Let me just introduce you so everybody knows who you are here. Dr. Lennox is the emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, he’s … in mathematics and the Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College, Oxford, he holds doctorates in mathematics from the University of Cambridge, whereas a student, he attended the last lectures of CS Lewis. And from Cardiff University, as well as a third doctorate by incorporation from the University of Oxford. He famously debated leading atheist Richard Dawkins in 2008, 2009, Christopher Hitchens in 2008, in 2010 and Peter Singer in 2011. He’s the author of over 70 mathematical papers and two research level algebra texts, as well as a dozen books, including most recently, 2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity, which we have on sale outside of the book stall, Can Science Explain Everything, from 2019 Have No Fear Being Salt and Light, Even When It’s Costly from 2018. And finally God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God from 2009, in addition to several other publications I haven’t mentioned. Dr. Lennox, thank you very much for taking the time to be with us and for your patience on these technical issues.
It’s a great pleasure to be with you all. And now I can see you all. So hi to you all from a freezing cold Oxford. And thank you so much for inviting me to your conference. Just one little correction, if I make, God’s Undertaker was replaced two weeks ago, by a much fuller, much more up to date book called Cosmic Chemistry: Do God and Science Mix. And I think many young people may find that a very good guide to the debate today.
Thank you, Dr. Lennox, for that correction. You’ve given talks at major universities around the world on subjects as wide ranging as whether God is fact or fiction, whether science can explain everything, whether science has buried God, whether there’s anything worth believing in, the logic of Christianity, science and faith, and you’ve engaged in these high profile debates that we just went over. This is not exactly what someone does to enhance their academic and professional standing in the world. Why do you do these things?
Well, the reason I do them, and your question is very important, is that if someone doesn’t enter into the public space, unfortunately the dominance of atheistic thinking, particularly in the academy, but not only there, is such that they will simply take the floor by default. And I feel as a believer that I’m called upon to defend the Christian faith as Paul did in the public square so that people can hear the other side. In my country they often only hear one side and that is the atheistic side. And so I felt very much, many years ago as a teenager, that God was calling me to enter the academy, but to stand for him.
And of course it doesn’t necessarily make you popular, but my objective is twofold. First of all, to encourage my fellow believers, that they too can stand, to furnish them with arguments that they can understand and use. And that’s why I wrote the book Can Science Explain Everything? And secondly, to show to the world outside that Christianity has got a rational base, it is truth and that there are strong reasons for believing that Jesus is the Son of God. And I’ve been doing that essentially since I started university, if not before.
Fantastic. That is wonderful. And I know I have been greatly impacted by your writings and I’m sure many others here have as well. What motivated you to take a on artificial intelligence in this latest book, 2084?
Well, again, another important question. I was asked by some Christians to give a talk to a conference of Christian leaders in London on AI, and I first refused and I said, “No, you’ve got the wrong person.” But they said, “What we want you to do is talk to us about the biblical view of what is a human being in light of artificial intelligence.” And when I started studying this, I immediately saw that I’m hitting on a vastly important issue because the more advanced AI becomes in our society, the more people are questioning well, what does it exactly mean to be a human being? And since I believe that God created human beings especially in his own image, I felt that I could not resist the challenge to go into this.
And so I did several years, very detailed research in order to try to understand, first of all, what are the good things that AI is doing? And there are many of those. But then to look at what is called artificial general intelligence, which is the quest for a super intelligence. And that of course occupies a lot of science fiction and everything else, but there are many serious thinkers in our world who feel that we are approaching what they call a singularity, where human beings will fuse with technology. And we leave behind human beings version 101 and we move onto something that’s more like a cyborg, a mixture of humanity and technology. Now that clearly impacts the biblical view of human beings. And therefore I wish to defend that biblical view, which I do very strongly in my book, 2084.
So the title of the book 2084, obviously plays on Orwell’s famous book, 1984. Expand a little bit on why you chose that title?
Oh, I didn’t choose it. It was an atheist chose it. I was traveling with a world famous atheist to a conference to debate him and we agreed in the car not to talk about the debate. This was Peter Atkins, a world famous chemist from Oxford. So we asked each other what we were writing. So I told him I was writing on artificial intelligence. Well, he said, “I’ve got a wonderful title for you.” I said, “What is it? If it’s good, I’ll use it and I’ll acknowledge you.” He said, “2084.” So I said, “Done.” Because I could immediately say it would have echos of Orwell. It would convey some of the ideas I wanted to convey and it would attract attention.
