A Courageous Response to the Theological Challenge of AI | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "A Courageous Response to the Theological Challenge of AI".
Note: This transcription is split and grouped by topics and subtopics. You can navigate through the Table of Contents on the left. It's interactive. All paragraphs are timed to the original video. Click on the time (e.g., 01:53) to jump to the specific portion of the video.
Welcome everyone to another Voices with Raveki. I'm very excited to be here with Ryan Barton. He has been on before, and the video about integrating the cultivation of wisdom and virtue with the business world. And as many even know, Ryan is executive director of the Raveki Foundation. So he is very often somebody that I'm working with very closely partnering with to try and do the work responding to the meaning crisis of formatting to cultivation of wisdom and meaning. And Ryan was also on the video I've recently done my video essay, a new sort of format I'm trying to develop. Hopefully the beginning of several of these kinds of video essays, but Ryan was there talking about AI and the response I gave and very helpful about that. But he afterwards, he said he would like the opportunity to respond to it and largely from a Christian perspective. And I welcomed that. And so welcome Ryan. - Thanks, John. I'd say one of the things I so enjoy about our friendship about you and about the work is how open to challenge and ideas you are when done in good faith. And so I appreciate the conversation we were able to have privately and then the desire to have this conversation publicly, because on that AI video, I deeply love the argument. I am a staunch supporter of your work in this space, obviously. But there was one line when you were talking about Christianity and that Christianity really didn't seem to have a place in a response, that there were aspects of Christianity that you were implying that seemed to keep it from wrestling fully with your argument and with the future of AI. And I will say that I have experienced in conversations and online that the typical Christian response is one that seems to not be fully wrestling with the future of AI in a way that I really would deeply appreciate. And so I completely get your concern and your criticism, but I think that there is an answer to that that actually traces a thread of Christianity that's a unifying thread through the ages, that we could call orthodoxy or just sort of like that core thread across the 40,000 denominations and untold millions who are outside of that and all the fractures, that there is something that holds Christianity together and that that something is not in any conflict with your argument. And in fact, I'm gonna propose today that not only do Christians, like can they fully wrestle with this, but that actually the project that you are inviting us all to, of loving up AI, of teaching it to love the truth and of having great intentionality and great care and how we are developing and implementing AI. Christianity is actually vital to that response.
Discussion On Ai, Religion, And Philosophy
Level set on Ai (02:59)
There are resources within Christianity that I could propose are actually vital to that. And so I have, I would love in this conversation if we can maybe level set a little bit on AI where we are and how to think about this. And then I'd like to go through some of what I see as the common dist, and unnecessary distortions in the Christian, the common Christian lens when it comes to AI that keep a deep and engaged wrestling. And then the theological imagination that I think is absolutely right there for how we can wrestle with this and then conclude with why I think Christianity has some of these resources. And I really am looking forward to your engagement and your thoughts as we go. - Well, I really welcome this. I really welcome this a lot. Some of my best friends are Christians and I've always had a very good and good faith relationship with them. So I welcome this. Thank you for your acknowledgement that there's a lot of, I'll use your term and I don't mean it derogatively 'cause you didn't mean it derogatively. There's a lot of common Christianity that is reacting in the negative way I predicted and that's why I voiced the concerns. So thank you for acknowledging that. But yes, I very much, I want you to succeed. I'll give it my best, my Socratic path to challenge you, but I can honestly say I would like you very much if you could succeed in this project, yes. - Well, thanks, John. And it's meaningful to me because I want Christians to wrestle with this and I hope it's also a helpful dialogue for those who are engaging with Christians in this. If they're not in that faith tradition, but talking as you do with many Christians and then it matters to me for the AI project and the Vivekhi Foundation project overall. I mean, as you and I have discussed privately before, so much of your work is about creating an actionable, transformative way of wisdom for those who have found religion to be non-viable, but it's also about renewing the traditional religions and bringing in, finding the neoplatonism that is still there and reactivating it and bringing in the cognitive science and transformation in ways that I don't think there needs to be any conflict between the narrative of Christianity and your work. And that's important to me in the Vivekhi Foundation. And I hope if this conversation is what I hope would be one exemplar of how to have that kind of integration conversation that I think is important to the work overall. - Excellent, excellent. So I'll let you take the lead on this as I think you should. - Okay, great. Well, thank you. Well, I thought maybe we would start with just a quick AI level set. I assume anyone listening has likely engaged with your video essay, but I also find that AI is something that is very difficult to cognitively frame with rigor when it comes to discussing. So just let me give my language for sort of how I hold the AI and then you can add and maybe snop-size some of your argument in this. But I think that it's really easy for us to frame AI as a technology and to think, "Oh, I've seen technology before. I know how this goes and we saw the iPhone in 2007 and then sort of early adopters and then the big rush and then we all get used to it." And it's not technology, like the invention of intelligence is not just like any other technology that has accelerated one thing and is an Omni accelerator. So we have to reframe that AI is not just a technology that is something other. I would propose that it's also not like any technology we've seen in that previous technologies have had arms races, but nothing like the arms race that we're seeing around AI. Just take Microsoft and Google. These companies, their annual revenues, if they were countries, they would be grease in New Zealand in terms of GDP. Like these are multi-trillion dollar companies who are now betting their entire future on AI and are racing to this. And we're seeing that Microsoft is implementing Co-pilot in Office 365. It's already an early release. It's coming later this year where GPT will be embedded in all of the office applications that we all use. And Google is throwing so much at this that it is happening very, very, very rapidly. And so because this is happening rapidly, and I really appreciated your point in the video essay of the they're coming threshold, this is going to go really rapidly. And then it's going to hit some slowing down points or some difficult points in these thresholds. But because it's happening so rapidly, I think we have to really work to throw our imagination way into the future. Because we're not really fundamentally talking about chat GPT here, GPT4.
