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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

An atheist explains the real consequences of adopting an atheistic worldview

If you love to listen to the Cold Case Christianity podcast, as I do, then you know that in a recent episode, J. Warner Wallace mentioned a blog post on an atheistic blog that clearly delineated the implications of an atheistic worldview. He promised he was going to write about it and link to the post, and he has now done so.

Here is the whole the whole thing that the atheist posted:

“[To] all my Atheist friends.

Let us stop sugar coating it. I know, it’s hard to come out and be blunt with the friendly Theists who frequent sites like this. However in your efforts to “play nice” and “be civil” you actually do them a great disservice.

We are Atheists. We believe that the Universe is a great uncaused, random accident. All life in the Universe past and future are the results of random chance acting on itself. While we acknowledge concepts like morality, politeness, civility seem to exist, we know they do not. Our highly evolved brains imagine that these things have a cause or a use, and they have in the past, they’ve allowed life to continue on this planet for a short blip of time. But make no mistake: all our dreams, loves, opinions, and desires are figments of our primordial imagination. They are fleeting electrical signals that fire across our synapses for a moment in time. They served some purpose in the past. They got us here. That’s it. All human achievement and plans for the future are the result of some ancient, evolved brain and accompanying chemical reactions that once served a survival purpose. Ex: I’ll marry and nurture children because my genes demand reproduction, I’ll create because creativity served a survival advantage to my ancient ape ancestors, I’ll build cities and laws because this allowed my ape grandfather time and peace to reproduce and protect his genes. My only directive is to obey my genes. Eat, sleep, reproduce, die. That is our bible.

We deride the Theists for having created myths and holy books. We imagine ourselves superior. But we too imagine there are reasons to obey laws, be polite, protect the weak etc. Rubbish. We are nurturing a new religion, one where we imagine that such conventions have any basis in reality. Have they allowed life to exist? Absolutely. But who cares? Outside of my greedy little gene’s need to reproduce, there is nothing in my world that stops me from killing you and reproducing with your wife. Only the fear that I might be incarcerated and thus be deprived of the opportunity to do the same with the next guy’s wife stops me. Some of my Atheist friends have fooled themselves into acting like the general population. They live in suburban homes, drive Toyota Camrys, attend school plays. But underneath they know the truth. They are a bag of DNA whose only purpose is to make more of themselves. So be nice if you want. Be involved, have polite conversations, be a model citizen. Just be aware that while technically an Atheist, you are an inferior one. You’re just a little bit less evolved, that’s all. When you are ready to join me, let me know, I’ll be reproducing with your wife.

I know it’s not PC to speak so bluntly about the ramifications of our beliefs, but in our discussions with Theists we sometimes tip toe around what we really know to be factual. Maybe it’s time we Atheists were a little more truthful and let the chips fall where they may. At least that’s what my genes are telling me to say.”

In his post, Wallace comments on the statement above, but for more, you should listen to the podcast.

This fellow is essentially expanding on what Richard Dawkins has said about atheism:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. (Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995))

And Cornell University atheist William Provine agrees: (this is taken from his debate with Phillip E. Johnson)

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.

And what about Florida State University atheist Michael Ruse:

“The position of the modern evolutionist is that humans have an awareness of morality because such an awareness of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate when someone says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory.” (Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269).

I see a lot of atheists these days thinking that they can help themselves to a robust notion of consciousness, to real libertarian free will, to objective moral values and duties, to objective human rights, and to objective meaning in life, without giving credit to theism. It’s not rational to do this. As Frank Turek said on the latest episode of “Cross Examined”, atheists have to sit in God’s lap to slap his face. We should be calling them out on it. I think it’s particularly important not to let atheists utter a word of moral judgment on any topic, since they cannot ground an objective standard that allows them to make statements of morality. Further, I think that they should have every immorality ever committed presented to them, and then they should be told “your worldview does not allow you to condemn this as wrong”. They can’t praise anything as right, either. This is not to say that we should go all presuppositional on them, but if the opportunity arises to point out how they are borrowing from theism in order to attack it, we should do that in addition to presenting good scientific and historical evidence.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , ,

What should we make of Richard Dawkins’ claim that God is very “improbable”?

