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The Engineer in Genesis

Technology in Creation is both a promise of potential and a possible downfall.

What does technology have to do with the opening chapters of Genesis? At first glance, the creation story seems to speak only of the natural world – skies and seas, fish and birds, stars and planets. However, the first chapters of Genesis provide a crucial frame for understanding the context for all our human cultural activities, technology included.

God says “Let there be,” producing an amazing variety of creatures. But creation is not only what we might call “natural things,” it includes all the things that God has ordained to be. This includes the vast possibilities in creation – like poems and pancakes, beer and banjos, airplanes and art, markets and marriage, bicycles and burritos.

We see this beginning in Genesis 4 with Jubal, “the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes,” and Tubal-Cain, who “forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron.” Bronze is an alloy made from copper and tin, requiring suitable tools and skill. In fact, Tubal-Cain could be considered the first engineer named in the Bible.

God’s intent

The creation story includes a curious verse, in parentheses, giving just a hint of the latent technical possibilities in creation. “The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there” (Gen. 2:12). This verse speaks to me as an engineer, suggesting that the inclusion of raw materials in creation is not a coincidence but part of God’s intention for his world. It is possible that the soil under the feet of Adam and Eve may well have included sand, a material made up of silicon, an element which is at the heart of today’s modern digital computers. Who knows what other possibilities in creation still wait to be discovered and uncovered?

Moreover, in the first chapter of Genesis, God explicitly gives humankind the task of caring for his good creation, of unfolding all of its possibilities. God does not prescribe what to do; he hands this responsibility over to humans to exercise both freedom and responsibility. Even the responsibility of naming the animals is given to Adam. The act of naming had special significance to the Hebrew people and indicated a sovereign right. This task of naming continues to this day, as we uncover new areas of creation and give names to new discoveries.

Maritime technology

The opening chapters of Genesis also provide a context for understanding what’s wrong. The disobedience of humankind described in Genesis 3 has had wide-reaching implications, also for technology. The first temptation was essentially to seek autonomy apart from God, a temptation that continues in our technological activities. The builders of the tower of Babel sought to build their own bridge from heaven to earth “to make a name for themselves” (Gen 11:4). Modern day “towers of Babel” persist whenever people put their trust in technology to solve all problems and bring health and material prosperity. As it turns out, the good gold mentioned in Gen. 2:12 can also be forged into idols.

But we also see glimpses of how technology can be a blessing in our fallen state. When Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden, God sewed more durable clothes for them from animal skins. Later, we see God choosing to use the ark, maritime technology, to save Noah’s family as well as animals. But all these technological aids are temporary measures; it is only through Christ that things will be fully restored.

The first people were given a choice in terms of what direction the unfolding would take. And we still have that choice today. With each new circuit, computer program or construction project, we exercise both freedom and responsibility. May we seek to build and use technologies that align with God’s intentions for his world and help us to become the people we were created to be.

  • Derek C. Schuurman is a Canadian currently living in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he is professor of computer science at Calvin University. Prior to arriving at Calvin, he worked as an engineer and taught for many years at Redeemer University. He is a fellow of the American Scientific Affiliation and an Associate Fellow of the Kirby Laing Center for Public Theology. Besides his technical interests he is interested in faith and technology issues. He is the author of Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture and Computer Technology (IVP, 2013) and a co-author of A Christian Field Guide to Technology for Engineers and Designers (IVP, 2022).

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