Jason Thacker’s Following Jesus in a Digital Age (B&H Publishing, 2022) grapples with how our relationship with technology can influence our faith, and provides a framework for how Christians can engage with others online. For Christians who have not read The Age of Surveillance Capitalism or seen The Social Dilemma , Thacker summarizes several key findings and offers advice for how we, as believers, should respond to these technological developments. Thacker tackles difficult topics including mis/disinformation, social polarization, and conspiracy theories with a Christian ethic, and calls readers to self-reflect on their participation on various social media platforms. Overall, the book reminds Christians to guard the heart in a technological age. Thacker juxtaposes today’s epistemological crisis with antiscientific tendencies, which is worthy of further consideration. He also raises concern regarding the development t of deepfakes, for which readers may be pleased to know there is reason to be optimistic.
In an era of epistemological crisis, Thacker argues, both poles of American politics draw antiscientific conclusions due to their biases. I do not dispute that, regardless of our political or cultural backgrounds, our biases inform how we interact with empirically derived facts. However, epistemological uncertainty (that is, insufficient evidence to draw a conclusion) does not imply an epistemological crisis, though Thacker conflates the two. Rather than being symptomatic of an epistemological crisis, epistemological uncertainty motivates us to seek nuanced future understanding. While the innate reaction to epistemological uncertainty may be discomfort or even revulsion, as a scientist I often find this uncertainty both inspiring and motivating. God has gifted humanity with the ability to use empirical methods to discern truth in His creation, and in doing so we are glorifying Him.
Thacker raises the use of deepfakes, which he says are “one extremely concerning area where truth is being manipulated and an area that thoughtful Christians need to address”. While there is of course a danger that people may be misled by deepfakes, in truth these videos can usually be identified by properly trained software. While human beings may be fooled by seemingly coherent deepfakes (whether these are audio, video, or both), AI for determining whether media has been substantially altered is quite robust. Many of these video alteration detection methods are older than deepfake technology itself. In 2018 a relatively simple neural network architecture could identify a deepfake with ~97% accuracy when given just two seconds of video with no audio . Automated identification of deepfakes is already integrated on many social media platforms. Most notably, Facebook announced in 2020 that they would remove any content created using deepfake methods and has retained a no-tolerance policy towards deepfakes ever since.
As a Christian who struggles to balance the technological information overload with the simple transcendent truths of the Bible, I found Thacker’s Following Jesus in a Digital Age a helpful resource overall. Thacker reminds us that no matter our place in human history, we are called to love God and to love His image bearers. Even though I disagree with several of Thacker’s points, I would recommend this short read for Christians as a tool for self-reflection on how we interact with others online, and a reminder to be aware of the effects of the content we consume online.
Thanks to my wife Melody for great conversations related to this book, as well as for proofreading and editing this review. Thanks also to Emily Wenger for her proofreading, editing, and guidance.
Zuboff, Shoshana. The age of surveillance capitalism: The fight for a human future at the new frontier of power. Profile books, 2019.
The Social Dilemma. Directed by Jeff Orlowski, Exposure Labs, 2020. https://www.thesocialdilemma.com/.
Güera, David, and Edward J. Delp. “Deepfake video detection using recurrent neural networks.” In 2018 15th IEEE international conference on advanced video and signal based surveillance (AVSS), pp. 1-6. IEEE, 2018.
Monika Bickert, “Enforcing Against Manipulated Media”, Meta News, 2020. https://about.fb.com/news/2020/01/enforcing-against-manipulated-media/.
I would strongly caution fellow Christians to avoid making assertions we assume are backed by peer-reviewed science (I am guilty of this myself). When Thacker claims science backs up his positions, he fails to cite any scientific sources. His whole book contains no references to peer-reviewed scientific literature. If Thacker is confident he can back up his positions with scientific studies, he should do so.