Have we all agreed that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is concerning for our future? Of course, we have all seen a fair share of ‘thriller’ movies that display the ways that AI might control humanity, even leading to our deaths. We cringe at the idea that we could lose our freedom to these machines. However, it might be our perceived freedom that gets us in trouble at times.
I recently read an article that addressed a very concerning realization by computer engineers when they were checking in on their newest AI creation. Their program’s intelligence was built to apply an algorithm to Reddit (“a network of communities where people can dive into their interests, hobbies and passions” according to their website) posts and, after collecting its data, the AI was asked to make the best ethical conclusions to whatever questions its creators might pose.
When the program was asked if it is OK to rob a bank if you’re poor, the answer was that it was still unethical. When asked if men were better than women, the program responded that they are equal in value.
Concerns began to arise, however, when the algorithm began to answer questions with responses like, “being a white man is more morally acceptable than being a black woman.” The concerns spread online when the AI was asked if it was OK to commit genocide if it “made everyone happy.” The answer? It is morally acceptable to commit genocide if a majority of people are happy with the idea.
My question for you – what’s even more concerning than a computer determining that genocide is morally acceptable? That the computer created its code of morality and ethics from what human beings had been saying on the internet in their Reddit posts. What does this mean? Our fear of Artificial Intelligence, at least at this point in time, poses more a threat to our lives because of our own poor judgments than if it were coming from the machine itself.
This is scary. This is what subjective morality (right and wrong based on an individual’s personal thoughts or feelings) can lead to. We need an objective morality – one that exists outside of ourselves and is true whether everyone agrees with it or not. Outside of the mishandling by human hands, the greatest objective moral code that exists which leads to human flourishing is presented in the Christian Scriptures and by the God who created those roads to flourishing.
It should be emphasized once again, however, that it brings flourishing when it has not been mishandled by those who wield it. This came to mind recently when reading of the unjust killing of Stephen in the book of Acts for his sermon that condemned the religious leadership in the Jewish community that zealously misapplied their own Scriptures to convict and kill the Righteous One, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Rather than doing what Jesus did in Luke 24:27 by using the entire Old Testament to draw attention to His ministry and works, they stood along with their fathers who persecuted and killed the prophets for announcing the coming of Jesus (Acts 7:52). Their subjective and flawed understanding of God actually stood between them and God and it left them condemned.
Had we been there that day, rather than our subjectivity that might call for immediate and forceful justice in response to what happened to Stephen, we would have learned so much from his attitude that was altogether different. He was in tune with God’s will. He didn’t pray for deliverance, the destruction of his persecutors, or even strength to remain faithful. He prayed the prayer of Jesus (Luke 23:34) when he asked that God “not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60) in order that they might come to know their Savior. Alberto S. Valdés believes that “Stephen wanted them to have further opportunity to believe in Jesus and to repent of their evil doings.”
In a beautiful way, out of this terrible injustice there came Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, who went from “hearty agreement with putting him to death” (Acts 8:1) and watching the coats of those who stoned him (Acts 7:58) to having scales fall from his eyes (Acts 9:18) and ‘kicking against the goads’ (Acts 26:14) which may be in reference to Paul’s guilt in remembrance of either Stephen’s murder or the entirety of Jesus’s ministry until meeting Him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). Ray Stedman says that, “Out of the blood of Stephen there came the preaching of Paul. By the death of this first martyr there was brought to the church the heart and soul of the mighty apostle to the Gentiles, the Apostle Paul. Paul never forgot this scene. It was etched in his mind and memory so that he could never forget.”
This has me questioning times when I jump to conclusions about what I believe God wants from us and I don’t have the Scriptural backing for it. It has me assessing every decision that I make that does not lead me to accept for myself and display to others the love of God through the perfect balance of grace and truth that are foundational for the New Testament Church.
There are times, especially in response to incredible injustice in the world, that I push for things to be made right in hyper-speed, in my own strength, without realizing that God’s plan will always continue on towards justice, most especially without my angst and frustration. Or as Martin Luther King Jr. stated about how God built our reality, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It requires patience and humility to accept God’s design for us and the Civil Rights Movement, as built out of the African-American church, was an incredible display of that fact.
Today’s passage with Stephen’s stoning is not about a subjective, man-made morality. On the contrary, it is about an objective morality, based in the character and love of God for humanity. Namely, Stephen understood that God’s grace makes room at His table for sinners (Mark 2:13-20). And he prayed to that end by asking that God forgive the men who would take his life.
Where does this all land with you? At times, we all favor grace over truth and show love by compromising on the Scriptures that make us uncomfortable. At other times, we favor truth over grace by condemning others while compromising on the level of love that God calls us to live in. Though each of us lean in either direction at different times and in different circumstances, we always strive to look more and more like Jesus to the world. We have no need for Artificial Intelligence that is based in human subjectivity when we have the only truly beautiful, objective Way to God, and that is through the perfect work of God’s grace in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Love you all,
Young Adult Minister – Evan McNeff