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Chapter 1 - Introduction



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Book CoverBackground

At various times I (Paul) have had occasion to explain to relatives and new acquaintances that I teach engineering at a Christian college where we stress the intersection of faith and the discipline taught. Their reaction is typically one of puzzlement: What does the ethereal world of faith have to do with the real-world nuts-and- bolts, equations and measurements, of engineering practice? As a high school student I would have raised the same question, but having been in this profession for four decades and learned from many who have wrestled with this issue I am convinced that an understanding of this intersection is vital for any believer who works in engineering. In the chapters that follow Bill Graff and I will focus on three smaller questions that frame the issue: (1) How has engineering shaped my view of God? (2) How does engineering contribute to God’s plan of redemption and to human flourishing or fulfillment? (3) How can we love God and our neighbor through the practice of engineering?

Why This Book?

In the 1970’s two books explored the intersection of Christian faith and various academic disciplines, Christianity and the World of Thought [1] and The Christian Mind [2]. Interestingly, both books addressed psychology, the humanities, mathematics, and natural sciences, but neither book touched at all on the field of engineering. During the 1990’s Harper Collins issued a series of books with titles (Business, Biology, History…) Through the Eyes of Faith. Again, engineering was missing from the collection.

This is not to suggest that engineers have been silent about exploring the intersection of faith with their discipline. A strong foundation in Christian engineering has been established and is searchable. Since the 1980’s various engineering faculty have presented papers at national meetings where their contribution included aspects of their faith-based worldview. [3], [4], [5] Also, a series of journal articles and book chapters by Christian faculty have been published on the topic. [6], [7], [8] Beginning in 1992 engineering faculty and professionals have met together every 2-3 years for the Christian Engineering Conference. The intersection of faith and engineering practice, primarily from the point of view of education, is a common theme at this conference, and most of the proceedings are available. [9] To date, however, we have not seen a compiled book addressing the issues of engineering and faith.

Paul’s Story

When I began my studies in electrical engineering (EE) at SUNY Buffalo, I was a young believer in Christ who had seen several positive role models but had minimum knowledge of theology. I did realize that, somehow, God had given me some skills in math and science and a desire to learn how things work. I learned that engineering is directed technical problem-solving, defined as “the practical application of mathematics and science to the benefit of mankind.” My first encounter with philosophy was a disaster. The professor taunted Christians like Goliath taunted David and the Israelites, and I didn’t know where to begin to counter his arguments.

About this time, I located the campus chapter of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, a few dozen students serious about living out their faith. I was challenged to study the book of Romans and to develop a daily “quiet time” of Bible reading and prayer. Some of the students also mentioned helpful material by Francis Schaeffer, an American pastor living in Switzerland who was concerned about providing real answers to real questions. Throughout all my academic preparation my knowledge of God was growing in parallel with my knowledge of engineering science, but I still saw little connection between the two.

As I was approaching my senior year, I wondered what direction to pursue for employment. Most engineering jobs at the time were along the lines of designing televisions or making missiles, neither of which appealed to me. When I expressed this concern to a friend, he arranged for the dean to introduce me to Wilson Greatbatch, an electrical engineer and inventor of the cardiac pacemaker. Wilson Greatbatch offered me the opportunity to work for his company for the summer. As a result of this internship, I applied to graduate school to study biomedical engineering, an area I was sure could benefit mankind.

While in grad school at Drexel University I was required to study anatomy and physiology, where I learned about the complex design of the human body. I soon met a member of the EE faculty that several students had mentioned, Dr. Bill Graff. Bill taught a course open freely to the public that he called “Engineering Theology,” an introduction to Christian basics and apologetics explained in terms familiar to engineers. During my time at Drexel I interacted often with Bill Graff, who challenged my shallow thinking and got me to ask questions and think about the following:

What really is faith? Is it really just a blind leap in the dark?

Is there actually a wall between the sacred and the secular, a “two-pot system” for life, or is God the God of all parts of life?

What does vocation or “calling” mean? Is engineering a legitimate “calling” from God, just as pastoral ministry is a “calling” from God?

After college I was accepted for a postdoctoral research project (working with physiology faculty studying the mechanical properties of single isolated heart cells) at the University of Kansas Medical Center. When the project concluded I accepted a faculty position in engineering at LeTourneau University (then known as LeTourneau College) in Longview, Texas. LeTourneau University was founded by inventor-industrialist R. G. LeTourneau, a Christian businessman. He originally began the school as a training institute for the machinists and welders employed in his plant. I also had the opportunity to teach and to collaborate with Bill Graff, who was on the faculty there (and who had invited me to apply).

