A Week with Robert P. George (Part 2)

April 2, 2014

Editor’s Note: This week, we’ll be running a three-part interview series featuring Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University. A 2009 New York Times profile labeled him the “country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker.” He’s the author of such works as Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism; and Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion, and Morality in Crisis, both necessary guides for discerning our times. Though I’ve never had the privilege of studying with him formally, Robert George has been an academic mentor to me from afar, one whose thinking has been immeasurably impactful.

ATW: Within the conservative movement, you’re known to be as much as a coalition builder as you are a thinker of great repute. Why have you devoted much of your energy to coalitions?

RPG: It seems to me that the future of our civilization depends on whether a coalition can be formed to protect its foundational principles—otherwise they will surely be abandoned. They are obviously under severe assault today, especially in elite sectors of the culture, and a great deal of ground has already been lost. We live at a time, I believe, when the fundamental divisions are not between the different traditions of religious faith, as perhaps they once were.  Rather, the basic division is between those who hold to the basic moral code shared by the various traditions, and rationally defensible as a matter of natural law, on the one side, and those (including some who continue to self-identify as Christians or people of other faiths) who embrace liberal secularism and have jettisoned traditional beliefs, such as belief in the sanctity of human life and the idea of marriage as a conjugal union, in favor of a “new morality.” I am a Catholic, but I feel a much stronger kinship with, for example, my Evangelical, Eastern Orthodox, Mormon, Orthodox Jewish, and Muslim friends, than with liberal Catholics who have—not to put too fine a point on it—sold out on abortion and are now selling out on assisted suicide and euthanasia, not to mention on the conjugal idea of marriage and fundamental points of sexual morality. So I am delighted—and proud—to stand alongside my comrades in arms of many different faiths, to work with them, to be inspired by them, and to learn from them.

ATW: You’ve also been an academic mentor to friends of mine like Sherif Girgis and Ryan Anderson. Can you talk about the importance of academic and worldview mentoring, especially as younger thinkers and scholars emerge?

RPG: Among the greatest blessings of my life are the brave and brilliant young men and women who have studied with me at Princeton and Harvard. Each one is a precious gift from God. You mention Sherif Girgis and Ryan Anderson, who are my co-authors of the book What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense. What an extraordinary pair those two are! I marvel at their intellectual depth, profound faith, and personal courage. I can scarcely claim to have taught them or even been a role model for them. The reverse is closer to the truth—I have learned and been inspired more by them than they by me. And the same is true of so many others—Micah Watson, David Tubbs, Ramesh Ponnuru, Hannah Smith, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, Melissa Moschella, Ted Cruz, Daniel Mark, Cassandra Hough, Jose Joel Alicea, Adele Keim, Fr. Michael McClane, Caitlin Seery, and on and on. I could name hundreds of them now, in fields ranging from politics and journalism to academia and religious life. If I may quote Yankees baseball legend Lou Gehrig, “I am the luckiest man in the world.”

Young intellectuals such as those I’ve mentioned face a tougher job than those of my generation did—in large part because of our failures and delinquencies—but they are more committed and intellectually stronger and better equipped than we were. The task may well be Herculean, but in people like Sherif and Ryan we have our Hercules.

ATW: What advice would you give to young Christians that desire to have a career within the secular academic guild?

RPG: Go for it. Do not be afraid. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated by the hegemony of liberal secularism in the academy. If you’ve got what it takes—and if you are willing to work hard to meet the higher standard that will be demanded of you—you can have a successful and fulfilling career and you can advance the cause of learning and thus serve the cause of Christ in a profoundly important domain of our cultural life.

The natural tendency of aspiring academics who dissent from the left-liberal orthodoxy is to lay low, hide their views, and steer clear of controversy. The plan is to get the doctorate, get an academic job, get tenure, and then perhaps “hoist the Jolly Roger.” I warn my graduate students that this is a mistake. Such a strategy is likely to have a bad effect on the character and personality of people who pursue it, and it probably won’t work anyway. So I advise them to make no secret of their dissent. Indeed, in many cases I suggest making a point of it. There are few things more impressive than a display of brilliance by someone courageous enough to express disagreement with prevailing orthodoxies in places like colleges and universities—institutions that flatter themselves with the myth that “there are no orthodoxies—no sacred cows—here.” I’m certainly glad that I did not personally pursue the strategy of hiding my convictions. Doing the opposite of that forced me to produce better work and, I believe, enabled me to earn the respect—if, in some cases, grudging—of many of my liberal secularist colleagues.

ATW: In the wake of the Arizona religious liberty bill’s veto, it seems that the cultural Left and the LGBT lobby are communicating that a “live and let live” approach to disagreement over sexuality isn’t likely. What are our tactics in combatting the hypocrisy and animus of the Left?

RPG: The best way to deal with hypocrisy of any type is to expose it. We should be relentless in doing that. And there is plenty of it to expose.  Frankly, we did not do enough or do well enough in exposing the lies about the Arizona bill propagated by the enemies of religious freedom and the rights of conscience.  Not enough people—especially religious, political, and intellectual leaders—spoke up.  People who should have been leading the battle were AWOL.  That must never happen again. As for the animus, here is the key thing—and this is my message for every Christian:  Do not be intimidated.  Fear God, not men. Stand up to the bullies. Do not acquiesce.  Do not go silent.  Bear witness—publicly.

To read part one, click here; and be sure to stay tuned for the final installment on Friday.

Robert George
Robert P. George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He has served as a presidential appointee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights and as a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics. You can find him on twitter at @McCormickProf.

Robert P. George

Professor George holds Princeton's celebrated McCormick Chair in Jurisprudence and is the founding director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. He served as chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and before that on the President’s Council on Bioethics and as a … 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