An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

The program the measure of all things?

Images are related to idols. We are commanded not to make idols in the decalogue. One reason for this is that humans are already God's image. One contemporary idol is technology, or rather technicism. The God-given gift of technology has become distorted and consequently idolised. Technology is seen to be the saviour of all our ills. Given enough time and money technical advances will solve all the problems that confront us.

The nature of idolatry is that we are shaped into the idols image: we become like what we worship (Ps 115:8). Humans are becoming like computers and computers like humans. A graphic illustration of this is provided by the Daily Mirror headline some years ago:


This was no Sunday Sport style article. But actually reflected the thoughts of a computer hacker's mother. What we worship we become like.

The research sociologist Sherry Turkle has shown how young children's thinking has been affected by computers. Computers shape their whole development: their personal identity, their personalities and even their sexuality. It is now the computer program that is the measure of all things.

Computers and artificial intelligence (AI) are reshaping psychology and how humanity is perceived. One such example is the work of Marvin Minsky. He argues that human minds are complicated machines. Is the mind merely a complex computer program? Or is this a case of reshaping ourselves in the image of our gods?

Strong artificial intelligence (SAI) goes even further: it suggests that we can create computers that will be able in turn to replicate the human mind.

The biblical picture of humans as imagers of God shows the fallacy of the strong AI programme. Computers will not become like humans.

The prevalent research paradigm in the brain sciences is that the brain is a biological computer. Yet nothing can be further from the truth. Here again idolatry distorts reality. For a computer to work it needs to be programmed to process information: "garbage in; garbage out". Creation does not confront us with labelled, ordered, categorised information; we have to interpret it before we can understand it. As Sir John Polkinghorne, rightly, notes: "Information and its processing are not the same as thought". We create our own labels; those labels are determined by our worldview. Computers do not interpret they do not have a worldview. But ultimately they are not image bearers of God. It is unthinkable that we can create co-bearers of God's image. It is because of this that the strong AI programme will fail.

The SAI advocates have a materialist worldview. For them all things are made up of matter: there is no mind/ matter duality; mind is matter. This is a basic presupposition in their work. They would echo Carl Sagan's oft quoted "the cosmos is all that is or ever will be". Attributing pre-existence to matter in this way is bestowing upon it the status of divinity. SAI is thus a pagan philosophy.


It is seeing humanity in its totality as the image of God that provides important correctives to a Greek/ Gnostic "trinitarian" or dualistic views of humanity and exposes the fallacy of the SAI programme. It is the redemptive message of humans as the image of God, that we are not comparmentalised persons, that needs to be proclaimed in the pews, the streets, homes , offices and academic ivory-towers.

1 comment:

Mark Roques said...

Great stuff bish. I'd like to know more about the woman and her son who turned into a computer.