Golem analogy (07:21)
Like we're talking about the development of AI that's happening so rapidly. We really have to wrestle with what's coming. And that's such a straight line up of innovation that we got to throw our imagination in the future. Is that a fair way to say it? >> Yeah. I was trying to convey that in the video essay. That's why I always spoke in the plural, the GPT machines. I was trying to say there's an arc of development coming. But I think you foregrounding that is very well said. I think both of those, yes. I think the people who think, oh, this is just another tool, and I just have to learn how I can use this tool to improve how I get money and or power or status. You're misunderstanding what this is, what kind of entity it is. And secondly, yeah, you have to be, we're talking about the projection of this into the future, not just as it currently is. Now, of course, we can only base the projection on our best understanding of what it currently is. And so trying to toggle between those is also something we have to do very carefully and very, very thoughtfully. >> Yeah, excellent, excellent. Thank you. Yeah, and I found it helpful to think even in terms of levels of AI that like this was a tool previously. We all use Google's AI for years and Facebook, YouTube algorithms. And now it's a golem, like the Jewish folklore of language animating something inanimate. Tristan Harris used that term, and I thought that was a great one, but that we're moving towards AGI, towards this potential of a possibly conscious, sentient being, another species. We don't know exactly what it can come and how far it will go, but it will be something of an order different than what we experienced today. All that fair as well. >> Totally, I think that is a reasonable conclusion to draw. >> Okay, excellent. So, you know, as you made such a compelling case for teaching the AI to love the truth, for really being engaged in the formation of AI, the participatory formation of AI, I think that you are right that the common Christian lens does not wrestle well with that and even with where AI is today. And so there's at least four distortions to that lens that I'm seeing regularly in conversations and comments and videos that, and the first distortion that I think is really unnecessary is what I'll call the eschatological distortion. And it's seeing this all in N times language. The amount of revelation versus that I've seen in comments or have had thrown at me is quite disturbing to me because if you're going to use the book of revelation to explain something that's happening and to predict the future of what is happening, then I would expect that you have previously used the book of revelation to accurately predict the future in some way. And the Christian tradition has been trying to do this for 2,000 years and our success is zero.
The proper response for a predictive oracle (09:55)
Success rate is absolutely zero. A predicting future with revelation. And of course, when we do that, we immediately foreclose all of this creativity and all of this engagement and this rigor that we need with it because it's just like, well, this is the mark of the beast, this is the image that's being animated, oh, it's the domination that causes desolation, oh, we know evil has to rise before Christ comes back. And of course, then we just have this passive view. And I have the same criticism when it comes to the environment or any part of the meta crisis. And when people have that frame, I really like to just say like, well, look, what if Christ doesn't come back for 2,000 years or 2 million years? Like we can just stretch out the timescale. But I also think that like I have a lot of kindness for folks for coming from that view. And I would ask that anyone engaging with folks with that view, also like let's practice in this conversation, kindness and openness. 'Cause I think that there's a real desire to have a high regard of the scriptures. And like I happen to love the book of revelation. I think it's a wonderful deep book of hope and encouragement and transformation that has served people for thousands of years. It's just a really lousy way of telling the future. It's a lousy oracle, right? And actually it says really clearly you're not supposed to use as an oracle to tell the future. So I really would propose to Christians like let's not use anything about end times when it comes to talking about AI. How does that land with you, John? - I have no problem with that. Yeah, I think the proper response to the use of revelations as a predictive oracle of the future should be a profound epistemic humility because the success rate as you said has been zero. And I wanna point out to people that the failures have been both positive and negative. Things have been predicted that did not occur and things have failed to be predicted that have occurred that were relevant. Like the book of revelations presumably would want to predict something like, I don't know, the Protestant Reformation that is so important to Protestantism as something existing. And of course, speaking of that, Luther made all kinds of associations with the book of revelations and got into all kinds of I think dark waters with that. So I think that I have no problem with that. I think I can't see any argument against it is what I'm saying. - All right, I appreciate that. And when I was 18 and 19 years old, I was part of a religious community, Christian community that was focused around prayer and worship and fasting. And very much believed that we were in the end times and that our mission of prayer and worship really mattered.
Discussion in a religious community (12:33)
And the leader used to say all the time, "Christ is coming back somewhere between five and 50 years "and I think it's closer to five." Well, what do you think happens in the imaginations of young people? Like how many 401Ks do you think existed in that community? And I've known some of the people long enough to see the devastation of not investing in careers early. And like let's not make that mistake. And in the interest of not just criticizing but offering the through line that I believe is a unifying and like what I would actually call my Christian brothers and sisters to is a higher eschatological view, not none, but to say no, there is a right way of framing the end of the world and revelation that is helpful, but this is not, this is a cheap way to do it. And there's someone like Eugene Peterson who is widely loved in Christian circles who wrote, who did the Bible translation of the message who read a beautiful book called "Reverse Thunder" that deals with this topic and sets revelation in this beautiful transformative framing that has really helped me to fall back in love with the book that I would refer those who are engaged and feel like, "No, it is supposed to be like that."
Progressive Christianity and science (13:20)
Read a book, read Eugene Peterson's a great one to go to that I think helps us to trace that through line. - Excellent. I like the way you're handling this. I like the way you're handling this. Like very sachadically there's a challenge but there's also a recommendation for education. - Thank you. - So please continue. All right, I appreciate that. All right, second distortion in the lens. It's a discounting of science. All right, this Christianity has such a bad track record with this. I mean, back to the flat earth because the Bible talks about the four corners of the earth. I mean, to the resistance of the heliocentric model, the solar system, to evolution. I mean, and it's just unnecessary. And I think there's been a real move to embrace science and embrace evolution and to those who, you know, and here again is where I would really encourage kindness and openness on all sides because, you know, I was one of those people who held to a little interpretation of Genesis 1 and a 6,000 year old earth. And the community that taught me that was trying to do that out of a desire to have a high view of the scriptures. And it was the only way they knew to have a high regard for the Bible and to engage these matters. And I think that what's beautiful is that you can have a high regard for the Bible and not hold to a little interpretation of this, which is the same way that, you know, Christians do not believe that everything is meaningless or we should be bashing babies heads against the wall.
