The Wizardry of OSS: Life in the Land of Technological Promise

Jonathan Rehfeldt1

Though Biblical Christianity has not been without its able defenders in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, its influence has seemed to decline in the West. This is largely because of negative portrayals through the secular media, bombastic “fundamentalist” leaders, and confusion over the relationship between Christianity and culture. The recent debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye illustrates the popular secular mood toward fundamentalist Christianity. In a recent interview with Skeptical Inquirer, Bill Nye said,

[By agreeing to the debate,] I held strongly to the view that it was an opportunity to expose the well-intending Ken Ham and the support he receives from his followers as being bad for Kentucky, bad for science education, bad for the U.S., and thereby bad for humankind – I do not feel I’m exaggerating when I express it this strongly.2

The most obvious disagreement these men have with each other is over human origins; whether man evolved through chance processes over millions of years, or whether man was created by God’s direct act as described in Genesis. Nye reflects,

After the debate, my agent and I were driven back to our hotel. We were, by agreement, accompanied by two of Ham’s security people. They were absolutely grim. I admit it made me feel good. They had the countenance of a team that had been beaten – beaten badly in their own stadium. Incidentally, if the situation were reversed, I am pretty sure they are trained to feel bad about feeling good. They would manage to feel bad either way, which is consistent with Mr. Ham’s insistence on The Fall, when humankind took its first turn for the worse. And by his reckoning, we’ve been plummeting ever since.”3

Nye’s voice represents a chorus of secular scientists and innovators who believe that fundamentalist Christianity, with its commitment to the inspiration and inerrancy of the whole Bible, should not be a valid paradigm for intelligence in the twenty-first century.4 Though Nye’s claim that fundamentalist Christianity is “bad” for science education was countered by Ham’s constant reference to Christian innovators, the idea that Christianity and science are inimical to each other pervades our culture. As scientific innovation assuages our desires for abundance and better health, connectivity, self-expression, research, and entertainment, we are confronted by those who believe the gospel is quickly becoming outdated by scientific and technological advances.

Optimistic Secular Science

Those who share in this belief are primarily secular; that is, they believe in the inherent goodness and trustworthiness of human judgment and endeavor, specifically in popular applications of the scientific method. They also tend to be materialistic, believing that all phenomena, including consciousness, are the strict result of material interactions.5 Finally, they are Darwinian evolutionists, viewing secular science as the necessary means of achieving the next great leap in evolutionary advance.

This group largely agrees that we are on the cusp of breath-taking advances in science and technology (as do other groups). They often quote Moore’s Law which describes how the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every two years. They also point out that as technology becomes more integrated with itself and with humans it is also becoming faster, smaller, and cheaper. They might add that our understanding of the universe is growing more sophisticated, as can be seen with breakthroughs like the genome project and the discovery of the Higgs-boson particle.

Those who consider the future of secular science generally fall into one of three categories, with some overlap between the categories.6 First, there are those who are generally pessimistic. They frequently mention the second law of thermodynamics and may point to moral conditions to illustrate the inevitable decay and ultimate failure of the earth and the universe. Second, there are those who think along linear trend lines from past decades to predict what may lie ahead. This model is reliable to a degree in the short-term, but in the long-term as applied a century ago did not well predict the existence of satellite technology and computers. This group generally seems to be satisfied with the status quo in scientific research and prediction. The third group is in or near the hemisphere of “the singularitarian.” Time described this group by saying that “they think in terms of deep time, they believe in the power of technology to shape history, they have little interest in the conventional wisdom about anything, and they cannot believe you’re walking around living your life and watching TV as if the artificial-intelligence revolution were not about to erupt and change absolutely everything.”7

The term “singularity” was first used by mathematician Jon von Neumann around 1958 to describe a time when science and technology would progress to the point that human affairs, as we know them, could not continue. In 1993, computer scientist and science-fiction writer Vernor Vinge spoke to a VISION-21 symposium (sponsored in part by NASA) about the probability and nature of such a coming singularity. With a firm belief in evolutionary progress and the necessary emergence of ever-greater intelligence, Vinge predicted the coming of an intelligent machine that would not be subject to humans any more than humans are subject to rabbits, robins, or chimpanzees. While he believes that artificial intelligence (AI) may produce the singularity, he also suggests the possibility that it will emerge through intelligence amplification (IA). The main difference between these two is that AI, in its most mature form, would be more independent of humans while IA is more inter-dependent with them. Vinge believes that IA may be the path to the singularity mainly because of the mystery of human consciousness. He observes that “building up within ourselves ought to be easier than figuring out first what we really are and then building machines that are all of that.” The benefit of this approach, says Vinge, is that it allows us to participate “in a kind of transcendence.” The “transcendence” that he believes helped produce human consciousness is an important theme which will be explored later in this paper.

