Apple and Eve: Revering Technology as God

Throughout history, religion and science have opposed each other, with the church forbidding science practices, and science undermining many religious beliefs. In the modern age, science seems to have largely triumphed, even replacing religion in some ways, with technology fulfilling many of the aspects God is believed to have, from omnipotence to having our faith to the promise of an afterlife. So if science has prevailed, why is it that instead of it retaining its classical aspects of proof and rationality, humans have reimagined it as God? 

 

From the early days of civilization, humans had religion as a means of explaining the ways of the world. Questions about everything from the cosmos to cultural traditions seemed to have an answer from spirituality. However, as science became more and more prevalent, it generally began challenging some religious teachings, causing a historical tension between science and religion (Masci).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

       

 

An increasing number of people, particularly Americans, are identifying as Atheists, not believing in a God (Eagan). This is especially true of people in younger generations, who are much more likely to identify as Atheists ("Atheists").

 

   

 

One example of the conflict between religion and science is when intellectuals argue that “supernatural phenomenon” are not caused by spiritual forces, but by psychological forces occurring in humans’ minds. In the article “The Strange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board,” Linda Rodriguez McRobbie analyzes the use of Ouija boards, an activity that was historically believed to be driven by ghosts, and argues that it is a psychological phenomenon, not a spiritual one (McRobbie). McRobbie first states that the primary purpose of the Ouija board was to make money. “The first patent offers no explanation as to how the device works, just asserts that it does. That ambiguity and mystery was part of a more or less conscious marketing effort,” McRobbie writes. By emphasizing the profit-driven mindset of the board’s original manufacturers, McRobbie positions the board as a gimmick from the start. Since the creators didn’t believe the board actually worked, surely they were deliberately taking advantage of potential consumers, who bought the board believing the manufacturers were genuinely selling a product they could use to speak to the dead. So McRobbie establishes from the start that the boards were a trick, the manufacturers knew there was nothing spiritual about them.

 

Yet in many cases, these Ouija boards appear to work.  McRobbie argues that this is due to psychological phenomena such as the ideometer effect. She seems to show ‘the man behind the curtain,’ asserting with scientific studies and evidence that the Ouija board is a psychological trick, not a supernatural occurrence. To conclude her argument, McRobbie reemphasizes that because the customers bought the board under false pretenses, the boards offer a look into “unknown” human psychology, rather than the “unknown” afterlife. McRobbie says, “Even if they don’t succeed, the UBC team has managed to make good on one of the claims of the early Ouija advertisements: The board does offer a link between the known and the unknown. Just not the unknown that everyone wanted to believe it was.” Many people appear to have some belief in supernatural forces, as they believed there was a possibility they could speak to the dead. If everyone accepts the idea that the mechanics behind Ouija boards, as well as other spiritual forces, are actually psychological phenomena, what will happen to this belief in supernatural occurrences? Perhaps people will become more rational and give up spirituality entirely, though this seems unlikely, given how religion has been prominent for so much of history. Perhaps instead, people will shift their faith to technology and science as they undermine spiritual and religious faiths. If so, what form would this new belief in science take? Science is generally rational and logical, while faith tends to be more emotional. Will people adopt the rational belief in science, or will their belief in science take on a more fervent tone because it is replacing the emotional faith in religion?

To address these questions, one can first argue that many people have already begun to place greater faith in technology and science, perhaps replacing their faith in religion and spirituality. In modern life, with the great advancements of science, technology has not only overshadowed religion for many people, but it has also gained many of the powers we typically associate with God, from omnipotence, to our faith, to the answer for immortality.  

