Earl: Question on Dualism and AI

I was wondering if I could get your thoughts on the popular belief that consciousness is purely computational and that sooner or later we will develop fully conscious machines that exceed our current level ofintelligence.

Now initially when I reflect on this claim, there is a slight sense in which this notion unwittingly ‘tips the hat’ to Intelligent design, given that Artificial intelligence seems contingent on some prior form of intelligent causation.

Having said that, as a Christian and substance dualist, I also find the notion of Strong A.I troubling on a number of levels. For example, if man were capable of developing so called ‘self-aware machines’, then many might well conclude that this seems to render the idea that humans are somehow special creatures, made in Gods image and distinct in terms of dignity and value, less plausible. Indeed, the same might be said for belief in the soul, unless of course one arbitrarily attributes some kind of soul substance to these self-aware machines of our own creation. Also if humans were to achieve such feats through the advancement of artificial intelligence, then it isn’t difficult to imagine a day where the theological doctrine of ‘Imago Dei’ might well be regarded as a profoundly discriminatory stance to take, given the cognitive qualities of man and ‘machine’. Indeed, I wonder if in this not so far away future, Evangelical Christians could face legal action for espousing this biblical doctrine?

In closing, all of the above keeps me awake at night, and I have been doing my best to find material from Christian philosophers like yourself to engage with this strong A.I position, as like much of the church, I am somewhat ill-informed in this area. I understand that John Searle’s ‘Chinese room’ thought experiment could be used to respond to such claims, though I’m aware that many critics such as Dennet dismiss it as nothing more than an intuition pump which assumes what it sets out to prove. Given the pressing nature of this issue and the fact that it seems to intersect with important concepts like consciousness and the soul, I would greatly value any incites you can spare into this debate.


Welcome to the conversation @thelastearl. Thanks for the questions. Let’s see what people think of it.

I lean more towards Monism, but I don’t think AI is going to put an end to that debate. The question we will always have with AI is if it is actually conscious or simply able to simulate consciousness to the point where it fools us humans. We would also have to ask if there really is a difference between a consciousness and a system that simulates one.

A slightly different take on this question is the hypothetical situation where we genetically modify another ape species to the point where they are as intelligent and sentient as humans. What would we think then? Are we simply biased towards biology when asking these types of questions?

I think chimpanzees and perhaps a number of other animals possess self-awareness and consciousness. Different degrees for sure but I think we can recognize the traits. Not sure how that fits into Christian thought…

Generally I think a lot of the debate over whether hard AI and conscious machines are possible is pointless navel-gazing. We really can’t know unless we try and it’s probably going to take a lot of work to find out. Meanwhile, philosophers of mind can remain gainfully employed, I suppose… :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

No, consciousness is not purely computational. If anything, consciousness is purely biological.

It is unlikely that we will ever develop fully conscious machines. And we cannot even agree on what we mean by “intelligent.”

Nor is there a consensus on the meaning of consciousness.

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