Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Will robots and machines ever have consciousness like humans?

There is a very famous thought experiment from UC Berkeley philosopher John Searle that all Christian apologists should know about. And now everyone who reads the Wall Street Journal knows about it, because of this article.

In that article, Searle is writing about the IBM computer that was programmed to play Jeopardy. Can a robot who wins on Jeopardy be “human”?Searle says no. And his famous Chinese room example (discussed in the article) explains why.

Excerpt:

Imagine that a person—me, for example—knows no Chinese and is locked in a room with boxes full of Chinese symbols and an instruction book written in English for manipulating the symbols. Unknown to me, the boxes are called “the database” and the instruction book is called “the program.” I am called “the computer.”

People outside the room pass in bunches of Chinese symbols that, unknown to me, are questions. I look up in the instruction book what I am supposed to do and I give back answers in Chinese symbols.

Suppose I get so good at shuffling the symbols and passing out the answers that my answers are indistinguishable from a native Chinese speaker’s. I give every indication of understanding the language despite the fact that I actually don’t understand a word of Chinese.

And if I do not, neither does any digital computer, because no computer, qua computer, has anything I do not have. It has stocks of symbols, rules for manipulating symbols, a system that allows it to rapidly transition from zeros to ones, and the ability to process inputs and outputs. That is it. There is nothing else.

Here is a link to the full article by John Searle on the Chinese room illustration.

By the way, Searle is a naturalist – not a theist, not a Christian. But he does oppose postmodernism. So he isn’t all bad. But let’s hear from a Christian scholar who can make more sense of this for us.

Here’s a related article on “strong AI” by Christian philosopher Jay Richards.

Excerpt:

Popular discussions of AI often suggest that if you keep increasing weak AI, at some point, you’ll get strong AI. That is, if you get enough computation, you’ll eventually get consciousness.

The reasoning goes something like this: There will be a moment at which a computer will be indistinguishable from a human intelligent agent in a blind test. At that point, we will have intelligent, conscious machines.

This does not follow. A computer may pass the Turing test, but that doesn’t mean that it will actually be a self-conscious, free agent.

The point seems obvious, but we can easily be beguiled by the way we speak of computers: We talk about computers learning, making mistakes, becoming more intelligent, and so forth. We need to remember that we are speaking metaphorically.

We can also be led astray by unexamined metaphysical assumptions. If we’re just computers made of meat, and we happened to become conscious at some point, what’s to stop computers from doing the same? That makes sense if you accept the premise—as many AI researchers do. If you don’t accept the premise, though, you don’t have to accept the conclusion.

In fact, there’s no good reason to assume that consciousness and agency emerge by accident at some threshold of speed and computational power in computers. We know by introspection that we are conscious, free beings—though we really don’t know how this works. So we naturally attribute consciousness to other humans. We also know generally what’s going on inside a computer, since we build them, and it has nothing to do with consciousness. It’s quite likely that consciousness is qualitatively different from the type of computation that we have developed in computers (as the “Chinese Room” argument, by philosopher John Searle, seems to show). Remember that, and you’ll suffer less anxiety as computers become more powerful.

Even if computer technology provides accelerating returns for the foreseeable future, it doesn’t follow that we’ll be replacing ourselves anytime soon. AI enthusiasts often make highly simplistic assumptions about human nature and biology. Rather than marveling at the ways in which computation illuminates our understanding of the microscopic biological world, many treat biological systems as nothing but clunky, soon-to-be-obsolete conglomerations of hardware and software. Fanciful speculations about uploading ourselves onto the Internet and transcending our biology rest on these simplistic assumptions. This is a common philosophical blind spot in the AI community, but it’s not a danger of AI research itself, which primarily involves programming and computers.

AI researchers often mix topics from different disciplines—biology, physics, computer science, robotics—and this causes critics to do the same. For instance, many critics worry that AI research leads inevitably to tampering with human nature. But different types of research raise different concerns. There are serious ethical questions when we’re dealing with human cloning and research that destroys human embryos. But AI research in itself does not raise these concerns. It normally involves computers, machines, and programming. While all technology raises ethical issues, we should be less worried about AI research—which has many benign applications—than research that treats human life as a means rather than an end.

When I am playing a game on the computer, I know exactly why what I am doing is fun – I am conscious of it. But the computer has no idea what I am doing. It is just matter in motion, acting on it’s programming and the inputs I supply to it. And that’s all computers will ever do. Trust me, this is my field. I have the BS and MS in computer science, and I have studied this area. AI has applications for machine learning and search problems, but consciousness is not on the radar. You can’t get there from here.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Was the message of the New Testament corrupted?

