The Beauty of Transcendent Truths

Appealing to Non-Christians in the Public Square

Andrew T. Walker

What if I told you that many of the moral presuppositions—such as human rights and dignity—that our culture operates on, even those who would call themselves “secular” or “progressive,” borrow largely from a Christian worldview? If that’s the case, then the way Christians operate in our culture with non-Christians is really a matter of showing them that attempting to divorce those concepts from their foundation in the Christian faith is illogical. 

Everyone is benefiting from having lived in a civilization influenced by Christianity. The question is how to help non-Christians recognize that reality. One of the easiest ways for Christians to appeal to non-Christians and to work in the public square with them is to remind them that we are the carriers of a moral tradition that grounds, explains, and secures concepts like human rights, dignity, and the very nature of truth itself. 

What Christianity Offers 

Let’s take something almost universally celebrated in our culture, the Declaration of Independence. Its famous words read: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This famous declaration of American ideals cannot be understood apart from the Christian (and Enlightenment) worldview that birthed it. 

This does not mean that America is a Christian nation or that our Founders were all born-again Christians. It does mean, however, that Christianity profoundly influenced the philosophical currents that our Founders swam in. Take just a few of its words: “Truth,” “self-evident,” “equal,” “endowed,” “Creator,” “unalienable rights,” “life,” “liberty,” and “happiness.” These deeply theological concepts do not just arise from people asserting them to be true. Rather, they must be grounded in transcendent truths if they are to be coherent. 

The idea that there are self-evident truths means that everyone understands fundamental moral principles by virtue of being human (e.g., murder is wrong), a truth that is indebted to Scripture (Romans 1). The idea that humans are equal was a fantastical claim at the time—it insisted that every person deserves the same types of protections simply by virtue of their existence, drawn from a wellspring stretching back to Genesis 1. The Declaration insists these truths emanate from our Creator, and the “rights” that humans enjoy by virtue of being human are the very reason why governments are ordained—to protect and secure them so that we can flourish. 

But where does the idea that humans have any value or rights worth recognizing come from in the first place? That’s where Christianity comes in. The power of Christianity is that it gave coherence to a framework of universal dignity and equality. Though not always carried out perfectly, the logic of universal dignity was found in the earliest pages of Genesis where man and woman both bear the image of God. 

Further, Christianity placed limits on the power of those in authority by reminding them that they were subject to a higher power. If God is God, then Caesar is not (Matthew 22). Christianity provided the foundation to see each person as bearing inviolable rights under the rule of law.  

Even when the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights was drafted, it was reported that one of the members of the drafting committee left the meeting and told a reporter, “We are unanimous about these rights on the condition that no one asks why.” That’s a stunning admission. It reminds us that all human beings desire certain freedoms to live lives of integrity, meaning, and purpose. 

However secular and religious, worldview systems have an immensely difficult time explaining why this moral impulse exists and why it should be protected at all costs. Christianity offers something that other belief systems cannot adequately match—an explanation. It’s easy to take that for granted, and indeed, our culture does just that.

This is not to imply that America and Christians have a perfect record on human rights. Christians, just like the world, can get things grievously wrong. We can be cowards, hypocrites, and oppressors if we’re following the culture rather than Christ. We see this in no more of a glaring example than the Declaration of Independence’s incoherence of announcing that all men are created equal even as slave owners drafting the document held fellow image-bearers in bondage. 

All this reminds us of is that we can have logs in our eyes while focusing on the speck in others’ (Matt. 7:5). We need to be constantly evaluating our moral principles against Scripture, and publicly admit and repent when we find ourselves in error.

The Christian’s Path Forward 

The British historian Tom Holland, himself not a Christian, was asked in a recent forum how he thought Christians should position themselves in an increasingly post-Christian and even anti-Christian culture. In his remarkable reply, he explains what an appealing path forward for Christians should embody:1https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6w7qw9kJ9k

Because the West has been so hegemonic for so long, it’s been in a position to assume its concept of human rights is universal. They don’t need to think about it. Of course, human rights exist. What the rise of China and other civilizational powers is doing is to remind us that the concept of human rights is one that has emerged in a specific cultural matrix, which is a Christian one. Therefore, if you want to believe in human rights, you have to believe. It takes a leap of faith to believe that there are things called human rights just as much as it takes a leap of faith to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead. They’re both beliefs. And the fact is that most people in the west sign up to the fact that human rights exist and they’re important and that they should determine public policy. It’s as rooted in theology and myth and metaphysics as all the teachings of Christianity. And, I think once people are reminded of that, I think [it] becomes impossible not to feel a greater sense of what Christianity is about. If you believe in human rights, why not believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Reminding people that the core beliefs that are fundamental to how people morally define themselves is rooted in faith reopens the possibility for secularists to recognize that they have not emancipated themselves from their need for faith. They continue to illustrate it and contemplating that then reopens the possibility to think well, “Where might this practice of believing in fantastical things might lead?”

Did you catch what Holland is saying? He’s saying that it’s a good and necessary apologetic for Christians to bring up their contribution to human rights doctrine, but we shouldn’t stop there. The same God who values human beings is the same God who Christians believe raised Jesus from the dead. We should not shy away from declaring both.

A non-Christian is giving Christians a playbook that says, in effect, “If you like the human rights doctrine that Christianity helped further, then just wait until you hear about Jesus Christ rising from the dead.” These aren’t unrelated realities. The same God who gives life is the same God who resurrects it.

These concepts we take for granted, like truth, rights, and human dignity, make possible one of the most basic explanations for how Christians think about our shared existence alongside non-Christians, and that’s working for and obtaining the common good of all people. The common good is the idea that civil society and civil government should strive to promote or facilitate the conditions for human flourishing. In other words, we should care about our neighbor, and the common good is the love of neighbor in the aggregate. 

The common good assumes that there are natural goods to human experience that ought to be realized throughout a society. The government, whether by building safe roadways, imprisoning criminals, or prioritizing the natural family, helps to promote those characteristics of a society that promotes true human flourishing connected to moral foundations. 

Christians think all these things matter because God orders the world according to common grace. All things being equal, the common good allows individuals operating within mediating institutions to cooperate toward the advancement of a just society by experiencing the excellencies that define their existence. The idea that society should have meaning, order, and purpose and that all individuals should experience it for themselves is something that Christianity helped further. 

Societal institutions that benefit the whole such as hospitals, universities, and charity foundations, as well as ideas about equality and dignity such as children’s rights and women’s suffrage, all draw upon the intellectual basis of Christian principles that have animated nations and cultures. Christians only need to help the rest of the world see that those things we hold most dear are the result of the influence of Christianity in the public square. They do not need to provide a more timely apologetic, but rather a reminder about these timeless truths.

Andrew T. Walker is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Fellow with The Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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