Aliens? Artificial Intelligence? Human Origins? Is this click-bait?
No, I promise!! 🙂
As we’ve discussed in Parts 1 and Part 2 of this series, taking the Representational View of the Image of God and viewing Genesis 2 as a sequel to Genesis 1 has some serious theological consequences we must work through if we’re going to be able to tackle the question of, “If there were people outside of the Garden of Eden who Imaged God, who were they?”
More to the point, how could we even we tell?
First, it’s important to realize that just because something appears to have the capacity for Image-bearing does not mean necessarily that God has chosen that particular species or thing to bear His Image. On the Representational View, Mankind was chosen to serve as God’s Image Bearers and then given the task of co-rule of Earth (Genesis 1).
Case Study Number 1 – Aliens
Let’s say aliens came to Earth. They revealed themselves in a big public event, did amazing technological feats, and even demonstrated that they worshiped the God of the Bible with an almost identical theology… but their Adam was named Buznak or something. Aside from the eschatological stuff we’d have to discuss, would we say they would be made in God’s Image?
In this case, we have to recapitulate what we discussed in Part 1 of this series. At the creation of mankind in Genesis 1, God said “Let us make man in our image.” This was a congenial invitation to the heavenly host (the angels, if you will) to come and witness God’s creation of mankind, God’s Imagers on Earth. This implies God’s Imaging status was held by the heavenly host.
The heavenly host Images God in the spiritual realm. They represent God and carry out co-ruler functions on God’s behalf there, just as we are told to do here on Earth.
So, we already have two examples of Imagers of God in two separate realms. Why not a third?
Let’s say our alien friends came from Jupiter’s moon, Io. They come bearing a remarkable religion that worships a single supreme creator God who has very similar traits to the God of the Bible (just like I believe Shang Di was to the ancient Chinese). In that case, I have no problem in saying that they did, in fact, worship the same God I do.
But even if they didn’t, if God created them on that planet for a similar role like we have here, then yes, they totally would Image God for the purpose of co-rule with God of the moon Io!
However, let’s say that they demonstrate amazing technical prowess and even look exactly like us (but maybe with blue skin or fins or something). Because of their technology, you might say they demonstrate an even “better capacity” for rulership of Earth than humans do! This is where the definition of Image of God becomes very important:
Their superior capacity does not mean that they were given the task to rule Earth by God. We were. It may even be possible that those aliens may be God’s Representational Imagers for the moon Io, or even the entire Solar System around Earth, but not here.
Abdicating our co-rulership with God here on Earth to these aliens, even if we thought it was in the best interest of the entire world, would deny our very reason for existing.
Case Study Number 2 – Artificially Intelligent Humanoids
Or, let’s say that we, as humans, achieve through technology an incredible marvel: an artificially intelligent being that looks, sounds, thinks, acts, bleeds, and even genuinely loves, like a human. It could have all of our capacity for everything God gave mankind to do… but this AI “human” would not be an Imager of God. It would instead be an Imager of humanity, and it would therefore not be appropriate for AI to have ruling authority on Earth.
My Mom, who edits my work (thank you!), when she read this, challenged me on this point. She said:
“If the AI being is in Our image and We are in God’s image, why, then, wouldn’t the AI also be in God’s image?”Mom ❤
(When your Mom challenges your blog post, you must include it… it’s in the WordPress rules, I think.)
Anyway, the idea of ‘imaging’ in the original Hebrew has the connotation of representation by way of direct placement of authority which is then exercised on the placer’s behalf. It is God’s prerogative to place His authority on whomever He wants, making them His ‘imagers.’ If we were to do the same thing, we are exercising our own prerogative, God-given though it may be. Therefore, whatever we bestow our authority to represents us by definition. Since we are not God, it would not image God, but us.
This is not a bad thing, in and of itself, since God has given us real authority here on Earth to exercise. However, my point is that no matter how “human” we make that AI, you could never truly say it was in God’s Image and, with it, a legitimate claim to rule. There are also some really dangerous side effects to opening up that can of worms, but that’s not the point of the article.
If we abdicated our God-given dominion mandate in Genesis 1 to this AI, even if it were “better suited” to do so, we would be casting off the very purpose for our being and giving up everything that God wants from us… a partnership with Him to rule Earth.
Unpacking the Issues
Now, let’s unpack this further.
Let’s say this hypothetical AI being is in every way the same as a human (btw, if you think I’m crazy (my mom thinks so), here’s a news story where scientists are using frog DNA to create biological machines). We could even say this AI had AI “parents” since there are now some AI programs reproducing other AI “children.” These two developments mean we could eventually have AI “humans,” complete with human DNA, who could have their own “human” children. The only difference, then, between a bona fide human and this AI being is its ontology; in other words, us having “humanity” is due to a designation by God whereas the AI “human” would be due to a designation by humanity.
Like we said before, it would be in our image, not God’s.
The implications of this are disturbing. If you ever saw the Animatrix episode “The Second Renaissance” (I’m not going to link it because it’s so graphic, but I do encourage you to look into it for its interesting philosophical implications), you know about the disturbing depiction of a woman being beaten to a pulp and then killed while onlookers cheer. Only toward the end do you realize that the woman was, in fact, a robot, and so the act of brutality was somehow “okay” (it wasn’t, btw… Apologetics Canada has done several podcasts dealing with AI, the Image of God, and ethical issues in the digital age. I invite you to check them out).
The horror of this is understood intuitively. Squashing a mosquito is a moral nothing burger, and might be seen as an objective good given mosquitos’ tendency to carry disease. Sucking a spider into a vacuum cleaner? No biggie. Kicking a cat… well, that might be a bad example depending on your cat.
But starving a crying gorilla in a cage? Now, that strikes us in the gut. The closer something gets to resembling what we know is “human,” the more morally repugnant the cruelty is to us.
If you can’t tell the difference between a human and an artificially intelligent humanoid (or the aliens in the first case study for that matter), the only logical way forward considering its moral qualities is to err on the side of caution when it comes to how we treat them.
In other words, we would have to play pretend for the sake of the moral health of our own souls. Treating an AI humanoid or human-like aliens cruelly would be far worse for us morally than being cruel to a gorilla, not because of what it says about the AI or aliens but what it says about us.
However, this practical consideration does not change the ontological fact that an AI being would not have the same standing or even moral obligations in God’s eyes than a human.
Furthermore, unleashing a moral free agent with all the capacity for human violence and cruelty would indeed be dangerous. And I am unconvinced humanity can program righteousness into an AI given our tendency for subjective morality. Human souls are morally accountable to God; what would an AI algorithm be beholden to? Human society? No thank you… human society produces the likes of serial rapists, sex slave traffickers, evil dictators, baby murderers… you know.
The alien, potentially made in God’s Image for rulership of Io, would have a different ontology than us, but would also have genuine moral duties and obligations like we do. These two case studies do not yield identical results.
But what does this have to do with Human Origins?
We must keep these points in mind as we consider who the first true Imagers of God were in Part 4 of this series.
Just like the humanoid AI, deciding on whether or not Neanderthals Imaged God or not does not mean that it would imply that cruelty toward them would be acceptable.
Just like the aliens from Io, even if Neanderthals demonstrated the capacity for co-rulership with God here on Earth, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that they were God’s chosen Representatives on Earth.
Thankfully, we don’t have to deal with this moral conundrum since Neanderthals went extinct 30,000 years ago; but the Anatomically Modern Humans alive back then did encounter and interact with them. Some may have even developed relationships with them, including marriage! So, it was important to have this discussion first so that we’re clear on the implications on having an opinion on who did and did not Image God on Earth in the past.