Bill’s Story

I grew up in the Midwest and was raised as a Deist. My dad didn’t believe that any God was operating in the world, but he did believe in hard work and morality. I had morals and Christian words but no real Christian base.

In high school in Springfield, Missouri, I hung around with a guy named Steve Garlock who was a ham radio operator. Garlock understood inductors and capacitors and liked to impress us. I’d go over to his house, and we’d talk about radio, telepathy, telekinesis and flying saucers. (I was also heavy into science fiction and thought most of sci-fi was possible.) Eventually I realized how scary it could be to have all that sci-fi power. (You might dream that you were tossing lightning bolts around and wake up to find the house burned down.) I finally decided that anti-gravity was the thing I could invent, and, needing a lot more education, I went off to study electrical engineering at Purdue.

I started going to a church while on a summer job in Long Island - not to find God, but to meet girls. The upshot was, I heard the Gospel and encountered God and met the young lady who later became my wife. That summer changed my life forever. I met a girl and I met God.

I went through bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and Ph.D. at Purdue, specializing in electromagnetic fields. After teaching at Drexel University (Philadelphia) and Wilkes College (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) I joined the faculty at LeTourneau University, where I taught for 43 years until retirement.

Engineering and Faith

How do spiritual faith and the physical transformation of the earth begin to intersect? Let’s look at five critical questions, which will form the framework for the upcoming chapters:

  • • What does it mean to be a Christian? How do I understand “salvation” from an engineering mindset?
    • Where does it all (the tools and materials to engineer) come from? What is the source of the material world, the physical laws, and my ability to work with it?
    • How does my engineering work become a response to what God has done? How does it relate to questions of meaning and purpose?
    • How do I handle it? How do I relate to issues of ethics, serving God, and loving neighbor?
    • What should I do with it? What projects are worth doing? How do I address design, technology, poverty, and warfare?

 

Engineering Helps Shape my View of God
(by Paul)

As an engineer I have come to appreciate these things about our God (which will be fleshed out in the upcoming chapters):

  1. God engineered a very complex world, even more complex than I had first imagined.
    The universe is both more complex and stranger than I had thought. Our Creator is far more complicated than I had imagined. Black holes, bosons, and quantum electrodynamics are now part of our description of the universe at the largest and smallest dimensions. If an electron can exhibit the properties of both a particle and a wave, I shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus Christ could live on earth as both God and man.
  2. God reveals Himself through "two books"- nature and Scripture.
    Augustine developed the concept that God’s revelation is two-fold. Nature reveals God’s creative aspects but cannot communicate His plan for salvation. The Scriptures reveal God’s character and plan but speak little of how the earth works. Both deserve our study and attention. If understood properly, the two will complement and not contradict each other.
  3. God specifically made all things and continually sustains all things.
    In the first chapter of Colossians we read that all things exist for Him. (Col. 1:15-17) This creation and ownership is the ultimate foundation of our profession. Not only do we practice engineering to the benefit of mankind, but first, consciously and deliberately, “to the glory of God”.
  4. It is not simply the existence of the natural world that points to a Creator but the detailed design of the natural world that points to a Creator-Designer.
    All of mathematics and physical principles were built into the universe and simply discovered by mankind.
  5. God controls the world in a complex way.
    God knows the position of every atom at every instant and takes pleasure in His engineered creation. God engineers the ultimate outcomes of human events even in the midst of our choices. While human designs are faulty, God’s designs never fail.
  6. Engineering makes use of the physical laws and resources built into the Creation to devise new things.
    In doing design, engineers are using God-given skills to imitate what God has done. Genesis suggests that God specifically planned the design of the cosmos, and, after causing the sudden and initial appearance of space and matter, carried out its development in a systematic way (Genesis 1, 2).
    We are both constrained by and guided in our engineering by the physical laws. These laws and all raw materials may be considered gifts to mankind from God.
  7. While God cares supremely about my soul He also cares about computers, airplanes, and my occupation.
    While no part of existence is outside of God’s control, He is the creator of the entire physical world and interested in everything that affects my life, benefits my life, and captures my attention. If there were an actual sacred-secular division, then (1) secular work would be strictly second-best, (2) work would only be valuable as a means to earn money for spiritual efforts, (3) there would be little incentive to do excellent work in the “secular” realm, and (4) six days of the week would be nearly wasted, and only Sunday would be valuable. On the other hand, if all can be done for God’s glory, then all of life becomes sacred, including (engineering) work.
  8. God’s love is shown in the cross and also in “common grace”.
    Throughout the creation God demonstrates His “common grace”- aspects of God’s goodness available to all people regardless of their relationship to Him. This is seen in (1) the presence of the sun, moon, and stars as a declaration of God’s creation to all who look up (Ps. 19), (2) the sun, rain, soil, and plants provided to all for growing food, and (3) the human ability to make tools to work with nature. In all human creatures there resides creativity, resourcefulness, and the capacity to make choices. In this way engineering may be seen as an area of common grace.
  9. God actually commanded us to use and modify the natural world.
    In Gen. 1:28 God gives to Adam, and thus to mankind, the earliest command of Scripture: to multiply the human race and to subdue the earth, to “have dominion” over the earth. In essence, Adam was told to “do engineering.” Animals, plants, and minerals all fall under this directive.
    God is saying, in part, “Go forth and be engineers. Take the stuff of earth and use it to meet your needs and better your lives.” In using the earth, Adam and all of the patriarchs knew clearly that God Himself had made everything and that they didn’t own it. We have been placed here as stewards of the King’s realm. The further we move from this understanding the more likely we are to destroy the natural world rather than using it responsibly.
    Technology and stewardship fit together in God’s “Dominion Mandate”:
    Obedience to the Dominion Mandate also requires the concordant development of physical and biological technologies (engineering, agriculture, medicine, etc.). These activities under the stewardship of the Dominion Mandate imply the complementary enterprises known by the modern terms of science and technology, research and development, theory and practice, etc. Technology, development, and practice suggest the application and utilization of the physical and biological processes and systems, as learned from their scientific study, for the benefit of mankind and the glory of God. [10]