Today the singularity finds its most popular and utopian expression in Google’s chief engineer, Ray Kurzweil. Though Kurzweil has not been without sharp criticism,8 he has a sizeable following among computer scientists, inventors, CEOs, and futurists. He is a favorite at TED conferences and is known for radically advancing the fields of speech, text, and audio technology. He is also known for his belief that he will soon resurrect his father using relics from his father’s past, and that he will preserve his own life indefinitely with the help of computer technology.9 His TED biography reads, “He’s revered for his dizzying – yet convincing – writing on the advance of technology, the limits of biology and the future of the human species.”10 Impressed by his technological wizardry, Google hired Kurzweil in 2013 to help them advance toward their goal of changing the world and producing various forms of artificial intelligence. He believes the singularity is not more than a few decades away. He is the co-founder and chancellor of Singularity University in Moffett Field, California.

The reach of optimistic secular science (OSS) is not limited to technology specialists. In 2004, as President Obama was running for the U.S. Senate, Google CEO Larry Page gave him a tour which included a look at a flat-panel display which showed Google search activity in real time. The president revealed his belief in progress through technology and evolution as he reflected on this experience in his book The Audacity of Hope.

The image was mesmerizing, more organic than mechanical, as if I were glimpsing the early stages of some accelerating evolutionary process, in which all the boundaries between men – nationality, race, wealth – were rendered invisible and irrelevant, so that the physicist in Cambridge, the bond trader in Tokyo, the student in a remote Indian village, and the manager of a Mexican department store were drawn into a single, thrumming conversation, time and space giving way to a world spun entirely of light.11

By 2007, Obama had an impressive Google following apparently because of their mutual approach to problem solving using the internet. Eventually, a few employees even left Google to work for the White House.12

The impact of OSS is wide-spread. As I have stated, the most optimistic, if at times strange, expression of OSS is the singularitarian. Jaron Lanier points out that the intentions of the singularitarians are good. They are simply

following a path that was blazed in earlier times by well-meaning Freudians and Marxists. . . . Movements associated with Freud and Marx both claimed foundations in rationality and the scientific understanding of the world. Both perceived themselves to be at war with the weird, manipulative fantasies of religions. And yet both invented their own fantasies that were just as weird.13

One of the more odd manifestations of this movement is their commitment to releasing the next stage of evolution through the simulation and reproduction of man’s mind and the creation of artificial intelligence. Other groups, wittingly or unwittingly, are contributing to their efforts.

Man, The Final Frontier

One singularitarian who is not as utopian as Kurzweil but is just as committed to secular evolutionary ideals is James Barat. Prophesying the rise of super-intelligent machines, he betrays his inability to explain human consciousness by asking, “What’s so remarkable about the brain’s processes, even consciousness, anyway? Just because we don’t understand consciousness now doesn’t mean we never will. It’s not magic.”14 Barat and others seem to realize that the construction of a truly intelligent machine will require unlocking the mystery of human consciousness, which from a materialistic point of view, simply amounts to mapping and simulating the physical processes of the human brain.

Corporate giants like Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Facebook are industry leaders in AI research and development, while companies like Apple and Amazon only more recently have demonstrated interest in AI. Of them all, Google seems to be the most interested in developing something that resembles a human. Their recent acquisition of Kurzweil, the founders” fascination with AI, the activities of their semi-secret “Google X” lab, along with their 2013 absorption of eight major robotics companies shows they have more than a simple “search” on their minds.

Fascination with AI is not limited to the United States. The European Union has organized and is funding The Human Brain Project, which seeks to gain “profound insight into what makes us human.” This project promises to “develop six ICT platforms, dedicated respectively to Neuroinformatics, Brain Simulation, High Performance Computing, Medical Informatics, Neuromorphic Computing and Neurorobotics.”15 MIT Technology Review recognized the Brain Project as one of the top-ten breakthroughs that will have the greatest impact on innovation in the years to come.16

There are varying opinions on where all of this brain research will lead. Many think that advanced brain research, coupled with the robotics explosion,17 may de-humanize us by taking our jobs, stripping us of personal relationships, and minimizing traditional categories of intelligence like problem solving and empathy. Margaret Boden believes AI actually has the ability to “re-humanize” us, by freeing us to fill more service oriented jobs like the caring professions, education, craft, sport, and entertainment on a part-time basis. John Weaver thus believes that “by treating robots like humans, humans can become more human.”18

Two MIT professors have written Amazon’s best-selling book in the category “The Future of Computing.” Their work is perhaps the most even-handed treatment of our present technological situation.19 One of the authors, Erik Brynjolfsson, spoke at a TED conference in February, 2013. He believes that AI, or “the new machine age,” will revolutionize our lives in ways similar to that of engines, electricity, and the computer. The coming revolution will be more sweeping, however, because AI is digital, exponential, and combinatorial. The solution for humans is not to race against the machine20 but to race with it, since humans working with computers are more powerful than any one human or computer by itself.21 This new age is largely based on research that suggests transistor-based computing is about to be replaced by something more dynamic, exponential and combinatorial.

