Christian Morality and AI

The world in which we live today is so different in many ways to the world that the authors of the Christian Scriptures inhabited. This being so, Christians must continually reinterpret the moral lessons of the Bible so that we can heed their guidance in the 21st Century.

One area that presents a problem in this respect is our growing reliance on technology and artificial intelligence. The inventions of the digital age present us with scenarios that are unprecedented in human history, and pastors and theologians need to respond. In this short post I will reflect a little on some of the new moral problems Christians will face in the coming years.

It may make Christians feel deeply uncomfortable, but it’s likely that robots capable of sexual intercourse will be widely available before long. Some people might regard these as elaborate sex toys, but the question arises: If a married person engages in intercourse with a robot, have they committed adultery?

It would seem obvious to me that such an activity would be adulterous, but such a perspective is necessarily subjective as there is no guidance on this issue in the Bible. Perhaps the Catholic Church could score a few points here, as they could argue that the magisterium exists precisely to provide clarity on issues such as this where guidance is not explicitly found in Scripture.

This is one example of a wider issue which is that new inventions are increasingly blurring the line between what is biological and what is technological. We see this in the area of genetics and genome editing, one issue being whether or not it’s morally acceptable to tamper with genes if such tampering will lead to the eradication of certain diseases, for instance.

In the coming years, every Christian is going to face difficult moral decisions concerning the extent to which they allow technology to infiltrate their biology. Electronic implants are already widely available for a variety of purposes, and it might not be long before we find ourselves under pressure to yield to invasive technologies that compromise those aspects of our lives where we currently enjoy biological freedom.


What do you think? Is the church ready to deal with such issues? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. My new single entitled ‘Machines Taking Over the World’ will be released on 10th March 2018.

33 comments

  1. You have an interesting point, but I don’t believe that technology will have any bearing on true holiness. Why? Because holiness is in the heart. Remember what Jesus said – But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
    Matthew 5:28 NLT
    On the face of it, that text seems to show Jesus making the law stricter. But what he’s actually doing is fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy that the law would be written on the heart. The judge is now inside us! On that basis, there’s no difference between viewing pornography and engaging in pseudo-sex with a robot. They are the same sin. Our conscience has already judged us long before we get physical.
    So, the message to us doesn’t change as technology changes. We need to seek righteousness in the heart – today and in the future. It’s a battle, but it’s one we can win by God’s grace.

    1. I agree. “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” (JER 17:10). Love God, love others–the two Greatest Commandments, summing up the entirety of the law, seems to set in play moral law regardless of technology’s influence.
      Regarding the Catholic Church … the Church already opposes artificial means of sexual intercourse. If used purely for pleasure, it is a selfish act. If used for artificial insemination, it has already been judged as something that goes against moral law.
      When we use technology to become like gods, we have believed the serpent in the garden and eaten from the forbidden tree. We exist to “praise, reverence, and serve God” (St. Ignatius of Loyola). We need to use the tools of our era to help us do that, not make us equal to Him.

  2. Fascinating topic! I love thinking about AI and issues surrounding it, and having gone to school for engineering, it’s something that I readily thinking about with as much excitement about the potential of AI as concern for the challenges AI presents. For this reason, I love watching films like “Ex Machina” or “2001: A Space Odyssey” because they give us multi-dimensional scenarios for us to think through.

    Here, you present some of the challenges relevant to the Church, noteably the issue of Christian sexuality. You present a clear, well articulated and probably necessary heads-up. You rightly caution us to think through these things when so many just don’t seem to grasp the importance of these tchnological developments.

    The above commenters make some good points, already. I guess my one thought is that the Church needn’t reinterpret scripture, but simply apply the moral principles in scripture to this new, unpresedented reality, as it is a timeless, always-relevant revelation.

    Thanks for the great read!

    1. Thanks so much, Nate. I thought of you as I was writing because I know this is an area related to your studies. I need to watch those films you mentioned! God bless.

  3. Very good and thoughtful post, Steven. Regarding the first issue, “sexual robots,” I think the Bible does give good guidance here if we accept that Scripture teaches that sexual activity should ONLY occur within marriage and between husband and wife. This would also answer the questions people have about “self-gratification” (to put it mildly).

    Regarding the second issue you mentioned regarding genetics and concerns connected with it, you are spot-on. I often think of these things myself and wonder about them. And, as you said, the more technology develops, the more Christians will be challenged by such concerns. I believe many of decisions Christians make in these areas will be on the individual level and the relationship of that individual with the Holy Spirit.

    One thing is for sure in this ever-growing-more-complicated-world: It ain’t easy!

    Good job, Steven.

  4. Steven, I think, as others have pointed out, that the genetics issue is probably more of a gray area than the sex-robot. I like the pursuit to eradicate disease, but I think we can cross other moral boundaries in such pursuits. Sacrificing the lives of others who have no choice in matter isn’t justified by the intended goal. Sacrificing ourselves to save others might be. But where those lines are drawn are difficult questions, and probably not easily made “universals”.

    Good questions, and good insight from the other comments! Way to get us thinking! Thank you!

  5. I don’t think that technology is so much a bad thing than as much as we do with the technology. However, I do think that if it becomes possible for AI to then have sexual intercourse; I think that it’s something that not just Christians but we as a people would have to think about. The fact that that is how far we as humanity have fallen to the point of using AI for our own pleasure is in direct contrast to God’s purpose for sexual intercourse is potentially harmful to the next generation as well as the current, if that makes sense.