 

When people have questions about almost anything, they can ask Google, and immediately have access to an enormous wealth of information. Google seemingly has the answer to everything. Google seemingly is all-knowing, just as many religions state that God is. Furthermore, big companies with powerful technology have been accused of spying on people through their cameras and microphones, of tracking them, and of using or selling their information (Curran). Privacy is a hot issue to some, but others have simply accepted the invasion of privacy as a part of the modern technological age. Yes, their information is being collected, yes, corporations may know almost everything about their lives, but perhaps that is the price to pay for the great technology, knowledge, and entertainment they have at their fingertips. As a society, whether people consented or not, they largely have this omnipotent force of technology looming over them, watching them, and they appeal to it for answers. Sounds a lot like a construction of God.

 

However, although faith in science is overshadowing religion for some people, this faith in science is often not rational and evidence-backed, as science generally is, but it has taken on the more emotional tone of religious faith. For example, no one knows for sure whether there is a God, yet people still believe. Similarly, most citizens don’t know exactly how technology works, yet they continue to use it and trust in it. In an article by Amy Harmon, “A Dying Young Woman’s Hope in Cryonics and a Future,” a woman named Kim, young and diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, finds a small amount of hope in the thought that she can chemically freeze her brain, to be defrosted or transferred to a robotic medium, so she can be revived one day (Harmon). Kim acknowledged there was a tiny chance of it working, yet she had hope that it would work, putting her faith, 80 grand’s worth of faith, into the possibility. Kim had many ideas about what the future could hold. Harmon writes, “And the infinite scenarios could seem overwhelming. Might she be back in a hundred years, or a thousand? Would Josh be there? In what form? If damaged, maybe her biological brain could actually be repaired?” Kim has no certainty that she will survive, and if she does, what form she will be in. Yet she chooses to believe that some scientists, with more advanced technology in the future, might be able to bring her back to life. This faith in technology mirrors faith in religion because it is based more on emotional hope than scientifically backed, objective evidence. Kim herself admits that there is a small chance of this working, and if it is possible at all, the technology is far away. She turns her faith toward humankind, the same hope for a miracle closely associated with religion.

 

Furthermore, for Kim and perhaps many others, hope for immortality through an afterlife in heaven has been replaced by hope for immortality on Earth. Kim turns to science, not religion, as a means for coping with the harsh reality of dying young. Rather than hoping she will live on in another form in the afterlife, she fixates on what other forms she may take on if she is revived on Earth. Harmon says, “In a culture that places a premium on the graceful acceptance of death, the couple faced a wave of hostility, tempered by sympathy for Kim’s desire, as she explained it, ‘not to miss it all.’” Kim sees dying young as missing out on everything in the world, and she turns to technology, putting her faith in technology, even though such technology may be impossible, for the tiny chance of reincarnation. She does not pray to move on to a better place, but clings on to the hope she can return to life on earth.

 

With the increasing number of atheists in our society, as well as the conflicts of science and religion, it seems that faith in science is largely replacing faith in religion for many people. However, this relatively new development of faith in science has adopted many of the aspects of religion, being more emotional than logical, and having powers we associate with God. Supposing modern culture did turn science into a sort of religion, what is it about human nature that caused this? One reason may be that humans desire to have faith and seek larger meaning to the world. “People want to believe. The need to believe that something else is out there is powerful,” Ouija historian Robert Murch says (Rodriguez). For people who do not believe in a God, or are otherwise entranced by our immense scientific advances, technology is something that seems all-powerful, and perhaps on the way to all-knowing, a force to solve all our problems and give us hope. Perhaps part of human nature is to long for meaning in the world, directed by some larger power. If people can no longer use religion to satisfy that need, perhaps instead they have turned to technology. Especially for those who don’t know all the intricacies of technology, which is most people, electronics and other technology can seem almost magical, causing them to have faith that everything can be solved with science, and that science is this powerful force that brings order to the universe, in a way they cannot yet understand.

