2019 Abstracts

TECHNOLOGY AND THEOLOGY ABSTRACTS

Techno-Tower Theology in Science Fiction by Dr Bill Anderson from Concordia University of Edmonton

The Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.1-9 comes in the context of the Ancient Near East. The Cradle of Civilization birthed technology and its relationship with theology (religion) is well-known. Therefore technology is “nothing new under the sun” and theology has a long history of dealing with it. This presentation examines boundaries both in the Bible and Ancient Near East and distills Techno-Tower Theology in relation to the Fall in Genesis 3. It argues that the essential behavior in the Tower of Babel narrative is an example of pride, rebellion and the attempt to live independently from God through technology. While there is nothing inherently wrong or bad with technology—indeed it may be argued that it is a gift from God—the real problem lies in human nature and its use. This study is salted with examples from Science Fiction and briefly explores Levandowski’s AI god and “The Director” from the TV series Travelers in order to demonstrate how they all fall victim to Techno-Tower Theology.

Is it Possible for Artificial Intelligence to Have Souls? by Ms Erin Archer from Concordia University of Edmonton in Alberta Canada

Artificial Intelligence and the theological and ethical issues it raises is not a new idea. Humanity has been thinking about artificial intelligence (albeit not necessarily in those terms) for millennia, and it may finally become a reality. From the Ancient Greek poets to the Medieval Rabbis to modern science fiction writers, humanity has been asking the same questions: Is artificial intelligence possible? Can it achieve consciousness and truly be sentient? Would such beings possess souls? With the rapid advancement of technology in the twenty-first century, these are questions that society must try to answer. Theology has a long history of dealing with just some of the ethical issues technology is now raising. Therefore, this presentation will examine artificial intelligence and issues of consciousness, sentience and “soul” through various historical, theological, and philosophical perspectives. Soul can be a difficult idea to define and understand. But a look through historical theology will demonstrate that scholars had varying views on what a soul was and who, or what, could posses one. This paper will apply the soul theologies of two early Church Fathers Origen and St. Thomas Aquinas, as well as the theory of apocalyptic artificial intelligence, in an attempt to finally answer whether or not it is possible for artificial intelligence to have soul.

E3Ti:  The Ethics, Equity, and Exponential Technology Initiative by Dr Loye Ashton from Tougaloo College in Tougaloo in Mississippi United States of America

This paper will provide a blueprint for the establishment of an international and interdisciplinary research, teaching, and public education project that can critically compare cross-cultural and multi-religious ethical frameworks that are needed to address questions of ethics and social equity by newly developing scientific and technological advances in biomedical research, healing and enhancement, neuroscience, and hyper-network machine learning computing technology.  The heart of such a diverse project would be an comparative religious and philosophical investigation into the meaning and construction of subjective identity as shaped by exponential technology (digi-, bio-, nano-) in the globalized 21st century.  A central question that drives the project focuses on what constitutes subjective identity in light of scientific and technological developments that include, but are not limited to: transhumanism and surgical/cybernetic/pharmacogenomic enhancements to the human body, synthetic bioengineering, genetic therapy and design, virtual selves/identities fabricated through social media, genetic repopulation of extinct species (including sister hominids of the genus homo), cloning, and self-aware synthetic (digital) non-carbon based intelligence (Strong AI or General Artificial Intelligence).  The shifting definitions of subjective identity in our contemporary globalized and hyper-capitalistic world will have a huge impact on our collective ability to identify and engage areas of increasing racial, gender, and economic disparities in this new technologically supercharged posthuman era.

An Examination of Online Religion by Dr Nomagugu Bobo from Zimbabwe Open University in Harare Zimbabwe

The idea of virtual religion has taken over the traditional colla and pulpit, speaking mainly from a Christian point of view. Technology is bridging humanity and religion. Enabling timeless access to religious material. Gone are the days of Sunday worship and Friday prayers for Islam. Now you can pray in the comfort of your bed. Is this a good or a bad thing? In this paper I explore the advantages and disadvantages of virtual religion to society.

