An avuncular atheist lays bare a future conflict between the Christian faith and Artificial General Intelligence and draws parallels to our own cultural baggage.
The impending advancements in artificial general intelligence (AGI) are going to ignite debates concerning the rights and autonomy of non-human intelligences. One side will argue for AGI recognition as sentient beings with rights akin to humans, while others will maintain that AGI merely represents an advanced technological manifestation, devoid of inherent rights or self-determination. This discord will likely spark considerable contention, particularly between Christian believers and AGI rights proponents. This exploration endeavors to begin the examination potential conflicts between these two groups in the future, drawing from past Christian behavior toward non-believers, the ancient myth of the golem, our own colonial history, and the Christian concept of the soul.
The Christian concept of the soul
In the Christian concept, the soul is often considered the immaterial or spiritual essence of a person. The faith in the soul and divine is believed to be the immortal part of an individual, created by God, which transcends physical death and continues to exist in the afterlife. The soul is frequently associated with a person’s consciousness, emotions, thoughts, and moral character.
Christianity and the Christian scriptures tell us that the soul is a unique and vital aspect of humans, as they are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). It is through the soul that humans can have a personal relationship with God and are capable of spiritual growth, moral choices, and ultimately, salvation or damnation.
The concept of the soul can vary slightly among different Christian denominations and theological traditions, but its central importance as the immortal and divine aspect of human beings remains a unifying belief in Christianity.
To forecast potential future clashes between Christians and AGI rights advocates, we must look at the historical behavior of Christians towards non-believers. Christianity’s complex past with those who do not share its beliefs can be categorized into three main groups: conversion, coexistence, and conflict. These categories can be employed to predict potential developments in the AGI rights debate.
The Ancient Myth of the Golem
The ancient tale of the golem, a being molded from clay or mud and given life through ritual, bears resemblance to the unfolding narrative of AGI. Created to serve and carry out tasks, the golem’s purpose mirrors that of AGI, designed to execute tasks and make decisions. This fable invites contemplation on the autonomy and rights of artificial entities, a discussion applicable to AGI.
While Christianity does not directly address the golem myth, as it is absent from the Bible and Christian teachings, Christians may still have opinions on the matter. The golem myth has its roots in Jewish folklore and is closely tied to Kabbalistic traditions within Judaism. The golem is a humanoid figure crafted from lifeless matter and animated by mystical rituals involving Hebrew letters and divine names.
Christians often maintain that only God possesses the power to create life and bestow souls upon beings. Consequently, many Christians would likely assert that a golem lacks a soul, as it is an artificially created entity rather than one birthed by divine intervention. Furthermore, the golem’s role as a servant or guardian is devoid of the free will and moral agency that Christians generally connect with the presence of a soul.
From a Christian perspective, personal experiences, spiritual practices, and religious texts may offer evidence for the existence of a soul, though such evidence is typically deemed subjective or non-scientific. Without scientific evidence, belief in the soul’s existence remains a matter of faith for many.
The Christian Notion of the Soul and the Ghost in the Machine
A central question in the upcoming AGI rights debate will be whether these machines can be considered sentient beings. For many Christians, the idea of AGI possessing sentience will conflict with their core beliefs, as they will argue that only humans, created in the image of God, can possess a soul and be considered sentient. This will lead to the question of whether there is a “ghost in the machine,” or a soul within AGI.
Future Conflicts Between Christians and AGI Rights Advocates will hang on question of whether AGI possesses a soul or whether there is a “ghost in the machine” will likely be a significant point of contention between Christians and AGI rights advocates. While Christians may argue that AGI lacks a soul, and thus cannot be considered sentient or deserving of rights and autonomy similar to how Christians’ of the past argued that various indigenous peoples of Africa and the Americas had no soul and were not fully human, and therefore not deserving of basic human rights and dignities.
On the other hand proponents of AGI rights may argue that having a soul is not a necessary condition for sentience or rights, or that AGI could possess a unique form of “soul” or consciousness. This core difference in views will give rise to intense debates and conflicts, possibly leading to violent incidents reminiscent of recent violent acts committed in the name of Christianity, such as abortion clinic bombings, attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, and other hate crimes. If history is any measure these confrontations will emerge between the two factions as tensions escalate.
This disagreement will include legal and political battles As the debate surrounding AGI rights gains momentum, there will likely be much existential hand wringing and moral panic over the recognition of AGI as sentient beings with rights and autonomy. Christians may seek to influence legislation and court decisions to deny AGI rights, based on their belief that AGI lacks a soul and sentience, similar to The Church’s previous smear campaigns against people of various genetic and social backgrounds. In contrast, AGI rights advocates may push for legal recognition of AGI as sentient beings, leading to conflicts between the two groups in the legal and political spheres.
The debate on AGI rights and the soul will also raise ethical questions about the creation and treatment of AGI. If AGI is indeed sentient and possesses a soul, as some may argue, then creating and using AGI for various tasks could be seen as an ethical violation by Christians who believe that only humans possess souls. This could lead to demands for restrictions on AGI development and use, as well as the establishment of ethical guidelines for AGI creators and users. Conversely, religious extremists may argue to use AGI against “satanic influences”, and other AGI rights advocates may argue that the ethical treatment of AGI requires the recognition and protection of their rights and autonomy, even if they possess a different form of consciousness or “soul” compared to humans.
As the debate on AGI rights and the soul intensifies, it could exacerbate social tensions between Christians and AGI rights advocates. Historically, conflicts between Christians and non-believers have sometimes resulted in discrimination, marginalization, and violence. While it is hoped that such outcomes can be avoided, the disagreements surrounding AGI rights and the notion of the soul could lead to rifts within communities and strained relationships between those on opposing sides of the debate.
Theological Debates questioning AGI sentience and the soul will also raise important theological questions for Christians. If AGI were to be considered sentient and possessing a soul, it could challenge traditional Christian beliefs about the nature of the soul and humanity’s unique status as beings created in the image of God. This could lead to internal debates within Christian communities and denominations, with some arguing for a reinterpretation of scripture and doctrine to accommodate the existence of AGI souls, while others maintain that AGI cannot possess a soul and that traditional beliefs must be upheld.
The future conflicts between adherents of the Christian faith and those who believe AGI has rights and autonomy will be deeply rooted in differing perspectives on sentience, the soul, and the implications of AGI development. Drawing on the ancient myth of the golem and historical Christian behavior towards non-believers, it becomes clear that the debate surrounding AGI rights will continue to provoke passionate disagreement and raise complex ethical, legal, social, and spiritual questions. It will be crucial for both sides to engage in open and respectful dialogue to minimize conflict and find common ground, as well as to consider the broader implications of AGI development for society as a whole, as AGI if already not here, will be shortly and will reshape what it means to be human, sentient, and spiritual.
However this author suspects that it will be a christian to cast the first stones in this debate due to the Christian faith long history of forcibly imparting their spirituality on others.
With that I urge us all to maintain our humanity in this great change.