Consciousness and Fine-Tuning, Part 2

Quotable

Technology is amoral but acts as a catalyst that expands the opportunities for humanity to pursue. It is not good or evil in itself but can be designed and used for good and evil purposes. We are able to use technology for the glory of God and the betterment of society, or we can use it to push aside the dignity of others created in God’s image for sinful and contorted means.

AI is already being used to demean certain people and deny them fundamental human rights. Countries like China, Russia, North Korea, and Egypt have deployed AI facial recognition systems to control political dissidents. But this same technology can also be used ethically to identify criminals, stop terrorist threats, and even allow you to pay for a meal at a KFC in China just by smiling at a camera.

Though the purpose behind the creation of a given technology can be morally complicated or even evil, that doesn’t mean that God is unable to redeem it for a noble and righteous use. To use tools properly, though, we must understand the worldviews behind them and the motivations that drive their creation. As we engage these understandings of the world, remember that God calls us to “see to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).

Many see artificial intelligence through a materialist worldview, which simply states that everything in our universe, even our thoughts and minds, is reducible to matter and that nothing spiritual or supernatural exists. Everything about you and your life is reducible to some chemical and natural reaction. Materialists rely heavily on the theory of evolution from Charles Darwin’s 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, which offers an explanation for how humanity came to be and how our world developed over time. While not all of those who hold to evolution are materialists, all materialists believe in some form of evolution and deny the existence of any creator God or special creation. Some see AI as the next stage of our world’s evolution. It is argued that human beings are nothing more than a set of organic algorithms or a biological computer, albeit an extremely complex one. We have arrived at this stage of history as the most advanced life form over millions of years of natural selection, but there is nothing inherently unique about us other than the fact that we survived the test of time.

From this perspective, humans are just more complex than the rest of the world, including the animal kingdom. Even though certain species might be more powerful or better than humans in one or two aspects, we are the total package of brains and brawn. We are able to do things that nothing else in the world can dream of doing. But that doesn’t mean that it will always be that way. As AI becomes exponentially more complex and adept at problem solving, acquires language and processing skills, and begins to think on its own, we will take a back seat to this higher form of life.

Materialists often argue that AI will eventually take over every area of society. It will replace us in the workforce and even in our homes. We won’t be needed because our value is tied to what we do rather than who we are. We will be outdated because something new and better will come along. Max Tegmark, an MIT physics professor and cofounder of the Future of Life Institute, argues that AI is going to be the next stage of evolution and will at some point take over as the most advanced lifeform in the world. He explains in his book Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence that the next stage in evolution will be superadvanced AI systems that aren’t bound by the limits of biology like human beings are. This new form of life will be able to upgrade its software (learning) and its hardware (physical structure). Yuval Noah Harari describes a similar idea when he claims that humanity is simply a set of organic algorithms that will one day be matched in complexity and then soon outperformed by these superadvanced digital algorithms.

These new algorithms are often described as artificial general intelligence (AGI) leading to superintelligence. But the timeline for and even the possibility of such advanced forms of AI have been more the stuff of sci-fi movies than reality. There’s significant disagreement among AI experts regarding whether such developments are possible and when, if ever, they could happen. No one knows at this point.

— Jason Thacker, The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity (Zondervan, 2020). Copyright © 2020 by Jason Thacker. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.


Consciousness and Fine-Tuning

Part 2: Responding to the Case for Agentive Cosmopsychist Fine-Tuning

by Brandon Rickabaugh

Goff’s Defense of Agentive Cosmopsychism

In part 1 I explained the new naturalist explanation of fine-tuning as developed by Philip Goff.[1] I will now evaluate Goff’s defense of agentive cosmopsychism as the best explanation of fine-tuning.

The Parsimony Argument

Goff’s first argument is that agentive cosmopsychism is more parsimonious than rival explanations. On the standard parsimony principle, all things being equal, a more parsimonious explanation of some phenomenon is preferable to a less parsimonious explanation. He employs a standard distinction between two kinds of parsimony:

Quantitative parsimony: a matter of committing to as few individual—token—entities as possible.

Qualitative parsimony: a matter of committing to as few kinds—types—of entity as possible.

According to Goff, the multiverse hypothesis fails the test of quantitative parsimony by “postulating an enormous number of concrete, unobservable universes distinct from our own.”[2] Theism does not fail with respect to quantitative parsimony, as theism postulates only one universe and one designer. However, according to Goff, theism fails with respect to qualitative parsimony as it postulates “an immaterial and necessary being in addition to the physical and contingent universe…” as well as a “radically disunified conception of reality, with the natural world entirely distinct from the supernatural God...”[3]

This argument isn’t as straightforward as Goff suggests. First, Goff’s argument that theism is qualitatively less parsimonious than agential cosmopsychism assumes that a non-physical person, (e.g., God), would be a wholly different kind of person than human persons. But, why think this is true? That is, why think that persons are wholly physical things, such that a non-physical God counts as a qualitatively different kind of person. What seems to be doing the work here is either a rejection of dualism or more likely the presumption of naturalism, which is what is in dispute in the first place.

Second, if Goff’s argument is cast in terms of parsimony with respect to brute entities, then theism is more parsimonious than agential cosmopsychism. Theism postulates one brute fact, the existence of one person, God. The explanation of every contingent truth follows from the existence of God in conjunction with necessary truths about goodness. However, naturalism posits brute facts about the enormous number of contingent fundamental physical particles. While theism posits one brute entity (God), naturalism posits a vast number of brute facts about at least as many contingent existents.  

