The Rise Of Artificial Superintelligence: The Need To Defend Humanity

Aug 19th, 2023 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

In a recent essay in The Atlantic, executive editor Adrienne LaFrance wrote:  Imagine an internet infrastructure “with programs that communicate with a veneer of authority on any subject, with the ability to generate sophisticated, original text, audio, and video, and the power to mimic individuals in a manner so convincing that people will not know what is real.  These self-teaching AI models are being designed to become better at what they do with every single interaction.”  She goes on, “Generative AI, just like search engines, telephones, and locomotives before it, will allow us to do things with levels of efficiency so profound, it will seem like magic.  We may see whole categories of labor, and in some cases entire industries, wiped away with startling speed . . . This new magic could indeed create more time to be spent on matters more deserving of our attention—deeper quests for knowledge, faster routes to scientific discovery, extra time for leisure and with loved ones.  It may also lead to widespread unemployment and the loss of professional confidence as a more competent AI looks over our shoulder.”

LaFrance issues this compelling appeal:  In light of all these AI advances, we must “prioritize humans above machines and reimagine human relationships with nature and with technology, while still advancing what this technology can do at its best.  Artificial intelligence will, unquestionably, help us make miraculous, lifesaving discoveries.  The danger lies in outsourcing our humanity to this technology without discipline, especially as it eclipses us in apperception [in our self-consciousness and mental perception] . . . Someday soon, a child may not have just one AI  ‘friend,’ but more AI friends than human ones.  These companions will not only be built to surveil the humans who use them; they will be tied inexorably to commerce—meaning that they will be designed to encourage engagement and profit.  Such incentives warp what relationships ought to be.”

Finally, LaFrance makes this astute observation:  “A future in which over-confident machines seem to hold the answers to all of life’s cosmic questions is not only dangerously misguided, but takes away that which makes us human.  In an age of anger, and snap reactions, and seemingly all-knowing AI, we should put more emphasis on contemplation as a way of being . . . We are mortal beings, driven to know more than we ever will or ever can . . . Technology continually reshapes our intellectual capacities.  What remains is the fact that we are on this planet to seek knowledge, truth, and beauty—and that we only get so much time to do it.”

How do we “prioritize humans over machines?”  How do we preserve the value of genuine human relationships and not only AI “friends?”  How do we guarantee that AI does not “take away that which makes us human?”  I believe that the Bible offers answers to these questions and provides the bedrock for defending and defining the value of humanity.  There are five theological concepts that are foundational:

  1. The concept of a Created Person means that humans are both dependent on God (created) and relatively independent (person).  Humans are both a creature (dependent) and a person (independent).  Genesis 1-2, part of the Creation Ordinance of God, stipulates that God intentionally created human beings as the crown of His creation: Humans have dominion authority over His creation—to “subdue and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (1:28, ESV).  Humans are God’s theocratic stewards.  Human beings are not the product of a random, impersonal force, but are the product of a direct, intentional act of Almighty God, with the command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (1:28).

Human beings are creatures of God, who manifest a profound dependence on Him.  Consider these Scriptures (ESV):

  • Nehemiah 9:6:  “You the LORD, you alone. ‘You made the heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them.”   That God preserves all his creatures, including humanity, implies that they are dependent on Him for their continued existence.
  • Acts 17: 25, 28: “In him we live and move and have our being.”  Humans owe their very breath to God; we exist only in Him; in every move we make we are dependent on Him.  We cannot lift a finger apart from God’s will.


Yet, human beings are also persons, who manifest a degree of independence, a degree of responsible freedom.  To be a person means to be able to make decisions, to set goals, and to move in the direction of those goals.  Humans possess the freedom to make responsible choices; we are not robots governed by an outside source or power.  We have the power of self-determination and self-direction.

Therefore, to be a creature means that I cannot move a finger or utter a word apart from God; to be a person means that when my fingers are moved, I move them and that when words are uttered by my lips, I utter them.  Theologian Robert D. Brimstead writes:  “The creaturehood and the personhood of [the human being] must be held both together and in tension.  When theology stresses creaturehood and subordinates personhood, a hard-faced determinism surfaces and [the human being] is dehumanized . . . . When personhood is stressed to the exclusion of creaturehood, [the human being] is deified and God’s sovereignty is compromised.”

  1. Human beings are God’s image, His imago Dei. The “image” and “likeness” of God is not a human achievement, but a gift conferred on all humans through God’s creative act.  According to Genesis 1, God’s creative activity reached its apex on Day 6, when the divine counsel determined to create man in God’s “image” (tselem) and “likeness” (demut).  These two terms define the first and fundamental truth about the human race:  That humanity was created in God’s “image”, which means that humans represent God.  Humans have the capacity to mirror God in everything—and are commanded to do so.  Since God created male and female in His image (Genesis 1:27), both equally share in that image—both represent God.  [The Hebrew term for “image” is used 17 times in the Old Testament.  It always has the idea of representation.]  The term “likeness” has the idea that human beings resemble God.  Since God is spirit (see John 4), we understand that humanity’s resemblance to God excludes the notion that God has a body.  Rather, “likeness” means that human beings resemble God in what are usually called the communicable attributes of God (e.g., intellect, emotion, will).

