ASK AUGUSTINE

Does the Bible prohibit our marrying a droid?

(Thank you to the Times-Republican, Rev. Rich King and Bill Zurcher for putting together, and to all you who attended, the ecumenical gathering of the Ask Augustine seminar at Marshalltown’s Presbyterian Church on Sept. 26.)

In the Oct. 17 issues of Wired and Epic magazines, Alex Mar wrote about Hiroshi Ishiguro, an eccentric Japanese roboticist, who builds attractive life-like human androids. He believes people will desire them as friends, sexual partners, even spouses. Back in 2007, David Levy ‘s book, “Love and Sex With Robots,” predicted that we are not far from a time when sex with robots will be an accepted outlet. Does the Bible prohibit our mating with robots? Are there any explicit statements in the Bible that prohibit our marrying a droid?

When I received this odd question I wondered how wide spread this information might be. But then the Apple News email of Oct. 21 featured Ishiguro work as their lead article.

Both Levy and Ishiguro hold a Ph. D. and both contend that robots can adopt a “total” humanoid look, can be programmed to match a person’s social and physical interests and that as people “grow up with all kinds of electronic gizmos (they) will find android robots to be fairly normal as friends, partners and (yes, even) lovers.” They argue the internet has “made it possible to fall in love” without meeting face to face.

Alas, we see another justification of human behavior that is based on the fundamental philosophical teaching of our postmodern age: Feeling is more important than reason; sincerity is more important than truth. Christian ethics on the other hand is concerned not with personal preferences and feelings, but with obligations that command the conscience.

Indeed, developments in science have been outstripping our ability to understand adequately their long range ramifications. While it is true that the Bible does not explicitly address relationships with robots, it is straightforward in its treatment of sexual matters and the teaching of Scripture is the final court of appeal for ethics. Human reason, the social and natural sciences, as well as church tradition may aid in our moral reflection, but divine revelation as found in Scripture is our foundation for ethical decision making.

When the Bible discusses marriage, it speaks of two people clinging together as one flesh (Genesis 2:24). It is hard to image a more graphic way to depict marital sexuality and it is even harder to imagine that depiction with some manmade object.

The Bible is quite frank in describing the sexuality of many of its most significant figures. The Song of Songs describes in passionate, sensual images the feelings between a young shepherdess and her lover. Yet as liberal as the Bible is in its approval of permitted sexual relations, it imposes numerous restrictions on other types of sexual behavior.

The 18th chapter of Leviticus opens with a denunciation of sexual deviancy in Egypt and Canaan. Biblical laws forbid incest, which prohibition is extended to non-blood relatives. It prohibits marrying a half sister, the marrying of one’s wife’s sister (including the sister of a divorced wife) during the wife’s lifetime and the marriage of an aunt and nephew. Other sexual activities prohibited in the Bible include adultery, homosexuality and bestiality. The New Testament especially forbids fornication which is illicit sexual relations between unmarried persons. In Matthew 5:28, Christ expanded the prohibition against adultery to include sexual lusting. It is impossible to imply from any of the above passages that explicitly address prohibited relationships that the Bible permits mating with machines.

Biblical guidelines on what traits to look for in a partner are recorded in Genesis 24 and they can hardly be found in a robot. The verses 24 and 25 of Leviticus 18 are emphatic in their insistence that widespread violation of these biblical sexual norms will lead to national catastrophe. “Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants.”