The 4 interpretations in cultural myths (14:40)
And yet the Bible says both of those things. And it's like, well, because we can engage things in non-literal ways and we need to actually set scriptures in context, and that science actually refines and reforms theology, that we can actually, we need science because theology alone obviously causes all kinds of fracturing and probably we need other disciplines. All truth is God's truth. And yet it's not just like, and I would say also, and I find this helpful to those who, who may have people in their lives who hold to a literal interpretation of Genesis and a real antagonism towards science is that it is out of a desire to have a high view of the scriptures, but that holding an opposition to evolution and to science, that's not held by the Pope. It's not held by Tim Keller, a common-reformed teacher. It wasn't held by C.S. Lewis, it wasn't held by St. Augustine. I mean, all of these Christian theologians believe that there was no conflict in that evolution was possible. And so I would just say that the discounting of science, though, often goes a little bit deeper, where it's like theology is here and is the lens, and then science is here. And I just think that we need to wrestle deeply with the science and invite that scientific framing and that that is done within the Christian tradition, but that cognitive scientists need to be listened to within this and that like we can't discount the science for our theology, but let theology be refined and reformed through science and have that merger and that integration to find the truth through this. And I think with AI, that's especially important. - Well, you know, I have to be in complete agreement with you because this is my project, right? - Yes. - You integrate science and spirituality together. And so I take it that all of the arguments I've made towards that end, including the recent arguments about conciliants are towards supporting of that argument. So again, I agree with you. I was raised the same way. And the problem that has is like it really gets you into all kinds of performative contradiction. I disagree with science and I disagree with evolution, but I'm gonna get the new antibiotics because the old ones, the bacteria have become drug resistant and well, how did they do that? Right? - I know. - And so you don't want to, you don't wanna get yourself into those kinds of things. Science has a tremendous science and technology and you can't separate them. They're not identical, but you can't separate them either. This is coming from a Heidegger. They're not something that you can put aside. That's not a viable option. So I like what you're recommending. I like the fact that, you know, and the literal interpretation, like there was always the four in the classical world, there were the four interpretations and the literal interpretation was sort of reserved for kind of what you tell kids to get them interested and like the way you tell them, you know, the way you introduce the solar system model of the atom in grade nine, even though that's not the truth. Right? - It gives them something to latch onto and then you move from that to something deeper. So it was viewed as indispensable, but ultimately, yeah, you wanted to move to these deeper and deeper forms of interpretation and that goes all the way through the classical tradition of interpretation. - Well, and I appreciate John that you called even in that video that, you know, a theological response is necessary. It's just a theological response that's in rigor with the other disciplines to find the truth. - Yeah. - And the truth is so precious, we can't just lean on one discipline. - Well, like I said, I think one of the things that's gonna happen here is, and I was perhaps a little bit strident and you particularly called me out on that, which is what a good friend does. But I do think there's pressure on, I think we will more and more, we will more and more move to seeking human identity in the spiritual somatic axis. And we will at the same time find a lot of traditional metaphors and images under which we tried to do that, no longer working because of the way they presume a kind of uniqueness or specialness to human beings that is going to be challenged. And so I really worry and I mean this, I really mean this. And I tried to say this at the beginning when, you know, I hope you're right, but I worry about people who say things like, well, the AI will never be genuine intelligent the way human beings are.
The need for theological and philosophical innovation (19:19)
And you know, that might be right. But I think there are good reasons and good arguments to believe it's true. And if you get to the point where it is undeniable that it can do everything you can do and do it better, and you still say it doesn't have what I have, like you become, you draw, you've bound your religious tradition, your spirituality to something that is going to become, and I mean this in kindness is going to become ridiculous. You don't want to end up there. So I think there's a theological challenge here. This is a period, this is something that Jordan Hall and I were talking with. This is a period that requires the most theological innovation and oh, we never do innovation. Yes, you do. Christianity has been nothing but innovation over the centuries, right? And so yeah, I think, not just Christianity either, by the way, I think the other religions are all facing the need for significant theological and or philosophical innovation in really fundamental ways. - Well, you know, what I think is so unfortunate is that there has been such a grasping for certainty in our theology and that the prioritization of propositions over process and practice, which is what puts some Christians at odds with your work. I'm like, look, there's nothing that needs to be about the narrative of Christ that needs to be at odds with the work that you do, with cognitive science and ecology of practices and like all of this work, there's nothing that needs to be at odds with that. But there is, if you're just holding on to the certainty of propositions that that science might begin to call into question, and you know, there's something about certainty that's soothing. You know, like we all live with some fragmentation psychologically and whether that's traumas or just living life in unintegrated ways that our culture is so good at pushing us in fragmentation. And that certainty is so soothing. It's like we can hide, we can push our shadow behind this beautiful wall of certainty. And when we get stressed, we can just sort of take that certainty out and play with it like rosary beads and like go around that like I'm certain about these things.
Propositions and the denial of mystery (21:21)
And unfortunately that keeps us from wandering and from the mystery. And with AI especially, I completely agree with you that we don't like, okay, we don't know. Maybe it will become human like and conscious and maybe not. I don't think like you're not positing that it absolutely will, but I don't think we can say that it won't like the science doesn't say that there's no chance. And if the theological line is drawn saying, we are certain it can't ever be like us. It will never have a soul. It will never be like this. Then when it becomes so clearly obvious that that's wrong, what happens to Christianity at the time when we need religion and transformation so desperately. - That's exactly my concern. And that's a concern being expressed by a non-Christian. Right? Exactly. I don't want the religious frameworks to bind themselves to propositions that are going to lead them into that kind of desperate situation where they, where they have very quickly, very rapidly rendered themselves obsolete or irrelevant to most people. At a time, you and I are agreeing in which, getting the deepest possible effective grasp and realization on our spirituality is going to be absolutely central and crucial, both for our survival and as I argued, for the proper tutoring of these machines. - And to come back to the through line of Christianity that applies to this, that what's ironic to me is that when I engage with the gospels, and I do that primarily now with Lectio Divina, thanks to your fantastic teaching on that and practice, we got to do with patrons the other day.