This video is from the Dallas Theological Seminary Hendricks Center blog:

Apologetics Guy Mikel Del Rosario writes:

During a special event called “Jesus in Primetime,” Dr. Darrell Bock, Dr. Ben Witherington, and Dr. Dan Wallace discussed a variety of topics surrounding Jesus and the Bible in the public square. One of the topics they discussed was the issue of variant readings in the New Testament. Are there really hundreds of thousands of textual differences in our New Testament manuscripts? What does it all mean?

In this video clip, Dr. Dan Wallace identifies four categories of textual variants and explains why these differences don’t need to shake our faith in the New Testament.

The first and largest category is made up of spelling differences in the text, accounting for over 75% of all textual variants. What about the other 25%?

The next largest category represents synonyms, word order differences or articles with proper nouns; issues which don’t affect the meaning of text at all. For example, Greek writers would use the definite article before people’s names (e.g. “The Jesus”). In this case, whether or not the definite article is there makes no difference in English translations.

The third largest category is made up of variants that actually make a difference in the meaning of the text. But the differences in this category are unlikely to represent any of the original words of the New Testament because the manuscripts where they appear are very late–far removed from the time of Jesus and his original followers.

Finally, the fourth category is made up of variants that both make a difference and may possibly represent the original readings of the text. But this is less than 1% of all variants in the New Testament. For example, most scholars discuss whether the story about the woman caught in adultery was not originally in In John’s text at this point. This is a genuine discussion that notes in a good study discuss. Many do question its presence. Others still argue the event does describe something that did happen in Jesus’ life. What is impacted by this?

Bock answers this question: “What is impacted is whether or not a particular passage teaches a particular point, but in the big scheme of things, there is no fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith that is impacted by this one percent.” Wallace agrees: “There is no cardinal doctrine that is impacted by the viable variants.”

Indeed, it seems a bit misleading for certain scholars to declare that there are between 300,000 and 400,000 textual variants amongst the existing manuscripts we have today and leave it at that. We have so many variants because we have so many New Testament manuscripts. If all we had was one codex with all the books of the New Testament in it, we wouldn’t have any variants!

But having over 5,800 Greek New Testament manuscripts is a good thing because it can help us have more confidence in the readings which best represent the text of the original autographs.

Bart Ehrman tries to sell a lot of books by fussing about these variants, but in a debate with another expert, he quickly folded and admitted that there were only four variants that touched on anything important.

Bart Ehrman’s screeching about variants: should we care?

In Ehrman’s debate with Peter Williams on the UK-based Unbelievable radio show, and in Ehrman’s debate with Dan Wallace, Ehrman lists the 4 worst problems caused by the variants:

  1. the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) is a late addition not present in the earliest manuscripts
  2. the long ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20) is a late addition not present in the earliest manuscripts
  3. Jesus was angry and not compassionate when he healed the leper (Mark 1:41)
  4. that Jesus died apart from God, and not by the grace of God (Hebrews 2:9)

I personally dislike that story in 1), because I think a lot of feminized Christians like it because they do not want to have their happiness diminished by moral judgments. They misunderstand this passage to support self-serving moral relativism and postmodern hedonism. Or worse, anti-capital-punishment. Eww. I say, get rid of the wimpy passage and good riddance. It’s hundreds of years too late from the earliest manuscripts, anyway.

Regarding 2), I like that long ending because it’s more useful from an apologetics standpoint. So I do care about this invariant, and I just don’t use that ending when I debate these historical issues. For 3), I prefer angry Jesus to compassionate Jesus, but I don’t really care because Jesus is angry in lots of places. And for 4) It doesn’t really matter to any core doctrine. It’s theological stuff, not historical fact.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , ,

Should you marry someone who promises you that “there will be no divorce”?

I was having a chat with a friend of mine who just got out of a serious relationship and I was trying to pick his brain to find out everything about the woman he was intending to marry so I could see why things went wrong. He told me that she had told him over and over that “there would be no divorce” and that he found that very convincing, despite very obvious warning signs in the area of respect (which I wrote about yesterday).

Well. I was very surprised to hear this, and so I asked him whether he thought it was enough that this woman told him that “three will be no divorce”. He said yes. This woman had experienced the divorce of her own parents and she was resolved (by act of will) never to let that happen to her. He found that acceptable, but I didn’t because I know the numbers on this, and I know that children of divorced parents are more likely to divorce themselves. So the pain of divorce is no deterrent here.

So should we believe that people can avoid a divorce just by saying they will? I told him no. And for an example, I offered a thought experiment. I said to imagine two runners on a track who are charged with completing 10 laps. One runner is a Navy SEAL like Mike Murphy, who has been trained to run miles and miles carrying a 60 pound load. In the mountains. The other is a 300-lb couch potato whose idea of exercise is reaching for the TV remote control. Suppose I ask both runners: do you intend to finish the 10 laps? Should I believe them if they both say yes?

