Wednesday, September 23, 2015

CSFF Tour: The First Principle

Title: The First Principle
Series: Standalone novel?
Author: Marissa Shrock
Genre: YA Dystopia
Ratings: Craft—2, Content—2, Overall—2.7 out of 5 stars

Excerpt from the first chapter of The First Principle:

The biggest rebellions begin with the smallest steps, and I took my first small step one December morning during study hall. The quiet drumming of fingers on desktops filled the room as my classmates used keyboards projected from their government-issued multiphone devices to work. I tried to concentrate on writing an essay for my literature class, but the blinding glare reflecting from the sun on the snow outside made it difficult for me to see my screen. I didn’t mind. The glare gave me the perfect excuse to let my thoughts wander to Ben Lagarde. Three weeks ago he’d broken up with me, and while I’m not the type to fall in love, I really cared for Ben until he ended our relationship.

A pregnant teen must decide to either terminate per government regulations or join a rebellion to protect her baby.

Craft: How do I describe The First Principle? Many adjectives have flitted through my head since I started reading this book: Flat. One-sided. Agenda-driven. Unflattering terms which aren’t really fair to this story.

After all, the story has a premise full of foundational conflict. The protagonist’s voice has a good cadence to it. There are some likeable characters, and the plot is well-paced with a couple of interesting twists.

Yet, despite all this, I could never pick out the protagonist’s voice in a crowd; I missed the complex world-building that is essential to a good dystopia as a good fantasy; and I never sat on the edge of my seat in suspense. In fact, The First Principle stirred very little emotion in me despite the emotionally charged topic.

As a result, I felt like I was merely told a story rather than invited to live it.

Content: The content of The First Principle, much like the craft, felt unremarkable to me. Perhaps it’s me, as I’ve heard these exact same arguments for Christianity and against abortion over and over and over. So no doubt there’s a place for this story among the next generation. Still, I longed for more—for a fresh insight or the kind of reminder that makes me passionately reaffirm what I believe.

This dystopic story also unnerves me as it seems to reinforce the common Christian-vs.-them mentality many have today, as well as a quickness to rebel against any authority when the world doesn’t meet our standards.

Yes, there are times when we have to disobey the authorities when they clearly and directly contradict Scripture. Yes, we are not to love the world and are at war with the ruler of this world, Satan. Yes, sometimes these views will cause very deep divisions, even to the point of betrayal and abandonment within families. All of these this story beautifully portrays. Yet with these views already dominating in so many Christian circles to the extreme, I craved for the counterbalances to be also given within the story. For we are not at war with the people who live in this world—or at least, not with very many of them. And how often could a peaceable solution be found, like in Daniel Chapter 1, if we would only look for it?

As for other common content issues, this book does focus on a teenage pregnancy in a dystopic world. As a result, there are a few references to off-the-page sex, to abortion, to a birth described in low-key terms, and a few acts of violence—also described non-graphically—along with non-explicit cursing/swearing. In short, all problematic issues are well handled and accessible to a fairly young audience.

Summary: The First Principle was an unremarkable book in either craft or content for me. Its content may be helpful for a few teens, and no doubt many conservative Christians will love the story because it tells them what they want to hear. But if you want the thought-provoking or the emotionally engaging, you may have to look elsewhere.

Ratings: Craft—2, Content—2, Overall—2.7 out of 5 stars

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

September CSFF Tour

It's been a while, but it's time for a new Christian Science-Fiction and Fantasy tour! This month we'll be chatting up a book called The First Principle by Marissa Shrock. The book is about a teenage girl who gets pregnant in a society where all unwed moms/teenage moms like her are required to abort. Worse, everyone is watching her because her mother is running for president -- and she isn't so sure she wants to go through with the abortion.

I'm running a bit behind this month for various reasons, but I will have up a full review of The First Principle on Wednesday. In the meantime, check out what others are saying about this book:

Julie Bihn Thomas Clayton Booher Beckie Burnham April Erwin Victor Gentile Carol Keen Shannon McDermott Meagan @ Blooming with Books Megan @ Hardcover Feedback Rebecca LuElla Miller Joan Nienhuis Nissa Jalynn Patterson Chawna Schroeder Jessica Thomas

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Scriptural Tapestry for the Anxious Heart

“My peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” Indeed, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging, God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore, do not be anxious about anything; do not worry about tomorrow. An anxious heart weighs a man down, and who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Rather, cast all your anxiety on Him and in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, because He cares for you. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.  