And I must say to you all, using that title has got me into all kinds of places, with interviews on Zoom particularly, in countries all over the world that I would never have expected. And every one of them have given me the opportunity to explain the difference between what Christianity offers and what AI offers in terms of enhancement, uploading our brains, the quest for eternal life and all this kind of thing. It’s absolutely ready made to be contrasted with the wonderful gospel that we find in the New Testament.
Absolutely. So people like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have made the argument that super intelligence as represented by AI is a real danger. Do you agree with them or disagree with them and why?
Well, what human beings can do is as yet unknown to us. And we do get hints in the book of Revelation. And this could take a very long time, so I’m going to recommend my book rather than go into details here. But there are indicators in the book of Revelation that human technology will advance to the extent where, as John tells us in that book, there will be a system of economics in the world that will control people. And what I noticed in the book of Revelation that this economic control and pressure that everybody has to bow to this power, who is described as the beast or the animal, is very similar to a scenario put up by a brilliant, famous American physicist, Max Tegmark of Princeton.
And what I thought was this, look, if people, serious people are going to take seriously, the idea that there will be an authority that will rule the world, that will fit people with a bracelet or a mark or something like this, that they cannot buy or sell unless they have that mark. Then since the Bible has been saying this for over 20 centuries, maybe I can use that as an opportunity to explain by contrast what it is that the Bible offers. Now, I think there’s a lot of hype about this, and we don’t know when this is going to happen, but certainly we are accelerating towards a degree of surveillance in parts of our world that are really scary. And notice, please, that has not come about through the development of artificial general intelligence. Perhaps if you’ll allow me, let me explain the difference. May I do that?
Please do. That would be great.
Artificial intelligence, AI, narrow AI is a system that has a powerful computer and a program that recognizes patterns. For example, take x-rays of a million lungs and get the best medical people to label them with the diseases they represent. And then an x-ray of my lungs is taken and this AI system pairs the picture of my lungs with those million others in a few seconds and it spits out to diagnosis and that diagnosis these days will usually be better than you get from your local hospital. So here’s a system that does one thing and one thing only, that normally takes human intelligence, but the intelligence isn’t real, it’s artificial. It only simulates human intelligence.
Now, even at that level, we’ve developed pattern recognition to certain extent that we can recognize faces. And not only that, we now have surveillance cameras that can recognize you from the rear, recognize you by your gait, by your body movements and all this kind of thing. And this has been developed to such an extent that it’s being used as a surveillance technology in several countries of the world, particularly in China. And you can read those very worrying trends.
So talk about George Orwell and big brother watching you, this sadly appears to being used to actually keep a whole major minority in subjugation, the Uyghur population of China. And there’s quite a chilling article written about this some time ago, I think it was in Time Magazine, that said, “Look, all the equipment needed to do this is already in the west. Some of it was invented in the west. The only difference is it is not yet in the power of a central government. It is in the power of huge corporations.” So we are beginning to see surveillance technology begin to bite into our personal lives, in reporting on us, in financial control particularly. And that, because it doesn’t require any new technology, to my mind is really quite scary and therefore we need to be prepared for it.
Now artificial general intelligence is the attempt to build a machine or enhance human beings to the extent where the machine can do anything that a human being can do, but do it much faster, much better, and much more extensively. And so comes the idea of inventing a super intelligence. And here, I think Scripture has a great deal to say, because the idea of becoming god, and that is what people are talking about today. I interact in my book by the bestselling Israeli author, Yuval Noah Harari. He’s written a book called Homo Deus: The Man Who is God. Now the first suggestion of that comes in Genesis three. In the day you eat of it you shall be as god’s, knowing good and evil. And behind this desire to create super intelligence is of course, the desire that’s been running for centuries to turn human beings into god’s. Now Harari and others are trying to do it by mechanical means, by technological and electronic means, but you cannot do that kind of thing in the end and bypass the problem of human sin and failure.
