AI Does Not Pose A Challenge To Christianity

The theology and philosophy of the Atlantic article “Is AI a Threat to Christianity?” proves that it was all downhill after the schoolmen in the sad twilight of the Middle Ages adopted nominalism. Almost nothing has been right since, and little can be saved.

It’s best to step through and answer the misconceptions one at a time.

While most theologians aren’t paying it much attention, some technologists are convinced that artificial intelligence is on an inevitable path toward autonomy. How far away this may be depends on whom you ask, but the trajectory raises some fundamental questions for Christianity—as well as religion broadly conceived, though for this article I’m going to stick to the faith tradition I know best. In fact, AI may be the greatest threat to Christian theology since Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

False. Technologists are fooling themselves because of a false metaphysics into thinking computers will become rational creatures like man. AI can never be a “threat” to Christian theology. And it is also false that Darwin’s theory, old or new, is a threat. That some Christians think it is results from accepting the same errors atheists make about evolution. (Of course, bad or false theories of any kind are a threat to individual sanity always.)

Despite AI’s promise, certain thinkers are deeply concerned about a time when machines might become fully sentient, rational agents—beings with emotions, consciousness, and self-awareness. “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” Stephen Hawking told the BBC in 2014. “Once humans develop artificial intelligence, it would take off on its own, and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.”

These thinkers are wrong. Computers are programmed to say what they were told to say. They take input, even input from unpredictable exterior processes, and produce output based on that input in directed ways. They are machines. They are not alive. They do not possess souls as living things do.

Souls are the forms of living things. They are not entities inside living things that are extractable from them. They are not ghosts in machines. They are not aetherous. Souls in men are not made of material stuff. Our intellects are not material. Men have free will, and thus can sin. Machines do not have free will and cannot sin. Men’s souls are corrupt from birth. A computer never has a soul.

History lends credibility to this prediction, given that many major scientific advances have had religious impacts. When Galileo promoted heliocentrism in the 1600s, it famously challenged traditional Christian interpretations of certain Bible passages, which seemed to teach that the earth was the center of the universe. When Charles Darwin popularized the theory of natural selection in the 1800s, it challenged traditional Christian beliefs about the origins of life. The trend has continued with modern genetics and climatology.

That some erred in thinking the Bible specified the location of planet earth, vis-à-vis the universe as a whole, only proves that people make mistakes—and that people correct them. Religion in this way is self-correcting. About the origins of life, well, as of this writing nobody knows how that came about. Even supposing somebody does figure out how, whatever explanation is discovered will not in any way challenge Christian beliefs. Good grief, how could it? That some biological-chemical reaction is discovered to behave in a certain way only means that God set up the universe so that biological-chemical reaction behaves in that certain way. The reason why the universe is the way it is is because it was caused to be that way by something. That something could not be nothing or “blind” laws—those “laws” also had to have causes. The only ultimate explanation is God.

…Christians have mostly understood the soul to be a uniquely human element, an internal and eternal component that animates our spiritual sides. The notion originates from the creation narrative in the biblical book of Genesis, where God “created human beings in God’s own image.” In the story, God forms Adam, the first human, out of dust and breathes life into his nostrils to make him, literally, “a living soul.” Christians believe that all humans since that time similarly possess God’s image and a soul.

But what exactly is a soul? St. Augustine, the early Christian philosopher, once observed that “I have therefore found nothing certain about the origin of the soul in the canonical scriptures.” And Mike McHargue, a self-described Christian mystic and author of Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost my Faith and Found it Again Through Science, believes that the rise of AI would draw out the ambiguities in the ways that many Christians have defined terms like “consciousness” and “soul.”

“Those in religious contexts don’t know precisely what a soul is,” McHargue says.

Painting Saint Augustine as some kind of soul skeptic is absurd. And McHargue is wrong. Since Aristotle, we have known what a soul is. And Saint Thomas Aquinas, who lived hundreds of years after Augustine, wrote at great length about what the soul is. Only it seems McHargue, and the Atlantic writer, haven’t read Aquinas.

…consider technologies such as in vitro fertilization and genetic cloning. Intelligent life is created by humans in each case, but presumably many Christians would agree that those beings have a soul.” If you have a soul and you create a physical copy of yourself, you assume your physical copy also has a soul,” says McHargue. “But if we learn to digitally encode a human brain, then AI would be a digital version of ourselves. If you create a digital copy, does your digital copy also have a soul?”

