Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

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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William Lane Craig discusses reason and faith with university students

This is an interview of Dr. William Lane Craig before college students at the University of Central Florida. (95 minutes)

You can get an MP3 of the lecture here. (33 MB)

Questions from the interviewer: (40 minutes)

  • What started you on his journey of studying faith and reason?
  • How would you define the word “faith”?
  • Are faith and reason compatible? How are they related?
  • How can reasonable faith help us to avoid the two extremes of superstition and nihilism?
  • Who makes the best arguments against the Christian faith?
  • Why are angry atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens more well known than better-informed academic atheists?
  • Does the Bible require Christians to give the unbeliever reasons for their faith?
  • How does faith spur Christians to think carefully about the big questions in life?
  • Should the American church prod churchgoers to develop their minds so they can engage the secular culture?
  • When talking about Christianity intellectually, is there a risk of neglecting the experience of being a Christian?
  • Which Christian apologist has shaped your thinking the most?
  • Which Christian philosopher has shaped your thinking the most?
  • Does the confidence that comes from apologetics undermine humility and reverence?
  • If you had to sketch out a 5 minute case for Christianity, what would you present?
  • Can non-Christians use their reason to arrive at truth?
  • Are there cases where atheists must affirm irrational things in order to remain atheists?
  • Can the universe have existed eternal, so that there is no need to explain who created it?
  • Even if you persuade someone that Christianity is true, does that mean they will live it out?

There is also a long period of questions, many of them hostile, from the audience of students (55 minutes).

  • Haven’t you said nasty things about some atheists? Aren’t you a meany?
  • What do you make of the presuppositional approach to apologetics?
  • Can a person stop being a Christian because of the chances that happen to them as they age?
  • Why did God wait so long after humans appeared to reveal himself to people through Jesus?
  • Can a person be saved by faith without have any intellectual assent to truth?
  • How do you find time for regular things like marriage when you have to study and speak so much?
  • How would you respond to Zeitgeist and parallels to Christianity in Greek/Roman mythology?
  • Do Christians have to assume that the Bible is inerrant and inspired in order to evangelize?
  • If the universe has a beginning, then why doesn’t God have a beginning?
  • Can you name some philosophical resources on abstract objects, Platonism and nominalism?
  • How can you know that Christianity more right than other religions?
  • Should we respond to the problem of evil by saying that our moral notions are different from God’s?
  • Define the A and B theories of time. Explain how they relate to the kalam cosmological argument.
  • How can Christians claim that their view is true in the face of so many world religions?
  • What is the role of emotions in Christian belief and thought?
  • Can evolution be reconciled with Christian beliefs and the Bible?
  • When witnessing person-to-person, should you balance apologetics with personal testimony?
  • Is there a good analogy for the trinity that can help people to understand it? [Note: HE HAS ONE!]
  • How can Christians reconcile God’s omniscience, God’s sovereignty and human free will?

This is a nice introductory lecture that is sure to get Christians to become interested in apologetics. As you watch or listen to it, imagine what the world would be like if every Christian could answer the questions of skeptical college students and professors like Dr. Craig. What would non-Christians think about Christianity if every Christian had studied these issues like Dr. Craig? Why aren’t we making an effort to study these things so that we can answer these questions?

It is really fun to see him fielding the questions from the skeptical university students. My favorite question was from the physics student who sounds really foreign, (at 1:19:00), then you realize that he is a Christian. I do think that Dr. Craig went a little far in accommodating evolution, but I put that down to the venue, and not wanting to get into a peripheral issue. I’m also surprised that no one asked him why God allows humans to suffer and commit acts of evil.

If you are looking for a good basic book on apologetics, then I would choose “Is God Just a Human Invention?” by Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow.

Who is William Lane Craig?

About William Lane Craig:

William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.

Dr. Craig pursued his undergraduate studies at Wheaton College (B.A. 1971) and graduate studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.A. 1974; M.A. 1975), the University of Birmingham (England) (Ph.D. 1977), and the University of Munich (Germany) (D.Theol. 1984). From 1980-86 he taught Philosophy of Religion at Trinity… In 1987 they moved to Brussels, Belgium, where Dr. Craig pursued research at the University of Louvain until assuming his position at Talbot in 1994.

He has authored or edited over thirty books, including The Kalam Cosmological ArgumentAssessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of JesusDivine Foreknowledge and Human FreedomTheism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology; and God, Time and Eternity, as well as over a hundred articles in professional journals of philosophy and theology, including The Journal of PhilosophyNew Testament StudiesJournal for the Study of the New TestamentAmerican Philosophical QuarterlyPhilosophical StudiesPhilosophy, and British Journal for Philosophy of Science.

Craig’s CV is here.

Craig’s list of publications is here.

William Lane Craig is, without a doubt, the top living defender of Christianity. He has debated all of the most famous atheists, including Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, etc. as well as academic atheists like Quentin Smith, Peter Millican, etc. if you search this blog, you’ll find many debates posted here, sometimes even with snarky summaries.

