Elon Musk and Ethics

I read a biography on Elon Musk awhile back. It was fascinating. He seems like a super smart, super driven, and genuinely concerned individual. Though, I clearly don’t know Musk or his motives.

I was troubled, however, recently when I watched a progress update about Neuralink. Neuralink is a company that has Elon Musk as one of its founders and is “developing implantable brain–machine interfaces.” Neuralink is working to invent “new technologies that will expand our abilities, our community, and our world.”

In the video update, Musk said he is concerned with our “species.” He speaks of “what we [humanity] would want.” He was presuming about the “sum of our collective will.” He talked about “the future of the earth” being “controlled by the combined will of the people.”

It reminded me of something perceptive C.S. Lewis said:

“Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under the omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber barons cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” 

It seems to me that Musk and his team have good intentions but an ethicist was eerily absent on the panel. And they spoke of such things as erasing fear and pain. One of the guys on the panel said he’d like to study consciousness and simultaneously dismissed all writings on consciousness in the last thousand years.[1] That was very concerning to me. To sweep away a whole history of thought on a subject, even one as confusing as consciousness, in a mere fleeting moment is concerning. It speaks to the panelist’s pride and unreasonableness. As well as to what Lewis referred to as chronological snobbery

One can have knowledge and intellect and be absent of wisdom. And history teaches us that science, even good science with good goals, can bring about terrible things. We can see this by looking at the origin of the Nobel Prize.

Briefly, Alfred Nobel was refereed to as the “merchant of death.” Among his inventions was dynamite. “Merchant of death” was not the reputation he wanted. So he funded the Nobel Prize in order to change his legacy.

Nobel’s intention was not to be a “merchant of death” but nevertheless his technology of dynamite led to the death of many. Technology itself is not wicked, but sometimes those who wield it are not wise and sometimes they are wicked and use technology in devastating ways.

Also, concerning is that Musk seems to be a naturalist and determinist.[2] He talks about what the collective will of the world is. That, to me, is concerning. Especially from someone that believes they are doing good and yet, at the same time, have no basis for believing in the concept of good.

As amazing as Elon Musk is, in a lot of ways, he and his programs need ethics, and I would argue transcultural and transtemporal ethics.

My kids in my home need reminded and held to the transcultural norm of love and truth and if they don’t follow those norms my house is in unrest. How much more Musk and Neuralink?!


[1] He said, ““There’s a lot of really silly philosophy that’s been written about [consciousness] over the last thousand years.”

[2] Musk said, “The universe started out… hydrogen and then after a long time… well, what seems like a long time to us, that hydrogen became sentient. It gradually got more complex… We’re basically, you know, hydrogen evolved. Um, and somewhere along the way that hydrogen started talking and thought it was conscious” (See the 51:46 timestamp in Neuralink Progress Update, Summer 2020). If we are merely evolved hydrogen that think we’re conscious, how can we possibly make sense of our world? Is not then everything random? How can we trust our minds? That’s akin to trusting a random paint splash to relay truth. They’re both random chance processes with no real significance.

Gospel Motive Filter

How can we know if our motives are gospel-focused or not? In the below video I outline a way to filter out motivations that are not gospel-focused.

Pride→disgrace. Humility→wisdom.

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).

When we see gray clouds we know a storm and rain are probably coming. Proverbs leads us to see other connections and correlations from other phenomena and make other important deductions. Just as if we see gray clouds we know rain is coming, if we see pride we know disgrace is coming.

Disgrace follows pride like dessert follows dinner; one comes then the other. Superiority then scandal, self-importance then shame. Disgrace follows pride as surely as two follows one. There’s a sequential relationship. If one is not humble there will be humiliation.

The prideful person, however, may not even see or experience the humiliation though. They may further puff up against the pain rather than confront their inadequacies.

The arrogant are in the dangerous place of not seeing their own ignorance. If we see ourselves as superior, we aren’t in a good place to see our own stupidity. Those who think they stand then should take heed lest they fall (1 Corinthian 10:12).

What is the solution? Humility.

We should be willing to admit we are sometimes wrong. We have done wrong and been wrong in the past, we should know that this could (and will) happen in the future too.

Christianity gives a basis for humility.[1] It teaches us repeatedly that we don’t always get it right. And Jesus said, blessed are the humble who know that truth (See Matthew 5:5ff).[2]

Christians should be willing to listen, willing to learn. We should be humble because our Lord Jesus has called us to humility. We don’t know it all and we should admit that truth.

“With the humble is wisdom.” Those who know they don’t know, are in a good place to know. If we realize what we don’t realize, we are open to realizing.

