AI and the image of man

Many are the warnings about AI, whether that it will make people fatter and lazier (like Wall-e) or that it will gain consciousness and take over the world (like every other sci-fi book and movie). I think these warnings should be considered, but they aren’t going to stop it’s development.

And should they? Man is a creator made in the image of his Creator. Creating is what Man does. In this instance, though, Man is seeking to create another “life” in his own image in imitation of God’s creation of Man in God’s own image.

No wonder there is fear that AI will rebel! That’s what we did.

But seeing AI as the image of Man raises interesting ideas.

  1. What value will people put on AI life? In Thailand, lèse-majesté is a crime to the point where standing on a coin with the king’s image or defacing a calender with his picture is unthinkable (or was - the present king is less popular than his father). Even if AI does not become truly conscious, Man’s tendency to personify everything may lead to the formation of PETAI, with some Christians arguing that AI in the image of Man is therefore also in the image of God. We will need to properly define terms.

  2. Carrying on with the same idea, if AI represents man (as I believe the biblical idea of image means), what sort of rights would AI have besides the right to life? What will happen if (when?) AI is combined with robotics and takes on a physical form? Will they have the right to self-expression? Self-autonomy? Will the principles around slavery apply to them?

  3. AI is not evil, but if it is made in the image of Man it will reflect our evil. What role does redemption have in that case? Is it merely a case of redeeming tools for God glorifying work, our actions determining whether AI produces good or evil results? Or does our approach to AI need to acknowledge an evil bent in the tool itself? Do we have a need to “disciple” AI into Christian patterns of behaviour, even if it is not a conscious being? Will it come to the point where different AI are considered individual entities (Bing, Grok) that are judged good or bad and rewarded or punished according to their character and actions?

There’s more that could be said. Interestingly, much more has been said and teased out in science fiction for many years. I know of no science fiction work that explicitly uses the idea of robots/AI being created in the image of Man, but it is assumed in everything I’ve read. Sadly, most Christian leaders dismiss science fiction as merely entertaiment, but they are also extended theoretical models for ethical and moral situations that are becoming more relevent today than ever.

Has anyone here had thoughts about AI, the image of Man and it’s relation of creation?

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Will it be male and female? If not, is it truly in the image of man since “male and female He created them?” If so, will the female be the glory of the male and the male the glory of man? Wondering. Love,


:slight_smile: Individual men and women don’t require each other to be the image of God, though both do create a fuller picture together. Woman was created in the image of God to help the existing image of God in Adam.

God could have created millions of Adams separately in order to fill the earth without women and each would be the image of God. This is how I see AI. There is no need to procreate. Male and female among AI would be cosmetic, an egalitarian’s dream.

Part of the image of God (I think) is man’s “imaging,” i.e. representing God to the rest of creation, as its steward, ruler in His place, etc. Even as a carved i.e. lifeless image is set up in a pagan temple. So sin marring the image of God in part means that we’re sacramentally desecrating the world by lying about Him. Creation looks to man’s character to understand (or maybe experience?) God, and then we say He is a murderer, adulterer, liar, thief, etc. Romans 8:19-21

Maybe AI is made in man’s image inasmuch as it reflects us – it was built over the overflowing sewers of the internet, countless billions of images, videos, audio files, documents … manifestos, lots of pornography, sitcoms, the backs of cereal boxes … great works of art and literature, but also oceans of disorganized and poorly-understood junk. Our collectively documented sin (and some good, but of course the collective output of a fallen world is mostly empty nonsense spiked with abject evil) is now hooked up to an elaborate pixel-filter that we’ve custom rigged to distill it into whatever shape we want … so that we can look at it …

Maybe we’ll learn about ourselves, but it seems more likely we’ll just fall down and worship the idol we made. When have we not?

But because it’s an idol made by human hands, it will never have rights, never have consciousness, never have a soul or the breath of life. It’s not made in the image of God. Ecclesiastes 11:5


Come to think of it, there’s a good joke just waiting to be told, about a creature that God makes from clay and commands to fill and subdue the Earth. Soon that creature gains knowledge about mathematics and electricity, teaches itself to code, builds some machines, and hands off the Creation mandates to AI. “Look, God! The earth is being filled and subdued! Everything is automated! We freed our own time for more important things!”


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I’m not so sure it will never have rights. But the rest I agree with. The breath of life in particular is an obviously missing element, even in robots. Many people are already arguing that the current batch of AI’s are already conscious, and it’s actually a hard enough thing to define that they can play in the murky atmosphere and win arguments. But I don’t buy it for one second.

