I just came across this fascinating article by a Christian engineer, Jace Yarbrough, about “why we don’t have more engineers.” The shortage of good engineers has been the subject of intense effort for decades, yet the supply has stubbornly refused to increase. In addition to two factors that are already widely appreciated—engineering is intrinsically difficult so few can do it, and it is relatively impervious to artificial grade inflation; and engineering schools are often unnecessarily unwelcoming toward many students who could become engineers—Yarbrough offers a third. Few people want to be engineers, he suggests, because engineering means exploiting God’s creation for humanity’s selfish ends.
That many Christians have internalized this deeply unbiblical, implicitly Gnostic negative view of technological progress is not news. What is shocking about this article, however, is that this person has internalized it, and has done so in a particular way.
To begin with, Yarbrough is not just an engineer, but actually seems to be very happy to be an engineer. It requires a really stunning dualism to write an article that basically amounts to “I rape the earth for a living and God hates that, but hey, it’s a fallen world and all – people have got to eat, so you do what you have to do. So, yeah, I’m proud to do work that God hates.”
At this point I would normally launch into Theology of Work 101 – economic work existed before the fall and is part of God’s good plan, wealth creation is a spiritual act that God intends for the blessing of human beings, flourishing of shalom, etc. etc. The only problem with that is that Yarbrough has already written on that subject. With great eloquence and erudition. Recently. Twice. Now that’s dualism.
Yarbrough even makes the standard point that the biblical narrative begins in a garden and ends in a city; apparently the implications of that observation have not been fully assimilated. Does Yarbrough think cities just grow up out of the ground? Or that any kind of human civilization resembling a city can be built without transformatively using (or “destroying,” if you like) some natural resources? Does God love the heavenly city but hate the work that builds it?
Another alarming aspect of the article is that Yarbrough openly mocks Al Gore and in various other ways self-identifies as an opponent of squishy-left views on economics, environmentalism, etc. This confirms an impression that has been growing in my mind – that we need to stop thinking about bad economic thinking as a product of the left. It isn’t, or not distinctively so. There’s almost as much quasi-Gnosticism on the right as on the left these days.
Let’s be clear: God loves engineering. When he made the human race, he declared one and only one explicit purpose for human life: to have a transformative impact on the environment. (Well, okay, and to reproduce.)
Genesis 1-2 tells us the following:
- God made the world with a small garden in the middle of a huge, desolate wilderness. The description of the wilderness emphasizes that it is a wilderness because the impact of human work is absent.
- God made human beings to work (and reproduce).
- God’s marching orders to humanity are to go fill the world and subdue it to God’s will.
What does the “cultural mandate” amount to in this context? I think you could express it this way: “You see this beautiful little garden you’re in? Okay, now, you see all that huge desolate wasteland of wilderness out there? Go make all of that like this.”
The purpose of human life is to have an impact on the environment. God loves engineering.
Greg Forster is the author of five books and numerous print articles covering theology, economics, political philosophy and education policy. He has a doctorate from Yale University, is a program director at the Kern Family Foundation and also a senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.