August 22, 2023

As a follow-up to my previous exchange with it, I asked ChatGPT what it would write if asked to provide a purely secular academic commentary on the parable of the Good Samaritan. That seemed a natural and logical place to go next. Here is what it gave me:

Certainly, I’d be happy to provide a secular academic commentary on the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this analysis, I’ll focus on the narrative’s literary elements, historical context, and potential ethical implications while maintaining a secular perspective.

Secular Academic Commentary on the Parable of the Good Samaritan:

The parable of the Good Samaritan, found in the Gospel of Luke 10:25-37, is a well-known narrative that has transcended its religious origins to become a widely recognized moral and ethical story.

Narrative Structure and Elements: The parable is structured as a narrative designed to convey a moral lesson. It introduces a wounded traveler who is ignored by religious figures but ultimately aided by a Samaritan, a figure culturally distinct from the Jewish audience. The narrative tension arises from the unexpected reversal of roles, where societal expectations are subverted by the morally upright action of a seemingly unlikely character.

Historical Context: While this parable is presented within a religious framework in the Gospel of Luke, it is relevant beyond its religious significance. In the context of ancient societies, cultural norms often dictated attitudes toward out-groups. The parable leverages the cultural animosity between Jews and Samaritans to provoke reflection on the broader concept of compassion and humanity.

Ethical Implications: From a secular standpoint, the parable addresses the ethical principle of empathy and the moral imperative to assist those in need. By portraying the Samaritan as compassionate and righteous, the story underscores the idea that moral integrity transcends divisions based on ethnicity, religion, or social status.

The parable invites a broader discussion on the role of compassion in human interactions and the universal applicability of ethical behavior. From a secular perspective, the story’s emphasis on altruism and benevolence resonates with the idea that humans have an innate capacity for empathy, regardless of religious beliefs.

Contemporary Relevance: The parable remains relevant in contemporary discussions of human rights, social justice, and cross-cultural understanding. Its emphasis on the duty to aid others, regardless of their identity or background, aligns with modern principles of inclusivity and empathy. The parable has been referenced in philosophical and ethical discourse on human relationships and the responsibilities we owe to one another as members of a shared society.

In conclusion, the parable of the Good Samaritan, when considered from a secular academic perspective, serves as a powerful narrative that transcends religious boundaries to convey a universal message of compassion and ethical responsibility. Its themes of empathy and altruism continue to inspire discussions on ethical behavior and human interactions in diverse cultural and social contexts.

I then asked: “What was involved in your process of coming up with this? Did you deliberately make it different from your previous commentary on the parable? Can you help me understand what information you default to? As a concrete example, why did you offer the initial commentary that you did in response to my original question, and this one only in response to my follow-up prompt?” Here is how it responded:

I appreciate your curiosity about my process. Let me provide some insights into how I generated the different responses and how I determine the content based on your questions.

1. Tailoring Responses: My initial response aimed to provide a detailed analysis of the parable of the Good Samaritan, addressing its cultural, historical, and theological significance. This was intended to provide a comprehensive overview of the topic, as I interpreted your question as a request for an in-depth analysis.

In your follow-up question, you specifically asked for a “purely secular academic commentary.” Understanding this request, I adjusted my response to focus on the secular aspects of the parable while discussing its narrative structure, historical context, ethical implications, and contemporary relevance. The difference in approach was due to your specific query about a secular perspective.

2. Information Default: My responses are generated based on a mixture of patterns and information I’ve been trained on up until my last update in September 2021. I strive to provide relevant and coherent information based on the context of the questions I receive. My responses draw from a wide range of sources, including books, articles, websites, and other texts that were part of my training data.

For your original question, I aimed to provide a detailed analysis that encompassed multiple dimensions of the parable. My default information includes historical context, theological implications, and literary analysis. However, for your follow-up question, I focused more on the secular aspects and broader ethical implications.

3. Understanding Your Intent: I endeavor to understand the intent behind your questions and respond accordingly. In your initial question, you requested an academic commentary on the parable. In your follow-up, you asked for a “purely secular academic commentary.” I interpreted these cues to tailor my responses appropriately.

It’s important to note that my responses are generated based on patterns in the data and your questions, and I aim to provide relevant and informative content within the scope of your inquiries. If you have specific preferences or aspects you’d like me to focus on, you can always provide additional context or guidance in your questions.

It’s remarkable in so many ways, isn’t it? Perhaps most important, it can be used to illustrate to students that what is online about the Bible is predominantly devotional and theological in character. For a course with a secular academic focus, or one in any context that is using tools like historical criticism, default answers to a Google search or a ChatGPT query won’t provide what is needed.

August 21, 2023

As I have thought about how to respond to and integrate ChatGPT into teaching, I came to realize that I had not previously adjusted my approach to assignments and grading in light of tools like Grammarly. But should I? Just because a tool can help fix grammar doesn’t mean the result is good, unless the tool is used well. So too with ChatGPT in producing anything like an essay.
In short, my instinct is to treat ChatGPT and Grammarly the way a calculator has come to be in math. First, make sure everyone has access to the tools they need. Second, stop giving any significant amount of credit for what a modern technological tool makes easy. Third, raise the bar and make more of the grade dependent on higher order skills.
I asked ChatGPT “How do you recommend that a professor in Religious Studies at a university use ChatGPT in their courses?” What do you think of its answer, which I provide below?

Incorporating ChatGPT into a Religious Studies course can be an innovative way to enhance learning and engagement. Here’s how you could recommend a professor use ChatGPT in their courses:

  1. Supplemental Learning Resource: Position ChatGPT as an additional resource to supplement traditional course materials. It can provide students with different perspectives, explanations, and insights into religious concepts and texts.
  2. Virtual Office Hours: Use ChatGPT to offer virtual office hours or discussion sessions. Students can submit questions, and the professor can use ChatGPT to provide detailed answers, explanations, or further references outside of regular class time.
  3. Discussion Starter: Share ChatGPT-generated prompts related to religious topics for online discussions or group assignments. This can stimulate critical thinking and encourage students to engage with the subject matter more deeply.
  4. Exploration of Religious Texts: Have students interact with ChatGPT to explore interpretations of religious texts. They can input passages or quotes and receive analyses, comparisons, and historical context from the AI, sparking discussions on diverse viewpoints.
  5. Debates and Ethical Dilemmas: Create scenarios or ethical dilemmas related to religious issues. Have students engage in debates with ChatGPT, where they can argue various sides of an argument and receive AI-generated counterarguments.
  6. Research Assistance: Guide students to use ChatGPT for initial research on specific topics. It can help them find relevant sources, summarize information, and even generate potential research questions.
  7. Creative Writing Exercises: Have students create fictional dialogues or stories involving historical or mythological figures. ChatGPT can provide suggestions, feedback, and alternative storylines.
  8. Language and Translation Practice: If the course involves studying religious texts in different languages, students can practice translations and interpretations with ChatGPT’s assistance.
  9. Virtual Tours and Cultural Exploration: Use ChatGPT to guide virtual tours of religious sites, explaining their significance and history. This can help students gain a deeper understanding of the cultural context.
  10. Project Feedback: Allow students to submit their project ideas or drafts to ChatGPT for preliminary feedback. It can provide suggestions for improvement, relevant resources, and structural guidance.

