Concilium 2019-3. Technology: between Apocalypse and Integration

Concilium 2019-3. Technology: between Apocalypse and Integration


Linda Hogan, João J. Vila-Chã, Michelle Becka

Vollständige Übersetzungen dieser Ausgabe sind in den folgenden Sprachen in gedruckter Form verfügbar:

English: Technology: Between Apocalypse and Integration, International Journal of Theology – Concilium, 2019/3.

Español: Tecnología? Entre Apocalipsis e integración, Revista internacional de teología – Concilium, 381, 2019-2.

Deutsch: Internationale Zeitschrift für Theologie – Concilium, Ausgabe 3/2019.

Italiano: Tecnologia: fra apocalisse ed integrazione, Rivista internazionale di teologia – Concilium, 2019-3.

Português: Revista internacional de teologia- Concilium, 2019-3.


The ubiquity and convergence of technologies, together with the speed of their development means that many of us are unaware of the depth of their impact and of the philosophical and societal challenges that they may pose. Some commentators warn of a dystopian future, with the displacement of humans by superintelligences and deepening polarisation and inequality. Others anticipate a future of greater wealth and opportunity and of significant scientific advances. It is vital therefore that, as technological development breaches a new threshold, that its meaning, significance and impact is considered. This will require multi-disciplinary forms of reflection since the challenges and opportunities posed by technology affect all aspects of human life. 

Of course, human beings have long-since grappled with the nature and significance of technology, and its implications for our understanding of our place in the world, so these questions are now not entirely new.[1] Indeed, reflection on the nature of this relationship has been a consistent feature of Christian thought.[2] Christians through the ages have pursued advancements in technology in the belief that increasing human knowledge is a noble calling, while many of the most influential scientists and technologists drew their inspiration and rationale from their Christian world-views.[3] However, as Jacques Ellul has argued, recent decades have seen a sea-change, so that the fascination with technology which had been grounded in the Christian world-view, has been reordered and now risks no longer being at the service of humanity. Moreover, it is arguable that recent technological developments have brought us to the frontiers of human understanding, so that questions of human nature, theological and philosophical anthropology, as well as of human futures and eschatology are now raised in ways that heretofore were not in play. 

The ethical and political dimensions of the technological revolution have also become matters of public concern. In every age ethics has had to grapple with the upper limits of technology. Today the focus is on artificial intelligence, gene editing and big data. However, citizens are concerned about their abilities to deliberate and decide on these issues when our knowledge is constantly being outstripped by advancements in technology. They are also concerned about the values and priorities that set the course for technological developments – that is, which issues are regarded as urgent, and who decides. Can one speak any more about the obligating features of being human when technological developments have the potential to impact human identity and personhood so profoundly? Will the future of work undergo a fundamental revolution similar to that of the 18th and 19th centuries? How can citizens influence the future shape of society when the capacity for technological innovation is overwhelmingly in private ownership? The ethical and political questions being raised by technology are not just about the future of science, they are also fundamentally about the kind of society we want, and the values by which we want to live. 

This issue of Concilium seeks to explore the multi-faceted dimensions of technological advancements through a philosophical and theological lens and considers a range of inter-related themes. This volume opens with an essay by Paul Dumouchel entitled The Impacts of Technology: Anthropological Foundations. Dumouchel probes the question of how technology is to be understood in its relation to human beings and their activities. This foundational question has been asked and answered in different historical periods, and in his reflections Dumouchel highlights the implications of Hegel’s framing of, and response to this question, particularly for the western theological and political imaginary. Dumouchel is critical of analyses that externalise technology and that treat it as an invention that is distinct and separate from human activity. Rather, technology ought to be conceptualised as a form of human activity, not as artefact or product. He draws on Gibson’s notion of affordances to argue that technologies can be understood as ‘the various activities through which humans domesticate and materialize affordances’ thus repositioning the human relation to technology. Moreover, he argues that this reframing has implications, not only for how we understand ourselves as a species, but also for the ways in which the ethical and political dimensions of technology are appraised. Indeed, Dumouchel is highly critical of ethical analyses that see the issues through the lens of the individual user, and he argues for a more comprehensive analysis in which the political and the ethical dimensions of this aspect of human activity is appraised. Where Dumouchel considers the human relation to technology, broadly considered, and how this can be conceptualised, Benedikt Göcke focuses specifically on very recent developments in artificial intelligence and synthetic biology. Göcke discusses the innovative nature of recent technological developments, stressing the opportunities and challenges that are afforded to human society through machine learning and deep learning. He highlights in particular how this recursive capacity of machines to learn, represents a significant milestone in technological development, one that is and will continue to impact on human life in fundamental ways. Thus, argues Göcke, forms of artificial intelligence and of synthetic biology require us not only to reflect on the opportunities and risks of these technologies, but they also prompt a reappraisal of our concept of the human being, and of human life itself. 

