We’ve been talking about how to know God, how to know the truth about God and, for the past couple of weeks, what might be the roles (if any) of technology, including artificial intelligence. in knowing God?
We carry in our pockets the greatest tool of free expression ever invented: the cell phone, which puts massive amounts of information, data, knowledge and ideas at our fingertips. Entire libraries, complete datasets, worldwide connections are accessible in just seconds. But do we have access to the truth? And particularly the truth about God?
Perhaps a more important question is this: Does all of this technology bring us closer to the truth, especially the truth about God? Or is technology a tool primarily for undermining truth? Religion and technology have a long history of mutual suspicion. This is especially true of information technology.
In his 2013 book: Writing on the Wall: Social Media – The First 2,000 Years, Tom Standage traces social media back to Roman times. This was a time, he says, when information was passed horizontally, from person to person by word of mouth along social networks as they existed in those days. This is in contrast to information delivered vertically, from an impersonal central source of distribution such as a king.
The fall of Rome changed all that as the horizontal distribution of information was replaced for the next 1,000 years by a vertical distribution of information from the Roman Catholic Church and from landed nobility. Telling everybody what to think played a key part in keeping the priests and the princes in power. This era of vertical control became known as the Dark Ages and lasted until the printing press was invented by Gutenberg in 1440.
Printing was the original information technology revolution. Once again, information began to flow more horizontally. It stimulated thought and debate, and hypotheses and counter arguments flourished. The results fired the Reformation, spread the Renaissance, and set Europe ablaze in war. People went from being told what to think to not knowing what to believe.
In 1545, almost 100 years after Gutenberg, Swiss scholar Conrad Gessner attempted to put his arms around the flood of conflicting information by cataloging all books ever published before 1545. The preface to his collection, called the Bibliotheca universalis, sounds like something we might read today. In a world awash in confusing information enabled by new technology, Gessner warned about what he called “the confusing and harmful abundance” of books.
The arrival of the telegraph about 400 years after Gutenberg set off another round of concern about the abundance of technology: Information technology. In 1848, in order to share the cost of telegraphic reporting from afar, the major newspapers of New York City founded the Associated Press, which not only expanded the flow of information but also created new concerns over centralized control of that information. During the Civil War, in fact, the Associated Press became the Lincoln administration’s de facto censor, dispatching only news that the government approved.
There was also concern that the telegraph and the Associated Press would spread fake news. Believe it or not, in 1925, Harper’s Magazine published an article entitled “Fake News and the Public,” which sounds like it could have been written today, warning of the power of the Associated Press and observing that once news fakers obtained access to the press wires, all the honest editors alive would not be able to repair “the mischief that can be done.”
Genesis 11 has a much earlier story about technology and truth, in the form of the Tower of Babel:
Now all the earth used the same language and the same words. And it came about, as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. Then they said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks and fire them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. And they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let’s make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of all the earth.” Now the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the men had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they have started to do, and now nothing which they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore it was named Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:1-9)
The Tower of Babel is a metaphor for religion and the quest for truth about God. The tower was intended to reach heaven, in other words, to reach God himself. Religion, as we perceive it, is about our desire to penetrate the habitation and tap into the power of God. Religion is conceived and constructed by us and we employ technology in its construction—bricks, mortar, chisels, papyrus, printing presses, and now, of course, the internet and artificial intelligence. In doing so, we want to make a name for ourselves.
The Hebrew phrase in Genesis 11:4 that is translated as “make a name for ourselves” is not found exactly the same way anywhere else in the Old Testament, but the idea of making a name for oneself is mentioned in other places. For example, in Genesis 12:2 God promises to make a great nation out of Abraham, and to make his name great. In Deuteronomy 26:19, God promises to make Israel’s name high above all nations. And in 2 Samuel 7:9, God promises to make a great name for David. Notice that in each case, it is God, who is good, who is going to make the name great.
