By Who’s Authority?
A Plea for Teaching Discernment In The Emerging World of AI
In his 1948 book, Ideas Have Consequences, Richard Weaver observed that we were being overrun by a “juggernaut of technology.” Imagine what he might say today. I believe that Peggy Noonan provides an update on the impact technology has on how we view our world in better thoughts, perhaps, than many other current observers.
“I will be rude here and say that in the past 30 years we have not only come to understand the internet’s and high tech’s steep and brutal downside – political polarization for profit, the knowing encouragement of internet addiction, the destruction of childhood, but a nation that has grown shallower and less able to think.”
She goes on to observe, “The men and women of Silicon Valley have demonstrated extreme genius like brilliance in one part of life, inventing tech. Because they are human and vain, they think it extends to all parts. It doesn’t. They aren’t especially wise, they aren’t deep and as I’ve said their consciences seem unevenly developed.” Bill Gates pretty quickly comes to mind.
And therein lies the challenge that we face
as those who desire to educate our children
from a biblical perspective: How do we
equip them to see beyond the truly remarkable
educational and entertainment capabilities of
ChatGBT, TikTok, and the myriad other
applications readily available to all our
children? How do we equip them to be wise
and discerning in the face of the tsunami of
information, and misinformation unleashed by those men and women of Silicon Valley? If we don’t figure a sound way forward, I fear that we doom our children and, in too many cases, ourselves, to the manipulative power of technology and the internet.
Consider, for example the ability of ChatGBT to cull through enormous amounts of information on any topic to produce a “thoughtful” essay on virtually any topic from the history of the Roman Empire to the literature of 16th century England to essays on the reliability of the Scriptures. The problem? ChatGBT can’t evaluate the quality or truthfulness of all the material it examines and thus creates a flawed basis for its artificially produced essay.
In reality, there is no “intelligence,” artificial or otherwise, involved in these efforts. All that currently exists is technology and algorithms created with the ability to locate reams of information on a particular topic. Without the ability to sift through and evaluate what is being presented, however, the recipient of all that data is left without the capacity to decide what has value and what might be inaccurate and even harmful. Given the huge information dumps available through current technology it is easy to see how simple it would be to distort reality.
A Template to Equip
In the New Testament book, The Acts of the Apostles, Luke recounts the story of Paul’s visit to the Macedonian city of Berea. As was his custom upon arriving in a new community Paul would locate the local synagogue and share the Gospel with those in attendance on Sabbath. Talk about a disruptive message. Paul was asking righteous Jews to consider that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-awaited Messiah and the fulfillment of all they had long been taught from the Old Testament scriptures. He was, in essence, asking them to abandon what they had long believed to be true and risk losing lifelong relationships in the process.
What happens at the conclusion of Paul’s presentation, however, provides a template for how we must equip our students for the most recent disruption caused by 21st century technology, the AI revolution, and its impact on education as it is practiced in America today.
Rather than simply dismissing Paul, as many did, these Jews in Berea decided to take the time to examine relevant passages in the Old Testament to see if there was any truth in Paul’s argument. After a week of intense study, they came to embrace Paul’s message. In other words, they took what Paul had taught them and compared it against what they knew to be true. When they saw how the two messages aligned, they were then able to accept the gospel as an accurate reflection of the relevant portions of the Old Testament.
This approach echoes the following instruction outlined by the author of Proverbs:
“One who gives an answer before he hears,
it is foolishness and shame to him.
The mind of the discerning acquires knowledge,
and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.
The first to plead his case seems right,
until another comes and examines him.
Proverbs 18: 13, 15, 17 NAS
Discovering true Truth
Thus, according to Luke, these Bereans were “more noble” because they took the time to examine and compare what Paul had taught them against an objective measure: the Old Testament scriptures. That is a crucial skill that needs to be taught to every Christ-follower. The compulsion to compare a new “disruptive” thought to a source considered to be objective truth is, however, a concept out of favor in the K-12 and higher education world in which our children are being taught. Simply by equipping our students to engage a matter as did the Bereans will make them outliers, radicals, and even revolutionaries, in our current cultural context.
Yet that is exactly what we need to do if we want to help our students discover what Frances Schaeffer called, True truth, rather than have them fall prey to the post-modern concept that truth is whatever I, or ChatGBT decides it is. To get lost in a debate over whether the use of AI in writing an essay leads to plagiarism misses a more important point.
Consider, for example, how Oregon’s Department of Education suggests educators should approach the teaching of mathematics. Those teachers are told that “the concept of mathematics being purely objective is unequivocally false . . . that upholding the idea that there are always right and wrong answers perpetuates objectivity as well as fear open conflict" Are you shaking your head yet?
If, as Oregon’s Department of Education, believes, “that mathematical knowledge has been appropriated by Western culture” and that “math has been and continues to be used to oppress and marginalize people and communities of color” then how likely are those same people to accept the possibility that objective truth of any kind exists in the world?
The Authority of Scripture
Sadly, the problem is not limited to the domain of secular education. Calls by some leaders in the evangelical world to “decouple” from the Old Testament and by others who would try and set Jesus against Paul diminish the authority of Scripture and should be a warning of how far we have drifted from historic Christianity. In such a world, without any objective means of guidance, we, and our students, lose the ability to find our way forward.
It is into this kind of world that we are sending our students. Thus we, who have been entrusted with the responsibility to properly equip them for their role as ambassadors of Christ, must ask and answer this question: How well are we preparing our students to thrive in an increasingly hostile world that has abandoned the very idea of Truth? Given what’s at stake failure to do our job well is not an option.
 Noonan, Peggy, Artificial Intelligence in the Garden of Eden: People in the tech world want, unconsciously, to be God and on some level think they are God, Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2023.  Ibid  Cited by John Stonestreet and Shane Morris in Is Math Racist? BreakPoint Daily, June 29, 2023  Ibid