The Proper Use of Technology: The Genesis of Catholic Human Dignity

In opposition to Kurzweil (see previous post) are some Catholic Theologians, most notably Joseph Ratzinger (Now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), who argue that the dignity of man needs to be defended in this world of technology. When forming their argument on the relation and of man and technology, these Catholic Theologians, first listen to the facts of human biology and the history of technological advances and then point to the agreement with those truths developed or revealed in both philosophy and theology. The first principles of this argument, as presented in the book In the Beginning by Joseph Ratzinger, are found in the two creation narratives that open the book of Genesis.

The very first statement in the first creation narrative, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” indicates one of the most important distinctions: God is separate from his creation, He is entirely other. The second statement, “the earth was without form and void, and darkness wason the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters,” indicates that matter is, of its nature, unstable and without any internal order, and in need of some kind of order that must be imposed from without. This natural tendency toward disorder was postulated scientifically with the theory of entropy, which states that energy, when used up in a particular area, can never be restored, and was confirmed with the discovery that matter could be converted into energy and the theory of relativity. Into this disordered matter, God built or imposed order, separating light from darkness, heaven from earth, and creating moon, sun, stars, plants, and animals. The face of the reasonableness of creation is only confirmed by the presence of the sciences themselves, and so for order to exist in the world as taught by science, something or Someone must have instilled order and keeps that order in place. Ratzinger notes that the Creation narrative is not a scientific or historical account of the formation of the world or the development of life, but an allegory to emphasize that God created the world. Since evolution is only a description of how life developed, God could have created the world directly or through evolution.

In the second creation narrative, “The Lord God formed man of dust form the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” this statement indicates two principles, first that God formed man from unstable matter, that his basic material is earth, and second that the human being comes into existence after God has breathed into the nostrils of the body formed from this unstable matter. From the first principle, there is something both humbling and consoling. Humbling because man is told that he is not God, he did not make himself, he does not rule the universe, he is limited, and he is destined for death as are all living things. Consoling because man is no demon or evil spirit, he has been fashioned from God’s good earth, and despite all distinctions the human race is fundamentally the same and are of equal value. From the second principle, we see that a divine reality is essential to man, a reality more deeply stated in the first Creation narrative “Let us make man in our own imge and likeness.” In the human being, God enters into his creation, for the human being is directly related to God. the fact that each human being is God’s image is the deepest reason for the inviolability of human dignity.

Because of the divine reality essential to man’s being, technological advancement springs both from an urge to create that reflects that divine reality as well as a grasping of man upon the fact of matter’s instability and the order God imposed upon it. The building of robotic and retinal prosthetics and the brain-machine interface demonstrates man’s desire to both understand this order imposed upon matter by God as well as to instill order upon unstable matter. The fact of creation imposes a necessary rational and order upon the world, and man – filled with the breath of God – seeks to understand and imitated those ordered patterns he finds in nature. Of course, the fact that he is matter and is working with matter imposes several limitations on man. He must work within the laws which God has imposed upon matter itself, and thus he cannot make it do anything which God has not or could not do with it. he can limit but he cannot improve Nature. Thus man can imitate but cannot create life because it is an order imposed by God upon matter. This also means that man cannot imposed upon himself or others and order that violates the divine reality, the God-given order of his own soul, since it would lessen or crush the human person. It is from this aspect of the advancement of technology which Ratzinger warns against. Technological advances have given me a certain freedom from anxiety and superstition, a certain power over the world. But this power leads to a temptation to view as reasonable and therefore as serious only what can be corroborated through experiment and computation and to reject as irrational all that is moral and holy. By denying all that is moral and holy, the essential nature of man as made in the image and likeness of God is denied, crushing him to fit within a utilitarian view of the world, and eventually destroying him. Ratzinger posits that man must recognize the existence of two different kinds of reason, the physical-natural scientific and the moral-religious reason, and that the contours and scope of moral-religious reason are not mathematical as it is more fundamental. It is also in the moral-religious reason that man, in his moral freedom, images God and is more than earth. Without moral-religious reason, man will increasingly isolate himself, unable to love or find meaning in life and would eventually destroy himself for existing without purpose.

My next post will be a fictional argument between Kurzweil and Ratzinger using their books, The Singularity is Near and In the Beginning, respectively, as sources for the dialogue.

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2 thoughts on “The Proper Use of Technology: The Genesis of Catholic Human Dignity

  1. Pingback: The Proper Use of Technology: The Genesis of Catholic Human Dignity | ChristianBookBarn.com

  2. Pingback: The Proper Use of Technology: Luddites | Catholic Hacker

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