Continue the thought experiment - where do we get theology from - theologians - and most pastors, teachers and book people can't build anything to save their lives - of course God would plan and then build in an instant who could be bothered with the process. 

But ponder this Jesus spent most of his life as carpenter/stonemason - how do we view that ... well he had to do something to fill in time before the real event. But perhaps Jesus enjoyed the chiselling the fine crafting, the physical touching of stone and wood with his human hands. God doesn't do anything by happenchance and I think there is more to Jesus' profession than meets the eye.