This is true. Killing a human life inside a mother, or in a test tube, is killing a being with a soul. The rest is false. We are not our minds; we are not our brains. We are not just our bodies. We are a body plus intellect and will, and we are alive. Making a copy of the brain, presuming such a thing is possible, which now it is not and is now as far from being possible as having Richard Dawkins convert to Catholicism, would not result in a new man. The copy would have no more animation than would a yodeling pickle.

“I don’t see Christ’s redemption limited to human beings,” Christopher Benek, an associate pastor at Providence Presbyterian Church in Florida with degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary, told Gizmodo in 2015. “It’s redemption of all of creation, even AI. If AI is autonomous, then we should encourage it to participate in Christ’s redemptive purposes in the world.”

Men require redemption because they are born with a broken essence, i.e. soul, that requires fixing. Man also sins, and sins are free acts against God’s law. A machine is not alive, does not have free will, and cannot sin, therefore it is not in need of redemption.

The Christian Bible never anticipates non-human intelligence, much less addresses the questions and concern it creates. It does, however, teach that God has established a special relationship with humans that is unique among all creatures.

False. The Bible has plenty to say about non-human intelligences. Angels we have heard on high, anybody? Has the writer never heard of Satan? What the Bible doesn’t mention, and which nobody knows to be true, is whether other physical-rational beings exist in the universe. And if they did, nobody knows whether they would stand in need of redemption. It is true God has a unique relationship with men, because, at the least, God created men in His image.

Russell Bjork, a professor at the evangelical Gordon College who is cautious about broadening the Christian understanding of personhood to include AI, argues in the journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, ‘What makes humans special is not what humanity is, but rather it is God’s relationship to us based on his purpose for making us.'”

False. Men are special because of what humanity is, as just discussed.

Kelly, McHargue, and McGrath all are convinced that most traditional theologians today aren’t engaged enough in conversations like this because they’re stuck rehashing old questions instead of focusing on the coming ones. McHargue notes that questions about AI and theology are some of the most common that he receives from listeners of his popular “Ask Science Mike” and “The Liturgist” podcasts. “Any non-biological, non-human intelligence will present a greater challenge to religion and human philosophy than anything else in our entire history combine,” he claims. “Nothing else will raise that level of upheaval, and collective trauma as the moment we first encounter it.”

False. The upheaval of Christ’s crucifixion outweighed any possible press release claiming that a computer has developed free will. Such a release is surely coming. It will be based on some kind of error, like a Turing test (which says nothing about intellects or free will) or whatever, and the only question is how quickly the error will be exposed.

The author of the article in its course was pleased to say, “There are no easy answers for Christians willing to entertain these questions.” We can now see that this is not so. There were plenty of easy answers.

31 Comments

  1. “But if we learn to digitally encode a human brain, then AI would be a digital version of ourselves. If you create a digital copy, does your digital copy also have a soul?” ONLY if we are digital, too. Otherwise, the copy is imperfect and lacks a soul. Digital and analog copies are very different—try playing VHS on a DVD player. A digital copy of a human is just as different.

    “A machine is not alive, does not have free will, and cannot sin, therefore it is not in need of redemption.” Not even if you really, really BELIEVE it is? Are you sure? Believing makes it so in science, just not in religion. I thought everyone knew that.

    “most traditional theologians today aren’t engaged enough in conversations like this because they’re stuck rehashing old questions instead of focusing on the coming ones. “ If one has answers to the foundation of a belief, all things that come up can be dealt with easily as they arrive. Planning ahead while having no real foundation is the problem.

    Evolution and AI’s are sciences faith-based belief that they have eliminated religion. Most religions don’t spend their days trying to eliminate science—few reject medicine and so forth—yet science is OBSESSED with destroying religion which they claim to not even believe in. There’s some kind of psychological pathology in there somewhere.

  2. Technologists are fooling themselves because of a false metaphysics into thinking computers will become rational creatures like man.

    This too is an example of fallacious reasoning.
    Presumes:
    1) thinking can only happen in a living thing
    2) seems to presume that only humans can think.

    Just because something has not been observed does not mean it is impossible.

    yet science is OBSESSED with destroying religion which they claim to not even believe in

    No. Only some people are obsessed with destroying religion just as some people are obsessed with the idea that science could never satisfactorily explain things like thinking and life.

