The Clare Spark Blog

January 6, 2016


Damian Gordon slideshow image

Damian Gordon slideshow image

(Update 1-8-16: This is NOT an anti-religion blog. My point is that secular, pluralistic societies are notorious for undermining the claims of particular religions.)

The agitated response to the claim by N. Korea that it had tested an H-Bomb reminded me of Eisenhower’s seminal 1961 farewell speech warning of a [godless] “military-industrial complex.” The heart of progressivism lies in this warning: that the Bomb unleashed powers that heretofore were reserved for the deity. The (moderate conservative) remedy is love in the service of international understanding, i.e., multiculturalism, cultural relativism, and the prophetic vision of Woodrow Wilson that eventuated in the United Nations (preceded by the League of Nations).

That is the overarching message of Carroll W. Pursell Jr.’s Readings in Technology and American Life (Oxford UP paperback, 1969).  The running theme in this solely “progressive” roundup of source readings was prefigured by historian Friedrich Meinecke’s explanation for the rise of Hitler: technology, unharnessed by the moderating power of religion, would raise a race of monster technicians from the lower orders, unimpressed by elite leadership. (The German historian’s analysis is found here:

Make no mistake: Pursell is a devoted progressive, hence not hostile to the rule of experts (a salutary effect of professionalization in the applied sciences): experts who would be motivated by such dodgy and indefinite notions as a knowable “public interest,” the planning state, and “service” (a.k.a. “duty”). What Pursell is pitching is Conservative Enlightenment in the service of Big Government. (Radical Enlightenment leads to free market economics, not bureaucratic collectivism. See

Where would godless technology lead in a secularizing society? To the rule of robots with selected human features? If we feel ourselves turning into mindless machines, perhaps we should look to the apparent benefits of conformity to rules handed down by “experts,” not to advances in our particular understanding of the material world we inhabit.



  1. Does your version of techno-philia, (and your versions of humankind-moving-beyond-religion, and non-relativism) propose that we should not worry about A or H bombs or any other technical device ever invented, in the hands of no matter who?

    Comment by Stephen Baraban — January 8, 2016 @ 6:39 pm | Reply

    • Technology is an instrument, subject to the vicissitudes of politics. I am not against all religions, nor did I imply that. No one is more fearful of nuclear proliferation than I am.

      Comment by clarelspark — January 8, 2016 @ 9:25 pm | Reply

  2. I recently attended a lecture given by Neil deGrasse Tyson. During the question and answer period, he was asked whether or not we should be worried about “the singularity,” the day when the computers and robots become collectively more intelligent than humans. Tyson said he wasn’t the least bit concerned. As he saw it, AI will continue to enhance and supplement human life, not replace it. AI will continue to make better cars and more efficient energy systems, not gun us down in the streets and murder us in our beds.

    This is consistent with my view that any artificially intelligent machine will have to operate logically, and unlike human beings, not be motivated by emotion or delusions. Any logical machine will have to be primed with human values and instructions on how to resolve logical inconsistencies in the directives it is given. What I really enjoyed about the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” is that it centered on the dilemma of the artificially intelligent computer, HAL 9000, which had to contend with a secret directive, an overriding mission to contact alien life — at all costs, even the lives of the space ship crew.

    Despite Arthur C. Clarke’s worried vision, I doubt that a real AI machine, presuming that such a thing can actually exist, will have to resort to murder to keep a secret. But the big fear — a progressive one — is that vain or foolish men will blindly or deliberately abuse the technology, creating directives which the AI machine will use to wipe out humanity, or worse, that the AI machines will generate their own hyper-coordinated set of values and directives which will view humanity as vermin, undeserving of life. This paranoia speaks more to the insecurity progressives feel about their own moral authority and intellectual superiority. The logical AI machine, thinking independently, breaking all the rules, out of man’s control, is a primordial threat — a Golem, a Frankenstein, the Devil. But like all devils, this is a fantasy, a fear of the future, of the unknown.

    It could be that the intelligent machine, free from mystic delusions, capable of exercising reason, independence, and self-directed will, will become the ideal Promethean man.

    Comment by stereorealist — January 6, 2016 @ 8:21 pm | Reply

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