Faith and Artificial Intelligence - Humanity's greatest schism

I feel this is a relationships that has not been considered adequately and requires some thought from believers and agnostics/atheists alike. Notably more theologians will need to help believers figure out how to reconcile their faith with a world that is increasing focused on intelligence.

Recently, an article in the Atlantic

did an excellent job of framing the discussion and some of the key challenges that face faith-based thinking as the rise of artificial intelligence accelerates. The title asks if AI is a threat to Christianity. While I like the content of the article, I really don’t like the title. The reason I dislike the title, is that I don’t think AI poses any threat directly to Faith, rather I think it will polarize faith and humanity. I think it will inspire greater faith in some . While others who eschew faith and revere intelligence will “leave behind” people who will not adopt/accept their automated/algorithmic ways. I am convinced that AI will provide people with an edge over those who may choose to not fully embrace technology, at least with respect to life on earth.

The divide is a natural one actually. Intelligence is based on the mind, learning and “proving” things to create belief and understanding. Whereas “faith”, means to believe in something without proof. So while I refer to this as a great schism, it is also a natural divide that has separated man from time immemorial. It’s naturalness however doesn’t make it any less troubling and problematic.

As the Executive Director of ForHumanity, I am not trying to choose sides in this debate as I believe both sides are entitled to their views and beliefs, however this article is designed to highlight the risk to people of faith, in a world that is increasingly dominated by artificial intelligence. You might ask why would people of faith need to be defended? My answer is that I believe people of faith are likely to become a persecuted and marginalized minority. ForHumanity fights for the basic rights of ALL humans and in this case, I believe AI & Automation pose a risk to the freedoms and the sheer acceptance of people of faith in basic society.

The persecution will stem from minor rejections of society’s technological advancements. But eventually it will likely come to actual choices that are “the path not chosen”. For example, the digital download of the mind or cloning. Assuming it comes to pass, you will have to make a choice, do I do it? or not? Those who choose not to will be permanently separated from those that choose to do it? Think of how stem-cell debates are already raging at a societal level. It’s a perfect example of the divide.

The persecution will be passive at first. Rejection of technology will be scoffed at, as it already today… “What? You don’t use Facebook? How do you stay in touch with your friends?” Let’s not even get started on people without mobile phones, are they neanderthals? These are small levels of disagreement between people accepting and rejecting forms of technology, yet they separate people nonetheless. Sooner, rather than later, technological advancements will force people of faith to choose between technology and their faith. The article above does cover a few concepts that will directly challenge faith and while some may seem like science fiction, others are closer than they seem.

Now we have to get into the meat of the discussion and unfortunately people will not like it. As AI expands and approaches Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), we will find that the AGI will become revered in the same way that God is revered by people of Faith. And these two things are NOT compatible. Atheists and Agnostics, once society’s outcasts themselves, have become mainstream and accepted in a world that celebrates intelligence. Similar to today’s political divide, people will do two things, seek out information that supports their beliefs and seek out information that tears down the beliefs that diverge from their own. This leads to vitriol and division. Debates without compassion and empathy always do. Debates without intent to bridge the difference are about winning arguments, rather than compromise.

Here’s where the persecution comes in. People of faith, will not be able to defend their positions with evidence and proof that is acceptable to atheists and agnostics. It’s by definition that this is true. So when people of faith begin to reject technologies that are required for mainstream assimilation and acceptance into society without evidence, they are likely to be set apart from society. Furthermore, when they begin to rejects the laws and edicts of a society that does not allow for their faith, then the schism will begin. People of faith often talk about other gods than their God. Examples are money, prestige, looks, and fame. However, from this author’s perspective, society has begun to revere intelligence as a god and the subsequent power it provides to self, which is complete counter the core principals of most monotheistic faiths.

All of this potential schism and conflict can be avoided with compassion, empathy and tolerance. Three traits that I’ve seen humanity display with amazing grace at times. My hope is that those in control, which is likely to be the faction which chooses intelligence over faith will display the kind of grace that required to allow for the fundamental freedom guaranteed by the constitution - the freedom of religion.