One of the great dogmas of our age is that there is nothing unusual about the human race. We are told that only in degree do we differ from the apes. The belief that nature and human nature form a continuum came to prominence with Charles Darwin, whose avowed aim was to bring man and nature "under one point of view."
Yet the evidence for that continuum is still missing--despite a search that has persisted for over a century. If humans are not exceptional, intelligence at the human level should be widespread and easily detected. But we are still looking. We have still not been able to find any trace of the intelligence that children display by the age of 3.
The Hubble telescope searches outer space; we refine our machines, add "memory" to our computers. Maybe one day they will become conscious. We coax chimpanzees in animal labs. Perhaps one day they will speak. Still nothing.
One of the ironies of the "we're not special" mantra is that many try to turn this around and say that humans are free to create for themselves any personally powerful meaning that they so please (due to a lack of any meaning determined by God). So we have "positive atheism" (Dawkins publishes items at www.positiveatheism.org) and "religious naturalism." The molecular geneticist/cell biologist Ursula Goodenough (that really is her family name) describes herself and many of her compatriots as "religious naturalists." See her essay "How Can Scientific Understandings of Nature Contribute to Moral, Spiritual, and Religious Wholeness and Well-Being?" in the book The Good in Nature and Humanity: Connecting Science, Religion, and Spirit with the Natural World, edited by S. R. Kellert and T. J. Farnham (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2002). Goodenough embraces an emergentist worldview in which a wonderful life somehow "emerges" out of increasingly complex stages of evolution. A blind leap of faith, this is.
This ultimate "free lunch" in emergentist worldviews defies critical reasoning, some have argued. The Apostle Paul certainly taught in Romans 1:21-23 that Goodenough's worldview is, well, not good enough:
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Bethell continues in his Washington Times essay:
The quest for artificial intelligence (AI) began in earnest [in the 1950s].... A conference at Dartmouth College in 1956 was organized by mathematicians John McCarthy and Marvin Minsky. The problem of creating artificial intelligence would be solved within a few years, they believed. It took much longer than that for failed experiments to show that the world of human intelligence can't be reduced to math.
The movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" (made in 1968) featured a sinister computer called HAL that tried to sabotage a space mission. In the year 2001, Mr. Minsky asked: "Where is HAL?" Nothing resembling an independently minded computer has ever been constructed.
The leading champion of AI today is probably Ray Kurzweil. He correctly foresaw that computer programs would defeat chess champions. But the chess problem can be digitized. The best next move can be calculated by a computer.
Computers facing real-world problems face unanticipated difficulties--the "frame problem." Programmers must attend only to what is relevant to a task, ignore what is irrelevant and spell out instructions in minute detail. This can create problems of infinite regress. Small children never see them as problematical to begin with. Meanwhile the programming of common sense into computers seems to have bogged down. By 2009, OpenCyc 2.0 had a knowledge base of 47,000 concepts and 306,000 facts. But there are never enough. The human mind routinely does something incalculable.
Mr. Kurzweil predicted in "The Age of Spiritual Machines" (1999) that computers would claim to be conscious by 2029. But with each passing year, that seems less and less probable.
Although machines are capable of mimicking certain aspects of human intelligence, AI is fundamentally different from true conscious intelligence. Bethel describes well the very limited contexts in which machines can outpace humans. For example, in a game of chess there are clearly defined boundaries within which AI operates quite well and is thus able to beat the best human chess players. But when it comes to true self-consciousness and common sense, machines just don't get it. It is fun to imagine that machines could become conscious one day, but this is merely science fiction, and is not scientifically or metaphysically plausible.
2001 A Space Odyssey brilliantly explores the world of AI as science fiction on the big screen (younger folks will think the film is a bit too slow, however). The 2001 Principle multimedia web site uses the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey to explore scientific arguments for intelligent design and their implications for the question of God's existence. Here you will find this assessment:
IN THE ANNALS OF MOTION PICTURE HISTORY, the film "2001: A Space Odyssey" holds a special place. Watching the film, the viewer feels that he is being treated to nothing less than a capsulized tale of human civilization, from Day One to the present, and even into the future. The film is panoramic, and of epic proportions. The music is breathtaking, and the plot follows a spaceship that crosses the universe, searching for the source of life itself.
In the 1960's, when "2001" came out, it left its audiences so awestruck, so mystified, and so curious, most who went to see it once, went back to see it again and again, hoping that they would be able to decipher it. [Read more about 2001 and the inference to intelligent design]
Whether the famous black monolith (pictured to the right) in the movie 2001 "was designed by aliens or a transcendent god, one still could tell it was designed, and on precisely the same grounds," write Jay Richards and Guillermo Gonzalez. Indeed, the inference to intelligent design is to "mere intelligence." To narrow down the designing intelligence to "God" requires additional fields of inquiry beyond science, especially history, theology, and philosophy. This is precisely what we doing in the TrueU series: we begin with a scientific inference to design and then expand the investigation until Christian theism stands alone as the best explanation. TrueU leads somewhere definite, rather than leaving you in a 2001 daze (what was that fetus floating in space at the end of 2001, anyway?).