Look, marriage is like building a house. People can say whatever they want about their prospects for success, but the will doesn’t decide here. You have to certain skills, you have to have a certain amount of money, you have to have a plan, you have to be able to read blueprints, you have to be able to hire specialists, you understand the differences between materials, etc. When you think about it, no long-term enterprise can be accomplished by act of will. Piano recitals, math exams, investing for retirement… nothing can be done by sheer act of will.

Now with that being said, let’s take a look at an example.

An example

I found this article in the Wall Street Journal way back in 2011, but it fits my conversation with my friend.

The author, Susan Gregory Thomas, lists some of the mistakes she made that led her to get a divorce in her first marriage.

This is the first thing I saw that caught my eye:

“Whatever happens, we’re never going to get divorced.” Over the course of 16 years, I said that often to my husband, especially after our children were born.

So she is trying to express an intention here, repeatedly, to her husband. I think the point here is that she did have good intentions but as we shall see that was not enough to prevent the divorce. That’s a warning to others that good intentions are not enough.

Here is the second thing:

I believed that I had married my best friend as fervently as I believed that I’d never get divorced. No marital scenario, I told myself, could become so bleak or hopeless as to compel me to embed my children in the torture of a split family. And I wasn’t the only one with strong personal reasons to make this commitment.

I noticed that a lot of people seem to think that being compatible is very important to marriage. But I don’t think that it is the most important thing. For example, you would not expect two cocaine addicts or two gambling addicts, etc. to have a stable marriage. I think marriage is more like a job interview where there are specific things that each person has to be able to do in order to make it work. So again, she’s giving a warning to others that compatibility is not a guarantee of marriage success.

And there’s more:

My husband and I were as obvious as points on a graph in a Generation X marriage study. We were together for nearly eight years before we got married, and even though statistics show that divorce rates are 48% higher for those who have lived together previously, we paid no heed.

We also paid no heed to his Catholic parents, who comprised one of the rare reassuringly unified couples I’d ever met, when they warned us that we should wait until we were married to live together. As they put it, being pals and roommates is different from being husband and wife. How bizarrely old-fashioned and sexist! We didn’t need anything so naïve or retro as “marriage.” Please. We were best friends.

Sociologists, anthropologists and other cultural observers tell us that members of Generation X are more emotionally invested in our spouses than previous generations were. We are best friends; our marriages are genuine partnerships. Many studies have found that Generation X family men help around the house a good deal more than their forefathers. We depend on each other and work together.

So here I am seeing that she rejected sex roles, parental advice, or the moral guidelines of Christianity. Again, she is discussing some of the factors that I at least think contribute to divorce. I think that she is right to highlight the fact that she was wrong to disregard the statistics on cohabitation.

So here are some of the mistakes:

  • reject advice from parents
  • avoid chastity
  • cohabitate for EIGHT YEARS
  • embrace feminism, reject complementarian sex roles
  • thinking that good intentions would overcome every challenge

So, what does the research show works to have a stable marriage?

  • chastity
  • rejection of feminism
  • regular church attendance
  • parental involvement in the courting
  • parents of both spouses married
  • no previous divorces

Guess what? You can’t break all the rules and still succeed by sheer force of will.  If you break all the rules like that woman in the story, you can’t have a working marriage. Not without repudiating everything you believed, and taking steps to undo all the damage from everything you’ve done. You can’t keep all the bad beliefs and bad habits you’ve built up and marry them to a marriage that will stand the test of time.

A good marriage is an enterprise, and it requires that your character be changed to fit the requirements. There is no way to short-circuit the preparation / selection processes by act of will. And just because your friends are getting married, that’s no reason for you to rush into it unprepared. The best way to prepare for marriage is pick people of the opposite sex and practice marriage behaviors (e.g. – listening, helping) with them – even with people you don’t intend to marry. Take an interest in their lives and practice denying yourself to help them with their problems. That’s better than making idle promises you’re not able to keep. And this works the same for men and for women. Both people need to get this right.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Are atheists paying attention to the weightiest demands of the moral law?

J. Warner Wallace looks at what Jesus says the most important commandment is, and then asks whether atheists can be justified morally if Jesus is right.

He writes:

I was an atheist for the first thirty-five years of my life. While I was a committed (and often aggressive) non-believer, most people who knew me would probably have described me as a “nice guy”. My behavior wasn’t all that different than many of my Christian friends. I worked with many other atheist police officers. We were often suspicious of the Christians in our midst and the people we arrested who claimed to be Christians. Even as atheists we were familiar with Jesus’ directive to “love your neighbor as yourself.” My partner, Tim, used to say, “If there is a good God and a good Heaven, I think I will be there when it’s all over. I’m a good person. I try to ‘do the right thing’. I’m not a bad guy; I put bad people in jail. So I’m not worried about it.” Tim held a “works based” moral worldview and he was sure his good deeds would earn him a spot in Heaven if he was wrong about the existence of God. But Tim (and I) were unfamiliar with Jesus’ teaching in its full context, and now, years later as a Christian, I’ve come to understand why the first part of the “Greatest Command” is even more important than the second.

