Nature, Technology and Religion. Transdisciplinary Perspectives. May, 22-25 2013Preliminary schedule. Paper sessions
Note: 40 minutes/presentation. ( appr. 10 minutes discussion included)
Full papers are not required in advance.
Wednesday, May, 22
Papersession I (17.00-19.00)
Fred Simmons, “Correcting Two Common Religious Arguments for Limiting the Technological Transformation of Nature”
Maria Antonaccio, “Technology and the (Over)Humanization of Nature: New Resources for Critical Assessment”
Tom Uytterhoeven, “Towards a Theology of Tool-making”
Thursday, May 23
Papersession II (11.00-13.00)
David Gormley O’Brien, “Reclaiming and Humanifying the Domestic Life”
Alessandro Bellafiore, “The Technology of Transcendence”
Charles Rue, “Environmental Ethics, Technology and Australia”
Friday, May, 24
Papersession III (09.00-11.00)
Fionn Bennett, “Making Technology ‘Salvational’: Restating the Case for Martin Heidegger’s Hermeneutical Acceptation of Technology”
Francis van den Noortgaete, “Approaching Nature as an Icon: Technological and Ethical Implications”
Peter Jansen, “Notions of Meaning or “The Sacred at Work” in the Communication about Nature in the Netherlands”
Papersession IV (14.30-16.00)
Anders Melin, “Energy for Life or for Death: Ecotheology after Fukushima”
Forrest Clingerman, “Redeeming the Climate: Investigating a Theological Model of Geoengineering”
Papersession 1 May 22
"Technology and the (Over)humanization of Nature: New Resources for Critical Assessment"
Maria Antonaccio, Bucknell University
Nature is being increasingly "humanized": this is the horizon against which current technologies should be understood. Debates over the ethical challenges posed by technological interventions into both the natural environment and the human body are often pitched between two stark alternatives. Some question the so-called Promethean impulse lying behind humanity's domination of nature and urge an "ethics of humility" to counteract the prevailing "ethics of mastery." Others contend that the human impulse to enhance or even surpass natural limits is ineluctable and should be encouraged rather than restricted. As a result of this impasse, the debate has failed to develop an effective method for critically evaluating the social and cultural processes at work in the creation and appropriation of new technologies. This paper proposes a novel method for assessing both environmental and biomedical interventions, using Jane Radin's work on commodification as a model. Rather than sequestering which goods should remain non-commodified, Radin analyzes particular instances of commodification to determine the various meanings, social conflicts, and interactions implicit in each, before asking whether we should try to protect goods against commodification or not. A similar strategy, appropriately adapted, can be used to assess particular instances of "humanization" via technology. The resulting insights have the potential to transform the way we approach the ethics of technology.
Correcting Two Common Religious Arguments for Limiting the Technological Transformation of Nature
Fred Simmons, Divinity School, Yale University
While I believe there are important ethical and theological reasons to limit the technological transformation of nature, I contend that two common religious arguments for that conclusion are mistaken, and suggest an alternative approach that avoids their errors. One familiar misgiving maintains that technology manifests human beings’ deleterious attempt to deny our finitude and become like gods, or proves idolatrous because we trust it to save us from scarcity and suffering. I deny that we inevitably accord technology such significance, and caution that condemning technology denigrates humanity since our species is inherently technological. Another typical religious rationale for restricting our development and use of technology insists that human intervention in nature contravenes God’s will for creation. I counter that this conception falsely depicts human beings as unnatural and portrays God as against human innovation and culture. Rather than rely on criticisms of technology to warrant calls for its limitation, adherents of many religious traditions may instead appeal to the value they discern in non-human life and its environment. I show how nature’s value provides reason to restrain technological transformations that harm it, and argue that attention to this value appropriately broadens assessments of technology that only consider human interests.
Towards a Theology of Toolmaking
Tom Uytterhoeven, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, KU Leuven, Belgium
Some say toolmaking is a distinct feature of being human. Although this may be an overstatement - other species also use tools to a certain degree - the connection between humanity and technology is as intimate as it is ambiguous. On the one hand, technology plays an important role in e.g. education, health care, information processing,... On the other hand, technological tools also play a role in e.g. warfare, cyber bullying, and environmental pollution. Lutheran theologian Philip Hefner situated human’s use of tools within humanity’s createdness, using the concept ‘created co-creator’ in his work ‘The Human Factor’ (1993). Building on Hefner, this paper aims to sketch the outlines of a theology of toolmaking, based on a dialogue between evolutionary and theological perspectives on culture. One of the main challenges of such a theology is to avoid an overtly optimistic approach of technology, by stressing (1) the ecological connectedness of all life and (2) the eschatological directionality of life’s history. The first aspect is important to escape an anthropocentric tendency, giving humanity’s perspective a normative status. The second is important to counter ideological tendencies, which would limit our vision of the future to what seems humanly feasible.
