The Seduction of Progress
I’ve always loved technology. From watching the Jetsons as a kid to ordering an iPhone at midnight as an adult, I’ve always been drawn to the new and improved. That is certainly how everything is packaged today. Newer is better. Period. As clearly as the sky is blue, the newer is better than the older. My dad once worked in a computer… not on a computer… in a computer. It was the size of a room and you input data into it using huge punch cards! Today we all carry substantially more computer technology in our pockets, or even on our wrists, than he had in that room.
Every day new scientific discoveries are reported in the news. We know more now about our world than we did even 5-10 years ago, not to mention 100 or 1000 years ago. Science, technology, medicine, engineering… there is a long list of topics we could cover where what we know and can do today is vastly superior to the past. That progress is good. We should all be very glad that we have things like antibiotics and airplanes.
But there is a danger inherent in all that progress. It makes it easy to look down on the past. Initially, we denigrate their technology and scientific knowledge, but then we easily transfer that sense of superiority to other areas as well. We confuse knowledge for intelligence and assume we must be smarter than people from the past.
We conclude that our worldview must be more advanced. After all, societies in the past accepted and even promoted things we consider disgraceful today. This leads us to determine that our morality is superior to the past. New and improved!
Except that it isn’t always improved. Newer isn’t always better.
Newer Isn’t Inherently Better
In Europe last summer I saw a plaque on a wall that said 305 A.D. I asked the owner if that was the date of the wall that made up the back of her gallery. It was! I doubt the walls of my home will be standing in 170 years, let alone 1700 years. We buy vintage items not only because of their age or style, but also because of their quality.
While you may or may not be a fan of classical music or art, it would be a difficult argument to win to assert that the music of Beethoven or the sculpting of ancient Rome is inferior to today’s.
Even technology doesn’t always improve our lives like it was expected to. We live today with unparalleled communications technology. Yet as a society we are living more and more disconnected and alienated lives than ever.
Revelation Throws a Wrench in the Cogs of Progress
If an all-knowing God interjected information into the world in the past, then that knowledge represents actual truth-not just societal opinions, but objective eternal truths. Any deviation away from those truths must represent regress, not progress. The machinery of progress works for good as long as it is moving toward truth; but if it is moving away from truth, it is to our harm. We can certainly advance in our understanding of that revelation from God, but as I observe today, much of that “advancing” really seems to be a denial of the revelation, not a better understanding of it.
The seduction of progress can make it unimaginable to look back in time for wisdom… and certainly not to an ancient source. This poses a serious problem for those of us who have concluded that the Bible is the word of God. It can be a problem for us because we can find it difficult to hold firm in the truth of God’s word while the world around us moves so steadily away from it. It also has immense implications for us as we talk to our friends about truth and suggest to them that this ancient book is actually a guide for life.
But the Bible actually is just that. Though ancient, it is truth revealed from God. And that truth was revealed to a people who were not as different from us as we tend to think.
Scott Berkey: University of Illinois Cru Staff