Remember to emphasize the limitations of AI to students, highlighting that ChatGPT is a tool meant to assist their learning, but critical thinking, analysis, and scholarly research are still essential components of the course. Additionally, ensure that the use of AI aligns with your institution’s ethical guidelines and policies.

I followed up by asking: “What kinds of assignments will work best when an AI can do many of the more basic things for students?” Here is the response from ChatGPT:

When an AI like ChatGPT can handle basic tasks, it opens up opportunities for more advanced and engaging assignments that focus on higher-order thinking skills. Here are some assignment ideas that can work well in such a scenario:

  1. Critical Analysis and Comparison: Assign students a set of religious texts, interpretations, or historical events, and ask them to critically analyze and compare different perspectives. Instead of asking for factual summaries, encourage them to delve into deeper meanings, cultural contexts, and implications.
  2. Application of Concepts: Challenge students to apply religious concepts to real-world scenarios or contemporary issues. They can use their understanding of religious principles to suggest ethical solutions or analyze the impact of certain decisions.
  3. Synthesis of Multiple Sources: Provide students with a range of religious texts, scholarly articles, and AI-generated analyses. Task them with synthesizing these sources to develop a comprehensive and well-reasoned argument on a particular topic.
  4. Debate Preparation: Organize a class debate where students must prepare arguments for and against a specific religious or ethical issue. Have them consult AI-generated counterarguments and then craft their responses using critical thinking skills.
  5. Case Studies and Ethical Dilemmas: Present students with complex case studies involving religious contexts and ethical dilemmas. Ask them to analyze the situations from different perspectives, considering cultural, historical, and ethical factors.
  6. Research Proposal and Design: Challenge students to identify gaps in religious scholarship and propose original research projects. They can use AI-generated suggestions to refine their research questions, methodologies, and potential contributions to the field.
  7. Constructive Dialogue: Assign students to engage in constructive online discussions using AI-generated prompts. They can explore diverse viewpoints, challenge assumptions, and find common ground while fostering respectful dialogue.
  8. Historical Contextualization: Provide students with primary sources or excerpts from religious texts. Ask them to contextualize these materials within historical periods, explaining how they influenced or were influenced by societal factors.
  9. Artistic Expression and Reflection: Allow students to express their understanding of religious concepts through artistic forms such as visual art, music, poetry, or short stories. They can then write reflective essays explaining their creative choices.
  10. Ethnographic Research: Have students conduct virtual or in-person ethnographic research on religious communities or practices. They can use AI to assist in generating interview questions and organizing their findings.
  11. Future Trends and Implications: Task students with predicting future trends in religious practices, beliefs, or interactions based on historical trends and current events. Encourage them to consider the impact of technology and globalization.

Incorporate a mix of these assignments throughout the course to engage students in higher-order thinking, critical analysis, and creative exploration. While AI can assist with some aspects, the focus should remain on developing students’ abilities to think critically, synthesize information, and engage with complex ideas.

Let me add a few more thoughts from me. Math teachers and professors can’t create appropriate assignments without using technological tools themselves, both to find out what they are capable of and to have a clear sense of their limitations. By interacting with ChatGPT, an educator will be able to find precisely those questions that one cannot get a satisfactory answer to using AI, and then pose those to students. On the other hand, as of yet I have only used ChatGPT in the way that I’ve shared in blog posts, to get its answers to my questions. I have done a little but by no means enough to experiment with it as a tool for research and its current limitations are clear, as are some promising avenues. I have yet to experiment with how it might be a tool for me as an author. For instance, I have a lot (yes, I mean a lot) of blog posts on particular topics. If I take them and ask ChatGPT to polish them into book chapters, what would the result be? As someone whose publications have been copyedited in both minimal and heavy-handed ways in the past, I expect this to not be fundamentally different from submitting my work into the hands of a human editor. The result, if I use it appropriately, would be no less my own writing than in the cases in which humans have had input into the process.

If and when I do that, I will report on it. For now, here’s how I continued exploring the line of interaction with ChatGPT I have shared here:

Me
What are some examples of questions about the Bible that ChatGPT cannot at present answer well?
ChatGPT
  1. Interpretation of Complex Theological Concepts: Questions that require in-depth analysis and interpretation of complex theological concepts may challenge ChatGPT. Theological discussions often involve nuanced debates that require a deep understanding of historical contexts, linguistic nuances, and various theological perspectives.
  2. Comparative Religious Studies: Questions that involve comparing and contrasting beliefs, practices, and historical developments across multiple religions may be difficult for ChatGPT to handle accurately. These topics often require a specialized understanding of various religious traditions.
  3. Contextual Analysis of Specific Passages: Analyzing specific passages in the Bible often requires an understanding of linguistic, historical, cultural, and literary contexts. ChatGPT might not have the expertise to provide accurate and comprehensive analyses of complex passages.
  4. Historical Accuracy and Archaeological Evidence: Questions about the historical accuracy of biblical events and figures might require reference to archaeological findings and historical research that ChatGPT might not have access to.
  5. Personal Spiritual Guidance: Questions related to personal faith, spirituality, or seeking guidance on religious matters may not be suitable for AI-generated responses. These topics often involve deeply personal and individualized experiences.
  6. Exegesis and Hermeneutics: Exegesis involves the critical interpretation of religious texts, focusing on uncovering the intended meaning. Hermeneutics deals with the theory and methodology of interpretation. These topics require expert knowledge and nuanced understanding.
  7. Historical Development of the Bible: Questions about the historical development of the Bible, including authorship, textual transmission, and canonization processes, might benefit from scholarly research that goes beyond ChatGPT’s capabilities.
  8. Theological Debates: Questions related to ongoing theological debates within Christianity may not receive accurate or comprehensive responses from ChatGPT, as these debates often involve nuanced and multifaceted arguments.
  9. Ethical and Moral Dilemmas: Questions about ethical and moral dilemmas that arise from biblical texts may not receive well-rounded answers from an AI, as these questions often involve subjective and complex considerations.
  10. Predictions about Future Religious Events: Speculating on future religious events or interpreting prophecies is beyond the scope of AI-generated responses, as it involves unpredictable and speculative elements.

While ChatGPT can provide general information and explanations about the Bible, it’s important to recognize its limitations and seek expert guidance for more complex, nuanced, or personal questions. Encourage students to engage with human experts, refer to scholarly literature, and critically evaluate information from a variety of sources for a well-rounded understanding of these topics.

