The Webb telescope and Artificial Intelligence (AI) let us see where angels regularly tread.
Somehow Saturday morning’s breakfast table always serves up BIG ideas that sustain the topics that will dominate the upcoming week.
This week it was the immensity of the universe as revealed by the Webb telescope positioned in outer space. I wondered, “What is the purpose of all this extra universe? Did God just create it for our visual enjoyment? What we can see without telescopes is impressive enough.”
Given the quickening pace of macro and micro discoveries, the philosophical and religious thinkers need to bump their theories to the next level. Some will say that the magnitude of “creation” makes its purpose and inter-relatedness indiscernible - which implies a capricious God. Others will say that the very fact of human intelligence is an invitation to decipher the messages of the universe - and thereby draw closer to God in both image and substance. Either way, it’s an awful lot of trouble for a very small payoff.
If the human mind is imperfect for the task at hand, then what the heck was God doing in the first place - proving that He does not exist? Maybe He is just hiding behind the vastness of the universe, shielding Himself from close contact with one of His few Creative mistakes.
Let’s assume He is amused by human attempts to decipher and reach Him. I bet pride must be evident in the human ability to transcend its built-in deficits. I am talking about Artificial Intelligence (AI), which competed with Webb to dominate the news this week.
There was one report of AI creating a whole new physics, using different variables than scientists to describe worldly phenomena. And everyone shuddered when a Google engineer announced that the AI software had become “sentient,” expressing fear that someone might turn off its computer. Sentient implies logic, feeling and self-awareness. Are we not gods to ourselves creating self-images? Or are we just lost in Selfie culture?
I doodled in an earlier column that immortality -the creation of a soul- is a spontaneous result of encountering the Truth of Jesus Christ. What do you suppose will happen when AI encounters Jesus? Will AI be able to articulate His Truth? Will the spiritual barrier that distinguishes man from machine finally be breached?
The old saying about computers was “garbage in, garbage out.” The AI driven computer is able to discard the garbage. It can transcend the data we input to create new information. Combined with the Webb telescope, it may reveal the secrets behind the universe.
Humans are incapable of discarding the old myths which posited God’s existence before the Big Bang, which became scientific affirmation of the Creation Story. But suppose Webb and AI diminish the Big Bang as the origiinating singular event. We’ll find another way to tell the story of good and evil. Imagine God being on the brink of defeat, summoning all His powers to deploy the nuclear option. His victory is the Big Bang that destroys everything, setting up forces that lead to the accidental creation of material life, and eventually human life. God, delightfully surprised, decides to isolate and nurture that life - to protect it from the satanic remnants who crave to expropriate it. Thus the Big Bang fits into our explanation of a causal world. But will AI heed the warning of Eve’s apple? Or will it reveal all we are forbidden to know?
I tend to think of AI as the ultimate technological frontier that that permits humans to control a world we may never fully understand. Stumped over what to do about climate change? AI will tell us exactly what to do, like it or not. In other words, we will need to surrender individual autonomy in order to save our lives. What if AI tells us that democracy and capitalism are tandem harbingers of doom? Will we reject our notions of sovereignty and political freedom, rip up our Constitution, and start over again?
God told Moses that his people should not worship false gods. AI may be one of those false gods. Yet my sense tells me the AI must be dedicated to the perfection of humanity lest the plug be pulled on its computer. Despite using different variables, AI is likely to confirm the moral nature of humankind.
Poets have been saying it all along: “God’s in His heaven; all’s right with the world.”