Artificial Intelligence III: Imago Dei

One of the main threads of our Christian faith is that we humans are made imago Dei, in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26, 27). The truth of imago Dei raises questions about our relationship with the rest of the animal kingdom: how are we different from animals? This discussion has arisen among Christians largely because of the influence of Darwin’s theory of evolution. But now, with rapid developments in artificial intelligence, we are asking new questions: how does imago Dei make us different from human-made computers, robots and software?

There are already things computer programs can do better than we can, just as there are things animals can do better than humans. But it is not a particular skill or ability that distinguishes humans from other creatures, whether God-made or human-made. Just think: among us humans, we vary in our abilities; some are more intelligent, some have better musical skills and some are better at sports – but we recognize that all are humans. No difference in race, ability, size, gender or any other characteristic can undermine the essential truth that we are all children loved by God. Even what some would call impairments – e.g., blindness, fragile X syndrome, cerebral palsy or mental illness – do not make anyone less human.

So what makes us different from animals and from what looms before us in artificial intelligence? Here’s the short answer: we humans are God’s image bearers because God became human. God entered into his creation in the person of Jesus Christ. In a very real way Jesus did not become human; rather, in him we became like God. We are different and we are special because the Creator has come in human form and graced this aspect of the creation with his being. The whole universe revolves around the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension to glory of the God-human Jesus. Jesus did not become an animal. Jesus did not come to earth as a robot. Because Jesus took on human form, we are image-bearers. This gift and blessing resonates backwards and forwards in time to define us as humans, from the first to the last: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. . . . Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one’” (Rev. 1:8,17b). We look to Christ to see what we should be as full humans.

Computers are part of creation
One of the charges given humans, part of our imago Dei, is to develop and care for creation with the specific talents God has given us as individuals. Some are given creative power to make art and do science, adding to the richness of creation. We are all blessed when we look at a Rembrandt painting, contemplate a Moore sculpture or hear a Bach cello suite. We are led to praise God through deepened understandings of creation masterminded by Newton, Einstein, Galileo and even Darwin. Thus, to develop computers with increasing evidence of artificial intelligence is included in the charge God has given us, and it is a response to God’s creative acts that made and continue to support the whole creation. It is a lawful part of our responsibilities as image-bearers, but our imago Dei goes beyond our specific talents.

In the same way, our best creative activities in art, science and technology also are blessed by God and bears resonances in us of his being. Thus computers and all that this technology can do is a creative activity of humans mimicking what God does and what God has asked us to do. This includes any artificial intelligence that results from this activity. But we have to clearly realize that we are only image-bearers, and give God, the true image, the glory for our creative activity. We are not an end in ourselves. We are children of God and our “toys” reflect the original maker. This does not tell us how far artificial intelligence will go, but we need to recognize that it is ultimately God’s creation and we are only its stewards.
 

  • Rudy Eikelboom is a Professor of Psychology, at Wilfrid Laurier University, who has emerged from the dark side of the University after being department chair for 9 years and now teaches behavioural statistics to graduate and undergraduate psychology students. His retirement looms and he is looking forward to doing more writing on the implications of modern science for our Christian faith. Currently, he serves as a pastoral elder at the Waterloo Christian Reformed Church.

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