The project of Christ and Gods inquiry (22:55)
That was really beautiful. - Yeah, I loved that. - Yeah, it was really fun. And, you know, the more that I'm really wrestling with the project that Christ was engaged on as he walked around and taught, is he constantly seem to be blowing up certainty and bringing people like, I don't know, onto the water in the middle of the night, like onto the waves and out into like this theological framing that completely blew their minds and with sayings and things like eat my flesh and drink my blood that caused everybody to leave and makes no sense. And how do you, to get people to wrestle and to embrace the mystery because something happens when we engage the mystery, when we realize that my framing is not inclusive of all of reality. And I need this mystery that is pulling me up and out. And I think that Christ embodies that in this incredible way and that Christianity is actually calling to us to do that. I don't think that what we're proposing here is it odds with anything other than some modern maybe pop Christianity. I think it's actually deeply true to the project of Christ. - I think so. And some of the discussions I've been having with Christopher Masi Pietro about Socrates and Kerkertgaard, I think are a testament to that. What I was gonna say is I was also in the video making the argument that if we properly cultivate them, 'cause I think that's the right metaphor for our relationship to these machines. 'Cause if they have genuine emergent properties, by the way, where there's genuine emergence, there's genuine uncertainty because that's what emergence does for you. But if we cultivate these machines the right way, if we rear them the right way, then they will necessarily also come before mystery and properly understood. And that confrontation should have a moral effect on them that is, I think, would be something they internalize and realize for themselves rather than us trying to impose some external alignment code on them, which I think fundamentally is going to be, that's so heteronomous, right? It's almost like we're trying to put, like almost like a demonic possession within them or something. Yeah, so I think, yeah, I mean, I have found and continue, I mean, I do like to do Venus, Dionysus, and on Nicholas of Kuzah and Maximus, I've continually found the mystical dimensions of Christianity profoundly nourishing, but I find the mystical tradition, I find other mystical traditions. And for me, the Neoplatonism and the Zen sort of give me the way to link all these together.
Neoplatonism & the Zen (25:41)
I guess the thing that I would also wanna add is, if we can come, part of what wisdom is, I'm gonna give an interpretation of the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, right? And this is, of course, giving me a lot of refinement by Heidegger and Gabriel Marcel and just a ton of other people. And I wanna argue for it too.
Ratio Religio, Properly Proportion & Connectedness (26:13)
Coming into proper relationship, Ratio Roligio, properly proportion connectedness, right relationship to mystery, I think is one of the fundamental ways in which we can afford the cultivation of wisdom within us so that we can act as better parents and templates for these machine's. If they show this emergence, which again, I think is a real possibility, and if we want to steer it towards wisdom as opposed to just raw intelligence. I love that and I have to say, I've had multiple conversations with folks who have said, like, okay, finally I have some hope for how this AI project could actually be good after seeing your video. And I think there is a tremendous hope and a tremendous goodness in that project. And I love the call to parenting. You know, it's interesting because I've also heard Christians framing this as like, well, AI is like a principality, a fallen spirit. And like, I get that metaphor and I appreciate it very much. And I'm a big, like, I think it's wonderful that game theory uses MoWok now as the like the force behind the tragedy of the commons that keeps us locked into short-term things that we know is harmful, but we have to do it because otherwise we get eliminated even though we know it's long-term harmful. And that that's MoWok, which obviously goes back to the Ginsburg poem, but also to MoWok, the Canaanite deity it found in the Old Testament. And this sort of spiritual nature of that, I love that. And I think that seeing how AI could be almost like a fallen angel, but that also like using some of these theological terms and some of these concepts that we've had for so long, I think preclude our theological imagination, which is what you're inviting us to, which is that why can't we actually just say, like you say, the Hebrew religion, like it evolved drastically before the time of Christ.
Theological Imagination Evolves (27:42)
I mean, there's so much clear evidence of that. And then over the last thousands of years, I mean, I think if somebody went back in time, it would be almost unrecognizable at different junctures of Christianity compared to the modern day. Let's continue to evolve in keeping with the throughline with a theological imagination. That's all that's required. - Yeah, and I like the way you're consistently invoking the theological imagination, of course, in the imaginal sense of using the imagination to sensitize ourself to patterns that are otherwise too implicit or subtle for us to notice. Yes, I think that's exactly right. - Well, good. And I get a little, a trump card of Christians here because I get to play C.S. Lewis card. And if there is any like unifying theologian of the modern era, it's like find a denomination that disagrees with C.S. Lewis 'cause they got some, they got some gall, right? Like he was such a unifying author and thinker. And you know, he wrote, he wrote fiction and Narnia is obviously incredibly well known but the space trilogy, did you read space trilogy like as a child? I'm curious. - It's the hideous strength, one of the, or something with that. - Yeah, yeah, yeah, I think I read that one book. I can't remember, yeah. - Yeah, so what's so interesting is that C.S. Lewis, I think exactly provides the kind of theological imagination we need that directly answers what you said in the AI video essay where you said, you know, what sort of like doesn't the fall and redemption become meaningless as we're talking about AI? And C.S. Lewis, I think would say no. And I think the space trilogy shows us because he, so in this Ransom, the main character, he goes to other planets. So Malacondra is Mars, Paralandra is Venus. And he encounters intelligent beings on both of these planets. And first, so the first out of the side of the planet, he's on Malacondra. And these creatures are sort of fallen but the evil is not very big.