IBM laboratories concur that we have reached the limits of our transistor-based computing power. In order to understand (or “compute”) anything from humans to cities to global financial industries, John Kelly believes that “only through fundamental breakthroughs in physics will we be able to deal with so much complexity and uncertainty on a planetary scale.”22 The most promising path to such computing begins with quantum computing machines, which IBM believes will be produced in the next five to ten years. These machines will be able to crunch mind-boggling numbers at mind-boggling speeds, which may lead to breakthroughs in physics that make technology faster, more powerful, more pervasive, and seemingly more “aware.”23

Quantum computing would be the beginning, not the end, of such “fundamental breakthroughs in physics.” Perhaps with Barat’s attitude that human consciousness is not “magic,” many secular scientists propose that all of life, including human consciousness, can be obtained and explained mathematically. If this were so, quantum computing is mankind’s next best bet at cracking the code of human consciousness. Tom Siegfried’s biography of John Nash, the formulator of Game Theory, illustrates the attempt to understand consciousness using math. This attempt is essentially materialistic with the presupposition of Darwinian evolution. Siegfried believes the promise of Game Theory lies in its ability to unify physics and biology, and perhaps even contribute to a theory of everything (TOE). He states,

As I described in my book Strange Matters, there is something strange about the human brain’s ability to produce math that captures deep and true aspects of reality, enabling scientists to predict the existence of exotic things like antimatter and black holes before any observer finds them. Part of the solution to this mystery, I suggested, is the fact that the brain evolved in the physical world, its development constrained by the laws of physics as much as by the laws of biology. . . . It’s clear now that game theory’s math describes the capability of the universe to produce brains that can invent math. And math in turn, as Asimov envisioned, can be used to describe the behavior guided by those brains – including the social collective behavior that creates civilization, culture, economics, and politics.24

As neuroscientists monitor “game players” in any number of situations, Siegfried projects that “just maybe we’ll see how Nash’s math can broker the merger of economics and psychology, anthropology and sociology, with biology and physics – producing a grand synthesis of the sciences of life in general, human behavior in particular, and maybe even, someday, the entire physical world.”25

Spurred by the computer’s pervasiveness and influence, the world’s leading money-makers and engineers are pouring their efforts into the production of artificial intelligence. AI, to be fully mature, requires a better understanding of human consciousness so that humans can replicate it and use if for their own ends.

The vast majority of Christians agree that science and technology are valuable disciplines which help us appreciate God and the universe. Intelligence and inventiveness are glorious expressions of being made in God’s image. It is the widespread influence of OSS, not the concept of science and technology itself, that must be questioned. The fact that intelligence is being based on the degree to which one prescribes to OSS is alarming. Popular and otherwise harmless teachers as well-liked as Bill Nye have suggested that the Christian worldview is simply “bad for science.” Others, like Richard Clark, are more subtle. His science-fiction book Breakpoint follows Kurzweil’s prediction of the Singularity and envisions a world in which “terrorists” try to halt the advance of technology. He says that “there are enormous social and political issues that will arise. There are vast groups of people in society who believe the earth is 5,000 years old. If they want to slow down progress and prevent the world from changing around them and they engaged in political action or violence, then there will have to be some sort of decision point.” Though Clark’s reference to violence may be overlooked by biblically informed Christians (John 18:36), his reference to “political action” demonstrates his belief that Christianity has no place in a society controlled by OSS.

A New Natural Law

Regina Dugan was the first female director of the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a research arm of the Pentagon. Using technology like hummingbird drones, she told a TED audience that “our singular mission is the prevention and creation of strategic surprise.” When asked if she is concerned about the “Pandora’s box” of the irresponsible use of technology, she replied that her job necessarily makes people excited and uncomfortable at the same time. “Our responsibility is to push that edge, and we have to be mindful and responsible about how that technology is developed and used. But we can’t simply close our eyes and pretend that it isn’t advancing. It’s advancing.” Ultimately, she admits that she cannot answer questions about the possibly negative implications of advancing technology.26

In a similar setting to that in which Dugan was asked about the implications of advancing technology, Charlie Rose asked Larry Page what quality of mind it is that serves him best in thinking about the future. Page replied, “We’ve had a rapid turnover of companies, and I’ve asked, “What did they fundamentally do wrong?” Usually, they just missed the future. So I just try to focus on that and say “What is that future going to be, and how do we create it?””

