A Google search for Morgan Freeman and FIRST Robotics will bring up an online invitation to the FIRST Robotics national championship in St Louis. After having spent yesterday at the Philadelphia FIRST Robotics regional competition I was once again struck at how emotional such events can be. I reflect on how emotion often drives religion and it is obvious that humans crave this kind of fulfillment. We look for something to believe in. Science and technology fields of inquiry are offering answers to age-old questions and present-day problems. God has been removed from the machine, but a divine residue remains. Whenever I attend these competitions I am alert for how religion manages to cling on to this highly humanistic art of robot building. I’m never disappointed.
The Dean of Temple University’s College of Engineering (which was hosting the event) spoke of the emotional rescue of the Chilean miners last year and how the press hailed the feat as 75 percent engineering and 25 percent miracle. The Dean espoused that the goal of engineering is to bring the engineering factor up to 100 percent. A world where we no longer rely on miracles. Any of us who’ve every waited on a miracle know that the outcomes are chancy at best. And yet the religious language was not over. DuPont, one of the corporate sponsors for FIRST Robotics, had a promotional slide on the projection system reading “The Miracles of Science.” Of course, that is one of their corporate logos, but the question left lingering in the air is: does the miracle come from God or human engineering?
Teams from a wide variety of high schools participate in the FIRST Robotics Competition. The founder of FIRST, Dean Kamen, was present yesterday to celebrate the final regional event. Several parochial schools compete in the competitions, and religious language is evident in team names, logos, and mascots. One of the winning alliance members yesterday was the Miracle Workerz (I didn’t catch what high school they were from) making a hat-trick of miracle references. Another team mentor was caught on the camera making the sign of the cross as he left the robot to make its way into the finals. Even though my team did not make it out of the elimination rounds this time, I left feeling inspired. Dean Kamen revealed new ways that FIRST is promoting technology to better the future while the headlines remind us how dangerous religious extremists can be. At the same time, even in this future that our engineers are designing, God is still hidden in the machine.