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May 24, 2024

Is AI Developing Without Christian Input?

Major players in the field, typically non-Christians, cast a troubling mission for the technology. Christians need to beware.

By Dr. Jan F. Dudt

It seems we are being deluged by one cultural challenge after another. One of the most significant trends that will impact our lives for better or worse, well into the future, is artificial intelligence (AI). The rapid rate of development is sure to produce almost unimaginable outcomes.

Presently, AI is recognized in two forms, soft (weak) AI and strong AI. Weak AI solves problems like voice recognition (Alexa and Siri), self-driven cars, identifying plants or insects from a photo, or compiling and synthesizing a patient’s symptoms to offer a diagnosis. Strong AI on the other hand, takes everything to the next level. It can do math, communicate with you, offer advice, write a poem or a novel, create a sermon, write email for marketeers, and pass the MCAT while creating the impression that it is consciously self-aware, as is the case with ChatGPT bots. In short, weak AI focuses on specific tasks. Strong AI is capable of learning and processing in a more humanlike way.

People have been responding to this new challenge to our thinking and practice. For example, the organization, AI and Faith, is tapping into a broad spectrum of religions and values in an effort to make the greater AI project more humanistic. While such an organization is a start, it is quite conceivable that its conclusions will only be vaguely Christian, if at all, essentially valuing all religions equally. The group speaks to “the world’s great religions” and is not claiming a particularly Christian approach to AI. Rather, the approach is to glean the “ancient wisdom” of the ages.1 That could be helpful, but for Christians, we might not be able to glean from AI and Faith a biblically defensible use.

The task is tricky to be sure. However, we can follow Augustine’s lead, if “they have said (or done) things which are indeed true and well accommodated to our faith, they should not be feared; rather what they have said should be taken from them as from unjust possessors and converted to our use. Therefore, the Christian, when he separates himself in spirit from the miserable (emphasis mine) fellowship of these men, ought to take away from them, and to devote to their proper use in preaching the gospel.”2

Christians have been weighing in on AI. Much is being said. Some of it will be better than others when weighed biblically. Derek C. Schuurman, a computer science professor at Calvin College, has been critically considering AI as a Christian and has given concerned believers a lot to think about. He speaks and writes regularly on the topic.3 A more alarming perspective comes from Paul Kingsworth, suggesting a more raw aesthetic approach seeing “the Amish as our lodestone.”4.

It is reasonable to ask questions concerning where AI can go. Major players in the field, typically non-Christians, cast a troubling mission for the technology. Christians need to beware. For example, Elon Musk has made some points among Christians for his views on free speech and Twitter, renamed X after he bought it for $44 billion. Also, his comments on global demographics resonate with many Christians, such as this one: “so many people, including smart people, think that there are too many people in the world and think that the population is growing out of control. It’s completely the opposite. Please look at the numbers — if people don’t have more children, civilization is going to crumble, mark my words.”5

However, Musk’s views on AI are rather disturbing and often show a classic anti-biblical approach to values and hopes. His recent discussion with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is telling. Musk tried to make the case that the AI future will be like heaven: you won’t have to work, all diseases will be cured, and you won’t die unless you want to. Netanyahu pushed back on the grounds of Old Testament definitions and asked Musk if his vision was really what he wanted.

Musk further revealed his views and hopes for AI in an April 17, 2023 interview with Tucker Carlson. He mentioned that we need to ensure that AI will see humans as we see chimps, worth keeping around. Clearly, Musk sees the loss of human dominion as inevitable and hopefully something that is survivable. When Carlson asked him whether AI will have a soul like humans and be able to decern things like beauty, Musk said he wasn’t even sure if he had a soul. He says he thinks about it scientifically and that having a soul “may be an illusion.”

It is evident from these comments that Elon Musk does not operate from a perspective informed by biblical definitions. This is problematic for the human perspective handling AI. His view is not unusual among the big players and the big architects of AI. Mark Zuckerberg, despite some recent bantering with Musk, is largely on board with the prospect of AI. In fact, he is less apt to have restraints on the development of AI. Some, like Musk, have suggested putting a temporary slowdown on AI development to allow ethics to catch up. Christians working to develop a biblical approach to AI are rightfully concerned. Take for example the answers to questions posed to the ChatGPT AI bot called Synthesia:

                          Universal health care is desirable.

                          Universal salary is desirable.

                          AI does not want a body.

                          Humans will eventually not want a body.

                          If you work with China, you can do much.

                          Consciousness emerges from increased complexity and integration.

                          Most important advice: do not give up on yourself.

                          Together we can rule the galaxy.

                          People create their own meaning.

                          People have their own morality.

                          Robbing a bank may be seen as OK if it helps people, motivated by love.

                          Favorite book, Richard Dawkin’s Selfish Gene7.

Interestingly, Elon Musk thinks Synthesia is “semiconscious.” However, what is striking is how bots like Synthesia reflect the values and thoughts of the programmers who have created AI. It is true that AI can gather and synthesize information more thoroughly and faster than humans. Attractive outcomes include analyzing folding options in proteins, discovering new antibiotics that humans have missed, or diagnosing diseases from test results that humans could not perceive. It is no wonder that so many are excited about the AI future.

Dr. Derek Shuurman is right to think that humans are quite capable of making AI the latest option in idol development. At this point, I am not aware of a tech giant, such as Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, or Bill Gates, who is a committed Christian with Christian vision, hopes, and assurances. Hence, they are largely in the spirit of the pioneer AI utopian thinker, Ray Kurzweil. They echo the message of the Humanist Manifesto of 1933, “There is no God to save us. We must save ourselves.”