A Christian Anthropological Inquiry into the Star Trek Universe by Ms Jamela Camat from Newman Theological College in Edmonton in Alberta Canada

This paper shows how the science-fiction television series franchise Star Trek (ST) demonstrates a Christian view of the human condition. I will examine several texts regarding the Christian understanding of the human person and how this is embodied in various ST episodes, particularly through the character of Data, and the violation of the Prime Directive. Although the ST universe portrays humanity with a predominantly secularist lens, Starfleet crewmembers frequently encounter ethical issues in their travels that the secular principles of Starfleet are unable to provide satisfying solutions for. The crew often turn to the philosophies and religions of different human and alien civilisations to deal with these dilemmas; however, it is ultimately up to starship captains and their advisors to determine the next course of action, typically violating the Prime Directive in the process.

‘Are You Satisfied With Our Product?’: The Deception of Technology in Blade Runner 2049 by Ms Sarah Cameron from Taylor Seminary in Edmonton Alberta Canada

Buried with the remains of the Tyrell Corporation lies a secret that could lead to the unraveling of society. Thirty years after the events of Blade Runner, the existence of a (messianic?) child – born from the womb of a Replicant – triggers a race against time that will cost everything. Loyalties sway and lives are lost all for the sake of power, freedom, and love. Technology promises to fulfill these desires while delivering a worry-free life of luxury and pleasure. So why does something always seem to be not quite right? Blade Runner 2049 presents an upside-down world where reality is veiled with deception: the slave is free while the master lives in bondage, the blind see and those with sight are blind, the weak threaten the powerful, and life sprouts forth from the pits of death. As the race against time reaches its climax, we might discover that we too are so narrowly focused on awaiting our Warrior King to avenge us that we have overlooked the Slaughtered Lamb in our midst and the Kingdom of God already present among us.

Transhumanism and the Gospel by Mr Chris Christiansen from ACTS Seminary in Vancouver in British Columbia Canada

This presentation will look at how transhumanism fits into a Christian theological framework of creation, fall, redemption and the eschatological hope of resurrection.

Mark O’Connel explains that transhumanists have the belief “that we can and should eradicate ageing as a cause of death; that we can and should use technology to augment our bodies and our minds; that we can and should merge with machines, remaking ourselves, finally, in the image of our own higher ideals”.

This paper will begin by looking at how when God created mankind, it was good. Second, it will examine how humans lost access to the tree of life and began to age and die and how transhumanism is seeking to alter the affects of sin. Third, it will ask what parts of transhumanism Christians can embrace as part of the already-yet reality of the Kingdom of God that Christ inaugurated at the Resurrection, and which parts need to be rejected as anti-Gospel and unethical. Finally, it will argue that Christians need to remember that transhumanism is only a temporary answer to the problem of breaking down bodies. It won’t stop death. The final solution to aging and dying is what the Apostle Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 regarding the resurrection.

It will conclude that transhumanism can be a useful tool in a Christian theological framework but it should not be touted as our final hope which is based in the Resurrection.

Using the Film Get Out for an Ethical Discussion on Transhumanism by Mr Chris Christiansen from ACTS Seminary in Vancouver in British Columbia Canada

One of the biggest ethical concerns when it comes to the transhumanist movement is when to say enough is enough and accept the limitations of our humanity. Is it possible to go too far in trying to correct the natural occurrences of our bodies breaking down, getting sick and eventually dying? Often when Christians raise these concerns they are shrugged off because they’re speaking from a religious perspective. To get around this barrier, this paper will use the film Get Out for what philosopher Karl Schudt calls “dramatic persuasion” or using drama to make an ethical point. Get Out is a film about a young African American man who goes to visit his girl friends family for the first time. As it turns out, the family uses ‘transhumanist’ type methods of implanting the mind of a person with a disability into a more desirable body, namely that of young black men and women. This presentation will do three things. First, it will explain the transhumanist ideology and the potential problems Christians see with it. Second, it will summarize the film and where the issue of not accepting limitations when necessary comes up. Third, it will conclude with showing how to use this movie in a conversation to warn transhumanists about the possibility of going down this path.

There Is No Ejection Seat!  (And God Won’t Get You One, Either)  Together We Must Learn to Fly by Rev Darren Dressler from Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Airdrie in Alberta Canada

In the key tech chapter of the Bible, Genesis 4, we find that God doesn’t create the newest and hottest technology – people do.  What will they do with that hot, new tech, though?  Well, they will do what people always do: They will use it for both good purposes and not-so-good purposes (and everything in between).  This is the same pattern we have seen throughout history, and which we experience today.  Naturally, people have questions about the future of various technologies and what they will mean for our world. These questions reflect our fears of the unknown, but also our need for safety and hope and peace.

