I’ll write about the advertisement above in a minute. But first, in my last post to this blog I mentioned that I recently attended two conferences and I reported on the ASEE Annual Conference in that blog entry. Next, I went to the Christian Engineering Educator’s Conference (CEEC), which I will review in this blog post.
There is so much to report, I can only pick and choose highlights. A recent advertisement in the July 2008 issue of “The Banner” (pictured above) inspired me to organize this review of CEEC along the lines of the parameters of curricular organization described in “The Educational Framework of Dordt College.” That’s a rather long document, but it describes in detail how Dordt faculty strive to teach their courses. That’s the basis of the advertisement.
1. Every inch of this world belongs to God
That’s our religious orientation.
Murat Tanyel and David Shaw of Geneva College gave an interesting paper on a proposed new textbook for freshman engineering courses. In the first chapter of this text they propose to discuss the idea of worldview, and in particular, the Christian perspective that the God of the Bible created everything and everything thus belongs to him. Although there is no debate among Christians that “God created it all,” we know there are different perspectives among Christians as to how creation happened. Theistic evolution and Creationism are two theories that come to mind. I’m not sure how far this new textbook might go to discuss how your view of creation influences your work, but clearly, if you believe that God created and is the owner of the universe, that will necessarily influence your engineering work. For example, how important is energy conservation? The only way to get at a question like that is to consider what you value and why you value it.
If you believe that God created and is the ultimate owner of the universe, then you can’t just say, “so what?” to important questions like, “what kind of work (or college major) should I choose?” To help us try to answer questions like that, Max Deffenbauh presented a paper on, “Career Choice in the Light of the Kingdom of God: An Engineer’s perspective.” He reviewed several ideas of what the “Kingdom of God” might be. One definition of the Kingdom of God, accepted by some people, is that it is, “God’s rule in the hearts and lives of people who accept God into their lives.” Another different definition of the Kingdom of God, what he labeled the “reformed perspective,” is that, “the Kingdom of God is God’s rule over the entire created order, now present in all dimensions but limited in degree. In this perspective people who submit to God’s rule become agents and stewards of that rule. . . .” Max then critiques these two definitions and proposes a third definition to resolve his critique: “the Kingdom [of God] is the final, perfect state of creation, initiated by a supernatural act of God and characterized by universal and perfect relationship with God as well as an end to sin, suffering and death.” He then explains that Christ’s life on earth is a call for Christians to live now in the light of the certainty of that future. These are issues that we discuss in our courses at Dordt College too.
2. The world is of a piece
That’s how He structured creation
In other words, Christians believe that the universe acts dependably and consistently through time and space, and that this is only a consequence of God’s faithfulness to us. (Hebrews 1:3) Every second of every day is possible only because of God’s upholding of the universe with all it’s orderliness and chaos. Because of His faithfulness, scientific theories are possible and engineering design can be done based on those theories. Dr. Emer of Calvin College gave a paper on various meanings of the story of the tower of Babel. Near the end of the paper she discussed goals of some technologies of providing self-sufficiency (e.g. the U.S. should develop a self-sufficient supply of energy). She drew interesting parallels to the story of the tower of Babel. There is danger in failure to recognize that all people depend on God every day, every second. She writes, “The Babel story emphasizes the need to recognize our own dependence on God, in all our activities, but also in our technology.”
In a paper on “Engineering as Mission,” William Jordan of Baylor University points out that the Bible writers lived prior to our modern scientific era, and therefore we cannot expect to find a direct biblical basis for doing engineering in the Bible. But there are examples in the bible of technical work being done. For example, Exodus 31:1-7. Dr. Jordan points out that even the skill to be an engineer is a gift from God. Sadly, due to sin, what we build will not last forever. (Ecclesiastes 2) Yet, what we do matters to the Lord of all creation (Ephesians 5:15-16, Colossians 3:23).
3. We develop it for good or ill
That’s our cultural challenge
What constitues engineering work that God would approve of has long been a topic of discussion among Christian engineering educators. Here at Dordt College we have used Dooyeweerd’s theory of modal aspects to help guide our thoughts on norms (standards) for engineering. In the book, Responsible Technology, published over twenty years ago (1986) the authors, (Monsma et al) restate some of the modal aspects in terms more easily related to typical engineering work. At the CEEC conference Steve VanderLeest of Calvin College gave a paper on “Wider and Deeper Norms for Technology Design.” In this paper Dr. VanderLeest proposes that there are yet more norms that need to be considered. This is a possibility that Dooyeweerd originally suggested regarding his list of fifteen modal aspects. Dr. VanderLeest proposes the virtue of humility as a previously missing norm. “Engineers should design technology with a certain modesty, knowing that (as created beings) we are finite, and thus cannot predict all the ways our technology might be used or abused.” Dr. Vanderleest also suggests that a direct Biblical foundation for the engineering norms proposed in the book Responsible Technology can be found, rather than the more complicated philosophical foundation offered by Dooyeweerd. He then visits in turn each of the six norms proposed in the book Responsible Technology and offers bible texts that support those norms. That these ideas from Responsible Technology are still in play after all these years is pleasing evidence that what we have been teaching here at Dordt all along is still considered important by others–still on the cutting edge.
4. We’re in it as Christ’s disciples
That’s our contemporary response
There were a number of papers at CEEC on what it means to be an engineer and a disciple of Christ. I’ve already mentioned the paper by Dr. Jordan, “Engineering as a Mission.” There were several other papers on the general topic of how engineering work can help spread the gospel, or assist other missionaries in spreading the gospel. This theme came up in maybe one-quarter of all the papers presented. Certainly that is an important reason to be an engineer. The more I think about problems such as the depletion and pollution of earth’s resources, the more clear it seems that there is little reason to care about what happens to the earth unless you have respect for it as belonging to God and entrusted to us. The Christian faith is unique in providing this perspective, although many Christians act sinfully anyway. Here at Dordt College we see engineering as one way of responding to God’s call to bring peace and shalom on earth.
Just as we can “worship our cars” when we wash and wax them and take excessive pride in them, our engineering can be good or bad worship in response to the call of our Lord to care for creation.
While attending this conference, I got to thinking, “what progress have we in the Christian engineering community made in engineering education?” Dordt College has been offering a bachelor’s degree in engineering since 1983, the year of our first B.S.E. graduating class. That’s a quarter century ago now. Surely we must have figured a few things out in that time span. The CEEC has been an important place where we work communally on figuring out how best to plan our curriculum. Indeed, over the last quarter century we have made the four points mentioned above fundamental to our engineering curriculum here at Dordt College. These make a Dordt College Engineering degree different from a state university degree in ways that Christians can appreciate.
P.S. If you are interested in reading entire papers, the complete Proceedings of the 2008 CEEC is available. And rememberâ€”you found out about it here at Dordt College!