“Should we be afraid of AI?”
This was the question posed by Ron Schmelzer in an article that appeared in Forbes magazine.
There is a “general anxiety about it and what it’s potentially capable of,” noted Schmelzer. The angst is often caused by the “recurring theme in movies and science fiction “in which AI systems ‘“go rogue — think HAL.”’
But the concern is deeper, even, than that: the greatest danger is that in an age when fallen human beings are developing the most powerful of machines, society is losing the sense of God’s transcendence.
Yet, what one worships determines how one will act.
Werner von Braun, the brilliant scientist who developed the terrifying rockets that pommeled England in the Second World War, became a powerful example of this.
Eventually, von Braun became disenchanted with Hitler and the Nazis, and, at one point, protested the raining down of V2 rockets on innocent people. For that, he was jailed with some of his prime staff. The Nazis’ missile development quickly began to fade, and von Braun and his associates were released early in 1945 to get back to work.
By then, it was becoming evident that Germany was on its way to defeat. In the meantime, von Braun realized that German physicists would be taken by Soviet troops poised to invade Germany from the East and carried away into Russia to help it develop its rocket technology. Before that could happen, von Braun and his whole staff surrendered to American troops. Some five hundred scientists and their families were in that group.
Von Braun began thinking more spiritually, back to the Bible he had been taught as a youth. He recognized that it would be better to surrender to a regime that had a general consensus that God exists and is transcendent than one that promoted atheism and godlessness.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” says that Bible. (Proverbs 9:10, et al.)
One need not fear any invention or discovery or device whose maker believes in and walks under fear and reverence for the transcendent God revealed in the Bible and in the life of Christ.
Therefore, I argue in my book, Who Will Rule the Coming ‘gods?’ that the most urgent issue in this AI age is the recovery of a consensus centered on God’s transcendent majesty.
If there are no spiritual and ethical boundaries in the minds of the brilliant people developing this technology, there is indeed much to fear.
Cultural worldviews and values have been secularizing since the 1960s. The fundamental struggle in the fallen world is between chaos and cosmos — the peaceful and harmonious order brought by God Who is simultaneously characterized by pure love and also by unavoidable justice.
Transcendence means that God is perfect and absolute. Therefore, His attributes are perfect and absolute: perfect love and absolute justice, among others.
So, in this age of dizzying technological advance, there must be an equal progression of the understanding and recognition of God’s transcendence and how it relates to our lives and work. The spiritual understanding must advance at least at the same pace as the technical developments.
It’s not likely that secular educational institutions will add a course on, “AI and the Bible,” or “AI and Theology.” But it’s urgent that someone take on that mission.
Namely, the Church and the Home.
The biblical church must play a prophetic role in society. This means being like the “sons of Issachar” who understood the times and their nature, and what the nation should do. The church can tell the culture “what time it is” in terms of both “signs” and “times.” (1 Chronicles 12:32)
The pulpit should proclaim the transcendence of God. Discipleship programs should educate people about God’s awesome “otherness” and holiness, and our accountability to Him Who is “high and lifted up.”
The Church must walk in righteousness and holiness as a witness and example to the culture, rather than adopting or trying to find biblical sanction for the ways the world wants to live, according to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. (1 John 2:16)
Leaders in home and family should set a good personal example in their computer interactions, both qualitatively as it relates to content and quantitatively with respect to the time they may spend online that could be invested in family interactions.
Family leaders should teach their children the importance of worldview, and what a biblical worldview looks like. Mothers and fathers must teach their children how to discern the good and reject the bad.
In our personal lives we must exercise spiritual disciplines given through Paul in Romans 12, where he calls for the renewal of our mind through conformity to Christ, and Philippians 2 and 4, where the challenge is that we focus on things “true... honorable... right... pure... good... acceptable... perfect... excellent.”
Like almost every human technological advance, artificial intelligence can be a great blessing or a frightening threat.
It comes down to the practical: how we use AI and what determines the purposes and boundaries of its applications.
This was on the mind of nuclear scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer when he observed the first test explosion of the atomic bomb. He thought of words from Hindu literature: “I am become Death... the Destroyer of worlds.”
AI can mean death or life, based on the ultimate values of the user... and that is embedded in what or who we worship.
Thus, the vital issue is indeed spiritual, focusing on the very character of God.
Wallace B. Henley, a former White House and congressional aide, is author of Who Will Rule the Coming ‘Gods’, a book exploring the consequences of the exponential development of artificial intelligence in a society that is rapidly losing the sense of God’s Transcendence. He is a teaching pastor at Grace Church, The Woodlands, Texas.