John Lennox, author of 2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity (2020), is not only an Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University but also pastoral advisor to Green Templeton College at Oxford. In a podcast, “Does Revelation Talk About Artificial Intelligence?” with Robert J. Marks, director of the Walter Bradley Institute, he addresses the title question, “Do some passages in the Book of Revelation seem to talk about AI?”:
Selections from the transcript are provided below: (The complete downloadable transcript may be found following the Show Notes and Resources. “Can AI Replace the Need for Belief in God?” provides an account of the earlier portion of this lively discussion.)
Robert J. Marks (right): Last question I want to ask you: You offer a conjecture in your book about some passages in Revelation and the possibility they could relate to the adoption of AI…
John Lennox: Well, of course the Book of Revelation tends to be very controversial because there are a lot of symbols in it. But C.S. Lewis taught me a long time ago that symbols usually stand for a reality. And we’ve got to ask ourselves, what is the reality about which the Book of Revelation is talking? And very briefly put, in Revelation 13, we read about an animal or a beast, and it’s clearly talking about a world authority or leader.
And we read that it commands a construction of an image that is an image of another animal or human, and it gives breath to this. And the result is worldwide deception and control and all who refuse to bow down and acknowledge the authority of this beast/human, whatever it is, are killed, so that you’re dealing with this scenario for a social control that is absolute.
Christian Bible Reference explains that Revelation, the last book in the New Testament, was written to encourage seven churches in a region of the Roman Empire that is now western Turkey. If the conventional dating of roughly 95 AD is accepted, the book would be in part a response to the cruelties of the Emperor Domitian (81–96 AD).
From the Revelation 13:
“15 The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.”
John Lennox: And what is intriguing and rather chilling actually in the light of our AI developments is that freedom to buy and sell is determined by the wearing of some kind of mark, an implanted chip.
Tegmark talks about a bracelet that people may have to wear that will determine whether or not they’re regarded as socially acceptable. And we’ve already got that kind of social acceptability factor in the credit system that’s being rolled out in the Chinese population today. So it’s relatively easy to see how this kind of thing could come about.
John Lennox (below right): Now, I’m not one of these speculators that know exactly what it means. But I am interested in what it stands for. And you’ve got something that appears to give breath to another creature, to an image, actually, which is presumably a material thing. And it’s so effective that it causes the whole Earth to worship it, which is a fascinating concept.
Then are we here? And that’s a question. Is it a partial realization of AGI? We just don’t know. But we do know, looking back in history, that at every stage human beings have set up images and bowed down to worship them. And what technology will produce one day is probably beyond our wildest dreams. For that reason, I want to take this scenario as seriously, indeed much more seriously than Tegmark’s scenario.
Note: Max Tegmark has argued that “AI can be the best thing ever for humanity” (New Scientist) Elsewhere, he has said, “All of today’s greatest problems can be solved with better technology, ultimately. And AI is a crucial part of that.” (VentureBeat).
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Can AI replace the need for belief in God? An Oxford mathematician contends that science should increase our respect for what God has created and allowed us to do. One of John Lennox’s motivations in writing 2084 was to offer a rebuttal to the Silicon Valley idea of techno-immortality via uploading our minds to silicon. (This is the previous portion of the podcast discussion.)
In Dan Brown’s AI hype novel, the hero stumbles onto God. Not clear that was supposed to happen but stories do get away on their authors at times… John Lennox: Utterly fascinating. Someone who’s trying to bring down religion by the use of AI is actually heightening evidence for the existence of God.
- 00:25 | Introducing Dr. John Lennox, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University
- 00:57 | The theological implications of artificial intelligence
- 03:26 | Can science replace God?
- 04:58 | An AI church?
- 07:44 | Obtaining immortality
- 12:41 | Superintelligence
- 13:42 | Revelation and artificial intelligence
- 2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity website
- John Lennox’s website
- 2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity at Amazon
- John Polkinghorne at Wikipedia
- Anthony Levandowski at Wikipedia
- Interview with Anthony Levandowski about Way of the Future at Wired
- Homo Deus by Yuval Harari at Amazon
- Max Tegmark at Wikipedia