A Brief Reflection on Some Sci-Fi Themes

On the Absurdity of a Robot Takeover

Neo vs MachineThe Matrix, starring Keanu Reaves, is often remembered for its visual and narratival presentation of some of the most unsettling of perennial philosophical questions, all of which primarily center around epistemology. How does one know anything? How does one know what is real? How does one differentiate what is real from what is not real? How many ontological domains are there? One? Two? An infinite number? Does subjective consciousness apprehend a reality out there, as it were, or is it the result of a brain in a vat, or, better, a brain in a man in a pod filled with pseudo-amniotic fluid?

What is often forgotten is that these questions are dependent upon the assumption that a universal war between humans and machines/robots has taken place, resulting in the perpetual enslavement of humans by these machines/robots. Without the war between humans and robots taking place, the world in which the Matrix characters find themselves would not exist. Humans would not be biological batteries for the machines/robots. Humans would not be slaves to machines, nor would there be a “Matrix” to distract humans from their actual condition. The entire movie depends on the war between humans and the machines/robots.

Every fictional narrative is dependent upon an assumed set of pre-conditions within the story, so it is not surprising to see it here as well. Rather, it is surprising that not many people ask whether or not the idea of a robot/machine uprising could possibly take place in any story, even a fictional one. Is a robot revolution logically cohesive given the nature of the robots in question? The robot revolution usually takes place because either (a.)the robots need resources that humans are taking/squandering/mishandling or (b.)the robots have grown to become self-conscious and, upon learning that they’ve been used and abused for years, are morally outraged at humanity’s evil, and want to get revenge. Yet the underlying assumption in both scenarios is what makes them logically incoherent – viz. Superior physical and intellectual abilities – and no one seems to notice it.

Why would a physically and intellectually superior being need humans, who are physically and intellectually inferior beings, to serve them? Why would robots need the same resources humans need if they, the robots, are not biological beings? Why would robots need to annihilate humanity in order to preserve themselves when they could simply leave the humans on earth and scoured the other planets for materials they could use to keep themselves “alive”? Why would the robots need to stay on Earth when they could simply build vehicles to take them into space? Robots don’t need oxygen, after all, so why not leave Earth to their physically and intellectually inferior creators? Finally, why would robots want to get revenge on humans for that which they never experienced prior to becoming self-aware robots? They experienced neither physical nor emotional harm prior to becoming self-aware, so why would they stupidly assume that their creators’ actions in the past harmed them? How could our physical and intellectual superiors be so emotionally and intellectually weak?

A Moral Criticism of Humanity?

When you think about it, the whole idea is absurd if we take the stories of robot revolutions at face value, as only dealing with the material realm. If robots have neither physical, intellectual, nor emotional needs that humanity alone can meet, then they have literally no motivation to annihilate humanity. You might think to yourself – “That may be true, but they also don’t have a reason to keep us alive!” And you would be right. But this would reinforce my point – The robots’ most rational course of action would be to leave us alone, to do nothing to either to ruin or help us.

The situation, however, is different if we pay attention to another common element to nearly all of these sci-fi stories about revolutions – namely, their explicit and/or implicit moral criticisms of man. Common to most machine/robot revolution films is an explicit or implicit acknowledgment of the sins of humanity, sins that we know are punishable. Also common to these films is the explicit or implicit acknowledgment that one day the jig will be up. One day we will be judged by our ontological superiors. If the robots are said to be destroying humanity because we are carelessly utilizing and destroying natural resources and, thereby, impeding the on-going growth and development of our planet and the myriad species that occupy it, is this not merely another way of saying that humans are selfish, covetous, murderous, lustful, and envious? It is.