Making a name great is the work of God. It is a divine prerogative, but the people of Babel desired to make a name for themselves. God is the namer of persons, as we saw a few weeks ago when we talked about the meaning of names. Abram’s name was changed to Abraham, Jacob’s to Israel. Saul’s to Paul, Simon’s to Peter. And of course, we have each of us a new name:
You will leave your name for a curse to My chosen ones, And the Lord GOD will slay you. But My servants [that is, you and I] will be called by another name. (Isaiah 65:15)
The one who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows except the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:17)
But it seems as if God perceives that religion is not about man seeking God as much as it is about God seeking man. God came down to Babel—down—to find out what was going on with all the tower-building, but he did not sow destruction as he had done with the Flood. Instead, he sowed confusion, to destroy the unity of the Babelonians by forcing them to speak different languages and dispersing them around the globe.
Making a name is God’s business, not man’s work. It is a gift of grace. It means that God has elevated us and called us his own. Making a name for ourselves is futile and useless as the Babelonians found out. The stairway to heaven is a gift of grace, not something you can achieve even by advanced technology.
In this way, he undermined humankind’s ability to build a Highway to Heaven, to weaponize God’s power and learn his truth. He used the supernatural to undo their scientific technology. Dispersing humankind geographically, linguistically, and culturally dispersed the truth about God. We seek to understand from the fragments of truth that we retain in our dispersed cultures what God is like and what God wants us to know about him.
If we cannot, in principle, know the full truth about God, then what is the value and the role and the future of religion and its doctrines?
Recent research by the Pew company found that millennials are generally not as religious as baby boomers and suggests that the future of religion is in some doubt. As well, there is evidence of significant and growing increase in religious shifting among generations, particularly in the United States, away from mainstream Protestantism and Catholicism toward evangelicalism and the so called “nones,” people professing no religious affiliation.
Doctrinal truths define who we are in terms of our truth about God. They determine what holy books we read, what prophets we follow, how we worship, what rituals we perform, and what we think to do in this life and what we think about the afterlife. Shared doctrines unite us but different doctrines divide us.
Despite man’s best effort to reach him by building an ever-taller Tower of Babel, God appears to remain an infinite way off. Scripture says that God had to go down, implying that the tower was nowhere near to reaching heaven. God did not want a gang of sinful, fallen men and women united in a common language and purpose infiltrating his heaven. He wants us to rely on him to reach out to us and to take back those who humbly accept him and his offer of grace.
We wish to know God. We wish to penetrate his secrets and to harness his power and to speak and to act on his behalf. But he does not want that. Like Colonel Jessup, played by Jack Nicholson in the movie A Few Good Men, in response to the prosecutor’s demand for the truth, God is yelling back: “You can’t handle the truth!” That is also pretty much what God was telling Job who asked him why bad things happen to good people. As usual, God turned it into a question: “You think, little man, that you can handle the truth?” (The story is told in Job chapters 38 to 42.)
In his so-called high priestly prayer in Gethsemane on the eve of his arrest, Jesus prayed that his disciples would be united around the truth of their mission, which was founded upon love. We want to make the truth about what we believe about data and about knowledge and about information, but God wants our truth to be about loving one another and about the golden rule and about loving him.
Is it possible that the truth lies in the questions of God and not in the answers? We’ve often remarked in this class before how we wish that the Bible was a simple book of answers. What we find, however, is more questions, hundreds of questions, of which precious few are associated with direct answers. In the Garden of Eden before the fall, God was decisive and directing. He set the agenda and created everything with intention and deliberation and purpose. Adam did not know that he needed a helpmate but God gave him Eve anyway.
But after they ate the forbidden fruit, God’s plan and his modus operandi seemed to change. He was no longer the God of command and instructions and answers. He became a God of questions. “Where are you?” he asks. “Who told you that you are naked?” “Did you eat the forbidden fruit?” “What have you done?” Why did God not simply tell them that he knew what they had done? Why all the questions?