    Under the dominion mandate, suggest Rae and Scott, people were given the right to “unlock earth’s resources for their benefit and the benefit of their successors.”[ 1] Two Biblical themes keep our use of the earth in balance, dominion and stewardship. While the earth is ours to use, it is not ours to own. We are charged with managing it well.


Conclusions

“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” was a question posed to some of the early church fathers when they looked for an intersection between philosophy and Christian theology. “What has engineering to do with faith?” is a question for our day, and we’ve begun to see the framework of an answer.
Initially, we will make the following observations:


  • • If we begin with God as Creator, engineering leads to a greater appreciation for God’s Creation.
    • God’s plan of redemption includes but is larger than my eternal destiny.
    • Engineering has a place in restoring part of a fallen world.
    • Loving our neighbor leads directly to the area of engineering ethics and to the consideration of the impacts of the technologies that we create.

This book is the culmination of fifty years of questions and some of the conclusions we’ve reached. Hopefully some of it will be helpful to you.


In the next two chapters we’ll look at some working definitions for both “engineering” and “faith,” which may be surprising and will move us forward in our thinking.

 

References

1. Amerding, H., Christianity and the World of Thought, Moody, 1968.
2. Smith, R., The Christian Mind, IVP, 1971.
3. Halsmer, D., et.al., “Exploring Connections between Engineering and Human Spirituality,” ASEE Annual Conference 2010,
https://peer.asee.org/exploring-connections-between-engineering-and-human-spirituality
4. Jordan, W., “A Virtue Ethics Approach to Engineering Ethics,” ASEE Annual Conference, 2006.
https://peer.asee.org/a-virtue-ethics-approach-to-engineering-ethics
5. Niewoehner, R., “Must Engineering Ethics Presume a Secular Foundation?”
ASEE Annual Conference, 2008.
https://peer.asee.org/must-engineering-ethics-presume-a-secular-foundation
6. Eisenbarth, S.R., Van Treuren, K.W. “Sustainable and responsible design from a Christian worldview.” Sci Eng Ethics. 2004;10(2):423-429. doi:10.1007/s11948-004-0039-z
7. VanderLeest, S., “Engineering Is Not Science,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, March 2012.
8. Ermer, G., “Responsible Engineering and Technology,” in Haarsma, D. and Hoezee, S., Delight in Creation, Calvin Seminary, 2012.
9. CEEC Proceedings, web site, http://www.christianengineering.org/publications/cec-proceedings
10. “Human Stewardship: Technology”, http://www.icr.org/christian-research/
11. Rae, S. and Cox, P.M., Bioethics: A Christian Approach in a Pluralistic Age, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing (1999), p.94.