Tag Archives: Alan Turing

Alan Turing, the theologian

Accurate or not, am tendinta de a imparti istoria recenta (aka, crestina) a culturii occidentale (ce-o mai fi insemnand si asta) in doua mari perioade distincte: perioada Arhitectilor si perioada Constructorilor. Daca la Arhitecti intra figuri ca Grigorie de Nyssa sau Aquinatul, la Constructori intra John von Neumann sau Alan Turing. Nu poti fi un Constructor daca nu iti cunosti Arhitectul. Cei care cred altfel sunt ori niste epigoni, ori… ma rog… restul.

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The Theological Objection, by Alan Turing

(extras din Computing Machinery and Intelligence, 1950)

Thinking is a function of man’s immortal soul. God has given an immortal soul to every man and woman, but not to any other animal or to machines. Hence no animal or machine can think. I am unable to accept any part of this, but will attempt to reply in theological terms. I should find the argument more convincing if animals were classed with men, for there is a greater difference, to my mind, between the typical animate and the inanimate than there is between man and the other animals. The arbitrary character of the orthodox view becomes clearer if we consider how it might appear to a member of some other religious community. How do Christians regard the Moslem view that women have no souls*. But let us leave this point aside and return to the main argument. It appears to me that the argument quoted above implies a serious restriction of the omnipotence of the Almighty. It is admitted that there are certain things that He cannot do such as making one equal to two, but should we not believe that He has freedom to confer a soul on an elephant if He sees fit? We might expect that He would only exercise this power in conjunction with a mutation which provided the elephant with an appropriately improved brain to minister to the needs of this soul. An argument of exactly similar form may be made for the case of machines. It may seem different because it is more difficult to “swallow”. But this really only means that we think it would be less likely that He would consider the circumstances suitable for conferring a soul. The circumstances in question are discussed in the rest of this paper. In attempting to construct such machines we should not be irreverently usurping His power of creating souls, any more than we are in the procreation of children : rather we are, in either case, instruments of His will providing mansions for the souls that He creates.

* Possibly this view is heretical. St, Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica, quoted by Bertrand Russell, p. 480) states that God cannot make a man to have no soul. But this may not be a real restriction on His powers, but only a result of the fact that men’s souls are immortal, and therefore indestructible.