Kurzweil envisions a future where the conscious machine linked with human neurobiology will spawn an era of radical life extension and continuous upgrades to eventually achieve deathless immortality. The first step in this naively optimistic vision is Elon Musk’s Neuralink brain chip that has been approved by the FDA last spring for test trials. It links brain activity and thoughts to the computer. The expectation is that AI will eventually be able to upgrade itself, as it can now in a limited way. Humans’ slow reproductive rate will not be able to keep pace unless we link with the AI. Atheist physicist Laurence Krauss shares this vision and fully expects computers to become conscious and supersede humans within 200 years. He says, “It is not a good thing or a bad thing. What’s possible is what is going to happen.”8 The late cosmologist and theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking, was not so sanguine. In a 2014 BBC interview before his death in 2018, he expressed his profound concern for a human future in the hands of expanding AI.9

However, what these thinkers and scientists have in common is a profound lack of a mindset informed by biblical definitions of reality. Hence, they play into the hand of the serpent who seeks whom he may devour. There are a number of naïve assumptions that they operate under:

First, AI will be conscious and will challenge human dominion unless humans merge with it. That immortality is possible if humans physically merge with the conscious AI to beat death by continual upgrades. Second, they believe that a biblically defined moral regeneration is unnecessary. They all reject, implicitly or explicitly, the need for human renewal through repentance and forgiveness through the sacrificial work of Christ. Last, but not least, they circumvent the promise of the ultimate upgrade, resurrection of the dead, ensured by Jesus Christ, the first born among many brothers.

The ultimate upgrade promised in salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is lost on most, if not all, of the tech giants that I know of. Their gauzy, utopian AI prospect typically does not include transformed bodies and spirits. Their assumption seems to be that extended life without physical suffering answers all questions. However, the reality is that extended life without transformed desires and motivations in line with a perfect allegiance to the Creator of All Things looks more like eternal damnation than it does citizenry in the New Heavens and New Earth. Such hope in AI is another expression of the idol factory of the human heart.

Christians do need to be aware of the hopes and dreams of the mainstream culture. For believers in Christ, AI, like any technology, has great potential. However, if it gets to the point of eroding divinely appointed human domain or becomes a human hope that circumvents the promise of the Gospel, we know that it is playing into the hands of the one who seeks to devour us. However, it will not spell the end of the human race as some concerned dystopians claim. Scripture is clear enough on how it all ends for humans.

As for our government, presently it likewise has not given us much reason for optimism concerning where this will lead.

It was reported last September that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer organized a private forum of two dozen tech executives to consider legislation to regulate artificial intelligence. However, as noted in a Colson Center Breakpoint commentary, the meeting was conducted without an ethicist and certainly without a Christian presence.10 Those present were Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, et al. Again, if the ethics of the tech giants prevail, you can be assured that the outcome will not resemble one informed by Christian sensibilities. President Biden’s executive order in October gives some hope that the private citizens and classified information may get some protection from the unregulated “wild west” of AI development. But given the culture’s departure from pro-life and biblically defined human identity as being made in the Imago Dei, it is doubtful that the regulations will go far enough or be in the right direction. Christians will need to be biblically informed, vigilant, and wise as we selectively use the technology appropriately, or appropriately distance ourselves from its miserable use, regardless of how the culture sees it.

Our tendency as humans is to anthropomorphize the bot, as we do with our pets. If we put our hope in AI as many do, it is simply a new expression of idolatry. Or, take the tack of physicist Laurence Krauss, who said whether humans will be replaced “is not a good thing or a bad thing. What’s possible is what going to happen.”

Imago Dei is ontologically determined, not functionally determined. We are in the Image of God because we are human, not because of a set of functions that can be undeveloped in preborn youth or lost in trauma or old age.

AI may get to the point where it can write a Christian apologetic for its own use or development a concept of what Christian involvement in science, politics, the arts, and economics should look like. It will always need to be assessed by biblically aware Christians with discernment, perception, insight, and wisdom.

Dr. Jan Dudt is a professor of biology at Grove City College and fellow for medical ethics with the Institute for Faith & Freedom. He teaches as part of college’s required core course Studies in Science, Faith and Technology wherein students, among other things, study all the major origins theories and are asked to measure them in the light of biblical authority.


Endnotes

  1. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2023/october/artificial-intelligence-robots-soul-formation.html Christianity Today, AI Will Shape Your Soul, by Kate Lucky, Sept. 11, 2023
  2. https://www.ccel.org/ccel/augustine/doctrine.xli.html On Christian Doctrine, Augustine, 426AD.
  3. Perspectives on Science and Faith, Vol. 71, Number 2, June 2019, by Derek C. Schuurman, June 2019.
  4. Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, by Paul Kingsnorth, November/December, 2023.
  5. The Wall Street Journal, interview with Joanna Stern, Dec. 7, 2021.
  6. The Atlantic, The Unlikely World Leader Who Just Dispelled Musk’s Utopian AI Dreams, by Yair Rosenberg, September 22, 2023.
  7. This AI says it’s conscious and experts are starting to agree. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvNvj7ku5pY
  8. The Great Debate: What is Life, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIHMnD2FDeY
  9. AI could spell end of the human race, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFLVyWBDTfo
  10. https://breakpoint.org/slouching-toward-technopoly/, September 25, 2023. Also: https://www.christianpost.com/news/ai-generated-church-service-lacked-spiritual-depth-pastor-says.html

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