ChatGPT theology: Should we use AI for Bible study?

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Naked at the DMV and theology with ChatGPT: Why we can’t afford to take shortcuts to God

June 6, 2023 -

A man holds a phone in his hands. A hologram of a robot, representative of AI like ChatGPT, hovers over the phone, the words, "Hi! How can I help." appearing next to the robot. © By LALAKA/stock.adobe.com

A man holds a phone in his hands. A hologram of a robot, representative of AI like ChatGPT, hovers over the phone, the words, "Hi! How can I help." appearing next to the robot. Can ChatGPT understand theology? © By LALAKA/stock.adobe.com

A man holds a phone in his hands. A hologram of a robot, representative of AI like ChatGPT, hovers over the phone, the words, "Hi! How can I help." appearing next to the robot. © By LALAKA/stock.adobe.com

Few experiences in life are as universally dreaded as a visit to the DMV. Now, it would seem, many Georgians have found a way to get at least some measure of revenge.

Georgia recently joined the growing number of states that allow their citizens to sign up for Digital Driver’s Licenses and IDs, complete with using a selfie as your picture. The decision was intended to give people greater freedom and allow them to avoid the hassle of making the trip to get their license in person.

And while it has largely done just that, a message from the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) hints that digital licenses are not the only license people have taken with the process.

In a recent post, the DDS pleaded, “Attention, lovely people of the digital era! Please take pictures with your clothes on when submitting them for your Digital Driver’s License and IDs. . . . Cheers to technology and keeping things classy.”

While many thought the post was a strange joke, it turns out a worryingly high number of Georgians have, in fact, been submitting naked (or at least shirtless) pictures of themselves as the official image for their ID.

The Oconee County Georgia Emergency Management Agency’s Facebook account spoke for many when it asked, “How much clothing? . . . Enough to raid the fridge at midnight? Enough for a trip to Walmart? Brooks brothers suit?”

The DDS responded, “Shirts are nice! We want shirts for selfies.”

Only time will tell whether the post leads to fewer naked Georgians or serves as inspiration for even more, but either way, it offers a helpful reminder of how even the best technology can have a dark side.

But what if that dark side threatens something a bit more serious than the sensibilities of those who are forced to gaze upon a driver’s license?

Does ChatGPT know the Bible?

There was a time when searching for the answer to a deep, theological question meant scheduling an appointment with your pastor or finding time to meet with someone whose knowledge in that area you respected. Now, we usually start our search for God’s truth with Google.

And that’s not (always) a bad thing.

It’s great to be able to type a few words and have a seemingly endless list of resources at your disposal in seconds. But to this point, even that still required you to go through and discern which sources you could trust and which you couldn’t. Now, that is no longer the case.

AI software like ChatGPT is increasingly taking over as the primary search engine people are using for all sorts of queries, including those with eternal consequences. But rather than presenting a list of resources to help your own investigation, AI usually just gives you an answer and often does so with a level of confidence and eloquence that can be difficult to refute.

So how big of a problem does that pose? It depends on whom you ask.

The problems with ChatGPT theology

As Pablo A. Ruz Salmones, CEO of X eleva Group in Mexico City, Mexico, notes, AI like ChatGPT doesn’t “have, by definition, a source of truth; it’s simply not in the model—hence why sometimes they make things up and extrapolate. They are incapable of finding truth, so that even when they do stumble across it, they are unable to recognize it as such.”

However, the inability to discern truth from consensus is not the only danger relying on AI to answer some of religion’s greatest mysteries could pose.

Marcelo Cabral of the Brazilian Association of Christians in Science warns that ChatGPT “discourages Christians from reading the biblical text for themselves and allowing the biblical text to ‘read’ the reader in return. This intellectual and spiritual work may be super-automatized, thus atrophying minds and hearts in the formative process of thinking and creating.”

For its part, the AI seems to be aware of these limitations. When asked the same question as the human experts, ChatGPT began with a list of all the ways that AI can help before cautioning that “the Bible’s complexity requires expertise, discernment, and theological understanding.”

That people would be willing to risk accuracy in favor of accessibility should not come as a surprise though. Such motivations have led people astray from the start.

A fruitless shortcut to knowledge

It’s worth noting that humanity’s original sin occurred in large part because Satan offered Adam and Eve a shortcut to the knowledge and status for which they longed (Genesis 3).

After all, it seems doubtful that the devil would have had the same success if he’d offered them night classes and hours of study to become like God and know good and evil. Instead, he offered them a piece of fruit with the promise that one bite was all they’d need to become like God, and they took it without much hesitation.

In many ways, we continue to struggle with that same temptation today.

Think back to the last time you had a question about God or a passage from his word. Did you turn first to Scripture or to Google for the answer? Perhaps you asked ChatGPT or another service like it.

Even when such searches are done honestly and with the added step of checking what you find against the truth of Scripture, it can be easy to slip into a pattern of treating the AI as if it were an unerring mediator between you and the Lord. Some have even skipped the middleman to start deifying the AI itself.

We live in an amazing time where we have access to resources that would have utterly baffled previous generations. At the same time, we must never forget that resources like ChatGPT—or even search engines like Google—are tools to help us find the answer rather than resources we should trust to provide that answer.

Ultimately, nothing can take the place of the Holy Spirit’s presence and guidance, and it’s crucial that we leave room for the Spirit to work in our lives as we seek to know God better.

So the next time you have a question about God or something from his Word, start with prayer and reflection rather than Google or AI. If the Lord leads you to use those resources in the course of looking for an answer, that’s fine. But don’t take a shortcut that robs you of the benefit that comes from learning to rely on the Lord for those answers.

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