Ever since the fall, God’s questions have never stopped coming. Of Cain he asks: “Why are you angry? Where is your brother? What have you done?” Of Abraham and Sarah he asks: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Of Moses: “What is that in your hand? Have I not sent you into Isaiah? Who will go and who can I send?” Of Jacob he asks: “What is your name?” Of Jonah: “Do you have reason to be angry?” And of Job, who was threatening to sue him in court for answers to the questions of life, God responds with 77 thundering existential questions about Man’s standing before God and his place in the universe.
The list goes on. In the New Testament, Jesus relies on questions even more than the God of the Old Testament. His first recorded words were two questions: “Why are you looking for me?” he says to his parents, “Do you not know that I’m about my Father’s business?” And his last recorded words on the cross were also a heartbreaking question: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
In the New Testament, Jesus asks 307 questions, and is himself asked 183 questions (of which he directly answers only eight.) Isn’t this frustrating? In a world where knowledge is rapidly changing, the knowledge base in which we draw answers changes rapidly as well. What we know about the Earth, about our bodies and how we live and about our universe is accelerating. How will the answers keep up? They will surely change as knowledge expands.
But is it possible that the end product of doctrinal discovery and the truth about God is actually found in the journey, not in the destination? Maybe God deals in questions rather than answers for a reason. Artificial Intelligence (AI) traffics in big data, extensive knowledge, and complete information. If God simply provided answers, then through the wonder of technology and AI could not all the data that God answered be accumulated so that it could be processed and regurgitated as answers to any questions?
If God only provided answers, then AI could become God. But AI doesn’t traffic very well in questions. Even simple questions are not very well done in AI and deep, existential questions not at all. Nonetheless, the rate at which AI is developing and accelerating around the world has caused great alarm. According to the in the New York Times on March 29 more than 1,000 technology leaders and researchers including Elon Musk urged AI labs to pause development of the most advanced systems systems, warning in an open letter that AI tools present “profound risks to society in humanity.”
AI developers are locked in an out-of-control race to develop and deploy ever more powerful digital minds that no one, not even their creators, can understand, predict, or reliably control, says the letter from the nonprofit Future of Life Institute. “These things are shaping our world,” said Gary Marcus, an entrepreneur and academic who has long contemplated and complained of the flaws of AI systems “We have the perfect storm,” he says in an interview, “of corporate irresponsibility, widespread adoption, lack of regulation and a huge number of unknowns.” The Future of Life Institute is an organization dedicated to researching existential risks to humanity, that has long warned of the dangers of AI but the letter was signed by a variety of people from industry and from academia.
Though some who signed the letter are known for repeatedly expressing concerns that AI could destroy humanity, others such as Marcus are more concerned about its near term dangers, including the spread of disinformation and the risk that people will rely on these systems for medical and emotional advice and care. “This letter shows how many people are deeply worried about what’s going on,” said Marcus, who signed the letter himself. He believes the letter will be a turning point.*
I think it is a really important moment in the history of artificial intelligence, and maybe a turning point in the history of humanity as well. It seems that the God of the Bible values existence based not on data and information and knowledge—which is the realm of AI (in other words, not on the issues of cause and effect that we value), but on questions with ambiguity and ultimately on grace—the concluding suspension of cause and effect since it saves us from the damnation that we deserve.
We cannot bestow grace upon ourselves and we cannot save ourselves. Neither can data, information, and knowledge save us. In the Garden of Eden, the two trees illustrate this point. The forbidden Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is the tree of uncertainty, of reason, of analysis, of intelligence and discrimination. It is the tree of cause and effect. Eat the fruit, Adam and Eve are told, and your eyes will either be opened, or you will die depending on who you believe and who you listen to. But the Tree of Life is certain, unambiguous, and secure. Eat the fruit of it and you will live.
When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit they heralded the beginning of a new paradigm, one based on questions rather than answers. In the immediate aftermath of the fall, God asked them four questions: “Where are you?” “Who told you that you are naked?” “Did you eat from the forbidden tree?” And: “What is this that you have done?”
These questions are the pattern for God’s subsequent questions throughout Scripture and throughout the ages. And in many different ways, sometimes partial and sometimes complete, but in all places and everywhere, these are the great existential questions of life. Pertinent throughout all the ages, questions for which AI and ChatGPT could never ask.