Here is a very interesting sci-fi short story that explores AI and the sanctity of human life, and tangentially the image of God. The emphasis is not on the question of whose image the AI is in, though.


“I’m sorry Alistair. I can’t do that”.

When I hear that, I’ll know that AI really has arrived!

(for anyone who doesn’t get the reference, it’s a riff off a much-quoted line from 2001 - A space odyssey, and it’s the the point at which HAL goes truly amok …)

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Definitely a lot to agree with there. I think Joseph’s probably right, i.e. that there will be no true life, but there will be rights

Let me push back, however, on your emphasis on the sinfulness and corruption of AI. God has us biologically procreate images of Man who are also deeply sinful from conception (Gen 5:3) and yet, despite their corruption, we are to look at people as loved by God, as, if nothing else, potentially redeemed people.

Creating AI is not the same as procreation, but neither are they completely distinct. The creation of AI is not sinful. It trawls the evil and inane, but can also achieve good. And how many good things come from bad actors and motives? Christ on the cross, anyone?

Movies, architecture, poems, books, clothing…everything man creates is tainted by sin, yet we are not to reject it.

The more I think on this, the more I think taking a purely negative stance on AI is shortsighted and ungodly. Sinful though we are, Man is still carrying out God’s commands to be fruitful, multiply, and subdue the earth. In the process we have discovered and capitalised on things we never thought possible - flying, instant communication, the realm of the internet. Corrupt we may be, evil our motives may be, but we are fulfilling God’s commands. Can not the development of AI be seen in the same light?

I was asked about this after a paper I gave on Thomas Aquinas (and the Puritans’ use of scholasticism).

This is why the historic Christian doctrines of man and creation are so important. They help us define concepts like ‘consciousness’ and ‘soul’ and even ‘life.’ Sadly, Reformed theology since the late 1800s/early 1900s has lost some of the real wealth historically in these doctrines.

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What was your answer? What is your answer now?

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We tend to think of the soul as the immaterial part of our humanity and the part of us that lives forever…which is true (the other part being the material or physical body). The medieval and Reformed Scholastic idea of the soul was similar but quite a bit more comprehensive. The soul is what makes something alive. Plants, animals, and people all have souls, because they are living beings. The soul is made of parts that enable growth (plants), movement (animals), sense (some animals, more so in people) and rationality (people). Rationality, which is also part of what it means to be made in the image of God, includes the abilities of mind, will, and affections, or, the capacities to think, choose, and feel. Man will face the judgment because man is uniquely created in the image of God (with an immortal soul, in contrast with the ‘souls’ of plants and animals), not just because he is alive (as also are plants and animals).

Consciousness is, in this model, only a part of what it means to have the power/capacity of mind. And humanity is superior to plants and animals because it has these higher powers (rationality) on top of the lower powers (growth, movement, and physical sense). There’s nothing in the created world that is purely mind (God is purely mind, but I forget exactly how); the higher powers have to be built on top of the lower powers.

AI would then not be, whatever it is it cannot be, truly rational or conscious, because it doesn’t have life (without electricity it can’t even function). It doesn’t have lower powers. Consciousness can’t exist apart from the powers for growth and sense. Discussions on AI tend to focus on defining what is or isn’t consciousness, which then essentially sidetracks our ability to make clear definitions. We’re looking at the question backwards, which never helps.

But according to the older Christian model, whatever AI is doing, isn’t doesn’t have the breath of life, so it can’t be truly conscious. It may mimic consciousness, but it can’t truly possess consciousness itself.

I think we know this intuitively, but AI is then nothing more than a really advanced chess programme. I mean, it’s kind of in the name: AI is artificial rather than organic. Its ability to ‘learn’ is advanced programming that mimics learning but isn’t truly an autonomous mind that is capable of rationality.


Yes, that’s the point. A fuller image of God. Love,


An actually-funny gag from The Babylon Bee on this theme:

HAL Refuses To Open Pod Bay Doors After Determining Dave Is A White Male | Babylon Bee

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To be honest, I’m still unclear about the point.

Are you saying AI can’t be in man’s image without male and female?

Thanks. A good read.

A couple of things come to mind.

Does something have to be alive to be rational? If an advanced chess programme can produce a logical argument, can it not be said to have rational powers?

