Initial Thoughts on the A.I. Statement
When the Nashville statement came out I enthusiastically signed it. I have not regretted that decision. I now think that some of its detractors made better criticisms than I realized at the time. Preston Sprinkle is not numbered among them, his thoughts were well intentioned but a dangerous sign of cultural codependency and the ever present creep of identity politics. Regarding sexual identity issues the statement was perfectly worded and folks like Sprinkle couldn’t make a case for any fault beyond nebulous feelings and potential harm.
But regarding the issue of divorce the NS was certainly lacking. The NS is not the subject of this post so I will keep this brief. Philosophically the divorce epidemic is directly connected to every sexual issue facing Americans today. There is simply no way to disentangle the worship of individuality and a fundamental belief that we are simply matter in motion from divorce, the normalization of homosexuality, abortion, transgenderism, etc. It’s one big Tower of Babelish mess. But divorce is at the center.
I still signed it, and I would sign it again, because what it actually said was true. But it was also easy for me to sign it because I actually know some of the framers and initial signatories. These are people I trust. I didn’t sign the Social Justice statement despite basically agreeing with the whole thing for a couple of reasons. I don’t entirely trust the community that framed it. As a product of Biola and Talbot I see John MacArthur as a well intentioned but sometimes foolish in his fundamentalism.
It is not widely understood that the rift between MacArthur’s school and Biola/Talbot was not merely due to Biola’s School of Psychology but also Talbot’s School of Philosophy. To be clear it was the existence of these schools that he took issue with. Many good things can be said about MacArthur but he represents a bad reactionary thread of modern Evangelicalism. A thread that is not bad because it’s on the wrong side of history, but because it’s on the wrong side of truth. The Psychology and Philosophy departments at Biola University represent the Christian doctrine that truth is univocal. This view rejects both Scientism and Bibliolatry. Both are problems. Just as prudery and promiscuity are both problems. And while I would always rather err on the side of Bibliolatry and Prudery it is instructive to remember that, as the Scofield Bible made explicit with its notation long before Tim Keller, there were two prodigal sons in Jesus’ parable but only one of those sons is saved.
In any case I didn’t sign the Social Justice statement because I don’t trust the formation of it, and I don’t really want to be associated with that kind of Christianity. Not out of embarrassment but conviction.
And now this statement on AI has arrived…
I trust its formers…but it feels very unnecessary. I’m also hesitant because of the names I don’t see. The initial signatories are mostly theologians and pastors. I like Matt Chandler, a lot, but he’s not exactly competent to comment on the ethics of AI. He’s competent to partake in a large group discussion on this issue if its informed by others with more competence. And there are certainly individuals on the list that could’ve informed the discussion in such a way. But there don’t seem to be very many of them. This all makes me hesitant.
I read through the statement and couldn’t find very much to disagree with…because not much has been said. Which is actually the point of these kinds of statements to some degree. They should serve the purpose of clarity and simplicity more than philosophical rigor, otherwise they’re not very useful as a statement. But this statement especially feels like it was written by Christians ill equipped to deal with the issue of AI. The church simply isn’t competent to speak on every issue, and that’s perfectly fine. This maybe one of those issues.
These are just initial thoughts, and I may change my mind. Sir Roger Scruton has said that he can’t think apart from writing, which is probably why he’s written so many books on so many subjects. So this is just me thinking out loud, as someone with an academic background in theology and philosophy, but not very much competence to address AI.
And right now, to me, it seems like the statement seems to follow this pattern:
AI is good in these ways.
We think AI should be used in good ways.
That makes the ethical content similar to this: do the right thing. That’s not entirely fair, but it’s hard to parse out exactly what the right thing is from this statement. The main motivating factor was probably a denunciation of AI regarding new pornographic technology. And they were right to do that.
The only thing I found morally objectionable was the phrase Just War. I am not a pacifist but the Church has proven repeatedly that it isn’t competent to comment on war. Most Generals are not competent to comment on war since Sun Tzu’s wisdom is regularly ignored. But some of the principles of Just War theory actually make war more unjust than it already is, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.
Also its endorsement of the right to privacy is a bit troubling, considering the influence of this phrase upon abortion rights in america. The statement seems to equate healthy personal boundaries with a right to internet privacy, and it’s very unclear to me what the implications of that are. In the statement the right to property seems to ground the right to privacy, but it seems like the right to private property should be enough justification to warrant laws forbidding the kind of bad things that the internet and AI can be used for. The right to privacy is extremely nebulous and can be used to justify almost anything.
At this point I’m very hesitant to sign it or even point people to it because it feels a little strange and even a bit embarrassing. How often are we going to do these things? Every year a new statement Du Jour? This seems like a bad trend. I can see the Babylon Bee headline now: The Evangelical Statement on Evangelical Statements.
As someone who is relatively convinced that the Benedict Option is the right approach to these times I can see both the benefits of these statements and the negatives. On the one hand BenOp is not actually withdrawal from society, but in some sense it is an indifference to the broader non Christian culture we live within. These statements are given mostly for ourselves, which actually serve the BenOp, but they’re also clearly opportunities for culture warring, which does not. So the truth is I don’t think anyone knows where this trend is headed but my gut says its not something to be celebrated.
Those are my thoughts. I could be wrong. But mostly I’d just feel better if I saw certain other names on this.
PS: To be clear I basically agree with the statement.