How conversations with my father have shaped my faith

July 9, 2018

My father doesn’t rest easily. As an engineer and a devoted multitasker, he always has too many tabs open while working on two different screens, looking at excel spreadsheets, email, and news at the same time. Even in his free time, something has to occupy him. He’s usually deep in Scripture, working on the next Sunday school lesson, or attempting to conquer the world in the video game Civilization V. He still can’t sleep without the television on.

I will freely admit that I have acquired this restlessness from him. So, as one might expect from two similar people, sitting in the living room and hanging out is almost never quiet or still. Instead, I’ll bring up something on the news, or he’ll bring up the newest devotional he’s been writing or the newest podcast either of us have been listening to. So begins a conversation, which might start a discussion, which could lead to a debate, which may even turn into an argument. He’ll counter my interpretation of a certain verse or accuse me of saying something that is “fake news.” Or, I’ll mention a differing perspective from an article I read last week or question the relevance of one of his points. We sometimes interrupt each other and increase in volume, but eventually, we end with something we agree on, or at least agree to disagree on. One of us will get thirsty, get up to grab some more sweet tea, and the conversation will end.

At this point, these conversation-discussion-debate-arguments have become a ritual in my house. We always circle back to some new facet of Scripture or piece of political outrage and start anew the next day. My Dad has described it as the search for what is rock and what is sand, hammering away at different foundations. I always liked how he put that, as an engineer who looks for the best place to build a house.

Chipping away at one another

While I enjoy his metaphor, however, I do not follow in my father’s engineer footsteps. I still have plenty of engineer in me, but I approach things from more of a humanities-oriented lens. I see our conversations less like house-building and more like sculpture. To me, it’s always been less about chipping away at different foundations, and more about chipping away, in a sense, at each other. The Renaissance artist Michelangelo, when describing his own work and how he made such beautiful feats of art, offered the simple explanation, “I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free.”

In these conversations with my Dad, I’ve not only seen my knowledge increase, but my faith strengthen. They have, in so many ways, been the guardrails on the road of my walk with God and have implemented Deuteronomy 6 in our family. Moses, immediately after giving the greatest commandment to love God and love one another, tells the Israelites: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:7-9).

I realize conversations like these aren’t for everyone. Whenever the conversation gets too contentious or repetitive, for example, my mother will commonly leave the room. We rarely get angry with each other, however, during the course of the conversations; we just like seeing ideas go at each other. But, it can sometimes sound less like my Dad is obeying Deuteronomy and more like he’s disobeying Ephesians, where the apostle Paul says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

Pointing to the Father

The distinction can occasionally be hazy, but I see the difference very clearly. My father has never made it difficult for me to imagine God as the perfect Father. My Dad has never provoked me in such a way that the image becomes distorted. He is not God—far from it—but the way he speaks and acts make it impossible to miss the fact that God has, and continues to, work in his life. It’s prepared me for college and for my later life as a whole.

Not everyone is blessed to have a dad like I have. We live in a fallen world where many fathers do provoke their children to anger and many more aren’t present at all. That’s why I believe we have an urgent need for Christian fathers—fathers like mine who stand up for, and when necessary, against their children. We also need fathers in the fatih who fill in the gaps that many familial fathers have left. There’s a brand of encouragement a father provides that’s nearly impossible to replicate anywhere else. In addition, the role gives awe-inspiring opportunities to serve as an example of Christ.

The medieval Portuguese playwright Gil Vicente once wrote that “the pursuit of love is like falconry.” It requires circling, a daily ritual of flying back, and returning, and returning, and returning. Likewise, my dad and I continue to argue, debate, and pit our ideas against each other and the occasional bit of fake news. It’s a ritual that shows our love for one another in a form specific to us. I may take after my father and rarely rest easily, yet, thanks to his efforts, I know I walk well. And I always know where to return to.

Benjamin Ball

Benjamin Ball is a member of Princeton University’s undergraduate class of 2021, where he studied English, with minors in African American Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Journalism, History and the Practice of Diplomacy, and Values and Public Life. He was a Managing Editor and Head News Editor for his school’s … 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