Look, here is a summary of Dawkins’ argument against God from Common Sense Atheism.

They write:

Can we put [Dawkins’ argument] into logically valid form? Sure. That’s what Erik Wielenberg did in his recent paper “Dawkins’ Gambit, Hume’s Aroma, and God’s Simplicity.” Here is Wielenberg’s formulation:

(1) If God exists, then God has these two properties: (i) He provides an intelligent-design explanation for all natural, complex phenomena in the universe and (ii) He has no explanation external to Himself.

(2) Anything that provides an intelligent-design explanation for the natural, complex phenomena in the universe is at least as complex as such phenomena.

(3) So, if God exists, then God has these two properties: (i) He is at least as complex as the natural, complex phenomena in the universe and (ii) He has no explanation external to Himself. (from 1 and 2)

(4) It is very improbable that there exists something that (i) is at least as complex as the natural, complex phenomena in the universe and (ii) has no explanation external to itself.

(5) Therefore, it is very improbable that God exists. (from 3 and 4)

This is less rhetorically engaging than Dawkins’ formulation, but at least it is logically valid.

So what can be said of this argument? Is it compelling?

Not really. The problem is that Dawkins’ argument engages the existence of a God that nobody believes in.

For example, consider premise (2). It’s not clear what Dawkins means by saying that God must be at least as complex as the complex universe he supposedly designed. Some writers2 have assumed Dawkins to have meant that something is complex if it has many different physical parts. But if so, then premise (2) becomes:

(2a) Anything that provides an intelligent-design explanation for the natural, complex phenomena in the universe has at least as much physical complexity as such phenomena.

Of course, theists do not assert that God is physical. I suppose Dawkins could support such a premise as (2a) with an extended defense of physicalism, but he provides no such defense, and that discussion would move far beyond the scope of Dawkins’ critique of religion, and of course would make the argument from complexity itself unnecessary.

But perhaps Dawkins has in mind the definition of complexity he arrived at after an extended discussion in The Blind Watchmaker:

…complicated things have some quality, specifiable in advance, that is highly unlikely to have been acquired by random chance alone.

But this gets us nowhere. If we plug this definition into Dawkins’ argument, then Dawkins misses his mark. It makes no difference whether God is complex in this sense, for theists do not assert that God acquired “some quality… by random chance alone.” Rather, God is usually thought of as a necessary being, not one that contingently evolved by chance from previous being.

Wielenberg explains this by showing two versions of the God Hypothesis:

(GH1) There exists a contingent, physical, complex, superhuman, supernatural intelligence that created the universe and has no external explanation.

(GH2) There exists a necessary, nonphysical, complex, superhuman, supernatural intelligence that created the universe and has no external explanation.

Dawkins’ argument might be effective against (GH1), but few theists assert (GH1). Theism asserts something more like (GH2), but Dawkins’ argument does not apply to it.

So Common Sense Atheism thinks that Dawkins is saying that God is contingent, physical, complex – basically an improbably arrangement of parts.

I read a post about this on TreeSearch, and it listed some Christian scholars who agree that God is not a complex arrangement of parts.

Blake writes:

a) *William Lane Craig: “As an unembodied mind, God is a remarkably simple entity. As a non-physical entity, a mind is not composed of parts, and its salient properties, like self-consciousness, rationality, and volition, are essential to it. In contrast to the contingent and variegated universe with all its inexplicable quantities and constants, a divine mind is startlingly simple. Certainly such a mind may have complex ideas-it may be thinking, for example, of the infinitesimal calculus-, but the mind itself is a remarkably simple entity. Dawkins has evidently confused a mind’s ideas, which may, indeed, be complex, with a mind itself, which is an incredibly simple entity.” [Reasonable Faith 3rd (Crossway, 2008), 172.]

