I’ve been reading Richard Sennett’s excellent book The Craftsman – which I highly recommend to anyone interested in ideas of technology, creativity (a word he hates, for good reason) and work. It is not a book about woodwork or William Morris. Rather, he takes a broad look at what it means to work in an engaged way.
One short section that sparked my interest in particular was around the development of machines designed with an open systems approach. Early machines were mechanically ‘closed’ – you pulled Lever A and this pushed Rod B and activated Plunger C. There was a direct hard linkage between these parts. The machine, in other words, was ‘predestined’ to carry out a particular task.
This can longer be said to be true for some of the machines now being built. A computer is not a hard mechanical device. It has no limited set of tasks that it can undertake, and can, in some cases, not only deal with fuzzy logic – inputs coming in different orders – but learn a little about what we are trying to do and adapt to that. Their use is no longer predestined.
Sennett makes the link with human development, and the development of our theology too, and wonders if the technological environment within which Calvin emerged had a big impact on his adoption/expansion of Augustinian ideas about predestination. The world of Calvin (early 1500’s) was pre-industrial, but also hard-mechanical. The machines that did exist were built for one pre-determined purpose, and with the influence of Guilds and family structures, the jobs that children would end up doing were pretty much pre-determined for them too. A goldsmith’s son would almost certainly be a goldsmith.
So as we have moved into a more flexible, open-system world, does anyone actually believe in predestination anymore? Does anyone believe there are those who are simply ‘not chosen’ – and who can therefore be left on the human scrap-pile to rot in hell, which is their hard, pre-determined path?