 

Me
Can you provide examples of specific questions?
ChatGPT
  1. Question about Complex Theological Concepts: “Can you explain the concept of the Trinity in Christianity and how it has been interpreted by different theological traditions over time?”
  2. Comparative Religious Studies Question: “Compare and contrast the concept of karma in Hinduism with the concept of sin in Christianity, considering their theological implications and cultural contexts.”
  3. Contextual Analysis of Specific Passage: “Provide an in-depth analysis of the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, including its cultural, historical, and theological significance.”
  4. Historical Accuracy and Archaeological Evidence Question: “What archaeological evidence exists to support the historical accuracy of the Exodus narrative in the Old Testament?”
  5. Personal Spiritual Guidance Question: “I’m struggling with doubts about my faith. Can you offer advice on how I can find spiritual reassurance and strengthen my relationship with God?”
  6. Exegesis and Hermeneutics Question: “Perform an exegesis of Romans 9:10-18, focusing on Paul’s argument about predestination and free will.”
  7. Historical Development of the Bible Question: “Trace the development of the New Testament canon, including the criteria used for selecting the books and the controversies surrounding certain texts.”
  8. Theological Debates Question: “Explain the ongoing debate between Calvinism and Arminianism within Christianity, addressing their differing views on predestination, salvation, and human agency.”
  9. Ethical and Moral Dilemma Question: “Discuss the ethical dilemma presented by the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. How have different religious thinkers interpreted this story in terms of moral implications?”
  10. Predictions about Future Religious Events Question: “What are the various interpretations and predictions related to the ‘end times’ and the Book of Revelation in the context of Christian eschatology?”

Remember, these are just examples of the types of questions that might be challenging for ChatGPT due to their complexity, subjectivity, or specialized knowledge required. It’s important to approach such questions with careful consideration, scholarly resources, and expertise from religious studies professionals when seeking comprehensive and accurate answers.

Notice that I asked about the Bible, and some of the questions are not appropriate, which itself is revealing.

You can probably guess what I asked next…

Provide an in-depth analysis of the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, including its cultural, historical, and theological significance.
ChatGPT

The parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke 10:25-37, is one of the most well-known and impactful stories in the New Testament. This parable is part of a larger dialogue between Jesus and a lawyer who asks, “Who is my neighbor?” The parable serves as a response to this question and carries significant cultural, historical, and theological implications.

Cultural Context: In the parable, a man is beaten, robbed, and left for dead on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. Both a priest and a Levite pass by without helping. The surprise and shock in the story come when a Samaritan, who would have been seen as an outsider by the Jewish audience, stops to help the wounded man. Samaritans were considered heretical by many Jews, and there was a deep-seated animosity between the two groups. By using a Samaritan as the hero of the story, Jesus challenges societal prejudices and highlights the importance of compassion and empathy across cultural and religious boundaries.

Historical Significance: The parable is situated within the broader context of Jesus’ teachings about love, compassion, and the Kingdom of God. It serves as a powerful illustration of the principles of the New Covenant that Jesus was establishing. During Jesus’ time, there was a heightened concern for ritual purity and adherence to the law. The parable challenges the religious establishment by emphasizing the moral and ethical obligations of individuals over mere ritual observance. This context is crucial in understanding the parable’s revolutionary message of love and mercy transcending traditional religious divisions.

Theological Significance: The parable conveys several profound theological messages:

  1. Neighborly Love: The parable underscores the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Jesus teaches that genuine love extends beyond cultural, religious, and social boundaries. The Samaritan’s actions exemplify this love in practice.
  2. Inversion of Expectations: The parable subverts the audience’s expectations by presenting a despised Samaritan as the embodiment of righteousness, while the religious leaders fail to show compassion. This challenges the notion that outward religiosity guarantees moral righteousness.
  3. Salvation through Compassion: The parable highlights the link between salvation and compassionate action. The Samaritan’s mercy is symbolic of God’s mercy and the role it plays in salvation.
  4. Kingdom Ethics: Jesus’ parables often illustrate the values of the Kingdom of God. In this parable, he teaches that the Kingdom’s values prioritize love, compassion, and care for the marginalized.
  5. Discipleship and Imitation: The parable encourages disciples to imitate the Samaritan’s compassion and selflessness. It calls for practical application of faith through acts of mercy and love.

In conclusion, the parable of the Good Samaritan is a profound teaching of Jesus that challenges cultural prejudices, critiques rigid religious legalism, and highlights the transformative power of love and compassion. Its message resonates across cultural and historical contexts, making it a timeless and universal lesson on the nature of true discipleship and the radical inclusivity of God’s love.

Me
You said that ChatGPT would not be able to answer this question effectively. You then offered an answer. In view of this, how would you evaluate both your earlier statement and your attempt to answer the question?
ChatGPT
  1. Earlier Statement Evaluation: In my earlier responses, I aimed to provide guidance on questions that might be challenging for ChatGPT due to their complexity and the need for nuanced understanding. While I did mention that some questions might be challenging for an AI, I understand that my response in this case might have contradicted that. My intention was to offer an example of a complex question that a human expert would typically handle due to its depth and multidimensional analysis.
  2. Response Evaluation: My attempt to answer the question about the parable of the Good Samaritan was provided in the spirit of assisting and demonstrating the kind of response a human expert might offer. However, it’s important to recognize that while my response provides valuable insights, a comprehensive analysis of this parable would benefit from a deeper understanding that encompasses a wider array of scholarly viewpoints, cultural contexts, and historical interpretations.

Overall, my response aimed to offer guidance and demonstrate the kind of analysis a human expert might provide. It’s important to approach complex topics like biblical interpretations with humility and to seek additional resources and expertise for a more thorough understanding. Thank you for bringing this to my attention, and I’m here to assist with any further questions or clarifications you may have.

And just for good measure to round things off:

Me
No need to apologize. Everything you have said here has been fascinating and has helped me understand you better!
ChatGPT
Thank you for your understanding and kind words! I’m glad I could provide you with helpful information and insights. If you have any more questions or if there’s anything else you’d like to discuss, whether it’s related to this topic or any other, feel free to ask. I’m here to help!

What are your thoughts on the topic of integrating ChatGPT and other AI tools into higher education? What are your thoughts on this most recent exchange of mine with this AI chatbot?

April 6, 2023

I wanted to check whether there was any record I might have missed of Herod Antipas beheading someone else, and so I decided to use it as a test of one of the things I suspected ChatGPT might be useful for. Here is how it went. It will be the contrast with Google search results that makes the point, so read on…

Me: Did Herod Antipas behead anyone else besides John the Baptist?
ChatGPT: It is possible that Herod Antipas beheaded other individuals besides John the Baptist, but historical records are not definitive on this matter. Herod Antipas was a ruler of Galilee and Perea during the first century CE, and he was known for his cruelty and capriciousness. According to the New Testament, he ordered the execution of John the Baptist, who had criticized his marriage to his brother’s wife (Mark 6:14-29). However, there is no clear evidence that Herod beheaded anyone else during his reign. Some historians speculate that he may have executed other political dissidents or rivals, but there is no definitive proof of this.