There is also perhaps a human desire to be significant, more than just another animal. Many humans achieve this through the religious belief that humans alone are made in the image of God and go to heaven. For some people, perhaps this is now being replaced by the hope that through science, humans alone can leave a definitive mark on the world, if not live forever. Death is something humans do not have control over, when it comes to death, humans die just like any other animal. So humans try in vain to get any control over death they can. In Casey Newton’s article, “Speak, Memory,” a woman named Kuyda tries to preserve the memory of her deceased friend Roman through a chat bot that imitates his patterns of speech (Newton). Newton narrates, “‘They continued Roman’s life and saved ours,’ [Victoria Mazurenko] wrote in a reply to Esmanov. ‘It’s not virtual reality. This is a new reality, and we need to learn to build it and live in it.’” Mazurenko says that this bot is a way of continuing Roman’s life. However, although the bot may be a way to remember him, Mazurenko speaks as if he lives on through it. In a way, Roman is preserved, but he is not conscious and operating his immortal monument. So because humans have not yet been able to escape death, they often try to find other new ways to live on, immortalizing themselves or others through technology, trying to find any way to be more significant. It is perhaps human nature to crave significance, and if this is no longer achieved through religion, humans may try to achieve it through technology.

Furthermore, with technology improving, it is becoming easier and easier to preserve the memory of loved ones, even the essence of loved ones, in a way that perhaps even religion couldn’t. Newton narrates, “Modern life all but ensures that we leave behind vast digital archives — text messages, photos, posts on social media — and we are only beginning to consider what role they should play in mourning. In the moment, we tend to view our text messages as ephemeral. But as Kuyda found after Mazurenko’s death, they can also be powerful tools for coping with loss. Maybe, she thought, this “digital estate” could form the building blocks for a new type of memorial” (Newton). With all these digital mementos, one can preserve the personality of a loved one. The chat bot takes it one step further, creating a way for people to feel like they are actually texting their loved ones, feeling as if they have a direct line to the dead in a way that even religion could not achieve. In this way, technology perhaps goes even further than religion to immortalize loved ones and give people feelings of significance.

 

For some people, faith in science and technology seems to have replaced faith in religion, in the process adopting the emotional aspects of religion. The hope for immortality seems to have followed a similar path, transforming from hope in the afterlife to hope for eternal life on earth. But what effect does this have on the human psyche? Is it complacent for humans to believe they can achieve immortality through technology, rather than believing only God is capable of providing immortality or being immortal? In Miles Klee’s article, “Ever After: Solving the Problem of Mortality,” he argues that desire for eternal life is a constantly reoccurring, futile dream of the rich, born out of their own conceited aspirations (Klee). Klee says, “Once again, the project of dismantling existential borders emerges from the alignment of technology (however one defines it), dollars, entitlement and irrational optimism—manifest destiny, you might say. The notion that it’s our duty to surpass the physical self complements the canards of abundance and exception that plague an (over)ambitious mind.” Klee criticizes humans for having the desire to live forever, looking down on it as foolish, irrational, and conceited, against nature and what is possible. To him, it is not a matter of finding solace or inspiration in the faith for science, but it is “irrational optimism,” and thus something negative that degrades society. In this way, it may be overly conceited for humans to have faith in technology and believe they can achieve eternal life through it, so perhaps this belief is detrimental to the human psyche.

Klee also brings up the point that while humans pursue dreams of immortality, we are revolted by creatures of immortality (Klee). He says, “It’s well worth noting that even as we pursue these new frontiers in research, we harbor an inborn revulsion toward ‘unnaturally’ prolonged life: from do-not-resuscitate orders to horror films about various undead, avatars for endless, thoughtless consumption and want. Zombies and vampires, creatures sustained by unspeakable parasitic means: they’re us without the luxury of finitude.” It is ironic that eternal life, something humans have desired throughout history, is also something humans have written horror stories about. Is it out of jealousy, or is something in human nature afraid of or disgusted by the idea of immortality? If the latter is true, there may be danger in pursuing immortality through science, as it may cause conflict in our society, as some hold distaste for immortality while others look to it for hope.