(References: John 14:27; Psalm 46:1-3; Philippians 4:6-7, 20; Matthew 6:34, 27; Proverb 12:25; and 1 Peter 5:7. NIV Study Bible, 10th Anniversary Edition, copyright 1995)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Scriptural Tapestry for the Weary

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed: we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is His faithfulness.

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness: The Sovereign LORD is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights. Yes, His grace is sufficient for me, for His power is made perfect in weakness.

(References: Matthew 11:28-30, Isaiah 40:30-31, Lamentation 3:22-23, 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 and 12:9-10, Habakkuk 3:19. NIV Study Bible, 10th Anniversary Edition, copyright 1995)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Christian’s Look at AI – Part 4

God does not break His promises. Out of all the arguments for why God would give an Artificial Intelligence a soul, that is one of the strongest, simply because it is rooted in the unchanging character of God. However, many of those promises have one condition: Belief of the recipient.

So is an AI capable of faith?

To answer that, we must go back to the essence of faith. According to Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” The rest of Hebrews 11 goes on to recount what this faith looks like, starting with creation. And from these examples, along with the first verse, we learn several things about the nature of true faith:

1. Faith is a choice. “People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.” (v. 14-15). That is, they made a choice to follow a certain path—and a choice not to turn back.

2. Faith relies on the character of God. This includes His faithfulness, power, and generosity, among many others: “Anyone who comes to him must believe he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (v. 6). And “Abraham . . . was enable to become a father because he considered him faithful who made the promise” (v. 11) and he “reasoned that God could raise the dead” (v. 19).

3. As a result, faith acts according to God’s character. Just look at the active verbs in this chapter! Able offered (v. 4), Noah built (v. 7), Abraham went (v. 8), Isaac and Jacob blessed (v. 20-21), Joseph instructed (v. 22), Moses’ parents hid (v. 23), Moses rejected (v. 24) and persevered (v. 27), Israel marched (v. 30), and Rahab welcomed (v. 31), to name a few.

4. And therefore, faith will often act without external proof and despite what circumstances may insist is the logical outcome of such actions. Noah built an ark, which would seem foolish with no water for it to float on. Even more, rain may have never fallen before this point, being one of those “things not yet seen” (v. 7). Then there was God’s promise of a child to a man past age and a woman who was barren (v. 11)—a laughable impossibility. In fact, both Abraham and Sarah did just that when they heard what God intended to do. Then, though God promised Isaac would provide Abraham offspring, God told Abraham to kill Isaac—a contradiction with no human way out and which seemed doubly impossible as the Bible provides no account of God raising the dead before this point. How could Abraham know that God could, much less would, resurrect his son? Yet despite the oddity of all these circumstances, Abraham still offered Isaac, Sarah laid with her husband, and Noah built a boat.

To sum all this up, Romans 4:19-21 says, “Without weakening in his faith, [Abraham] faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.” That is, circumstances said the promise was impossible. “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God.” Despite what circumstances said, Abraham chose to trust God’s promise. The result? “[He] was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.” His faith worked out in action. And why could he do this? Because his faith was founded not on circumstances but on God’s character as he was “fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”

So we see that faith is a choice—a choice to live as if what God has said is true, no matter what others or circumstances seem to say. In short, faith is an act of the will.

Since faith derives from the will, can an AI have faith? If they have a will—that is, the ability to make choices rather than merely act according to “instinct”—then I would say yes. An AI is capable of having faith. And if they can and do choose to believe that God “exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6), would God really turn them away? Or would He be “not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:16)?

After all, “the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham . . . He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” (Romans 4:16-17, emphases mine)

Friday, August 7, 2015

A Christian’s Look at AI – Part 3

Last week we looked at whether an AI has a soul. The conclusion, not surprisingly, was inconclusive. AIs aren’t human, so we cannot assume God would automatically grant them a soul, but neither is being human a requirement for gaining a soul. Rather, God is the final Judge, and He is more than capable of giving an AI a soul.

But would He?

For God will not act contrary to His standards, character or will. Who He is, He is (Exodus 3:14). He does not change (Malachi 3:6) nor is He a man that He should lie (Numbers 23:19). So what in God’s character would lead me to believe He would give an AI a soul?

Because His grace is boundless, not limited to one people. In Revelation 7:9 it says “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language,” will stand before the Lamb and praise Him. Might not that include the “race” of machines?

