June 29, 2019

Cliff's Edge--Puppy Love?

I never had a dog as a child. Only at 32 did I get my first one, a pug—Fergie. Then came Penny, now Tessa. I loved my dogs and, yes, they loved me. I once wondered aloud why I loved dogs so much. Then it hit me: having a dog was like having a three-year-old toddler around, and who doesn’t love that?

But dogs can get fleas, scabies, infections, rabies, heartworm, or vomit in the house, or soil the carpet, or both. They can bark at inconvenient times and even bite people (it was no big deal if Fergie did, but if Penny, a 100-pound shepherd, did?), or tear up furniture and destroy property. They cost money to feed, to take to the vet, to keep vaccinated, and to room and board when you travel. and, in some cases, they just shed, shed, shed. They cost money to feed, to take to the vet, to keep vaccinated, and to room and board when you travel. And, in some cases, they just shed, shed, shed.

But what if you could get a dog that did none of the above: not shed, not soil the carpet, not get ringworm—nothing?

You can: a robot dog.

One ad goes like this: “THERE'S NO CHIP LIKE YOUR CHIP. CHiP is an intelligent, affectionate robot dog. With advanced sensors and smart accessories, CHiP is always aware, and ready to play. How you respond uniquely shapes his behavior, so there’s no CHiP like your CHiP.”

Sony’s AIBO, which mean “companion” in Japanese, is the acronym for “Artificial Intelligence roBOt.” According to Sony, AIBO “is a true companion with real emotions and instincts. With loving attention from his master, he will develop into a more mature and fun-loving friend as time passes.”

Sony also states: “AIBO actually has emotions and instincts programmed into his brain. He acts to fulfill the desires created by his instincts. If satisfied, his joy level will rise. If not, then he will get sad or angry. Like any living being, AIBO learns how to get what he wants. Occasionally, he will wave his legs around vigorously or show signs of anger if he does not receive the kind of attention he requests from you. The way you respond to his emotional expressions greatly influences his personality and growth. . . . Even though AIBO is made from plastic, powered by a battery, and has a nervous system of integrated circuitry, he is also a fully cognizant, sensing, loving and communicative companion.”

Emotions? Instincts? Desires? Robot dogs have no more emotions, instincts, and desires than my toilet has vertigo when I flush it. To claim that AIBO is “also a fully cognizant, sensing, loving, and communicative companion” is to attribute traits of intelligent life to plastic and metal. We barely understand how living tissue, brain cells, can house (create, facilitate, whatever) emotions and desires, yet we’re supposed to believe that Sony has produced a robot dog (a dog?) that manifests love and joy and happiness? Just make sure that the batteries are charged, and love, joy, and affection will flow out of the circuit boards, silicon chips, and plastic like photons from a light source. To mistake a computerized dog wagging a tail as an expression of happiness would be like attributing moral integrity to the zeroes and ones in a software program that filters out child porn.

If the idea of robot dog showing “affection” and “love” leaves you cold, then how would God have felt creating robot humans who could never do wrong, never—to use AIBO analogy—soil the carpet, bite people, or get rabies? Sure, God could have created us that way, just as we could get, instead of a real dog, a robot dog, and thus spare ourselves the hassles that come from a sentient, feeling, emotional, and loving creature as opposed to the mindless, unconscious machine that Sony pawns off as a “fun-loving friend.”

But God obviously wanted to give us more, and get back more, despite the potential hassles that He knew would come—“hassles” that led Him to the cross. Rather than create us like robot dogs, He created us as moral beings with the moral capacity to love both Him and others, and this moral capacity included freedom, the freedom inherent in the kind of love only a moral being could give. Despite the hype, robot dogs can’t manifest even puppy love, much less the love that a real dog expresses, which is a mere phantom compared to the love humans can give and receive because we are human, not cold and sterile robots, which is what we’d have to be in order to guarantee that we’d never go bad, never “soil the carpet,” so to speak.

So if a robot dog doesn’t do much for you, you can understand, somewhat, why God created us as He did, even at the cost of the cross for Himself.

Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His latest book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity, is available from Pacific Press.