I may be time-stamping myself here, but some of you may remember Brother Dominic:
Brother Dominic finishes a painstakingly-illuminated manuscript and brings it to his Abbot, who likes it very much and wants 500 more copies. Being a modern monk who no doubt reads both Popular Mechanics and Analog in his spare time, Brother Dominic finds a technological solution to his problem. The Abbot is amazed. “It’s a miracle!”
Now, we could take Brother Dominic to task for not coming clean and correcting the Abbot’s misconception, but more on that later.
As readers and writers of speculative fiction, we’re marinated in the miraculous. It’s easy to take for granted. All sorts of things happen that transcend the comprehension and capabilities of mortal men. Particularly in science fiction, there’s a rational explanation for most events, and it’s often tied to the technical sophistication of the society in question. Arthur C. Clarke coined a maxim about this, popularly known as Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently-advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic.” I’m not equating magic and miracles here, but from what I know of Mr. Clarke, I doubt he’d have had any problem substituting “miracles” for “magic” in his maxim. You see a similar confusion between Divine intervention and paranormal manipulation in the Bible from the Egyptian Pharoah (Exodus 8:17-19) and Simon Magus (Acts 8:18-24).
The point is, technology can look supernatural. Imagine bringing a 1st Century man into our time and showing him any number of things we use every day: cell phones, television, electric lights–he’d have trouble interpreting them any other way than as magical talismans. And let’s face it–most of us don’t understand how this technology works, either. A common reply when asked to explain some complex device? “I don’t know–it’s magic.”
For Christians, there’s certainly a danger of depending on modern technology to solve our problems, and even provide miracles, at the expense of our faith in God to supply our needs. However, there’s a more insidious danger in going the other direction and slipping into a kind of spiritual Luddism that says technology is at best a distraction and at worst an imminent peril to our souls. With regard to miracles, “If science can explain it, it’s not a miracle.”
The problem I have with this point of view is that it assumes God’s intervention in the affairs of mankind is exceptional–rare, dramatic, and incomprehensible. It’s like saying God is only active in our lives when He’s parting the Red Sea or raising the dead.
The Bible tells us every good gift comes from God (James 1:16-18), “the Father of the heavenly lights.” I think it’s reasonable to conclude that everything that has emerged over the course of history that has made our lives less nasty, brutish, and short has sprung from God’s intervention and inspiration. Miracles. Millions of little ideas, insights, and happenings all building on one another. A glittering shower of illumination sprinkling down upon our benighted world from the Father of lights.
Makes me dizzy just thinking about it.
Getting back to our lovable friar–a chain of innovations and improvements stretching from Gutenberg’s printing press all the way to several thousand engineers working in cubicles at Xerox led up to the little miracle of producing 500 perfect copies of Brother Dominic’s beautiful manuscript in just a few minutes. We could say, “No, this isn’t a miracle. God didn’t make this happen, Xerox did.” Or, we might acknowledge that God had an interest and a direct role in making the printed word (and in this case, His printed Word) rapidly available to as many people as possible.
Yes, I think Brother Dominic should ‘fess up, but I think the Abbot’s got it right, too.