I recently got a new phone. It contains a voice-activated help system which is quite useful. I can ask “where is the closest burger joint?” and it will give me a list of burger places and a map. I can dictate email and text messages, and it will read text and email messages to me. It will remember my most recent question and answer in context.
The creators have wired in some humor. If I ask “What is the meaning of life?” It talks back and says “I find it strange that you would ask that of an inanimate object” or “I can’t answer that now, but give me some time to write a very long play in which nothing happens.” If I say “You are an idiot” it replies, “Well, I’m still here for you.” If I thank it, it says, “It is I who should be thanking you.” I’ve had quite a bit of fun playing with this voice-recognition computer.
This machine’s answers remind me of several things that would be the case if humans were only made of matter and energy, and had no soul. The problem of consciousness leads us to recognise that this machine is not truly understanding me. The computer program does not truly understand the jokes, nor does it understand the meaning and significance of its answers. It would be immoral of me to call a human an idiot for no reason, but the machine has no context for morality. It merely responds how it has been programmed.
Yet we readily recognize that the machine does not truly understand, does not have emotions, and cannot actually be insulted or be thankful. The human mind is not merely more complex than my phone, it is fundamentally different. Humans have a sense of morality that is not based in programmed logic. We have understanding that is fundamentally different. Humans are more than complex machines. Our mental faculties are more than the working of our brain.
We have a soul and are made in the image of our Creator. Those who deny this must hold that we are no different than a more complex version of my phone. If we can explain all of human understanding with physics and chemistry, then my phone is correct — the meaning of life is that it is a long play where ultimately nothing happens, for there is no meaning to life. We cannot ask such questions to an object, even one that talks back and tells jokes.