Theology and Engineering: A Conversation in Two Languages

  • Barbara K. Sain
Part of the Systems & Control: Foundations & Applications book series (SCFA)


Engineering and theology are not commonly perceived as conversation partners. At most American universities that offer these programs, engineering is grouped with technical or scientific disciplines and theology is classified with the liberal arts. Questions about how they relate to each other are subsumed into larger discussions of the integration of technical education with the liberal arts. Differences in method and content among the disciplines can make the challenge of integration seem difficult. Drawing on recent research by the author and Michael Sain, this essay shows that engineering and theology are not as different as might be surmised. In fact, some methods of analysis used in engineering can be applied to theological issues with great nuance. Similarities in method between the two disciplines allow for sophisticated mutual conversation. For example, both engineers and theologians study decision making in the presence of accepted principles (or constraints) and variables. There is also a similarity between the use of analogy in theology and the role of modeling in engineering. To demonstrate the application of engineering theory to theology, this chapter examines Saint Augustine’s struggle to convert to Christianity, made famous by his autobiography Confessions. Augustine’s will seemed to be divided against itself, influenced by a habit based on sensual experience, and unable to implement the decision of his intellect until he received assistance from God. The complex interplay of the intellect, will, senses, and “exogenous signals” from God can be analyzed in terms of classical feedback control theory. By opening a conversation between two disciplines not usually associated with each other, this research facilitates the integration of technical education with liberal arts education in the university. From the perspective of theology, it can also be seen as part of a longstanding conversation about the integration of faith and reason in human life.


Loop Gain Christian Faith Christian Theology Feedback Theory Roman Empire 
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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Boston, a part of Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of St. ThomasSaint PaulUSA

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