Why doomsurfing won’t satisfy our longing for peace

More online information can’t comfort our souls

April 2, 2020

If we are honest with ourselves, the last few weeks (and likely many more to come) have been extremely difficult. Some of us have become sick or known loved ones who contracted COVID-19. Others have lost their jobs and livelihoods due to stay-at-home orders put in place to slow the spread of the virus. While many others have seen little day-to-day impact of the virus spread in their communities, they are still lost in the news and updates from the frontlines. Regardless of where you find yourself, we all know how easy it has become to get lost in a sea of overwhelming and depressing news online.

If you are like me, you chuckle when you see your screen time report come up on Sunday morning, chronicling your time spent the past week on your smartphone. Our entire life is being lived out online in many respects with video conferencing, social media grazing, online education, and so much more. Before we know it, we’re stuck in an endless vortex of news, updates, and some really funny memes.

A couple of weeks ago, an email newsletter from The New York Times about this very thing caught my attention. Kevin Roose, a writer-at-large at the Times, wrote an article where he described the concept of “doomsurfing”—spending endless amounts of time online, often drowning in coronavirus content and unsettling ourselves to the point of physical discomfort. This concept struck me because it so clearly explains what many of us find ourselves doing: searching for answers and some semblance of hope in the midst of the havoc we’re experiencing. But while Roose recommends coping strategies and even self-care, Christians have a greater hope amid the doom, even as we still continue to search for answers as to why this is happening and what can be done.

Technology and the human soul

Before we explore the peace we have in the midst of uncertainty, we need to examine why we go into these online doomsurfing excursions in the first place. Technology was given to us by God as a tool to use as we seek to honor God and love our neighbors in this broken world. Just as early technologies like the shovel and the hoe made our manual labor easier and extended our physical abilities, today’s technologies open up a world of information and access to the ends of earth in ways that our ancestors would have found astounding.

But our sinful and prideful hearts still misuse, abuse, and seek things in these tools that are dangerous for our souls. We often try to use these technologies in order to be “gods” ourselves instead of living contentedly as the only creature made in God’s image. We begin to twist and manipulate these tools in order to serve ourselves rather than serve the One who made everything we have ever known. 

We mistakenly look to these technologies as a source of hope and certainty in an uncertain world, often tricking ourselves into believing that if we just find out that last bit of breaking news, the latest testing numbers, or even the rate of spread then we might have just enough knowledge or understanding to obtain some semblance of peace. 

We can engage in the proper use of technology only when we remember that God is our hope and refuge in the midst of the storm. Instead of getting lost in the news of the day as we long for control and peace, we can cling to the One who calls to us to flee to him in the midst of our suffering.

Of course, there is nothing wrong about being informed and educated. But for all of the promises of modern technologies, we will find ourselves always longing for more, never satisfying the craving for knowledge and an abiding calm. These tools will never satisfy us, nor will they ever show us the right information to make us feel the peace that we so diligently seek in this pandemic.

A psalm for the digital age

One of the goals I set for myself when my family went into full isolation a few weeks back because of my wife’s compromised immune system was to read through the book of Psalms. At just five psalms a day, you can read the entire collection in about 30 days. A few days ago, I read Psalm 46 and was reminded afresh of God’s saving presence and refuge in the midst of the doomsurfing and longing for answers.

Psalm 46 is one of my favorite psalms and has been a source of peace for me throughout the darkest of seasons of my life, including this current season of my wife’s cancer and the spread of COVID-19 throughout the world. The psalmist writes, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (v. 1). He continues to explain that although the earth gives way, the waters roar, the nations rage, and the world seems to be splitting apart at the seams, God is still in control of every aspect of our lives and serves as our refuge and strength throughout it all.

In this international crisis and pandemic, it will be even easier for us to find ourselves enamoured with our devices, longing for answers and control as we get lost in doomsurfing, all while trying to distract ourselves from the pain and suffering all around us. As we seek the peace and comfort that we long for in all of the wrong places, as Christians, we know that God himself isn't sitting on the sidelines.

Our God is with us through our pain, the confusion and doubt, and especially in the midst of a world that seems to be showing the deepest scars of the fall. Instead of getting lost in our devices, surfing the web and social media for new information and answers, maybe we need to simply put down these tools for a moment and meditate on the One holding the entire universe together in his hands. 

The psalmist concludes by saying:

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress . . . 
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

We can engage in the proper use of technology only when we remember that God is our hope and refuge in the midst of the storm. Instead of getting lost in the news of the day as we long for control and peace, we can cling to the One who calls to us to flee to him in the midst of our suffering. As the psalmist says, God is indeed our fortress, especially amid the temptation to find our peace while doomsurfing.

Jason Thacker

Jason Thacker serves as senior fellow focusing on Christian ethics, human dignity, public theology, and technology. He also leads the ERLC Research Institute. In addition to his work at the ERLC, he serves as assistant professor of philosophy and ethics at Boyce College in Louisville Kentucky. He is the author … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24