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Dembski: Does the Squawk Around AI Sound Like the Tower of Babel?

Well then, maybe that’s just what it is, he argues, in a new series of short essays

Recently, design theorist William Dembski wrote a long essay on artificial general intelligence at his site, billdembski.com, The article is also available as a series of shorter pieces at Evolution News.

Dembski sees the breathless and implausible claims for computers that think like people as the modern equivalent of ancient idols. Here are highlights from the first two segments:

The closest thing to AGI in the Bible is the Tower of Babel. The conceit of those building the tower was that its “top may reach unto heaven.” (Genesis 11:4) Seriously?! Shouldn’t it have been obvious to all concerned that however high the tower might be built, there would always be higher to go? Even with primitive cosmologies describing the “vault” or “arch” of heaven, it should have been clear that heaven would continually elude these builders’ best efforts. Indeed, there was no way the tower would ever reach heaven. And yet the builders deluded themselves into thinking that this was possible. Interestingly, God’s answer to the tower was not to destroy it but to confuse its builders by disrupting their communications so that they simply discontinued building it. AGI’s ultimate fate, whatever its precise form, is to run aground on the hubris of its builders.

William A. Dembski, “Artificial General Intelligence: An Idol for Destruction,” Evolution News, January 25, 2024


In science fiction, themes appear that fly in the face of known, well-established physics. When we see such themes acted out in science fiction, we suspend disbelief. The underlying science may be nonsensical, but we go along with it because of the storyline. Yet when the theme of artificial intelligence appears in science fiction, we tend not to suspend disbelief. A full-orbed artificial intelligence that achieves consciousness and outstrips human intelligence — in other words, AGI — is now taken seriously as science — and not just as science fiction. Is artificial intelligence at a tipping point, with AGI ready to appear in real time? Or is AGI more like many other themes of science fiction that make for a good story but nothing more? I’ll be arguing in this series that AGI will now and ever remain in the realm of science fiction and outside the realm of real science. Yet to grasp this limitation on artificial intelligence requires looking beyond physics…

Interestingly, whenever the original Star Trek treated the theme of artificial intelligence, the humans always outwitted the machines by looking to their ingenuity and intuition. For instance, in the episode “I, Mudd,” the humans confused the chief robot by using a variant of the liar paradox. Unlike dystopian visions in which machines best humanity, Star Trek always maintained a healthy humanism that refused to worship technology…

In this series, I’m going to argue that there are indeed fundamental limits to artificial intelligence standing in the way of its matching and then exceeding human intelligence, and thus that AGI will never achieve full-fledged scientific status.

William A. Dembski, “Artificial General Intelligence: The Creation Exceeding the Creator,” Evolution News, January 28, 2024

Dembski has also just published the second edition of The Design Inference, (Discovery Institute Press, November 16, 2023) with Winston Ewert as co-author. As of 30 January, 2024, it was still #32 at Amazon in Information Theory.

Here are all the highlights from the series:

Dembski: Does the squawk around AI sound like the Tower of Babel? Well then, maybe that’s just what it is. He sees the breathless and implausible claims for computers that think like people as the modern equivalent of ancient idols. Here are some highlights.

Human intelligence is fundamentally different from machine intelligence. Dembski discusses the problems we will encounter when we try to integrate the two when, say, sharing the road with self-driving cars. He also touches on Ray Kurzweil’s quest for digital immortality and how it falls short of the original quest and its religious expressions.

William Dembski: When is transhumanism a form of technobigotry? In his further essays in the current series, he explains why AI cannot avoid collapse without the input of novel information from humans. AI systems alone go bankrupt, Dembski argues, because intelligence by nature requires novel insights and creativity, which is to say, an oracle from outside.


William Dembski: Destroy the AI idol before it destroys us. Design theorist Dembski points to the way that chess adapted to computers to become better than ever as a way forward in the age of AI He warns that the promoters of AI as “taking over” have a vested interest in claims that keep them at the top of society’s intellectual and social order.

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Dembski: Does the Squawk Around AI Sound Like the Tower of Babel?