  3. …These thinkers are wrong. Computers are programmed to say what they were told to say. They take input, even input from unpredictable exterior processes, and produce output based on that input in directed ways. They are machines. They are not alive. They do not possess souls as living things do…..

    Mr Briggs is ill-informed. A simple flick through Hofstadter’s work would bring him up to speed with the concept of ’emergent properties’. For more general reading I can recommend “FRONTIERS OF COMPLEXITY” by Coveney and Highfield.

    Research in this area will soon show him how apparently simple rules and structures can produce describable non-linear outputs exhibiting high-level behaviours which are unpredictable from the initial inputs – the essential features of a mind…

  4. Ya’ can’t be much more redundant than “false metaphysics.”

    And that name… “McHargue” – I love it! If I didn’t go with Jersey McJones, it would had to have been Jersey McHargue! LOL!

    “The upheaval of Christ’s crucifixion outweighed any possible press release claiming that a computer has developed free will.”

    Not at the time. That took hundreds of years. A new type of life made my man and not of the usual biological stuff? That would be an immediate upheaval of tremendous proportion. It would be nice of us, though, when we become these things’ creators, if we could let them live a little and not demand their utter obedience and constant, driveling, emotionally blackmailed “thank you’s” for existing.

    JMJ

  5. “given that many major scientific advances have had religious impacts.”

    AI is not/would not be a scientific advance. It would be an engineering advance.

  6. Dodgy Geezer asserts: “Research in this area will soon show him how apparently simple rules and structures can produce describable non-linear outputs exhibiting high-level behaviours which are unpredictable from the initial inputs – the essential features of a mind…”

    Non-determinisim is a *defect* in a computer. It is the very nature of a properly functioning digital computer that it cannot deviate from its programming. It can be complex; but if you run a system such as a global circulation model with the same starting parameters you will get the same results. It cannot be any other way. In fact, this is a problem for security protocols that fail to re-seed the pseudo-random number generator from some external source.

    It is easy enough to test. Seed a pseudo-random number generator to a starting value, calculate a million values, save the millionth. Do this a million times. I am really quite certain that the millionth value will be identical for all of the million runs of the “random” number generator.

    Same with fractal generators. Extremely complex emergent phenomenon; but still deterministic!

    As to whether a computer can ever interact with God, well certainly that must be possible. It is less clear why either the computer or God would wish such an interaction and my estimation is that neither wishes it.

  7. RE: “Technologists are fooling themselves … into thinking computers will become rational creatures like man.”

    Wow: “rational creatures like men” … by “men” the meaning is presumably “human” … and any cursory review of history, or casual observations at the local mall, or of drivers in traffic, etc. ought to immediately put into question the validity of linking “men”/”human” with “rationale.”

    RE: “Souls in men are not made of material stuff. Our intellects are not material.”
    and
    RE: “Men require redemption because they are born with a broken essence, i.e. soul, that requires fixing. Man also sins, and sins are free acts against God’s law.”

    So our souls are made by a perfect omnipotent God, intentionally defective, apparently, so we can fix them ourselves. Or else…

    Case law recognizes various types of diminished capacity arising from physical brain injury: A driver having a stroke is not considered to exercise free will/choice when, because the stroke paralyzes something causes them to swerve & kill a pedestrian. Old folks suffering from Alzheimer’s, having lost the capacity to recognize their children and worse, are legally made dependent and their ability to exercise free will is not accepted (e.g. to change their will, to choose their own medical treatment, etc.).

    If people have non-material souls & intellect, after brain damage and resulting deficits in intellect, where would one find those missing portions of the intellect?

    Similarly, in young & developing children, where are the portions of intellect kept as they develop…and why do their gains in intellectual capacity align so neatly with their brain development if their intellects are not material?

  8. Ken asks some questions:

    “So our souls are made by a perfect omnipotent God, intentionally defective, apparently, so we can fix them ourselves. Or else…”

    You will find some variation on this assertion among branches of Christianity. I do not consider myself a created being; rather, some aspect of my intelligence is eternal and occupies a created body.

    It is neither affective or defective; but developing toward a goal. People do not start at the same starting line and won’t end up at the same goal.

    “Case law recognizes various types of diminished capacity arising from physical brain injury”

    Easily demonstrated of course.

    “where would one find those missing portions of the intellect?”

    I’d start looking in Topeka. However, being invisible there’s no telling where exactly to look, or how to determine your success.