 

Faith and hope for more: are they the bright lights of humanity that bring happiness despite rough lives, or are they foolish wastes of time? Humans seem to crave faith, whether through believing in a divine power, or believing in the power of science and humankind. And in some ways, those two faiths are merging, as faith in science has begun to involve belief in an omnipotent force that promises eternal life. But with more and more people turning towards atheism and technology as the answer, where does that leave the human psyche? Are humans simply adjusting their innate need for hope and faith to new forms that align with modern beliefs, or does reverence for technology come from a dangerous human complacency? Truly, it seems that human nature is to desire some greater power to believe in. The only question is: how can that greater power be ourselves?

Write up:

 

In the essay, I incorporated the feedback I got from you, particularly the idea of slowing down more and explaining my ideas. As I was looking back at my essay and revising it, I figured out that I had jumped a bit too fast from one claim to the next, as this was a topic that I had done a lot of research on and understood very well. For it to make sense to someone reading it for the first time, I needed to explain my reasoning and connections a bit more. I revised my essay to make less broad claims, as I realized such claims couldn’t really be substantiated: for example, instead of saying people in general thought of religion in some way, I said that many people thought of religion in some way.

 

In addition, I dug deeper into ideas I had passed over before, such as the idea that although faith in technology has largely replaced faith in religion, this new faith in technology tends to be more fervent and emotional, traits that seem to apply more to religious beliefs than the logical and rational science. I also deepened my analysis on why people long for meaning, instead of just stating this is true, I added my reasoning and connected it more to the texts I cited. To make the culmination of my ideas more clear, I routinely summarized the points I made before going on to the next component of my essay. Through this process, I learned the importance of diving deep into my analysis and arguments while making sure all my claims were substantiated by evidence and logic. I also learned to ensure my train of thought was explained in a clear way that would make sense to someone reading it for the first time.

Bibliography

“Atheists.” Pew Research Center, 2014, www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/religious-family/atheist/.

 

Cline, Austin. “Technology vs Religion, Technology as Religion.” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 8 Mar. 2017, www.thoughtco.com/technology-as-religion-4038599.

 

Curran, Dylan. “Are Your Phone Camera and Microphone Spying on You? | Dylan Curran.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 6 Apr. 2018, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/06/phone-camera-microphone-spying.

 

Eagan, Kevin, et al. The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2014. Cooperative Institutional Research Program, 2014, p. 10, The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2014.

 

Harmon, Amy. “A Dying Young Woman's Hope in Cryonics and a Future.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Sept. 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/09/13/us/cancer-immortality-cryogenics.html?_r=0.

 

Klee, Miles. “Ever After.” Lapham's Quarterly, 30 Nov. 2013, www.laphamsquarterly.org/roundtable/ever-after.

 

Masci, David. “Religion and Science: A Timeline.” Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project, 5 Nov. 2009, www.pewforum.org/2009/11/05/religion-and-science-a-timeline/.

 

McRobbie, Linda Rodriguez. “The Strange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 27 Oct. 2013, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-strange-and-mysterious-history-of-the-ouija-board-5860627/.

 

Newton, Casey. “Speak, Memory.” The Verge, The Verge, 6 Oct. 2016, www.theverge.com/a/luka-artificial-intelligence-memorial-roman-mazurenko-bot.

FINALEvolutionTimeline10-29.jpg
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Age distribution among atheists.png
Figure 1: A timeline of conflicts between religion and science that begin as early as the 4th century and continue to today, showing the historical and constant clash of ideas. 
Figure 2: A line graph demonstrating that since 1980 there has been an increasing number of students who self-identify as having no religious preference.
Figure 3: A bar graph showing that 40% of people ages 18-29 identify as atheist, compared to much smaller numbers of people 50+ who identify as atheist
Figure 4: A link to an article arguing that your electronic devices are listening to you.
Figure 5: A link to an article describing the historical clashes and merges of technology and religion. 
© 2018 by Danielle Egan