The future, as it is envisioned by leading technology developers, seems to demand the constant emergence of more powerful and intelligent forms of technology. The vision for this technology seems only to be limited by the imaginations of those who are creating it (and, to a degree, by the demand of those who may use it). Suggesting that technology itself has become a new religion, Kevin Kelly of Wired noted,

Because values and meaning are scarce today, technology will make our decisions for us. We’ll listen to technology because our modern ears listen to little else. In the absence of other firm beliefs, we’ll let technology steer. No other force is as powerful in shaping our destiny. By imagining what technology wants, we can imagine the course of our culture.27

The explanation for why technology must advance when its future seems so unclear is a mystery to most secular scientists. Sometimes it is explained as a transcendent evolutionary drive or as our ultimate solution to the problem of evil. Still, when the implications of advancing technology like AI yield unclear and sometimes troubling dilemmas, few seem to question the continued, ambitious pursuit of it. As Einstein observed, “It is really a puzzle what draws one to take one’s work so devilishly seriously. For whom? For oneself? – one soon leaves, after all. For posterity? No, it remains a puzzle.”28

Einstein was talking about his struggle to “unearth deep secrets,” probably a reference to his search for a unified field theory of the universe. While he did not believe in the existence of a personal God, he strangely acknowledged that certain religious men made major contributions to humanity. In 1927 he wrote, “What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the enquiring and constructive minds.”29 Yet Einstein himself saw that OSS, to which he pledged his ultimate allegiance, provided no epistemological ground for taking religion seriously. A letter he wrote to his friend Otto Juluisburger in 1947 illustrates this. It is about Hitler’s responsibility in World War II.

I think we have to safeguard ourselves against people who are a menace to others, quite apart from what may have motivated their deeds. What need is there for a criterion of responsibility? I believe that the horrifying deterioration in the ethical conduct of people today stems primarily from the mechanization and dehumanization of our lives – a disastrous byproduct of the development of the scientific and technical mentality. Nostra culpa! I don’t see any way to tackle this disastrous short-coming. Man grows cold faster than the planet he inhabits.30

This “disastrous shortcoming” is not recognized by all secular scientists and technologists. Steven Weinberg is able to say, “One of the great achievements of science has been, if not to make it impossible for intelligent people to be religious, then at least to make it possible for them not to be religious. We should not retreat from this accomplish¬ment.”31 Weinberg believes that OSS is more objective than is religion and that evolution has made us smarter than our religious ancestors.

Soft secular scientists like Einstein and hard ones like Weinberg seem to assume that OSS gives us an ever-increasingly true picture of the world, however cold it may be in Einstein’s conception. Yet OSS itself cannot define what is comprehensive and true. J.P. Moreland has summarized Larry Laudan’s remarks in this regard.

Scientific progress does not consist in the progressive convergence on a truer and truer picture of the world. Rather, it is a measure of the relative number, rate, and importance of the various problems science solves, where science may be understood as an entire discipline or as some specific set of theories within a given area of science.32

He continues,

Thus, the history of science is one of periods of normal science followed by crisis, which gives way to a revolution in which a paradigm shift occurs and ushers in a new period of normal science. The history of science, therefore, is not what the realist claims it to be – a history of new theories (usually) refining old ones, preserving them as limiting cases, and hence advancing cumulatively toward truer and truer pictures of the world. Rather, it is a history of jerky replacements. Old theories are abandoned, new ones are embraced. . . . [T]he history of science warns us against believing that science, present theories included, is a rational, truth-obtaining enterprise.33

OSS coupled with advancing technology suggests that man will become more intelligent and “true” as he yields to the transcendent forces of the incoming technological future. Perhaps as Frederick Taylor observed more than one-hundred years ago, we live in an age when human subjectivity must necessarily be displaced by scientific methodology, for only then can the most competent men emerge as leaders for our society.34

Because OSS has no room for the super-natural workings of God in history, neither can it be encumbered by traditional moral values when such values are based on the miraculous working of God in history. The definition of the betterment of man is thus controlled by the acknowledged leaders in the scientific and technological communities. As early as 1943, C.S. Lewis noted the outcome of a secular, evolutionary approach to man’s mind.