    “Similarly, in young & developing children, where are the portions of intellect kept as they develop”

    I detected the arrival of my child’s spirit when she was about 12 weeks old and her intellect, while mature in some ways, grew along with her body.

    “and why do their gains in intellectual capacity align so neatly with their brain development if their intellects are not material?”

    Think of it as a computer program. You can put the exact same computer program in a small, slow microprocessor with limited memory or a quad core Xeon with terabytes of SSD and RAM.

    The “spirit” is relatively unchanged (so far as I know, as it appears not to be directly accessible) and the body and brain wrap around it and give it mobility, sensory apparatus and computing power. In my particular religion this has happened more than once; wrapping over wrapping; but deep inside is a spark of intellect, the “me”, that has always been, is neither created nor destroyed. What it can do by itself apparently is not very much; whether it is “good” is not generally known to mortals. God has created a home and a mechanism by which these spirits can be embodied, experience life, and most important of all, experience choice and the consequences thereof.

  9. Jersey McJones writes “let them live a little and not demand their utter obedience and constant, driveling, emotionally blackmailed thank you’s for existing.”

    I demand utter obedience from my computer. Also from my dog. There’s no such thing as obedience from a cat, but even a cat knows where food comes from (that it cannot catch for itself, or is too lazy to try).

  10. I’ve been thinking for years that this will herald CS Lewis’ Materialist Magician. Think of it, an “artificial intelligence” “smarter” than all mankind, which couldn’t be supernatural, of course. It will have all kinds of fun guidance I’m sure.

    Just a theory.

  11. But if we learn to digitally encode a human brain, then AI would be a digital version of ourselves. If you create a digital copy, does your digital copy also have a soul?

    No more so than a selfie or an nMRI image would be.

    This too is an example of fallacious reasoning. Presumes thinking can only happen in a living thing

    Much depends on the definition of “thniking.” In the relevant context, it is intellection: the abstraction of universals from concrete, sensed particulars. Other kinds of “thinking” are possible through sensation, imagination, and memory. These are well-known since ancient and medieval times to be possessed by all (or nearly all) animals.

    This too is an example of fallacious reasoning. seems to presume that only humans can think.

    See previous item. Specifically, intellection:

    An article at New Scientist on “Six ‘uniquely’ human traits now found in animals.” I confess that I was rather puzzled on reading it; every single trait listed as a supposedly ‘uniquely human’ trait can be found attributed to non-human animals in some form by medieval and early modern Aristotelians — although, of course, they wouldn’t have had the range of accurate data in support of the attribution that we can have now. Was there ever really any scientific reason to think that any one of these was unique to human beings, or is it just that we were so deadened to the obvious (animals have emotions!) by Cartesianism and the like that we couldn’t see it for centuries? Or is it just that we have become so urban that none of us spend enough time working with animals and so lots of people really are so silly as to think that dogs, cats, horses, pigs, birds, etc., are ‘characterless’? Or is this just sensationalistic reporting in order to get people to read New Scientist articles? — Brandon Watson, http://branemrys.blogspot.com/2008/10/yes-rational-animals-are-animals.html

    Also, from Chastek, this comment:

    When I read over the list of six traits, I couldn’t come up with a single example of one that was mentioned as distinctively human in St. Thomas or Aristotle. For them, man is defined properly by reason, and reason is most of all verified in speculative wisdom. None of the traits listed were even in the same genus as speculative thought, and I doubt it would cross anyone’s mind to test the hypothesis. Do we really need to ask whether non-human animals have developed systems of physics, speculative mathematics, and metaphysical wisdom? — James Chastek, https://thomism.wordpress.com/2008/10/11/what-really-are-uniquely-human-traits/

    Aristotle calls imagination- an interior sense power common to many species of animal- deliberative. The critical refutation that the [New Scientist] article has to make (at least if it wants to dethrone the Aristotelian-Thomistic account of the difference between men and animals) is one denying the difference between reason and imagination, for if one is prepared to call imagination deliberative he opens up a whole universe of possible animal behaviors that will transcend anything like computer programming and which will, in fact, have an immense amount of overlap with the sorts of behaviors which feel like they are uniquely our own. The distinction between reason and imagination, however, rests on a mode of analysis that is not metrical and therefore not open to analysis by the scientific method. It rests on our experience of a universal term which transcends any object given by a sense power.

    the idea that science could never satisfactorily explain things like thinking and life.