Because God does the impossible. Many would say a machine having a soul is impossible. And it is impossible—for us. But so is parting the Red Sea and raising the dead. Just because we can’t doesn’t mean God won’t. Indeed, this is exactly the type of thing God loves to do, because He alone receives the glory.

Because He delights in displaying the riches of His grace and the depths of His mercy. We didn’t deserve salvation, and yet God provided it to us “in order that . . . he might
 show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). Would not extending a soul to an AI also showcase the same?

Because He rebukes unbelief with the unexpected. “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29) For even Gentiles are not a part of God’s people. We were wild by nature, yet contrary to that nature, we were given salvation alongside the Jews and grafted into the main olive tree, as Paul put it (Romans 11:17, 24). God did this as a rebuke to the Jews, in order to make them envious and rouse some to salvation (Romans 11:11, 14). Now considering the complacency of Gentile Christians, is it such a stretch to believe that God might do the same with AI, “grafting” them into humanity as a rebuke and to move us humans to envy and salvation?

Finally because God does not break His promises. He says that Abraham is father to “all who believe” (Romans 4:1, 16-17) and that whoever believes in Jesus “shall not perish, but have eternal life,” (John 3:16) which seems to imply a soul or some equivalent. So if AIs are capable of belief (which we’ll tackle next week), might they not also become “children of God—children born not of natural descent nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12)?

For even we humans cannot inherit eternity directly, but must be changed and transformed, exchanging our mortality for immortality and the perishable for the imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:53). Does it really matter to God whether He starts with flesh and blood or metal and wires?

In short, is anything too difficult for God?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Christian’s Look at AI -- Part 2

Would a being with Artificial Intelligence have a soul?

When Christians start contemplating advanced technology and the growing possibility of AI, we inevitably end up asking that question. It seems like a legitimate question to ask. A logical one, even. After all, a soul is one of those things which makes humans distinctively human, separating them from the rest of God’s creation. So we ask, “Are AIs human?”

After all, we believe if we can answer that question we can answer many of the other questions we have about AI: How should we treat AIs? What “rights” belong to them? Do they need to be evangelized? Do they need salvation? And so goes the list, a list which can be definitively answered if we can only pin down whether an AI is “human.”

On one hand, the advanced form of AI, as proposed by fiction, has much going for it. The ability to think, reason, feel, learn, make decisions, act contrary to “instinct,” create, even experience guilt and remorse (which are often considered indicative of a conscience)—these abilities make AI seem very human.

On the other side, an AI is man-made, unable to reproduce, and lacks any biological connection to the human race. All these point to AI being nothing more than a complex machine.

Yet if being manmade is your standard for denying a soul to an AI, does that mean a child genetically engineered from scratch—a very real possibility these days—would not have a soul either? For in both cases man has merely rearranged the elements God has created to “build” a person after the image of man.

If the standard is the ability to reproduce, does that mean the men and women who are sterile do not have a soul?

The standard of the biological connection is the strongest argument against a soul for an AI. After all, creation was told to reproduce after its own kind, meaning every group carries a common genetic code. Indeed, based on this, I would agree that AIs are not human, and as a result, they may not inherit a soul automatically.  

But is that biological gap enough to completely bar an AI from ever having a soul? Yes, humans are special in that we were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Yet you could argue that Adam and Jesus Christ are technically the only two who were truly made in the image of God. Following Adam and Eve’s sin, that image was broken and even Adam’s son Seth is said not to be in the image of God, but in the image of Adam (Genesis 5:3). In a not so different way, AI is also patterned after man—that is, is made in the image of man.

And with that argument we expose a logical fallacy in the questions we started with: We assume that being human is a prerequisite for having a soul. It is a natural assumption. After all, how can we prove that even a human has a soul apart from Scripture? And if we who have a soul can’t prove it, how can we expect to prove (or disprove) it with an AI?

Therefore, since being human means we have a soul, we make that our standard. But the equation doesn’t work both ways. Just because
Being human = Having a soul
doesn’t mean
Having a soul = Being human.

Or to put it another way, while Scripture says that God gave man a soul, where does it state He will give it only to a human?

For ultimately a soul is a gift which God gives. Yes, Scripture promises a soul to everyone who is from the line of Adam, but that does not mean we are entitled to it.

Rather, God is the One who gives and withholds. God is the final Judge in these matters, not us. He can give an AI a soul, if He wants, and if He chooses to give a machine made in the image of man a soul, who are we to say nay?