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Interview with Dr. Derek Schuurman


Today we feature an interview with Dr. Derek Schuurman. Dr. Schuurman is a professor of computer science at Calvin University. He completed a PhD in electrical engineering from McMaster University and has published about machine learning for computer vision in robotics and automation. Dr. Schuurman has authored two books on the intersection of faith and technology: Shaping the Digital World: Faith, Culture, and Computer Technology and A Christian Field Guide to Technology for Engineers and Designers. He was made a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and holds memberships with the ACM (Association of Computing Machinery) and the Association of Christians in the Mathematical Sciences (ACMS). He is a fellow of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) and an associate fellow of the Kirby Laing Centre for Public Theology in Cambridge.

How would you describe your experience with AI?

I began my career designing embedded systems for robot and automation applications. Later, I returned to school to complete a doctorate in robotics and computer vision. My research employed approaches to machine learning that were fashionable at the time, namely principal component analysis (PCA) and support vector machines (SVMs). I later sought to direct my research towards more redemptive applications, such as applying machine learning for the visual sorting of recyclable goods. My current role involves teaching computer science in a way that strives to shape future programmers to think about responsible and normative software design. More recently, my research interests have turned towards perspectival issues and writing on topics related to faith and technology.

How would you describe your faith background?

I am a Christian. I was raised in a Christian family and I have since made the faith my own. More specifically, I am a Christian in the Reformed tradition, which emphasizes not only a personal faith, but the development of a robust public theology to engage and critically reflect on contemporary issues like technology. All of life is religious and I believe that everyone, whether they are aware of it or not, holds presuppositions which inform their life and work. My own faith helps me to recognize AI as part of the possibilities in God’s creation, one that can be distorted by sin but also directed in ways that show love for neighbor and to care for the earth and its creatures.

What led to your interest in the intersection of AI and faith?

Many years ago, I recall sitting in a cubicle farm as an engineer wondering what my faith had to do with my technical work. That question has animated much of my thinking up to the present. The intersection of faith and AI is essentially a new version of an old question famously posed by the early church father Tertullian: what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?1 Recently my research and writing have been more directly focused on the question of connecting bytes and beliefs. Some examples of my thinking on this topic can be found in the Christian Scholars Review blog, columns for Christian Courier, and two books on faith and technology.

Why are you involved with AI&F?

My interest in the intersection between faith and technology made AI& Faith appealing. In some ways, connecting faith and AI is a contemporary form of the question I was asking myself in a cubicle many years ago: what do bytes have to do with beliefs? I was also drawn to the interfaith conversations that are part of AI&Faith. I currently serve as an advisor and co-leader of a working group in the AI&F “Christian AI Call to Action Project.”

How does AI&F affect your work outside the organization?

I am currently serving as a computer science professor at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, MI, where faith is integral to teaching and learning. The questions and issues raised in AI&F frequently arise in the computer science classes that I teach. In particular, I teach a computer science capstone course titled “Perspectives on Computing” which explores a Christian perspective on a variety of computing topics, including AI.

What open problems in AI are you most interested in?

I am most interested in how foundational questions can inform our work with AI. I am particularly interested in how normative principles derived from Christian philosophy might inform the design and use of AI. I am also interested in the practical work of exploring exemplars of normative AI. Finally, I am interested in pedagogical practices for forming character and virtue in Christian computer scientists.


A big thanks to Dr. Derek Schuurman for his time to carry out this interview. Thanks to Haley Griese for proofreading, editing, and publishing this work.


Wilhite, David E. Tertullian the African: an anthropological reading of Tertullian’s context and identities. de Gruyter, 2011.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?: Timaeus and Genesis in Counterpoint. Vol. 21. University of Michigan Press, 1997.

  1. Tertullian of Carthage was an important church father and apologist. Through his writings he condemned early Christian heresies such as Gnosticism. His famous statement “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” is emblematic of his belief that Christian doctrine must remain separate and distinct from Greek philosophy and is also a reference to Paul’s sermon at the Areopagus (Acts 17:16–34).
1 Comment
  • Ashlee Johnson
    6:18 PM, 13 June 2023

    Hello, I am very excited to find your work and listen to your talk at the end of the month. I am a member of FaithTech and was excited to be at an event here in Austin at SXSW and to continue to connect with others who are in Tech and are driven by Faith. I am a student at Regent University in Cybersecurity, writing a thesis on the relationships between AI and Cybersecurity with the integration of the Christian Worldview as we do at Christian Colleges. With my own heart to find a place in Tech and develop an ethical policy for creating AI and moving forward responsibly, I am writing in hopes that you may be able to point me to a place where I’m needed or maybe where the culture like the one you have here is flourishing. Thank you for your work, and I’m excited about the doors the Lord is beginning to open. Your interests are contagious. Blessings.

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