Note: This post is not a part of the ongoing Bible Study in the Gospel of Mark so there is not a recommended scripture reading.
Last week I read a short but interesting essay about the upcoming challenges associated with the current development of AI (artificial intelligence) published by MIT. A.I. is undergoing a massive change that will no doubt continue through the next century and will truly transform the world with which we interact. Not just driver-less cars and really fast, smart computers, but a world that looks a whole lot more like the worlds of science fiction as we have computers that are capable of truly independent thought. This is pretty exciting stuff because those computers, assuming that they are either altruistic or ambitious, will be able to tirelessly work on problems like cancer, climate change, and black holes. Hopefully they will do so without determining that the extinction of homo sapiens is the best answer for the problems that ail us.
In all seriousness, as a Christian I do not believe in a future where machines eliminate people, but the advances in AI does make HAL and Skynet seem more plausible. For those of you who miss the references recall 2001 and Terminator respectively.
The article suggest that the “dark secret” at the heart of cutting edge AI work is that programmers and researchers are starting to develop algorithms that teach themselves. This means that they are achieving a true form of intelligence that mirrors human thinking. After all, our own brains are effectively low-energy, self-programming machines. What Will Knight points out is that these machines are increasingly capable of making decisions that their creators are unable to explain the process by which the decision was made.
Now let be clear if you read the article linked above you will know as much about AI and deep learning algorithms as I do. But as I read this article I was struck by the notion that engineers and scientists are now developing processes and apps that function independently and they cannot always explain the outcomes. As a theologian, I am struck by the parallel with a Creator God who sets loose a self-programming machine that ultimately makes decisions that the Creator doesn’t understand.
In the third chapter of Genesis we are told in the aftermath of the decision to eat the forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve hid themselves from YHWH.
“Adam where are you?”
“Who told you that you were naked?”
These are the questions YHWH asks as he tried to unravel what has happened with his thinking creatures. Later YHWH will ask Cain where Abel is and what he has done that the spilled blood of Abel cries out from the ground. The efforts of the engineers at Babel will astound YHWH yet again.
A creation that thinks for itself and makes decisions that puzzle the creator.
YHWH settles on an explanation that will in truth become a theme throughout the entirety of the Bible. YHWH decides that the machinations of the human heart are evil (Genesis 6:5) and he regrets having created these self-willed creatures. A lot of ink has been spilled over the millennia to explain the presence of evil. Genesis 6:5-6 is the Ockham’s Razor approach: we make self-centered decisions and cause the evil that we experience.
But I digress.
You are likely familiar with the next step in the story. YHWH choose to start over with one family Noah and a bunch of animals destroying all the rest of life in a tremendous flood. This is where many readers of the Bible get bogged down worrying about details of which animals were in the Ark, how big was the Ark, where is the Ark, and could you really flood everything, everywhere? Do not fall for the trap. The key idea of the story is the evil of people and the choice by YHWH to act in a violent, retributive manner against that evil. You could call it in modern terms the nuclear response by YHWH.
If you stop there you also make mistakes. Instead of getting caught up in minutiae about the Ark and the Flood, here the reader who stops with the action of YHWH to correct the problem will only know an angry, vindictive God. For this reader, YHWH is not to be trusted but only to be feared because the YHWH who floods the earth destroying all life could turn on any of us because of our own selfish actions.
The story does not end with the flood. The story ends with a rainbow as a sign of promise by YHWH to never again try to use such destructive force to correct the problems of humanity. This has always seemed really important to me. Supremely important in the Old Testament as a matter of fact. YHWH does not do humanity 2.0 or even humanity 1.1 but simply makes a pledge to work within the bounds of this self-programming often self destructive machine we call homo sapiens. YWHW promises that from here on out he will fix what has gone wrong without a complete reboot of the system.
Yesterday was Easter. Around the world, millions of Christians gathered to worship the unbelievable, inexplicable truth that Jesus of Nazareth, rose from the dead and that people found his tomb empty. “He is not here” the Angels told the women, “he is risen.”
This came on the third day after Jesus hung on a cross and died.
See the connection?
YHWH will never again use mass destruction to fix what’s wrong with humanity and the creation.
“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”
“Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do” Jesus says from the cross.
And so it is a promise fulfilled as the God-man makes the inexplicable decision to die. His one death over against the deaths of everyone ever guilty of self-centeredness (sin). YHWH will die and be judged rather asking for the death of anyone else, ever. Resurrection will demonstrate the power of YHWH over death and a second life can belong to any and all. Sometimes the created cannot explain the action of the Creator. The mystery doesn’t change the outcome which is simple and beautiful. Love poured out into the world and into human hearts is the forever response of YHWH perfected in Christ and his resurrection. Love will be the answer for all that ails us.
Love and second life can be yours if you will simply trust that the tomb was empty.
Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.
As you live out the months ahead from yet another Easter Sunday remember that that empty tomb is the greatest example of YHWH keeping a promise to never destroy again. As you live out the months ahead remember to not live in fear of the future for it is filled to the brim with love. It is not perfected yet, but perfect it will be.