Politicians, Higher Education, and Wisdom’s Children

March 11, 2015

Americans are certainly not strangers to controversies surrounding our political figures. From John Adams’s Alien and Sedition acts to Thomas Jefferson’s slaves to Bill Clinton’s carnal escapades, our political leadership history is filled with more than its fair share of crimes and misdemeanors. Incumbent upon citizens is the election of wise and righteous leaders, not perfect ones. Which imperfections are more serious than others, though, is too often a case of what a gallon of gasoline costs when the scandal breaks.

But what about Scott Walker? The Wisconsin governor is a hopeful for the Republican nomination to the Presidency. He is popular with many conservatives and has a strong track record of effective leadership in his home state. Yet around Walker has developed a cloud of controversy, and suddenly his fitness for the Oval Office is in serious question. What is this new dilemma?

Scott Walker never finished college.

To some, that sentence and its preceding paragraph should feature prominently in an encyclopedia of the world’s most anti-climatic revelations. Many Americans are not only untroubled by Walker’s summa cum nil, they are actually enamored by it. For these Americans—predominantly conservative in politic and modest in means—Walker’s lack of a college degree bespeaks a man who isn’t merely the product of a system monopolized by nihilistic secularism. It also makes Walker a more relatable figure to the roughly two thirds of Americans who have no higher education. These Americans tend to prioritize experience and character over education in their own families and communities. A Presidential nominee who reflects these values, then, is a welcome sight for them.

To others, however, Walker’s incomplete career in university is a serious matter that casts doubts about his ability to lead at the highest level. These concerned Americans would object that while a college degree does not itself bestow the capacity to lead the free world, it is one of Western culture’s most reliable indicators of intellectual maturity and readiness. If, as research strongly suggests, a bachelor’s degree is often the difference between those with jobs and those with careers, it should certainly be the difference between those with the power of nuclear warfare and those without it.

One’s opinion about a potential President’s non-matriculation is indeed a combination of views about education, leadership, American culture, and even human nature. Among Americans who identify as conservative, you are likely to find a latent skepticism towards the elite bastions of higher education and an earnest belief that real political leadership would be better off learning America in a manufacturing plant or on a farm than in Harvard Yard. The merit of this perspective is that college education is indeed often abstract and theoretical in a way that can feed a student’s idle curiosities without bestowing real leadership training.

On the other hand, more progressive voters would likely look at a candidate’s empty diploma shelf and conclude either intellectual dullness or a naive insularity against the real world. This take also makes an important point, namely, that a university education is, at its best, an antidote to the human tendency to cling onto to cliches and mantras that most of us bring into contexts of intellectual exchange. A college degree is, in our current culture anyway, an endorsement by someone, somewhere that its holder has had their basic assumptions tested and has achieved, in whatever measure, an amount of personal triumph over ignorance.

So where does that leave us? Should a person who aspires to the highest office in the land be expected to have letters after his name? Or should future leaders be encouraged to invest their time away from the classroom? My answer to both questions is yes.

In Luke 7, Jesus perceives that many who are disbelieving in what He says are simply refusing to do anything else. After all, Jesus says, John the Baptist abstained from feasts and was an outsider, but the crowds dismissed him as insane. By contrast, the Lord says He came “eating and drinking,” but the same crowds quickly switched their standards to justify their unbelief: “You say, behold a gluttonous man and a drunkard; a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” Jesus then gives us a crucial principle, not just for religion and theology but for all of life: “Wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

Wisdom is proved right by her deeds. In other words, talk is cheap, and the things people do evidence whether they have authentic wisdom. In the case of the people to whom Jesus delivered this truth, meaningless moral platitudes enabled evasion of the obligation to respond correctly to truth claims. The people thought what they were saying was wisdom, but since it led them to justify their end-around of truth, it was not wisdom at all.

What does that mean for the conversation about politicians and higher education? It means that leaders should be judged and elected if they demonstrate real wisdom, not just in talk but in deed. In the case of the missing college degree, this might cut both ways. A Bachelor of Arts does not magically infuse its owner with the wisdom and knowledge needed to lead a nation, but on the other hand, a lukewarm attitude towards learning and meaningful study might indicate a lack of wisdom about truth. Do a candidate’s actions (and not just words and media pull quotes) demonstrate wisdom consistently?

Jesus’s words also tell us that if we want to know whether a candidate has wisdom, we need to know where to look. The King James Version translates the phrase “wisdom is known by her deeds” as “wisdom is known by her children.” The idea there is that a persons life creates a legacy that will tell you important truth about them. This is a reminder to look beyond a politician’s academic credential or everyman charisma to understand whether or not they are or will be a wise leader.

Education and experience need not be rivals. Both are subservient to a greater virtue, Wisdom. Scripture reminds us that wisdom can be found in the righteousness—or lack thereof—that each of us leaves in our wake, whether our lives take us through the halls of higher learning or the farmlands of our forefathers.

Samuel James

Samuel James serves as Communications Specialist in the Office of the President. He received his B.A. from Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky. He and his wife, Emily, live in Louisville and have one son. Read More by this Author

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