I always enjoy reading L.M. Sacasas’ thoughts on the intersection of technology, society, and ethics. This article is no different. In addition to the quotation from G.K. Chesterton which provides the title for this post, Sacasas also quotes Wendell Berry as saying, “It is easy for me to imagine that the next great division of the world will be between people who wish to live as creatures and people who wish to live as machines.”
While I’ve chosen to highlight the part riffing off David Noble’s discussion of technology as religion, I’d highly recommend reading the last three paragraphs of Sacasas’ article. In it, he talks about AI as being “the culmination of a longstanding trajectory… [towards] the eclipse of the human person”.
The late David Noble’s The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention, first published in 1997, is a book that I turn to often. Noble was adamant about the sense in which readers should understand the phrase “religion of technology.” “Modern technology and modern faith are neither complements nor opposites,” Noble argued, “nor do they represent succeeding stages of human development. They are merged, and always have been, the technological enterprise being, at the same time, an essentially religious endeavor.”
The Enlightenment did not, as it turns out, vanquish Religion, driving it far from the pure realms of Science and Technology. In fact, to the degree that the radical Enlightenment’s assault on religious faith was successful, it empowered the religion of technology. To put this another way, the Enlightenment—and, yes, we are painting with broad strokes here—did not do away with the notions of Providence, Heaven, and Grace. Rather, the Enlightenment re-framed these as Progress, Utopia, and Technology respectively. If heaven had been understood as a transcendent goal achieved with the aid of divine grace within the context of the providentially ordered unfolding of human history, it became a Utopian vision, a heaven on earth, achieved by the ministrations Science and Technology within the context of Progress, an inexorable force driving history toward its Utopian consummation.
In other words, we might frame the religion of technology not so much as a Christian heresy, but rather as (post-)Christian fan-fiction, an elaborate imagining of how the hopes articulated by the Christian faith will materialize as a consequence of human ingenuity in the absence of divine action.
Image: Midjourney (see alt text for prompt)