Last week, the world was shocked by the results of a five game Go match between 18-time World Champion, Sedol Lee, and AlphaGo, Google’s DeepMind AI program. The final score was a 4-1 win for AlphaGo. People interpreted this “Man vs. Machine” event as a victory for artificial intelligence (AI) over humans. Suddenly, a world dominated by AI, which seemed to exist only in the movies, hit people as a reality soon to happen in near future.
What makes this match such a big deal? One must understand a few things about the game of Go to know why AlphaGo’s win is such a shock to the world. Go is an ancient Chinese board game that is very popular in East Asia. The rules are very simple. It is played on a wooden board with a grid of 19 by 19 lines. The goal of the game is to win more territory on the board than the opponent by placing black and white stones in alternating fashion. The simple rules, however, are deceiving. Go is an extremely complex game with a number of possible moves that exceeds the number of atoms in the universe. Due to its complexity, players must use their intuition and feel for each move. More than just a game, Go is played with the depth of philosophy, personality, beauty, and arts.
The intuitive nature of the game makes it extremely difficult for an AI to play. To create a computer that can win, Google employed a technique called the Monte Carlo Tree Search, along with a reinforcement learning system that uses deep neural networks. Now, what in the world does that mean? I am probably not the best person to explain, so I will let Google do the job. But if you are like me, forget all the fancy technology stuff. The important achievement by Google that made people fear AlphaGo is its ability to learn and to enhance its performance on its own. In other words, a computer no longer makes outputs based on a set of rules implanted by humans, but can learn to figure out its own solutions in its “deep mind.” Such a highly intellectual program has proved that it can overcome human areas that require even intuition.
Imagine a world where these computers will become more prevalent. No wonder people have been freaking out over AlphaGo’s win. If computers can now do a better job than humans in majority of work fields by its intelligence, what will the future for humans look like? Experts had already predicted in 2013 that in the near future about 47 percent of total US employment will be at risk. For example, there are already robots writing articles in journalism. In the face of these realities, the win of AlphaGo sent alarm and fear through people’s minds. Even more stunning, researchers are now suggesting possible ways to enculture AI and teach them human values. AIs are now intruding into realms that were originally thought to belong to humans only.
The fundamental question that this phenomenon raised is “what exactly is human?” In contrasting AlphaGo and Sedol Lee, the media zoomed in on the fact that although AlphaGo had proved its superior intelligence, Lee demonstrated what it means to be a true human by his integrity, perseverance, honesty, and fighting spirit – the qualities a computer could never have. In other words, the consensus was that an AI can imitate all of a human’s intellectual abilities, but cannot possess the soul. Human intelligence can be replaced, but the human soul cannot.
This is a touching way of emphasizing humanity’s unique identity. At the heart of this concept, however, is the understanding of the body-soul relationship that sees the human body as not part of what defines human nature, but the human soul as its essence. Bodies are considered materialistic, whereas souls are spiritual. An AI can do the things that human bodies do, but it cannot do what human souls do.
As Christians, we must consider whether this dichotomy of body and soul is a biblical view. Can we simply draw a line between the two and give the soul the credit for all our humanness? There is a heap of philosophical discussions behind the body-soul relationship, but leaving that aside, I want to point out a few biblical views on body and soul.
When the Bible declares that man was created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27), it refers not only to the soul, but also to the body of human beings. The image of God is not limited to the soul, but includes the whole person, body and soul. Bavinck, a 19th century Dutch theology, is helpful here: “Man has a ‘spirit’, but that ‘spirit’ is psychically organized and must, by virtue of its nature, inhabit a body. It is of the essence of humanity to be corporeal and sentient.” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, 559) Soul and body are not two unrelated parts of human nature, but as God formed man from the dust of the earth and then breathed life into him (Gen. 2:7), they together form the essence of human nature.
How are body and soul related then? How do they function in relation to each other? 2 Corinthians 5:1 refers to our body as our earthly home and 1 Thessalonians 4:4 urges Christians to control their bodies in holiness and honor. The precise relationship between the two remains a mystery, but what we do know for certain is that the two are so closely related that soul can affect the body, and body can affect the soul. For example, if I am physically not feeling well, it can also bring considerable impact to my spiritual health. Thus, thinking that we can do anything with our bodies as long as our soul remains intact is nonsense. Our bodies also belong to the image of God. As Christians, we have full responsibility to take care of our bodies according to God’s purpose and will.
The most certain proof that human beings are created in the image of God is in the doctrine of the incarnation. The fact that God took on flesh reveals that the human body is an essential component of God’s image. In this respect, to make a sharp divide between the body as material and the soul as spiritual is to misunderstand Christ’s incarnation. Christ’s death and resurrection for human salvation is not just a salvation of the human soul, but a salvation of the whole person, including both soul and body. Our resurrection will not only be of our souls, but it will include our bodily resurrection as well (1 Corinthians 15).
Both body and soul comprise the essence of human nature, created in God’s image. Due to sin, our human nature in both body and soul entered into a corrupted state. But it is only through Christ who Himself became man and took on a physical body that our human nature can be restored to God’s utmost glory.
So, how does knowing body-soul relationship impact my life? It becomes part of our worldview as it shapes our understanding of this life and our hope for the life to come. When believers die, their souls are made perfect in holiness, while waiting for the full redemption of their bodies. What happens to the body then? The Bible teaches us that even in death, our bodies will still be united to Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:14). Thus, it is not only our soul, but both our body and soul that is saved in Christ and in fellowship with Christ. Not even death can separate us from union with Christ. This brings the most wonderful comfort for all Christians to know that our whole human nature, both body and soul, will be restored to a perfect relationship with God through Christ who has conquered death.