The "Evangelical" Statement on AI

What’s odd to me is that the AI itself is not clearly defined or discussed in detail in the statement. No differentiation between general and narrow AI. Neither is there much discussion with the interesting moral dilemmas that come up with AI (e.g. the trolley problem). So, the content of the statement actually isn’t that interesting, and it reads more as a general statement that “we are watching this issue and we still uphold traditional evangelical Christian beliefs”.

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I found the statement about the Image of God interesting.

  1. I doubt there is much agreement about what it is amongst the signatories.

  2. What evidence is there from theology or scripture that it is unique to humans?

If we can insert any definition for 1 into this, we come to strange unintended claims.

If we mean “rational” sentients, then it seems to be a statement that strong AI can never exist and nor can intelligent aliens. Of course, maybe those things are myths, but what precisely is our theological objection to God creating intelligent aliens in this universe or another?

If we mean a God given vocation, what precisely would God be violating if he eventually did give a dominion call to strong AI we created?

I think Battlestar Galactica is an interesting counterpoint to the statement. It depicts AI in the Image of God, entirely consistent with Christian theology.

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Here is the section on the Image of God:

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

This is where the vagueness of the statement serves us short. What does it mean to “usurp” dominion and stewardship? Isn’t that the point of these debates?

And on the Future of AI:

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. 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.

Besides the question of whether aliens in the Image of God could exist, I doubt that it is a foregone conclusion that intelligent robots made partially through the efforts of human beings will never reach the level of having the image of God. After all, humans “make” babies through their actions, yet we accept that babies are fully human - even IVF babies. We accept that somewhere in the process, God (or some mechanism that God set in place) “played along” and imparted the image to that new human being. Similarly, if someone makes a fully sentient robot, why can’t we rule out the possibility that God would also “play along” and impart the image to that new being?

These are questions which are very interesting to discuss, and I doubt that the church (especially the evangelical community) has sufficiently engaged in discussing them so as to justify releasing a creed-like statement on AI.

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Yes this is my biggest objection. It follows the pattern of the Lausanne Covenant, which is a statement of non negotiable essentials, and was the product of Christians from around the world, very well done.

This statement, however, is far to shaky to be creedal, and was formed in a very dubious way, by a political think tank. The Bible verses are proof texts, leaving these key questions unanswered.

I think a better approach would be for them to say, “hey, we are evangelicals, and we care about AI; here are some questions about it we would like scientists to engage with us about.” That would have been far more useful.

What do you think about doing the next PS workshop on AI to suss out the critical questions?

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Don’t forget about the threat of hacking. Most of the current self-driving vehicles operate in isolation, kind of like Windows in 1995. Network them on the roads and you will have Windows in 2005–a cybersecurity nightmare.

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I have mixed feelings about the statement. Evidently a few Silicon Valley evangelicals were involved in the statement, and the statement is far more subtle and nuanced than some other statements about science that have come out of evangelicalism. That said, I agree that further conversation is warranted.

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Don’t have to look for aliens… just look at angels. Far smarter than us.

Is the danger not that technology will produce moral agents, nor that a majority of those who understand it will make the claim, but that some claim that it has done so will become beneficial for some political or social ideology?

Dr X is a middling AI specialist who believes, or claims to believe, that AI devices are people, but he looks really good on TV, and is adept at gaining the ear of politicians in Congress, or the European Commission, or the UN. Suddenly everyone finds this is the big moral issue of the age, and the funding all seems to be going to those of Dr X’s persuasion. Somehow you can no longer get moral philosophy papers on the subject published.

I’m not sure what the social angle would be, but granting equal rights to machines would certainly be a great way of diminishing the rights of real people (“real”? What does that mean when we know that we can manufacture real people.")

We already have influential people suggesting human beings are a blot on the universe (or at least, human beings other than the influential people, who never seem to lead the field in sacrificial sucide). It might not about recognising machines as people, but about extending the idea that people are just machines.

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This response is hitting on several major problems with the statement.

https://www.aitheology.com/2019/04/12/erlc-statement-an-annotated-christian-response/

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That was the first thing I noticed and was troubled by it. Apparently they did get more help from scientists and technologists than the list gives out. Yet, the lack of technical familiarity with the topic did come through in the statement.

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Joshua, thanks for posting my response here. After reading some of the comments above it seems like my response goes along with most of what was said here. My general impression is that while the statement does bring some good points, it was thin on its understanding of how the technology can affirm Christian virtues. I was particularly puzzled by the statement on work where their emphasis was to argue that the Bible enshrines work. It misses the larger point in the service of auxiliary point. Anyways, I do encourage you @swamidass to write a response. To their credit, while the statement was not perfect, it must be commended for initiating the conversation among evangelical circles.

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“I think a better approach would be for them to say, “hey, we are evangelicals, and we care about AI; here are some questions about it we would like scientists to engage with us about.” That would have been far more useful.” Yes, completely agree. Let’s also invite Christian technologists to the table.

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Please expand on what “Christian virtues” does technology help or hinder?

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A major newspaper expressed interest in an oped from me. I’m submitting it tonight. Any thoughts today would be much appreciated. Hopefully they will accept it.

I don’t know if I agree with this. It seems to be propagating confusion and drawing attention to the wrong people.

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The WSJ picked up my OpEd. It may be published this week.

I need some help on the revision. How should I briefly summarize the 72 signatories? How many are pastors? Theologians? AI profs? Technologists?

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Can someone else double check the number of biblical references? I have a number I want to double check.

I got 65

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Got 55, but might have counted differently.

Christianity Today :wink: It looks like it’s lot of the Evangelical “leadership” from the “we want to engage culture intellectually” side of the house (I’m thinking Russel Moore, Mark Galli, Darrell Bock, Richard Mouw).

It’s also very very Southern Baptist (not surprising since it’s coming out of ERLC) with several past and current presidents and several SBC pastors. Michael Horton is an outlier there. However, this is very much a Gospel Coalition type bunch – conservative-but-not-too-conservative Evangelical intellectuals/pastors.

I’m not sure if that helps at all, but this group of guys (mostly, I found 5 women) would represent quite familiar faces to people who read Christianity Today, hence my comment at the beginning.

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