Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Oh My Soul!

Written by: on January 18, 2024

“It is frustratingly clear to those who seek to eliminate mystery from life that the spirit and soul bring us right up to the edge of some of the most profound mysteries of our existence.”(1)
Whew! This discussion about souls is a heavy one. I confess that I have a healthy fear of AI. I have an even healthier suspicion of any discussion of robot and souls. The root of my fear to embrace AI is that it will replace me, replace us with some robotic version of ourselves. Instinctively, the title, Robot Souls, caused me to think about what actually a soul is. I found a definition that really describes the soul in a comprehensive way, a way that I could connect with.
“Soul helps us contain our basic passions in such a way that we can use their energy productively. More generally, we could say that the soul helps us hold our experience. Our joys, our disappointments, our hopes, our fears, our excitement, our confusion, our suffering, and much more all need to be held in awareness.” (2)
I will share with you that I have had the privilege of being present when both of my parents took their final breath. They both labored in their final days. Someone described that period as their soul closing all the doors of their life’s journey. It was a painful privilege to be present during this preparation of transitioning from this life to the next. I understood how sacred it was to be with them in their final moments as they were in my first moments. I can share that I absolutely knew the moment the soul left their body. The soul cannot be replicated, I believe that it is impossible to do and foolish to try. I am having difficulty understanding why we (Humans) are so drawn to the idea of replicating life. “Both Spirit and Soul call us to a journey”(3) So how can a robot, an AI machine understand or possibly replicate this journey? I don’t believe that they can, and I absolutely do not believe that they should. Poole states, “We must also be alive to the dangers of trying to ‘switch on’ emotions in entities that have not hitherto been designed for outcomes like happiness.” (4) Attempts to continue to make machines smarter, more alive, and create the ability to replicate human emotions really baffles me. I have difficulty understanding what the end goal is. I also believe that just because you can do something does not mean that you should.
My feelings are just that, my feelings. The progress with AI will continue to evolve regardless of my feelings. In Robot Souls, Eve Poole addresses this progress and the tension between religion and science as it relates to Artificial Intelligence. As Poole shares, “This certainly supports the argument of the Emergentists that on this logic AI will naturally evolve consciousness at the appropriate time, when the tasks it is given and the complexity of its wiring makes that an inevitability, in order for it to fulfill its function.”(5) AI can adjust and improve as task are given, which replicates conscious thinking. It can mirror the way that humans learn. Poole shares, “Hod Lipson’s robots learn to walk in the same way that toddlers do, through learning their bodies by trial and error.”(6) But can AI experience the lessons in the same way that humans do? “In the field of philosophy of mind, ‘qualia’ are defined as individual instances of subjective, conscious experience, like experiencing the colour red.”(7) This is where things get weird for me. Can a robot experience things? Can it see a whale tale emerge from the Ocean and experience excitement? Can it have those soul changing experiences and be changed by them? Poole offers, “AI would ultimately be able to experience qualia as data, and appreciate the colour red, because programmed into its logic would be the information it required to set this in context.”(8) I sure hope not.
John Searle’s Thought experiment, The Chinese Room, “suggests that no matter how intelligently a computer behaves, there is a difference between achieving these results mindfully and achieving them mechanically.”(9) I sure hope that he is right. I hope that the things that make us uniquely human can never be recreated in a lab. Perhaps that I am an idealist, I’m not sure how you would categorize it. But I believe that God created something that can never be replicated and never should. It is an even scarier thought that AI could be considered a person with legal protection under the law. Poole poses this question and possible answer, she states, “Does this however transform the computer in the Chinese Room into a person? Legally, perhaps: under Bostrom’s rules, as soon as AI is both Sentient and Sapient it merits full moral personality and, in our current culture, full protection in law”(10) This makes me want to go home and destroy Alexa and at least delay the takeover in my own home.

1. David G. Benner, Soulful Spirituality Becoming Fully Alive and Deeply Human (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2013), 41.
2. Ibid.,44.
3. Ibid.,42.
4. Eve Poole, Robot Souls: Programming in Humanity (Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, 2024), 117.
5. Ibid.,69.
6. Ibid.,69.
7. Ibid., 44.
8. Ibid., 69.
9. Ibid., 44.
10.Ibid., 69-70.