b) *Robert Koons: “…an infinite mind might be extremely simple. God needs no representations and no sense organs: everything (including every possibility) is immediately present to His mind. God needs no inference engines, because God never has to infer anything. …all of God’s attributes take values zero or infinity …We need so many parts precisely because our knowledge is limited and mediated by physical processes. God has immediate access to all facts, and so needs no internal complexity at all.” [“LECTURE #15: Objections to Design” online at leader.edu]

c) *Richard Swinburne (Professor of Philosophy at Oxford): “A finite limitation cries out for an explanation of why there is just that particular limit, in a way that limitlessness does not. As I noted in Chapter 3, scientists have always preferred hypotheses of infinite … when both were equally compatible with the data… [listing multiple examples] There is a neatness about zero and infinity that particular finite numbers lack. Yet a person with zero powers would not be a person at all. So in postulating a person with infinite power the theist is postulating a person with the simplest kind of power possible. God’s beliefs have a similar infinite quality. …” [The Existence of God 2nd (Oxford, 2004), 97.] Swinburne continues to emphasize the point for 13 more pages, covering all God’s essential properties.

d) In fact, as noted by *Robin Collins (Physicist, Prof. of Philosophy): “Medieval philosophers and theologians often went as far as advocating the doctrine of Divine Simplicity, according to which God is claimed to be absolutely simple, without any internal complexity.” [“The Teleological Argument” in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Religion eds. Meister & Copan (Routledge, 2007), 417.]

So, remember this if you ever hear that Dawkins argument – ask them what they mean by God being “complex”, “fine-tuned” or “improbable”. If God is a mind, like you and I are minds, then he is non-physical. Minds are not a complex, improbable arrangement of parts.

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

New study: patients experience awareness of surroundings after brain ceases to function

Reported in the left-wing UK Independent.

Excerpt:

There is scientific evidence to suggest that life can continue after death, according to the largest ever medical study carried out on the subject.

A team based in the UK has spent the last four years seeking out cardiac arrest patients to analyse their experiences, and found that almost 40 per cent of survivors described having some form of “awareness” at a time when they were declared clinically dead.

Experts currently believe that the brain shuts down within 20 to 30 seconds of the heart stopping beating – and that it is not possible to be aware of anything at all once that has happened.

But scientists in the new study said they heard compelling evidence that patients experienced real events for up to three minutes after this had happened – and could recall them accurately once they had been resuscitated.

Dr Sam Parnia, an assistant professor at the State University of New York and a former research fellow at the University of Southampton who led the research, said that he previously that patients who described near-death experiences were only relating hallucinatory events.

One man, however, gave a “very credible” account of what was going on while doctors and nurses tried to bring him back to life – and says that he felt he was observing his resuscitation from the corner of the room.

Speaking to The Telegraph about the evidence provided by a 57-year-old social worker Southampton, Dr Parnia said: “We know the brain can’t function when the heart has stopped beating.

“But in this case, conscious awareness appears to have continued for up to three minutes.

“The man described everything that had happened in the room, but importantly, he heard two bleeps from a machine that makes a noise at three minute intervals. So we could time how long the experienced lasted for.

“He seemed very credible and everything that he said had happened to him had actually happened.”

Dr Parnia’s study involved 2,060 patients from 15 hospitals in the UK, US and Austria, and has been published in the journal Resuscitation.

Of those who survived, 46 per cent experienced a broad range of mental recollections, nine per cent had experiences compatible with traditional definitions of a near-death experience and two per cent exhibited full awareness with explicit recall of “seeing” and “hearing” events – or out-of-body experiences.

Previously, I blogged about two very reliable examples of near-death experiences, as well as peer-reviewed published work done by UCLA professor Jeffrey Schwartz on “mental effort”. Not to mention philosophical arguments for non-physical minds.

How should we use this evidence? Well, I wouldn’t use it as part of a case for theism, but I think it is useful to show that materialism is clearly false. And that’s before we even get to the cosmological and fine-tuning arguments, which make it even more clear that materialism is false.

