ChatGPT. Cryptocurrency. The Metaverse. The rapid advancements in technological progress over the past decade have revolutionised our standards of living and perspectives on social change. We live in a society where autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence and virtual reality have transcended the realm of fiction and entered into the real world. Although these high-tech innovations are still in their nascent stage, it raises the critical question that we must face: Where is the place of God in the technology age?
It seems as if Christian faith is not needed to inspire social good and only serves as a barrier to technological progress. To avoid being labelled as a Luddite, I want to affirm that technological progress has been a major force of good in our world, changing our society for the better. However, I also want to acknowledge the shortcomings of technology and its inability to address the human element of sin. In this article, I seek to explain why a Christian view of ethics is not only beneficial but necessary as we navigate the complex space of technological progress.
Is god really necessary?
Given the significant role that technology has played in societal improvements, it may sound foolish to even question its positive impacts. Innovations such as telehealth, video conferencing and online learning platforms have transformed our healthcare, political and education systems in recent years. In 2020, the tech industry alone contributed 10.5% of the total US GDP and was estimated to be worth roughly $5.2 trillion globally1.
The tangible social value almost seems to justify the blind optimism and wholehearted dependence that many have placed on technology. It goes without denying that software like Zoom and TikTok were integral in connecting people throughout the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, valid concerns were raised over their poor security measures and predatory algorithms. This trend has only followed latest developments in artificial intelligence like DALL-E and GPT-3, which has stirred controversy among artists and writers as AI generated media threatens creative expression.
As technology continues to progress at an alarming rate, it has become evident that ethics is not a discussion that can be simply avoided. As a result, proponents for Big Tech have conceded to the growing need for ethical principles and stricter regulation. But they’re not looking to religion for a solution.
It would be reasonable to hold reservations on whether a seemingly archaic religion like Christianity could truly contain the answers required for the contemporary ethical issues that technology creates. Christian morals seem to be at best, unnecessary distractions to modern enterprise and at worst, an active hindrance towards an inevitable digital future. This is quite a common stance and I wouldn’t fault anyone for thinking along these lines. However, a deeper analysis of the Christian worldview actually reveals that faith is compatible with and addresses the moral complexity of technological progress.
Technology as a force for good
Contrary to what one might assume, Christianity finds many common threads with the goals of technological progress, namely social good and moral responsibility. The purpose of innovation is rarely ever for innovation’s sake, but rather, technology typically develops as a means of tackling social issues or improving quality of life.
One attempt to bring about positive social change is a vision for a better Internet known as web3. It proposes a decentralised blockchain-based Internet which empowers users through ownership of digital assets using NFT’s and financial liberty through cryptocurrency2. While its practical benefit is still under debate, it pinpoints a general assumption shared among both Christianity and Big Tech. There is an acute awareness that our world is not a perfect place and our duty is to make it a better one.
Building on this, it may not come as a surprise that the Christian worldview is committed to promoting good and correcting social injustices. But what happens when positive change isn’t the goal? Rising doubts over privacy and censorship on social media have cast Big Tech companies such as Google, Amazon, Meta, Microsoft and Apple in a negative light. Furthermore, the abuses of digital monopolies for personal gain by tech moguls such as Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk have turned public opinion from admiration to disillusionment. This loss of trust endangers the vision of a technological utopia and highlights the desperate need for guidelines to safeguard responsible use of technology.
In 2018, Salesforce hired its first Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer, tasked with implementing a framework to promote ethical use of technology across the company3. This desire for accountability is actually affirmed by the Bible’s consistent instruction to act with honesty, integrity and moral virtue. I hope this helps us realise the great degree of overlap between the ethical aims of technological progress and the Christian worldview.
The shortcomings of technology
Having examined the merits of technological progress, it would only be fair to also recognise its underlying limitations. First and foremost, the purpose of technology as a force for good is ultimately undermined by its assumptions about human morality. The modern concept of technological progress is built upon the tenets of secular humanism, which argues that human beings are capable of determining morality without religion.
