Recently I have noticed an upsurge in stories about robot priests/ministers/monks.
First off, I noticed CNA’s In robota Christi? Why robots can never be Catholic priests
The title was promising since it told the truth from the start.
Still the article contained some monumental stupidity.
In an interview with Vox, Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio, who holds the Josephine C. Connelly Endowed Chair of Theology at Villanova University, said that Catholicism should “reimagine” the priesthood and consider robots instead of, or alongside, men.
“The Catholic notion would say the priest is ontologically changed upon ordination. Is that really true?” Delio told Vox. “We have these fixed philosophical ideas and AI challenges those ideas – it challenges Catholicism to move toward a post-human priesthood.”
Delio said robotic priests would have certain advantages – including being incapable of committing sexual abuse.
So far I have never seen an instance where a theologian uses the word reimagine and something sane comes out of it.
Whenever you see the sentence “Is that really true” after some proposition you know this is going to be weaselly. That no argument will be put forward why it is not true. The other weaselly trick is to denote something always taught by the Church as a “notion”.
That there is an ontological change is affirmed by the Church.
CCC 1582: As in the case of Baptism and Confirmation this share in Christ’s office is granted once for all. The sacrament of Holy Orders, like the other two, confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily.
Which in turn references the following:
Council of Trent: CANON IX. – If any one saith, that, in the three sacraments, Baptism, to wit, Confirmation, and Order, there is not imprinted in the soul a character, that is, a certain spiritual and indelible Sign, on account of which they cannot be repeated; let him be anathema.
1767 Dz 960 But since in the sacrament of orders, as also in baptism and in confirmation, a sign is imprinted [can. 4], which can neither be effaced nor taken away, justly does the holy Synod condemn the opinion of those who assert that the priests of the New Testament have only a temporary power, and that those at one time rightly ordained can again become laymen, if they do not exercise the ministry of the word of God [can. 1 ]. But if anyone should affirm that all Christians without distinction are priests of the New Testament, or that they are all endowed among themselves with an equal spiritual power, he seems to do nothing else than disarrange [can. 6] the ecclesiastical hierarchy, which is “as an army set in array” (cf. Song. Ct 6,3), just as if, contrary to the teaching of blessed Paul, all were apostles, all prophets, all evangelists, all pastors, all doctors (cf. 1Co 12,29 Ep 4,11).
The idea that AI challenges these “fixed philosophical ideas” is also nonsense. A computer seems like such an excellent metaphor for the brain. That is if the brain is reduced to computation and memory. This is basically the view of the material determinists. It is really quite a bad metaphor. There is a reason the term “The hard problem of consciousness” came about.
The easy problems of consciousness, says Chalmers, are those which cluster around phenomena such as the difference between wakefulness and sleep; the ability to discriminate, categorize, and react to environmental stimuli; our ability to make verbal reports of our mental states; and the deliberate control of human behavior. Problems related to these phenomena are termed “easy” by Chalmers because he believes they can all be more or less explained by a thoroughly materialist neuroscience.
The hard problem of consciousness, however, is the problem of why we are conscious at all. Why do we have this “movie” playing inside our head at which we serve as the spectators of our own thoughts and feelings, memories and imaginings? Materialist neuroscience, Chalmers argues, provides impressive objective accounts of how certain brain areas correlate with certain kinds of conscious experience. But it simply doesn’t have an explanation for the subjective experience of consciousness. The Catholic Thing: Daniel McInerny
The idea that we are going to create consciousness via algorithms just in not rooted in what we do know. I have read plenty of SF stories that by multiplying the number of connection to simulate the brain’s synapses that there would come some point where consciousness involved. This idea has not really gone away.
SF writer Vernon Virge’s term “Singularity” is used to describe the near-future point that machine intelligence will be infinitely more powerful than all human intelligence combined. Kind of a Moore’s Law for consciousness. Other ideas as seeing the soul as a “ghost in the machine” via Cartesian Dualism has also fueled this mistake. The hard problem of consciousness will remain, but St. Thomas Aquinas in Question 76. The union of body and soul provides a much sounder basis two work on that does not make these errors.
As for robotic priests not being capable of committing sexual abuse. Well that would depend on how they are designed and programmed. If you really believe robots will evolve true consciousness and free will, this does not follow. Plus come on, has she not read any of Asimov’s Robot stories and how the three laws were circumvented?
Thankfully the article did contain some sanity. For example from Sister Mary Christa Nutt, RSM.
Robots cannot be priests because they are incapable of having an intellect or a will with which to cooperate with God’s grace.
“It has to do with our Catholic understanding of the need for human mediation, cooperation with interior grace,”
I would be so tempted with thinking this article was an Onion piece with having both a Sister Delio and Sister Nutt. The simplest statement was provided by theologian Kevin Miller.
“Catholics must look to Jesus Christ. And Jesus is, decidedly, not a robot.”
Okay enough of the more serious objections to Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio and this whole idea and have some fun.
Now if robot priests were actually capable of sarcedotal actions I can think of some features I would like.
- ConfessionBot – Would be equipped with no ocular sensors and all memory would be short term and volatile. Plus no speech pattern detection or any form of digital fingerprinting. For people less worried about security options, some sort of login so you can select a ditto option. Maybe also an option to select a school of spirituality you would like the ConfessionBot to use for quick spiritual suggestions. Truth detection could be used to determine level of sorrow for sins and to deliver the proper penance.
- LiturgyBot – One simple algorithm “Say the black, do the red.” Possibly also equipped with a built-in Thurible. Maybe also equipped with a Pentecost system connected to in-ear monitors so everyone in the pews could hear the Mass in the language of their choice. Some parishes might decide to install the “Catholic Politician and Public Sinner” module to limit distribution of Holy Communion.
- AltarBot – Would assist the PriestBots and provide experience if they decide to upgrade from AltarBot to PriestBot with a seminary and pastoral module.
- ViaticumBot – Would be connected to healthcare networks to monitor the status of individual Catholics. Would rapidly deploy to ensure last rites would be delivered timely along with an Apostolic Pardon. Equipped also with a chrism oil dispenser.
- BaptismBot – Totally waterproof with a proper baby handling manipulator arms. The main version of this bot would require the sarcedotal module to be the proper minister under Robot Canon Law, but other versions without this module would just require consciousness for emergency situations.
- FundraiserBot – Especially equipped with rhetorical skills to compel people to provide money to pay for facilities and all these bots along with helping to keep the BishopBot off the PastorBot’s backside.
- BureaucratBot – Obviously used to staff diocesan offices along with bishop conferences to ensure other bots can’t get their assigned duties done. This bot would not require AI since intelligence has never been a requirement for bureaucrats and would probably hinder their hindering.
- VisitingTheSickBot – What you want a bot for everything? Come on get off your ass.