On the right is Martin Heidegger's breathtaking thesis on what he calls the 'essence' of modern technology. I am well aware Heidegger is not all the chatter when it comes to conservative theology (though phenomenology, the school of thought he did so much to advance, is still an up and coming enterprise within it, as many of my friends at New College endeavour to show us soon). But what he has to say about technology has fundamentally shaped the way I think about it. Indeed, it makes so much darn sense that I have grown increasingly impatient with scientists who style themselves to be 'all about the search' and blissfully unaware of what that search will produce - and produce is the right word, as I hope to show in a moment.
Let me sketch one point this book defends. Heidegger argued that modern technology in its very essence is radically differentiated from pre-modern technology. He calls pre-modern technology technique, and goes on to explore what this newly-arrived word 'technology' actually signifies. To risk oversimplification, here is what technology means: it is the interpenetrating of knowing and making, the co-penetration of science and art, which for the modern world means that our science is inescapably 'folded' not just toward increasing information (i.e. describing the world, its causalities, etc) but also increasing power over the world.
The form this power takes is the technology that modern science makes not just possible, but inevitable. In crude language, then, modern technological science is about the conquering of non-human and human nature. That this initially may not sound such a bad idea (nature is nary our friend, often our enemy, right?) is because, as Heidegger so perceptively shows, we moderns have embraced a modern metaphysics and self-understanding that places human self-realisation, our freedom from all that hinders, i.e. our autonomy, at a premium. This radical self-willed autonomy, in turn, is, when it boils down to it, the sole moral justification for further technological advancement. In a word, science and autonomy justify one another. They generate a reciprocity, a symbiosis, that philosophically speaking silences any alternative moral ontologies or frameworks from challenging their self-sustained enterprise.
There, I risked it. Oversimplifying that is. So, if you follow at all, and agree at all, then what does theology have to say to science? My initial thought is: a lot more than 'no, really, I think we are compatible!' and similar deferential nonsense.
What theology needs to realise instead is that science as it is currently organised and practised (no matter the well-meaning scientists, to whom we may as well ascribe the best of intentions) upholds the kind of self-possession and self-making that is anathema to Christian theology understood as a total horizon of understanding.
The second would be grasping what humility is. Humility is not wonder paired with ignorance. It is not a psychological disposition that blesses your every good intention proceeding to action. For Christians humility happens first in and through embrace of our creatureliness. Creatureliness in its essence is the acknowledgment of an existence dependent upon true essence. Scientists can be humble in this sense, I have no doubt. Science, however, cannot - cannot, that is, as it is currently practised and understood. For humility Christianly understood is a vantage point or form of living and participating in (and not above or over) the world God has created. It is not about self-possession. It is not about stripping the world, becoming its lord, and discovering our true destiny. Which is what science is folded toward - and why I think theology has sharper words for it, beyond compatibility theses, far away from 'non-overlapping magisteria' evasions.