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The 2021 E.T.S. Walton Lecture on Science and Religion will be given by:

Prof. Stephen Williams

Queen's University Belfast

Thinking Machines? A Christian Perspective

Thursday 28 October 2021
8 pm (Irish Standard Time)

Live stream: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4XCMpZeuok.

Abstract. Books on artificial intelligence (AI) standardly refer to thinking machines, but it is not always clear what is involved in a machine thinking, and there is often no appetite in the literature for spelling out the precise meaning of some associated ideas, like consciousness and intelligence. In the lecture, I ask whether there is a Christian perspective on the question of whether machines can think. I conclude that Christian scientists and philosophers may hold a definite view on that, but that it is hard to arrive at conclusions from a strictly theological point of view. However, I concentrate on the fact that the Creator has so constituted the brain that it is essentially a religious instrument, and if AI is not crafted as an essentially religious intelligence, any thinking which it hypothetically does is of an entirely different and far inferior order to human intelligence.

Downloads: A4 poster, screen poster.

The 2021 Walton Lecture is organised by Christians in Science Ireland.

Stephen Williams is Professor emeritus in Systematic Theology at Union Theological College in Belfast. He received his PhD from the Department of Religious Studies at Yale University. Before coming to Belfast he worked in Oxford at the Whitefield Institute for Theological Research and he was Professor of Theology in the United Theological College, Aberystwyth. In 2017 he was appointed Honorary Professor of Theology at Queen’s University Belfast.

He has published in different areas, especially in theology and intellectual history. His books include Revelation and Reconciliation: a Window on Modernity (Cambridge University Press, 1995), The Shadow of the Antichrist: Nietzsche’s Critique of Christianity (Baker Academic Press, 2006), The Election of Grace: a Riddle without a Resolution? (Eerdmans, 2015) and John Wyatt and SW, eds., The Robot Will See You Now: Artificial Intelligence and the Christian Faith (London: SPCK, 2021).

During 2018 Professor Williams held a Research Fellowship at the Henry Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, Illinois) researching the connection between transhumanism and a Christian understanding of creation. More information about Stephen Williams can be found on his personal webpages.

The E. T. S. Walton Lectures on Science and Religion

The E. T. S. Walton Lectures on Science and Religion (Walton Lectures in brief) are a series of lectures on currents topics related to science and religion, suitable to an audience of academics and informed lay persons. Each year a speaker, who is a scientist, philosopher, or theologian of international reputation, will be invited to give a lecture, which will be held in one or more locations on the island of Ireland.

The Walton Lectures are named after physicist and Nobel laureate the late Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton. Walton's work as a scientist and his Christian commitment are well documented in the biography written by V. J. McBrierty: Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton, The Irish Scientist, 1903-1995 (Trinity College Dublin, 2003). Walton was a committed member of the Methodist church, and following the award of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1951 jointly to himself and John Cockroft, he spoke on science and religion to audiences in Ireland, the United States, and Sweden.

The Walton Lectures are organised by Christians in Science Ireland.

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