Unless you are a Martian who just arrived on a UFO, you know that the world is becoming both increasingly complicated, and facing ever bigger, seemingly monumental, problems. Some days it really does seem as though the sky is falling!
There is both good news and bad news. The good news is that we've been here before. Doomsday has been repeatedly predicted, but so far it hasn't arrived. For example, Thomas Malthus predicted in 1798 in An Essay on the Principle of Population that population growth was unsustainable: population was increasing faster than the available supply of food, and thus the world would literally run out of food! About 50 years ago, similar arguments were made by Malthus's intellectual descendants. Paul Ehrlich, a biologist at Washington University in St. Louis, as well as a group known as the Club of Rome, made similar predictions. MIT in the summer of 1970 gathered a group of distinguished experts to address the problem. Out of the gathering came a book titled The Limits to Growth, which made Malthusian-like predictions. Likewise, dire predictions have repeatedly been made that the world would run out of oil and other energy reserves. The funny thing is, these dire predictions never seem to materialize!
There's a common reason for this good news – technology keeps getting better. Malthus, Ehrlich, the Club of Rome, and others predictors of doom never adequately seem to consider how improvements in science and technology will alter the equation.
So what's the bad news? It actually has to do with the very science and technology that appears to keep rescuing all of us from doom. You ask, what could possibly be wrong with science and technology that keeps "saving our bacon"? I see two problems. First, new science and technology always seem to raise important new ethical dilemmas for us. As an example, scientists have developed amazing new technology that permits cloning. The ability to do this raises a whole host of issues. For example, many if not most people think it's probably okay to clone an animal such as a sheep, but totally reject the idea of cloning humans. Where should the line on cloning be drawn? How should decisions be made? Christians naturally argue that the Bible should be the source of decision-making, but I don't recall anything in the Bible that remotely addresses the question of the suitability of cloning, for example. We are, of course, admonished not to "play God", but is cloning really that? Maybe ... but in some cases, maybe not.
Second, as our science and technology become ever more sophisticated, there is a tendency for us all to believe that our salvation lies in science and technology. Needless to say, Christians have, or should have, a problem with that. After all, there are clear limits to science and technology.
When issues related to the ethics of science and technology arise, Christians need to be at the table, participating fully in the discussion. We need to be taken seriously. That's one of the key reasons I believe it's important for Christians to come up with a better answer concerning Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, as well as the Big Bang Theory. As I've repeatedly noted, to the extent that non-Christians perceive that Christians are naïve about these scientific theories, they're less likely to take us seriously on some, if not all, of these other science and technology related ethical and moral dilemmas.
So what are some of the top ethical dilemmas related to science and technology? The John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology and Values at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana prepares an annual list of top issues. Their 2017 list was published a few weeks ago (see http://news.nd.edu/news/reilly-center-releases-2017-list-of-emerging-ethical-dilemmas-and-policy-issues-in-science-and-technology/).
Most of these emerging issues are not things that the average person spends much, if any, time pondering. For example, the Reilly Center is concerned about what it calls "brain hacking." (see http://reillytop10.com/2016/12/14/brain-hacking/). Scientists have developed devices that a person can wear on the head to measure EEG waves. EEG provides a measure of what your brain is doing. Measuring EEG waves could be beneficial in certain circumstances. An excellent example is protection of your computer. Password protection of your computer is a clumsy, highly inadequate solution: people hate passwords; the passwords they use can generally be easily cracked; and really secure password protection systems tend too be too awkward and complicated to use. After all, everyone knows that you should have passwords that are at least 8 characters long, use both capitals and lower case letters, numbers and special characters such as the @ sign, and should not use common words, but such passwords are very hard to remember. Thus, oftentimes when people actually create such passwords, they write the password on a Post It note and stick on the machine, available for all to see! To the rescue may come EEG brainwaves. Each person's EEG brainwaves are unique, so if there is a simple way to measure them, they could provide very robust protection of one's user data.
EEG waves aren't a practical solution, at least not yet, but what happens when it becomes practical to rely upon your unique EEG "signature" to secure access to your computer?
The concern is that a hacker might surreptitiously hack into a headset, steal the information and gain a whole host of private information. Think about it? It's one thing for a hacker to steal your password, then access your computer. In this case, not only would the hacker gain access to your computer, he'd also potentially have access to your private thoughts! I don't know about you, but that sounds pretty creepy to me.
As with most everything science and technology related, there are both good things and bad things. The question is, of course, how can the benefits be gained without the negative downsides? Who should regulate these activities? Do Christians have any unique perspectives on this? Now it may be premature to get concerned about brain hacking, at least for the moment. I can assure, however, there are other science and technology issues that are definitely relevant today. Christians need to be both aware of them, as well as be prepared to offer an informed opinion about them. We'll discuss more of these in upcoming posts.