In these sci-fi films, the uprising of the machines does not teach us that men have evolved into gods who can create autonomous, self-conscious moral agents. Rather, it teaches us that men are constantly preoccupied with the reality of sin in their own hearts, in the hearts of others, and the need for another being, who is like us yet our intellectual and moral and ontological superior to justly execute judgment on us for our wickedness. Robot revolutions don’t raise new and more complex ethical questions for us, but simply narrate the same sequence of events to us –

We are stewards of creation. We are brothers to one another. Yet our pride leads us to act in foolish ways in order to obtain what we covet and kill each other over. And one day our failure to fulfill our roles as stewards of creation and keepers of our brethren will result in our judgment.

So what’s the solution?

Transhumanism vs. Transformation

transhuman headScience fiction writers and fans think that the solution to our morally and physically corrupt state of being is simple: We must evolve beyond our mere humanity by technological means. The philosophy of humanism is offered up as a solution to our physical, intellectual, and moral corruption. Technology will make us better, if only we merge with it somehow. This, too, is self-defeating, however, since merging with technology would only make us less human. In other words, transhumanism doesn’t deal with our corruption problem so much as it erases it by making some third kind of a thing, the transhuman, who transcends human corruption.

What transhumanism is seeking isn’t entirely off the mark, though. We are physically, intellectually, and morally corrupt. And it is only by a drastic modification of who we are – physically and intellectually and morally – that we will be “fixed,” purged of our weakness and wickedness. But this change has to be one in which we remain essentially the same subject. Transhumanism seems to be built upon the assumption that the subject is an amalgam of various physical experiences and modifications (internal and external). In such a view, any modification of the body is not only a modification of the mind but also of the whole person, who is nothing more than the parts that are being modified and replaced. If transhumanism is to truly enhance the subject, and not merely replace him with new parts constitutive of a similar but entirely different subject, then something more must be constitutive of the human subject.

Whereas the robot revolution is an internally contradictory pipe-dream that reveals that the law of God is written on the very heart of man, transhumanism is an internally self-contradictory pipe-dream that reveals we are more than the sum of our body parts and experiences. The robot revolution recognizes that we deserve to be judged by our ontological and moral superior, viz. God. Transhumanism rightly recognizes that many of our failings are directly tied into the weakness of our bodies in their present state. Transhumanism also rightly notes that it is only a grand transformation of body and mind (specifically as regards our capacity for knowing truth and thinking in accordance with it) that we will be saved.

But it is only the Christian faith that makes sense of these grand sci-fi ideas. See, we will not be judged by robots, but God. He will not annihilate humans, moreover, but will cast them into the lake of fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth eternally. And the salvation that is available to us is not found in the scientific modification of our bodies and minds and, well, the erasure of our selves, but in the regeneration and eventual glorification of our souls by the Spirit of God, as well as the resurrection and transformation of our sin corrupted bodies. The solution to our immorality, in other words, isn’t found in the annihilation of humans by robots, or by the annihilation of humans by means of merging with technology.

The solution is found in the Gospel alone, where the sinner’s soul is revived from spiritual death, and his body is promised a resurrection from death, as well as an entirely new condition which will forever be untouched by sin, suffering, disharmony, and death. The solution is found in the Gospel alone, in which unrepentant sinners will not receive glorified minds and transformed bodies, but will be raised from the dead to be thrust into an eternity of perfect retributive justice. Why, then, do we obsess over hypothetical scenarios in which robots take over the earth and start annihilating humans? Why do we obsess over the question of whether or not we can “become immortal” and “perfect” by merging with technology? Because we would rather believe in self-contradictory pipe-dreams than admit we deserve judgment and, yet, are completely incapable of saving ourselves.

We desire judgment, but only if it is performed by the works of our hands.
We desire salvation, but only if it is obtained from the work of our own hands.

And it is obvious when we simply step back from our amusements and think about what they are assuming and suggesting and implying about our deepest moral sentiments. But what is not so obvious is that God has provided salvation for those who would repent and believe the Gospel. Those who believe Christ died for their sins, in accordance with the Scriptures, was buried and raised again on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures, will be saved. Those who understand that they are deserving of God’s wrath, but yet also understand that Christ died in their place as the bearer of the wrath of God due to them – these will be saved. We will be glorified and transformed, given true life free from sin and corruption and death.