About the Author


Jonita Fair-Payton

11 responses to “Oh My Soul!”

  1. Adam Harris says:

    Appreciate your thoughts on this subject Jonita, you said: “Instinctively, the title, Robot Souls, caused me to think about what actually a soul is.”

    I agree, this book in general got me thinking about a lot. Especially, the nature of God and human consciousness. I think this is part of the good that is coming from it already. It shows just how miraculous and complex we are as humans. Things we take for granted like even “smelling a strawberry” is incredibly hard to replicate or explain. Crazy times we’re in huh?! Also, no one (robot or not) could EVER replace Jonita Fair-Payton! lol

    • Jenny Dooley says:

      Hi Jonita and Adam,
      I’ll just jump in here real quick to say that I thought the same about the title. It actually moved me to consider the human soul and the damage we do by not attending well to it. I am pleased that soul is coming up in so much of our reading this semester. Holding my newest grandchild yesterday for the first time highlighted how precious and vulnerable the human soul is and why we must guard and protect it in self and others. Soul is our most valuable quality.

      Proverbs 4:23, Keep vigilant watch over your heart (indicating soul); that’s where life starts. MSG

      • Adam Harris says:

        Jenny, those moments are so precious and ALWAYS, prompt me to appreciation wonder of life. I felt like this the first time I held my own child. I also think, “wow, look at this blank slate, what a responsibility we have”. Also, you better get started on Christmas shopping tomorrow with the size of your ever-expanding family!

        • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

          Adam… our church is doing a series on the wonder of life. It has been really interesting how the various Preachers have tied it into so many facets of life and our faith. I think that we fail to acknowledge the sweet wonderment of life.

      • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

        Yes! Our souls are our most valuable quality. Thanks for pointing us to Proverbs 4:23.

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

      Absolutely crazy times that we live in. I appreciate your view that part of the good of this is knowing and showing how beautifully complex humans are. I think I also have great concern that our abilities will led to us down a dangerous path. Thanks for the reassurance…I sure hope that they can’t replicate me! ( :

  2. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    YES JONITA! Sacredness of breath, the need for it, the end of it, our first breath, our last breath. Those cannot be replicated and therefore AI will never be us, and now secretly I’m a little nervous of my negative comments thinking AI is “listening!” Ah creeping myself out! What a privilege to be with your parent!

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:


      When I was writing this, I knew that you would understand. Those precious and sacred moments just cannot be replicated not should they be. AI freaks me out a bit.

  3. Ooohhh, Jonita, thank you for sharing your soul and how you connected with your mom and dad as the Lord welcomed their soul unto Himself. This really brought this AI-soul thing home for me. You used words such as:
    1. sacred
    2. replicated (More than 6 times)
    3. difficulty
    4. dangers
    5. baffles

    After reading your post I was humbly convinced it just might be prideful to try to replicate life. But that’s an American characteristic…pride…which means an attempt will be made to seriously replicate life…at any cost because that is part of capitalism.
    I will always keep in mind there are people like you that truly understand the soul connection with another human being and that robots just can’t replicate real life. You are awesome, lady!

  4. mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:


    Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and try to understand my perspective. It sometimes feels like I am a dinosaur in an everchanging world. I never thought that I would feel that way, I have always been a trailblazer. I fully believe that there are things that should not be replicated (7 times). The mystery of creation should remain just that, a mystery. And thanks for the compliment…I think that you are awesome also and I’m glad that we are on this journey together.

  5. mm Dinka Utomo says:

    Hi Jonita!

    Thank you for your writing. I like your sincerity.
    Your sincerity in expressing your feelings towards AI seems to represent the feelings and thoughts of many people. In my opinion, everything requires two sides, support and suspicion. Because the presence of these two aspects will make everything more objective and balanced.
    If AI in your view has a greater possibility of doing something evil and taking over life, has it not done the same thing to God, the Creator? Many humans play as if they are “gods.” Many humans pose a threat to each other and to the integrity of creation. It is possible, I believe, to develop AI that will teach us in the future, how to be decent people—that is, how to preserve life and the integrity of the earth’s creation. What is your opinion on this?

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