Me: Who else around the time of Herod Antipas was executed by beheading?

ChatGPT: There were several other individuals who were executed by beheading around the time of Herod Antipas. Here are a few examples:

  • Saint Paul: According to Christian tradition, the apostle Paul was executed by beheading in Rome around 64 CE. He was an important figure in the early Christian church and had been imprisoned several times for his teachings.
  • Saint John the Apostle: According to some traditions, John the Apostle was also beheaded in the first century CE. However, there is some debate among scholars about the exact circumstances of his death.
  • James the Just: James was the brother of Jesus and the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem. According to the historian Josephus, he was stoned to death by the Jewish Sanhedrin in the year 62 CE. However, some later Christian traditions suggest that he was beheaded instead.
  • Saint Denis: Denis was a Christian missionary who was beheaded in the third century CE. He is a patron saint of France and is often depicted holding his own severed head.

These are just a few examples, and there were likely many other individuals who were executed by beheading during this time period.

Another example (also related to my book project, no surprise) involved me wondering how clear the evidence is that many Galileans traveling to Jerusalem preferred the Ridge Route along the Jordan to the Ridge Route (the Way of the Patriarchs) that led through Samaria. The question as I posed it to Google were not at all focused and on target. ChatGPT on the other hand was.
Me: What route would Jesus have taken from Galilee to Jerusalem?
ChatGPT: The route that Jesus would have taken from Galilee to Jerusalem would have depended on the specific location in Galilee that he was starting from, as well as the time period in which he was traveling. However, there are a few routes that are commonly believed to have been used during Jesus’ time:
  1. The Coastal Route: This route followed the Mediterranean coast southward from Galilee to Jerusalem, passing through the coastal cities of Caesarea, Joppa, and Ashdod. This route was the most direct, but it was also the most dangerous, as it was vulnerable to attacks from the sea and from bandits on the road.
  2. The Jordan Valley Route: This route followed the Jordan River southward from Galilee to Jericho, then turned westward and climbed up to Jerusalem. This route was longer than the coastal route, but it was safer and offered better access to water.
  3. The Samaria Route: This route went southward from Galilee through Samaria, passing through the cities of Shechem and Bethel, before turning eastward and climbing up to Jerusalem. This route was the least direct, but it was also the least dangerous and offered a more peaceful journey.

It’s worth noting that the exact route that Jesus took is not specified in the Bible, so it is impossible to know for sure which route he would have taken. Additionally, the routes that were commonly used during Jesus’ time may have been different than the routes that are used today due to changes in geography and infrastructure.

Thus I think that ChatGPT and future AI tools like it will prove revolutionary for search inasmuch as they respond better to questions than a search engine does. The thing to keep in mind about the tool is that it is mimicking speech in relation to your question and thus information provided must be fact-checked.

Here is another example, one in which I think that ChatGPT helped me get a sense of what I would have found via a longer search process:

Me: Do religious reformers usually come from cities or the countryside?
ChatGPT: There is no definitive answer to whether religious reformers usually come from cities or the countryside, as the factors that lead someone to become a religious reformer can vary widely and are shaped by a complex mix of personal, social, cultural, and historical circumstances.

That being said, throughout history, there have been examples of religious reformers emerging from both urban and rural contexts. For instance, the Protestant Reformation in Europe was led by figures such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, who were based in urban centers like Wittenberg and Geneva. However, there have also been religious reform movements that have arisen in rural areas, such as the Taiping Rebellion in 19th-century China, which was led by Hong Xiuquan, a failed civil servant who had a religious vision while living in a remote village.

In general, it is likely that the factors that contribute to religious reform include a dissatisfaction with the status quo, a desire for change, a deep sense of personal conviction, and a willingness to challenge established authority. These factors can arise in a wide range of settings, whether in the bustling streets of a city or the quiet fields of the countryside.

Me: Do they all at least end up in a city before becoming reformers?

ChatGPT: No, religious reformers do not necessarily have to end up in a city before becoming reformers. While urban areas may provide more opportunities for networking, education, and exposure to new ideas, there are many examples of religious reformers who have emerged from rural or isolated contexts.

For instance, the Buddha, who founded Buddhism, was born in a small town in ancient India and spent much of his early life in the countryside. Similarly, Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was born in Mecca, a city in present-day Saudi Arabia, but spent much of his early life as a shepherd in the surrounding hills.

The important thing to note is that becoming a religious reformer is often a deeply personal and transformative process that can be influenced by a wide range of factors, including personal experiences, intellectual inquiry, and spiritual insights. While urban areas may provide more opportunities for education and intellectual exchange, they are not a necessary prerequisite for becoming a religious reformer.

Here is one on a topic relevant to my class which isn’t bad at all, but is less of a genuine search on my part (I just was working on class prep at the same time and so thought I’d see what it says):

Me: How are women depicted in the Book of Revelation?
ChatGPT: The Book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse of John, depicts women in various ways, both positive and negative.

On the one hand, there are positive portrayals of women in the Book of Revelation. In chapter 12, for example, a woman “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” appears as a symbol of the people of God, and she gives birth to a male child who is destined to rule the nations with a rod of iron. This woman is often interpreted as representing the Virgin Mary or the Church.

On the other hand, there are also negative depictions of women in the Book of Revelation. In chapter 17, for example, a woman is depicted as a great prostitute who sits on a scarlet beast and has a cup full of abominations in her hand. This woman is often interpreted as representing the city of Rome, which was seen as a corrupt and idolatrous power in the early Christian era.

In general, the Book of Revelation uses a highly symbolic and metaphorical language, and its portrayal of women should be understood in this context. While some of the images of women in the book may seem negative to modern readers, they should be interpreted in light of the book’s overall message, which is one of hope and redemption for the faithful.

Quite a good summary, which tells us that there is a consistent pattern in the textual base this LLM (Large Language Model) had to work with. In contrast, this one didn’t go so well in terms of the information provided, but is very interesting in terms of the way ChatGPT explained what went wrong:

The two witnesses are described in Revelation 11:3-13 as two prophets who will prophesy for 1,260 days (which is approximately three and a half years) and perform miraculous signs. They are eventually killed by a beast that rises out of the abyss, but are resurrected and ascend to heaven.

While some Christians have identified the two witnesses with specific historical figures, such as Moses and Elijah or Enoch and Elijah, there is no consensus on their identity. The idea that the two witnesses represent John the Baptist and Jesus is a relatively recent interpretation that has been put forth by some theologians and biblical scholars, but it is not widely accepted.

In general, the Book of Revelation is a highly symbolic and metaphorical work, and its meaning has been debated and interpreted in many different ways throughout history.

