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Earlier this week, at the World Government Conference in Dubai, billionaire investor, inventor, and entrepreneur Elon Musk shared how he believes that all humans are probably characters in an advanced civilization’s simulated video games. Musk, the man behind Tesla and the SpaceX company, is a prominent leader in Silicon Valley and is often asked for his opinions on future matters.
During the same interview, Musk also shared that he thinks we need to see a closer merger between biological and digital intelligences, and that we will only be able to meet the challenges of overcrowded cities and vocational disruption by becoming more like machines.
It would be impossible to tackle the full ontological and epistemological arguments that Musk is working from within the confines of this narrow space, but I do want to bring up one salient point: this mentality is representative of the types of leaders in Silicon Valley. The men and women who are designing and engineering our collective societal futures are largely steeped in a radical form of secularism.
Basic secularism is best described through James K. A. Smith’s summary of Charles Taylor’s definition of the term in How (Not) to be Secular: “A society is secular insofar as religious belief or belief in God is understood to be one option among others, and thus contestable.” But Taylor argues that one step beyond secularism is something called exclusive humanism: “A worldview or social imaginary that is able to account for meaning and significance without any appeal to the divine or transcendence.”
In secularism, God is one option among many. In the more radical versions of secularism seen through exclusive humanism, God isn’t even an option; he’s a crutch or an invention of the human mind. This mentality “frames our lives entirely within a natural (rather than supernatural) order,” and has no room for the idea of transcendence, that we might be going anywhere with our lives. There is no Heaven or Hell, just Here and Now.
This worldview is deeply flawed from a Christian perspective because it completely misunderstands what it means to be human. If the Christian scriptures are truth, then the purpose of man is to bring glory to God (and enjoy him forever, as the Westminster Catechism would add). The humanist catechism would read something like this: The chief end of man is to bring glory to himself and to find maximal enjoyment while alive.
The cultural goods and services birthed from this mentality will not always be good or even neutral. We’ve already seen how destructive Facebook can be for real-life community. Fake news and shortened attention spans are grown from the same soil.
One of the main weapons of Satan that we see through the story of the fall of man in Genesis 3 is his distortion of reality. He openly questions the truth of what God said rather than merely saying it was not true. The word used to describe the serpent in Genesis 3:1 is “crafty.”
We need to value discernment in our ever “advancing” technological society. Christians need to stand at the forefront of questioning the cultural good of various new technologies rather than blindly accepting them at face value. What are these devices and inventions doing to us? What kind of vision of “flourishing” do they engender? Especially as what is being labelled “augmented reality” begins to seep more deeply into culture, Christians need to offer a truer view of what it means to be human.
Paul, who may have had Genesis 3:1 in mind in writing his letter to the Ephesians, encouraged the Christians there to grow into mature men and women: “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:14–15). We have a way to envision humanity that does not merely see us as cogs in a machine, but as creatures imbued with dignity from their Creator, who deserves all glory, honor, and praise.