The New Babel
Dr. James Emery White
- 2015 Dec 28
“The Internet is the single biggest thing we’re going to build as a species.”
So says Gary Cook, a senior IT analyst at Greenpeace.
I think he’s right.
In fact, I’ll go further. The Internet is arguably the new Tower of Babel.
Only this time we are not building with bricks and mortar, but silicon chips and genetic engineering. We live in a technological age, and have embraced technological advance with abandon; creating what Neil Postman termed a “technopoly” where technology of every kind is cheerfully granted sovereignty. Or, as Jacques Ellul has written, at least the process of technique designed to serve our ends.
Ironically, within the word “technology” itself lies the new philosophical mooring that marks our intent.
The word is built from such Greek words as “technites” (craftsman) and “techne” (art, skill, trade), which speak to the idea of either the person who shapes or molds something, or to the task of shaping and molding itself.
But it is the Greek word “logos,” to which “technites” is joined, that makes our term “technology” so provocative.
“Logos” is a reference within Greek thought to divine reason, or the organizing principle of the world. In John’s gospel “logos” was used to communicate to those familiar with the Greek worldview the idea of the divinity of Jesus.
Moderns have put together two words that the ancients would not have dared to combine, for the joining of the words intimates that mere humans can shape the very order of the world. Though technology itself may be neutral in its enterprise, there can be no doubt that within the word itself are the seeds for the presumption that would seek to cast God from His throne and assert humanity in His place as the conduit of divine power.
Or is it just the platform for the final anti-Christ who will control the world?
I know, outlandishly strong and provocative suggestions.
But then again, it is the biggest thing we will build as a species.
James Emery White
Ingrid Burrington, “The Environmental Toll of a Netflix Binge,” The Atlantic, December 16, 2015, read online.
Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology.
Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, translated from the French by John Wilkinson.
On the meaning of the words “techne” and “technites”, see the article on “Carpenter, Builder, Workman, Craftsman, Trade” by J.I. Packer in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 1, Colin Brown, editor.
James Emery White, Serious Times (InterVarsity Press).
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.