Faith in Computer Science
This is another very short essay I wrote during my capstone class senior year at Westmont:
As a Christian, I am called to be different than the rest of the world. Counter-culture, to use Westmont’s term-of-the-year. As such, the way I live my life, who I am, my work, my thoughts, actions, and personal life should all reflect Christ and His changing grace. That may be easy enough to say, but how can I actually live that out? I may say that I am supposed to be different, but what might that actually look like? Even in Computer Science, my chosen field of study, I am called to be different because of my faith. But does that mean I will write programs differently, or administer servers in a Christian way? Derek Schuurman gives an interesting example regarding this issue. He says, “Suppose two programmers set out to write a computer program, one a Christian, and one a non-Christian. Both use the same programming language, the same compiler, the same operating system, and both apply the same software engineering techniques. Can the end user discern the religious convictions of the programmer?” 1 I may be called “Un-Christian” for saying this, but I will have to agree with Schuurman and say that, in this case, I do not believe the end user will be able to discern if the programmer is a Christian. Ultimately, it is not languages, compilers, OSes, or programming techniques that differentiate a Christian programmer from a non-Christian programmer. However, some people may disagree. Someone might say, “Certainly, we can discern the religious convictions of the programmers from Ubuntu Christian Edition, or the Logos Bible Study software, or internet accountability software such as Covenant Eyes. Isn’t it obvious it was programmed by Christians?” In these specific examples, we certainly can. However, this is software written specifically for a Christian audience. It is somewhat of an outlying case. In the mainstream software world, where programs are written with non-Christian functionality for a non-Christian audience, there is no discernible difference. Rather, I would like to propose a different set of expectations for Christian programmers.
In her formative work “Perspectives on Faith, the Liberal Arts, and Computer Science”, Kim Kihlstrom draws parallels between the characteristics of God and programming. She rightly describes the first chapter of Genesis, where God is awesomely creative. As Christians, we serve the Creator of creativity, and as any programmer can tell you, creativity is one of a programmer’s most crucial attributes. The ability to recognize patterns, find solutions, and create algorithms are absolutely critical to the work of a programmer. Therefore, we too should value our creativity and use it to the fullest extent. This honors the gift of creativity that God has given us. Additionally, as Kihlstrom points out, God cares deeply about the details. Luke 12:7 states, “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” In programming, details are everything. Even a single misplaced comma will break a program. As programmers, we need to be very detail-oriented so that we can write programs well. Certainly these parallels, and more, show some of the areas that Christianity and Computer Science might interact.
Finally, how should a Christian Computer Scientist really be different? Kihlstrom mentions Philippians 4:8-9, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Therefore, a Christian Computer Scientist should make sure that they are creating programs that align with their faith. In other words, they should create software that is honorable, free from inappropriate material, well-made, beautiful, and easy-to-use. We can honor God in our work, no matter if we are producing specifically Christian material or writing the next mainstream operating system. These areas of my life need not be separate. Rather, Christianity can tell me how to be a better Computer Scientist, and Computer Science can teach me how to be a better Christian. It turns out these fields overlap more than is normally thought.
Kihlstrom, Kim. Perspectives on Faith, the Liberal Arts, and Computer Science. 2-3. http://homepage.westmont.edu/kimkihls/documents/FaithLearning.pdf. Accessed January 27th, 2011.
Schuurman, Derek. Forming a Christian View of Computer Technology. 2007. 3. http://www.acmsonline.org/journal/2007/schuurman.pdf. Accessed January 27th, 2011.
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