TRANSCRIPT: How can a Christian become well-versed in ethics?

April 29, 2014

Hello, this is Russell Moore, and this is Questions and Ethics, the program where we take your questions about moral and ethical issues and try to answer them through the lens of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And the question that I have today is from André, and André says, “Dr. Moore, what can a lay Christian do to become well versed in ethics?”

That is a really good question, and the answer that I am going to give to you is not so much a list of books to read, although it’s always good to read books. I think the most important thing sounds obvious, but it’s really not, and that is to be well versed in the scriptures—to know the Bible. And I don’t mean that you need to go and learn Greek and Hebrew. I mean knowing your English Bible really well.

There are a lot of Christians who know specific proof texts, but they don’t know how to understand the whole fabric of the scriptures, to be able to inhabit the world of the scriptures and to be able to see how those things apply to ethical issues and moral issues that are happening in your life, including those that aren’t easily proof text-able or those that seem to be new. I mean we live in a time where because of technology there are all sorts of ethical issues that we haven’t had to think about before. But they are really not new. There is nothing new under the sun, the scriptures tell us, but there are just new applications of old principles.

So, for instance, one of the things that I have to answer a lot from parents is what do I do about an iPhone or an Android phone—a Smartphone for my pre-teen or young teenage son or daughter? Now, that is a question that we can answer, but it’s the sort of question that, frankly, fifteen years ago, if you had described that question and described what a Smartphone is, it would have sounded like science fiction to be able to do all of this on one little brick-like device that you have. And if we were to try to speculate about the sorts of questions that people are going to have to address in the church in the next fifteen years, or the next twenty years—what do we do with artificial intelligence? How do we think about that child in Vacation Bible School who was cloned? Those are questions that may seem science fiction-ish to us right now, but they are really dealing with very old, ancient issues being brought to the forefront in a new way.

The second thing I would say is to develop an understanding of human nature, and I think that means listening and developing empathy with people in different situations from the situation that you find yourself in right now. I mean, frankly, right now one of the things that I miss the most since I have been here as president of the ERLC is counseling. Sometimes people will say do you miss life in the academy? I really don’t because I get to do so much of that. What I miss is when I was serving in a pastoral role at a church and then also in my function at the seminary is there would be, every day, people who were coming in, in crisis situations, and I am counseling them through that. And it helped me to learn to understand and to develop empathy for people in situations that I just don’t have to face—people who have different points of vulnerability or different points of suffering from the points of vulnerability or suffering that I have. So when I am talking to that widower who is lonely after  the death of his wife—I’ve never been through that—but in talking to him and ministering to him now I pay attention to that more—to people who are lonely because of death of a loved one. When I am dealing with someone who is facing some particular temptation that I have never faced—talking to compulsive gamblers or talking to people who are addicted to prescription drugs, I no longer caricature those things. I pay attention to how does someone find himself or find herself in that situation.

Now, you may not be in a situation where you are counseling people, at least not in any formal sense, but you can still pay attention to the struggles that people have, to help you to understand human nature, which helps you to understand yourself. I remember there would be many times when I would counsel someone—I remember talking one time with a husband and wife and the husband was having an extramarital affair, and he was sitting in my office justifying why what he was doing isn’t wrong. And he is sitting there—they had a little baby who was probably six weeks old in a car seat on the floor, and I am thinking guy! How can you do this? Don’t you see the pain in your wife? Don’t you see your child? Why would you walk away from all of this? And when he left, I realized what are those areas in my own life that I don’t see—those areas that everybody else would be able to say why can’t you see this, but I can’t? It helps you develop that sense of awareness to some degree that you might not have before.

And then I would say also reading good literature, especially fiction, is more important that keeping up with current events. That’s not to say that it’s not important to keep up with current events, but I think that reading good fiction can help you to get inside the minds of people different from you in a way that is more significant than simply knowing here is what this group of talking heads and that group of talking heads are saying about this particular issue that is going on right now.

And so those would be the main things that I would say that you can do to immediately start developing a sense of becoming more well versed in ethics.

What’s your question? Send it to me at [email protected]: Maybe something that you are reading about in the Bible or maybe something you are facing at your workplace or in your neighborhood or in your family. Send it to me and we will try to answer it here on Questions and Ethics.

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