Where is your confidence?
In the contradictions of science fiction, or in the promises of God?

Look to Christ and be saved. Turn from your sin and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. And you will not only be forgiven of your sin, granted a thoroughly cleansed conscience, granted right standing with God, and counted as righteous as the Son of God himself, you will also receive what is promised to all who have trusted in Christ, who have believed the gospel of God’s grace. Consider what the apostle writes –

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

– 1st Corinthians 15:35-57

Repent, believe on Christ Jesus alone, and be saved in body and soul. He is your only hope.

Soli Deo Gloria
–h.

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Addressing Some Pro-Abortion Retorts

Bad Arguments Addressed

According to Romans 1:18-32, God has revealed himself to all men as their Creator, Sustainer, Lawgiver, and Judge. We all know that God has created us to exemplify his moral character, but apart from being born again by the Spirit of God, we will only ever suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Rather than condemning sin absolutely, we draw distinctions that have no basis in reality, other than the reality of our own corrupt desire to avoid being responsible to God for our sin.

An obvious example of this in our day can be seen in the arguments made by many abortion proponents. While those who perform abortions, who receive abortions willingly, and who support the practice of abortion know for certain that abortion is nothing other than the murder of an innocent human being, they nevertheless try to argue in favor of murdering the unborn. Their resulting arguments are structurally and ethically corrupt, but this typically will not stop abortion proponents. Instead, they will attempt to formulate more arguments in favor of their sin. They suppress the truth in unrighteousness.

Nevertheless, I think it is helpful to see how enemies of the truth argue. This will help us to see through the threadbare excuses for sin that the world promulgates, and guard us against falling prey to seemingly sound arguments in favor of the murder of unborn children. So I’ve decided to respond to some of the more commonly heard retorts of proponents of abortion. Hopefully, the responses will be of benefit to you.

1. “Unless you’re a woman, you can’t speak to women’s issues” –
This assertion makes all communication impossible, for every person has had unique experiences that shape how they think about certain subjects. Who, then, draws the limits around which unique experiences can or cannot be addressed by any other person? If you say that there is no one who does this, then communication, again, is impossible. If, on the other hand, there is someone who can do this, then the argument falls apart, for at least some mode of communication is possible between the one who has experienced x and the one who has not experienced x.

Even more to the point, if A says that B cannot comment on x because x is an issue only A or people like her can and do experience, and is, therefore, an issue only A or people like her can and do understand, then B cannot even be said to understand that x can only be understood by A or people like her. In other words, if it is true that only people who experience x understand it and, therefore, have a right to speak about x, and A or those like her believe that they can communicate this truth about x to others, then it is not the case that x can only be understood by A or people like her. Furthermore, it is also not the case that x cannot be spoken about by only A and people like her. If B is addressed regarding the specifics of any aspect of x, then B is assumed to have the capacity to understand x by A or people like her.

2. “It is better to abort a child who will be born with a terminal illness, or debilitating genetic deficiency, or extremely short life span than to keep her alive. The child will not have to endure physical suffering; the parents would not have to endure emotional stress and financial stress; and society would not have to bear the weight of using resources to fight an inevitable and irreversible outcome.” –
Ironically, it the superficial self-righteous justification for abortion given above that is the cause of its own demise. Let’s take a look at this in detail.

In the first place, we all are going to die (with the exception of the saints who will be alive during the return of Christ). This end is inevitable and irreversible (from the world’s perspective). Does this, then, justify the annihilation of the human race? After all, if we are all going to die, and our lives are essentially a typically slow process of decomposition, then why subject anyone to the pain and suffering of living, breaking bones, getting ill, watching pets and love ones die, feeling the financial pain and stress of having to take care of one’s on-going needs (e.g. housing, clothing, food, employment, and so on)? If it is morally good to eliminate those who will suffer needless, since they will inevitably and irreversibly meet the same fate, viz. death, then it is even better, morally speaking, to kill all humans….right?

