Jon Stovell’s Notebook


Some thoughts on artificial intelligence in relation to theological anthropology

On Feb 3, 2017, Jonathan Merritt published “Is AI a Threat to Christianity?” in The Atlantic. Merritt suggests that “AI may be the greatest threat to Christian theology since Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.”

Merritt’s argument is built on several, not entirely consistent presuppositions, and it is only their confluence that makes AI an alleged potential problem. These presuppositions are:

  1. The idea that a soul is a “component” of a human being.
  2. The idea that the defining trait of human beings is our intelligence.
  3. The idea that a collection of algorithms could become the same sort of being that humans are if we just make the algorithms sophisticated enough.
  4. The idea that “salvation” means the preservation of the human soul beyond death.

Presuppostion (1) is one possible interpretation of what a soul is in Christianmore

Barth’s aversion to natural theology is Christologically problematic

Barth’s insistence on only the analogia fidei and rejection of the analogia entis, by which he rejects that revelation can happen in terms of the creaturely reaching towards God, seems to be incoherent with viewing the incarnation of the Son as revelatory. If the Son’s self-revelation happens in and through his becoming a creature as well as Creator, then the creaturely would appear to be capable of serving as a means of revelation. Conversely, if revelation could happen only by divine speech and could only be received by “faith” (and what exactly does faith mean for Barth is its own question), then it is difficult to see how the incarnation could really be revelatory.

The theological disciplines: An orientation for the perplexed

Ever been confused about the different academic disciplines broadly grouped under the umbrella of “theology”? Here’s an (over)simplified orientation to what they are and what questions they address.

  1. Biblical studies
    Where did the scriptural texts come from, how did they get to be what they are, and what do they say?
  2. Biblical theology
    What did/do the Scriptures mean?
  3. Systematic theology (a.k.a. constructive theology)
    How do we make sense of our Christian beliefs in a way that is meaningful for our lives today?
  4. Applied theology
    How do we put our theological understanding into practice?
  5. Practical theology
    How do our actual practices inform and illuminate our beliefs?
  6. Historical theology
    How have Christians understood and practiced their faith in the past, why did they do so, and how has that shaped our understanding and practice today?
  7. more

History as subject to the eschaton

After discussing the modern notion of history, which assumes that all the events that transpire in time and space are fundamentally similar and therefore always to be understood in terms of analogy with other events with which the historian is already familiar, Moltmann notes that such a view of history is essentially incompatible with the Christian belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Orthodox Christianity very much believes and proclaims that Jesus’ resurrection was an event that occurred in time and space, but not one analogous to other events. Therefore, an authentically Christian understanding of history must set aside the presuppositions of the modern, Enlightenment view and build instead on very different ones:

Only if the whole historical picture, contingency and continuity and all, could be shown to be in itself not necessary but contingent, should wemore