    Generally, science simply takes such foundational concepts for granted. You cannot prove within a science that which is axiomatic to that science. When she really sits down and ponders them, she often winds up denying their objective existence. The Mechanists’ approach culminated in N. W. Pirie’s The Meaninglessness of the Terms Life and Living (1937) [and more recently in Scientific American, “Why Life Does Not Really Exist”*] and Charles DeKoninck’s sardonic response “The Lifeless World of Biology”** in The Hollow Universe (1964) in which he claimed against the mechanists that there really is a difference between living and dead.
    * http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/brainwaves/2013/12/02/why-life-does-not-really-exist/#comment-363
    ** http://www.scribd.com/doc/9775352/DeKoninck-Lifeless-World-of-Biology

    It’s hard for science in general to deal with non-metrical properties and non-material bodies. Hence, the insistence on equating mind with brain and measuring the bumps on people’s skulls and patterns on fMRI images.

    A simple flick through Hofstadter’s work would bring him up to speed with the concept of ’emergent properties’.

    a/k/a “formal causes” in the older terminology; but often used as a euphemism for “then magic happens” by Late Moderns. It’s one thing to say “It’s Emergent!” and quite another thing to demonstrate that it is. Mechanists are fighting a rear-guard battle against “emergent properties.” From their POV it’s bottums-up all the time. The idea that whole have properties aside from their parts is anathema to them, but quite familiar to Aristo-Thomists.

    describable non-linear outputs exhibiting high-level behaviours which are unpredictable from the initial inputs – the essential features of a mind…

    Depending on what you mean by “mind,” the essential feature would seem to be the ability to abstract universals from concrete particulars. Recall that “intelligent” means originally “to read between [the lines]” (inter legere) which means to see things that aren’t actually there.

    AI is not/would not be a scientific advance. It would be an engineering advance.

    Quite so. A great many encomiuns to science — “Science Works!” — are really praises of engineering.

    by “men” the meaning is presumably “human”

    Certainly, that is the root meaning and was the normal usage up through my own youth. Only lately has politics triumphed over grammar.
    Man: Old English man, mann “human being, person (male or female),” from Proto-Germanic *manwaz from PIE root *man- (1) “man” (source also of Sanskrit manuh, Avestan manu-). Sometimes connected to root *men- (i-mutation in plural) “think, remember, have one’s mind aroused,” with derivatives referring to qualities of mind or states of thought,” such as manna, mania, memory, which would make the ground sense of man “one who has intelligence.” Often used as a suffix: wo-man, hu-man, chair-man, police-man, etc.

    Old English used wer and wif to distinguish the sexes (wermann and wifmann), but wer began to disappear late 13c. and wermann contracted to mann. Wer is cognate with the Latin vir and appears in words like “virile, virtue, virago, and world.” Wif of course became “wife” and the prefix in “woman.” The loss of the masculine prefix gave “man” a double meaning. The primary meaning was “a rational being” and the secondary was “a masculine human being.” Efforts to eradicate -man from “woman” by politicized spelling, as in “womyn,” essentially exclude females from the ranks of rational beings.

    any cursory review of history, or casual observations at the local mall, or of drivers in traffic, etc. ought to immediately put into question the validity of linking “men”/”human” with “rationale [sic].”

    You are confusing the “intellectual faculty that adopts actions to ends,” with the ability to act as you wish they would. “Reason” and “read” come from the same root [“ræden”]. “Rational” is the adjectival form of “reason” (cf. L. ratio, rationis)

    Hope this helps.

  12. This too is an example of fallacious reasoning. Presumes thinking can only happen in a living thing

    Much depends on the definition of “thniking.” In the relevant context, it is intellection: the abstraction of universals from concrete, sensed particulars.
    Other kinds of “thinking” …

    Yes indeed you can define things so that “thinking” becomes “that which [presumably] only people can do” then give it some name like “intellection” then suppose non-humans must then be doing “Other kinds of thinking” by definition.

  13. I take issue with the Briggsian assertion that the “soul” is intellect and will. The “soul” (Latin “anima”) is the metaphysical “substance” that makes it possible for a creature be what it is and do what it does. It is the essential difference between a mass of physical chemistry that is alive or dead. The first power, or attribute, of a soul is LIFE. Additional powers of a human soul are intellect and will. In that we are a (diminished) image and likeness of the infinite Life, Intellect and Will that is the First Cause of everything but Himself.