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A closer look at the journey to atheism of Nathan Pratt

I found a deconversion testimony by an atheist on Prayson Daniel’s blog, and I thought it might be useful to take a look at it.

But first, I want to recap some reasons why people think that God exists.

In addition to these arguments for theism, Christians would make be some sort of minimal facts case for the resurrection, one that leverages the early creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. And some sort of case for the early belief that Jesus was divine.

In addition to those positive evidences, there would be informed defenses to other questions like the problem of evil, the problem of suffering, religious pluralism, the hiddenness of God, materialist conceptions of mind, consciousness and neuroscience, the justice of eternal damnation, sovereignty and free will, the doctrine of the Incarnation, the doctrine of the Trinity, and so on.

I listed these out so that you can see how many of these positive arguments and defenses that he wrestles with in his deconversion testimony, which is linked below.

So here is the deconversion testimony.

And here are some revealing snippets, under headings.

Legalist upbringing

” Being baptists things were pretty legalistic growing up.”

Anti-intellectual parents

His parents tell him: “This is the bible and its truth can’t be debated. It is what it is.”

Piety rather than apologetics

“Most of my young life I was “that” religious kid. You know him. He’s awkward looking with coke bottle glasses and horrendous hair and triple hand me down clothes. I told random kids on the bus that I would pray for them and would be mocked in return.”

Peer disapproval

“I told random kids on the bus that I would pray for them and would be mocked in return. One time I even got jumped while fishing and once they started punching me I didn’t even fight back, “turn the other cheek” was being said in my mind over and over. I got the crap kicked out of me and several months of ridicule at school over getting such a beating.

I think the most embarrassing time for me was in 8th grade science class when one kid started calling me a “bible beater” while the teacher was out of the room. He then got the entire class to mock and laugh at me. It wasn’t fun. In fact, it sucked.”

Deconversion prior to serious study of the evidence

“I think it was around 9th grade that my apathy for religion and god really started to set it. Being honest with myself I didn’t want to be the kid that got mocked anymore.”

Ineffective church leadership

“We’d laugh at our peers that were so moved by the message told by the church leaders… Everything I was seeing my peers do could easily be chalked up to a group or mob mentality. A psychological effect of emotions.”

I agree with him about this one, the church generally does nothing to form a Christian worldview, even though they have years and years to do it. And they are quite proud of this “focus on the gospel”, even as kids drop Christianity as soon as they hear intellectual objections to it in college.

Self-focus / autonomy

“The fact that our purpose of living was the blow smoke up the skirt of a god that will damn us to hell.”

Theological determinism

“The thought that a god with a plan can’t/won’t/doesn’t listen to your prayers because if your prayer isn’t in line with his plan then it goes unheard or unanswered.”

Bible difficulties

“God set up Adam and Eve for failure in the Garden of Eden. If he really didn’t want us to “fall from grace” then the tree never would have been there. He would’ve stopped the serpent from deceiving Adam and Eve. He would’ve equipped Adam and Eve with the knowledge of deceit so they could recognize when they’re being lied to.”

God’s job is to make us happy and healthy

“God would have either have had a direct hand in creating hell or allowing satan to create it with his knowledge. God created the rules by which people go to hell. He damns billions of people there. Is that love? Is that moral? Is that just?”

Accuracate knowledge of God’s character and historical actions are less important than “being good”

“Anne Frank, a Jew, is in hell because she didn’t recognize Jesus as the Son of God, but Ted Bundy, a serial rapist and murderer, is in heaven because he accepted Jesus into his heart before dying on death row. Is that fair? Is that love? Is that moral? Is that just?”

Emotional problem of evil

His brother was killed in a motorcycle accident, and his view is that it’s God’s job to keep everyone alive and happy. So this guy is reading the story of Jesus and he is saying something like this to himself when he reads the Bible, “see, the founder of Christianity has all his needs met by God and he is happy all the time, and everyone likes him and he never, ever has anything bad happen to him that isn’t his fault”. The problem of evil is one of the most responded-to problems in Christian apologetics. He didn’t cite anyone who has responded to it.

Ignorance of how the Bible defines faith

“Faith is believing in something without evidence.”

So he doesn’t even know what the definition of faith is, according to the Biblical use of the term, where faith is trusting in something you know to be true because of the evidence, e.g. – because of the resurrection, say. That was Jesus’ model of getting people to have faith in him, but apparently you can attend church and come up with a different, postmodern notion of what the word means. A definition that is pleasing to all the people in church who are there for emotional comfort, and not for truth and knowledge. His definition of faith is more like the atheist definition of faith, like they say “I have faith in the multiverse” or “I have faith in aliens seeding the Earth with life” or “I have faith that God has no morally sufficient reason for permitting this instance of apparently gratuitous evil”. Atheists project their own irrational epistemology onto Christians.

Unfamiliarity with Christian scholarship

After I realized that my friends and church leaders had no good responses to anything I was saying I started searching for good apologist books on the internet. A good book about a good reason for belief. I can’t effectively relay my shock at turning up nothing worth the paper it was printed on.”