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William Lane Craig debates Austin Dacey: Does God Exist?

Here is the video and summary of a debate between Christian theist William Lane Craig and Austin Dacey at Purdue University in 2004 about the existence of God.

The debaters:

The video: (2 hours)

The video shows the speakers and powerpoint slides of their arguments. Austin Dacey is one of the top atheist debaters, and I would put him second to Peter Millican alone, with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong in third place. This is the debate to show people who are new to apologetics. The debate with Peter Millican is better for advanced students, and that’s no surprise since he teaches at Oxford University and is familiar with all of Dr. Craig’s work. The Craig-Dacey debate is the one that I give to my co-workers.

By the way, you can get the DVDs and CDs for the first Craig-Dacey debate and the second Craig-Dacey debate and the second Craig-Sinnott-Armstrong debate. The Peter Millican debate is not available on DVD, but the link above (Peter Millican) has the video and my summary.

Dr. Dacey’s 5 arguments below are all good arguments that you find in the academic literature. He is also an effective and engaging speaker, This is a great debate to watch!

SUMMARY of the opening speeches:

Dr. Craig’s opening statement:

Dr. Craig will present six reasons why God exists:

  1. (Contingency argument) God is the best explanation of why something exists rather than nothing
  2. (Cosmological argument)  God’s existence is implied by the origin of the universe
  3. (Fine-tuning argument) The fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life points to a designer of the cosmos
  4. (Moral argument) God is the best explanation for the existence of objective moral values and objective moral duties
  5. (Miracles argument) The historical facts surrounding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus
  6. (Religious experience) God’s existence is directly knowable even apart from arguments

Dr. Dacey’s opening argument:

There are two ways to disprove God’s existence, by showing that the concept of God is self-contradictory, or by showing that certain facts about ourselves and the world are incompatible with what we would expect to be true if God did exist. Dr. Dacey will focus on the second kind of argument.

  1. The hiddenness of God
  2. The success of science in explaining nature without needing a supernatural agency
  3. The dependence of mind on physical processes in the brain
  4. Naturalistic evolution
  5. The existence of gratuitous / pointless evil and suffering

One final point:

One thing that I have to point out is that Dr. Dacey quotes Brian Greene during the debate to counter Dr. Craig’s cosmological argument. Dr. Craig could not respond because he can’t see the context of the quote. However, Dr. Craig had a rematch with Dr. Dacey where was able to read the context of the quote and defuse Dr. Dacey’s objection. This is what he wrote in his August 2005 newsletter after the re-match:

The following week, I was off an another three-day trip, this time to California State University at Fresno. As part of a week of campus outreach the Veritas Forum scheduled a debate on the existence of God between me and Austin Dacey, whom I had debated last spring at Purdue University. In preparation for the rematch I adopted two strategies: (1) Since Dacey had come to the Purdue debate with prepared speeches, I decided to throw him for a loop by offering a different set of arguments for God, so that his canned objections wouldn’t apply. I chose to focus on the cosmological argument, giving four separate arguments for the beginning of the universe, and on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. (2) I reviewed our previous debate carefully, preparing critiques of his five atheistic arguments. In the process I found that he had seriously misunderstood or misrepresented a statement by a scientist on the Big Bang; so I brought along the book itself in case Dacey quoted this source again. I figured he might change his arguments just as I was doing; but I wanted to be ready in case he used his old arguments again.

[…]The auditorium was packed that night for the debate, and I later learned that there were overflow rooms, too. To my surprise Dr. Dacey gave the very same case he had presented at Purdue; so he really got clobbered on those arguments. Because he wasn’t prepared for my new arguments, he didn’t even respond to two of my arguments for the beginning of the universe, though he did a credible job responding to the others. I was pleased when he attacked the Big Bang by quoting the same scientist as before, because I then held up the book, specified the page number, and proceeded to quote the context to show what the scientist really meant.

Dr. Craig is always prepared!

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