The Three City Problem: Athens, Jerusalem, and Silicon Valley

How the Relationship Between Reason, Faith, and Technology Must be Disambiguated to Solve Our Most Pressing Problems

Luke Burgis
12 min readApr 17


The three fortified cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua are known as the Three Cities of Malta. They sit directly across the Grand Harbour from Valletta.

For more context, please see the introductory article that I wrote about this framework in WIRED Magazine last summer. It’s certainly not necessary, though, because I’m going to lay out the core idea out again here — and add to it.

The Foundational Idea

The third century Christian thinker Tertullian asked, “What has Athens got to do with Jerusalem?” By this he meant: what does Greek philosophy (Reason) have to do with Christian revelation (Faith)? They were two radically different things in Tertullian’s mind.1

If Tertullian were alive today, I think he would have to add a third city to his question and ask this instead:

“What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem, and what do either of them have to do with Silicon Valley?”

We live in a world now dominated by technology and fueled by capitalism. That has proved to be a powerful force. But we’re now on the verge of outsourcing reason to AI, and Jerusalem is being courted from every side — including from things like “faith-tech”, a booming sector.2

Silicon Valley represents a complex set of things converging to create enormous wealth and innovation. And that reality is affecting our relationship with both faith and reason unlike any other time in history.

It’s also creating a highly volatile environment. We can’t afford not to understand how these three forces, encapsulated in these three metaphorical cities, are interacting.

The Three Body/City Problems

I refer to our unique situation as “three city problem” after the infamous “three body problem” in physics (some of you may also know the sci-fi book by the same name), in which the movement of just two celestial bodies can be predicted with a great degree of accuracy — but the introduction of a third body into the system makes it chaotic and unpredictable to the point where precise prediction becomes impossible. To this day, the three body problem has never convincingly…



Luke Burgis

Author of “WANTING: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life.” Find more at