Continuing this theme, but through a more explicitly theological lens is Paolo Benanti’s Artificial Intelligence, Robots, Bio-engineering and Cyborgs: New Theological Challenges? suggests that recent technological advances raise not only questions about new artefacts and their uses, but rather raise profound questions about human beings and our place in the world. Moreover, in Benanti’s estimation these questions require a theological positioning and response, since they ultimately pose questions about the human vocation as beings-in-the-world. However, Benenti is also insistent that, although theological contributions to these foundational questions are essential, they must be complemented by reflections from other fields of expertise, since these new frontiers of knowledge highlight the importance of, and need for, interdisciplinary studies, as never before. While Benanti reflects on the theological meanings and possibilities of new technological advances, Dominik Burkard takes a historical perspective and asks the question whether there has been a particular hostility to technology in the history of the Catholic Church. His answer is that there have been different responses at different times, and that, even in periods that are often assumed to be hostile to technology, as for example the Inquisition, recent research presents a differentiated and sometimes surprising picture. Indeed as the essays in this volume suggest, motifs of both apocalypse and integration are already present in the tradition.

In the opening essay of this volume Paul Dumouchel highlights how, in different historical periods, the relationship between humans and their technologies is framed in different ways, often yielding very different results. The western framing of the technology question is problematized by both Peter Kanyandago and Kuruvilla Pandikattu. Kanyandago analyses the persistence of colonialism in modern technological discourse and development. Considered from an African perspective Kanyandago argues that in ways similar to the manner in which African culture has been marginalised, so too have African technologies been marginalised and undervalued. Moreover, he argues, this happened from the very early colonial engagements with Africa. His essay is a plea for alternative form of discourse in which the history of Africa’s technological capacity is properly appreciated. This, he suggests, can be part of a process by which the humanity and dignity of the African comes to be respected and rehabilitated as it should. Kuruvilla Pandikattu brings perspectives from India to the discussion about technology and its limits and possibilities. He draws on a diverse range of sources, from the philosophical and theological to the literary, proposing an ‘Indian way’ of approaching the current technological and cultural revolution. He argues that the ‘Indian way’ brings a philosophical and spiritual perspective to bear on technology, thus allowing for an approach to these transformations that puts human flourishing at its core. 

The question of human flourishing is central to Sharon Bong’s essay on Technology in the Service of Humanity: Perspectives on Gender and Inclusion. Bong’s feminist lens on technology and its significance allows some fundamental questions about how we understand our place in the world to be raised. Deploying the motif of the womb as a site of exploration, Bong asks readers to consider the question of human relationships both to humans and other animals and to the environment in two distinct modes, first, through the centring of the human in creation based on Laudato Si; and second with, the decentring of the human in creation through reproductive technologies. Janina Loh takes up these ethical questions particularly by focussing on how new technologies, especially virtuality, have the capacity to change concepts of responsibility. In view of the complexities of the ethical challenges of new technologies Loh insists that the category of individual responsibility is insufficient. Rather collective responsibility and networks of responsibility need also to the deployed in the service of humane and inclusive technological development.

Our reflections on technology end with an essay by Jacob Erikson who places technology in its planetary and theological context. He revisits the technological dimensions of Lynn White’s celebrated reflections on the roots of our ecological crisis and, with White as a spring-board, he repositions human technoculture and digital material as vibrant matter animate in political ecologies, and as situated in the context of deep planetary geophysical time. He ends with a proposition that considers how the concepts of ‘planetary solidarity’ and ‘moral pleasure’ in theology might help orient our path through the twin perils of environmental despair and false hope in technology.The Theological Forum contributions are diverse and capture some of the interesting recent happenings in theology. The Forum features two reflections on the current shape of theology, both of which were presented in March 2018 at the inaugural meeting of the European Academy of Religion in Bologna, Italy. In the first Enrico Galavotti reflects on theology from Vatican II, while in the second Leonardo Paris discusses doing theology in Italy today. Also included in the Forum is an insightful comment on the praxis of faith consistent investing by Seamus Finn who is responsible for the Faith Consistent Investing programme for the Oblate Investment Pastoral Trust. Our volume ends with Jon Sobrino’s moving tribute to Archbishop Oscar Romero. 

[1] Cf. Jacques Ellul, La technique: ou, L’en jeu du siècle, Collection Sciences politiques (Paris: A. Colin, 1954); Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, Vintage Book (New York: Vintage Books, 1964).         