The fundamental distinction posed by Christianity is that human morality is predisposed towards selfishness and wrongdoing because of sin. While this belief might sound rather pessimistic, one only needs to take a candid look at the world we’ve built to see it lived out. Most of the social issues which technology seeks to fix are perpetuated by human greed, hatred or corruption. Within free market capitalism, innovation is inherently motivated by profits, often perpetuating or actively contributing to world injustices.
Worse yet, the misuse of technology fueled by sin has led to undue pain and suffering. A clear example is the use of artificial intelligence in deepfake software, which manipulates digital images and videos to replace someone’s likeness. While this could be used for numerous helpful applications, it has already been exploited to spread fake news, create revenge pornography and commit financial fraud4. Similarly, the abuse of facial recognition software by foreign governments to oppress minorities and undesirables carries dangerous implications.
The perennial problem of ‘bad actors’ chasing profit within the cryptocurrency market still remains unresolved, with potential for scamming, theft and money laundering. The pursuit of technological progress tends to overemphasise the benefits of new technologies while neglecting to account for the capacity for individuals, companies and governments to abuse and misuse them. As it stands, an inherent trust in technology leaves us unequipped and unable to confront the issue of sinful human instinct.
The Need for God in Big Tech
Big Tech is often praised for its efforts towards inclusivity, but exceptions are allowed when it comes to expressing Christian beliefs. Roman Catholic entrepreneur Peter Rex argues that “this discomfort with faith cuts off much of tech from the moral foundation it needs”. This sentiment is echoed by Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich who resigned under pressure he faced for his Christian beliefs on marriage. He remarked that the lack of faith in the tech industry “encourages a moral vacuum in which tech itself is held up as a god”5. Technology is a great tool for social advancement but a poor benchmark for morality; treating it as such would be unreasonable.
If we want to develop a robust ethical framework for emerging technologies, Christianity uniquely offers a much more compatible and attractive alternative compared to a secular worldview. It operates on the premise that the world does require repairing and technology is one method to remedying that. It also takes into account the selfish nature of human beings and encourages moral behaviour. The Bible acknowledges and affirms these ideals but rejects the notion that change will happen through better technology or heavier government oversight.
The predicament that plagues technological progress originates in the human heart, and the gospel addresses that through Jesus Christ. It reasons that our propensity towards evil stems from our fractured relationship with God, the source of good. Christian hope is not placed in salvation from this world through technology, but restored moral living. The gospel enables us to freely embrace selfless living, equips us with future hope and provides us with a solid ethical framework to pursue healthy technological progress.
The secular approach to technological progress has proven insufficient to appropriately deal with the emerging moral complications. On the other hand, the Christian worldview provides an ethical framework that affirms the need to improve our flawed society, does not underestimate human limitations and advocates selfless behaviour with accountability. The position that technological progress can operate without and in fact thrives without God is naive and reckless.
Our response should not be to abandon technology altogether but rather to engage by speaking the truth of the Bible to direct us in our moral confusion. While the obstacles of technological abuse will not disappear overnight, Christianity offers a hopeful outlook on responsible innovation. My hope is that we can all see that the search for meaningful ethics in technological progress finds its fulfilment in the Christian worldview.
- “25 Trending Tech Industry Statistics : The State of the U.S. Tech Industry”. (2022) https://www.zippia.com/advice/tech-industry-statistics/
- “Introduction to web3”. (2023) Ethereum. https://ethereum.org/en/web3/
- “Paula Goldman Joins Salesforce as VP, Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer”. (2018). Salesforce News. https://www.salesforce.com/news/stories/paula-goldman-joins-salesforce-as-vp-chief-ethical-and-humane-use-officer/
- “Legal Issues of Deepfakes”. (2021) https://www.internetjustsociety.org/legal-issues-of-deepfakes
- “Tech entrepreneur: ‘Silicon Valley is hostile to Christian belief’”. (2022) https://www.christian.org.uk/news/tech-entrepreneur-silicon-valley-is-hostile-to-christian-belief/