From the Director's Desk (Summer 2015)

No items found.
Back to Dignitas Issue

At CBHD, we have written and spoken about the need for biblical, theological, cultural, and ethical literacy. Today, I would like to encourage you to pursue scientific literacy.

If you have children or grandchildren in school, you have probably heard of the emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). STEM programs teach the four disciplines in an interdisciplinary, applied approach, rather than as separate classes. Backed with support from the Department of Education and thirteen agencies, the STEM goal is to move American students “from the middle of the pack in science and math to the top of the pack in the international arena.”[1]

But STEM is not just for our children and grandchildren. We live in a scientifically and technologically advanced age, and the pace of innovation shows no sign of slowing down. Do we have a basic understanding of the science that is involved? Some of the innovations border on the miraculous, restoring sight to the blind, making the deaf hear, helping the paralyzed to walk again, and attaching prosthetic limbs that might be stronger than the original. The potential of medical and scientific technologies is boosted by massive increases in computational power. (The average car today has more computing power than the system that took the Apollo astronauts to the moon.[2])

Are we safe in assuming that every breakthrough is a benefit? An unmitigated good for society? Of course, we know that is not the case. The question then becomes, how do we evaluate this dizzying array of technologies? We must consider how to develop discernment and grow in wisdom about our use and refusal to use technology. We do not assume that technology is basically neutral. It has a direction or telos, a propensity to shape us, both overtly and covertly.

What Is ‘Scientific Literacy’?

Here is one way of thinking about scientific literacy. One of Taylor University’s foundational core requirements is scientific literacy, to “enable students to explore God’s creation, investigate contemporary human challenges, and use technology thoughtfully in the context of human interaction.”[3] Although it is not feasible for us to conduct lab experiments and field observations as undergrad students do, it is possible to observe God’s creation, to learn more about technology, and to think about how technology might—or might not—ethically solve human problems.

Why Scientific Literacy Matters to the Church

STEM is broader than bioethical concerns. Digital technologies affect not only electronic medical records and the doctor-patient relationship, they also have transformed communications. Think, for example, of the impact of smartphones on learning in the classroom, family meals, dating relationships, or even the safety of pedestrians.[4] On what grounds would we endorse or oppose smartphones, social media, or the internet? What is the trajectory of digital technologies? They are reshaping culture in seemingly dramatic ways. These ways can be positive or worrisome. The question for the church, then, is how well do we interpret the signs of the times?

Technology and Human Relationships

In Alone Together, Sherry Turkle writes, “We expect more from technology and less from each other.”[5] An early advocate of how virtual technology could help us live better lives in the real world, Turkle now warns that “we’re letting it take us places that we don’t want to go.”[6] Robots, computers, and smartphones of all kinds are driving us toward virtual, rather than real, intimacy. Our children are experts in texting, but not in speaking face to face. Actual people become an annoyance, while the incoming text message irresistibly demands our attention. Meanwhile, the technologies that promised to give us more leisure time make the boundaries between work and personal life increasingly porous.

Ignorance about how something works can lead to a distorted relationship with the technology. Turkle points out that unfamiliarity with how computer hardware works, or how software is coded, enables us to relate to the technology as human-like. This may explain why people confide in robots or computer-based therapists (with no actual person involved) even though the robot’s or computer’s responses are programmed, not human. Perhaps, like Riley’s friend Bing Bong in the movie Inside Out, technology has become the adult version of an imaginary friend.

Medicine, Science, and Technology

One place to begin in evaluating new technologies is to ask what goal they serve. My colleague Michael Sleasman has observed that medicine and technology should always function in the service of human flourishing. Science can serve human flourishing, but also can be pursued simply in the “wonder of God” and his creation. Before buying the next wearable technology, you might ask if and how it will help you to flourish? Or will it make you more and more dependent upon the technology? And, before criticizing funding for basic research, we might consider that condensed-matter physics research linked with string theory gives us more insight into black holes.[7] For me, that is an awe-inspiring, wonder-of-God’s-creation moment.


[1] Elaine J. Hom, “What is STEM Education?” LiveScience, February 11, 2014, (accessed July 23, 2015).

[2] Institute of Physics,, (accessed July 1, 2015).

[3] Thomas G. Jones, “Foundational Core,” Taylor University. See (accessed July 23, 2015).

[4] Katherine Shaver, “Safety experts to pedestrians: Put the smartphones down and pay attention,” Washington Post, September 20, 2014, (accessed July 23, 2015).

[5] Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic Books, 2011), xii.

[6] Sherry Turkle, “Connected, but Alone?” TED Talk, April 2012,

[7] Zeeya Merali, “Collaborative Physics: String Theory Finds a Bench Mate,” Nature, October 19, 2011, (accessed July 23, 2015); Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, “Waiter, There’s a Black Hole in My Condensed Matter,” March 24, 2014, (accessed July 23, 2015).