Instrumentality is not a well appreciated concept. But it is key to understanding both the nature of the universe and the nature of man. Google’s definition of the word is:
The fact or quality of serving as an instrument or means to an end; agency.
“A corporate body can act only through the instrumentality of human beings”
A thing that serves as an instrument or means to an end.
The principle of instrumentality is essential to understanding our universe. The scriptures record the creation of all things this way:
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. Genesis 1:3-5 English Standard Version (ESV)
And later in the book:
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so… And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. Genesis 1:14-19 (ESV)
Oops, God must have gotten it wrong. Shouldn’t the sun have been created before the light? Why didn’t He check in with some noted authority first, like Hawking or Tyson. We’ve presented what Tyson believes in our post ‘Neil deGrasse Tyson Mistakes God for Who He Is Not’
Our ready reference, John Calvin, says on the precedence of light over the sun:
Gen. 1:3 …Let there be light… It was proper that the light, by means of which the world was to be adorned with such excellent beauty, should be first created; and this also was the commencement of the distinction, (among the creatures). It did not, however, happen from inconsideration or by accident, that the light preceded the sun and the moon.
To nothing are we more prone than to tie down the power of God to those instruments the agency of which he employs. The sun and moon supply us with light: And, according to our notions we so include this power to give light in them, that if they were taken away from the world, it would seem impossible for any light to remain.
Therefore the Lord, by the very order of the creation, bears witness that he holds in his hand the light, which he is able to impart to us without the sun and moon.
We aren’t sure what you think of the scriptures as an authority for wisdom. Many modern-day teachers would have you believe they are unreliable and, in many cases, downright fallacious. We’ve addressed this in ‘Nip ‘Em in the Bud.’
However, the remark that the Lord Jesus Christ made to teachers of His people who were trying to trip Him up on another matter is appropriate for our teachers today:
Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? Mark 12:24 (ESV)
Martian sunset: Spirit at Gusev crater, 19 May 2005, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover, Public Domain
The principle of instrumentality is also essential to understanding humanity. Paul describes himself, and us by generalization, as jars of clay:
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 (ESV)
2 Corinthians 4:7. But we have this treasure. Those that heard Paul glorying in such a magnificent strain as to the excellence of his ministry, and beheld, on the other hand, his person, contemptible and abject in the eyes of the world, might be apt to think that he was a silly and ridiculous person, and might look upon his boasting as childish, while forming their estimate of him from the meanness of his person…
First of all, he employs the similitude of a treasure, which is not usually laid up in a splendid and elegantly adorned chest, but rather in some vessel that is mean and worthless; and then farther, he subjoins, that the power of God is, by that means, the more illustrated, and is the better seen…
“…Farther, they do not consider, that it is ordered by the special Providence of God, that there should be in ministers no appearance of excellence, lest anything of distinction should throw the power of God into the shade. As, therefore, the abasement of ministers, and the outward contempt of their persons give occasion for glory accruing to God, that man acts a wicked part, who measures the dignity of the gospel by the person of the minister.”
Paul, however, does not speak merely of the universal condition of mankind, but of his own condition in particular. It is true, indeed, that all mortal men are earthen vessels. Hence, let the most eminent of them all be selected, and let him be one that is adorned to admiration with all ornaments of birth, intellect, and fortune, still, if he be a minister of the gospel, he will be a mean and merely earthen depository of an inestimable treasure. Paul, however, has in view himself, and others like himself, his associates, who were held in contempt, because they had nothing of show.
So why is this instrumentality important for understanding the nature of man? For at least two reasons, first, it seems we’ll be augmenting, modifying, and curing ourselves using brain implants routinely someday. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) requested proposals for SUBNETS, Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies, in 2013. Their website describes the project and the expected results:
The Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (SUBNETS) program was created in response to a pressing need. Despite the continued best efforts of the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to protect the health of U.S. service members and veterans, the effects of neuropsychological illness brought on by war, traumatic injuries, and other experiences remain challenging to treat. Current approaches—surgery, medications, and psychotherapy—can often help to alleviate the worst effects of illnesses such as major depression and post-traumatic stress, but they are imprecise and not universally effective. Through SUBNETS, DARPA hopes to generate the knowledge and technology required to deliver relief to patients with otherwise intractable neuropsychological illness.