[2] Cf. Jacques Ellul, L’empire du non-sens: l’art et la société technicienne, 1. éd, La Politique éclatée (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1980); Jacques Ellul, The Technological System (New York: Continuum, 1980); Jacques Ellul, La subversion du christianisme, Empreintes (Paris: Seuil, 1984).

[3] Cf. Ugo Baldini et al., Catholic Church and Modern Science: Documents from the Archives of the Roman Congregations of the Holy Office and the Index, Fontes Archivi Sancti Officii Romani (Roma: Libreria editrice vaticana, 2009).

Table of contents

Editorial: Between Apocalypse and Integration

1. Technology: foundational questions

Paul Dumouchel – The Impacts of Technology: Anthropological Foundations

Benedikt Paul Göcke – Die Ideale der Menschheit im Lichte von synthetischer Biologie und künstlicher Intelligenz

Paolo Benanti – Intelligenze artificiali, robots, bio-ingegneria e cyborgs: nuove sfide teologiche

Dominik Burkard – Naturwissenschaft und Kirche – in unversöhnbarem Gegensatz? Ein Blick aus kirchenhistorischer Perspektive

2. Technological rationality and postcolonial criticism

Peter Kanyandago – Persistence of Colonialism Modern Technology: An Anthropological Reflection from an African Perspective

Kuruvilla Pandikattu – Technology and Cultural Values: Perspectives from India

3. Technology in the service of Humanity

Sharon A. Bong – Technology in the Service of Humanity:  Perspectives on Gender and Inclusion

Janina Loh – Verantwortung – alt oder neu? Überlegungen zu dem Für und Wider einer Transformation der Verantwortung

Jakob Erikson – Toxic Creativity, Deep Time, and Moral Pleasure: An Ecospirituality of Technology

Theological Forum

Enrico Galavotti – Istanze del rinnovamento teologico a partire dal Concilio

Leonardo Paris – Teologia in Italia oggi

Séamus P. Finn – Faith Consistent Investment Guidelines

Jon Sobrino – Monseñor Romero, ser humano, cristiano y arzobispo cabal


Paul Dumouchel – « The Impacts of Technology: Anthropological Foundations ». This article argues that technological activity constitutes a fundamental part of who we humans are as a species. Therefore the impacts of technology on the natural and social world should not be considered as the consequence of some particular invention called ‘technology’ but as the consequences of what we do. Technology is not something external to us that affects our behaviour, it is essentially the form of our activity. Therefore, technology conceived as something, an external force that changes our world does not exist; it is a myth. This change of focus suggests that when we evaluate the consequences of our technical activity it is fundamental to focus on the political consequences of technical innovations rather than on their ethical dimension as if that was something that existed in itself independently of what we do.

Benedikt Paul Göcke – « Die Ideale der Menschheit im Lichte von synthetischer Biologie und künstlicher Intelligenz ». Wir werden sehr bald in der Lage sein, nicht nur die biologische Natur des Menschen und seine Umwelt genetisch und kybernetisch zu verändern, sondern darüber hinaus im Stande sein, durch den Einsatz künstlicher Intelligenzen das individuelle und gesellschaftliche Leben von der Wurzel her umzugestalten. Um diese technologischen Entwicklungen steuern und ihr Potential sinnvoll nutzen zu können, müssen allumfassende philosophisch-theologische Theorien entwickelt werden, die sich auf das große Ganze der Stellung und Entwicklung der Menschheit im Universum richten und uns Ideale an die Hand geben, anhand derer der negative und positive Gebrauch der neuen Technologien als Mittel zur Realisierung dieser Ideale bestimmt werden kann.

Paolo Benanti – « Intelligenze artificiali, robots, bio-ingegneria e cyborgs: nuove sfide teologiche? ». Guardando alle grandi trasformazioni che questa nuova stagione tecnologica sta producendo ci si chiede se questi “nuovi artefatti” siano semplicemente strumenti o non siano anche dei “luoghi” del nostro vivere che chiedono una nuova riflessione antropologica e teologica. Per fare questo dapprima introdurremmo alcuni nuovi artefatti che sembrano mostrarsi come elementi chiave di queste trasformazioni e in un secondo momento cercheremo di far emergere alcune domande o questioni che la realizzazione di queste tecnologie fa sorgere alla riflessione filosofica e teologica. Le conclusioni vogliono far emergere come per poter vivere le sfide che la tecnologia ci pone dobbiamo innanzitutto comprenderla non solo come strumento ma anche come “luogo” teologico. Per vivere l’oggi siamo chiamati a ridire le verità di fede in modo che possano illuminare e dare senso ai “nuovi artefatti” e alle sfide che questi presentano. Siamo chiamati a pensare teologicamente la tecnologia anche per poter approfondire il mistero di Dio e la vocazione dell’uomo. Inoltre lo sviluppo tecnologico, giunto a queste inedite frontiere, necessita mai come oggi di confronti e contributi interdisciplinari, compresi fra questi quelli teologici, per poter trovare fini adeguati agli innumerevoli mezzi di cui dispone.