Reclaiming and Humanifying the Domestic Life
Dr David Gormley-O'Brien, MCD University of Divinity, Melbourne, Australia
This paper explores the ambiguous impact that technology has played in the running of a household and the conduct and value of performing domestic duties in the West since the 1950s. The paper takes its cue from the work of Dorothy L. Sayers who argued that technology had effectively devalued and dehumanized the role of the home-maker. Although Sayers was largely focusing on the gender issues of her day, and the devaluation of women in particular, she makes a very universal and timeless moral point. The ethical implications of doing household chores (by both men and women) and reducing the use of slave labour (an ancient counterpart to technology, I argue) was discussed and promoted by the second century, Christian philosopher, Clement of Alexandria, who was in turn dependent upon but deviated from the Stoic philosopher, Musonius Rufus. Clement puts forward the ethical ideal of αὐτουργία (working with one's hands) as appropriate and becoming for wealthy Christian believers. Working with one's hands is the most natural activity for humans to perform and in doing so they become like God, who is entirely self-sufficient. In the conclusion, this paper, informed by the seminal work of E.F.Schumacher in Small is beautiful, provides criteria for subjecting the use of technology towards enhancing the human and sacred aspects of running a household by men and women today.
The Technology of Transcendence
Alessandro Bellafiore , Department of Communication Sciences and Humanities, Università degli Studi di Urbino, Italy
In the effort for an engineered independence respect to the variance of ecological systems, human communities have developed technological solutions defining the space around themselves and delineating the distinction between a cultural landscape opposed to a raw and chaotic “natural” world.
The forms and the expressions of those solutions are strictly intertwined with the religious narratives for two orders of reasons: firstly, having a complementary instrumental function, overwhelming the limits of those solutions and, further, because they define the perspective from which the world around is conceptualised, and different narratives carry different forms of Sense.
The evolution of a Sense of the existing world and its hierarchies, within the historical path from immanence to transcendence, is tied to the birth of technology and science – through natural theology – and it is has been the cultural base for the supposed rights to access and transform reality.
Being those rights presently under scrutiny the influence of religious narratives in the evolution of technology and its use, as well as in the avoidance of past mistakes, becomes definitely a crucial element.
Environmental Ethics, Australia and Technology
Charles Rue, St Columban's Missionary Society, Coordinator of Columban-JPIC Australia, Sydney
Australians interested in the environmental ethics of applying modern technology can be divided into five groups. Two major groups are the Pragmatists and Scientists. The pragmatist group is made up of many political and business leaders, often with an eye to polling at the next election and preserving profits. Public responses are often ruled by personal economic impacts and the 'not in my backyard' NIMBY syndrome. The scientific community, including educators, is faithful to the scientific method but can lack understanding of the wider world or come under pressure from financial backers. Three other ethically sensitive groups variously focus on Social Justice, the Rights of Earth or Cosmic Spirituality. The Social Justice group tends to be humanist - secular or religious. The Rights of Earth group regards the human as but one part of earth's systems. Cosmic Spirituality groups usually focus on a New Story religious view. An attribute common to all five groups of positive activists on environmental ethics is personal experiences of the natural world. The Australian cultural attitude of readily accepting change and getting on with the job of creating a better future dominates the social context.
Papersession 3 May 24
Making Technology “Salvational”: Restating the Case for Martin Heidegger’s “Hermeneutical” Acceptation of Technology
Fionn Bennett, Université de Reims, France
Martin Heidegger’s philosophy of technology is comprehensive and insightful, cautionary and kerygmatic assessing both how technology represents humankind’s ‘greatest danger’ and how it can be ‘salutary’. However, in the relevant texts, Heidegger isn’t especially clear about the way technology is ‘a danger which saves’. This is so because his views on ‘the essence of technology’ need to be read in the light of what he says in other works on Ethics, Art and the Sacred. When we do that we see that, for him, technology is part of a “Seinsart” or “In-der-Weltsein” governed by what is in effect a “kosmodicy”. One which redeems technology by making it subserve a relationship between homo faber and nature characterized by a “solicitous being-with-one-another” (fürsorglich Miteinandersein). Defining technology’s raison d’être and its applications on this basis prevents it becoming a »Beherrschbarkeit der Dinge« while nonetheless legitimizing it use for practical purposes and ends. It also transforms technology into a means of apprehending the Sacred immanent in (and as) humankind’s Lebenswelt. Besides offering a fresh analysis of the relevant texts and their reception in recent scholarship, this paper considers if in our ecocidal age there is any alternative to not accepting Heidegger’s philosophy of technology.