The purpose of life is to feel happy

“I’d heard through a friend that an old acquaintance from our youth group was now an agnostic… His reply was straight forward in that he’d realized that he’d gained nothing from trying to understand, follow and love god. Since it was bringing nothing positive to his life he left it behind. He shared that we’re all trained as kids in church that we have a god shaped hole in our hearts, but that it wasn’t true. Here he was, 11 years after leaving christianity, at the happiest and most content point of his life. He told me it was okay to doubt.”

Reads simplistic books by atheists

“That book that would ultimately be one of the most revolutionary books in my life was “50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God.””

This book is a caricature of the reasons why people believe in God. I searched for the names of top Christian apologists, and there were none. No William Lane Craig, Hugh Ross, Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, Stephen C. Meyer, Mike Behe, etc. I took a look at the 50 arguments. They were generally re-phrasings of this “I’m stupid, so I’ll believe Christianity because it makes me happy”.

I clicked on the few that I thought might cite Christian scholars, but no Christian scholars were cited. For the chapter on “fine-tuning”, the author cited Ray Comfort. And his banana argument. In a chapter on fine-tuning. The chapter on intelligent design did not cite a single scholar, pro or con. ID was not even defined.

My conclusion

Well, I’ll leave the rest of his post to you. I did a quick search on the author’s blog for “William Lane Craig”, just to see, and found nothing. Then I did a search for “intelligent design”, and found nothing. Then I did a search for “minimal facts” and found nothing. His post on his journey to atheism is here. And let this testimony be a lesson to you parents and church leaders not to fail other Christians the way this guy’s parents and church leaders failed him. You should read the comments on his post, as well.

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

Reasonable Faith podcast: the real consequences of atheism

The latest episode of Reasonable Faith discusses the real consequences of atheism.

Details:

An atheist blogger gets brutally honest about his view and tells other atheists to quit fooling themselves!

The MP3 file is here on the Reasonable Faith web site. (23 minutes)

Kevin Harris (KH) and William Lane Craig: (WLC) discuss this post on the Wintery Knight blog.

Summary:

  • KH: New Atheists always try to portray themselves as having meaningful lives, and good without God
  • WLC: Exactly, they would say you don’t nee God to do positive things, so God makes no difference
  • KH: but what happens when an atheist explains the real consequences of atheism?

KH then reads a quote by an atheist blogger:

“[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.”

Back to the summary:

  • WLC: this quote explains that on naturalism, moral values and duties are just the by products of biological evolution
  • WLC: he is deriding other atheists who put on a civil facade, and that the superior atheist is the one who acts openly like an atheist
  • KH: he wants atheists to stop acting like Christians (being outwardly nice)
  • WLC: there is no evidence for atheism presented in the quote, so why should he think that morality and meaning are illusory
  • WLC: he is saying that morality is not real because our beliefs form by Darwinian evolution
  • WLC: even if those beliefs formed that way, that doesn’t mean that our moral judgments are not true (genetic fallacy)
  • KH: the moral judgments are only false if naturalism is true, and he didn’t defend that
  • WLC: if objective moral values and duties exist, then naturalism is false

KH quotes Richard Dawkins:

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.

More:

  • WLC: yes, that’s his view, but what reason is there to accept the naturalism that requires all that?
  • KH: yet he pushes various moral judgments
  • WLC: yes, in his book, he pushes a bunch of moral judgments in his book, all of which are invalid on naturalism?
  • KH: he wants humans to choose to show pity, even though nature is pitiless
  • WLC: he thinks that these altruistic behaviors can emerge because humans are sociable beings
  • WLC: but this “herd morality” is just an evolved convention, there are not objective moral truths

KH quotes Will Provine:

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.

More:

  • WLC: it’s his naturalism that is causing him to say that, theistic evolution is compatible with morality
  • WLC: naturalism is what conflicts with objective morality, science doesn’t invalidate objective morality
  • KH: atheists deny objective meaning, but atheists can invent subjective meanings and purposes
  • WLC: yes, but these invented subjective meanings and purposes are illusory
  • WLC: I don’t think that anyone can live happily by think

KH quotes 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.”

  • WLC: again, science is neutral against morality, it’s the philosophy of naturalism that is inconsistent with objective morality
  • KH: just because theists and atheists get along, it’s still important to remind atheists of the consequences of their view
  • WLC: I do that in my work on the absurdity of life without God, and in the moral argument for God’s existence
  • WLC: I love it when they say things like this, because it supports the first premise in Craig’s moral argument
  • KH: even if the evidence were 50-50, why would atheists lean towards the meaningless view
  • WLC: yes, if the evidence is 50-50, then people ought to prefer life, significance and moral value
  • KH: you’re not saying that people ought to the believe that in theism because it’s more palatable to us
  • WLC: right, I am saying that naturalism should be rejected on the evidence, including our experience of moral values

If you like this podcast, the RSS feed for the Reasonable Faith podcast is here. I subscribe to it. If you liked the post they were discussing, please click here and share and/or tweet it.

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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.

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