Logic & Art of Computer Programming
~ by Peter Belfry ~
Computer Programming? At a Classical Christian school? When you first hear of the concept, you may be a bit surprised. Having completed my MA in Classical Christian studies as well as having taught computer science at the college level, I have been seeking to bridge the two. I have been amazed how this past year my students have taken their classical, Christian education and not only produced incredible, creative, useful programs, but formulated and expressed through discussion, essays and fiction their own beliefs about technology from a Biblical, classical approach. Take a moment with me to consider the importance of our students understanding how the technology they use, often on a daily basis, works. It enables them to be able to use these tools in their proper place, in a more advanced capacity and to be able to think critically and Biblically about how current and emerging technological advances can be used to honor or dishonor our Lord.
From the beginning of man’s creation, God has set it in the human heart to create through technology (Genesis 4:21-22). Technology has the power to be used for good and evil depending on the heart of the man that uses it. In the Scriptures, we read of a city of sin being built called Babylon, and how technology was used to build a tower for the exaltation of self and ascension to heaven. However, we also read of a city of God (Genesis 11:3-4, Hebrews 11:10).
There is no doubt that the technology of computers, along with a wide-ranging plethora of programs and applications, has transformed the way our world communicates and solves everyday problems. Like any technology, computer programming can be used for evil or for good, for the glory of man or of God. As Christians, we ought to use technology to serve our Creator and further His kingdom here on earth.
Most students, while being familiar with the technology of a computer, have not been taught the details of how a computer works or have the ability to use it to create a program of their own. They have not thought philosophically, classically or Biblically about the important cultural implications and decisions that must be made regarding these ever-changing technologies.
In my Logic and Art of Computer Programming courses, students stepped back from their familiar use of technology and, with a classical rather than modern approach, learned the logic behind computer programming: how computers work, and what logical processes they use. They learned to develop their own programs in pseudocode and flowchart form without even using an actual programming language. Using this logic, they also learned to use their new knowledge to develop creative programs in multiple languages and they would easily be able to learn to do so in a new one. This will allow them to develop programs if they continue in the field of study or to develop programs to help in whatever field they enter in the future, relevant as technology has now become an important part of every industry.
Daily, we engaged in discussions about current and emerging technologies. The students did a great job articulating their beliefs, thinking critically about their own uses of technology, as well as concerns and opportunities for the future. Ultimately, they saw that technology is a tool that, as Christians, we should be wise to use but not allow to take God’s place as an idol or weaken our creative and thinking capacities. Though some in the world seek to use technology as a tool to develop a utopia of heaven on earth or to attempt to rise to the status of gods, Christians should keep technology in its proper place. We discussed how technologies like Artificial Intelligence, if developed into General Intelligence enabled systems or close, could be used in an attempt to create a new, technologically based version of humanity “in our own image.” Marred by sin and being redeemed by God as a Christian, we know that we are created in God’s image, but that sin has corrupted us and to create something in our image like AI would have errors and corruption. This, like any technology, can be a tool for specific purposes, but should not be used to replace humans or attempt to create something superior. We also discussed virtual reality and how while it could serve as a tool to simulate reality in dangerous situations, could also be used as a tool to recreate a utopian version of reality and escape it, to the neglect of our physical world and amplifying sinful tendencies of humanity.
I was amazed at how students took the classical and Christian foundations they had and applied it to this area of study. It certainly attests to how such an education can help a student flourish in any field by teaching them to think and value what is good, true and beautiful. It also shows how beneficial it is to take such an approach to all areas of study. Helping students understand modern technology in its historical context, along with how computers work and walking them through the process, gave them further insight into the benefits and dangers of technology as well as confidence they could use their knowledge to design tools to glorify and service God.
Students created simulations of going to a restaurant, using a bank and driving a car. They developed a shopping budget program, gravity and velocity calculator. Various basic games with graphics.
Informed by our class discussions about our own personal use of technologies and those newly emerging, they wrote essays and dystopian science fiction short stories to illustrate their thoughts. They wrote about how they could serve God with their technology and how they need to be careful not to over depend on it or become addicted to its use. They wrote about an imagined future where technology without limitations in the hands of sinful men and women would lead to great oppression, slavery and a mindless humanity. They also showed that in the midst of whatever the future entails, only God can give us true hope, liberty and happiness.
If you are interested in seeing some of their work, I invite you to look at our 2023-2024 course pages for the courses here:
Rather than being Luddites and completely rejecting technology, let’s teach our children to consider the technology they use from a classical, Biblical point of view and how to use it well in a way that they can glorify God so that they can help shape the future with wisdom, discernment and creativity.
Peter Belfry has a range of teaching and tutoring experience in a variety of subjects and age levels from kindergarten through to adult education at the college level and has taught at several classical, Christian and public schools. Currently, he serves as a professor of computer science with Canadore College and teaches Logic and Programming with Schole Academy. Peter holds an Honors BA from Trent University in History as well as a BA in Education, specializing in History and Computer Science. He holds an MA from Knox Theological Seminary in Classical and Christian studies. For his MA program, he read many of the Great Books as well as studied Scripture and church history. Peter also has experience serving in a pastoral role and enjoys volunteering to serve in his local church and community. Peter lives in North Bay, Ontario with his wife and twin boys.