I’m a Biblical Christian who loves science fiction. In fact, I write scifi books!
Robots have been a staple of the genre since they were first conceived. One of the first things we wondered about was just how smart they’d be. With this speculation came a natural Frankenstein-induced fear: will the machines we create replace mankind?
A Christian who believes that mankind exists not of his own wit and might but of the immutable will of the God who gave the earth to men [Psalm 116:15] has no fear that artificially intelligent creations will supplant us. Even if an AI Apocalypse, such as that featured in the Matrix trilogy, the Terminator films, I, Robot, and all the rest, occurred, we could rest assured that God’s will shall not be thwarted, prophecy shall be fulfilled, and (since man is specifically mentioned in such prophecy) mankind will eventually overcome his rebellious creations if it comes to that.
The flipside of the AI coin is the idea that man will merge with the machine. This idea is called transhumanism.
Simon Turpin of Answers in Genesis UK doesn’t believe that transhumanism is possible. I would tend to agree but not for the reasons he gives. In an article entitled Humans Will Evolve Into Artificial intelligence? he declares:
“The fact is that humans will not evolve from organic to inorganic artificial intelligence because they never evolved in the first place. Humans were made on the sixth day of creation (Genesis 1:26–27). They have been human throughout the history of the world and will continue to remain human.”
His comments were a reaction to the prediction of Yuval Noah Harari on BBC’s popular Radio 4 Today program:
We are probably one of the last generations of Homo sapiens. In a century or two we will either destroy ourselves, or far more likely is that we will use technology to upgrade ourselves into something different. We are facing changing the most basic rules of the game of life. For four billion years of evolution, life evolved by natural selection, and life was confined to the organic realm. It doesn’t matter if you are an amoeba or dinosaur or homo-sapien, you are made of organic compounds. Life will evolve by intelligent design, and it will break out of the organic realm into the inorganic with the creation of the first inorganic lifeforms. There will still be beings, entities on planet earth, but they will be probably much more different from us than we are different from Neanderthals or chimpanzees. It is a complete game changer. It will also enable for the first time to break out of planet earth. It is almost impossible to sustain human life or organic life in general in outer space and on other planets; but once you make the switch from the organic to the inorganic, there is no problem sustaining artificial intelligence.”
Creationists rightly warn that evolutionists are often guilty of equivocation; that is, they switched the meaning of the word evolution in midstream to make it seem like unobservable microbes-to-man evolution is occurring in the present when they really mean variation within a created kind “evolution.” They also tell students that evolution is simply means “change over time,” which is a legitimate dictionary of the word; however, it’s equivocation in that case because the the Grand theory of microbes-to-man evolution is much, much more than that. Rust is change over time. Aging is change over time. Growth is change over time. None of those things I just mentioned are microbes-to-man evolution. It’s a bait-and-switch.
Yuval Noah Harari pulls this very bait-and-switch, first using the term evolution to mean millions of years of microbes-to-man evolution and then basically uses it to mean change over time when he says “Life will evolve by intelligent design.” If the Intelligent Design debate made nothing else clear it is that design and evolution are two very different concepts.
Simon Turpin should have pointed out this fallacy rather than assuming his opponent’s argument was valid on its face. Once the equivocation is exposed, the question of whether artificial intelligence will supplant biological intelligence effectively leaves the creation/evolution debate… which is, unfortunately, how Turpin has painted the issue:
“The theory of evolution is not only a story about the origin of humanity, but it is also a story about the future of humanity.”
That statement would be true if we weren’t talking about robots. To wit, biologically speaking, evolutionists believe mankind will continue to evolve into something else entirely. But when we talk about humanity evolving from organic to inorganic intelligence, we’re actually talking about one of two things: either the idea that artificial intelligence will replace humanity or that by dumping our electrical neural net onto a CPU mankind will live on past our organic due dates as a merging if man and machine that is much more than cyborg. Again, this latter idea is called transhumanism. The former is simply replacement, still very much analogous to one species wiping out another, which is the non-evolving side of the coin of natural selection: the species that fail to sufficiently evolve.
As far as transhumanism goes, I personally don’t think a person’s consciousness can be downloaded to a computer precisely because we are souls with a body and our consciousness and personhood is not tied into our bio-electrical makeup. I say this cautiously, because we do not know what the future holds in store. Science fiction works have imagined things like biological mainframes and even biological robots. In my Otherworld series, fantasy monsters like dragons are played by biological robots. Such scifi works are often predictive. We’re now successfully experimenting with DNA-based computers, treating a biological component like any other storage device. This isn’t a new idea. Biopunk fiction has been imagining things like wetware for the past 30 years or so.
Revelation 13:15 may point to what some would call artificial intelligence. Speaking of the False Prophet, John prophesies:
And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.
The Beast in this verse is the AntiChrist, a human being. It’s possible that the image that has the breath of life in this verse is a robot. It’s also possible that what is recorded here has a wholly supernatural explanation. The point is that you can’t rule out the idea of artificial intelligence from our future.
Still, even if a person’s memories and personality could be imprinted onto a CPU, I think such a thing would lack the soul that imbues us with personhood. Souls exist outside of the bio-electrical confines of the brain-body. I do not think they could be replicated, meaning that the robot would (perhaps even greatly) resemble the copied human, but would not be any more sapient than an overglorified video recording. The simulucrum would simply be a mimic, however convincing.
Transhumanism looks to the Singularity, a time, possibly just a couple decades from now, when a superior intelligence will dominate and life will take on an altered form that we can’t predict or comprehend in our current, limited state. At that point, accirding to the dearest hopes of the Singularity movement, human beings and machines will so effortlessly and elegantly merge that poor health, the ravages of old age and even death itself will all be things of the past. Some have called it “the Rapture for nerds.” Unfortunately, it apoears that this technological pie-in-the-sky is probably more of a pipe dream. Indeed, one expert believes it is impossible to download a brain to a CPU and the best we can hope for is that we will assimilate machines because it will never happen the other way round. And for reasons completely unrelated to the creation/evolution debate.
After his bad argument against transhumanism (seriously, dude. There were much better ones), Simon Turpin weighs in on space colonies:
“Of course, the evolutionary view of the future of the planet is antithetical to the Biblical view of the future of the planet. While evolutionists believe that we need to colonize space for the survival of mankind, the Bible teaches us that God will one day supernaturally create a new heaven and earth (2 Peter 3:13).
The future of the humanity does not lie in outer space (that is pure science fiction).”
I wonder if he realizes that God includes not only the earth but the entire heavens on the context of a new heaven and earth? I ask because his argument might hold water if God intended only to create a new earth, but the fact that the whole universe will be reborn at some prophesied point in the future in no way prevents us from colonizing space in the meantime. While I don’t think that mankind will perish if we don’t colonize other worlds, nothing in Scripture prevents us from doing so out of the fear of such extinction.
Once again, Turpin is simply applying tar and feather to anything associated with evolution, but his bald assertions amount to non sequitur and gross overstatement. His argument isn’t derived from a natural reading of Scripture; it’s a knee-jerk reaction against evolution and anything associated with the idea.
In the final assessment, we should thank Simon Turpin for bringing such bad arguments to light so that they may be examined as a cautionary tale that not all things associated with evolution are necessarily false or evil. We need to be careful to use true discernment and not throw the baby out with the bathwater!
Do it right or get out of the fight.