When approached by a skeptic, Jesus affirmed the greatest commandments of God in the following way:

Matthew 22:35-40
One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Most unbelievers recognize the value of the second half of this command (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”) but deny the value of the first part (“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”) There’s a reason, however, why Jesus listed these two commands in this specific order. The first command (loving God) is the “great and foremost commandment” because it is required to achieve the second command (loving others). You can’t truly do the right thing unless you understand the relationship between these two commands:

Read the rest at Cold Case Christianity.

I’ve made the same point here many times, but I have never been an atheist and I don’t make the point in the same winsome way that Wallace does.

I think his post is worth sending along to any atheists you may know who think themselves justified. I think it is a mistake for people to derive their own version of morality based on the time and place where they are, and then think that picking and choosing the parts they like will justify them with God. Remember, a recent survey of atheists found that 97% of them favor abortion rights. I think this is consistent with the atheist view that there are no human rights, including a right to life. Moreover, in my experience, I have found that most atheists have no problem with the government stomping all over the consciences of Christians when it comes to things like gay rights. It’s important to show them that there is a standard independent of their personal opinions, justifications and rationalizations.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , ,

Do Democrats act consistently with their own stated beliefs?

Do leftists always act as nicely as they tell us to act?

That’s one case, but are leftists always hypocrites?

Do As I Say Not As I Do

I recently listened to the audio book version of Peter Schweizer’s 2004 book “Do As I Say Not As I Do“. In that book, he profiles a number of leftist public figures, and he discovers that leftists don’t practice what they preach, because even they know that leftist ideas don’t actually work. I really recommend the book, so let’s take a closer look at it and you’ll see why you should read it, too.

Here’s a 32 minute 2011 lecture about the book:

And here’s an interview with the author from FrontPage magazine.

Excerpt:

FrontPage: Give us some of the best examples of the gulf between some liberals’ social criticisms and the ingredients of their private lives. Give us some insights, for instance, into the likes of Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Cornel West, Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy and Barbra Streisand.

Schweizer: Looking for liberal hypocrisy is, as they say in the military, a target-rich environment. Noam Chomsky, for example, has attacked wealthy Americans who set up trusts to avoid paying inheritance taxes. But this self-professed “radical socialist” has a tax attorney and did the very same thing. (When I asked him about this hypocrisy he said it was okay because he and has family have been working on behalf of suffering people all these years.)

Michael Moore’s hypocrisy is pathological. He has said numerous times that he doesn’t own a single share of stock and that capitalism is not acceptable “on any level.” And yet, I found that, according to tax returns filed with the IRS, he has owned shares in Halliburton, numerous oil companies, defense contractors and other multinationals through a tax shelter. When it comes he race he’s also wildly hypocritical. He says that Americans who happen to live in largely white neighbhorhoods do so because they are “racists.” But he lives in Central Lake, Michigan, which according to the U.S. Census has more than 2,500 residents and not a single black person in the entire town.

Cornel West has numerous times condemned middle class blacks that abandon the “chocolate cities” for the “vanilla suburbs” but guess what, his flavour of choice is vanilla, too.

Ted Kennedy likes to pose as the Robin Hood of the Senate, forcing wealthy Americans to pay their taxes to help the poor. But I discovered that Kennedys record of actually paying taxes is horrible. Tax the inheritance tax. He says that Americans should pay 49% to the IRS when they die in the name of “social justice.” But according to public records, the Kennedys have almost completely avoided contributing to “social justice” by placing their assets in trusts that are located overseas. The Kennedys, over the past thirty years, have paid less than 1% in inheritance taxes on more than $300 million. Ted Kennedy, like Hillary Clinton and George Soros, loves higher taxes. On other people.

And:

FrontPage: Why do you think people are drawn to leftist ideals and what kind of people are they? Self-contempt appears to be a common ingredient, no?

Schweizer: Yes, self-contempt is a big part of it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German pastor who stood up to Hitler, wrote a book about “cheap grace.” Liberals are guilty of cheap grace in the political sense. They feel guilty and their form of penance is embracing the destructive ideas of the progressive faith. But it’s cheap grace because as I show it the book, they don’t actually change the way they live. I think that the religious comparison makes sense because in many respects the modern day left represents a religious movement. They are motivated by a sense of sin, guilt, and the need for salvation and absolution in the political sense. Socialism offers salvation to them. Of course, they don’t actually plan to live like socialists.

I would really recommend taking a look at this book. It’s similar to Paul Johnson’s “Intellectuals” if you’ve ever read that, but it’s better.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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