Beware AI, the next assault on God and his Church
(Photo: Paul Kingsnorth) In echoes of the end of the life of St Augustine of Hippo, The Vandals are at the gates- again. But this time they are at both the front and back gates of the Church. Paul Kingsnorth, a recent convert to Orthodoxy and one of the more profound of our contemporary thinkers The post Beware AI, the next assault on God and his Church appeared first on Catholic Herald.
(Photo: Paul Kingsnorth)
In echoes of the end of the life of St Augustine of Hippo, The Vandals are at the gates- again. But this time they are at both the front and back gates of the Church.
Paul Kingsnorth, a recent convert to Orthodoxy and one of the more profound of our contemporary thinkers and writers, is warning the Church of a coming assault we need to prepare for beyond our present culture wars.
We need prophets in the Church, and one of the best is the philosopher Paul Kingsnorth. Former pagan, eco-activist and Buddhist, he reluctantly became Christian a few years ago. He embraced Eastern Orthodoxy and went to live in the depths of rural Ireland.
He emerges from time to time through his writing, the internet and, last week, the Unherd club in London where they invited him to describe what lay beneath the dust cloud approaching the front gates.
At present the culture wars we are fighting might be seen as the enemy “at the back gates”. There we face the invasion from secularism. This attack on Christian ethics and anthropology is so “last century”, but the relativists and anti-supernaturalists are hammering away, trying to gain entry through their fifth columnists, and determined particularly to try to redefine gender, sexuality and sexual ethics. It’s alarming how many theologically and spiritually obtuse Catholics have surrendered to their self-indulgent secularism; but equally, this may simply be an indication of how thorough the brain-washing of media and education have been.
It has felt for some time that this assault at our back gates, the immediate past, may threaten the very foundations of the Catholic faith. But they can only do that if they succeed in changing the Magisterium. That’s where the present struggle is focused on.
But Kingsnorth is warning us to prepare for the assault that is gathering at the front gates – although only a storm cloud approaching for the moment is more threatening even than that. What is the relationship between the two? The answer is that if we surrender our defense of the sacred, our received epistemology, our guardianship of holiness and our received Christian anthropology to the vandals in the culture wars, we will have no platform remaining to resist the attack on the front gates from the coming demands of the high priests of artificial intelligence and transhumanism.
Kingsnorth, particularly in his role as an Orthodox Christian, looks backwards for authenticity, not downwards or forwards. And his message to the non-utopians who gathered to hear him at the Unherd Club was that if they were looking to conserve the West, the West being only and ever the residue of Christendom, they needed to recognise there is nothing now left to conserve. The pace of social change has raced ahead of us, leaving us lagging a long way behind. Conservation is not the issue of the moment. We are engaged in fighting a full-blown revolution. “This is a revolution that’s going to make the enlightenment look like a tea party,” he warned.
Kingsnorth plots the immediate future using a number of stepping stones.
The first is arrived at by acquaintance with the French metaphysician Rene Guenon (1886-1951). He became a Muslim and migrated to Egypt (he is much admired by King Charles the 3rd). Guenon foretold that humanity, being wholly unable to shake off its inbuilt religious instinct, would transfer it to a different ultimate authority. As the West entered the following century it would enter a new era, “the reign of quantity”, one in which quantity mattered most. Religious feeling would become a matter of quantity too, channelled into the material and materialism, by the force of our determined willpower.
Chesterton shared the same intuitive instinct. If you don’t worship God outside the world, you worship instead the strongest thing in the world. What is the strongest thing? Technology.
Kingsnorth suggests that these perceptions come together just at the moment that technology is presenting itself to us as the most powerful means of realising our dreams and desires. He describes technology in this sense as “the machine”.
And the machine is the material manifestation of the perennial human desire for liberation. The ultimate goal that we are attracted towards becomes “the independent rational individual freed from the obligations of both history, community and nature”.
Consumer liberalism has taught us that all desire is good, and used to sell things. Desire is the new unholy spirit.
Kingsnorth warns that the mixture of untrammeled egotistic desire and the leap forward in Artificial Intelligence, unboundaried by moral or philosophical restraint of any kind, will overwhelm everything we know of both humanity and nature.
“Transhumanism, artificial intelligence, the growing of food and babies in laboratories, transcending of everything from biology to gender, – we are trying to break the limits and redefine nature itself.”
Nor, unlike the vandals at the back gates who have tried to disguise the secular utopianism of their project, is the assault or project at the front gates hidden. All the people responsible for it are very open about what they are doing.
Elise Bohan, a well-known Oxford academic pioneering the pursuit of transhumanism, reflected on how at a conference on transhumanism a biologist working at the cutting edge of the discipline murmured to her, “we are building god you know”. ”I know” she answered.
Ray Kurzweil, who earned a fortune developing computer voice recognition and is now Google’s new Director of Engineering, when asked recently if God exists replied, “not yet.”
Martine Rothblatt, a transgendered transhumanist is one of the most vocal exponents of what she calls “geoethical-nano-technology”. The ambition of her project is to ultimately connect all consciousness and “control the cosmos”. Technology is ready to embark on building not only its own tower of Babel, but its own cosmos of Babel.
“Rapidly,” wrote Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s, “we approach the final phase of the extensions of man—the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society.”
At the time, nobody really had much idea of what McLuhan was talking about. But suddenly in 2023 we are getting a glimpse of it.
Ms. Rothblatt argues that sometime around 2050 or so (roughly 100 years after McLuhan) we’ll have reached the point at which we can transplant digital copies of our minds into AI-ready operating systems. As she approvingly writes in her book Virtually Human: The Promise—and the Peril—of Digital Immortality, “humanity is devoting some of its best minds, from a wide diversity of fields, to helping software achieve ‘a mind’—as well as to figuring out how to digitise your mind’s uniqueness on a platform that is ready to ‘go live,’ or be conscious.”
This mind is what the transhumanists believe is the new “god”.
That’s the reason that Kingsnorth insisted that “this is a revolution that’s going to make the enlightenment look like a tea party”.
“The entire basis of what we understand by reality is being re-written. There’s nothing that can be agreed, on, nothing that is sacred, nothing that you can’t change, nothing you can’t make new. Convinced that the world is our playground and everything from history to human nature to sexual dimorphism can be changed if you feel like changing them, and change them back again afterwards, we are consciously making ourselves ‘post human’.”
Aware that we are about to engage in a “war for reality”, Kingsnorth warns that this is at its roots a new religious war.
“The challenge now is not about conserving or restoring, but to choose your religion. And if you don’t choose, it will be chosen for you. You will be absorbed by default into the new creed of the new ages, which is the attempt to build god and replace nature through technology. This is what Genesis called the path of the snake.”
If the Catholic Church needed to be made aware of how important it was to redouble its determination to articulate clearly to the culture war vandals at the rear gates, the power, authority and unyielding commitment to revelation and its vision of the sacred, Kingsnorth’s analysis suggests this would be the moment. The next assault on God, his Church and the project of salvation is about to get even more serious and deadly.
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