    1. Hi God’s Warrior. Thank you for those reflections. I agree it’s an issue for the whole of humanity, but some would argue that most human beings aren’t really interested in the moral arguments that Christians make.

      I love technology, but also think it’s very dangerous, perhaps more dangerous than we sometimes acknowledge.

      God bless.

  6. I feel whatever a person is lead to do it between them and God, who am I to judge. For myself, I won’t be partaking in any genetic altering. My family wanted tests run for the issue I am having right now. I conceded to blood work, and that’s it just to make them feel better. My doctor knows how I feel. He said if whatever is wrong, he would want to do everything he could. My reply, what’s the worst that can happen, I go to heaven? And that’s how I feel. I appreciate this life God has blessed me with, and if He has decided it is my time to come home, I will not reject Him, and fight to stay here. Having said that, it’s not my place to say what anyone else should do, again, that is between them and God. Intriguing as always Steven. It’s a blessing to have a safe place to discuss “touchy” issues :):)

    1. Thank you, Margaret. It’s good that you are able to be bold and honest with your doctor. A lot of people in the scientific and medical communities are more inclined towards atheism and materialism, which can lead to difficult conversations with those of us who believe in God and an afterlife.

      Glad to have you reading. Thanks for your comment and God bless 🙂

  7. As if things weren’t already tough enough morally. Thankfully the Spirit’s message hasn’t changed and we can rest in his revelation to us in our hearts. Nice article brother.

  8. I have to agree with some of the other comments. It is a matter of the heart. The more we choose to hear the voice of the Lord by relationship with him via prayer or reading of the Word, the more clear his voice becomes in your heart. What does Psalm 119:11 state? “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” There comes a time when we must choose what the Lord says regardless what might seem correct to the rest of the world. I guess that is why a lot of people think that we who call ourselves Christians, are living in the “dark ages.” And yet, God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is not changing like the technology of the world, but is a consistent light. Another thought provoking post. 🙂

  9. Please don’t take this as a critical statement, as that is not the intention, but more of a half serious, half joking matter.

    I was actually expecting more from you on this topic. Maybe the title threw me off, but I was actually expecting a theological examination of the relationship between morality and artificial intelligence. Quite the topic, don’t you think?

    I don’t think the issue of sex robots is as much a concern as you seem to make it out to be. Don’t get me wrong, it does get moral gears grinding, and there’s plenty of debate material. But I don’t think the clear thinking Christian will have much difficulty recognizing the particular dangers of the development of intercourse-capable AI.

    Steven, thank you for the article, my brother. I admit that it did get me thinking about the technical and theology aspects of this odd spectacle. I believe that was your goal, and so your mission is accomplished.

    1. Hi Neil!

      Many thanks for you comment. My aim was to write a post that would get people thinking, and hopefully lead to some constructive discussion (which, thankfully, it has), rather than writing an exhaustive essay. There are issues about which I do write in depth (see my Essays page and my Books page) but chose not to do that on this occasion. Actually, a lot of people don’t want to read a long essay, and I am sensitive to people’s attention spans. You can’t please everyone!

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and have a wonderful weekend.

      Peace and blessings,

      Steven

  10. These are some really good questions. If we view sex bots like any other sex toy and we’re okay with them, then we won’t view the sex bots any different. The key issue will be if they’re true AIs and gain sentience, and we recognize them as sentient, cognitive persons, then it would clearly be adultery (if you’re already married to a human person). This will definitely raise a spectrum of issues (selfishness, pornography, adultery).

    I do believe we have a moral obligation to eradicate diseases and decrease human suffering. Alas, we do not know the future and how gene editing at the germ level will affect future generations both at the physical and spiritual levels. Deleting these genes may actually cause more issues and harm. Opening the possibility to edit genes may open the doors for more selfish, egotistical, and vain reasons to “improve” ourselves (e.g. faster runners, better looking, smarter, etc). Not to mention the ethical problems in researching and experimenting with gene editing on embryos which may harm and destroy them. (I wrote a paper on the ethical issue of embryonic research available on my page for more details)

  11. Some interesting issues are certainly raised here Steven. Whether one is committing adultery on robots may depend on the level of consciousness that has been created within the robot (or perceived consciousness at least). If the robot is just a more life-like sex toy, perhaps that’s not necessarily adultery – since I guess it’s just a tool for sexual pleasure like a blow up doll (or even your hand!). But if it is highly advanced AI that showcases many of the traits we consider as human – emotions, thoughts, feelings – then we might be considering that as adultery. May also depend on the spouse’s reaction too.

    With that last future concern about invasive technology altering our biology, I’m a bit old fashioned. I think the “normal” human is just fine. To me, having Augmented Reality (for example) may have benefits, but do we really need them? Is it a case of potential over reliance on technology, or even technology going too far? The idea of becoming part machine, detached from our biological nature is something I simply don’t really like – we already separate ourselves enough by living in giant concrete jungles! Though this is more just a feeling of mine, rather than anything rational.

    Enjoyable post Steven!

    1. Some really good points, David, thank you! I really don’t like the idea of us incorporating technology into our biology either, it’s really frightening. I only hope our societies are sensible enough to regulate and control technological advancements, so the desire to create ever-more-advanced machines doesn’t impinge on the freedoms we enjoy. It’s a pressing issue, I feel!

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