Pride → disgrace.
Humility → wisdom.

_____

[1] Christian behavior is not based on knowledge alone, that leads to pride and destroys others, even those for whom Christ died; Christian behavior is based on love grounded in the knowledge of Christ. We tend to think we know all we need to know to answer all kinds of questions—but sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds. As Eugene Peterson has said in his paraphrase of the Bible, the Message: “Knowing isn’t everything. If it becomes everything, some people end up as know-it-alls who treat others as know-nothings.” I appreciate what Richard Baxter said, “If we have any knowledge at all, we must needs know how much reason we have to be humble; and if we know more than others, we must know more reason than others to be humble” (The Reformed Pastor, 144). I also appreciate this from Thomas à Kempis: “What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? …I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God” and neighbor?” (The Imitation of Christ).

[2] Proverbs also tells us repeatedly that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”

Faith or Flounder

“My steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
Psalm 73:2-3

Our focus and our faith matter.

Wrong Focus = Destruction

It was when the psalmist was envious of people that had stuff that he didn’t have that he nearly fell. When we see a representation of the “good life” that we don’t have, it can make us discontent and even angry at God.

It makes me think of Instagram. Instagram is notorious at giving a very false lens on life. Not only are pictures edited and filtered, they’re staged. They’re set up beforehand so everything is just right. The pictures are also specifically picked to portray the perfect picture behind the perfect life.

If we focus on other people’s lives, or pictures of their “perfect” lives, it will often lead to discontentment. We will think they have it all. And we will think our life stinks.

That’s essentially what happened to the psalmist. “[Their] steps had nearly slipped.” Why? Because they were “envious of the arrogant when [they] saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Ps. 73:2-3).

Faltering faith can be a result of focus. The psalmist nearly slipped not because they began to doubt the existence of God. Nope. That’s not what it was. They began to doubt the goodness of God because someone else was apparently living the “good life;” living the life they themselves wanted to live.

There was no logical argument. The issue was “kardialogical,” from desire of the heart. The psalmist was envious, jealous of someone else’s prosperity, and upset that others have “no pangs until death” (v.4). That is what nearly caused the downfall. He thought, “All in vain have I kept my heart clean” (v. 13). It’s pointless because I don’t get the enjoyment I desire but only suffering (v. 14).  

Right Focus = Delight

The psalmist couldn’t understand and was tiring of considering what he thought was unfairness on God’s part (v. 16), until something happened. The psalmist “went into the sanctuary of God” (v. 17). Then his perspective radically shifted. That was when he “discerned their end” (v. 17). He saw things differently from the viewpoint of the coming Judgment. The wicked may enjoy life now but they will be “destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors” (v. 19).

The psalmist realized that though there may be suffering in this life, what is of utmost importance is the next life. The psalmist knew that after this life God would receive him to glory (v. 24). We have to have faith that that is true and focus on that truth or it will be our destruction. If we do have right focus, however, it will be our delight. The psalmist said, “There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (v. 25).

If we just focus on Instagram we’re going to want insta satisfaction. But there is a life that comes after this life. And it is eternal. As Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” We need to have the right focus, a focus on eternity.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Jim Elliot

Let’s have focus on that truth. Let’s remember that our flesh and our heart will fail, but God is the strength of our hearts and our portion forever (v. 26). And let’s make the Lord God our refuge and let’s tell of His works (v. 28).

Justice and the Just One

I was considering the word and concept of justice today so I looked up the definition of “justice.” The search returned a few definitions that stuck to me: “moral rightness,” “the quality of being just,” and “moral principle determining just conduct.” To understand or seek justice then, we need to have an idea of what it means to be “just” or “moral.” We have to have a “moral principle” whereby we can measure “just conduct.”

In America today we have calls for justice. Justice is right and good. Christians especially are called to do justice and love mercy (Micah 6:8). Do the majority of Americans, however, know what “moral principle” we are basing our measurements of “just conduct” on? Do most Americans believe that there is a “moral principle” that guides us? If so, can most Americans articulate where our “moral principle” comes from?

It seems to me if the foundation for “moral principle” has eroded then justice does not have a foundation upon which to stand. Thus, I say this not because I am not for justice, I say this because I am for justice.

Perhaps with our calls for justice in America, we should also consider the foundation of justice: moral principle. Perhaps we should consider if justice can have a steady place on which to perch.

Perhaps we should also hear calls to return to moral principle and the bedrock of truth. Without truth, calls for justice ring empty.