Of course, while we did not know how minds were made, we accepted this mental furniture as a datum, even as master. But many things in nature which were once our masters have become our servants. Why not this? Why must our conquest of nature stop short, in stupid reverence, before this final and toughest bit of “nature” which as hitherto been called the conscience of man? You threaten us with some obscure disaster if we step outside it: but we have been threatened in that way by obscurantists at every step in our advance, and each time the threat has proved false. You say we shall have no values at all if we step outside the Tao [loosely used by Lewis to describe general revelation or conscience]. Very well: we shall probably find that we can get on quite comfortably without them. Let us regard all ideas of what we ought to do simply as an interesting psychological survival: let us step right out of all that and start doing what we like. Let us decide for ourselves what man is to be and make him into that: not on any ground of imagined value, but because we want him to be such. Having mastered our environment let us now master ourselves and choose our own destiny.35

Lewis further prophesied that “whatever tao there is will be the product, not the motive, of education.”36 As the wizards of OSS pursue their final frontier without any clear historical rationale (they cannot explain human conscious¬ness), direction or controls, we are left to determine whether or not man’s conquest of nature, in the moment of its consummation, would be “nature’s conquest of man.”37

Battle on the Edge of the Universe

Western culture has adopted the overwhelming presupposition of Darwinian evolution that demands the emergence of a more intelligent and “true” form of society via OSS. This adoption seems to be the main source of epistemological hostility toward the gospel today. As Carl Henry noted, “Man alone remains, self-sufficient and autonomous, to rescue the cosmos from absurdity and worthlessness.”38 The Christian Scriptures plainly declare that conditions will worsen before the close of history (2 Tim. 3:13). Instead of “throwing rocks” at general and otherwise positive concepts like science and technology, the Christian must understand and address the philosophical under¬pinnings of OSS using God’s Word.

Messianic Themes within OSS

Christians must maintain an interesting tension between current events and end-times prophecy. One the one hand, we see extreme interpretations which fail because they claim to know the more than approximate time of Christ’s return.39 On the other hand, those who refuse to consider the significance of their time in history, or perhaps feel jaded because of the abundance of extreme interpretations made in their own lifetimes, fail to heed Christ’s admonition to “watch” for the end (Matt 24:42-44). Christ, who Himself is “the Truth” (John 14:6), foretold the coming of imposters and the eventual emergence of the darkest powers in the universe (Matt 24:11; John 5:43, cf. 2 Thes 2:3-4).

It seems strange that although few secular scientists and technologists can articulate where their innovation ultimately comes from or where it will lead, still many of them carry an epistemological hostility toward the gospel. With the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species in 1859 and the popularization of evolution, the idea that knowledge should not be found in the past but in the present and that knowledge is constantly improving has been reinforced.40 Some of the brightest hopes first offered in the gospel of Jesus Christ have seemed to find an awkward re-birth within OSS. These hopes include God-like understanding and dominion in the universe, a perfected centralization of power on earth and eternal life with eternal bliss.

God-like understanding and dominion in the universe

In 1988, Freeman Dyson declared in his book Infinite in All Directions that “God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension.”41 Dyson’s vision of transcendent order approximates Einstein’s belief in the “sheer being” behind the universe that could be approached and manipulated through science. Einstein wrote to a Chicago Rabbi in December 1939,

The religious feeling engendered by experiencing the logical comprehensibility of profound inter-relations is of a somewhat different sort from the feeling that one usually calls religious. It is more a feeling of awe at the scheme that is manifested in the material universe. It does not lead us to take the step of fashioning a god-like being in our own image ― a personage who makes demands of us and who takes an interest in us as individuals. There is in this neither a will nor a goal, nor a must, but only sheer being.42

The surge of energy with which many secular scientists pursue the imagined incoming future stems from a belief that humans are the closest thing to “God” that the universe has yet produced. We are complete with consciousness and interpersonal interests and are goal-oriented (i.e., we have a sense of dominion), all of which must be reduced to the “code” inherent in sheer being from which we emerged. But this begs the question: why do we interpret the code with such sensations and drive while the sheer being (or what is behind it) does not?

Einstein’s “disastrous shortcoming” betrays his effort to find a theory that truly explains everything. In his attempt to reduce God to sheer being, he is actually recasting God in the image of OSS, which is essentially materialistic (Rom. 1:18-25). The best explanation for human consciousness, interpersonal interests, and man’s sense of dominion is that we were made in the image of the Biblical God (Gen. 1:26-28), who is fully revealed in Jesus Christ (John 1:14-18). The nature of Christ’s teachings and miracles demonstrates that “He is the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9) and that a person can only be made complete and ready for the ultimate future if the Spirit of God lives in him (2:10-15). Though man’s rebellion has skewed the image of God in man (Gen. 3), it can be progressively restored when a person believes in Jesus Christ as Lord for salvation, sanctification (2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:10), and glorification (Rom. 8:30), which is the ultimate future.