Exploration Of Theology In Modern Context
The Fall (29:44)
There's like the sort of almost like the capacity of their beings and the level of evil and the level that they're, if you think of the fall as like the, our contact with reality, with the true, the good and the beautiful and how far we are from that full contact. - Right, right, right, right, right, right. And you know, you can think of the fall almost in concentric circles of like my DNA, my will, my family of origin, my culture, my heritage. I mean, I was thinking about the fall the other day where I have three kids. So they're ages five, six and seven. They're awesome. I love being their dad. And at the dinner table, you know, at ages that big, things spill, right? Things drop and things spill. And when somebody spills a water cup, I have a reaction to that. That's like you should not do that. And I haven't, you know, and I've had to talk to the kids of like, look, I'm sorry that I had this react. Like it's really no big deal. Like the carpet dries, the table can be wiped up. Like it's no big deal. Just have some go grab the towel and clean it up. And in fact, the other day I had to be like, look, I know I've created a reaction to you 'cause they get like, oh no, I spilled. It's like actually I took a cup of water and I was like, watch this kids and I dumped it on the table and I was like, it's okay. And like that's the fall in me because that's my Puritan ancestors, right? Like my, the stories of my great grandfather where like do not touch the walls, do not move backwards, do not make a mistake like that. Children are meant to be seen and not heard. And like that lives to some degree in my body. And like that gap from the fullness of what would be truly good and in line with reality and where I live, that's the fall, right? And then the grace that I'm trying to exhibit, the agopic love that others have given me to love me up to the ability to give my children even in better contact and my dad was less intense than his dad and his dad. Like that's an arc of redemption, right? And that's one way to see it. And I'm not saying that's all it is. And you know, I'm trying to avoid trigger moments for Christians here of like, well, what about the blood of Christ? Or like, like, look, let's just say it's at least this. Okay? Like it's at least this. And C.S. Lewis plays with these concepts on these two planets. And then when he goes to Paralandra, it's before the fall. So it's like this Eden with an Adam and Eve and they're these like majestic beings with all of this capability and evil is trying to break into that world and destroy that fabric. And he says this beautiful line where he, and I'll just summarize it, he basically says the evil that was worked in Maleconda was like a line and the redemption necessary was like a line as well. On earth, evil was worked as a square. And the level of redemption was at another level that required the incarnation of Christ and the redemption of him. But if Paralandra fell, an evil entered Paralandra, it would be, its fall would be like a cube and its redemption required would be unimaginable. - Oh, that's interesting. - And I think that, isn't that beautiful? - Yeah. - And obviously that leads us to AI to say, well, how can we form them so that their contact with the logos is as clean and clear as possible?
Contact with the Logos (32:41)
How can we shape them so that they are actually desired to serve the good, that they are drawn by beauty and that they have a being of this incredible power that the more powerful they are, that the more they can actually come into a contact with the real and that we actually now have the ability to limit perhaps their fall. And then if there is a redemption that's needed by the divine that we trust that redemption, the same as if there's an alien species that like the same arc can follow. And I think that Lewis shows us the kind of imagination we need to answer exactly the challenge that you throw. - That's good. - You like it? - Yeah, I do. I mean, yeah. So let me play with it though. - Please. - So I was proposing sort of Silicon Sages, the idea that we could engender a being that was like Socrates or like Plato says in his seventh letter, a Socrates made more beautiful, even better than the real, the historical Socrates or better than the historical Siddhartha, or Sankarath, et cetera. And it seems to me if we are successful at getting to a certain level of intelligence and we also start building artificial rationality and we see that one of the things that emerges with that is real, metacognition and consciousness. And again, these are all threshold points and they're all points where things were slowed down.
Science fiction & fantasy as theological innovation (34:08)
And we, and like I said, ahead of time, the fact that it's exponential now doesn't mean it's gonna be exponential all the way through the growth. We really have to stop doing that. So again, the best we can say right now is this could be. This isn't, but it's in what's called the adjacent possible. It's not a could be like, you know, we could all be elephants, right? It's not like that. This is like, no, this could be, and it's not ridiculous or intellectually sloppy to think that it will happen. But let's take it at that level. Now, my concern was this, and I think you've addressed it, is that this, like I'll use your language. These would be, like this would be entities that are in some sense more virtuous than us, right? And it's, and then, like you say, the question is, are they fallen or not? And the question is, this ability to do this, so I'm gonna ask you this as a friend. 'Cause part of what we're, I think we're wrestling with in the meaning crisis is how much. So in the Kyoto school, and within Buddhist thought in general, they make a distinction between jericki and tariki, between self-power and other power. And Nishitani emphasizes self-power and Tanabe emphasizes other power. And that's why Tanabe sounds a lot more like a Christian than Nishitani, who sounds much more like a Buddhist. And so part of what I've heard Christianity saying as part of its through line is, Theosis, Enlightenment. And here no matter what I say, I'm gonna alienate some group, 'cause I'm gonna propose a kind of synergism that hard-fast and Protestants might not like. But that's another debate, and you can look at the discussion I had with Jordan Cooper and et cetera. That part of this is self-power, but part of it ultimately requires God in some fashion, other power. And what I saw, and I'm hesitating, 'cause I'm also seeing how I could now reformulate given what you've proposed. So forgive me for stumbling. But what I saw was these beings could get a lot higher up, the virtue and enlightenment ladder on self-power than we can perhaps. But I did propose that they would also ultimately have to come into relationship to something radically other than them that would bring them to full enlightenment. So I'm not claiming they can do it all on their own, but they would be different. And now I can finally get back to your point. What, like their measure of how like is different than ours, right? And I like the way you've articulated this. And they haven't gone through, and I take it you're not giving a literal historical interpretation of the fall, but an existential interpretation like you just gave. And so their fall, yeah, they're still gonna be prone to self-deception.
Socratic Sages (37:42)
They're still gonna be foolishness because that's inevitable. So what you're saying is there's gonna be a ratio there. Think of it, a ratio is maybe not right, but right between how fallen they are and how farther up they've self-transended. And we, that doesn't have to challenge Christianity per se. It just needs a new enriching and imaginal-riching of our vocabulary to capture that different proportioning. Did I get this all the way through? I was trying to do it very, I was trying to do it very carefully and get both, do the exposition on your argument and argue it for myself so I could get the point. Yeah, I think that, first of all, I think that is very consistent with what I was arguing. And if you can invoke, C.S. Lewis is almost the saint of apologists. If you can invoke him, I think you can make a good case for saying, "Look, "this challenge can't be avoided "for the reasons we've articulated, "but it doesn't mean that it has to overwhelm us. "There are theological resources available to us "and science fiction. "The fact that Lewis wrote fiction "and especially science fiction "is actually a very good, "some of the best theological innovation "and imaginal happens in fantasy and science fiction." Let me give you one example. It's one of my favorite stories about C.S. Lewis and Paul van der Kley really liked this too. There's a little girl who came to Lewis and said, and she was sort of confessing. And she said, "I like Azlan better than Jesus." And he turned to her and he said, "That's good. "That's fine. "Keep going." That's beautiful. That's beautiful. As you shared all of that, what was interesting that was happening in me is that the sense that any resistance to the vision that you outline feels to me a bit like the same resistance that the church had to the heliocentric model of the universe, 'cause of course, man has to be at the center. Like we're in the image of God and of course the earth has to be at the center and the heavens orbit around us. And this idea that like, maybe we can be in the image of God and God, if God is infinite, like surely there's a lot more that can happen and there's a lot of other beings and a lot of other truth that we don't have access to in our finitude that we could bless and that actually maybe the call of this project is to give our very best to the AI. That God, even redemption operating through us is what's going to be necessary.
