How big of a deal is technology theologically speaking? This is not a question that I have an good answer to, but I suspect that it may end up being less of an issue that we think that it is.
Take the example of reproductive technology. Technology allows us to radically redefine the method by which we create offspring. So far you still need an identifiable biological father and mother, but sexual intercourse between the two is no longer necessary. Cloning suggests that in theory, it may be possible to create a child without one of either a biological father or a biological mother. Is this a theologically big deal?
It might be, but I am actually pretty skeptical. In the 1990s as the Internet took off, lawyers, judges, and legal scholars started speculating about what â€œInternet lawâ€? would look like. A number of manifestos were written suggesting that the Internet presented a fundamental challenge to our previous ideas of law and would spark nothing less than a jurisprudential revolution.
Judge Frank Easterbrook of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit was not convinced. In an article entitled, â€œThe Law of the Horseâ€? he suggested that actually the Internet would probably end up being governed by the same basic concepts â€“ property, tort, and contract â€“ that governed the non-Internet world. Imagine, he said, the problems that jurists faced when they first discovered horses. Here were animals that made possible a huge number of things that had not previously been possible for human beings. Surely a new theory of law would be needed to accommodate them. Yet, Judge Easterbrook, pointed out, several millennia later there is no identifiable law of the horse in our jurisprudence. There is simply property, tort, and contract law that gets applied to the unique situations where horses show up. No jurisprudential revolution was necessary.
There is something bracing about imagining that technology presents radical new challenges for Mormon theology. After all, Mormon doctrine has changed or evolved in the past to deal with new circumstances. Perhaps the revolutions currently working their way through the life sciences and medicine will require another reconstruction of Mormon doctrine. The imagined inadequacies of LDS theology for the new problems might be a source of anxiety (or triumph) for some, and the possibility of imagining radical new theologies may present an exciting opportunity to others.
For myself, I am skeptical. To be sure, I expect that technology will require that we think anew about some old doctrinal concepts, and their application in a new situation may turn out to be novel or unexpected. But I doubt that we are on the threshold of a theological revolution.
There is no theology of the horse.