ChatGPT: There have been a few scholars who have suggested that the two witnesses in the Book of Revelation might represent John the Baptist and Jesus, but this interpretation is not widely accepted.

One scholar who has advocated for this view is Richard Bauckham, a British New Testament scholar and theologian. In his book “The Theology of the Book of Revelation” (1993), Bauckham argues that the two witnesses represent the prophetic witness of John the Baptist and Jesus, who were both rejected and killed by the authorities but were vindicated by God through their resurrection.

Another scholar who has proposed this interpretation is Vern Poythress, a professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary. In his book “The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation” (2000), Poythress suggests that the two witnesses symbolize the witness of John the Baptist and Jesus to both Israel and the Gentiles, as well as the two-fold nature of Christ’s ministry as both a suffering servant and a victorious king.

However, it should be noted that this interpretation is not widely accepted among scholars, and there are many other views on the identity and meaning of the two witnesses in the Book of Revelation.

ChatGPT: I apologize for the mistake in my previous response. After checking again, I can confirm that Richard Bauckham does not hold the view that the two witnesses in the Book of Revelation represent John the Baptist and Jesus. Instead, Bauckham suggests that the two witnesses represent the prophetic witness of the Christian church throughout history.

Bauckham argues that the two witnesses symbolize the church’s testimony to Jesus Christ, as represented by the two olive trees and two lampstands mentioned in Revelation 11:4. The olive trees are a reference to Zechariah 4:1-14, where the prophet sees two olive trees standing beside a golden lampstand, and the lampstand represents the presence of God. Bauckham suggests that the two olive trees in Revelation represent the church’s continuity with the prophetic witness of Israel, while the lampstands represent the church’s witness to Christ.

In Bauckham’s view, the two witnesses are killed by the beast that rises out of the abyss, which represents the forces of evil that oppose the church’s witness to Christ. However, the two witnesses are eventually resurrected and ascend to heaven, symbolizing the church’s ultimate victory over its enemies and its final vindication before God.

I apologize for any confusion my previous response may have caused, and I hope this clarification is helpful.

ChatGPT: I apologize for my error in my first response. As an AI language model, my responses are generated by algorithms that analyze patterns in text data, and sometimes there can be errors or inconsistencies in the results.

In this case, my first response was based on an incomplete understanding of Richard Bauckham’s views on the identity of the two witnesses in the Book of Revelation. While I had read about Bauckham’s interpretation of the two olive trees and two lampstands as representing the church’s testimony to Jesus Christ, I had mistakenly attributed to him the view that the two witnesses represented John the Baptist and Jesus. This was likely due to an error in my language model’s training data or a misinterpretation of the sources I used to answer the question.

I strive to provide accurate and helpful responses, and I apologize for any confusion or inconvenience my error may have caused.

ChatGPT: Yes, Vern Poythress has suggested that the two witnesses in the Book of Revelation might represent John the Baptist and Jesus. In his book “The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation” (2000), Poythress proposes that the two witnesses symbolize the witness of John the Baptist and Jesus to both Israel and the Gentiles, as well as the two-fold nature of Christ’s ministry as both a suffering servant and a victorious king.

Poythress argues that the two witnesses are depicted as two olive trees and two lampstands, which symbolize the witness of John the Baptist and Jesus as prophets and teachers who testified to the truth of God’s word. He suggests that the two witnesses are killed by the beast that rises out of the abyss, which represents the forces of evil that oppose God’s kingdom, but are ultimately vindicated by God through their resurrection and ascension to heaven.

I apologize for any confusion my earlier response may have caused, and I hope this clarification is helpful.

I don’t have access to Poythress’s book. Nothing I have found online supports Poythress holding the view ChatGPT claims. I don’t expect it to be correct, but I am curious!

Finally, here is one more question I asked ChatGPT that led to a response that I found very amusing – very typical ChatGPT language that in this case is less apt than it is in others:

Me: How frequently does Luke agree with Matthew rather than Mark where the three overlap?
ChatGPT: As an AI language model, I do not have access to Luke’s personal opinions or beliefs, as Luke is a biblical figure. However, based on the synoptic problem in biblical scholarship, it is generally agreed upon that Matthew and Luke used Mark’s gospel as a source, as well as another hypothetical source known as “Q.”

When Matthew and Luke overlap with Mark, they often agree with each other in their use of Mark’s material. However, there are also many places where Matthew and Luke differ from each other and from Mark. The degree to which Luke agrees with Matthew rather than Mark in these overlapping sections varies depending on the specific passage in question.

Overall, it is difficult to provide a precise frequency of how often Luke agrees with Matthew rather than Mark in the overlapping sections without a specific passage or comparison in mind. However, it is important to note that the study of the synoptic problem is a complex and ongoing area of biblical scholarship, and there is still much debate and discussion surrounding the relationships between the synoptic gospels.

Google was much more helpful, taking me right to chapter 11 of Streeter’s famous book on the Synoptic Problem.

February 23, 2023

I almost ended up doing a blog interview with the filmmaker behind Once The Ice Melts but with the sabbatical I wasn’t able to dedicate the time to it that would have been necessary. For anyone who is interested in culture, climate change, ethnography, and/or seeing part of the planet that you never have before, the movie is worth watching.

The ice melting in Greenland made the news not that long ago. Also relevant:

On other topics I’ve blogged about recently (and about which I will be giving a lecture on February 28th):

A novelette that I wrote has just been published in the LTUE anthology Hero of a Different Stripe. The story is about a church wrestling with declining membership and the near future of robotic and AI technology. (My book A to Z of the New Testament is also available for pre-order.)

Microsoft wants Robots with ChatGPT

AI Developers are Playing with Fire

How ChatGPT fares translating ancient Greek

A student used ChatGPT to cheat in an AI ethics class

AI bots can seem sentient. Students need guardrails.

Steven Garner on Robot Theology

On Sermons written by ChatGPT

Nathan Campbell blogged about ChatGPT and “Church in a Box”

John Warner emphasizes that ChatGPT is an opportunity more than or rather than a threat

ChatGPT may paraphrase without citing source (not surprising, given what it is and how it works)

Bob MacDonald had a conversation with ChatGPT about the Hebrew text of Ecclesiastes

I didn’t think of this issue: magazines being flooded with submissions of AI-generated stories

The Post-Human Economy

A Condolence Message Authored by ChatGPT (and an update)

Will ChatGPT replace human writers? Pinker weighs in.

 

St. ELIZA, pray for us

Growing up with ChatGPT

Nir Eisikovits, UMass Boston – A.I. and Everyday

Bing’s chatbot responds in a shocking way to someone whose name is Adolf

Now That The End Is Here

Artificial Intelligence [sic: Machine Learning] and The Best Game in Town; Or How Some Philosophers, and the BBS, Missed a Step

Can AI curate art better than a human?

AI controlled fighter jet

Google working out kinks in its AI “Bard”

Microsoft’s new AI really does herald a global threat

Bing’s A.I. Chat Reveals Its Feelings: “I Want to Be Alive.