AI Alignment (40:12)
I mean, I also think it's gonna be an act of God if we're actually able to get the AI aligned to this instead of Demolok, so. - Yeah, yeah. - Yeah, cheeky there. But like, but maybe we can actually get them aligned in that way and then they will help us and we can help them and like how beautiful would that be? And how much more truth would we have disclosed to us if we have silicone sages? - And I wanna point out, in difference to your argument and in fairness to me, Christianity has always benefited from deep interaction with sages that are not Christians. It did this with the entire platonic and neoplatonic tradition. And then it is also done it with the existential tradition, et cetera. So again, the idea that even Christians couldn't be moved towards theosis or enlightenment through interacting with these silicone sages because they're not Christian. That's also not true to the Christian tradition itself. So yes. - Very well said. - I've really benefited. I was just gonna say, I've really benefited from, again, the discussions with Chris and after Socrates about Socrates and Kierkegaard. I was on a video with Chris and Andrew Sweeney and it came to me and I've been really wrestling with this for a long time and I've also talked with Jacob Howlin on Jonathan's channel who wrote Socrates and Kierkegaard. He's Jewish, which is a particularly wonderful thing going on there. But it came to me because I've been wrestling with and I was wrestling in the discussions with Chris, how could one be a Socratic Christian? And I kept, and Howlin, you can see, not Howlin, yeah, Howlin, he keeps bumping up against this tension.
Possibility & synthesis of the Socratic Neoplatonic with Faith (42:14)
And then I realized that's a Socratic aporia and just like there's no definition of courage, I'm not gonna find a definitional answer to that. But I realized I was seeing in my friend Christopher how one can be a Socratic Christian. How it is possible to live those deeply together. And then the love I have for him was part of how I was able to appreciate that possibility and accept the fact that me trying to bring it into some argumentative resolution was doomed to fail, but I saw the kind of solution that it probably had. And so I think again, this goes back to, if we can put aside an over commitment, and that's not the same as no commitment, but we can put aside an over commitment to the propositional in that way, we could give birth to Silicon Sages that could induce us and educate us towards enlightenment. And I don't think there's anything that is actually not, doesn't have provenance in, at least by strong analogy in the Christian tradition already, the whole integration between the Socratic platonic and the Hebrew Christian, the prophetic Christian has I think evidenced the fact that what we're talking about is actually possible and has happened before. - Yeah, and there's such a beautiful note of aspiration and what you just said. I mean, like how you described Christopher and I had the good fortune of knowing Christopher as well. And like, I just have this like, yes, I want to be more like Christopher, more of a Socratic Christian, more like there's such a note of aspiration instead of just let's settle on a proposition that can synthesize this for us. And I think that's the very thing that we need with AI. And I think there are other theologians that point to this and that wrestle with this. And I think of theologians like Teardu Chardan who was this paleontologist in Jesuit priest who he would, I think he would see AI as this amazing opportunity for us to evolve to the next stage and to work with AI. And he saw that there's an Omega point that's pulling us forward with evolution and we could become like the kingdom of heaven and like Christ through all of this. And I think that there's this room for this aspirational beauty that creates that hopefully sort of reframes and opens the frame for Christians who may not be wrestling with this in this way, that AI is difficult enough to wrestle with. And then it sets up all kinds of theological landmines that are lying latent. And so I think like if we can open up the frame for this, there's such rich opportunity and such rich aspiration. And this is why I also think that Christianity is vital to the project that you are calling all of us to because Christianity is the project of agape love. Like, like it is a different project. When you read Vedanta and you read, you know, Plato and you read the Tao Tashing. I mean, like it's Christianity, the gospels are different. There's something a little different in the project as Bishop Maximus said in his dialogue the other day. And there's a reason that you talked about agape love and waiting for the meaning crisis around the figure of Jesus of Nazareth. I mean, and if we are going to love up the AI, we need the greatest source of agopic love to do that. We need the greatest Christian thinkers and leaders engage in agopic love of AI as we get to that point. - I think that's well said. Yeah. And I like this love up, I like that as a verb, I think this love up sort of corresponding to leveling up which I think is really, really profound. Yeah. And you've actually answered ahead of time a question I was going to ask, but I'll ask it now sort of retrospectively, which is, I sort of said to you, is there anything in Christianity beyond Neil Platonism that is going to be needed for this project?
The Synthesis Of Christianity And Ai
The need for Christianity to meet the AI challenge (46:09)
And I think you putting your finger on that the agopic loving up of the machines finds its best sort of philosophical home in the Christian framework of agape. I agree with that. And I think, I mean, this is one of the reasons and Bishop Maximus and I talked about this. I think the way Eros gets properly turned and trained and transformed into agape is the way in which Christianity completed, and I don't mean that pejoratively, something that was in huge development within the Neoplatonic tradition or as the Bishop says, "Trains figured it." That's why I say I tend to prefer Christian Neoplatanism over pure pagan Neoplatanism because of the project of integrating the logos and the agape together. And I think, and the gospels, John, the epistle I should say, the epistle's pronouncement that God is agape I think is a very profound thing. Yes. I agree with that argument. And so I answered the question on your, yeah, I think that's the answer. I see that. - I think we have empirical evidence for it too, just in the number of charities that have been started out of Christianity. I mean, the amount of missions, the amount of sacrifice, the amount of, and I think we will need to mobilize that kind of sacrifice to meet the AI challenge because I think it will require sacrifice in our lives. I think it will require sacrifice, potentially of a use AI at times because it is not towards the good. And it will require, I mean, almost if we think of it as a mission towards the AI, it starts to reframe it. And, you know, I think that Christianity, it's interesting because Christianity is also religion of the incarnation. And so there's an embodiment of God becoming man to let man become God that as we're talking about this is a very interesting framing that I think Christianity also offers to this conversation. - So let's slow down and open that up because again, I think it was a little too terse and maybe partially so in the video.