Dominik Burkard – « Naturwissenschaft und Kirche – in unversöhnbarem Gegensatz? Ein Blick aus kirchenhistorischer Perspektive ». Gibt es eine Korrelation zwischen Religion/Konfession und Naturwissenschaft/Technik? Sowohl Untersuchungen zum „katholischen Bildungsdefizit“ Mitte des 20. Jahrhunderts als auch die alte „leyenda negra“ scheinen darauf hinzudeuten. Auch im Gründungsmythos der Naturwissenschaften spielt die Verurteilung des kopernikanischen Weltbildes durch das kirchliche Lehramt im 17. Jahrhundert eine zentrale Rolle. Die historischen Forschungen zur Römischen Inquisition in den vergangenen Jahrzehnten machen demgegenüber im Urteil zurückhaltender. Der Beitrag nimmt Motive und Kriterien in den Blick. Von einer systemimmanenten Wissenschaftsfeindlichkeit der Kirche wird man aufgrund der Befunde kaum sprechen können.

Peter Kanyandago – « Persistence of Colonialism and Modern Technology: An Anthropological Reflection from an African Perspective ». Modern technology has largely been associated with Western civilisation, to the detriment of other technologies. The article points out that Egyptian technology in the third millennium BCE compares by far with modern technology in its precision in the areas of architecture and astronomy, and other areas. The marginalisation of this technology, and persistence of colonialism in the same, is due largely to the anthropological negation of the African and other non-Europeans through different processes including colonisation, enslavement and evangelisation. This situation can be solved by putting in place means to rehabilitate and respect the humanity and dignity of the African.

Kuruvilla Pandikattu – « Technology and Cultural Values:  Perspectives from India ». The British Historian Arnold Toynbee claims that the “Indian way” or “an Indian ending” is the only way of salvation for humanity. This paper attempts to show that the Indian way is essentially a spiritual and philosophical way that is both rooted and open. Taking into account the present technological and cultural revolution, including the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the author pleads for a theology that responds critically and creatively to contemporary scientific revolution. Only by progressing technologically, ethically and spiritually can we flourish as human beings.

Sharon A. Bong – « Technology in the Service of Humanity:  Perspectives on Gender and Inclusion ». This paper calls to question not only how we understand our place in this world but also what it means to be human in relation to other humans, other species and the environment at large. The paper traces ontological and theological shifts through the trope of the womb as cosmic, material, and virtual sites of contestation: firstly, through the centring of the human in creation based on the Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si; and secondly, the decentring of the human in creation through reproductive technologies, e.g. artificial wombs and its implications for the unborn, women, pregnant (trans)men.

Janina Loh – « Verantwortung – alt oder neu? Überlegungen zu dem Für und Wider einer Transformation der Verantwortung ». Allenthalben wird der Sorge Ausdruck verliehen, dass dank der gegenwärtigen Herausforderungen der Digitalisierung und Automatisierung unserer modernen technisierten Massengesellschaft der Verantwortung ultimative Grenzen gesetzt sind. Wie verhält es sich mit der Verantwortung im glo-balen Finanzmarktsystem, wo Algorithmen am Werk sind, die noch nicht einmal mehr von den Algorithmikern, die diese programmiert haben, verstanden werden (zumindest behaupten diese das) oder mit der Verantwortung im Umgang mit autonomen Fahrassistenzsystemen? Dennoch scheint der Ruf nach Verantwortung zugleich mit ungebrochener Vehemenz zu erklingen. Im Folgenden werden einige Überlegungen dazu angestellt, wie mit der Tatsache, dass wir offenkundig mit der Verantwortung ringen, umgegangen werden können.

Jacob Erikson – « I paradossi del populismo e il contributo della Chiesa alla democrazia. Ipotesi di percorso ». Christian ecological theology is usually suspicious of technological creativity. With the unwieldy anthropocentric history of progress and human dominion over the ecological world, human technological creativity often is complicit in ecological waste and colonization.  In our present moment, situated in the Anthropocene, how might we reimagine human technological development in a way that re-focuses technology in the flows of planetary life?  Focusing on recent “geologic” turns in scholarship from the emergent fields of new media studies and environmental humanities, this paper argues for a new ecospirituality of technology.  A “slow” spirituality and ethic of technology might help 1) meditate on modes of disembodied, toxic creativity that contributes to ongoing forms of ecocide and ecological colonization, 2) situate moral imagination of technological progress in the “deep time” of the planet, and 3) pay attention to the fullness of environmental despair and collaborative moral pleasure needed in the present moment.

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