Approaching Nature as Icon: Technological-Ethical Implications
Francis Van den Noortgaete, Department of Theology and Religious Studies KU Leuven, Belgium
In contemporary Orthodox ecotheology, the ‘iconicity of nature’, seen as a ‘window’ on the divine and originating in patristics, has been re-emerging as a central theme. More than a merely static worldview, it is embedded in a cosmic-liturgical framework in which man is expected to assume a ‘priestly’ role, uniting the whole of creation and referring/offering it back to God.
Orthodox environmental ethics is therefore anchored in a specific theological anthropology that substantially differs from the stewardship paradigm, considered as too limited and possibly even problematic from an ecological perspective. As will be clarified, the ‘priestly’ anthropology entails specific ethical implications. Man’s (technological) intervention in nature thereby unavoidably has its boundaries, since the notion of asceticism, seen as ‘liberating restraint’, is inextricably connected to the iconicity of nature. We will therefore elucidate how technè and eikon relate within the Orthodox ecotheological thought-frame. From this analysis, we will identify key insights relevant for a contemporary discussion on technology and the environment. As Bruce Foltz holds, there are correlations between the Orthodox iconic view on nature and the experience and attitudes of those strongly committed to the natural environment. Could there also be a correlation between the ethical stances ensuing from both?
Notions of Meaning or the Sacred at Work in the Communication about Nature in the Netherlands
Peter Jansen, Academy for Journalism and Communication, Ede Christian University of Applied Science & Department for Applied Philosophy, Wageningen University, The Netherlands
Since the implementation of a National Ecological Network, approved in 1990, the Dutch Government has bought a lot of land to give it back to nature and create ‘original’ nature. A lot of notions of meaning like real, pure and authentic are used in the communication about this new nature policy and we can read that this new nature presents the wilderness we have missed. I approached this kind of images of nature as narratives that allow people to attribute meaning to reality and shows someone’s vision about life and the Sacred.
In my presentation I want to try to grasp understandings of nature in relationship to the Sacred at work in different communication technologies and discourses. I would like to present my work-in-progress concerning the implicit meanings or religious elements in the communication about nature. In my PhD research I investigate what kind of role notions of religious meaning are playing in the discourses i.c. communication regarding the Dutch nature (policy) and how these notions or narratives change over time in communication between people.
Papersession 4, May 24
Energy for Life or for Death – Ecotheology after Fukushima
Anders Melin, Department for Global Political Studies, Malmö University, Sweden
All of forms of life, including human life, requires access to energy sources. Especially the life style of industrialized countries is built on a high production and consumption of energy. However, as the accident in Fukushima and other similar catastrophes show, our frantic search for energy may also lead to death. In this paper I reflect on how Christian ecotheology, in dialogue with Japanese religions, can contribute to an attitude towards energy production and consumption that is more respectful of all forms of life. The paper discusses how the concept of energy has been understood within these religious traditions.
Redeeming the Climate: Investigating a Theological Model of Geoengineering
Forrest Clingerman, Ohio Northern University
While initially seen more as science fiction than responsible policy, geoengineering recently has been discussed as a serious technological response to climate change. This is particularly the case after Nobel prize-winner Paul Crutzen (in a 2006 essay) suggested the need to research the technological frameworks necessary for geoengineering. The subsequent debate has centered on geoengineering’s technical feasibility and its ethical justification. Little attention, however, has been given to how religion impacts our understanding of geoengineering and climate change. In response, this paper contributes a theological voice to the discussion. This paper will construct a theological model of geoengineering, using the method of theological modeling suggested by D. Klemm and W. Klink. From this model, we can conclude that geoengineering should not be viewed as simply a form of technological fix for climate change, but instead as a crypto-theological position. Geoengineering proposals provide a unique apocalyptic rhetoric, as well as a sense of human capability and fallibility as technological being. Finally, the theological position implicit within geoengineering proposals should be seen as a distortion or inversion of the sacred, insofar as it fails to promote a meaningful integrity of life in its redemptive possibilities.