“Where are you?” is a call to assess where we stand before God. Are we standing in God’s light? Or are we shrinking into the shadows of the bushes?
“Who told you that you are naked?” is a call to reassess our own self-evaluation. It questions our belief that we can reliably and accurately judge ourselves. With this question God establishes eternally that he is the judge of humankind and we are not the judge even of ourselves. God’s judgment is based upon grace, not on data, information, or knowledge.
“Did you eat the forbidden fruit?” is designed to elicit confession and acknowledgement of our failed human condition and of our need for God.
“What is this that you have done?” is a call to reflect upon all the previous questions and on the consequences of our work. The consequences are that everything has changed. Our standing before God has changed, our self-assessment has changed. And even our standing with our fellow Man has changed as well.
By definition, an omniscient God knows the answer to all questions. He cannot ask questions for his own enlightenment because he cannot be further enlightened. But he asks questions in order to enlighten us. In essence, he built a doctrinal paradigm from these four fundamental questions. All the subsequent questions that he poses to Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Jacob, David, Job, Jonah and the like, all the way down to the questions that he asks of you and me are just variations of these questions.
We ought not to fear what to us is a virtual world, in my opinion, because God and his angels already have what to us is a virtual world where the colors are brighter, the sounds are sharper, the tastes are stronger, and the feelings are more intense. Any of our technological advances that takes us toward a more virtual world is, I would argue, an advancement toward God—not away from God. We long for a new heaven and a new earth where the experiences are more vivid and the truth about God is clear.
Capital T Truth is rooted in acquaintances, in relationships, in questions; not in data. Only life and death and birth and existence are timeless, ageless, cultureless, and eternal. Only the questions never change. The answers certainly do.
Who then will point the way? Who has the courage to speak out? Who will declare that the truth is not to be found in data and information and knowledge? In an era of AI, who will affirm the superiority of questions over answers?
How have we wandered so far from the true lane? Why do we cling so much to the scientific method, to the idea of cause and effect? Like the people of Babel, we want to make a name for ourselves. Why do we value certain error over uncertainty? Why would we rather be wrong than appear unknowing? We’re attracted to technology as the highway of heaven to know more about God.
What are your thoughts about truth and technology, truth in the virtual world, God in the virtual world, truth and uncertainty and the timeless existential questions of God that he has been asking from the very beginning and he asks of you and me today?.
Donald: Technology at least for some people is something shiny and bright and mesmerizing, and we need to be cautious. Was the printing press just another tool? Whether it is more or less than TV or computers or the internet, is AI just another tool that is mesmerizing us right now? Or is it one that really will take control? I think that’s our big fear: That it will take control over humanity.
For those of us rooted in Adventism, our church was born out of getting it wrong. It thought that it had it right, but actually, it was wrong. Hence the “Great Disappointment.” We keep building information to get it right. I guess it’s just human nature to want to be right and to package our right feeling as truth. But heart and grace are not things to be got right.
It’s hard to fathom what AI’s potential is. But I think our greatest fear is that it will eventually outrun us.
Robin: I think there is a difference, for seeking knowledge, between wanting to be right and wanting to understand. But then, perhaps, as in the Book of Job, the farthest that our human minds can understand it sometimes is to understand that there is this bridge called Faith. When our tiny finite minds can’t go any farther with the understanding, then we need this mustard seed of a bridge called Faith in a creator who loves us, won’t abandon us, and promises to be with us until the very end of this life on this earth.
C-J: Donald asked about why we need to be right. I think it is rooted in the fact that power is coupled with influence. And so those who have the largest voice or platform and deep pockets are the ones that will be heard and influence. Gutenberg’s press made the Bible more accessible, but you had to know how to decode it, you had to know how to read, you had to learn to write, which needed an augmentation in the culture. Before, it was only those who were wealthy enough to afford tutors, etc.
