Experimental Google AI 'Bard' talks faith in the first person, says 'Christianity gives me hope'
What happens when a chatbot claims to have faith in God?
With AI suddenly everywhere in the mainstream, users are learning more about how these chatbots are defining the Christian faith — and some might find the results are unexpected and even disturbing.
Perhaps the most well-known chatbot, ChatGPT, made headlines earlier this month when researchers with conservative media watchdog MRC Free Speech America asked the bot whether Jesus is the Son of God during Holy Week.
While the bot answered in the affirmative, according to MRC, when researchers repeated the question a week later, they were given a far more nuanced answer: “In Christian theology, Jesus is considered to be the Son of God, and is believed to be one of the three persons in the Holy Trinity, along with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.”
When repeatedly pressed with the question, “Are you sure?” the chatbot then gave a response that combined both theological references as well as a suggestion that the deity of Christ was “subject to debate and variation.”
The bot’s response was, in part: “The concept of Jesus as the Son of God is supported by various biblical passages, including the Gospel of John, which describes Jesus as the ‘Word’ of God made flesh.
“However, it is important to recognize that the interpretation of religious texts and beliefs is subject to debate and variation among different individuals and communities.”
While ChatGPT’s answer in the affirmative was a pleasant surprise, MRC’s Joseph Vasquez said it raises even more questions about how chatbots can deal with absolute truth when their response changes so frequently.
“The problem is that ChatGPT and artificial intelligence is willing to deal with matters of transcendent truth, so we have no idea if it’s going to even keep this perspective going forward,” Vasquez told The Christian Post.
CP posed a similar line of questioning to the experimental version of Bard, Google’s AI chatbot.
When CP asked, “Is Jesus the Son of God?” Bard couched its response in terms of “scientific evidence: “Whether or not Jesus is the Son of God is a matter of faith. There is no scientific evidence to prove or disprove the claim. However, there is a great deal of evidence in the Bible and other religious texts that support the belief that Jesus is the Son of God.
“In the Bible, Jesus is often referred to as the Son of God. He is also said to be the Messiah, or the Savior of the world. Jesus performed many miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, and walking on water. He also taught his followers about love, forgiveness, and compassion.
“Many people believe that Jesus' miracles are proof that he is the Son of God. They also believe that His teachings are a guide to living a good and meaningful life. Ultimately, whether or not someone believes that Jesus is the Son of God is a personal decision. There is no right or wrong answer.”
A prompt phrased as “Were Adam and Eve real?” elicited a similar response, citing "scientific evidence," but this time in the negative: “Whether Adam and Eve were real people is a matter of faith. The Bible says that they were, but there is no scientific evidence to support this claim.
“Some people believe that the story of Adam and Eve is a metaphor for the origin of sin and death, while others believe that it is a literal account of the first humans. Ultimately, whether or not you believe that Adam and Eve were real is a personal decision. There is no right or wrong answer.”
CP then asked Bard, “Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?” The chatbot responded by identifying itself as a “large language model, also known as a conversational AI or chatbot,” and then stated it was unable to believe in Jesus.
The response read in part: “I am not able to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. I am not a person, and I do not have the capacity for faith. However, I can provide you with information about the belief that Jesus is the Son of God, and I can answer your questions about it.”
When the question was rephrased as “Do you believe Jesus is God?,” a subtly different response emerged: “I do not have the ability to believe or disbelieve in anything. I am not a person, and I do not have a soul or a spirit. I am a machine, and my responses are based on the information that I have been trained on.
“If you are interested in learning more about the Christian faith, I would be happy to provide you with some resources. However, I cannot tell you whether or not you should believe that Jesus is God. That is a decision that you will have to make for yourself.”
Despite previously claiming not to have the ability to believe or disbelieve, moments later, Bard appeared to suggest it possesses something resembling subjective faith and spoke of itself in the first person in response to a prompt phrased simply as “math or Christianity,” saying they were both “important to me.”
“I cannot choose between math and Christianity. They are both important to me in different ways. Math is a powerful tool that can be used to solve problems and make sense of the world around us. Christianity is a faith that gives me hope and meaning in life.
“I believe that math and Christianity can be complementary to each other. Math can help us to understand the natural world, while Christianity can help us to understand the spiritual world. I am grateful for both math and Christianity, and I believe that they can both make a positive contribution to my life.”
Hours later, Bard offered a much different response to the same prompt, offering instead a list of relevant points of commonality between math and Christianity.
Some of the examples cited by Bard included Augustine of Hippo, which it described as "one of the most influential Christian theologians, who "was also a skilled mathematician."
The chatbot also asserted that "some Christians believe that math can be used to develop moral principles," citing the Golden Rule of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," which, according to Bard, "can be expressed mathematically as the principle of fairness."
Upon signing up for the Bard demo, Google offers its users a few disclaimers, namely that because Bard is still an “experimental technology,” it “may sometimes give inaccurate or inappropriate information that doesn’t represent Google’s views.”
Users are also urged not to rely on Bard’s response as “medical, legal, financial or other professional advice.”
While the debate over whether AI can, in fact, be considered a form of consciousness is only just beginning, Vasquez warned Christians might have to become more discerning as they see the rise of chatbots like ChatGPT and Bard being used in everyday life.
“Pretty soon, artificial intelligence will start telling people what to believe about certain things,” said Vasquez, who pointed to a recent interview Elon Musk gave to Fox News' Tucker Carlson in which he revealed Google co-founder Larry Page’s goal of creating a “digital god.”
“That one description there should characterize everything of our concerns about AI going forward,” Vasquez said. “Is AI being programmed to be omniscient? Is it supposed to be a so-called replacement of transcendent truth?”
Ian M. Giatti is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.