Christians in Computer Science

I just finished reading Design Patterns, which is one of the best books you’ll ever read if object-oriented design gets you really excited. Anyway, when starting the book I noticed the following dedication by John Vlissides, one of the four authors:

To Dru Ann and Matthew
Joshua 24:15b

“Huh, there’s another one”, I thought. There seem to be a lot of prominent Christians working in computer science. Other notable examples include Donald Knuth (pretty much the father of computer science), Fred Brooks[1] (author of The Mythical Man-Month, and one of the most famous minds in software engineering), and Larry Wall (designer of the popular programming language Perl).

I’m not sure why this is so. There could be something about the creative aspect of computer science that appeals to the Christian belief in a divine Creator who has made man in His image. This recognition of humans as sub-creators is not unique to computer science, of course. It touches the way humans were designed to function and manifests itself in many different ways. Despite the differing manifestations, however, there is a common underlying reality. This is why, for example, Knuth, in Things a Computer Scientists Rarely Talks About, can reference Dorothy Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker. He recognized the same activity in computer science that Sayers was referring to, even though Sayers is an author and Knuth a computer scientist.

It could be, of course, that I’m just imagining the relative prevalence of Christians in computer science. They may be no more prominent than they are in other disciplines – I probably don’t know enough about those disciplines to have come across them. There are certainly plenty of Christian intellectual heavyweights in philosophy (Plantiga, Swinburne, Craig, and Moreland to name a few). I’m hopeful that the sciences and philosophy (which have been mostly devoid of Christian influence for quite a while now) are in the beginning stages of a renaissance in Christian scholarship. We’ll have to wait and see, though.

[1]In fact, Fred Brooks is my role model for integrating faith and cs. It is obvious from reading his work that he is a Christian, but he never jerks you out of software-engineer mode, and he doesn’t go out of his way to make a reference to Christianity. It just flows naturally out of who he is, as a person and as a computer scientist.