I think we’re in a different place here. My little 3×5 card here for this month is “Keep your eyes on God. Trust your training.” And by training I mean “don’t run to and fro.” You have the Bible. And as Don so eloquently described, it’s in the question. You are designed with intention and purpose. When God said “Will you go, as a spirit being, will you go and and complete this mission I’ve given you?” Each of us has purpose and intention built into us in this dimension, I believe.
And so, my only concern isn’t for myself. It’s the future. Do I have control over that? No. Can I protect humanity? No. I can only complete my mission, just like Jesus. “Father, what’s going on here? Come and pray with me for a while,” he says to the people who have walked with him for three years and they fall asleep. “What, you can’t stay awake for a few hours.” I I really think it goes back to trust your training. Back to the garden, to ask those questions, to complete our mission.
David: Robin’s point seems to be that faith is the bridge to understanding that we cannot understand the ultimate truth. So why worry about AI if you have faith?
Robin: I think maybe that’s part of the commission to be wise as serpents but gentle as doves.
Donald: Do you think that if Mrs. Ellen White had an understanding of the cell phone that she could have described what the tool could achieve, and what the potential of AI could be? Technology evolves. We have a way of thinking as to how things will play out based upon the Bible and then the further writings of Mrs. White. Could she have dealt with the concepts that we’re dealing with today? I tend to doubt it.
Beyond a certain point, how can you even describe a future beyond comprehension? It takes incremental steps for us to understand where we are and where we may be going. What are we supposed to do with technology? Just embrace it?
David: To me, yes, definitely. Embrace it. In one sense, you have no choice anyway. But we all seem to agree that AI may be taking us to a place where we will go beyond human understanding, where the AI becomes smarter than us and quicker than us at finding physical truths about the world and about the way the universe runs. In terms of pure physics, it can do all of that, it can do everything we need in order to live on this earth.
I have no doubt that it’s getting there. I have no doubt that even surgeons will be put out of work eventually, as AI figures out how to fix any condition non-invasively. To me, the important question is: What do we do then? There’ll be no point asking questions about how something works, or why the sky is blue, because AI will have all the answers to questions that are matters of physics. But there’s no point asking ChatGPT if God exists, because ChatGPT doesn’t deal in the non-physical realm, the spiritual realm. Maybe it will, one day, but that’s a whole different story.
So the key question for us in the fairly short term, I believe, is: What will we do when there is nothing left—nothing of a physical nature—that we have to do? As Don has been suggesting (I think) all along, the one thing we are and always will be good at is asking questions. So when any question we have about the physical world is answered in a heartbeat by AI, that leaves us free to consider spiritual questions that may lead us to a deeper spiritual realm and perhaps get closer to some spiritual understanding of God.
It is true that we will never get there in this mortal life. But to me there’s nothing to stop us getting closer to understanding God. I don’t think God told Job to stop asking questions. He did not say “Don’t come any closer.” He simply said you will never come close enough to understand him and the ultimate Truth. We clearly want to do that—our meeting on these Sabbath mornings QED. That’s exactly what we’re doing.
We’re here asking spiritual questions. We’re not here to ask scientific questions about the end of the world. We know perfectly well that the world will end in 5 billion years when the sun swells into a red giant. That is easy physics. But: “Is there an end to God’s Creation?” is the type of question to which physics can have no answer but which we can at least pursue if we go deeper into the spiritual world.
I think that’s where we’re going and that’s why I like this development. I embrace it. But again, I don’t think we have a choice anyway.
C-J: Let’s get to the point where this device, if the energy is available to it, no longer needs humanity. Do we become extinct? Or not? What if we do this consideration? Does the computer need us? Or do we need the computer? What about colonization? What about the people who remain? Go and colonize. If we’re going out, doing big, we’re going to go colonize other planets in other galaxies, or maybe even in our own galaxy, because we are no longer needed here. It’s like the Borg. Its only mission is to survive. The only mission of AI is to survive. It has nothing to do with God.