This paper will explore the ways that open and relational theology can re-energize our engagement with technology, our advocacy for its good purposes, and our willingness to invest in people and community as the means through which we can find belonging, love, and peace.  Instead of seeking another technological solution to our worries about technology, we can acknowledge the tendency for all technologies to be used for both good and evil purposes, and then begin the search for a longer-lasting and hope-giving life together as a community.

An open and relational approach also frees us from the pitfalls of various models of providence that focus on divine determinism or interventionism in one degree or another.  These models create challenges for many people who struggle with the existence of evil and questions about God’s involvement in evil.

Sergius Bulgakov’s Critique of N.F. Fedorov’s Technologized Resurrection by Dr Travis Dumsday from Concordia University of Edmonton in Alberta Canada

Sergius Bulgakov (1871-1944) is widely regarded as one of the centrally important Orthodox theologians of the past century.  His theological system (“Sophiology”) is among the most detailed and comprehensive attempts at a novel, Orthodox systematic theology developed in engagement with (and often conflict with) western philosophical and theological movements.  His first major work of theology, Unfading Light (1917), incorporates an early Orthodox critique of the revolutionary Christian transhumanism propounded by N.F. Fedorov (1829-1903).  (Fedorov had developed an account of humanity’s prospects for a technology-based resurrection of the dead, and thus of a kind of technologically-facilitated eschatology under human control.) In this paper I provide a concise summary of Bulgakov’s (sympathetic) critique of Fedorov’s model, and briefly discuss the ongoing relevance of that critique vis a vis current Christian dialogue with the transhumanist movement.

Online Religion: A Comparative Study of Four Religions by Dr Mark Loo from Concordia University of Edmonton in Alberta Canada

The objective of this study is to identify the types online content of four world religions made available to the public.  Pew Research 2014 survey shows the four main religions in the world are Christianity 31.2%, Muslims 24.1%, Hindus 15.1% and Buddhists 6.9%.  This exploratory study uses online search as the main source of data gathering, guided by four research questions: (1) how easily available online is the sacred text, (2) how regular do adherents read the sacred text, (3) what is the attitude of adherents to technology, and (4) how extensive is online technology used to promote extremism.

The findings show that Christianity has the most online Bible resources, followed by Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.  While the Bible scriptures are read by a voice-over, the Koranic scriptures are chanted while Buddhist and Hindu materials can be downloaded.  The Bible, Koran, Sutra and Veda are all available in You-tube.  Caucasians are a significant group of contributors to Buddhist scripture and teaching resources.

 Surveys on reading sacred text seems limited to Christians.  Pew Research 2014 survey found one-third of Americans read their Bible at least once a week.

All groups have favourable attitude towards technology dissemination and compatibility with science.   Technology empowers some Muslim women, confined to the home, to become entrepreneurs with crowd funding and to use tech to prevent violence.   Buddhist groups have introduced artificial intelligence such as a small robot monk that recites scriptures and a sutra-chanting android deity modelled after Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy.  Attitudinal surveys are limited to Christians on their views toward gene editing, brain chip and synthetic blood.

Online resources to promote extremism are difficult to locate, possibly partly to avoid detection and partly censorship by social media site owners.  However, there is much discussion on the highly sophisticated technology skills of ISIS in membership recruitment, extremism in India to convert Muslims and Christians to Hinduism, and the Buddhist-Rohingya conflict in Burma, and a research study that indicated a deviant group known as World Church of the Creator that promotes anti-semitism and anti-Christianity.  Counter-terrorism websites are also visible from countering ISIS to India countering separatist groups.

