“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:1-4, NRSV).
In our last installment, we challenged you to work through the ideas produced by Open AI’s ChatGPT software around Christ’s crucifixion and how they relate to scientific inquiry. We hope this exercise was as challenging and meaningful for you as it was for us. While AI is not new, we have grown increasingly accustomed to its ubiquitous presence in our daily lives. Just think about how AI-assisted devices help you organize your life, navigate your daily commute, and lighten your workload. However, new attempts to “put brains into the machine” (if you allow my metaphor) present significant challenges.
As you have experienced firsthand, AI-driven text generators are formidable tools, capable of producing an impressive range of tasks that were reserved primarily for human beings. But, at least in this case, there is something amiss. One of our readers, a 17-year-old teenager, described this dynamic: “I didn’t like that the AI generator gave such a vivid description of the crucifixion. That was a lot. But it was interesting to read.” As our editor puts it, this technology cannot replace “the knowledge an editor has about the audience” or “the emotion and intention a writer brings to the text.”
In fact, this idea of the missing human connection (i.e., the locus of the human heart) was one of the issues we wrestled with as we worked to publish the first installment of this two-part series. So, today I want to share some of the things we’ve learned about AI and how they relate to the most important event in Christian doctrine and theology.
A Strange Hypostasis: Machine Learning and Human Pathos
One of the earliest conflicts in Christianity was related to Christ’s two natures—fully human and fully divine—coexisting in one person or hypostasis. To address this Christological disagreement, the Christian church advanced the doctrine of the hypostatic union to describe how Christ’s humanity and divinity came together in one hypostasis or personhood. This was necessary because, for some, the idea of divine essence coexisting with human nature was beyond the scope of what is possible.
As we consider the exciting union of human pathos and what we have come to understand as machine learning, we must acknowledge that there are still some lingering questions. For example, while AI technology can write impressive, nuanced essays, it lacks the depth and emotional connection of the human heart. Yes, this technology can sift through a vast reservoir of knowledge and produce a paper in seconds. However, as my pastor remarked, it removes “the humanity” or the depth of “human interaction” from what used to be a human exercise. What is more, ChatGPT called into question the historicity of the crucifixion by asserting it was a matter of “religious belief” and not “factual or scientific in nature.” This alarming example clearly shows its inability to engage in effective dialogue with matters of faith.
Human pathos and human experience are inextricably connected. What do I mean? That everything we do shows deep, intricate connections to whom we are. Let me illustrate this point. The gospels weave a narrative that connects Christ’s person to his salvific work. Time after time, Jesus taught his disciples about who he was (i.e., the eternal Son of God) and why he came into the world (i.e., to die on the cross and resurrect on the third day). This connection is an integral part of human nature. And while we can see the advances of AI and machine learning, we must acknowledge that they cannot fully supplant the nuanced nature of human interactions. In other words, while this technology is impressive, it cannot fully replace who we are and what we can do.
- In his newsletter, Culture Uncurled, Connor Patrick Wood unpacks the technological underpinnings of Open AI’s ChatGPT.
- Tech reviewer Sabrina Ortiz explains the advanced capabilities of ChatGPT and how this technology can impact our world.
- In an academic article, Gatot Gunarso and his colleagues examine the Christian notion of humanity and personhood as they relate to AI.
- In Nautilus, scientist Sidney Perkowitz argues that AI-driven text generators also have problems engaging science in deep and meaningful ways.
- In an SftC blog post, “But I Still Love Technology,” Greg Cootsona discusses how technology can impact our understanding of the biblical resurrection.
- Aaron Earls, online editor for Lifeway Research, outlines 10 ideas to help churches use technology better.
- In this small business blog, Julie Wenckowski analyses how technology is changing the church.
- If you are looking for additional Easter resources, check out our curated collection on the resurrection.
Christ: The Embodiment of Every Human Hope
I don’t know about you, but I remember the Christian fad of wearing T-shirts, bracelets, and other things branded with the Greek word kerusso. Kerusso is the word we use for preaching or proclaiming the good news of the gospel. In the verse above (Romans 1:1-4), the Apostle Paul lays out the theological foundation for the good news embodied by Christ. Paul succinctly delineates how Christ, God’s only begotten Son, fulfills the prophetic utterances by taking on the flesh, dying on the cross, and defeating death, our ultimate enemy, on that first Easter morn.
In a real way, Christ is the embodiment of every human hope. Our yearnings for a deep, abiding connection with the divine are actualized and made possible by Christ’s vicarious sacrifice. Our need for wholeness finds fulfillment in Christ’s victory. Our longing for belonging and acceptance are realized in Christ’s salvific work. As I look at our previous newsletter article, it is clear that AI can effectively collect, organize, and present information in written form. However, in its current iteration, this technology cannot embody the elements that make for effective human communication and interaction.
While ChatGPT suggested that the events surrounding Holy Week are a simple matter of religious belief and cultural significance, the truth is that they are far more than that. In fact, these declarations are representative of the technology’s inability to wrestle with matters of faith and belief. The truth is that faith is not relegated to religion and doctrine and can be central to scientific inquiry. Scientists can use faith as a guiding principle that leads them to a deeper understanding of the God who created the cosmos. Likewise, people of faith can use science to shine new light into the scriptures and open new domains of understanding God’s handiwork.
Charles Wesley wrote in a hymn that in Christ’s resurrection, “Love’s redeeming work is done… fought the fight, the victory won… Jesus’ agony is over… Darkness veils the earth no more.” Therefore, we can confidently rejoice for Christ the Lord is risen today. Alleluia!
In Nobis Regnat Iesus,