Do our bodies really matter in this technological age?

Uploading our minds and downgrading our dignity

September 23, 2019

Imagine a future where we have convinced ourselves that everything we know and experience can be reduced down to some chemical process or explained away as ultimately insignificant. In this world, there is nothing truly unique about us, our families, or the world around us. We are merely highly-evolved sets of matter, and everything including our emotions, spirituality, and desires can be explained away as a chemical reaction in our brains. Our minds and bodies are not intricately connected; our mortal bodies simply serve as containers for our minds, which can be transferred from one place to another via a technique called “mind uploading.”

A couple of weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from a new book by neuroscientist and psychologist Michael S.A. Graziano, who teaches at Princeton University, titled Rethinking Consciousness: A Scientific Theory of Subjective Experience. Graziano argues that we are much closer to the ability to upload a human mind than many might think because we have already been able to create artificial brains, albeit on a small scale, and are now trying to overcome the second hurdle of scanning a human brain. 

Old questions with a new twist 

In this excerpt, Graziano asked some of the most fundamental questions about the nature of man and philosophical questions about the real “you” in a world of digital copies and simulations produced through mind uploading. Lest we think this conversation is for doctors and ivory-tower academics only, the questions being asked are the same types of questions that humanity has always wrestled with. The difference now is the perceived possibilities that have arisen in light of advanced technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics.

From the beginning, man has sought to challenge God by arguing that we know better than the creator of the universe. In Genesis, we read that God created everything, including us as his unique image-bearers (Gen. 1:26-27). But by Genesis 3, humanity had already sought to resist the created order and question the goodness of God. Questions of “Did God really say?” and thoughts of I know better than God originated in the garden, where we exchanged the truth of God for the lie that we must know better.

From the beginning, man has sought to challenge God by arguing that we know better than the creator of the universe.

In the early Christian church, there was a popular belief, known as gnosticism, among many that our minds and souls were much more valuable than our bodies. Gnosticism is the belief that the material world is inherently evil and corrupt, but souls are inherently good. This led many to treat the body as less than, thus viewing death as freeing us from the container that held us for so long. In modern-day belief, this segmentation of humanity takes a new form where the mind is seen as the real “you.” The body is only valuable as the hardware that’s holding the software of the real you. And it’s believed that our minds can thus be uploaded to the “cloud” in order to live in a digital afterlife without the shackles of the fleshly body.

Downgrading our dignity

The Bible teaches something very different from the heresy of gnosticism. We see throughout Scripture how the body is to be valued and honored, not viewed merely as a container for our minds but upheld as an integral part of who we really are. The best example of this is seen in the person and work of our Savior. Jesus Christ took on human flesh, became man, and dwelt among us (John 1:4). Jesus lived the perfect human life in full obedience to his Father and demonstrated the value of the soul and body as a connected whole when he was murdered and raised from the dead. The resurrection shows us that the flesh that so many disregard in light of modern technology is actually an integral part of who we are. We are not fully human without our bodies. Christ was not raised from the dead in some spiritual sense (1 Cor. 15:20-21). He is still and will forever be the incarnate Son of God who told Thomas to touch his wounds and know that he is real (John 20:27)

Christianity teaches that our flesh is indeed broken. And the desire to want to escape our bodies is understandable in a world of so much suffering. But the hope that we have as Christians is that our bodies can and will be redeemed by the finished work of Christ on the cross (Rev. 21:4-5). We will live in eternal communion with our Savior in resurrected bodies. So to answer the question that Graizano asked throughout his essay, the real you is the embodied you. While we may be able to make a copy of our brains in the future, our minds are not who we really are. We’re much more than some materialist version of the self.

Testing the spirits

In our modern world of technological wonders and advancements, it’s easy for us to get caught up in the hype of what’s coming around the corner. We see new marvels almost every day that shatter what we believed was possible. We grow accustomed to these advances and often take those with credentials at their word when they dream of what might be. But Christians are people of the book. 1 John 4:1 tells us that we are not to believe every spirit in this world, but are to test the spirit to make sure they are of God. It’s tempting in our technology-rich society to be swayed from the truth of God, and we will be if we aren’t anchored to the Word of the everlasting God.

Even as many like famed computer scientist Ray Kurzweil, technologist Elon Musk, and Graziano promote the idea of uploading our minds and escaping the confines of our fleshly existence, we must seek to test the theories they promote against the truth of Scripture and what God has already spoken. Our faith demands it. Furthermore, much of what is considered settled fact in science takes massive steps of faith on the part of those who hold to these beliefs. Many problems with this line of thinking still exist such as the question of consciousness, simply knowing you exist or “thinking about thinking,” as well as the foundation of morality and ethics in a materialistic world. I look forward to Graziano’s full work on consciousness and how he deals with these questions.

We must engage in honest dialogue with one another about these pressing issues and perennial questions. It’s easy for us to outsource deep reflection to others with advanced degrees because we don’t feel equipped to pose the tough, but needed questions. But the Christian life isn’t one of shallow faith or belief. Throughout the New Testament, we see leaders like Paul, John, and Peter challenging the Church to rise up and engage the philosophical debates of the day with the truth of God’s Word. May we take up that call to engage the world around us as it is rather than how we wish it to be. Let’s step out in faith, asking the hard questions, and ultimately find our hope in the One that took on flesh and dwelt among us to save us from our unbelief.

Jason Thacker

Jason Thacker serves as senior fellow focusing on Christian ethics, human dignity, public theology, and technology. He also leads the ERLC Research Institute. In addition to his work at the ERLC, he serves as assistant professor of philosophy and ethics at Boyce College in Louisville Kentucky. He is the author … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24