Third, parsimony is a secondary virtue behind empirical adequacy. Parsimony selects from among the list of explanations, with a ceteris paribus—all things being equal—clause, after those explanations have been filtered through the relevant data. So, empirical adequacy comes before considerations of parsimony. In part 3 I will raise two objections to the effect that Goff’s view fails before issues of parsimony can even be considered. Consequently, theism and agentive cosmopsychism do not equally explain the fine-tuning data. All things are not equal. Provided my objections succeed, Goff’s arguments from parsimony are irrelevant.

Lastly, it is an ongoing debate if parsimony is a truth-indicator, as Goff supposes, rather than a pragmatic principle.[4] Indeed, one might agree with Bradley Monton, for example, that we should be skeptical of controversial philosophical conclusions derived from uncontroversial judgements about parsimony in physics.[5] Parsimony may be a pragmatically helpful tool for running experiments; it may not be an indicator that one theory is better than a rival theory with respect to which theory is true. So, it seems that the theist has multiple ways of resisting Goff’s parsimony argument.

The Argument from False Predictions

Goff’s second argument is made from alleged false predictions of theism and the multiverse hypothesis, which agentive cosmopsychism avoids. I will focus on Goff’s argument against the theistic hypothesis. “Prima facie,” says Goff, “theism predicts a universe that is much better than our own and, because of this, the flaws of our Universe count strongly against the existence of God.”[6] That is, Goff suggests that theism makes the false prediction that the universe will not contain instances of suffering.

Goff’s argument is uncharacteristically weak and uniformed. The presumption of atheism seems to be doing all the work here. Of course, the literature on theistic responses to the problems of evil is vast and philosophically sophisticated. Yet, seemingly unaware of this fact, Goff simply dismisses theistic replies to the problems of evil as “special pleading or ad hoc.”[7] Goff offers no reason to think that theistic responses to the problems of evil fail. Therefore, his false predictions argument against the theistic hypothesis is incredibly unsubstantiated.

I’ve argued that Goff’s parsimony defense of agentive cosmopsychist fine-tuning depends on what kind of simplicity one is concerned with and what philosophical commitments one brings to bear on how to carve the universe at its joints. I’ve shown that at key points Goff’s appeals to parsimony do not support but presume naturalism. Like the multiverse, agentive cosmopsychism is a covering explanation for the fine-tuning data that is ideologically motivated by a rejection of theism. Moreover, I’ve argued that his false prediction objection against theism never gets off the ground. This alone is enough to reject agentive cosmopsychism as an explanation of fine-tuning. In part 3 I will further my reply by pressing two direct objections to Goff’s agentive cosmopsychism.

Notes

[1] Philip Goff, “Did the Universe Design Itself?” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 85 (1) (2019): 106.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] See, e.g., Richard Swinburne, Epistemic Justification. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), chapter 4.

[5] Bradley Monton, “The Argument from Simplicity and the Argument from Induction: Atheistic Induction by Boltzmann Brains,” in Jerry L. Walls and Trent Dougherty (eds.), Two Dozen (or so) Arguments for God: The Plantinga Project (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 185.

[6] Goff, 108.

[7] Goff, 107.

Brandon Rickabaugh is the Franz Brentano Fellow in the Metaphysics of Mind at the Cultura Initiative, and a doctoral candidate in the Department of Philosophy at Baylor University. Learn more about Brandon and his work at brandonrickabaugh.com.

*Note: This essay is adapted from an academic talk Brandon gave at the 2019 National Evangelical Philosophical Society Conference. A recording of that talk is available at http://www.wordmp3.com/details.aspx?id=35676


Book Highlight

*Unless otherwise noted, descriptions are those provided by the publisher, sometimes edited for brevity.

We interact with artificial intelligence, or AI, nearly every moment of the day without knowing it. From our Twitter and Facebook social media feeds to our online carts to smart thermostats and Alexa and Google Home, AI is everywhere. In The Age of AI, Jason Thacker—associate research fellow at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission—helps us navigate our digital age in this thoughtful exploration of the social, moral, and ethical challenges of our ongoing interactions with artificial intelligence.

Applying God's Word to this new AI-empowered age, The Age of AI shows us how Christian truth transforms how we use AI in order to love God and our neighbor better. It serves as a guide for those wary of technology's impact on our society and also for those who are enthusiastic about where AI is taking us. Jason explains how AI affects us individually, in our relationships, and in our society at large as he addresses AI's impact on our bodies, sexuality, work, economics, and privacy. With theological depth and a wide awareness of the current trends in AI, Jason is a steady guide reminding us that while AI is changing most things, it does not change the foundations of the Christian faith.

Reviews

“I recommend The Age of AI highly and without reservation. In it, Jason Thacker employs a theological framework—drawing upon the imago Dei and the Great Commandment especially—within which he addresses pressing questions about artificial intelligence as it relates to individuals and families, as well as to the medical, military, and data industries. Thacker’s style is approachable and thus will prove helpful for a broad audience of thoughtful Christians.”

Bruce Riley Ashford, author, The Gospel of Our King; provost and professor of theology and culture, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

“The age of AI is not a Jetsons fantasy of the distant future. It’s here. And this new age raises challenging theological questions. Jason Thacker helps us prepare for this imminent future in The Age of AI. It’s a practical and valuable early entry in what will surely be a growing body of Christian writing and thinking on AI in coming years.”

Brett McCracken, senior editor, The Gospel Coalition; author, Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community

Find The Age of AI, which releases March 3, at Amazon, Zondervan, and other major booksellers.


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