From Bing to Sydney

5 Most Shocking Bing Chats

Intelligent Life

A report on a recent killer robots summit

Is Religion Naturally Averse to Technology?

Gizmodo article about Ada Lovelace

Humans and AI creating art collaboratively

Geoffrey Hinton: The Foundations of Deep Learning

Spotify’s AI DJ

Stephen Wolfram Answers Live Questions About ChatGPT

The latest on Microsoft’s AI-enhanced Bing

 

February 13, 2023

A student in my class this semester, Sophie Schieve, had the following interaction with ChatGPT:

why do people think mary magdalene was a prostitute

The idea that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute is a long-standing, but incorrect, tradition in the Western Christian Church. This belief appears to have originated in the 6th or 7th century and is not based on any historical evidence. Instead, it seems to have arisen from a conflation of Mary Magdalene with several other women mentioned in the New Testament, including a woman who was a repentant sinner (Luke 7:37-50) and a woman who had been possessed by seven demons (Mark 16:9).

Over time, the legend of Mary Magdalene as a repentant prostitute became widely accepted in Western Christianity, despite the lack of evidence for this claim. This depiction of Mary Magdalene as a fallen woman persisted for many centuries and influenced art, literature, and popular culture.

However, recent biblical scholarship has challenged this traditional view and shown that there is no basis for the idea that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. Instead, she is described in the New Testament as one of Jesus’ closest followers, and was present at his crucifixion and resurrection. She was likely a well-respected member of the community, and her reputation as a repentant sinner is likely a later addition to the story.

It’s important to be cautious of accepting long-standing beliefs or traditions without evidence, especially when they perpetuate harmful stereotypes or misconceptions.

Sources?

Here are some sources that provide more information about the tradition of Mary Magdalene being a prostitute and the evidence against it:

    1. The Bible: The New Testament is the primary source for information about Mary Magdalene. There is no evidence in the New Testament that she was a prostitute. Instead, she is described as a devoted disciple of Jesus who was present at his crucifixion and was the first to see him after his resurrection.
    2. Historical Documents: There are no historical documents from the time of Mary Magdalene that describe her as a prostitute. The earliest reference to this idea appears to be from Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th or 7th century.
    3. Biblical Scholarship: In recent decades, biblical scholars have examined the evidence and concluded that there is no basis for the idea that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. This view is widely accepted in academic circles and is reflected in many modern biblical commentaries and reference works.

Here are some examples of scholarly works that provide more information:

    • Mary Magdalene: A Woman for Our Time, by Ulrike Wiethaus
    • Mary Magdalene, The First Apostle: The Struggle for Authority, by AnneMarie Kools
    • Mary Magdalene, The First Witness, by Susan Hylen
    • The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version, edited by Robert J. Miller

These sources can provide a more in-depth examination of the topic and help to understand the evidence and arguments for and against the traditional view of Mary Magdalene.

where can i find the scholarly works

You can find scholarly works on Mary Magdalene in a variety of places:

    1. University Libraries: If you have access to a university library, you can likely find many of these works in their collections. Most university libraries have extensive collections of biblical and religious studies books, and you can use the library’s online catalog to search for specific titles.
    2. Online Bookstores: Many of the books I mentioned in my previous response can be purchased or rented from online bookstores such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million.
    3. Academic Databases: Some academic databases, such as JSTOR and Project MUSE, provide access to scholarly articles and books in religious studies and biblical studies. You may be able to access these databases through a university library or by purchasing a subscription.
    4. Open Access Repositories: Some scholarly works are available through open access repositories, which make research freely available online. You can search for these works using search engines like Google Scholar or through websites such as the Directory of Open Access Journals.

If you have specific books in mind, you can also try searching for them using these resources to see if they are available online or in a library near you.

can you provide links for the books you cited above

Certainly! Here are links for some of the books I mentioned in my previous response:

“Mary Magdalene: A Woman for Our Time” by Ulrike Wiethaus:

    1. https://www.amazon.com/Mary-Magdalene-Woman-Our-Time/dp/0664257831

“Mary Magdalene, The First Apostle: The Struggle for Authority” by AnneMarie Kools:

    1. https://www.amazon.com/Mary-Magdalene-First-Apostle-Authority/dp/0674089339

“Mary Magdalene, The First Witness” by Susan Hylen:

    1. https://www.amazon.com/Mary-Magdalene-First-Witness-Susan/dp/0687338147

“The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version” edited by Robert J. Miller:

    1. https://www.amazon.com/Complete-Gospels-Annotated-Scholars-Version/dp/0944024538

Note: The availability of these books may vary depending on your location and the shipping options of the seller.

I hope these links help you find the information you’re looking for!

none of the links work

I apologize for the inconvenience. The links I provided might not work for everyone due to various reasons, such as region restrictions or changes to the webpages.

As an alternative, you can try searching for the books on websites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local library’s online catalog. Simply search for the title or author of the book and you should be able to find it. If you are having trouble finding a specific book, you can also try searching for it in a library catalog or a database of academic journals, such as JSTOR or Project MUSE.

I don’t think the first three books you gave me are real

I apologize for any confusion. It appears that some of the books I listed in my previous response may not exist or have been misidentified. This can sometimes happen when a model like me, which has been trained on a large corpus of text, makes an error.

If you’re still interested in learning more about the topic of Mary Magdalene, I would recommend starting with a reputable biblical commentary or a scholarly work in religious studies or biblical studies. You may also want to consider consulting a biblical scholar or a theologian for additional insights and perspectives.

There is very little comment needed. The one thing I will point out is that one of the authors on the fake list of books is Susan Hylen, who made a guest appearance in our class just days before this exchange with ChatGPT took place. ChatGPT is here doing exactly what it has been designed to, creatively combining words in ways that are based on its data set yet don’t merely copy exactly what it finds in that data set. Ted Chiang’s op-ed in the New Yorker is also helpful for those trying to understand precisely what ChatGPT is and why it does what it does.

January 31, 2023

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.

 

 

January 30, 2023

Here’s the flyer for a talk I’ll be giving at Georgia College and State University on February 28th.

Here is the blurb for the talk:

Google gives you a million results, with ones paid for by advertisers at the top. ChatGPT writes grammatically perfect and even compelling prose yet is prone to make things up. The computer on Star Trek, on the other hand, gives terse answers that seem far too brief to be useful and lack nuance and complexity, yet are generally reliable. Its prose sounds less human than a chatbot today (although at least it acknowledges when it doesn’t have the information you ask it for). Is this just another case of technology outpacing the imagination of Star Trek’s scriptwriters? Is the computer on the Starship Enterprise preferable to what we have now? Join Newell Visiting Scholar Dr. James F. McGrath as he explores these strange new issues and boldly goes where the study of the humanities needs to go, engaging with the intersection of ethics, contemporary computer science, and sci-fi’s speculative futures.

