Recently I’ve read some news about Sophia, the first AI (artificial intelligence) robot to be ever granted a citizenship. [editor’s note: the questioner is referring to Sophia being given citizenship in Saudi Arabia] Do you think this could be the first step toward a robot getting to be more human?  As a believer, I think that no matter how sophisticated a computer code we make to create an AI, it would never reach the human capability of being intelligent, conscious and emotional. However, looking at how people (especially non believers) think that we’re just a bag of chemicals and those chemicals are what constitute emotion or consciousness, they could argue that one day, this AI can be at the same level as us.  Or do you think that because we humans created this robot, this supports the conclusion that something intelligent must have been created by something more intelligent.  Therefore, we can argue that humans could not have existed without someone more intelligent than us.  In other words a dumb universe can’t produce an intelligent creation?  I am curious to hear your thoughts.


First of all, too much is being made of the granting of citizenship to the robot.  This was merely a publicity stunt.  This robot is NOT a citizen of Saudi Arabia.  The “honorary citizenship” is a meaningless thing and, like I said, it was just a publicity stunt by those putting on a high tech conference in Saudi Arabia.  Not only is it a publicity stunt, it is a disrespectful one at that.  In Saudi Arabia, women do not have full citizenship.  Besides, guest workers who make up more than one third of the population are not granted citizenship, even if they live in the country for generations.  If Sophia was a woman, she would be required to wear a hijab and would not be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia (although, thankfully, the country is granting that right to women next year).  “She” could not be a fill citizen if “she” were a woman.  If she were a guest worker, she also would be denied citizenship.  On what basis was this machine given citizenship?  This is foolishness, and given that it happened in Saudi Arabia, it makes it even more foolish in my opinion.

Although this event is just a stunt, the issues surrounding artificial intelligence are interesting and they do raise legitimate questions about what makes us humans.  Is it our intelligence?  Is it our possession of emotions?  This raises profound metaphysical questions, and I believe that Christians ought to get involved in these discussions.

Let us, then, dive into the real question which is this: What is a human being?  According to the Bible, a human being is a person.  We need to ask what personhood is.  Also, biblically, a human being is created in God’s image.  This means that we are real persons, that we possess a soul, that we have a spiritual nature, that we have the ability to create things out of nothing, that we are conscious beings and that we have free will.  Clearly, a machine can have none of these things and a robot cannot be a person.

However, if we accept the atheist world view, it is MUCH harder to define what a person is.  Arguably, the word “person” has no real concrete meaning if we are mere animals–made of merely atoms and molecules–a sack of chemicals as you say.  Many times I have asked the students in my Science classes where I teach a simple question.  Here is the question:  Do I have a body, or am I a body?  Nearly all say that we have a body.  In fact, unless we are trained by atheist philosophy or by scientific materialism, all people I have known will agree that we have a body.  We are not merely a body.  Our bodies are things which we occupy.

Will it eventually be possible for artificial intelligence machines to be more intelligent than human beings?  This will depend on your definition of intelligence, but if we define intelligence as ability to solve a mathematical problem or ability to analyze or memorize facts, I believe that AI  machines will be able to surpass humans in this kind of intelligence.  Will AIs be able to have emotions?  If we accept the atheist world view–that emotions are epiphenomena–that emotions are not real things in themselves, but simply the result of neurons firing and neurotransmitters being released–then AIs will be able to mimic such “emotions” (which are not real emotions).  AIs will eventually be built which appear to be self-aware and which will appear to have emotions, but this will not be real awareness, as a machine is not a self.  A machine cannot have a soul and it is not spiritual.  A machine can make “choices” but a machine cannot have real free will.  A machine can mimic the emotion we call love, but it cannot love. Love is not merely neurons firing in a particular pattern.  God is love and God does not even have neurons.  Love exists as a “thing” in and of itself, as do hope and faith.  A machine cannot have hope and a machine cannot have faith.

If we choose the atheist world view, then all of this will be very confusing because words such as faith and justice and right versus wrong are really meaningless words in this world view.  Artificial intelligences will eventually be able to do nearly all of the things that humans do in this world view, because in the atheist world view, we are merely machines.

But atheism suffers from a big problem.  It is a false world view.  We are persons.  We have value. We are spiritual.  We are capable of love.  We have free will.  We are conscious beings who will be held responsible to a just God.  Atheism denies the reality of all of these things.  Therefore, in the atheist worldview, it is not clear that we can make an absolute distinction between an animal and a machine.

In a world in which atheism is an accepted world view, AI is very problematic.  But if we work from a Christian world view, the problem of distinguishing persons from machines is much more clear cut.

However, even if we take a Christian world view, AI technology does raise important ethical questions.  These are not moral questions, as the word morality does not apply to machines!  However, there are serious ethical questions raise by the ever-increasingly sophisticated so-called artificial intelligence machines.  Although such machines will not be capable of moral decisions, and they will not have a soul or a spirit, they will be eventually able to mimic such things.  Is this something we should allow?  AI machines will be able to deceive us into believing we are communicating with a person. This is quite disturbing to me, to tell you the truth.  AIs may create significant social upheaval as well, if they are able to replace too great a proportion of human workers.  Whether one is a Christian or not, we human beings need to think carefully about what kinds of things we do not want to allow artificial intelligence machines do.  These ethical questions are not exclusively Christian ones, but believers ought to involve themselves in such discussions.  This will give us an opportunity to refute the materialist/atheist view of what a human being is, which is another reason to engage in such discussions with non-believers.

About your question, Or do you think because we humans created this robot, this supports that something intelligent must’ve occurred from something more intelligent, therefore, we couldn’t have existed without Someone more intelligent than us aka a dumb universe can’t create an intelligent creation?  Basically, I agree with what you are saying here, but I believe we need to be careful how we think and how we speak about this question.  First of all, it is not clear that humans will always remain more “intelligent” than AI machines.  Again, this will depend on your definition of intelligence, but AIs can already beat the smartest chess player.    The essential thing that makes us human is not intelligence.  It is our self-awareness, our spiritual nature, our free will and our accountability to our Creator that makes us persons, not merely our intelligence.  We need to remember this.  There is clear and unmistakable evidence of intelligence in the creation, which implies an intelligent creator and intelligence cannot create itself.  However, I am not sure that  you can use the “more intelligent” argument with an atheist.  Rather than saying that a less intelligent thing cannot make a more intelligent thing (which may not even be true), perhaps what you could say is that the universe shows inescapable evidence of an intelligent and powerful Creator.  I believe that you should use the design argument rather than the relative intelligence argument.  Our universe is clearly designed and this proves that there is a designer.

These are my thoughts on this interesting question.

John Oakes

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