Intelligence as We Know It

Guest post by: Chad Ellison


There is a bit of fuss among scientists and philosophers regarding the possibility of producing an artificially intelligent being that is actually intelligent. It might seem pessimistic to say that human beings are not even close to being able to manufacture genuine intelligence, but that is my thesis. This is not an attack on technology or on the remarkable advancements that have been made in computer science; rather, my contention is that none of these advancements come close to instantiating intelligence as we know it.

While there is no doubt that artificial intelligence resembles actual intelligence, to believe that it can actually be intelligent is predicated on the assumption that intelligence is reducible to a mere pattern and collection of physical parts. If intelligence is reducible to physical material, we might be able to manufacture it. The problem with this idea, however, is that if so called intelligence were reducible to physical material, it would be so far removed from our understanding of intelligence that we would have no business calling it that—it would not be intelligence in so far as we conceive it as rational ability. If all that we call intelligence is reducible to matter in motion, then there is nothing rational about it; all thoughts would find a comprehensive explanation in physical cause and effect. There is no good reason to think that the physical hardware of our brains would be more likely to produce rational conclusions than to believe that a stone rolling down a hill would be more likely to veer to the right rather than the left. Consequently, the idea that actual intelligence can be manufactured with mere physical parts leads to the destruction of all human intelligence rather than the construction of artificial intelligence.

There is another reason why our best technology is not close to being genuinely intelligent; human intelligence is a different kind of thing than mere input and computational processes. Things that differ in degree are the same kind of thing. Two different numbers (5 and 3), though different in degree, are the same kind of thing, numbers. Their differences can be explained by the essence that unites them. On the other hand, a dog is a different kind of thing than a number; dogs are essentially different than numbers.

A computer computes and outputs the information it does for one reason and one reason always: it is programmed to do just that. However complex it may be, all of its computational processes and varying outputs are reducible to the specific conditions its programmer(s) gave it. A computer does not give us the correct answer to 2 + 2 because it knows that it is rational or correct; it gives the correct answer because it was programmed to output that answer under its specified conditions, and it could have been programmed to give any number of different answers. The computer neither values reason, nor can choose to act in accordance with or against it. By contrast, there seem to be two essential elements to human intelligence that computers do not have: volition and the ability to ascribe value. To make a rational judgment as a human being, both volition and the ability to value something seem to be necessary. First, some value of reason over non-reason must exist to serve as the motivational impulse to pursue rationality rather than irrationality. There is nothing like this genuine value of rationality in a computer—it does not value what is rational; it does not value anything. For such a being, pursuing rationality rather than irrationality is arbitrary. It is very difficult to conceive of a being that has no reason to employ reason as rational—it is not rational to be indifferent about rationality.

Second, a being that is causally determined by antecedent conditions does not have any power to will a thing because it is rational. It does what it does solely because the antecedent conditions cause it. While it may act consistently with a rational conclusion (like providing 4 as the answer to 2 + 2), such an output was entirely independent of rational evaluation on its part; rationality becomes a superfluous category for it. Its computational processes are neither rational, nor irrational; they are non-rational.

Because computer programs lack a genuine value of rationality and a genuine volition to choose a conclusion because it is rational, the combination of mere input, computational processes, and output are a different kind of thing than human intelligence. Computers could increase in their degree of complexity one-thousand fold, yet they would not be any closer than they are now to being intelligent. In as much as intelligence involves the ability to be rational, we have not come close to producing the kind of thing that could be intelligent.

Theology of Suffering

Guest post by: Chad Ellison


The phenomenon of suffering is at once alien and common. It is not difficult for most of us to hear and accept statements such as, “If you are not suffering now, you will be soon.” Yet I’ve never known anyone to accept suffering as just another banal feature of existence, to passively observe it and get used to it like one might get used to an unpleasant landscape. It seems that in every instance of suffering the soul violently rebels, and we cannot help but thinking, even knowing, that this is not the way life ought to be. While suffering in a vacuum is not a good thing, in our world it is the common and intended experience of God and His people.

One cannot even skim through the New Testament without quickly discovering that suffering is a major part of being a disciple of Christ; indeed, every book of the New Testament except one, references suffering for the follower of Christ. Paul wrote several of his letters from a prison. James said to consider trials pure joy (James 1:2). Peter reminded the early Christians to not be surprised at the painful trial they were suffering, as though something strange were happening to them (1 Peter 4:12). There are moments when life is so painful that one would rather not be alive. We might be surprised to find out how many recorded instances God’s people asked God to kill them; these people include: Moses: Numbers 11:13-15; Job: Job 3:11; Elijah: 1 Kings 19:3-4; and Jonah: Jonah 4:5-8). I often look to God in bewilderment and shock at why others and I are permitted, and in some instances caused, to suffer so much more than expected.

An essential part of being a Christian, however, is devotion and being conformed to a man of sorrows who was tortured to death. Jesus tells us candidly that “anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). What is the cross in this passage if not an instrument of suffering? Perhaps the person who does not carry their cross is excluded from discipleship, not because Jesus will exclude him, but because a person who is not willing to suffer will exclude himself. He will not follow God into the gallows. By contrast, a disciple carries his cross even when he knows that God has given it to him and is the engineer of his suffering.

To be a Christian and not suffer turns out to be an oxymoron; suffering and Christianity are coterminous. We must even conclude, to the shock of many comfortable people, that one’s love for Christ is as deep as one’s suffering (or willingness to suffer). A Christianity that is not worth suffering for reveals a relationship, not with Christ, but with a product—a product that will be abandoned when the costs outweigh the benefits. If this were not the case, then the blood of the martyrs and the tears of the afflicted would indeed be in vain. By contrast, we see that suffering is the currency of love. A man suffers for what he loves, and suffers more intensely for what he loves more thoroughly. The Church’s love for Christ will be revealed in how she bears her cross, just as Christ’s love for people was revealed in how He bore His.