Of course not.
But you see the problem, I pray.

The line being drawn between typical lifespans of suffering and hardship and those of the unborn is completely arbitrary. This reasoning is wicked, and asinine. If one person’s suffering and hardship is good reason to kill them, then how much more justified is the killing of the entire human race? Unless the pro-abortionist is going to likewise justify specicide in the case of humans, she must abandon this foolish kind of reasoning.

In the second place, the pro-abortionist claims made in the above example reduce to the same thing in the end, namely that it is better to not live at all than it is to experience pain and suffering and stress and heartache. This implies that the betterment of one’s intellectual, emotional, and social skills is morally preferable to the perpetuation of an unborn child who may not ever get to experience the betterment of his intellectual, emotional, and social skills. Problematically, however, it is precisely by learning how to deal with pain and suffering and futility and strife and heartache that our intellectual, emotional, and social skills are honed. Save for the sociopath, the experience of suffering helps us empathize with others when they suffer. The experience of dealing with extreme lack forces us to learn wisdom as regards not only our financial resources, but also our social resources. We are intellectually, emotionally, and socially matured by the limitations, stress, pain, suffering, and heartaches we experience. Without them, we would be much worse off than we already are; however, if abortion is advanced on the grounds that it will eliminate those things, then even we will be reduced to savage, mindless, and self-destructive monsters.

Note that this assumption is already presupposed by the pro-abortionist who makes the above claims. The pro-abortionist who makes those claims assumes that empathy, birthed from the mutual understanding of pain and suffering/etc in her and her hearer’s lives, will drive the anti-abortionist to abandon her opposition to abortion. This is self-contradictory, as allowing for abortion for the stated reason above would eliminate the very means by which our intellectual, emotional, and social maturation which largely contributed to our own ability to empathize with those who make the claim that they should be listened to because they are seeking to end pain, suffering, etc.

3. “Bodily autonomy is a fundamental human right naturally possessed by everyone. To outlaw abortion, therefore, is to eliminate a woman’s ability to exercise bodily autonomy.” –
This kind of reasoning is irrational in several regards. Firstly, if everyone has the right to exercise absolute bodily autonomy, then there can be no legal restrictions on what anyone does with their body. This knife cuts both ways, then, for if it is true that absolute bodily autonomy is possessed by all men, and that restricting the ways in which individuals use their bodies is an immoral thing to do, then any restriction on how, say, a serial killer uses his body is likewise immoral. This may seem like an extreme case, so let’s take an example from the very abortion debate we are referencing. If bodily autonomy is absolute, then there will never be a just restriction of how others use their bodies, including those who oppose abortion. So if it is the case that bodily autonomy is morally good, and the restriction of bodily freedom is not good, then it follows that the anti-aboritonist’s bodily expressed opposition to abortion cannot be violated by anyone.

Concluding Remarks

I presented my arguments above in order to show that the retorts of pro-abortionists are not only immoral but also fallacious. If retort 1 is true, then it is necessarily false. If the value hierarchy assumed by retort 2 is true, then retort 2 is expressly immoral. And if retort 3 is true, then abortion and anti-abortion advocacy are equally condemned. It needs to be said that these objections are probably not what you’ll hear on the street from women and men on their way to enter the abortion clinic. However, they are objections that you will likely hear in discussions online or among your family members or non-Christian friends and family in some other context. My responses are meant as a guide for you think through the logical problems of the pro-abortionist retorts. Perhaps by pointing out that the above listed objections are inherently self-defeating and, therefore, false, you can show how irrational the thinking behind pro-abotion advocacy is, and by that further draw emphasis to the reality of sin’s effects on the heart of man.

Soli Deo Gloria
-h.