A perfected centralization of power on earth

Any student of world history and current events can see a movement toward a global centralization of power. This has happened mainly through a kingdom’s impulse to dominate (cf. James 4:1-3) and is happening today through the spread of secular humanist ideals, economic depression, and technology.43 Concerning those disciplines which touch OSS, it is happening in scientific theory (Game Theory and other attempted TOEs), technological theory (Singularity University and the Human Brain Project), and political theory. The “thrumming conversation” of nations envisioned by Obama has been anticipated by technologists who are working on a theory of cities. Such a theory would provide a thorough, language-based understanding of what a city is, how it functions, and how its problems may be addressed.44 Unless scientists can crack the code of human consciousness and bridge the gap between OSS and man’s innate sense of morality, as Lewis pointed out, some human whose power is only limited by his imagination will necessarily have to take the helm of the new world order. Should scientists be able to crack the code, mankind may be able to create their leader;45 otherwise, they will have to recognize him.46

The hope for a perfected centralization of power on earth ultimately will be realized, but not in the way that OSS imagines. The prophet Isaiah declared that God’s Messiah would establish an eternal kingdom of peace and prosperity.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this (Isa 9:6-7).

Isaiah also predicted that God’s Messiah would endure great suffering and die, but that he would conquer sin and death itself to establish his kingdom.

Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; He has put him to grief. When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord will prosper in his hand. He shall see the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied. By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he has poured out his soul unto death (Isa 53:10-12c).

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ confirm both the Fall of Man (Gen 3; cf. Rom 5) and the ultimate future as described in the Bible.47

The Messianic era will be preceded by the visible emergence of the darkest powers of the universe (2 Thes 2:3-10; Rev 13). These powers are essentially lawless and will deceive humans through godless wonders. OSS is one epistemological construct that Satan may use to foment this emergence, characterized as it is by a rejection of divine law, materialism (which is essentially idolatry; cf. Rev 9:20-21), and a dazzling promise to eradicate trouble from the human condition via technology (cf. 1 Thes 5:3).48

Eternal Life with Eternal Bliss

Kurzweil and other Singularitarians have expressed a hope to achieve the eternal (or at least very long) preservation of their own lives via science and technology. Barat notes simply, “By 2045, human and machine intelligence will have increased a billion-fold, and will develop technologies to defeat our human frailties, such as fatigue, illness, and death.”49 What would life without human frailties look like? In his book The Age of Spiritual Machines, Kurzweil carries on a hypothetical conversation with a spiritual machine in 2099, humorous because of the interplay between its supposed future existence and its actual present existence only in Kurzweil’s mind. Following “heartfelt” goodbyes and a lewd invitation from the machine to Kurzweil, the machine finally accedes,

NOW REMEMBER, I’M READY TO DO ANYTHING OR BE ANYTHING YOU WANT OR NEED.

I’ll keep that in mind.

YES, THAT’S WHERE YOU’LL FIND ME.

Too bad I have to wait a century to meet you.

OR TO BE ME.

Yes, that too.

Kurzweil thus envisions eternal life and eternal bliss as access to a spiritual “machine” that can materialize to meet his every desire. Though I suspect Kurzweil himself is tolerated by less fanciful colleagues because of his impressive resume, some variation of the hope for eternal life with eternal bliss seems to remain prominent within OSS.50

Ironically, though OSS champions the idea of accidental existence and human self-sufficiency and autonomy, its adherents cannot well cope with the implications.

Secular man refuses to see himself as merely an animated cog or self-asserting animal, having no real future but only a day after tomorrow empty of lasting life and purpose, a temporary phenomenon without substance and weight that finally succumbs to and in nothingness. Instead of acquiescence in such rote existence and instead of accepting the sheer temporality of his being, he buttresses his personal survival by whatever guarantees for the future may be devised by financial, social or political means. He shores up his being against the threat of nonbeing, generating from his own energies whatever holds promise of self-preservation.51

The manner in which the promise of eternal life and eternal bliss has been confirmed in the Christian faith is what distinguishes it from other faiths and epistemologies (John 10:24-30; Rom. 1:4). The uniqueness of Christ’s ability to grant these to his followers, however, does not seem to preclude the possibility that man and Satanic powers will be allowed to experience a counterfeit version of them. The beast that rises out of the sea in Revelation 13:3 experiences the resurrection of one of its heads, probably a reference to the Antichrist. This event results in the whole world worshipping the beast. Rather than ending in eternal bliss for the beast or his followers, however, this resurrection only works to seal their unbelieving fate (13:8; 20:10-15).

Lesson from a Dabbling Theist

Though King Solomon believed in God and was familiar with his nation’s hope for a Messiah (cf. Gen. 3:16, 49:10, Deut. 18:18; Deut. 17:19), his lavish prosperity led him to dabble in a kind of functional materialism. He wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:10 that “whatsoever my eyes desired I kept not from them; I withheld not my heart from any joy.” More than anyone before him he was able to experience the “good life.” Still, his observation in 2:11 signals the purpose of his writing: “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.” Solomon realized that the materialistic worldview is painfully limited. This he expresses clearly in 3:9-22.

