Altering Reality?

Sexuality and Technology In a Broken World

Jason Thacker

In 2019, the ERLC launched the first-ever faith-based statement of principles on artificial intelligence addressing how AI is shaping our world. It sought to highlight how the Church might navigate some of the most pressing ethical areas in which AI technology was being developed and deployed.1https://erlc.com/resource-library/statements/artificial-intelligence-an-evangelical-statement- of-principles/ One of the most controversial and widely discussed parts of the statement was the article on sexuality, technology, and AI, focusing on how emerging technologies are being used in ways that fundamentally alter how we view our bodies and the nature of sexuality.

Many non-Christian (and some Christian) readers did not think the issues of sexuality and technology fit together. A common refrain was: “Who would want to have sex with a robot?!” The critics assumed this was another ill-fated attempt by evangelicals to insert “socially backward” views of sexuality into the public conversation. Many echoed the sentiment of moral philosopher Peter Singer who claimed religious people often think of ethics in terms of sexuality where “puritanical prohibitions” reign.2Singer, Peter. Practical Ethics. 3rd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011, 1.

If the use of sex robots were the only real concern at the intersection of sexuality and technology, I would agree with critics regarding the article’s strangeness. But the two are much more intertwined than many realize. Technological advancements are profoundly shaping how we view God, ourselves, and the world around us. These tools routinely empower us to alter foundational aspects of our bodies, permitting us to “bend” (at least in our minds) physical reality and giving the illusion that we have God-like abilities to create at will. 

Bending Realities Toward Our Desires

In two of his landmark works, Sources of the Self and A Secular Age, Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor notes that there are two distinct ways of viewing reality. Before the modern era, people saw the world through the lens of fixed realities and with some level of moral objectivity. Our original understanding of truth and reality was mimetic, akin to the artist who seeks to paint something exactly as he or she sees it. This way of thinking seeks to mimic, imitate, and represent something we observe in reality that is not open to alteration or manipulation. As historian Carl Trueman notes, our goal as humanity is to “discover that meaning and conform [ourselves] to it.3”Trueman, Carl R. The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020, 39.

The acceptance of fixed moral realities has been the predominant view throughout most of human history for good reason. By and large, humanity did not think it possible to change or alter basic aspects of reality. For example, childbirth as the natural outcome of sex and biology determining gender were both self-evident. To use the terminology of our day concerning sexuality, one’s gender identity historically corresponded to one’s biology, flowing from those set realities. Simply put, a male was a biological man, and a female was a biological woman. There was no real question about these basic biological truths, nor was any disconnect between the mind and body seen as grounds for altering or mutilating the body. This recognition of reality was central in a pre-modern, pre-Enlightenment context.

However, as notions of progress took root, we began seeing the world in a more poietic sense, viewing truth as something humans can create, produce, form, and manipulate toward our own ends. Without inherent order from a creator God, our bodies became something to be altered to fit our internal perception of ourselves. As Abigail Favale notes, “The body is an object with no intrinsic meaning; we give it whatever meaning we want, using technology to undo what is perceived to be ‘natural’. We do not receive meaning from God or our bodies or the world—we impose it.”4Favale, Abigail Rine. The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2022. 30-31. This pursuit of total autonomy is centered on severing truth from its root in God’s design.

This fundamental shift in worldview was aided by technological innovations that offered the chance to envision new ways of being human, especially as it relates to our bodies and the natural responsibilities that flow from the sexual union of a man and woman in marriage. Modern medical procedures (puberty-blocking and cross-sex hormone medical protocols) and surgeries (“gender-affirming” or body-modification elective surgeries) are all forms of technology that help perpetuate a god-like view of humanity that believes we have the authority and ability to alter God’s good design for our bodies and sexuality.

Christian Ethics in a Poietic World

Sinful humanity has long sought to chart our own paths contrary to the created order, and the use of powerful technologies has aided us in believing that lie that we can. Yet, these innovations do not actually alter the realities of God’s creation, nor will they bring about the happiness and peace for which we ultimately long. The sinful rejection of God’s good design for sexuality does not invalidate God’s claim of authority over us, even if we seek to suppress those fundamental truths in our unrighteousness (Rom. 1-2). 

God’s ways are true and beautiful because this is God’s world and we are his creatures. We are made according to his image, distinctly male and female, and called to live according to his purpose (Gen. 1:26-28)—one that is higher than the temporal, sexual gratification our society often seeks. As Christians face complex technological challenges, we must stand upon the truth of God’s created order, point others to its inherent goodness, and proclaim the fact that we cannot truly alter the realities of God’s design, even if our modern capabilities tempt us to believe the lies of a self-created world.

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 or editor of several books including the Essentials in Christian Ethics series, The Age of AIFollowing Jesus in a Digital Age, and The Digital Public Square. He is a graduate of The University of Tennessee and Southern Seminary, where he is currently a PhD candidate in Christian ethics and public theology.

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