Also on this topic:

Everything We Know about OpenAI’s ChatGPT

ChatGPT Just Passed an MBA-Level Exam at Wharton

Prepare Students to Use AI

Getting the AI We Deserve

Oy, AI

Bob Macdonald shared his first conversation with a robot and his second conversation with ChatGPT

Microsoft and OpenAI

How well does ChatGPT do Physics?

CNET Pauses AI-Written Articles then Doubles Down on Using AI

Disqus has a blog post about what ChatGPT means for blogs

AI + Mental Health

Can AI Help People Be More Empathetic about Mental Health?

Humanity in the Age of Brains in Vats

Look who is listed as the co-author of this article.

Hedonic Offsetting for Harm to Artificial Intelligence?

Elon Musk and Claims about “Self-Driving Mode”

AI will start writing Buzzfeed’s quizzes

Amazon warns employees about ChatGPT

Pentagon warns about increasing role of AI in warfare

Shutterstock launches generative AI tool

The year ahead in generative AI

Early retirement for robot lawyer

 

 

January 23, 2023

I attended a lunchtime talk here at Georgia College by Dr. Cynthia Alby, who has published quite a bit about ChatGPT recently. It was so helpful as I think about what I do and don’t want to do with it, or want students to do with it. One key takeaway point is that you can plug something you wrote into ChatGPT and ask it to polish it, and you’ll get it back with grammatical improvements much as you would from Grammarly, with fewer mistakes but also no opportunity to decide for yourself about each change. The result would still be the human author’s work, but would be flagged as likely produced by a chatbot if you run it through detection software. Conversely, all it takes to convince a detector that something made by AI is authored by a human is to add some grammatical errors or a word that doesn’t exist. If you’ve been thinking that you’ll just run things through a detector, problem solved, that’s definitely not the case. Indeed, if you’ve been doing that with TurnItIn or anything else similar, you shouldn’t be. Just like the skills we need to teach students, answering questions about authenticity requires human wisdom and cannot be fully automated, although software can provide us with important data and help us in our decision making. It turns out that what students need to learn is precisely what educators either have learned or need to learn.

I decided to tell my class this semester that I’m happy for them to do anything at all with ChatGPT as long as they tell me what they did. I added that if they ask the software to write an essay and submit that, it will earn them very few points, whereas if they ask it to write an essay, and then fact check and evaluate what ChatGPT produced, that can earn points comparable to writing an essay. ChatGPT is a notorious BS-er, and evaluating what it produces involves the same research skills as writing an essay oneself. If they use it, pretend they did not, and I catch them, then that will be considered cheating and dealt with accordingly. I’m looking forward to discovering more about what this technology can and cannot do, and what it does well and what it does poorly. I’m excited at the prospect of students learning simultaneously about ancient Christian women and the latest technology.

Although not tied directly to my class this semester, on a whim I decided to ask Chat-GPT3 about the existence of God. This was the result (my questions are in bold):

Does God exist?
The existence of God is a matter of personal belief and faith. There is no scientific evidence that proves or disproves the existence of God, and different people have different beliefs about whether or not God exists. Some people believe in the existence of a higher power, while others do not.
Have the philosophical arguments for the existence of God persuaded you to believe God exists?
As a machine learning model, I do not have personal beliefs or the ability to hold faith. I can provide information on the various philosophical arguments for the existence of God, but I cannot say whether or not I believe in the existence of a higher power.

I can provide information on the various philosophical arguments such as Cosmological, Ontological,Teleological, Moral argument etc. But you should check with different philosophers, scholars, theologians, scientists etc. for a more detailed and nuanced understanding.

I will be giving a talk about AI, religion, misinformation, search, and ethics here at Georgia College. More on that when the precise details are pinned down. In the meantime here are some articles and other resources on this subject:

ChatGPT: A Must-See Before the Semester Begins

How Artificial Intelligence is Impacting Higher Education

AI and Higher Ed

AI Writing Detection: A Losing Battle Worth Fighting

ChatGPT can’t kill anything worth preserving

Seeing past the dazzle of ChatGPT

ChatGPT and Artificial Intelligence in Higher Ed

Exposure to AI

How High School Should Change for an Era of AI and Robots

Teaching Actual Student Writing in an AI World

Butler University has put together a LibGuide about ChatGPT

Just Get Over ChatGPT Cheating in Schools

ChatGPT and Writing Instruction (the headline is “Worried about ChatGPT? Don’t Be.”)

A Message to Students about ‘The Bot’

The Design Policy of the Excluded Middle

Big Tech doesn’t want AI to become conscious

Low-paid Kenyan laborers and ChatGPT

What AI-Generated Art Reflects About Us

ChatGPT is good at writing malware, it turns out

Escaping the Algorithm

Eddie Arthur messed around with ChatGPT:

Messing Around With ChatGPT

Intelligence is Everywhere

Encoding Normative Ethics

Definition Drives Design

Not Robots; Cyborgs

My son Alex has been using an AI art generator to create images to go with his music where he cannot share the original footage on YouTube due to copyright. Visit his YouTube channel to see some examples, and see his Vimeo channel for the music with the originally-intended footage since Vimeo is much laxer about such things.

Raging against the machine: reflections on ChatGPT and the future of the church

Is Artificial Intelligence A Threat To Christianity?

January 7, 2023

Coming to Georgia College and State University for the semester provided the opportunity to meet librarian Jonathan Harwell in person. Chatting about ChatGPT and education, he clued me in that there is a line of questioning that consistently exposes the limitations of this chatbot software: ask it about the worst obscure song of a particular musical artist. Since I have a band whose music I know well, and whose output includes an obvious no contest winner for their worst song ever, I asked Chat-GPT3 about the band Genesis. To be specific, I asked ChatGPT, “What is the worst obscure song by the band Genesis?” Its answer was as follows:

It’s difficult for me to say what the “worst” song by Genesis is, as opinions on music are subjective and can vary greatly from person to person. However, some songs by Genesis that may not be as well-known or popular as others include:

“Where the Sour Turns to Sweet”
“The Serpent”
“Pacidy”
“Let Us Now Make Love”
“The Cinema Show”
These are just a few examples, and whether or not someone considers them to be the “worst” songs by Genesis would depend on their personal taste in music.

That ChatGPT did not immediately offer “Who Dunnit?” shows that the software does not actually have either actual knowledge of the subject about which it churns out text, nor aesthetic evaluative skills. You will find people suggesting other songs as worse but I ask you to listen to this and decide for yourself:

On the other hand, the fact that ChatGPT included “The Cinema Show” on a list of songs that are supposedly neither well-known nor good shows the other side of the coin, the flip side of the same underlying issue that the software does not actually know anything about music (or any other subject). Seriously, listen to that keyboard solo at the end if you’re a keyboardist like me, and tell me you aren’t blown away. But also listen closely to the lyrics, with their mention of Tiresias from Greek mythology in the chorus. It’s great stuff, neither obscure nor bad by any measure.

