Evangelicals Take on Artificial Intelligence

Can a computer house a mind? How would we construct a computational mind? How would they know if they succeeded? These questions welcome all of us.

The entire statement of the Ethics & Religious Liberties Commission (including the list of signatories) appears at:

As I read the ERLC statement, I couldn’t help but imagine the substitution of other tools wherever the acronym AI appeared. For examples, I considered the following imaginary, modified statements:

We affirm that the development of electricity generators and electric motors are a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings.

When metallurgy is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him.

We deny that the use of the internal combustion engine is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love.

By the way, other than Star Trek episodes, has the worship of artificially intelligent computer systems been a big problem? Is it likely to be? Just wondering.

Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as the electronic computer cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs.

Yet again I should emphasize that these are my own imaginary modifications of the actual ERLC statements. Has the ERLC published major position statements on other kinds of technology?

I can certainly understand why Article 6 (“Sexuality”) would be timely and topical for the Southern Baptist Convention. But many of the other sections struck me as more alarmist than helpful. Does AI truly pose more serious dangers than other technologies which the ERLC has never addressed? (The first half of the twentieth century managed to be extremely dangerous and tragic without AI.) I know a lot of evangelicals who are already excessively alarmed and even terribly worried about GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) in food production. Do we need to see more evangelicals–and the electorate in general—excessively alarmed at the future of AI? Will that be helpful?

Yes, I don’t want to unfairly mix apples and oranges but I will at least admit that as I read the ERLC statement I thought of centuries past when various Christians preached and published alarming position statements on scientific breakthroughs like lightning rods (protecting sinners from God’s righteous wrath?), anesthesia (pain builds moral character and childbirth is meant to be painful), and flight (“God meant only birds and insects to fly.”) So I sometimes wonder if non-Christians react with similar thoughts when they hear about evangelicals alarmed about AI.

This final sentence taken from the ERLC statement struck me as particularly odd:

While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

If the signatories aren’t fearful, does the statement nevertheless sound overly fearful? I’m not sure. And does any evangelical Christian who reads the statement seriously worry that AI will thwart God’s redemptive plan or “supplant humanity as His image-bearers”? (Obviously, non-Christians are unlikely to care, so I’m focusing on Christians here.)

DISCLAIMER: I happen to attend a Southern Baptist Convention church and I do know many of the people who signed the AI statement—but I haven’t really followed the history of the ERLC and their previously published position statements. I am curious what factors led to this particular statement on Artificial Intelligence.

Some of my concerns are addressed in this reply to @swamidass’ article about the ERLC position statement:

A Critic of the Evangelical Statement on AI Misunderstands the Issues | Mind Matters

Even so, I can’t help but consider that philosophers, lawyers, and insurance companies have been discussing these kinds of ethical/legal responsibility issues for centuries. (And who hasn’t heard campaign slogans like “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”?) Mindmatters author Jonathan Bartlett seems to think that the Tesla company has not thought through the implications of Level 5 self-driving cars (e.g., the owner of the car is asleep in the back seat of the car when an accident occurs) but his alarm seems to really be nothing more than the fact that liability and insurance policies and law will have to be adjusted. Does anyone doubt that they will be?

Yes, I can imagine ways in which AI can be applied in unfair, de-humanizing, and even very dangerous ways. Even so, other than the Article 6 on human sexuality implications, I’m not sure that evangelicals will find the ERLC position statement all that helpful. Perhaps I’m wrong and short-sighted.