A conversation I had on Facebook Messenger recently with fellow New Testament scholar Sara Parks included this quip from her:
(We can’t all be James McGrath and be running 25 James McGrath AI clones on round the clock global servers, all writing, podcasting, blogging, interviewing, teaching, and researching, ya know)
My reply was to post 26 identical laughing emojis.
But the exchange resonated with something I’d been hearing a lot lately, namely that if you ask ChatGPT to imitate a particular author, you can get something other than the bland writing it generates by default. The mention of clones of me got me wondering what ChatGPT-3 would do if I asked it to imitate me.
So I did, and here’s the result (my prompts are in bold, the rest is produced by ChatGPT-3):
Write a blog post in the style of James McGrath, Clarence L. Goodwin Chair of New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University, the kind of thing he writes on his Patheos blog ReligionProf.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son: A Tale of Two Sons and the Father’s Love
Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son is one of the most well-known stories in the Gospels. It is a tale of two sons, one who squanders his inheritance and one who remains dutiful, and the father who loves both of them. The parable is often interpreted as a story about God’s love and forgiveness, but it can also be seen as a story about relationships between fathers and sons and the choices they make.
The first son, the prodigal, represents the waywardness of humanity, who often goes astray and wastes the blessings that have been given to them. The second son, who remains dutiful, represents the religious leaders of Jesus’ time who were righteous in their own eyes but lacked the spirit of God. The father in the story represents God, who loves both of his sons, despite their differences and their choices.
When the prodigal son returns to his father, the father throws a feast in his honor and accepts him back into the family with open arms. The dutiful son, on the other hand, is jealous and resentful of his brother’s forgiveness. This jealousy is a common theme in many religious traditions, where those who are righteous are often resentful of those who are forgiven.
The message of the parable is not only about God’s love and forgiveness, but also about the power of true repentance and the transformative nature of grace. When the prodigal son returns to his father, he acknowledges his mistake and asks for forgiveness. This act of humility and contrition transforms him, and he is reconciled to his father and his family.
The parable of the prodigal son is a timeless story that speaks to the human condition and our need for love, forgiveness, and acceptance. It is a reminder that God’s love is boundless and that no matter what we have done, we can always turn back to him and find forgiveness. As we reflect on this parable, let us also consider the relationships in our own lives and the power of love and forgiveness to transform them.
In conclusion, the parable of the prodigal son is a powerful story that has much to teach us about God’s love and the nature of forgiveness. It is a reminder that God’s love is unconditional and that we are all in need of his grace. May we always strive to be like the father in the story, extending love and forgiveness to those around us, and may we be transformed by the grace of God in our lives.
What in the blog post you wrote is most characteristic of James McGrath’s views and style of writing?
In the blog post, the following elements are most characteristic of James McGrath’s views and style of writing:
Focus on biblical interpretation: The blog post focuses on the interpretation of the parable of the prodigal son in the Gospels, a common topic of interest for biblical scholars like McGrath.
Emphasis on relationships: The blog post highlights the relationships between the father, the two sons, and the religious leaders in the story, which is a common theme in McGrath’s writing.
Theological reflections: The blog post reflects on the theological implications of the story, such as the nature of God’s love, the power of repentance, and the transformative nature of grace. This is consistent with McGrath’s approach of exploring the deeper meanings and themes in the Bible.
Emphasis on the human condition: The blog post touches upon the universal themes of the human experience, such as our need for love, forgiveness, and acceptance, which is a common theme in McGrath’s writing.
Interdisciplinary approach: The blog post brings in elements from other disciplines, such as psychology and religious traditions, to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the story. This interdisciplinary approach is a hallmark of McGrath’s writing style.
I am impressed by the way its response makes it seem as though there is an actual mind at work understanding my question. On the other hand, my reaction to the attempt to imitate me is that it sounds nothing like me, either in terms of style or content. Yet its answer to the question about my style and content is not entirely wide of the mark. I certainly do focus on biblical interpretation and interdisciplinary approaches. Psychology, however, is not really one of them.
On the one hand, this might bode well for my ongoing prospects as a blogger, and as an author and educator more generally. On the other hand, that is only true so long as my genuine authentic voice is considered valuable. If readers would be just as happy reading the text ChatGPT-3 generated above as what I myself write here, then all bets are off. (CNET seems inclined to believe that is the case, recent news suggests.)
At least you can know that, if I were to try to substitute a ChatGPT clone of myself to write blog posts and parody songs for me, you’d be able to detect the difference. But in case it wasn’t clear, I won’t be trying to do so, since I don’t actually like ChatGPT-3’s imitation of me, not only because it doesn’t sound like me, but it doesn’t write the kinds of things I would want to write.
Or does it? What do you think? I know that often one’s impression of one’s own writing and speaking can be very different from that of others. Let me know what you think!
I will continue to use and explore what ChatGPT can do in the biblical studies classroom, in the interest of helping my students learn what it can and cannot do. I will adjust assignments and create new ones to focus on and explore what it means to be an author in an era of AI, and what it means for AI to be an author; why the need for editors is even greater than ever and how to cultivate those skills; .
And I will hopefully go at least a little way towards preparing them for the future in which something like chatting with ChatGPT-3 happens verbally and aurally rather than through typing, potentially with deepfake as part of the picture to trick you into thinking that you are not merely talking to a human, but a particular human.