I’ve always been intrigued by the story of Babel from the book of Genesis. It’s pretty unique, as Bible stories go.
1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Interesting, right? Let’s dig into it a bit and see what we, as techs, can pull from this.
Ambition Run Amok
So before Babel, humanity had a shared language. There was total linguistic unity, and with that unity, humanity became consumed with ambition and convinced of their own superiority, much like Satan, whose work in the Garden initiated the fallen state of humanity. That’s why the tower was built, and that’s why God was angry. He wasn’t mad about the tower itself.
God isn’t anti-development, anti-technology.
He is the Creator, and He has made us in His image so that we, too, can create. However, the Tower of Babel incident was a creation fueled by ambition run amok. We had been made in His image, created to create, in order to bring glory to Him. We made us so that we might be like Him, but we created Babel in order to become Him. We wanted to take the gifts He gave us and use them to depose Him.
Here’s how our ancestors put it:
“Let’s build a city, with a tower that reaches up to God’s throne room, so that we can bring glory to ourselves. Otherwise, we’ll be spread too thin, without the strength of our numbers.”
They wanted to get back to God on their own terms, to undo the Fall without God’s help. Actually, they wanted to do more than undo the Fall; they wanted to transcend the former glory of Adam and capture the glory of God. That’s some crazy ambition, right? Whatever they could do to avoid relying on God. That’s why they didn’t want to “fill the earth,” as God told Noah in Genesis 9. If they spread out, they’d be weaker. By remaining in one place, they were strong enough to not need God.
Or so they thought.
The Loving Limits of God
God is not vindictive or quick to bring punishment. He’s actually incredibly patient and loving. When He does punish, it’s corrective—for now, as, hell will be retributive—or preventative. What do I mean by that? I think that by limiting our language at Babel, He was preventing us for bring upon ourselves even more evil, even more trouble that we had done before the Flood. God had just destroyed the human civilization by reducing us to one single family, and I can only assume that He didn’t want to have to do it again.
To prevent our descent into even greater evil than before, God threw a linguistic wrench into the works and divided up the languages of humanity. With the original language of humanity lost, our ancestors quickly found no reason to continue hanging out and so the band broke up with everyone going their own way. Thus, God tried—again—to break humanity of its desire to put themselves in His place, as we did in the Garden of Eden and as we still do today. God divided us at Babel to protect us.
Like any loving parent, God limits us because He loves us and knows what’s best for us.
But like any stubborn, rebellious child, we chafe under limitations and struggle to be free to do whatever we want.
Fighting the Divine Limits
Society’s quest to develop artificial intelligence and to hack the human genome is terrifying to me, but it’s not surprising. It’s Babel redux. We’ve substituted servos and servers for bricks and towers. We no longer worry about building a tower to Heaven; we are instead clamoring to grab God’s glory for ourselves by becoming gods through the power of creation, by developing artificial intelligence and customized DNA. Once we can control our own physical makeup, we’ll have full control of ourselves, making our bodies more resistant to the dangers of living in a fallen world. Similarly, once we can pass the an artificial version of the divine spark on to machines, we’ll have earned for ourselves the place that God hold over us, which could end up being a huge mistake.
God limited us at Babel to protect us stating that if humanity was left unified “nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that this rush to claim our own divine has come in the wake of the most unifying global force in human history: the Internet. That’s not to say that the Internet has united us all—just read the comments on any news article–but what is has done is help to unify our collective knowledge while giving us the illusion that limitless experimentation will not result in any negative or adverse consequences.
Sadly, those consequence are on the way. God doesn’t limit us without reason; it’s always for His glory and our good. The issue, then, is that we have foolishly decided that our good will only be found by becoming gods and bringing glory to ourselves.