Sunday, April 6, 2008

Is Science Compatible with Religion: Discussion Issues

Some things just don't mend. Well into the twenty-first century, we're still facing the same old problem: conflict between religion and science. Most of the conflict is verbal, often quite heated, but at least the faithful and secular sides aren't violent. Much more serious is the warfare between open, democratic societies and the Islamic fundamentalists who hate us.

What's going on here?

Well, whatever it is, it's been going on for centuries. An old song that just keeps playing, even though nobody likes the tune. For example, there's the old standby of evolution versus creationism. Seems like that argument has been with us forever.

Even though we can't resolve the old issues, new ones keep piling on. A good one (well, not really a good one) is the issue of homosexuality. Scientists have concluded that homosexuality is a completely natural sexual orientation occurring in a small minority, caused mainly by genetics. On the other hand, religious conservatives believe that it is an unnatural, sinful state chosen by or taught to the individual.

How do you bridge that gap?

And then there are the emerging issues, the ones just beginning to come into view. These may be the most difficult of all. In Unholy Domain, I attempt to describe the oncoming issue of artificial intelligence versus natural humanity. Pay attention to Adam Jordan, the First Minister of the Church of Natural Humans, speaking to his congregation in 2022:

"Listen carefully to what Lucifer says," Jordan said, his voice cracking. He swallowed, watching the faithful, his passion pressed to the limit. He took a breath, then another. "He offers this bargain: through technology, he will restore our civilization to a greater level of material riches. In order to gain this wealth, you must allow the Technos to create artificial beings, godless abominations that will rule the earth. But even that is just a step along the path to an even viler future. The elements of our human bodies and minds are to be replaced, step by step, with synthetic genes and artificial components. Humans are to evolve into a new species. Technological Man they call it."

"Never," cried a female voice among the believers. Others echoed her cry."Now why is the Devil doing this?" Jordan asked. "Why?" He paused, looking across the crowd. "The reason is simple, yet horrible beyond belief. In this secular world, your soul is your link to God. When the Devil replaces aspects of your humanity with artificial components, he weakens your connection to the Lord. When he inserts a synthetic gene into your body, he disrupts God's plan. At some point, as your humanity shrinks and the artificiality grows, the link to the Lord will be severed. And when the Devil destroys that link, it's gone forever."

Maybe a touch dramatic, but Unholy Domain provides a glimpse of what's just around the corner. It's not pretty, but if we prepare for the conflict, we can mitigate it.


Discussion questions

1. Should we enhance capabilities such as intelligence, athletic ability, beauty or health through gene manipulation or artificial components? If so, who gets the enhancements?

2. Should human cloning be permitted?

3. Should an intelligent robot have the same rights as a human?

4. Does God care if we evolve into a new species?

5. Should we allow artificial intelligence to approach and possibly surpass human intelligence?

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