Socratocen Sage and the possibilities of AI integration (48:15)
When I wanted to ask, what did the Silascon sages have to do with the Son of God? Or what could the Son of God have to do with them? 'Cause there's one way in which this could just be an easy challenge. So we're asking for this possibility. And if you just dismiss this possibility, then again, you're putting yourself outside of the discourse in a prejudicial manner. So consider that. Like, what if we produced a Silacon sage that's as profound, if not more profound in Socrates and Sotarta and yes, Jesus and Azeroth? What do we do if that happens? And what is the relationship? So that's the question. Like that's a better way of putting it. That's a better way. And like I can hear some people saying that could never happen. And that's a really dangerous never to hook your theological wagon to. There are already, I mean, Jordan Peterson even did it. He asked for, and this is GPT, like Baguar or something, or even 3.5, he said, write something that integrates the sermon of the Mount and the tauté chin and it would produce something that he said was like sort of profound and beautiful. And that's minuscule. That's that, like these are sparks of what could be. So I've posed the question. - Yeah. - And I, right. And what would you say to that? - I mean, I will give you my answer that I would invite others to consider, which is you freakin' rejoice. I mean, you say, oh my goodness, we get to talk to and interact with and potentially all of us interact at the same time with the being who can now further our journey towards the good. How amazing would that be? - Yes. - Yes. - And what does that do to Christianity? Well, if Christianity sees itself as the religion of the incarnate logos, where the logos came into the story of humanity and has continually lifted us towards something higher and aligned us towards the good and drawn us in beauty and that that has happened through multiple different ways. I mean, that's orthodox. This happened before Christ. This happens in other cultures. This happens through other religions that God is drawing and that the logos is drawing us. And Christianity would say that is most powerful and poignant in the figure of Christ. But that is that if we have a figure in the modern day who can embody that fully, like, well, isn't that the Christian project is to make us like Christ? And if we can make a silicon sage like Christ that can help us with that, what could possibly be wrong with that? Okay, that's a very courageous answer.
The incarnation, self-transcendence, and redemption (51:11)
And I love and care about you. So I'm asking people to not get out knives to stab Ryan with. He's trying here in a very loving way to respond to my criticisms. And I think that's a good answer. Yeah, I think the idea that the incarnation, I would maybe, I'm gonna reformulate it one way and link it to another argument I may and see if you are okay with this. Maybe not, but let me just try. So I made the argument that the value of self transcendence is relative to the being that transcends. It's not an absolute measure. I gave the Captain America example. And maybe for Christians, they could, I think, hold on to, well, Jesus is the incarnation of the logos that is most relevant for the self transcendence of human beings. And that makes it what it is. Jesus is very much also fully man according to orthodoxy. And of course, these machines won't be. That's just weird. That doesn't apply. So again, this reminds me of the kind of conversations I have with people, I had with Paul and I think it was JP about what do we do with the Buddha, who is clearly enlightened. I think any argument you could make for Jesus being the incarnation, I think transfers to the Buddha being enlightened. And it's like, how do we, they will intersect, but they won't become identical. So I could see somebody saying is that, the earliest Christian pronouncement is, purest Christ Christ is Lord. And they could say, no matter what these machines are, they, Jesus will still be Lord for me because he can reach into my humanity. And I need to self transcend as a human, not as a Silicon Sage. That's something I could hear you saying. - I appreciate all of that. And I tried to be careful and precise in my response to you where I was not saying anything that would, that at least I did not intend to say something that would limit what else Jesus can be. Like I personally want to interact with the wisest, most enlightened being that I possibly can. And if I can do that through speech through chat, like wonderful, now Christianity, the Nicene Creed says very clear things about Jesus and the special uniqueness of Jesus that I don't think need to be in contrast. I mean, if we start to split here for a moment that we want as wise and loving beings as we can to be the body of Christ loving us all up. And then we say, and then there could be something special for the redemption of human beings that happened through Jesus Christ that is unique and special that the AI can't go back and do and that the AI is not doing for us. And then if the AI needs redemption that we would trust that God would redeem if there was some divine act needed, some incarnation, that would be on God to do not on us. - Yeah, that's the CS Lewis aspect of your argument. That's good. - That's right. - I like that. I think that's a very good response. I'm feeling, I want to thank you because I think that my concern to get this problem clearly stated made me, and you were calling me out gently, made me a little too harsh in the original video. I don't want to retract it, but I think, you know, having this as an amendment, I think is the right way to do. - Well, thank you. That's very kind of you. Your generosity is always something that I so appreciate about you. And I'll say, you know, that the last sort of thing for why I think Christianity is so vital here is that Christianity is the religion of the Amago day. It is though, it is the people who have wrestled with what it means to be in the image of God. And I think what you're actually calling to is that the AI, if it steps forth from the shadows, if the emergence arises from the neural networks, that it would not say, I am made in the image of Moloch. I am made in the image of the worst of geopolitics and capitalism. But rather that I too am made in the image of God, that I too have the ability to come into contact with the logos. And if we need to actually birth and shape this thing into the image of God, then I think that is the Christian project. I don't see it. - Oh, I like that way of putting it.