I believe there is a basis for justice. Because I believe there is truth.

Jesus Himself actually said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus is truth made tangible. He lived and walked justice. He is in reality what everyone should be and live.

I believe in justice and that we have a “moral principle determining just conduct” because the LORD has given it to us. Because He is righteous and “He loves righteous deeds” (Psalm 11:7) and “hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (Psalm 11:5).

“O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; You will strengthen their heart; You will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.”(Psalm 10:17-18).

Guard your Heart

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).

We’ve probably all heard someone say, “I love you with all my heart.” What they mean, of course, is not I love you with the muscle in my chest that pumps blood around my body. That would be creepy.

They say, “with all my heart” because the heart is used as an expression to communicate the control center of one’s being. It is where one does their thinking, feeling, and choosing.

Our hearts, then, are very important. That is why we are not to guard first our eyes or our money but our hearts. “Above all else, guard your heart.”

Just as in our physical life, the health of our hearts determines to a great extent the health of our bodies. If our heart is encumbered it impacts our energy and our mental clarity. If our muscles and brain don’t receive the oxygen they need through the heart’s work then we will not function properly and are even in danger of death. 

Because of this, we seek to keep our hearts healthy. We know we need to eat healthy foods, get exercise, and take medicine if prescribed by a doctor. We know we need to protect our heart.

Proverbs 4:23 says the same thing of our immaterial heart. We need to protect it, guard it, and keep it safe. The health of the whole of our lives—not just physical—is impacted by the health of our heart at the core of who we are.

Everything we do flows from our hearts. Let’s make sure we guard our hearts and feed on things that will promote health and wholeness. So, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

Fear & Flourish

“…Fear the LORD and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh…” (Proverbs 3:7-8)

These verses stood out to me in my reading today. They’re important to understand and even more important to apply. There are three main points and they build sequentially upon each other.

1.Fear the LORD

This is essential. If God is not rightly respected the following points of the verses fall flat.

Fear of the LORD is the beginning (Prov. 9:10) and the beginning of freedom from sin.

2.Turn from Evil

We must turn from evil. The cold hard truth, however, is that we won’t unless we know and love the LORD. Actually, we’ll even have confusion as to what evil is.

But, we must turn and even run from evil. If we don’t it will be our downfall. It will be our downfall in a million ways. The start will be subtle but the end will be slow suffocation. Choking out life.

If we turn away from evil, we will…

3.Experience Healing

God, as God, knows how life is to be lived. He knows because He created all life. When we turn from the destructive nature of sin, we turn to the good God intended for us. And it’s life giving. It brings medicine to our bones (v. 8).

So, let’s fear the LORD, turn from evil, and experience the flourishing God has in mind for humanity.

Living as Canceled Christians (a response to a response)

A reader of my previous post objected to some of what I wrote. Which of course is fine. I remain grateful that we have the freedom to do that. I’m also grateful for the opportunity it provides me to interact with some of his thoughts and critiques. So, here’s my response…

First, he said he didn’t know what “canceled Christians” means. It is a reference to the “popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures… after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming” (dictionary.com). Christians are being shut down from sharing their biblically informed views (especially moral issues on sexuality) on social media and often in general conversation as well.

He said that “we are to invest much energy into this world.” I, of course, agree with that. The Bible is replete with examples calling us to do just that. One of the reasons it calls us to invest in this world is actually because of the coming of the next. Our eschatology (study of last things) is a goad to our ethics (e.g. Matt. 24:36ff; 25:13; Col. 3:1ff; 1 Thess. 5:1-2).

He also said that this world is not a “stinky tent. It’s God’s handiwork.” This world is not literally a stinky tent. The Bible doesn’t say that exactly. The Bible does, however, say that “in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling… For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdenedwe would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:2, 4, 8). It says, “the creation was subjected to futility… the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption… For we know that the whole creation has been groaning…” (Rom. 8:20, 21, 22 see also 2 Cor. 4:16-18). It thus seems to me that the world is a metaphorical “stinky tent.” It is not our final home. We should have a certain amount of longing for our “lasting city” (Heb. 13:14 cf. 2 Cor. 5:1; Jn. 14:2-3).

God’s creation does show His handiwork and it is an “expression of His creativity.” The first chapter of Genesis says six times that God’s creation is “good” and in the seventh and final announcement God says it’s “very good” (Gen. 1:31). That, however, is not the end of the story. It’s the beginning. Something sinister happens. The Fall (Gen. 3). And because of sin all manner of curse and chaos.

