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Generative AI for Theology and Science

For the past few decades, scholars have examined the relationship between theology and science, building upon earlier historical and theological explorations. 1 The mutual engagement of scientists and theologians on issues of apparent overlap between theology and science provides resources for deepening our emerging conversations about AI & Faith. 2 In addition to the immediate need to incorporate the wisdom of the world’s religions into ethical considerations of AI technology, the recent advances in AI raise new perspectives on questions that theologians have been considering for centuries. The medieval Christian philosopher St. Anselm characterizes theology as “faith seeking understanding,” and contemporary scholars incorporate scientific insights into that understanding. Scholars of theology and science have examined “big” questions about Nature, Creation, and human nature and evolution as well as the ethical and philosophical limits of scientific inquiry and the religious dimensions many find in nature.

Aspects of AI & Faith research occur within the field of theology and science. Some AI research fits within cognitive science and several research areas of psychology, and these scientific findings are relevant to scientific and theological understanding of the human person. Although AI does not raise the same questions about the limits or boundaries of scientific inquiry into creation and reality that cosmology and quantum theory do, AI does suggest new ways to look at rationality, the nature and ends of humanity, and human uniqueness or exceptionalism. This fresh perspective may raise questions about human dignity and the limits of human reason, morality, and existence that science alone cannot answer.

Generative AI, in particular, raises questions about creativity and the process of creation that could inform theological investigation of Creation, creativity as an essential aspect of humanity, and even creativity’s role in theological scholarship. 3 The Lutheran theologian Philip Hefner characterizes humans as created co-creators, acknowledging humans as part of Creation and identifying our ability to create as reflecting one dimension of humanity’s creation in the image of God. In his Patheos blog post, AI & Faith Advisor Ted Peters examines Hefner’s created co-creator in the context of AI. Also, as part of AI & Faith’s editorial collaboration with the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS), I explore “ChatGPT’s Significance for Theology.” In that editorial in CTNS’s journal Theology and Science, I examine the potential impact of Generative AI for theological education, theologies of culture, systematic theology, and theological scholarship, and it is freely accessible here.

  1. Several organizations have formed to foster this dialogue. These include Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, Institute for Religion in an Age of Science, American Scientific Affiliate, European Society for the Study of Science and Theology, and International Society for Science and Religion, along with other smaller or more specialized groups, such as AI & Faith Advisor Joshua Swamidass’s Peaceful Science, which examines scientific and religious aspects of human origins.
  2. AI & Faith experts who have contributed to this area include Ted Peters, who proposes looking for consonance, or areas of correspondence, in scientific and theological understanding, and Robert Geraci, who examines the interactions between religion, science, and technology.
  3. Generative AI builds upon foundation models, such as large language models, which synthesize billions of digitally available documents and can be used to generate novel text and images.

Mark Graves

Mark Graves is a Research Fellow and Director at AI & Faith, and a Research Associate Professor of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He has developed AI and data solutions in the biotech, pharmaceutical, and healthcare industries. Mark’s current research focuses on using text analysis and other natural language processing techniques for understanding and modeling human morality, ethical approaches to data science and machine learning, and philosophical and psychological foundations for constructing moral AI. Mark holds a PhD in computer science from the University of Michigan and a master‘s degree in theology from the Jesuit School of Theology and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

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