Saturday, September 4, 2021

AI and Christianity

From the Christian perspective, there are different arguments about the possibility of AI and its implications when compared to the creation of humans by God. In April 2019, sixty evangelical leaders released a statement addressing AI. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention spent nine months working on “Artificial Intelligence: An Evangelical Statement of Principles,” a document designed to equip the church with an ethical framework for thinking about this emergent technology.[1] The goal of this document was to help the church to think about AI from a biblical viewpoint. Leaders of many Christian institutions signed this document.

Russell C. Bjork is a professor of computer science at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, argues that theologically that the soul may emerge from bodily processes.[2] He also argues that in Christian teaching, human specialness need not be based on what humans are, but rather on what God intends for them. As a result, an AI could have a soul and would not diminish the theological basis of human worth. Christianity's insights into intelligence may help to suggest how to achieve AI and what its limits might be. He further argues that “as is true throughout the sciences, work in AI can be wrongly motivated, but it can also represent a very legitimate part of humanity's fulfillment of the cultural mandate (Gen. 1:28) through enhanced understanding of the greatest marvel of God's creation: human beings. There is no inherent theological conflict between a biblical view of personhood and work in AI, nor would successes in this field undermine human value or the doctrine of the image of God.”[3]

Harry Plantinga is a professor in the computer science department at Calvin College in Michigan who argues that faith affects how Christian computer scientists approach their work.[4] Faith can lead Christian computer scientists to the recognition that the soul, rather than material computational abilities, separate human beings from machines. Their faith affects the ethical choices made by Christian scientists. Computer science is a discipline with two aspects. On the one side, it is an engineering discipline: it involves the planning, design, construction, and maintenance of computer systems. The subject matter is a corpus of techniques to analyze problems, constructing solutions that will not collapse, guaranteeing, and measuring the robustness of programs.

On the other hand, it is also a science in the sense that mathematics is a science. It is the study of computation and computability, the study of the algorithm. Christian computer scientists and engineers should approach AI in an attitude of doxology and service. They must be careful to honor God in what they do and find that in loving God, they love others, and in serving others, they serve God. All problem-solving, including AI, must be addressed through the motivation of service, and the systems should be reliable, easy to use, and helpful to honor God. Social and ethical implications of the work should be considered, and beneficial aspects of computing must be pursued.[5]

AI cannot attain the image of humanity seen in the Bible. There may be robots that may be similar in looks or speech. To treat AI as a human is to undermine what it means to be human.

[1] “Artificial Intelligence: An Evangelical Statement of Principles,” ERLC.

[2] Noah Berlatsky, ed., Artificial Intelligence, Opposing Viewpoints Series (Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2011), 30.

[3] Berlatsky, Artificial Intelligence, Opposing Viewpoints Series, 41.

[4] Berlatsky, Artificial Intelligence, Opposing Viewpoints Series, 42.

[5] Berlatsky, Artificial Intelligence, Opposing Viewpoints Series, 48.

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