And that’s why I want to say to these people and let me put it as briefly as I can, when they come to me and they tell me that the major agenda for the 21st century is twofold. Firstly, Harari says, “We are going to solve the problem of physical death. It’s just a technical problem. We’re going to solve it so that you don’t have to die. You may die, but you don’t have to.” And then secondly, we’re going to change human beings to such an extent that we make them much more happy than they are today, by implants, by drugs, even by modifying the genetic inheritance levels of existing human beings. And possibly even one day, being able to upload your brains onto silicon and make a super intelligence that’s not dependent on biology.
Do you know what I say to these people? I say, “You’re far too late.” And they look at me and they say, “We’re what?” Well, I say, “Take the problem of physical death. It has already been solved. It was solved 20 centuries ago when Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, by the power of God. He broke the death barrier.” And I said, “If you think of the problem of your quest for eternal life, Jesus who rose from the dead, offers is everybody who trusts him, who repents and acknowledges him as savior and Lord, that they can receive eternal life in this life. But they too will be raised from the dead by Christ’s power when he returns. Now there’s powerful evidence supporting the fact that he is the son of God and that he can do this. There’s no evidence yet, as far as I can see, that your artificial intelligence is going to do it.”
But do you see the difference, the attempt to make AGI and enhanced human intelligence and happiness and conquer death, all bypasses the problem of human sin and rebellion against God. And there’s no pathway to utopia that avoids sin. It’s been tried before. And the 20th century was awash with the blood because of attempts to make the new man as the Russians thought, or Hitler’s eugenic experimentation. How wonderful it is. And that’s why I’m delighted to speak to you today, to have a gospel that tells us that we can have a relationship with God, we can have eternal life, we can know the fear of death lifted and know that we have got a glorious eternity, but it depends on us of repenting and trusting him. So there’s a very powerful message that can be spoken into this environment today.
Thank you very much. That was excellent. Just follow up to that, given everything you just said, should we do AI research in education?
Well, I would want to say this, that artificial intelligence, let’s take narrow AI, the stuff that actually works at the moment, it’s like a sharp knife. You can use your sharp knife to do surgery, you can use it to commit murder and that’s in the nature of the knife. So what we need with our knives is ethics and morality and integrity of the people using those things. And I’m so grateful that there are people in your country particularly, and I can think of one outstanding scientist, Rosalind Pickard at MIT, who’s using AI and facial recognition to detect almost invisible movements in the faces of children who are about to have some kind of epileptic fit. And by recognizing that she can prevent those fits and they’ve got a wearable watch that they use to do that. This is marvelous stuff.
And I would encourage young people who’ve got a scientific interest to be involved in those kinds of research, but to be absolutely alert to the ethical considerations. In any technology, this problem arises. It’s arising more and more today for a very simple reason. Technology advances much faster than the ethics that are needed to control it. But even leading people, Stephen Hawking and Musk, you mentioned, they’re scared. Why? Because they’re afraid of getting out of control. It’s a bit like Genesis again, that human beings got out of control. They rebelled against God and they brought ruin on themselves and on the world. And some people think that there’s a real risk that our creations might get out of control one day and destroy us.
Now, of course, all of this is speculation, but I think we shouldn’t be afraid of AI, but we should be very wary of some of the ideas that are being associated with it. Particularly those ideas that reject a fundamental biblical notion. And let me put that notion to you folks, because I think here’s the place where we need to stand very firmly. Why do I believe that humans version 101 are so special, made in the image of God? I’ll tell you why, because God became one. That is such an amazing thing. And it’s the heart of my faith. And yes, I believe it as a Christian and yes, I believe it as a scientist, God became one.
Therefore, if we start to meddle about, as some people want to do and perhaps are even doing, with the genetics of human beings, it’s one thing to give a person like me glasses so that I can see better. It’s another thing to modify my germ line so every one of my descendants is made to a specification, not God’s specification, but a specification of a group of nameless scientists and doing something that may never be reversed.
And I think it’s something as believers, we need to really stand firm for. That I look at the universe through my telescope, and sometimes I wish I lived in California to be able to see the stars occasionally, and the universe shows God’s glory. It was not made in his image, you were. And that means that you are more important than a galaxy, and this is absolutely spectacular. And therefore I would encourage you, and it’s lovely to see young people in the audience there in California, I would encourage you to get a strong grip on the uniqueness of the Christian claim about the Lord Jesus. He is the creator, but he is God become human. And therefore humans are infinitely special. And woe betide those that seek to modify them fundamentally as CS Lewis saw so clearly back in the 1940s.