    To the materialistic scoffers who irrationally assert that intellect and will are the sole product of physical chemistry I will propose that intellect and will exist even if the organ that connects them with the physical world is defective. Dementia is but a defect in the communication between the physical and metaphysical.

    Consider: if one gets paralytically drunk and physical coordination, memory (can’t find your way home), speech and ideas are incomprehensible to anyone in possession of their faculties, one can recover after a commensurate hangover with intellect and will intact. I suggest that dementia is just another failure or impediment of the physical without the likelihood of simple recovery.

    Artificial intelligence? I suggest that’s what’s being churned out of Universities these days. Somewhat animated blobs of accumulated “inputs” of political correctness and scientistic orthodoxy deprived of powers of observation, deduction, induction, evaluation and criticism.

  14. Yes indeed you can define things so that “thinking” becomes “that which [presumably] only people can do” then give it some name like “intellection” then suppose non-humans must then be doing “Other kinds of thinking” by definition.

    No. “Thinking” as used colloquially can refer to all sorts of distinct mental activities: remembering, imagining, sensing, or… as per Aristotle and Aquinas… abstract, speculative thought. See the posts linked above. “Intellection” is the movement of the intellect, and is distinct from motions of the imagination, the common(izing) sense, etc. Given that, then we can ask what sorts of animals evidence this sort of motion. Hopefully without any Disney-induced fantasies.

    In the same sense, symbol-mongering is a different order than sign-usage. When a baboon in the tree top spots an approaching cheetah, he utters a cry that others react to. Humans would say the cry “means” Cheetah here! But it may only be an evolutionary thing: baboons who fled at the sound of the cry survived and reproduced more successfully than those who ignored it. They don’t have to know that the cry means “Cheetah here!” in order to survive, and that’s all the natural selection acts on.

    The cry is a “sign”: a vocalization that points to something concrete and particular, in this case, a cheetah. But language does not consist of signs; it consists of grammar. It needs vocalizations that refer to things that do not exist in the world, such as “cheetah-in-the-future,” or “some day”, or “if”, and so on. What the baboon sentry does not do is say the next day to his buddies, “Y’know, if we dug a pit and filled it with pointy sticks pointing up, we might get the next cheetah to come along to chase us across the concealed mouth the pit, fall in, and impale herself on the pointy sticks.”

    The Underground Grammarian’s example of the zebra and lion is even more pointed, since there is no cry. When a zebra catches a whiff of lioness in the tall grass, she does not say to herself in any way, “I must tell the others.” She does what evolution has taught her to do: gallop like hell. The rest of the herd takes off too, not because the first zebra has warned them, but because they have been startled by the first zebra’s sudden bolt. Evolution has ensured this: Zebras that do not run at the first whiff of lioness or when a herd-mate suddenly bolts generally stop swimming in the gene-pool. One need not multiply entities to include some kind of language or intellection on the part of the zebras. Evolution acting on reflexes are sufficient and Brother Ockham may rest undisturbed. It is more as if the other zebras have “caught something” from the first zebra. This is communication only in the sense of a communicable disease.

  15. “Hope this helps.”

    It does; I love etymology. WHY words mean what they mean has been a fascinating topic for me for decades.

  16. YOS: “The loss of the masculine prefix gave “man” a double meaning. The primary meaning was “a rational being” and the secondary was “a masculine human being.” Efforts to eradicate -man from “woman” by politicized spelling, as in “womyn,” essentially exclude females from the ranks of rational beings.”

    Some days I think this may, in fact, be true….

  17. [quote= YOS]She does what evolution has taught her to do: gallop like hell. The rest of the herd takes off too, not because the first zebra has warned them, but because they have been startled by the first zebra’s sudden bolt. Evolution has ensured this: Zebras that do not run at the first whiff of lioness or when a herd-mate suddenly bolts generally stop swimming in the gene-pool.[/quote]

    Are you trying to take over from David Atenbrough and Brian Cox as favourite media gurus for the propagation of politically correct nonsense?

    What they don’t (can’t) do is offer any reasonable evidence (not even any speculative methodology) to account for their completely gratuitous claims.

    I suspect that AI is everywhere… mechanistic, programmed stupidity.

  18. @Ye Old Statistician…

    …A simple flick through Hofstadter’s work would bring him up to speed with the concept of ’emergent properties’.

    a/k/a “formal causes” in the older terminology; but often used as a euphemism for “then magic happens” by Late Moderns. It’s one thing to say “It’s Emergent!” and quite another thing to demonstrate that it is. Mechanists are fighting a rear-guard battle against “emergent properties.” From their POV it’s bottums-up all the time. The idea that whole have properties aside from their parts is anathema to them, but quite familiar to Aristo-Thomists.

