Billy Graham: Technology, Faith & Human Shortcomings (Transcript)

Full text of the late evangelist Billy Graham’s talk titled “Technology, Faith & Human Shortcomings” at TED conference in 1998.

Notable quote:

“If you bet on God, and open yourself to his love, you lose nothing, even if you’re wrong. But if instead you bet that there is no God, then you can lose it all, in this life and the life to come.”

Blaise Pascal

Listen to the MP3 Audio here:


Rev. Billy Graham – Evangelist

As a clergyman, you can imagine how out of place I feel. I feel like a fish out of water, or maybe an owl out of the air.

I was preaching in San Jose some time ago, and my friend Mark Kvamme, who helped introduce me to this conference, brought several CEOs and leaders of some of the companies here in the Silicon Valley to have breakfast with me, or I with them.

And I was so stimulated and had such — it was an eye-opening experience to hear them talk about the world that is yet to come through technology and science.

I know that we’re near the end of this conference, and some of you may be wondering why they have a speaker from the field of religion. Richard can answer that, because he made that decision.

But some years ago, I was on an elevator in Philadelphia, coming down. I was to address a conference at a hotel. And on that elevator a man said, “I hear Billy Graham is staying in this hotel.”

And another man looked in my direction and said, “Yes, there he is. He is on this elevator with us.”

And this man looked me up and down for about 10 seconds, and he said, “My, what an anticlimax!”

I hope that you won’t feel that these few moments with me is not a — is an anticlimax, after all these tremendous talks that you’ve heard, and addresses, which I intend to listen to every one of them.

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But I was on an airplane in the east some years ago, and the man sitting across the aisle from me was the mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina. His name was John Belk. Some of you will probably know him.

And there was a drunk man on there, and he got up out of his seat two or three times, and he was making everybody upset by what he was trying to do. And he was slapping the stewardess and pinching her as she went by, and everybody was upset with him.

And finally, John Belk said, “Do you know who is sitting here?”

And the man said, “No, who?”

He said, “It’s Billy Graham, the preacher.”

He said, “You don’t say!” And he turned to me, and he said, “Put her there!” He said, “Your sermons have certainly helped me.”

And I suppose that that’s true with thousands of people.

I know that as you have been peering into the future, and as we’ve heard some of it here tonight, I would like to live in that age and see what is going to be.

But I won’t, because I’m 80 years old. This is my eightieth year, and I know that my time is brief. I have phlebitis at the moment, in both legs, and that’s the reason that I had to have a little help in getting up here, because I have Parkinson’s disease in addition to that, and some other problems that I won’t talk about.

But this is not the first time that we’ve had a technological revolution. We’ve had others. And there’s one that I want to talk about.

In one generation, the nation of the people of Israel had a tremendous and dramatic change that made them a great power in the Near East. A man by the name of David came to the throne, and King David became one of the great leaders of his generation. He was a man of tremendous leadership. He had the favor of God with him. He was a brilliant poet, philosopher, writer, soldier — with strategies in battle and conflict that people study even today.

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But about two centuries before David, the Hittites had discovered the secret of smelting and processing of iron, and, slowly, that skill spread. But they wouldn’t allow the Israelis to look into it, or to have any.

But David changed all of that, and he introduced the Iron Age to Israel. And the Bible says that David laid up great stores of iron, and which archaeologists have found, that in present-day Palestine, there are evidences of that generation.

Now, instead of crude tools made of sticks and stones, Israel now had iron plows, and sickles, and hoes and military weapons. And in the course of one generation, Israel was completely changed.

The introduction of iron, in some ways, had an impact a little bit like the microchip has had on our generation. And David found that there were many problems that technology could not solve. There were many problems still left. And they’re still with us, and you haven’t solved them, and I haven’t heard anybody here speak to that.

How do we solve these three problems that I’d like to mention?

The first one that David saw was human evil. Where does it come from? How do we solve it?

Over again and again in the Psalms, which Gladstone said was the greatest book in the world, David describes the evils of the human race. And yet he says, “He restores my soul.”

Have you ever thought about what a contradiction we are? On one hand, we can probe the deepest secrets of the universe and dramatically push back the frontiers of technology, as this conference vividly demonstrates. We’ve seen under the sea, three miles down, or galaxies hundreds of billions of years out in the future.

But on the other hand, something is wrong. Our battleships, our soldiers, are on a frontier now, almost ready to go to war with Iraq.

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Now, what causes this? Why do we have these wars in every generation, and in every part of the world? And revolutions?

We can’t get along with other people, even in our own families. We find ourselves in the paralyzing grip of self-destructive habits we can’t break. Racism and injustice and violence sweep our world, bringing a tragic harvest of heartache and death.

Even the most sophisticated among us seem powerless to break this cycle. I would like to see Oracle take up that, or some other technological geniuses work on this.

How do we change man, so that he doesn’t lie and cheat, and our newspapers are not filled with stories of fraud in business or labor or athletics or wherever?

The Bible says the problem is within us, within our hearts and our souls. Our problem is that we are separated from our Creator, which we call God, and we need to have our souls restored, something only God can do.

Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts: murders, sexual immorality, theft, false testimonies, slander.”

The British philosopher Bertrand Russell was not a religious man, but he said, “It’s in our hearts that the evil lies, and it’s from our hearts that it must be plucked out.”

Albert Einstein — I was just talking to someone, when I was speaking at Princeton, and I met Mr. Einstein. He didn’t have a doctor’s degree, because he said nobody was qualified to give him one. But he made this statement. He said, “It’s easier to denature plutonium than to denature the evil spirit of man.”

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