February Issue of The Worldview Bulletin-Pt. 1
Can Machines Create Art? | Erik Wielenberg’s Moral Realism
Welcome to the latest dispatch from The Worldview Bulletin! Paul M. Gould begins this issue by proposing an answer to the question, Can machines create art? G. K. Chesterton’s answer, he points out, is still relevant today. Paul Copan continues his series on the image of God and human rights, examining whether philosopher Eric Wielenberg succeeds in establishing an atheistic moral realism. David Baggett continues his series as well, interacting this time with how Tony Campolo responded to his son Bart’s deconversion. Anyone interacting with someone considering or going through a deconversion will find this series helpful. Rounding things out are this month’s collection of noteworthy news and resources.
Can Machines Create Art?
By Paul M. Gould
The Imago Dei and Human Rights II:
Another Failed Atheistic Attempt to Ground Dignity
by Paul Copan
Please see the second email for Part Two of the newsletter.
Can Machines Create Art?
By Paul M. Gould
In his book The Everlasting Man, G. K. Chesterton claims that humans alone are created with the ability for art. He writes, “Art is the signature of man.” As Chesterton continues, “Alone among the animals, [man] is shaken with the beautiful madness called laughter; as if he had caught sight of some secret in the very shape of the universe hidden from the universe itself.” If Chesterton is right, then creativity, or at least art, or creative art, is unique to humans. This picture, however, has been challenged due to the rise of machine art and machine thinking. Consider the case of the portrait of Edmond de Belamy. This painting is a 70 x 70 cm inkjet portrait created by an AI program that sold in a 2018 auction for $432,500. To put this sale into perspective, at that same auction, an Andy Warhol print sold for $75,000. Here is a description of the painting from Christie’s website:
The portrait in its gilt frame depicts a portly gentleman, possibly French and—to judge by his dark frockcoat and plain white collar—a man of the church. The work appears unfinished: the facial features are somewhat indistinct and there are blank areas of canvas. Oddly, the whole composition is displaced slightly to the north-west. A label on the wall states that the sitter is a man named Edmond Belamy, but the giveaway clue as to the origins of the work is the artist’s signature at the bottom right. In cursive Gallic script it reads:
This portrait, however, is not the product of a human mind. It was created by an artificial intelligence, an algorithm defined by that algebraic formula with its many parentheses.
This painting raises a provocative question: Can machines create art? Or is Chesterton correct and art is the signature of man? To answer this question, it will be helpful to think a bit about the nature of the imagination, creative thinking, and its relationship to art. Let’s begin by exploring the nature of the imagination.
Broadly speaking, according to the philosopher Amy Kind, imagination is “a speculative mental activity.” We use our imagination every day when we make decisions, speculate, empathize, read, daydream, think, and more. According to Kind, there are two basic types of imaginings: propositional and sensory. Importantly for our purposes, both varieties of imagination involve mental imagery.
Next, let’s consider the nature of creativity. Almost always, creativity involves novelty and value. Further, most philosophers of creativity argue that creativity involves further conditions. Two often cited additional conditions for creativity are surprise and agency. I act creatively when I bring something new into being with value and do so with flair. The philosopher Meghan Page helps us see these conditions in play by introducing the distinction between creating and making. Page motivates this distinction through the example of recipe-based cooking versus creative cooking. When following a recipe to prepare a family dinner, she makes a meal. When cooking “off-book,” however, Page is able to impart something of herself in technique or flavor, and as a result, something new and delicious and wonderful is created. Page’s helpful distinction between recipe-based cooking and creative cooking in the realm of culinary art helps us see the crucial elements involved in creating. Creating, as opposed to making, involves bringing into reality something new, valuable, and surprising.
Many artists, scientists, and philosophers have noted a tight connection between imagination and creativity. As philosopher Peter Langland-Hassan has noted, “There are no creative geniuses lacking in imagination; and there are no creative acts in which the creator’s imaginativeness played no role.” And indeed, while the connection might not be necessary (it is possible to act creatively without imagination), almost always—or at least very frequently the use of the imagination is, as Kind writes, “a primary (or the primary) means of achieving creativity, even though there might be other means as well.” The idea is that creativity requires a kind of “cognitive manipulation” in which one voluntarily conceives of possibility space in non-truth-bound ways and that this kind of cognitive manipulation is at the very core of imaginative activities.
