Apple and Eve: Revering Technology as God
Throughout history, religion and technology 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, it has been reimagined as God?
From 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.
More and more people, particularly Americans, are identifying as Atheists, not believing in a God. This is especially true of people in younger generations, who are much more likely to identify as Atheists.
The opposition between religion and technology is demonstrated in Linda Rodriguez McRobbie’s article, “The Strange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board,” which takes use of the Ouija board, a practice that was historically seen as a supernatural phenomenon, and dissects it through psychological instruments and technological terms. 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: if the creators didn’t believe in it, surely they were deliberately taking advantage of potential consumers, who bought the board under false pretenses.
McRobbie goes on to describe the psychological phenomena that power Ouija boards, breaking the feelings people have down into actions that can be studied, like the ideometer effect. In doing so, she seems to show ‘the man behind the curtain,’ demonstrating how the Ouija board is more like a psychological trick than an actual supernatural occurrence. 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.” The Ouija board, a supernatural staple in American history, has now been redefined through science.
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.
If you have any question, you ask Google, and immediately have an enormous wealth of information on your hands. Google seemingly has the answer to everything. Google seemingly is all-knowing. Big companies with powerful technology have been accused of spying on us through our cameras and microphones, of tracking us, of using or selling our information. 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, our information is being collected, yes, corporations may know almost everything about our lives, but perhaps that is the price to pay for the great technology, knowledge, and entertainment we have at our fingertips. As a society, whether we consented or not, we largely have this omnipotent force of technology looming over us, watching us, and we appeal to it for answers. Sounds a lot like a construction of God.
In addition, we have some degree of blind faith and trust in technology. Faith is a cornerstone of religion, we don’t know for sure whether there is a God, yet we find the trust in ourselves to believe. Similarly, the average citizen doesn’t know exactly how technology works, yet continues 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. 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 if 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. She turns her faith toward humankind, the same hope for a miracle closely associated with religion.
Furthermore, for some, 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 hope she will live on in another form in some sort of 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, for a tiny chance of reincarnation.
With the increasing number of atheists in our society, as well as the conflicts of religion and science, technology may be taking the place of religion in terms of faith in a higher power, one that is seemingly all knowing and might bring us eternal life.
Supposing modern culture did turn technology into a 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. 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. Especially to those who don’t know all the intricacies of technology, which is most of us, devices and ideas can seem almost magical, causing us to put in the faith that everything can be solved with science, and perhaps it is extraordinary humans that give life meaning.
There is also the human desire to have some control over fate, and be more than just another animal, which humans achieve through the religious belief that humans alone go to heaven, or the technological hope that humans alone can leave a definitive mark on the world, if not live forever. Death is something humans do not have control over, and so humans tend to try to get any control over it they can. In Casey Newton’s article, “Speak, Memory,” a woman named Kuyda tries to preserve her friend Roman’s memory through a chat bot that imitates his patterns of speech. Newton narrates, “Victoria Mazurenko, who had gotten an early look at the bot from Kuyda, rushed to her defense. ‘They continued Roman’s life and saved ours,’ she 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 it may be a way to remember him, she speaks as if he lives on through it. In a way, Roman is preserved- he’s just not conscious and operating his immortal monument. So while humans may not be able to escape death, they may try to oppose it by finding new ways to live on, immortalizing themselves or others through technology, trying to find any way to be more significant.
People generally want to be special and consequential, some may take the path of having monuments in their honor. 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.”
Hope in science and technology, then, fills a need humans have for faith, meaning to life, and significance. However, there may be a certain complacency in aiming these reverent desires towards the accomplishments and expected future of human kind. 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 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 and irrational, against nature and what is possible. To him, it is not a matter of finding solace or inspiration in hope, but it is “irrational optimism,” and thus something negative that degrades society.
Klee also brings up the point that while humans pursue dreams of immortality, we are revolted by creatures of immortality. 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 does something in human nature afraid of or disgusted by the idea of immortality?
Faith and hope: 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 knowledge and humankind. And in some ways, those two faiths seem similar, as both 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 searching for meaning to life and to have significance in new ways, or is our reverence for technology just another human complacency, an irrational belief, that arises from entitlement? Truly, it seems humans desire something bigger than us to believe in. The only question is: how that bigger thing be ourselves?