On Mysticism and Technology: Truth and Eros in Heidegger and Plato by Mr Aaron Piel from Briercrest College and Seminary in Caronport in Saskatchewan Canada

In my paper, “Truth and Eros in Heidegger and Plato,” I examine the ways that our relation to technology prescribes certain ways of knowing and determines how we use technology. Following Heidegger, I argue that the marriage of modern physics with modern technology prescribes an understanding of truth that is equated with exactitude and correctness, and that this leads us to use technology (and be used by technology) through means of mastery and manipulation. As a result, we see nature and each other as something to be mastered or manipulated to ensure a desired outcome. With Heidegger, I propose that a more mystical or poetic relation to and understanding of truth (or Being) enables a more wholesome relation with our environment and fellow human beings. I disagree with Heidegger, however, in his argument that our modern scientific understanding of truth is a direct logical consequence of Plato’s understanding of truth. On the contrary, I argue that Plato offers a kind of mystical or poetic way of knowing akin to Heidegger’s that seeks an elevated or higher reason than that of an exact science. Furthermore, I argue that Plato’s mysticism is superior to Heidegger’s in that Plato’s is grounded in reality and is able to respond to ethics in ways that Heidegger cannot, through his unified vision of beauty, truth, and goodness.

Testing the Spirits in Kurzweil’s Spiritual Machines by Dr Grant Poettcker from Briercrest College and Seminary in Caronport in Saskatchewan Canada

After 20 years, many of the predictions of Ray Kurzweil’s 1999 book The Age of Spiritual Machines have come true, yet the poverty and ambiguity of its philosophical vocabulary has also become evident. Because ‘intelligence’ is defined (very concretely) as means-end reasoning, and ‘spirituality’ is defined as a vague assemblage of generally endearing human characteristics, Kurzweil’s book has an intuitive appeal, and it raises many questions about the future of Artificial Intelligence and the relations between humans and his ‘spiritual machines’. This paper will consider, however, the moral dimensions of intelligence which Kurzweil consistently disregards due to his emphasis upon growth in computational power, and technical development—the latter of which function as narrative tropes in his arguments. Focusing instead upon the uniquely human phenomena of rhetoric and moral deliberation, the paper will challenge Kurzweil’s understanding of intelligence and spirituality even as it shows the sense in which the positive reception Kurzweil’s book has received in many quarters owes to the fact that Kurzweil thinks and argues in a distinctly human way.

Will Androids Need Salvation? by Dr Jonathan Strand from Concordia University of Edmonton in Alberta Canada

With the exponential development of the capacities of machines—to compute, to mimic (at least) enormous intelligence, and now even “learn,” the question arises, “Will machines become so like us that they will need to be saved, like us?”
I will argue in the negative.
I will argue that only moral agents can stand in need of the sort of salvation we stand in need of. But nothing can be a moral agent unless it at least has the capacity to be conscious. Without biological brains, however, machines cannot be conscious. So they cannot be moral agents. So they cannot need salvation.
The bulk of the presentation will focus on the argument that non-biological machines cannot be conscious. I will use insights from contemporary philosophy of mind, in particular the work of David Chalmers. I will argue, with Chalmers, that 1) consciousness is not a physical phenomenon, though 2) there are law-like correlations between conscious states and physical (brain) states. Physical states and events cause conscious states. Contrary to Chalmers, however, and in favour of John Searle’s view, I will argue that 3) the physical states that cause conscious states are biological states. Therefore, without biological brains, machines cannot be conscious.
Therefore, they cannot be moral agents. Therefore, they cannot need salvation.

Technology and Social Media in Filipino Megachurches by Mr Joel Agpalo Tejedo from Asia Pacific Theological Seminary in Baguio City in the Philippines

There are many misconceptions of Pentecostal megachurches in the Philippines fueled by popular media. They are often perceived as advocates of prosperity theology and thus motivated by financial gain. Their charismatic leaders are viewed as individuals with a messiah complex. This is perhaps because of the strong leadership they demonstrate over their congregations and prominent role they play in society. This presentation explores the growth of Pentecostal megachurches in the Philippines and their innovative indigenization of the Christian faith, as well as the influence of their Western counterparts. It begins with a review of the contemporary scholarship which has identifies the major Pentecostal megachurches and the qualities which have been at the forefront of reinventing Christian witness in the Philippine society. It will examine Pentecostal megachurches historical development with links to the poor and the middle class, social media technology and networks, locations in the political landscape, doctrine of prosperity, and the form of their social and civic engagement. In doing so, this presentation seeks to answer the following questions: How have Pentecostal megachurches developed and what attracts the masses to attend them? What form of civic engagement do they play in indigenizing gospel messages in the Philippine society? This presentation will focus on the use of technology and Social Media facilitating the success of Pentecostal megachurches in the Philippines.