On April 11 of this year, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission unveiled a new ethical framework and set of principles, called Artificial Intelligence: An Evangelical Statement of Principles, in a crowded room in Washington, D.C. This marked the first time that a Protestant Christian group laid out a set of guiding principles aimed at equipping the Church to think wisely about emerging technology and to engage the larger cultural conversations surrounding artificial intelligence.
While many believed this statement would be significant, we could not have planned the way the Lord would use this document. The statement has been circulated widely and has received a good deal of feedback in the nine months since its launch. It was featured in news reports and opinion pieces, with over 80 mentions in major media outlets. It quickly became one of the most popular pieces of content at ERLC this year. While some questioned the need for Christians to speak to these issues, the feedback was, by and large, extremely encouraging and well received.
The Unchanging Goal
When I set off on this project under the leadership of Russell Moore, president of ERLC, the central goal of the statement was to be faithful to our understanding of the Christian faith and how it applies to emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence. In a world where ethics and morality are often defined by cultural moods and opinions, we sought to ground our guidelines and principles in the unchanging Christian faith and the Word of God itself. I often say that artificial intelligence isn’t causing our society to ask new questions per se. Rather, it is provoking age-old questions in light of new technologies.
People of faith have always wrestled with the most fundamental questions of the nature of God, the nature of humanity, and how we are to interact in this world that God created. The rise of sophisticated AI forces us to address these questions in a new light since we are now creating tools that can not only outwork us physically but also outperform us mentally in some ways. The ERLC sought to produce a document that would help the Church engage these fundamental questions about humanity as well as the pressing challenges posed by the adoption of AI in every area of society.
Although the 12 articles of the statement did not directly address every possible issue, the goal was to address some of the larger trends in AI and propose a biblically-grounded approach for thinking through these issues. Most of the critical feedback we received was directed at our inability to address every issue head-on due to our efforts to keep the document concise. Some question the inclusion of articles on sexuality or even the image of God, but the drafters and signers all agreed that we wanted this document to be more timeless rather than tied to a specific cultural moment. While some of the issues addressed are not pressing yet, such as sexuality and the possibility of advanced AGI systems, we wanted to put forth categories for thoughtful Christians to engage these issues as they arise in the future.
An Open Dialogue
Our second goal with the statement was to foster deep and meaningful dialogue with the larger community on these issues. Some of the most significant feedback we received was that the document was not ecumenical enough or that it was too narrow in its theological perspective. This was by design, though, because we were not claiming to speak for all evangelicals, much less for all of Christendom. Our goal was to add our perspective to the larger conversations that have been taking place and to participate in these conversations among people of all faiths and no faith at all.
Since the launch of this statement and with the release of my forthcoming book, The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity, we have had the privilege of engaging in rich dialogue with people from nearly every walk of life. From government leaders and technologists to doctors and military leaders, we have been honored to speak to these issues in light of this document and to help further conversations around how we should develop, deploy, and evaluate these tools.
I have heard of numerous faith-based and secular university professors requiring the statement as reading in their ethics, technology, theology, and computer science courses. Many employees at major technology companies have also reached out to talk about how their faith applies to their work in AI, VR, and countless other technologies. They tell us that the document has stirred conversations on their teams and caused them to think critically about how they design and deploy these powerful tools.
One of the most encouraging parts of this entire process so far has been the dialogue with people who might not agree with us on every issue or article of the statement and have hopes to produce similar documents in the future using our statement as a reference or starting point. While future statements and ethical frameworks may be broader in application or even theological perspective, I thank God for the minds and hearts of those that set out on the journey to produce this document and their hearts to engage these issues before the effects of AI are widely felt in our communities.
As I mentioned previously, our goals of equipping the Church and engaging these issues as a part of a larger cultural conversation hasn’t changed. Our organization is committed to continuing dialogue surrounding AI and other modern technologies as well as producing more resources to equip the Church to navigate these ethical and social issues with the hope of the gospel message. We pray that God, and his people, continue to use this statement and to these ends as we seek to faithfully apply our faith to artificial intelligence.
Editor’s Note: Jason and several other Founding Members of AI and Faith are tracking the development of other faith-origin statements of AI-related best practices and principles. Publicizing such statements and critiques of them is squarely within AI and Faith’s mission to speak into the ethics discussion of Artificial Intelligence from a wide range of faith perspectives. Please forward information on such efforts or send us comments and questions via our contact form and we will incorporate into our work and content.