The SUBNETS vision is distinct from current therapeutic approaches in that it seeks to create an implanted, closed-loop diagnostic and therapeutic system for treating, and possibly even curing, neuropsychological illness. That vision is premised on the understanding that brain function—and dysfunction, in the case of neuropsychological illness—plays out across distributed neural systems, as opposed to being strictly relegated to distinct anatomical regions of the brain. The program also aims to take advantage of neural plasticity, a feature of the brain by which the organ’s anatomy and physiology alter over time to support normal brain function. Because of plasticity, researchers are optimistic that by using SUBNETS-developed technology the brain can be trained or treated to restore normal functionality following injury or the onset of neuropsychological illness.
The 2013 DARPA SUBNETS press release elaborates:
…The program will pursue a new investigative approach that establishes the characteristics of distributed neural systems and attempts to develop and apply therapies that incorporate near real-time recording, analysis and stimulation in next-generation devices inspired by current Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS).
DBS already exists as a therapy option for certain neurologic and neuropsychological illnesses in patients who are not responsive to other therapies. Approximately 100,000 people around the globe live with a DBS implant, a device that delivers electrical stimulation to reduce the motor impairment caused by Parkinson’s disease and dystonia. These devices are also being studied as therapy for depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, Tourette’s and epilepsy…
DARPA is specifically interested in evaluating the underlying systems which contribute to the following conditions as described by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Major Depression, Borderline Personality Disorder and General Anxiety Disorder. DARPA also seeks to evaluate the representation in the central nervous system of: Traumatic Brain Injury, Substance Abuse/Addiction and Fibromyalgia/Chronic Pain.
Because programs like SUBNETS push the leading edge of science, they are sometimes society’s first encounter with the dilemmas associated with new technologies. DARPA pursues these technologies because of their promise, but the Agency understands that it is important to consider ethical, legal, societal and policy questions. For that reason, DARPA has convened an Ethical, Legal and Social Implications (ELSI) panel to inform and advise SUBNETS and other emerging neuroscience efforts.
The full SUBNETS solicitation is available here.
The latest 2014 DARPA Press Release, as of this post, is here.
The second reason is the nature of our personhood in the face of the ravages of degenerative diseases. If all we are arises from materiality, then when the material fails, that which is us also falters.
However, not all secular scientists would claim a direct material basis for personhood; nevertheless, they claim emergence from the material substrate in the sense of M. Polanyi. In this regard, we’ve covered David Chalmers’s views on consciousness briefly in a previous post.
But, there are serious issues to contemplate with what Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia mean for us as persons. HuffPo and WSJ have run touching stories.
We have briefly touched on what Francis Schaeffer referred to the ‘soulishness of man’ in this blog. Calvin offers analysis of the outward and inner man referred to in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.
2 Corinthians 4:16. Though our outward man. The outward man, some improperly and ignorantly confound with the old man, for widely different from this is the old man, of which we have spoken in Romans 4:6. Chrysostom, too, and others restrict it entirely to the body; but it is a mistake, for the Apostle intended to comprehend, under this term, everything that relates to the present life. As he here sets before us two men, so you must place before your view two kinds of life — the earthly and the heavenly.
The outward man is the maintenance of the earthly life, which consists not merely in the flower of one’s age, (1 Corinthians 7:36) and in good health, but also in riches, honors, friendships, and other resources. Hence, according as we suffer a diminution or loss of these blessings, which are requisite for keeping up the condition of the present life, is our outward man in that proportion corrupted…
Thus, therefore, it is necessary, that the condition of the present life should decay, in order that the inward man may be in a flourishing state; because, in proportion as the earthly life declines, does the heavenly life advance, at least in believers. For in the reprobate, too, the outward man decays, but without anything to compensate for it…
2 Corinthians 4:17. Momentary lightness. As our flesh always shrinks back from its own destruction, whatever reward may be presented to our view, and as we are influenced much more by present feeling than by the hope of heavenly blessings, Paul on that account admonishes us, that the afflictions and vexations of the pious have little or nothing of bitterness, if compared with the boundless blessings of everlasting glory…
As, however, the decay is visible, and the renovation is invisible, Paul, with the view of shaking us off from a carnal attachment to the present life, draws a comparison between present miseries and future felicity…
So then, those who have been purchased with His blood, walking in newness of life, and obedient to God can hold on to this promise:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV)
Terracotta Army detail, Xi’an, China, 9 April 2005, Photo by Peter Morgan from Nomadic, CCA 2.0 Generic