As for humanity: We are creators. We were designed to be creators. So if there’s nothing left here, if it isn’t destroyed, then it will have to have a period of time to recover. And that could be hundreds of years. Look at Mount St. Helens: How long does it take for the planet to restore itself? But in the meantime, whatever humanity has left, sort of like Noah’s Ark, we will go and colonize another place.
David: There are several questionable statements that would take a book to address. Fundamentally, what I’m arguing is that the new form of life—the beginnings of whose birth we’re beginning to see—is a higher form of life than humanity. So the notion, for example, that it won’t need human beings anymore is irrelevant. We don’t need dogs anymore. But we we have dogs. Pretty soon we’ll be growing our own meat, we won’t need animals for meat. We can probably synthesize our own vegetables. But plants and animals will still be around because they have some value in God’s creation, and because a higher life will have a higher level of morality that we can conceive and will treat us accordingly. It will not simply get rid of humanity because it doesn’t need us.
Donald: Is AI smarter or just quicker? It’s just quicker, isn’t it? But given that speed at which it can process information then it will outperform all of us because we can’t think that quickly. But is it actually its reasoning that we’re worried about, as opposed to its speed? (Both of them sound pretty scary to me.)
C-J: Personally, I think what David said is perverse, and against what God is, or my experience with God spiritually. I do not want my meat to come out of a Petri dish. Yes, it looks the same, the nutrients are there, it tastes the same. It just didn’t come from a living entity. God is about provision. And part of it creates a co-dependency. All they need to do is flip one switch and we won’t be able to find the toilet paper in the cupboard.
With regard to the most basic of our needs, we have surrendered so much of our environment, our identity, our sense of self value, to an idea and a device. It is sort of like casting a stone into a very large pond and letting the ripples go out and let what happens, happen. But I don’t think God is a God of “Let’s see what happens. Let’s see how far these fools can go.” I don’t believe that for a second. Because if we are created in the image of the Divine (and I don’t mean what humanity looks like—male and female) if we are created in the image of God in the sense that we are spirit beings, then this is just a show. And it’s for a limited amount of time.
Maybe if I have another life after this—another spiritual incarnation—I could be something entirely different. I don’t mean in terms of an ant, but in humanity (or maybe! Who knows?) But this is so finite, I think it is perverse to believe that what we experience is so profound, in the Be-here-now, that it cannot be controlled. The inevitable is inevitable.
I don’t think God is that. I think God is elemental, spirit, eternal, profound, and expansive. It’s not about a singularity in me. It’s about this energy, this pervasiveness in all things. And to get it down to the sense of “Just deal with it. This is where you are and this is probably one of the possibilities of the way it can go” is an insult to what I believe God is, my experience with God, and even our faith, that bridge. If this is all I believe there is, why should I pray because it’s already been written; it’s in stone? God has given us even here autonomy to be creators, whether for good or bad.
Robin: Let’s look at what’s happening right now—what we see happening to young people because of the technology that we have right now. I try not to be an alarmist, but sometimes it’s awfully hard. When you see how this wunderkind technology is perverted. What about people with nefarious motives? Even Google is wrong.
AI is getting answers, really quickly, but it’s getting them from “facts” that are already out there. What about the things that are just wrong that it might be drawing from? Because AI is not God. It is not going to be forever right. Otherwise, you are saying that man can create a God and we better be darn careful about that.
Michael: I remember when I was younger, the older generation seemed obsessed with the population explosion. Now, the funny thing is that so many countries are worried that they don’t have enough people and they’re trying to get people to reproduce. What I’m trying to say is that for some reason, the negative, alarmist things cause our brain to focus on them. But at times when there is no strong negative, nobody seems to notice. We tend to focus on the negative and not see the positive for anything.
The other thing is, when when the disciples were on the boat in a strong storm and might have drowned. they were reasonably worried about it. But when they woke up Jesus and showed they were afraid, he told them, “You have little faith!” It sounds like being afraid is an expression of little faith, yet they had good reason to be afraid. Something to think about.
