Updated: Aug 27, 2019
Our world today is fascinating and complex as it is brought to incorporate extremely old ideas such as religion, with revolutionary concepts such as artificial intelligence. The interactions between those two shape our current civilization. In this article, we explore how God and artifical intelligence share much more than you think.
One of the biggest mysteries in life is the presence of God: many people have made that 'leap of faith': they believe. From an anthropological -i.e. related to the ‘study of humankind’- point of view, there are fundamentally two alternatives: either there is indeed a God, or at least a supra-natural power that governs or at least influences our lives or we, humans, simply need (the concept of) God to survive, evolve and progress as a species, which does not imply It automatically exists. The Bible says that God created man in His own image. What if it was the contrary? And can recent progress in Artificial Intelligence help us find answers? Exploring these questions can shed light on the questioning many people go through when they embark on their spiritual journeys; it could be justified through at least three prisms which I would call Logic, Darwinian and Agnostic.
The Logic approach can be summarized as follows: 'God is to reason what zero is to math; It is what does not exist but is so crucial to comprehend'. In other words, we need to name what does not exist to solve key problems. This 'God Assumption' is very powerful as it allows to go through your life with answers to many tough questions: who created the universe, what happens after death, why is there suffering, what is the purpose of my life. It is also a very powerful antidote to the cruelty of life, when you have to face terrible ordeals: ‘losing somebody I love is a way for God to test me’. Many people who believe have a strength and inner peace that is difficult to obtain without the umbrella of religion. Conversely, it is also fascinating that the concept of zero was initially seen as heretical by the Christian Church. There can't be 'nothing', the very notion of giving it a name is destabilizing as it removes hope.
And hope is something every government needs to maintain as a mean to avoid social unrest. The very close proximity between religion and power has pretty much always existed, and is still the norm rather than the exception across the world.
That view is reinforced by what I would call the Darwinian approach which goes as follows: 'One of the greatest strengths of humans is the ability to collaborate on a very large scale; harnessing collaboration is crucial to survive and thrive; but to collaborate you need vision, rules, enforcement, and if necessary punishment. Religion encapsulates all four.’And maybe it slowly emerged as the most convenient framework to allow large numbers of people to collaborate, from agricultural work to decide against whom to wage war or toward whom one should be charitable. In other words, religion is the ‘sanctification of morale’.
A unified set of norms and values is what you need to strive as a species, tribe, or country. Only recently if you look at human history have constitutions been a complement to religions and the spectrum is still very wide, from countries where the Constitution protects all faith but also stipulates that laws supersede religion for human affairs (France with the 1905 separation of Church and State) to others where you can invoke religion to avoid enforcing laws (the US) whilst in others religion is pretty much the constitution (countries where Muslim Sharia is applied).
Interestingly both religions and constitutions have a tough time adapting to change, whether it is technological, political or social, and both suffers from widely different interpretations on what should be done.
That leads to the Agnostic approach, summarized as follows: 'Religion actually combines in one doctrine what are actually three separate AND independent questions: 1) does God exist? 2) Does It care about me? 3) Should I care about It’. It is indeed possible that there is/was a creator, but that does not automatically implies that It cares about humans, and me in particular. And even if It does, whether and how I should worship is up for debate: much has been written about how the 3 monotheist religions, Jewish, Christian and Islamic have fought each other for centuries even though the alternatives are brutally simple: if God exists, It is by definition the same, so why fight? If It does not, even a lesser reason to fight.
In other words, you could have a God but no real rationale for religion. But it is a natural need to feel that somebody cares, and then to reciprocate by honoring him in the same way honoring your parents is central to most cultures. Religion is a spiritual package, that is blending whether God exists, whether It cares and how I should honor It based on the self-serving tautological 'leap of faith' concept to explain what can't explained. Very conveniently, that actually serves another purpose: at best provide support and cohesion to fight life's turpitudes, at worst control to achieve anything at scale. In all cases, that is what is many expect from government, and/or what government ends up doing or facilitating.
Now, there is a lot of literature about what constitutes progress and civilization, which is at least partly linked to higher wisdom. One could make the case that you have reached wisdom when you don't need God to justify your actions, as an individual, a country or a species. As the world gets increasingly global, and people are more exposed to different thinking thanks to international/social media, will one religion end-up prevailing? Will it be driven mainly by self-awareness and self-development like in many Asian cultures or by an omni-potent but supposedly benevolent fatherly figure that characterizes monotheist religions? Does Jesus need to be the son of God for his teachings to be valuable? The very notion of ‘loving and caring for each other’ is both beautiful and powerful, and arguably a necessity, for a self-sustainable society; it is little by little somewhat enshrined in many laws: why do humans need God to justify it?
There is a little test that I'd love to do, leveraging the latest in Artificial Intelligence: let's put together a network of AI-enabled computers, and ask them to solve very complex problems. And see what they come up with. They may or may not come with the 'God Assumption' to leapfrog issues, in the same way mathematicians theorized against math common sense that you could state that i2= -1 and then use it to solve complex problems, from electromagnetism to quantum mechanics. Interestingly these are call ‘imaginary number’.
Just to be clear, such computers coming up with that assumption variable does not imply God does not exist, it just implies that 'Intelligence' needs at some point to name the unexplainable to progress.
In other words, humans need the concept of God regardless of its actual existence, as a crucial component fulfilling human cravings for soothing, reasoning and leadership.
By Yann Motte