When most of us think about artificial intelligence (AI), we tend to think of the devastating effects of automation in the workforce or even about how these tools might affect our families. The ethical questions surrounding AI are countless and complex. They demand the church’s attention today because these decisions are not made in a vacuum. AI affects our communities and, most importantly, people created in the very image of God.
What Does It Mean to Be Human?
AI technologies are driving many aspects of our modern society and economy. They influence our social media feeds, communication platforms, banking systems, manufacturing, military capabilities, and so much more. Many of the conveniences we enjoy , especially the personalization of various technologies, is driven in some form by artificial intelligence and related tools.
Given how quickly and unquestioningly we have adopted many of these tools (like AI) into our lives, it is natural to fear the speed of these developments and how they are affecting us. Behind most, if not all, of the most pressing ethical questions of the day is the question of what it means to be human.
Whether we are talking about technology, sexuality, or even medical developments, our answer to that question is central to how we think ethically about these challenges. It will also alter how we answer the question that Jesus was asked in Luke 10:29: “And who is my neighbor?”
Who is My Neighbor?
The church must be able to answer this perennial question, particularly given how much our lives are now digitally connected. It is becoming increasingly easy to see ourselves and our neighbors as simply a means to an end or as machines to be used, rather than as image-bearers of almighty God.
More than most technologies we use today, AI challenges us to think deeply about what it means to be human. This has been one of the most foundational questions in all of human history. However, particular clarity is needed today because ambiguity surrounding human nature can have disastrous effects in our use of technology.
Ironically, we often develop and use AI tools in ways that dehumanize our neighbors and humanize our machines. We go so far as to name our machines and give them human-like abilities! At the same time, we treat our fellow image-bearers as less than human by allowing them to be exploited for our benefit. They are problems to be solved or avatars to be attacked.
Rather than seeking to love God and our neighbors above all, we view others as means to our own end.
Is God’s Image More than What We Do?
So, what does it mean to be human in the age of machines? Answers to this question will vary widely, as people approach this fundamental question from various perspectives and belief systems.
Many Christians have historically seen the uniqueness of humanity in our ability to think complex thoughts and act as rational beings. While humanity possesses (and likely will always possess) a superior intellect and ability to reason, this view of human value is based on something that a human does rather than who we are.
But if we view the image of God as a divinely-given status, a status that is not based on our utility or function, this will radically alter how we approach questions related to human dignity. It casts a compelling vision for the value and worth of every human being, not just the ones perceived to be valuable by our society.
The Ethics of AI
Questions related to AI abound facial recognition and privacy, automation and the value of work, social media and truth, medical advancements and dignity, military technology, and justice. Good, Bible-believing Christians will likely come to different conclusions on some of these issues. However, all Christians should recognize that one of the most important ethical principles in these debates is Scripture’s teaching about human dignity and our God-given status as image-bearers. Nothing short of the dignity of our neighbor is at stake.
Many people assume that all technological progress is good. Why should the church even weigh in on these matters? But if we believe that the gospel affects every area of our life and that every human being is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–28), then we must address these types of ethical questions. And one of the primary ways we do this is to recognize God’s grandeur and the dignity he has bestowed upon all people.
As we approach these challenging questions, let us remember that God doesn’t call us to be nostalgic for yesteryear, a time when life seemed to be simpler. Rather, he has equipped us to move forward with his unchanging Word. Nothing we face today surprises the Lord or catches him off guard. He is the maker and sustainer of all things, including humanity as his unique image-bearers (and the technologies that we create).
We can move forward with confidence in addressing any ethical challenge before us as we hold fast to these fundamental truths.