Solomon noted that God “has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.” Whether done by a secular scientist or a God-fearing Christian, people often try to grasp the whole meaning of life, or “unearth deep secrets” as Einstein put it. This is actually evidence that man is an eternal creature. Rather than seeking to achieve a godless explanation of the universe, man must realize that consciousness (man’s “heart”) and work are gifts from God and that only God possesses eternal knowledge, authority, and beauty. Solomon knew that “whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before him.” This means that God has assigned boundaries to that which man can accomplish so that man may enjoy life and fear God. These boundaries include man’s brevity of life and mainly his inability to bring himself to the ultimate future, where the problem of evil is solved.

Solomon was not a secular materialist, of course, because the main lesson of his book is “to fear God, and keep His commandments” (12:13; cf. Deut. 6:2, 8:6, 13:4). The fear of God is what leads a man to answer correctly Solomon’s provocative question, “who can bring [man] to see what will happen after him?” He closes his book by declaring “God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” Once the law was completed in Jesus Christ (Luke 24:44), the apostle Paul declared that “God has appointed a day, in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He has appointed, whereof He has given assurance unto all men, by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). Jesus Christ is the unique realization of man’s hope for God-like understanding and dominion in the universe, a perfected centralization of power on earth and eternal life with eternal bliss.

OSS is actually a remarkable form of escapism. In its attempt to escape finiteness, it will ultimately result in the loss of the enjoyment of life and a relationship with God. As it runs from the Biblical concept of sin, it will run out into the cold and dark universe to seek man’s new home and find new neighbors.52 As it strays from the compelling evidence of the Messiah, it will be forced
to settle for an imposter.


[1] Mr. Rehfeldt is a missionary to Uruguay and a former faculty member at Maranatha Baptist University.

[2] Bill Nye, “Bill Nye’s Take on the Nye-Ham Debate” Skeptical Inquirer 38:3 (May/June 2014), 15.

[3] Ibid., 17.

[4] Many of these scientists are disciples of Carl Sagan, who believed in the transcendence of the mysterious forces of nature that operate through natural selection. Neil Degrasse Tyson is the new host of Fox’s Cosmos, first written and presented by Sagan. His recent interview with Huffington Post is entitled, “Neil Degrasse Tyson: Enlightened People Don’t Use the Bible as a Textbook.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/11/neil-degrasse-tyson-bible_n_4940980.html.

[5] Ironically, secularists often use spiritual sounding terms like “transcendence,” “spirit,” and “beauty” to describe humans and the universe. Materialism is the presupposition of behaviorism, which has been abandoned by most psychologists because there is no good reason to believe that mind amounts to bodily motions. This is a problem for those secular innovators who hope to create a human mind or something that closely resembles it.

[6] These were adapted from J. Storris Hall, Beyond AI: Creating the Conscience of the Machine (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2007), 357-358.

[7] Lev Grossman. “2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal.” Time (online). Thursday, February 10, 2011. Accessed May 28, 2014: http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171, 2048299-1,00.html.

[8] For instance, see Paul Root Wolpe’s “Kurzweil’s Singularity Prediction is Wrong” on bigthink.com: http://bigthink.com/users/ paulrootwolpe. Harsher than Wolpe is author Doug Hofstadter who said in an interview that “if you read Ray Kurzweil’s books…what I find is that it’s a very bizarre mixture of ideas that are solid and good with ideas that are crazy. It’s as if you took a lot of very good food and some dog excrement and blended it all up so that you can’t possibly figure out what’s good or bad.”

[9] Ashlee Vance, “Merely Human? That’s So Yesterday,” The New York Times (June 12, 2010), accessed May 29, 2014.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/13/business/13sing.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

[10] Personal profile for Ray Kurzweil on TED.com: http://www. ted.com/speakers/ray_kurzweil.

[11] Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (New York: Crown, 2006), 139.

[12] Steven Levy, chapter entitled “I was probably the only computer science degree in the whole campaign,” in In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011).

[13] Jaron Lanier, You are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010), 18.

[14] James Barrat, Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2013), 46.

[15] See www.humanbrainproject.eu.

[16] ”10 Breakthrough Technologies 2014,” MIT Technology Review. Online version available at http://www.technologyreview. com/lists/technologies/2014/. Also on the list is genome editing, agile robots, microscale 3-D printing, and neuromorphic chips.