    I can assure you that there is a strong body of computer scientists who have no problem with this concept…

    describable non-linear outputs exhibiting high-level behaviours which are unpredictable from the initial inputs – the essential features of a mind…

    Depending on what you mean by “mind,” the essential feature would seem to be the ability to abstract universals from concrete particulars. Recall that “intelligent” means originally “to read between [the lines]” (inter legere) which means to see things that aren’t actually there….

    By ‘mind’ Hofstadter tends to mean ‘a sense of Self’. To him, a human can be quite unintelligent and yet still be a conscious being. He sees self-consciousness as the key to having a mind, and recursive self-modification by multiple agents as a key mechanism enabling this.

    Of interest is the book ‘My Stroke of Insight’ By Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist studying insanity who had a left-brain stroke, and was able to describe how her mind altered as the various brain structures received damage. You can readily see how the many systems operate together and modify each other’s output to produce a coherent whole…

  19. “…consider technologies such as in vitro fertilization and genetic cloning. Intelligent life is created by humans in each case, but presumably many Christians would agree that those beings have a soul….” What a bizarre thing to say. I get what the author MEANS to say about cloning (i.e.: that if you make an exact physical copy of a person, and a person has a soul, then the copy of the person will also have a soul, and cloning is a riff on IVF) but IVF doesn’t “create a life” in some weird abstract sense. It is an alternate way to accomplish normal physical reproduction. And various types of cloning are variations of the same. Nobody “creates life” out of nothing. And certainly it doesn’t appear by itself, as these nutty IA theorists seem to think will happen… a sophisticated computer spontaneously “becomes alive.” It’s a fun and/or scary idea for a fairy tale, but it’s not remotely science.

  20. I can assure you that there is a strong body of computer scientists who have no problem with this concept…

    “This concept” being what, emergent properties/formal causes? Or strong AI? Does it occur to any of them that neither one is actually a computer problem?

    By ‘mind’ Hofstadter tends to mean ‘a sense of Self’.

    Any sensing (i.e. “sentient”) organism possesses this. Sensation, esp. touch, divides experience of the World into inside and outside; that is, into “me” and “not me.”

    It might be useful to check what other folks say about mind: https://plato.stanford.edu/search/searcher.py?query=mind

    To him, a human can be quite unintelligent and yet still be a conscious being.

    Even a computer scientist, doch? Thomas would go further. A human can be quite unintelligent and yet still be a human being.

    He sees self-consciousness as the key to having a mind, and recursive self-modification by multiple agents as a key mechanism enabling this.

    Naturally. A computer scientist is likely to see every problem as a computational one. If your only tool is a hammer, you see nails all around you. This can be enlightening, and often provides insight. It is certainly better than the old mechanistic metaphor and may well succeed in resurrecting vitalism. But we should be careful about equating the metaphor with the reality. The four humors of the mind looked right when the cutting edge of technology was hydraulic, with its mill races, waterwheels, crown gears, and camshafts.

  21. @ YOS:

    “If your only tool is a hammer, you see nails all around you.”

    Having recently assembled a flat-pack wardrobe, I can assure you this isn’t true.

    “The four humors of the mind looked right when the cutting edge of technology was hydraulic, with its mill races, waterwheels, crown gears, and camshafts.”

    As did immaterial souls.

  22. Immaterial souls had waterwheels and mill runs? Who knew?

    Since a soul is the form of a living body, it is no more material than any other form. If basketballs were alive, “sphere” would be its form. But only the basketball has material existence. That is, you don’t see a basketball and a sphere. Patterns in general, although they may be patterns of material bodies and not themselves material bodies. If you take three apples and arrange them in a triangle, they don’t suddenly weigh more because the weight of a triangle has been added to the weights of the three apples.

  23. @ YOS: “a soul is the form of a living body”

    Does hair (non-living) have a soul? What about gut microbes, do they have their own souls, or are they bundled with the rest of a human soul?

  24. Hair does not live of itself, but is inherently a part of a whole; so its form is not a soul.

    Gut microbes are not a part of the body, but are symbiotic with it. They have distinct DNA iirc. They do not grow from the body but in the body. Being living kinds, they must have a soul.

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