Wonderful. Thank you for that. Just sort of to close us out. Can you on the theme of Jesus Christ, talk about what you talk about in 2084, which is the theme of the true Homo deus, connecting the books of Revelation and the book of Daniel.
Well you’re asking me that the last couple of minutes, I can’t do the impossible, I’m afraid Dr. Crater, but what I can say is-
We’ll let you go a little bit late if you have.
Let me, first of all, say that I’ve written a book on Daniel that deals with a lot of these things, because I felt that Daniel stand with his friends in the university of Babylon is very much parallel to our stand in the academic culture today. My book is called Against the Flow and I personally think it’s one of the most important I have written. But to say that Jesus is the true Homo deus. Homo deus means the man who is God, and I’m reflecting there John’s statement. “The word became flesh.” The word became human and dwelt among us. He is the genuine thing. And you’ll notice the huge difference between this and the AI attempt to make a super intelligence. You see, the Christian message is about God becoming man. It’s not about man trying by his own effort to become God.
And the wonderful message is that because God became man in Jesus Christ our Lord, we can become the sons and daughters of the living God, because we share his life. That’s the right way around to understand this. And so I want to speak this message into the contemporary culture and you know what, let me encourage you. I find that people understand it. They understand my book 2084 because the research on AI and AGI and talk about humans becoming gods and super intelligent, they know that language. And when you just refocus their thinking and show them what the biblical view is, they may reject it, but they can see it makes sense. And again, that was one of my prime motivations for writing 2084, not only to inform, but to actually confront people with what I regard to be the heart of the gospel message, God become man, so that we, by trusting the Lord, may receive eternal life.
Wonderful. Tell us what you’re working on now. Do you have a book that’s in the pipeline? You’re doing some video content? What can we expect next from you?
Well, I’m doing a lot of Zooming and so on. You may be interested, some of you may know I’ve produced a documentary film called Against the Tide with Kevin Sorbo who acted in God’s Not Dead. And that is an investigation of these questions. First of all, God and science, which is done in Oxford and then we move to Israel to talk about the evidence for Christianity. That’s available on DVD and Blueray and so on. But at the moment I’ve written a major book on Daniel, a major book on Joseph and now I’m writing the most difficult book and that is a book on Abraham. I’ve given several conference sessions on Abraham and I am at the moment exploring his life and writing about that. That is a huge piece of work.
But as I said to you a bit earlier, I just finished a book called Cosmic Chemistry: Do God and Science Mix. And I hope that will accelerate particularly for Christians, their understanding of where the debate is at because the flimsiness of many levels of evolutionary theory is becoming extremely apparent in the light of the developments in information theory. And if you’re interested in that, then it may be a book that interests you.
But I have a website, Johnlennox.org. I’ve done over 350 Zoom interviews all around the world like this. And you’ll find links to many of them on my website. And I’m sorry I can’t be with you at your conference and hear the other speakers. But I do pray that God will bless you and enable you to get into the public space and stand.
And by the way, the book that was mentioned at the beginning, a little book, it’s less expensive than a cup of coffee, Have No Fear is written for young people who get afraid of engaging in public with their non Christian friends. You can do it. And I want to encourage you to do it. I had to learn to do it, but the thrill of seeing other people come to faith in Christ is like no other thrill. And God bless you as you go about it.
Dr. John Lennox is Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford (UK) and Emeritus Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College, Oxford. He holds doctorates in mathematics from the University of Cambridge, where as a student he attended the last lectures of CS Lewis, and from Cardiff University, as well as a third doctorate by incorporation from the University of Oxford. He famously debated leading atheists Richard Dawkins in 2008 and 2009, Christopher Hitchens in 2008 and 2010, and Peter Singer in 2011. He is the author of over 70 mathematical papers and two research-level algebra texts as well as a dozen books, including most recently 2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity (Zondervan, 2020), Can Science Explain Everything? (Good Book, 2019), Have No Fear: Being Salt and Light Even When It’s Costly (10Publishing, 2018), and God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Lion, 2009). He joins us by video from the UK.
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