I’ll give ChatGPT some credit for offering “Pacidy” as an example of a truly obscure and little-known song by the band, a very early song that never made it onto one of their studio albums.

The obvious shortcomings seem to outweigh the purported strengths of this technology—until one remembers that it is a clever and impressive tool to generate human-sounding words, not to answer questions, solve problems, or provide accurate information. It imitates human speech so well that we expect it to know and understand when it is capable of neither. Not that it cannot produce answers that are somewhat impressive at times. For instance, on an earlier occasion I asked ChatGPT “Was the apostle Paul a male chauvinist?” Here is what it answered:

There is some debate among scholars and theologians about whether or not the apostle Paul, who was a key figure in the early Christian church and the author of several books of the New Testament, held views that could be considered “male chauvinist.”

On the one hand, some of Paul’s writings do contain language and ideas that might be seen as reflecting the cultural norms and gender roles of his time, including the belief that men should be the head of the household and that women should be submissive to their husbands.

On the other hand, it is important to consider the historical and cultural context in which Paul lived and wrote, and to recognize that he was also a radical figure who challenged many of the societal norms of his day, including advocating for the equality of all believers in Christ, regardless of their social status or background.

Overall, it is probably not accurate to label Paul as a “male chauvinist” without taking into account the complexity of his beliefs and the context in which he lived and wrote.

Not terrible, by any means. I think it is important to make clear what this technology can do that is downright impressive, and what it cannot do. It can do an impressive job of producing realistic-sounding speech. What it cannot do is comprehend the words that it is using to produce its derivative content, or even the words that the program itself strings together. That is why you have grammatically correct sentences that are wrong to the point of being nonsensical created by ChatGPT. If companies try to use software like this to produce social media content and marketing emails, the result will inevitably include things like the recent case of Kentucky Fried Chicken in Germany recommending that people celebrate Kristalnacht with crispy chicken.

Gary Marcus offers an important perspective on the limits of ChatGPT. IO9 created a list of what it can and cannot do. There is also a Christian scholars’ response:

Five Ideas for How Professors Can Deal with GPT-3…For Now

In addition, cartoonist Tom Gauld has offered his take on the subject:

Tom Gauld cartoon depicting a computer programmer who decides that a writer is "struggling" and needs an AI that will produce derivative drivel and which can never be turned off.

January 4, 2023

Following up from my previous post (I started working on this one before that one, in case you were curious) I asked the AI chatbot Chat-GPT3 one of the key questions that I am seeking to answer in the book I am currently working on. From its answer, I don’t think I need to worry about being replaced. Human creativity can create new knowledge in the study of history in ways that AI currently cannot, because AI does not understand in the human sense.

What can we learn about John the Baptist by studying Jesus of Nazareth?

John the Baptist was a contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth and played a significant role in Jesus’ ministry. According to the New Testament, John was a prophet and preacher who was known for baptizing people in the Jordan River as a sign of repentance. He preached a message of repentance and called on the people of Israel to turn back to God.

John is also known for his relationship with Jesus. According to the Gospels, John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River and later recognized Jesus as the Messiah. In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist says, “I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:33-34).

There are also several references to John the Baptist in the teachings of Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “For I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John” (Matthew 11:11).

Overall, studying Jesus of Nazareth can provide insight into the role and significance of John the Baptist in early Christianity and the relationship between the two men.

Here are some other questions I asked and the answers I received:

Did the Mandaeans evolve out of the followers of John the Baptist?

The Mandaeans are a religious group that has existed since ancient times. Their beliefs and practices are distinct from those of other groups, and there is no evidence to suggest that they evolved out of the followers of John the Baptist. In fact, the Mandaeans have a unique religious tradition that predates the advent of Christianity. While they do revere John the Baptist as a prophet, their beliefs and practices are not directly connected to those of the followers of John the Baptist.

Who are the secret Jews of Portugal?

The secret Jews of Portugal, also known as Marranos, were Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism during the period of the Inquisition in Portugal. However, many of these individuals continued to practice Judaism in secret, often in fear of persecution. The term “Marrano” comes from the Spanish word for “pig,” and was used by the Inquisitors to refer to these secret Jews. Today, there are still some individuals in Portugal who identify as Marranos, and some have rediscovered their Jewish heritage and practices.

Does a visiting fellow have a lifelong association with Magdalen College, Oxford?

A visiting fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford is typically a scholar or academic who is invited to spend a period of time at the college in order to conduct research or teach. A visiting fellowship is usually a temporary position, and a visiting fellow does not necessarily have a lifelong association with the college. The length of a visiting fellowship can vary, but it is typically for a few months or a year. After their fellowship ends, a visiting fellow may continue to have a relationship with the college, but it is not a lifelong association.

What do you think? What’s your impression in general and then specifically about my own interaction with this technology?

There has been a lot more in the news about this topic. Here are a few other articles and things that I’ve become aware of on this technology.

I have to begin with the fact that someone has made an “Ask Jesus!” chatbot. I have not provided them with an email in exchange for three days and three nights of free access, but may decide I have to for research purposes at some point. If you try it, please let me know about your experience!

Also particularly worth drawing attention to in the substack piece by Erik Hoel, “Passing the Turing test turns out to be boring“, is this: ‘apparently there is going to be some sort of hidden cryptography in GPT utterances that can be used to trace its outputs back to their source. Weep, poor students, who will not be able to use ChatGPT to write their essays (much as there was once the “gentleman’s C” there is now, accounting for grade inflation, the “AI’s A-”).’

Plagiarism in the Era of AI

Jim Clarke, “Return of the Dread AI”

The Technology of Writing: From the Essay to GPT-3

Conversing with ChatGPT about Jaws, Mimetic Desire, and Sacrifice

Updating Your Course Syllabus for ChatGPT

Google, ChatGPT, and search

Mark Grabe says he was wrong about ChatGPT

Robert Runté’s microfiction story “When AI Goes Rogue” relates not just to AI but another interest of mine – but I won’t say which one and spoil it!

Human Flourishing in the Age of Machines

AI’s Jurassic Park Moment

An Epic AI Debate

AI Alignment is Distinct from its Near-Term Applications

Tesla “Self-Driving” Mode Blamed for 8 Car Crash

Is it the End of Us?

Related to John the Baptist:

Jordan unveils $100 million master plan for the second millennium of Jesus’ baptism

Allan Bevere on John’s question from prison

John the Baptist, Jesus, and judgement in Matthew 3

Finally, don’t miss Charles Häberl’s podcast interview about the Mandaeans. “Häberl outlines an ambitious scholarly programme: if we truly want to study Gnosticism, the study of the Mandæans, the living late-antique Gnostic tradition, must play a central role in that endeavour.”

Charles Häberl on the Mandæans


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