That humanity is created in the image and likeness of God to both represent Him and resemble Him stipulates humanity’s uniqueness, dignity and honor as God’s creatures.  No other part of God’s creation shares this position of dignity and significance.  Note too that after God created Adam and Eve in His image and likeness, He greeted them with a benediction (1:27)—to fill the earth and have dominion authority over His world (1:28).  Human beings are thus God’s vice regents; His dominion stewards.

In summary, the human race is both lowly in origin (from “the dust of the earth”) and yet exalted in purpose.  As a created person in God’s image and likeness, humanity reflects the person and work of God the Creator and has the privilege of an intimate, personal relationship with God the Creator, both in time and in eternity. The image of God concept is fundamental to humanity’s relationship to God and to one another.

  1. The imago Dei that defines the identity, value and importance of the human race includes both the material and immaterial dimensions of humanity—the body and the soul.  God not only redeems our souls through the substitutionary death of His Son; He also redeems our bodies.  Indeed, Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body” [ESV].  Furthermore, the body is so important to God that He promises to resurrect it.
  2. Human beings are sinners:  Genesis 3 brings humanity into this rebellion.  Will God’s image-bearers join Satan in his rebellion against God?  The tragic answer is yes, and all the devastation, dysfunction and hurt of a fallen, broken world began.  Wayne Grudem posits two devastating consequences of sin:
  • Sin struck at the basis for moral/ethical standards —i.e., “What is right?”  In the Garden, God defined what was right and wrong.  The test of that standard was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, from which they were not to eat.   Adam and Eve were moral creatures and, when faced with an ethical standard, had the capacity to choose obedience or disobedience.  Satan knew that and successfully challenged God’s goodness and His ethical standards; Adam and Eve joined the rebellion.  As God’s revelation continued to unfold throughout history, humanity has persistently defined “what is right” its own way; ignoring the standards that God as Creator and Sustainer of all life had revealed.
  • Sin also gave a different answer to the question, “Who am I?”  The correct answer was that Adam and Eve were created persons:  Of value and worth as God’s image-bearers, yet dependent on Him and subordinate to Him as dominion stewards (Gen.1:26ff).  But once they sinned, the answer changed— a declaration of independence from God.  Since Genesis 3, humanity has been pursuing autonomy from God—a rejection of Him personally and of His standards.  In our Postmodern world today, humanity has embraced a thoroughgoing pursuit of autonomy, defined as a rejection of authority and ethical standards, all in the name of individual rights and liberties.  [“Every man is doing what is right in his own eyes.”]
  1. As God’s image-bearers redeemed through Jesus Christ, we will value what He values; honor what He honors; and walk in loving obedience with Him in this world of darkness and rebellion.  We will be His salt and His light (Matthew 5:13-16).  We will, therefore, love, honor and value all human beings, regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, gender or sexuality.  We will invite all human beings to be involved in God’s great rescue program, called the Gospel.  We will both represent Him and proclaim Him through our lives and through our words.  In a word, as ambassadors of our King, we will champion grace.  We will be His salt and His light.  With neither pride nor fear, we vow to not be defensive, to not be vindictive and to not retaliate.  We will build a counterculture that represents the values, virtues and standards of our King.  This kingdom counterculture, among other things, is pro-life and posits a healthy, redemptive sexuality.

Jesus declared in John 17:13-18 that we are to be “in the world but not of the world.”  Understanding and applying Jesus’ words produces profound tension. How do we do this?  What does this look like?  Robert Webber suggests that we adopt the “incarnational model” in resolving this tension; we model how Jesus lived:  We identify with the culture in which Christ has placed us, separate from the evils of that culture, all the while seeking to be the agents of God’s transforming grace.  We follow two mandates:

  • The Creation Mandate—As His image-bearers, we have dominion authority over His Creation (Genesis 1:26ff).  We commit to stewarding well everything God has given us (e.g., our time, our bodies, our material possessions, our technology, including AI, etc.).
  • The Missionary Mandate—As His image-bearers, we will be involved in promoting the Gospel to every human being.  As we go, baptize and teach all that Jesus has taught us, we vow “to make disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20).

When the dignity of humanity is disregarded, relegated or unintentionally overlooked the name of our God is disparaged.  Believers are to mirror God:  He loves all human beings; He values their existence and seeks to recognize their value as His image-bearers.  God honors all human beings and has a vested interest in who they are as His creatures.  He grants humans dignity and honors each one with responsible freedom.  His protection of all humanity is reflected in His providential care (i.e., His common grace); in His love for them; and in His provision for their redemption through Jesus Christ.  This is the beginning point for defining and defending the value of humanity in an age of artificial intelligence.

See Adrienne LaFrance in The Atlantic (July/August 2023), pp. 18-20; and James P. Eckman, Sermon Series, “You are Fearfully and Wonderfully Made” Steadfast Bible Fellowship Church, Summer 2021.

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