[17] See Alan Brown, “Robot Population Explosion,” Mechanical Engineering (February 2009), in The Reference Shelf: Robotics, 82:1, ed. Kenneth Partridge (New York: H.W. Wilson, 2010), 20-21. Brown describes how machines that vacuum, scrub kitchen floors, and mow the lawn accounted for $1.3 billion in sales in 2007. Entertainment robots, like Sony’s Aibo robotic dog ($2,500), reached $2 billion in sales in the same year. Robots designed for professional use are even more widespread, not to mention the recent explosion in the development and proliferation of drones. While the United States has led in this explosion, well-known foreign companies like Japan’s Honda, Kawada, and Toyota have made major investments in robotics, showing a marked interest in sophisticated humanoids.

[18] John Weaver, Robots Are People Too: How Siri, Google Car, and Artificial Intelligence Will Force Us to Change Our Laws (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2014), 186. Weaver is quoting Boden at this point.

[19] Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies (New York: W.W. Norton, 2014). This work builds on their earlier book Race Against the Machine (published by the authors, 2011).

[20] Interestingly, the new machine age has caused what Brynjolfsson calls “the great decoupling” in economics. This is when productivity is decoupled from employment and when wealth is decoupled from work. Since machines tend to displace laborers, people grow disillusioned and want to race “against the machine.”

[21] See his TED talk, “The Key to Growth? Race with the Machines,” on TED.com.

[22] John Kelly and Steve Hamm, Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 107. Kelly is the senior vice president and director of IBM Research.

[23] Ibid., 107-108. See also “IBM Announces New Advances in Quantum Computing” on youtube.

[24] Tom Siegfried, A Beautiful Math (Washington D.C.: Joseph Henry Press, 2006), 8.

[25] Ibid.

[26] See her TED talk “From mach-20 glider to hummingbird drone” on TED.com. Her comments illustrate the mood of advancing technology; I do not know whether or not she submits to OSS.

[27] Quoted in Craig Detweiler, iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2013), 28.

[28] Barry Parker, Einstein’s Dream: The Search for a Unified Theory of the Universe (New York: Plenum, 1986), 46.

[29] Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, eds., Albert Einstein: The Human Side (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979), 70-71.

[30] Ibid., 80-81.

[31] Steven Weinberg, “A Designer Universe?” New York Review of Books (21 October 1999), 48.

[32] Summary of Laudan’s Progress and Its Problems in J.P. Moreland, Christianity and the Nature of Science (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), 185.

[33] Ibid., 198.

[34] Frederick Taylor, Principles of Scientific Management (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1911), 7.

[35] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, Kindle edition, location 431.

[36] Ibid., location 510.

[37] Ibid., location 566.

[38] Carl Henry, “Secular Man and Ultimate Concerns,” in God, Revelation, and Authority, Vol. 1 (Waco, TX: Word, 1976): 139.

[39] For example, Edgar Whisenant, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988 (Np: World Bible Society, 1988).

[40] For the story of Rene Descarte and Pierre Gassendi who challenged long-standing assumptions about human knowledge, see Glenn Sunshine, Why You Think the Way You Do (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 115-134.

[41] Freeman Dyson, Infinite in All Directions (New York: Perennial, HarperCollins, 1989), 119.

[42] Dukas and Hoffman, Albert Einstein, 70-71.

[43] See a good discussion of this in Paul Chappell, Understanding the Times (Lancaster, CA: Striving Together Publications, 2011), 103-125.

[44] Kelly, Smart Machines, 119.

[45] Genome editing already promises young secular parents a designer child; such technology could feasibly be used to try and produce a “perfect” world leader.

[46] A significant amount of development would have to take place for OSS to establish a “scientifically” objective religious or moral standard. Trust in the purely secular would have to give way to a unified socio-political religious system. Indeed, this is already happening in some sectors as “techno-junkies” are fascinated with psychedelic drugs and pantheistic conceptions of God. Most theologians agree that the prostitute in Revelation 17 is an amalgamation of the world’s religions.

[47] For a thorough treatment of this ultimate future, see Alva McClain’s The Greatness of the Kingdom.

[48] For more on the root of the technological promise, see Albert Borgmann, Power Failure (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2003), 78.

[49] Barat, Our Final Invention, 131.

[50] A few interesting articles that deal with this theme are “How Engineered Stem Cells May Enable Youthful Immortality” in Life Extension Magazine (February 2013); “Can Google Solve Death?” in TIME (September 30, 2013); and “Live Forever! The Chilling Promise of Cryogenics” in mental_floss (August 2014).

[51] Carl Henry, “Secular Man and Ultimate Concerns,” 141.

[52] Leading secular scientists are betting on the existence of extra-terrestrial life to explain human existence. Some of them talk about the possibility of living somewhere out in space instead of on our finely tuned earth! Sin has caused our ideal blue planet to not seem so ideal.