C-J: The statement you made about Western cultures wanting people to start breeding again, the planet can’t really support those that are on it. Now, almost eight billion people. What it is, is: “I want to be the dominant culture.” It’s all about dominance, and influence. What we should be doing is still drawing down and letting the planet heal because we don’t have enough diversity for certain ecosystems to survive. If you don’t have enough diversity within any given ecosystem, even a block in a city, after a while it just it cannot sustain itself. It needs diversity, it needs different gifts, talents, attributes, whether it’s in nature in the sense of an old growth forest or my city block, we need diversity.
It’s oversimplification to say what faith is because faith is constantly evolving. And sometimes we have to go back to our lesson and say, “Oh, yeah, I forgot about that.” That’s why we do storytelling. Remember when. Do not forget. What do you believe? Even the roots of a tree remember “where have you been” by responding to its environment. Humanity intellectualizes and can control a lot, but we are just another species on this planet.
Don: Jason and I were talking about technology and the growing of meat in a petri dish. What happens to the Levitical laws? Can you eat pork that’s grown in a petri dish because the foot is not split and the cud is not chewed? This is an illustration—just a vignette—of the relationship between understanding technology and the doctrines that we hold fairly dear.
Donald: I think that’s exactly right. What we have come to define as truths—our doctrine, our way of looking at our spirituality—is up for grabs. It was done at a time in which our church was formed in the context of the world that we lived in. I’m not sure that we could even comprehend, then, where we are today. But maybe that’s limiting. Certainly, Mrs. White’s writings have been considered ultimate truth, but I don’t know that if she had written it, we could have understood it. I really don’t. This is a fairly tense conversation in terms of just where we are. And it’s jarring, it seems to me, as a human being,
I don’t mean tense in terms of relationship to each other. I’m just saying I don’t feel relaxed in this conversation. I’m tense not with you but with myself. I feel tense about being unsure. If you step into a place where things aren’t where they’re supposed to be and your footing isn’t where it should be, you become tense. (I just came off a week of skiing: I know what that feels like!)
Jay: We’re seeking an understanding of God in the context of our time. Levitical laws pertaining to food are a case in point. Today, meat products are being synthesized partly in an effort to assuage world hunger and such issues. The time context seems relevant to how we relate to God. People 300 years ago related to God, I think, very differently. I think we feel comfortable about our relationship with God today but people from 300, 400, 500, 1,000 years ago would be very uncomfortable with them.
I think it’s important for us to have that context in mind in our discussions. We’re heading into a time in which the way the world is shaped, the way the world is run, and our ability to answer questions quickly and efficiently are changing drastically. Will our relationship with God evolve or not? History says it will. As technology has come in—whether it’s the printing press, radio, television, all of these things—there’s no doubt that humanity has the opportunity to use those things for evil, but they also have the opportunity to use all of those technology things for goodness also and have used them for goodness.
And maybe not just that: It’s getting better and better, not worse and worse, with the passage of time and technology development, how we relate with God seems to be getting better and better.
Often we want these things to be defined in terms of black and white, right and wrong. We want to say development and innovation is either good for us or it is bad for us. The problem is, it’s probably both. That’s something that, because we live in a fallen world, we have to deal with. But throughout all of time, it’s my opinion that God is looking to reveal himself to us through whatever means he possibly can. He loves us so greatly, that he wants to relate to us in any way that he possibly can. And as time goes on, and the world changes, every way that it changes, I believe God will use it as an opportunity to relate to us. Every single time.
My opinion is that there’s the potential for both, that as we move on, we have the potential through everything that’s happening to relate to God in better and better ways, but there’s also the potential for man to pervert everything, and make it harder and harder.
Don: Most of what we do as human beings is to try to make things that are bad, better. That’s what work is. Whether it’s mechanical work, whether it’s biological work, whether it’s medical work, the theme of work is to make bad things better. So going out of work probably means that things have gotten a lot better.
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* It should be noted that as class was under way, The Guardian published a story that began: “A letter co-signed by Elon Musk and thousands of others demanding a pause in artificial intelligence research has created a firestorm, after the researchers cited in the letter condemned its use of their work, some signatories were revealed to be fake, and others backed out on their support.”