Truth, Trust and (Artificial) Intelligence

In the 1630s a group of intellectuals known as the Great Tew Circle met a short distance away from the Chase Benefice to champion the use of reason in the religious polemics of the time. At Wychwood Circle we could say we are focused on exploring the use of religion as well as reason in the political, moral and technological upheaval of our own time.

What can we know?

The clash, or otherwise, of faith and reason has taxed thinkers from the days of the Roman Stoic Epictetus (“I am a rational creature; so I must sing hymns to God”) through the spread of Christianity and other faiths and the so-called Enlightenment to the present day. Is Religion Irrational?

Foremost amongst contemporary theologians and philosophers is Professor Keith Ward who on 24th September will be at Milton under Wychwood’s Village Hall to help many of us to face this theme head-on. He is a prolific author and if you can’t make it, you will find a whole range of topics on his website, from science and the cosmos to morality and the non-literal interpretation of Jesus’ teachings.

In January 2018 we will be further challenged by Oxford philosopher Tom Simpson (formerly an officer in the Royal Marine Commandos and now resident in Chipping Norton) on the issue of trust, and not so much what we can believe, as who we can believe. His topic will be ‘Can We Still Trust Experts?’ – never so relevant as in our post-referendum and Trumpian world of post-truth and ‘alternative facts’.

How then shall we live?

For those who are willing to put in the preparation, our 2017-18 season will include three discussions taking the recent book How Then Shall We Live? as our theme. The author, Sam Wells, is both rector/vicar of St Martin in the Fields and Visiting Professor of Christian Ethics at KCL – and a contributor to Thought for the Day on BBC. The book, readily available in paperback, usefully divides up into three sections: Engaging the World (October discussion), Being Human (February), and Facing Morality (May). Please email david.soward@gmail.com for more information and to be included on the ‘invitation list’.

And are robots people too?

So some have asked, as they stop to think about the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and humanoid robots who might not only make and then drive our cars but offer home care and even medical advice in the near future. What impact will these developments have on our identity and self-understanding? In December we will watch a recorded lecture by Professor John Wyatt and discuss the massive ethical and other implications of AI.

Only connect

Other upcoming events, as usual open to everyone and anyone, whatever their standpoint, will give us an opportunity to look at poetry under the heading of ‘Only Connect – turning to poetry’ (November 12th) and an evening at the Village Hall where local (and international) Yoga teacher Ruth White will help us to consider How To Turn Adversity into Advantage (March 11th).

Most of our meetings take place in Wychwood Library, warmly welcomed by librarian Ruth Gillingham, on the second Sunday of the month: but check www.wychwoodcircle.org for occasional changes of date or venue.

David Soward

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