Do thoughts about artificial intelligence (AI) bring excitement or fear? Anticipation or dread? And how should we think about this as Christians? If these questions resonate with you, then you will want to check out the videos of RTB’s recent, three-session workshop, Artificial Intelligence: Ethics, Impact, and Christianity

John Lennox started the workshop with an overview of AI. His talk discussed the difference between narrow AI and general AI. Narrow AI learns to do a specific task or group of tasks where general AI has the capacity to learn across a broad spectrum of fields or skills. Although the latter seems relegated to the distant future, the former already exists and is becoming pervasive. As narrow AI continues to grow, we must recognize that the technology brings potential for good, but also harm. One key takeaway from Lennox’s session is the notion that many people are looking to AI to save humans from the perils that plague us, including death. However, Lennox notes that salvation has already been accomplished by Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.

Next, Jason Thacker spoke in his area of specialty, the ethical concerns surrounding technology. And AI certainly raises a plethora of them. The pursuit of general AI raises the question of what it means to be human—which Scripture answers directly by stating that we alone are the bearers of God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27)A second thing to consider as we pursue narrow AI is how to use it. We’ll be able to do facial recognition, automate various jobs, and develop autonomous weaponry. Although AI is a powerful tool, we can choose to use it for good or evil. Thacker wrestles with this question in the context of our postmodern society where ethics are difficult to determine and seem to vary from person to person. 

J. P. Moreland concluded the workshop by exploring the nature of intelligence and consciousness. The terms “weak AI” and “strong AI” are often used as synonyms for narrow and general AI. Moreland highlights one subtle but important difference between strong and general AI. Where general AI refers to an AI that has the capacity to learn across a broad spectrum of fields or skills, strong AI possesses an awareness of its ability to learn rather than just the ability to mimic human learning. Moreland then proceeds to provide a philosophical framework for understanding strong AI dubbed “machine functionalism.” At the basis of any naturalistic philosophy of mind or intelligence, machine functionalism holds that consciousness ultimately reduces to some arrangement of matter and the interactions between that matter. As a consequence, machine functionalism will inevitably diminish our view of consciousness.

Each session consistof an overview talk, followed by two panelists asking questions raised during the talk. Overall, the workshop provides a broad framework Christians can use to engage this challenging and exciting area of research. In my assessment, the pursuit of AI is inevitable. More importantly, if we are to use this powerful tool for good while mitigating the potential harm, we need to demonstrate the truthfulness of Christianity and lead the way in providing ethical guidance for all.


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About The Author

Jeff Zweerink

Since my earliest memories, science and the Christian faith have featured prominently in my life - but I struggled when my scientific studies seemed to collide with my early biblical training. My first contact with RTB came when I heard Hugh Ross speak at Iowa State University. It was the first time I realized it was possible to do professional work incorporating both my love of science and my desire to serve God. I knew RTB's ministry was something I was called to be a part of. While many Christians and non-Christians see the two as in perpetual conflict, I find they integrate well. They operate by the same principles and are committed to discovering foundational truths. My passion at RTB is helping Christians see how powerful a tool science is to declare God's glory and helping scientists understand how the established scientific discoveries demonstrate the legitimacy and rationality of the Christian faith. While many Christians and non-Christians see the two as in perpetual conflict, I find they integrate well. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Jeff Zweerink thought he would follow in his father's footsteps as a chemistry professor until a high school teacher piqued his interest in physics. Jeff pursued a BS in physics and a PhD in astrophysics at Iowa State University (ISU), where he focused his study on gamma rays - messengers from distant black holes and neutron stars. Upon completing his education, Jeff taught at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. Postdoctoral research took him to the West Coast, to the University of California, Riverside, and eventually to a research faculty position at UCLA. He has conducted research using STACEE and VERITAS gamma-ray telescopes, and currently works on GAPS, a balloon experiment seeking to detect dark matter. A Christian from childhood, Jeff desired to understand how the worlds of science and Scripture integrate. He struggled when his scientific studies seemed to collide with his early biblical training. While an undergrad at ISU, Jeff heard Hugh Ross speak and learned of Reasons to Believe (RTB) and its ministry of reconciliation - tearing down the presumed barriers between science and faith and introducing people to their personal Creator. Jeff knew this was something he was called to be a part of. Today, as a research scholar at RTB, Jeff speaks at churches, youth groups, universities, and professional groups around the country, encouraging people to consider the truth of Scripture and how it connects with the evidence of science. His involvement with RTB grows from an enthusiasm for helping others bridge the perceived science-faith gap. He seeks to assist others in avoiding the difficulties he experienced. Jeff is author of Who's Afraid of the Multiverse? and coauthor of more than 30 journal articles, as well as numerous conference proceedings. He still serves part-time on the physics and astronomy research faculty at UCLA. He directs RTB's online learning programs, Reasons Institute and Reasons Academy, and also contributes to the ministry's podcasts and daily blog, Today's New Reason to Believe. When he isn’t participating in science-faith apologetics Jeff enjoys fishing, camping, and working on home improvement projects. An enthusiastic sports fan, he coaches his children's teams and challenges his RTB colleagues in fantasy football. He roots for the Kansas City Chiefs and for NASCAR's Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon. Jeff and his wife, Lisa, live in Southern California with their five children.

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