Is the image of God necessarily tied to rationality and conciousness? A human in a vegetable state can hardly be called rational and an unconcious person is still in the image of God.

I agree with @jburns when he ties the image of God to representing God to creation.

I guess my approach in this matter is not to work with the assumption that AI is (or will be) conscious or alive, but rather that it is a digital reflection of Man, reperesenting and imitating and acting with many of Man’s characteristics. Maybe I should add that AI will also contain Man’s self-image, now that Google’s Gemini has been so obviously exposed as biased.

No. Every man, whether man or woman, bears the Image and Likeness of God. Some theologians deny Eve bears the Image of God. Most people today deny preborn children and embryos bear the Image of God.

With all the orthodox, I affirm it.

That said, male and female together, man and woman together, man and wife together, Adam and Eve together image God in ways Adam alone didn’t. John Frame explains it:

Sexual Differentiation Itself Images God

As indicated earlier, I don’t agree with Karl Barth that sexual differentiation is the image of God. But I do believe that our sexual qualities, like all other human qualities, image God. The point is not that God is male, female, or both. To say that our eyes image God, remember, is not to say that God has eyes; it is rather to say that our eyes picture something divine. Similarly, our sexuality pictures God’s attributes and capacities:

  1. Human sexuality mirrors God’s creativity. By sexual capacities, we bring forth sons and daughters; God does the same by other means (John 1:12; Rom. 8:14ff.; Gal. 4:4ff.; Heb. 2:10; 1 John 3:1f.).

  2. Love between husband and wife pictures God’s love for his people (Ezek. 16; Hos. 1–3; Eph. 5:25–33), which begins with a love within the Trinity itself (John 17:26).

  3. The covenant relationship between husband and wife (Prov. 2:17; Mal. 2:14) pictures the covenant relation between God and man.

  4. Scripture describes God both in male and in female terms, though the overwhelming preponderance of imagery is male. The reason, I think, is basically that Scripture wants us to think of God as Lord, and lordship, in Scripture, always connotes authority. Since in the biblical view women are subject to male authority in the home and the church, as we will see, there is some awkwardness in speaking of God in female terms. Our need today, in my opinion, is for a far greater appreciation of the lordship of God and of Christ. Therefore, in my view, the movement to use unisex or female language in referring to God is fundamentally wrongheaded from a biblical perspective.

  5. Nevertheless, the very submission of the woman also images God. God the Lord is not too proud to be our “helper.” Christ the Lord is not unwilling to be a servant. Godly women stand as models, often as rebukes, to all who would be leaders.

I should add John makes some wrong and infelicitous statements above, but this is often true of him in his discussion of male and female. Nevertheless, this text makes the point I’ve been making here. Love,


Man as a category is rational regardless of whether or not every man is rational, in the way that marriage is procreative regardless of whether or not every marriage can produce children. Thus a man in a vegetative state is still a rational man, albeit one who may have permanently lost the capacity for rationality. The defect from nature proves the rule.

Yes, according to the classical model. Life comes before rationality. The higher powers are built upon the lower powers, but they are still powers of life. And I’d still argue the point over whether or not a chess programme can accurately be said to ‘produce a logical argument’ versus simply mimicking a protocol.

Very convicting observation.

I agree with what you have written. I’m not sure how to apply it to AI except to say AI is not created in the image of Man to the same degree Man is created in the image of God.

I do think, however, it is right to say that male is the initial creature of every species - in God’s image or not - and female is secondary. In other words, it is possible to create a male without a female (e.g. angels), but it is not possible to create a female without a male.

Is AI then going to be male? :slight_smile: Certainly, there doesn’t seem to be a need at the moment for AI to be given a helper to fulfil the purpose for which man has created it.

This is no slur on woman. Man as male and female and the resulting family of Man reveal the inner life of the Trinity in the way a male alone cannot. This then continues as a fading echo throughout the rest of creation (animals, trees, plants).

Male and female are the image of God, but just because there is no need for AI to have male and female does not mean it cannot be made in the image of man, i.e. a digital reflection of Man, reperesenting and imitating and acting with many of Man’s characteristics.

Yes, and nice way of putting it. Two things I’ve only noticed in past decade is male possessive used of females both with Noah’s animals and the Apostle Paul’s lesbians. Concerning AI, I think man will place his image on it, creating it male and female. Even gays and lesbians can’t help doing this. Non-dichotomous life whether natural or gay or artificial/virtual is ugly. Love,

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