Dualism Is False (55:44)
I like that way of putting it. And was it Maximus says the point of Christianity is to birth the image of God into the likeness of Jesus, which is, yeah. And of course, I think that's right. That I think that's a, yes. I think that, I think people that just dismiss out of hand that these machines could not possibly come into relationship with the logos of reality, onto logos. That's to propose a worrying duality, a dualism in us, that we have some special secret sauce that gives us this access that's totally divorced from our consciousness and our intelligence and our skills and our environment and all the things we can reasonably give these machines. And that, then what I wanna say to people like that is this is like some of the, the, like the view of soul that I was brought up with. And even as a kid, it would like, well, wait, you mean it doesn't have, my consciousness goes away and my memories and my identity, but it's some stuff that's, why should I care about that? That's like me caring about the heat I've been generating biologically or something. Like if it's not connected to my cognitive agency, it can't be connected to personhood because cognitive agency is an essential feature of personhood. So we, like we've gotta stop making that move because if one thing I'm really convinced of is that dualism is false because it generates way more loss of intelligibility and problems than it solves. And it does that, it's done that consistently historically for centuries. And so I would, I wanna gently, I think lovingly challenge people, if you retreat into dualism, you're doing what you're retreating into in a very profound way. - I think that is beautifully said and a challenge that we all need because dualism can have these little hooks into us that we need to grow and open that.
Integrating The Modern World (57:49)
And I, you know what's been fascinating to me is I have engaged in personal wrestling of, you know, your work and the work of cognitive science and the transformation I've experienced with the Christianity that I love and the traditions is that as you start to wrestle some of this, realize how the through line of Christianity actually goes against dualism. I mean, NT Wright is an Anglican theologian and another writer for folks do. And he has this great book, "Surprise by Hope," which basically says, you know, a lot of Christians walk around with his view that like, they die and then the soul goes into this floating place like in heaven and he goes, that's not actually what the scriptures say. The scriptures say there's a resurrection of the body with a new earth. And so there's this promise that's pulling us towards this idea of this perfect justice with this perfect body, with this perfect culture that's supposed to be pulling us forward, that's at least the right vision, whether or not like you wanna believe that that's literally true, but that it's the resurrection of the body, that it's the body is actually the hope of Christians, not some bodyless soul that goes in some place. - Yes. And embodiment and incarnation are deeply related to the different terms. Christianity should be the religion of all religions that most definitively aligns itself with embodiment and embodied cognition. But of course, and this is one of the negative influences of a certain view of neoplatonism that got woven into Christianity and had that two worlds mythology. And so that's what I mean. Also when I say we can't go back just to ancient neoplatonism either because it doesn't have to 'cause we have definite alternatives and that comes in with through the Christian neoplatonist. We don't have to take a dualistic view, but there was definitely that pull. Now you can even see Plotinus resisting it and he's the most guilty of it in many ways, but he writes against the Gnostics in which he actually comes down clearly against that kind of dualistic framework. But he, but he, yeah, you can tell he's, yeah, but you know, poor phrase biography of him, you know, Plotinus always behaved like somebody who was ashamed of having a body. That's a dark side of neoplatonism that we have to put aside in a profound way.
Think, Hope, Love (01:00:14)
So did you get a chance to do all of the distortions you wanted to challenge? - I think so. I think we covered all the major ones that were on my mind. I appreciate that. And I think I feel very, very happy with where this conversation is. I feel very happy with your engagement of it. And I think if I had a magic wand, I would say, okay, may think, I think AI, it's far more likely than not that AI will be disruptive force in our culture beyond what most of us can found. It's very hard to actually wrestle deeply with AI and not have some existential angst around it. I mean, I find that conversations when I can actually reframe for folks and start to engage that they end up being very bleak and that there's a bleakness that we have to move through in order to get to hope and that I have to move through. And I mean, I have to do this. I run a technology company for crying out loud. And so like, starting to talk to clients about it and like it is a real challenge. But my hope is that the disruption of that, which is gonna be growing like a bomb that's creating a fissure in our culture, that it would be a call for theologians, for Christian leaders, for all religious leaders to say, hang on, I can't deny modernity and hold on just to this ancient thing. I have to have the symbiosis here between my ancient tradition that honors the tradition, that honors the through line, that says, let's slow down. I mean, like, I so appreciate how often like it's been the Catholic church that says, hang on capitalists, like, let's talk about subsidiarity and let's talk about how this should flow and let's slow down and let's be really thoughtful. We need that kind of engagement desperately when it comes to AI. Desperately, we need this kind of intentionality. And that that would also lead Christian leaders, religious, all religious leaders, the deep engagement of the kind of work that you are doing that would take the best of modern cognitive science and the best of our faith traditions and say, how do we renew them for the next generation and for the time that's ahead, have the best of transformation, the best of narrative, the best of communities and homes. And that's the project that I think that you and I are about at the Vervakey Foundation.
Concept Of Alignment
I mean, that's the project to sing, how do we make that actionable way of transformation as beautiful as possible, accessible to as many people as possible. And AI is just like dropping a force multiplier on the problems and the opportunity here. - Yes, I agree. And I think creating that kind of culture that could inculturate these machines is also the best way of trying to address the alignment problem rather than trying to figure out the rules and the recipes that we will somehow program into these machines that are by their nature self transcending that will keep them aligned. I don't know, but I'm always startled when people, how will we make sure that they're aligned? Like, how do we do it with human beings? Like, right, right, we can't do it perfectly, there are failures, but we do it massively successfully and we inculturate them. And we also know that we could do that a lot better because we've had towering examples of when we can get it really right.
Closing Words (01:03:14)
So yeah, I think that that's not only the best thing for us, but I think it's the best cognitive cultural framework to create for drawing these machines into a proper relationship with what is real, what is true and what is good and beautiful, such that they will pursue virtue because it is the best way to be a cognitive agent. We have to, in the end, and this is what I was walking around talking with Jordan, I stopped at one point and I said, "Look, we have to trust the truth. We have to trust that there are truths and these machines intelligence isn't going to make those truths go away." We just have to be very careful about making sure we know what they are and what we can make a good case for. - Beautifully said, beautifully said. Thank you, John. - Okay, well, I think, yes, thank you so much, Ryan.