Given our brief discussion of the nature of imagination and creativity, we can now face our main question: can machines create art? Consider again the portrait of Edmond de Belamy. The machine that produced this portrait utilized a technique known as Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs). Created by the Paris-based group called The Obvious Collective, a GAN program works as follows (as described by one of the people behind the program):
‘The algorithm is composed of two parts,’ says Caselles-Dupré. ‘On one side is the Generator, on the other the Discriminator. We fed the system with a data set of 15,000 portraits painted between the 14th century to the 20th. The Generator makes a new image based on the set, then the Discriminator tries to spot the difference between a human-made image and one created by the Generator. The aim is to fool the Discriminator into thinking that the new images are real-life portraits. Then we have a result.’
News stories and commentaries describing the Belamy portrait heralded the GAN as a genuine creative. One headline for the Technology Review went so far as to describe the inventor of GANs as “The man who’s given machines the gift of imagination.” So, can machines create art? Unfortunately, the answer is no.
The first thing to notice is that the Obvious Collective is hesitant to herald their GAN as a creative machine. The main reason is the prominent role played by humans in creating the algorithms that guide the computer’s creative process. But perhaps one day machines will create genuine art. As the Collective described in 2020: “Once the whole process will have been automated, we will have created a machine that is capable of being creative, in the same way a human is.”
I have my doubts, for at least two reasons. First, genuine creativity involves imagination, and only conscious things can imagine. As Amy Kind writes,
The problem is that not just any old cognitive process will do [in creating] . . . . procedures involving blind rule-following, mere brute force, and so on, are not sufficient for process-creativity, and insofar as process-creativity is often important for product creativity and person-creativity, these procedures will not be sufficient for those kinds of creativity either.
As we’ve noted, creativity is deeply connected to the use of the imagination. Since only minds can imagine, we have a good reason for thinking machines will never genuinely create.
Secondly, creativity involves intentional agency, thus only conscious agents can create. The (perhaps obvious) thing to notice about machines, even GANs, is that there is no one there! There is no agent, self, I, or ego that intentionally creates. Rather, there is a humanly programmed algorithm that explores possibility space using pre-determined parameters and information fed into the system. This is hardly the work of an intentional agent. Thus, even if the Belamy portrait is novel and valuable, it is not surprising and its production certainly lacks intentional agency. I am willing to go a step further. Not only is there “no one there” in the machine, I don’t think it’s metaphysically possible that machines can be agents. But then, if it is not possible that machines can be agents, then it is not possible for machines to create.
In conclusion, given the nature of creativity (involving novelty, value, surprise, and agency) and the essential role (or near essential role) of the imagination in creative thinking, it seems that machines will in fact never create art. They will mimic art, but the real genius behind those products are the computer programmers and their algorithms. So, Chesterton was right, after all—art is in fact the unique signature in the created realm of man.
 G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008), 34.
 Ibid., 36.
 As summarized in Amy Kind, Imagination and Creative Thinking (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022), 46.
 “Is Artificial Intelligence Set to Become Art’s Next Medium?” (Dec. 2018), https://www.christies.com/features/A-collaboration-between-two-artists-one-human-one-a-machine-9332-1.aspx.
 Kind, Imagination and Creative Thinking, 1.
 Ibid., 4–12.
 Ibid., 12.
 For a nice summary of the philosophy of creativity and the conditions of novelty, value, intentional agency, and surprise, See Kind, Imagination and Creative Thinking, 24–32. See also the work of Margaret Boden, especially her The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2004), 1–10.
 Meghan Page, “Creativity in Creation,” Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion Vol. 10, eds. Lara Buchak and Dean W. Zimmerman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022), 120, 129.
 Quoted in Kind, Imagination and Creative Thinking, 32.
 Ibid., 36.
 Ibid., 36–37.
 “Is Artificial Intelligence Set to Become Art’s Next Medium?” (Dec 2018), https://www.christies.com/features/A-collaboration-between-two-artists-one-human-one-a-machine-9332-1.aspx.
 Quoted in Kind, Imagination and Creative Thinking, 51.
 Ibid., 51.
 Quoted in ibid., 51.
 Ibid., 55.
— Paul M. Gould is an Associate Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Director of the M.A. Philosophy of Religion program at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He is the author or editor of ten scholarly and popular-level books including Cultural Apologetics, Philosophy: A Christian Introduction, and The Story of the Cosmos. He has been a visiting scholar at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School’s Henry Center, working on the intersection of science and faith, and is the founder and president of the Two Tasks Institute. You can find out more about Dr. Gould and his work at Paul Gould.com and the Two Tasks Institute. He is married to Ethel and has four children.
image: Edmond de Belamy
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