We live in a post-Genesis-3 world. So, while creation still attests to the goodness and creativity of God, it is also riddled with ruin because of sin. Jesus as promised in Genesis 3:15 is the one who finally remakes it. And He is the hope of the world.

I really appreciate that he says, “we are called to imperfectly participate, invest our gifts, to forgive.” That is very true. I am not sure why but it seems like he was led to believe that I would disagree with that truth. I am not sure why, however. No writing of any length can say everything, but especially a blog.[1] Yes, we are to “imperfectly participate, invest our gifts, to forgive.”

I actually believe it’s true that unless Christians live as the campers and exiles they are, they won’t participate, they won’t invest, and they won’t forgive as God would have them. It’s being focused on the Kingdom that makes us effective in whatever kingdom we find ourselves in. It’s the person who realizes the value of the treasure (i.e. all the goodness of the new creation) that will sacrifice all to gain it (Matt. 13:44); even if it means loving those who are sometimes unlovely.

That is why we must “set [our] hope fully on the grace that will be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13). That, as Peter explains, will help us “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (v. 22). It will help us “imperfectly participate, invest our gifts, to forgive.” It will help us with creation care and the Golden Rule.

As C.S. Lewis said,

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.

We can be so earthy minded that we’re no earthly good. And we won’t rightly love our neighbor if we only love ourselves. As we look to Christ and the heaven He’s purchased us we will more and more be drawn to live like Christ, to love and sacrifice ourselves for others (See e.g. 2 Cor. 3:18; 5:14-15; 2 Pet. 3:11-14).

Regarding his comment that “most [my] assertions are not contextualized or elaborated” and that what I wrote is “gobbledegook,”  I would say that the assertions in his response are also not “contextualized or elaborated.” And had they been his response would have been much longer. I would not say though that as a result what he wrote was “gobbledygook.” I looked up the definition of “gobbledygook” and apparently it means “language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by excessive use of abstruse technical terms.” I’m not sure where my post earned the term “gobbledygook” but that is not a noun I want associated with anything I write. I actually wanted my post to be simple and thought provoking. Ironically, it seems to me that writings that are most contextualized and elaborated are the very writings that have the most likelihood of being gobbledygook.

I want to be clear, instructive, and helpful. And this gentleman’s comments are a spur to encourage me in that pursuit. For that I am thankful.

——

[1] Of course, I don’t expect the gentlemen’s brief response to be perfectly nuanced either. Covering every facet is not possible in a brief comment, blog post, or even a book-length treatment. We are both fallible and temporal. Scripture itself, if the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) is not rightly considered, can seem lopsided. Matthew and Luke, James and Paul, however, are not at odds even if they are emphasizing different things and coming at issues from a different perspective. 

Living as Canceled Christians 

It happened to the elect exiles to whom Peter wrote (here’s a brief overview). Our voice can vanish too. We are not immune. We can be canceled.

But are we ready? Can we stand in the storm or will our house be blown to smithereens? Will it crumble on the sand that it is laid or is it’s foundation deep and solid? Will our life vanish and wither? Where is our source of life?

Soon these questions will meet their answer. We will see the truth with our eyes. Soon we will see our faith—or lack thereof—with sight. Soon the gold, or dross, will be revealed. Soon we will see what our treasure truly is.

Yet, even the scorching brutality of heat can be a blessing of bounty and beauty when it’s sustained by the water of the Spirit. And from the sand, we can find a foundation when from the Word we mix our mortar and ever rely upon the unshifting rock of Christ. It’s when the wind blows that the flag is most clearly waved if it’s tightly tethered. Yes, we can stand and standout if we ever lean on the Savior and not the many would-be-saviors that can’t deliver.

So, will the steep decline of morality make us fall or will we cling tighter to our Master? Notice we must cling to our Messiah and not to morality itself. The law is a stone that crushes and upon which our feet slip. Christ is a sure and steady cornerstone.

If we as canceled Christians are going to make it and obtain the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls (1 Peter 1:9) and the inheritance that is “imperishable, undefiled, unfading, and kept in heaven for us” (1 Peter 1:4) then we must set our hope fully on the grace and abundant goodness that will be brought to us at the coming of Messiah Jesus (1 Peter 1:13). We must set our hope on and think often of heaven, and not obsess over making heaven here. Here there is no home, only longing. Only a damp, humid, and stinky tent. Our home is being prepared for us. We are campers.

So, let’s live as campers and let’s long for our true home and for the true bed in which we can finally really rest. We as canceled Christians can flourish if we live like the campers we are.

A reader of this post thought it was gobbledygook. Here’s my response.

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