A fatal blow to Christianity ?

This article about an Artificial Mind caught my eye. It touches on a core theological tenant of Christianity, namely the makeup of the human being or anthropology.

With the advance of scientific discovery over the centuries more and more people have discarded Christianity and the Bible as a viable source of truth and have instead placed them alongside other legends, mythologies and religions. I believe this is a mistake. I would assert that the world of modern discovery and technology has not made it necessary to discard the Bible. There are challenges, yes, but I have not yet found them to be insurmountable.

What event or discovery would it take to shake your belief in the Bible? Life on other planets? This would be a monumental discovery but for me it wouldn’t necessarily disprove Christianity (this reminds me of a Larry Norman song). How about proof that Jesus was not raised from the dead? Yes, this would be troubling indeed. Even the Apostle Paul would have given up if that were the case.

If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” – 1 Corinthians 15:32

Another topic which is central to Christian teaching is the dualistic makeup of the human being. On one side there is the physical body and on the other side the metaphysical, soul, spirit. And then there are things which are difficult to categorize like the mind. If it could be shown that these dualistic and quasi dualistic views are false and that in reality a materialistic view is true, namely everything can be explained by the interaction of the neurons, then this for me would pose a serious blow to Christianity if not a fatal one. If all the talk of spirit, soul and mind is simply an attempt to explain something which is so complex that it is otherwise not understandable, then it follows that all the metaphysical claims of the Bible should also be discarded as mythical products of human imagination.

The article reports on efforts to create an artificial mind. Not just a computer but a mind. It should have the ability to go beyond computing and actually think. Here is an excerpt.

Computer Brain

This is a question that has troubled scientists and philosophers for centuries. The traditional answer was to assume that some sort of ‘soul’ pervades the brain, a mysterious ‘ghost in the machine’ which gives rise to the feeling of self and consciousness. If this is the case, then computers, being machines not flesh and blood, will never think. We will never be able to build a robot that will feel pain or get angry, and the Blue Brain project will fail. But very few scientists still subscribe to this traditional ‘dualist’ view – ‘dualist’ because it assumes ‘mind’ and ‘matter’ are two separate things. Instead, most neuroscientists believe that our feelings of self-awareness, pain, love and so on are simply the result of the countless billions of electrical and chemical impulses that flit between its equally countless billions of neurons. So if you build something that works exactly like a brain, consciousness, at least in theory, will follow.

Will they succeed? Personally, I’m not to worried. They have big ambitions and have allocated themselves a convenient timespan of ten years but the implications of this are staggering, so I will be keeping my eyes open.

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Comments

  • Anonymous says:

    Why are we so concerned with protecting Christianity? Certainly, the ideas and beliefs embedded in the Christian Faith are worthy of nourishing and adopting (i.e. unconditional love, loving thy neighbor) as normative behavior. Aren’t those ideas and beliefs part of other faith traditions also? Clearly, the bible and Christianity are a viable source of truth, however, Christianity does not have an exclusive franchise to them. What is worth protecting and fostering are the ideas the help us help each other, and Christianity is a viable paradigm for doing such. And, if artificial intelligence can be created to foster these ideas and beliefs, then isn’t the ball being advanced for such worthy purposes. After all, God works through me as well as others (“I am what God is doing right now”). And, the humans who are creating this “Human Brain” like computer are what God is doing right now.

    Your Bro., John P.


  • Andrew Potter says:

    Each of us approaches issues like this with a certain worldview. Among other things this is a set of presuppositions about how the world works, how we determine truth and who or what has the ability and right to make authoritative statements about life etc. Such a worldview is a, if not the, determining factor on how we come to conclusions about such topics. I think we may be coming at this from different worldviews.

    Yes, there are many sources and expressions of truth but I subscribe to a worldview which gives authoritative priority to the bible, since I believe it is in some way is inspired by God. On one hand this cannot be proven and requires faith but on the other hand it is not a random leap of faith without plausible reasons. From your comments I’m assuming your worldview attributes authority to many faith traditions placing the bible on a level playing field with other sources of “truth.”

    This leads to a second point which goes beyond the particulars of the faith traditions, namely, how does one sort through the various propositions of the faith traditions or system making claims to truth? Somehow we must decide which claims we give credence to and which ones we disavow. This is true on a broad scale involving all traditions and on a localized scale, for instance if we assume that the bible does have authority to make such claims should we and how do we decide which claims particular to it are to be embraced? In many cases people readily accept the Christian propositions about love but discount others which are adverse to our current cultural climate. In this particular case I tend to give all the propositions an authoritative credence keeping in mind that there are still many open questions about how to interpret and apply these correctly. On the broader scale this problem is even more complex.

    My third point goes to the heart of my article which I believe has relevance even beyond a Christian view of the world. If a “human brain” could be constructed as the original article describes this would go a long way toward confirming a materialistic view of anthropology. That is to say human beings do not contain a metaphysical component like a soul and/or spirit. In my understanding the basis of ethics is the view that human beings have an inherent worth based on the existence of something like a God given soul. If in fact we are simply a complex of material and our brains a vast network of neurons that invent metaphysical explanations for things which are otherwise to complex to understand, then ethics and truth have no basis. This is where I see a danger. In the long run a materialistic view of anthropology in my understanding will eventually undermine any concepts of truth and ethics. I think this would be the case not only for a Christian view but for any worldview that posits human worth as a basis for ethics.


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