In a recent podcast, “John Lennox: False Assumptions in the hype over AI,” Oxford mathematician John Lennox, author of 2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity (2020) discussed common mistaken assumptions with Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks.
One of them seems to be that AI might prove there is no God, replace God, or become God. Things get interesting when these science fictions meet the world of fact.
From the transcript:
Robert J. Marks: In your book, you discussed Dan Brown’s novel entitled Origin. Now Dan Brown is famous for writing many, I don’t know, kind of strange books. One was the Da Vinci Code, but his recent one deals with artificial intelligence and you discuss his novel as the springboard for your discussion about AI in the future. What did you find appealing or compelling about Brown’s novel that you commented on it so much?
John Lennox: Well, it was the actual story line. The main character in Origin is a billionaire computer scientist and AI expert who’s called Edmond Kirsch, and he claims to have solved the fundamental big questions that everybody asks at some time, “Where do we come from and where are we going?” And he uses AI in the novel to answer these questions. But his intention is philosophical, and that’s what caught my attention. In fact, somebody told me that this was in the book and that’s why I read it.
His goal was to, I quote, “employ the truth of science to destroy the myth of religions, in particular Judaism, Christianity, and Islam,” and he actually concentrates on Christianity. And so here is someone using AI to answer these big questions in such a way as to completely destroy, in his view, religion’s answers and he’s using AI to do it. And the kind of AI involved is, of course, the more science fiction type. It’s the advanced technological modification of human beings into transhuman beings or into super intelligences. And I was very interested in the kind of philosophy that’s coming through. And that was one of my motives for writing this book.
Robert J. Marks: I see. Dan Brown has some presuppositions, doesn’t he?
John Lennox: Oh, of course he has presuppositions. And it’s hard to really disentangle his own presuppositions from those of his main characters, except for the very interesting fact that the hero of many of his books is a professor of symbology, whatever that means, called Robert Langdon. And he’s an expert at recognizing all sorts of mysterious and rare and hidden patterns in things.
But one of the astonishing things about the book was when Langdon is asked the question about the origin of the genetic code, which figures very largely in the book and there’s great interest in developing exactly what this involves. And Landon says something like this, and it raises the questions of God. He says, “The question of God, for me, lies in understanding the difference between codes and patterns. Patterns occur everywhere in nature, the spiraling seeds of a sunflower, the hexagonal cells of a honeycomb and so on. Codes are special. Codes by definition must carry information. Codes must transmit data and convey meaning.”
And he ends up by saying, “Codes are the deliberate inventions of intelligent consciousness. They don’t appear organically, they must be created.”
And one of the other female heroes in the book says, “You think DNA was created by an intelligence?”
And he just goes as far as saying, “I feel as if I’m seeing a living footprint, the shadow of some greater force that is just beyond our grasp.”
And I thought, “This is utterly fascinating.” In a book by someone who’s trying to bring down religion by the use of AI, what he’s doing is actually heightening evidence for the existence of God by postulating an intelligent designer for DNA. So it’s a very complex thing.
Robert J. Marks: Very interesting. So Dan Brown, who is obviously agnostic, or certainly not religious in any sense, came to the logical conclusion that I think many theists or deists do, that there must be a creator behind some of these things. At least he was intellectually honest at the end.
Note: The full transcript is available as a download at the podcast page. Show Notes and Resources may be found below.
In an earlier podcast, Lennox and Marx discussed 2084 vs 1984—the difference AI could make to Big Brother There, Lennox made the point that we need to seriously think about whether the surveillance AI technology enables is an advantage before we’re engulfed by it.
You may also enjoy:
John Lennox: How AI raises the stakes for all of us. AI could cause more serious problems than nuclear energy. You cannot build a bomb in your bedroom but you could hack your way around the world.
Exclusive!: John Lennox answers our questions about AI in 2084. In his new book, 2084, the Oxford mathematician doubts that AI, now or then, will out-think humans. Our real worry is how the tech will be used.
- 00:25 | Introducing Dr. John Lennox, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University
- 00:59 | Dan Brown’s Origin
- 03:22 | Presuppositions
- 06:15 | Artificial general intelligence
- 07:53 | Hyperbole in the realm of artificial intelligence
- 10:55 | The story of Prometheus
- 12:40 | The wisdom of crowds
- 13:56 | Transhumanism
- 16:44 | Augmenting human abilities with technology
- 2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity website
- John Lennox’s website
- 2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity at Amazon
- Origin by Dan Brown at Amazon
- Max Tegmark at Wikipedia
- Rosalind Picard at Wikipedia
- Homo Deus by Yuval Harari at Amazon
- Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark at Amazon