God and the Mind Machine
Computers, Artificial Intelligence & the Human Soul

John Puddefoot
ISBN 9780281049738 (0281049734)
SPCK, 1996
£7.99

Category: Science and Faith
Reviewed by: Conrad Gempf

There have been other books from Christian publishers about the 'Information Revolution' and the prospects of Artificial Intelligence, and I think I've read most of them. None of the others is quite as thoughtful nor quite as Christian as this one from the Head of Mathematics at Eton College. While I may disagree with some of the opinions expressed toward the end of the book, most of the main premises had me cheering out loud.

Perhaps nowhere is he more brilliant than in chapter 4 — a sort of Theology of Science as applied to difficult questions about the future of information tech. He is surely right that Christians need to engage in scientific dialogue and that the dialogue cannot be only on the older questions of creation, evolution and so on. Puddefoot has a positive view of science, but one that is realistic and not steeped in the trappings of the modernist scientism.

I would love to quote from several pages of the book, but I'll content myself with this one passage about science and theology:

...Theologians have sometimes sided with Einstein's 'God does not play dice' as if there were some absolutely obvious reason why God should not do so... In a world where prediction and precise control are at a premium (in, that is, an industrial, machine making age...), we are likely to project our estimate of the importance of prediction and control upon God. But it is certainly possible (and, in my view, likely) that God does not share this love of prediction and control, being ready to allow creation to unfold before his eyes and to reveal its richness in doing so. Such a God may well 'play dice' with the world. (p.82)

Puddefoot makes some real contributions to developing the notions of what it means to be alive and conscious, suggests some insightful critiques of such scientific dogma as the "Turing Test" and along the way speculates on the meaning of the soul and whether animals have them. This book is highly and enthusiastically recommended!

Conrad Gempf, November 1997

Dr Conrad Gempf teaches New Testament at London School of Theology. He is the author of Jesus Asked (Zondervan, 2003), Mealtime Habits of the Messiah (Zondervan, 2005) and Christian Life & The Bible (LST, 2006). He writes extensively for various books, journals, magazines and websites; here's his blog: Not Quite Art; Not Quite Living.

Previously published by London School of Theology. Reused here by kind permission.

SPCK

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