By Marilyn Stewart, NOBTS communications
NEW ORLEANS (NOBTS) – The 15thth The annual Defend Apologetics Conference at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College, Jan. 2-5, welcomed 465 participants from colleges and churches in 20 states to hear biblical answers to pressing cultural questions .
Fifteen plenary speakers and over 100 breakout sessions covered topics and provided biblical answers to issues related to brain science, quantum physics, modern cinema, counter-Christian belief systems, evidence from resurrection, transhumanism, sexuality and culture, as well as other topics.
Robert Stewart, director and professor of philosophy and theology, highlighted 1 Peter 3:15 during the opening plenary session to warn listeners that knowledge and skills in apologetics are good, but not sufficient.
“The degree to which you are effective in evangelism, missions, apologetics, and in general ministry will be largely equal to the degree to which you have committed yourself to Jesus Christ, to the degree to which you have submitted to the Lordship of Christ. “Stewart said. He added urgently: “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. »
Plenary speakers included Jamie Dew, President of NOBTS; David Calhoun, Gonzaga University; Robert Bowman, Institute for Religious Research; Tim McGrew, Western Michigan University; Craig Hazen, Biola University and former editor of “Philosophia Christi”; Jana Harmon, CS Lewis Institute; James Walker, Watchman Fellowship; Shane Pruitt, NAMB National Next Gen Director; and others.
As science and artificial intelligence (AI) make the news, several speakers spoke about the intersection of faith and science, as well as the theological implications of AI.
SCIENCE GIVES PROOF OF GOD
Michael Strauss, a physics professor at the University of Oklahoma and a researcher in experimental particle physics at the CERN laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, said that known science about the universe provides “abundant evidence” in favor of a divine creator.
Strauss said that three lines of evidence point to a creator: the universe had a beginning, the Big Bang; the universe is finely tuned for life; and Earth is “rare” among all other planets to be habitable by life.
Strauss pointed out past errors when believers were slow to embrace scientific discoveries such as the heliocentric universe and urged listeners to remember that “all truth is God’s truth.”
“As Christians, we must be truth-seekers willing to change our minds about things as the evidence shows, because we must, more than anyone else, serve the truth,” Strauss said. “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and you never have to be afraid to find the truth. »
AI: A COMING “FREIGHT TRAIN”
Jamie Dew, president of NOBTS, drew on Genesis 1:26-31 to argue that humanity’s dominion over creation allows for the creative use of modern technology for the benefit of humanity, but issued a warning about AI.
“Our lives depend on (modern technology)…it’s part of our lives in ways that we may not recognize,” Dew said. “But AI is a freight train coming towards us.”
Technology is not “completely neutral,” Dew warned. While technology has solved many problems, it has caused others, including “reality confusion” where values such as self-esteem are wrongly driven by “likes” on social media , Dew said.
A correct “theology of technology” means that humans must not relinquish their God-given dominion over creation to technology and AI, Dew explained.
“(Modern digital technology) is far more subtle, powerful, compliant and addictive than anything that has come before,” Dew said. “By its very nature it has an aspect of domination. »
AI cannot meet humanity’s deep need for meaningful relationships, Dew noted, and urged listeners to live the gospel through “embodied living” in a culture desperate for authentic human relationships.
IMAGO DEI AND AI
Sharon Dirckx, a brain imaging scientist and adjunct lecturer at the Oxford Center for Apologetics, in Oxford, England, opened her plenary talk with a statement illustrating the difficulty of distinguishing material produced by AI.
“As technology advances at an unprecedented pace, AI is transforming various aspects of our lives, raising philosophical, ethical and existential concerns,” Dirckx said. “In this talk, we will delve into the essence of our humanity and reflect on the implications of AI for our identity, our relationships, and the future of our species…”
Dirckx then explained that she did not write this opening statement, but rather that it was the AI that generated the statement when she asked in chatGPT (an AI chat box) the question : “What does it mean to be human in the age of AI?”
Dirckx reminded listeners that while AI may appear conscious, it is not the same as being conscious. The most pressing question to consider, Dirckx says, is how humans will use or abuse AI.
“The belief that AI will eventually become conscious is actually based more on philosophy and worldview than technology and biology,” Dirckx said. “And that comes from the belief that man is a machine.”
Author of the book “Am I just my brain? Dirckx said science can measure brain activity during a certain experience, but only people can describe how they felt during the experience.
Dirckx noted in Genesis 1 that being created in the image of God means that humans: are uniquely capable of thinking and reasoning; function as ambassadors of God and are therefore responsible to Him; and are deeply relational.
“No matter how effective and sophisticated AI technology becomes, these (characteristics of the imago Dei) remain vital and irreplaceable qualities of human life,” Dirckx said. “…Jesus took on human flesh to save us…In the age of AI, this tells us everything we need to know about human meaning.”
At the close of the final plenary session, Stewart was recognized for his work creating and leading the Defend conference. Stewart is retiring at the end of the academic year.
Chris Shaffer, associate vice president for institutional strategy and chief of staff, spoke on behalf of President Jamie Dew in expressing the seminary’s appreciation for “the very hard work that Dr. Stewart has put into this program and the efforts that he has deployed to ensure that a generation of students finds itself increasingly able to defend the Christian faith and to do so in a way that honors God, that is kind and gracious but firm in its convictions. For this, we are eternally grateful for his investment.
Tawa Anderson, associate professor of philosophy and apologetics, will lead the Defend conference in Stewart’s place.
Stewart told listeners that he recognized a decade ago that Anderson was the person he hoped would one day run the program.
“I thought so then. I meant it when I made the recommendation to our administration and I mean it now,” Stewart said. Stewart turned to Anderson and said, “You are a godly and exceptionally gifted man and I am very pleased that you are taking over the program.” »