Rev. Daniel Holstege, pastor of the Wingham PRC in Wingham, Ontario, Canada

Hit the pause on artificial intelligence!

In an open letter published last March and signed by over a thousand of the world’s artificial intelligence (AI) experts, including the wealthiest man in the world, Elon Musk, we read the following:

AI systems with human-competitive intelligence can pose profound risks to society and humanity, as shown by extensive research and acknowledged by top AI labs. As stated in the widely endorsed Asilomar AI Principles, Advanced AI could represent a profound change in the history of life on Earth, and should be planned for and managed with commensurate care and resources. Unfortunately, this level of planning and management is not happening….

Contemporary AI systems are now becoming human-competitive at general tasks, and we must ask ourselves: Should we let machines flood our information channels with propaganda and untruth? Should we automate away all the jobs, including the fulfilling ones? Should we develop nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us? Should we risk loss of control of our civilization?

Therefore, we call on all AI labs to immediately pause for at least 6 months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4….

Humanity can enjoy a flourishing future with AI. Having succeeded in creating powerful AI systems, we can now enjoy an “AI summer” in which we reap the rewards, engineer these systems for the clear benefit of all, and give society a chance to adapt. Society has hit pause on other technologies with potentially catastrophic effects on society.”1

OpenAI, a leading developer of AI cofounded by Elon Musk in 2015, launched the latest and most powerful artificial intelligence system in the world last November (2022). They call it ChatGPT, and no doubt some of you have already used it. The release of ChatGPT into the public domain sent shock waves of excitement and terror through the world because of the amazing level of intelligence it displayed.2 The new development has demonstrated for many that “artificial general intelligence” (AGI), which they say will surpass human intelligence, is not as far distant as they once thought. The fear is that the rate of development is accelerating so fast that humanity could be inadvertently creating a “humanoid race” that will wipe out their creators. Musk, whose Tesla company is developing humanoid robots, is one of many voices identifying AGI as one of the greatest existential threats to humanity today, up there with pandemics, religious extremism, and nuclear war.3 Hence the call for a pause on all AI development.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta Platforms (formerlyFacebook, Inc.), has publicly disagreed with Musk on many issues (they recently challenged each other to a cage fight!) and has a much more positive outlook on artificial intelligence. His company has said in response to the open letter and the call for a pause on AI development: They will not be doing that.4

As Christians, we must obviously evaluate artificial intelligence carefully. While we may find good uses of this technology, let us be bold to condemn all evil uses (for example, asking ChatGPT to write a term paper for us and lying to our teacher that we wrote it). Since the days when elite developers like Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal- cain walked the earth, the wicked world has always pressed technological developments into the service of sin. The development of AI runs parallel to a shocking development of moral degeneration throughout the world today and the rise of an antichristian civilization. Indeed, the idea of artificially intelligent humanoid robots walking and talking, calls to mind the biblical prophecy that in the last days mankind will make an image of the man of sin, a likeness of that man who will epitomize sinful man, and that image will come alive and have the ability to talk and kill those who do not worship the beast (Rev. 13:14-15).

But as Christians, we must remember that the Highest Intelligence, who created the universe, is our God who sits in the heavens and reigns over all, and He laughs at the heathen as they rage and imagine a vain thing and set themselves against Him and His Christ (Ps. 2:1-4). Our God is still in the heavens doing whatsoever He pleases (Ps. 115:3). Even if the new idols of man have mouths that actually speak, ears that actually hear, and hands that actually touch, we ought to keep on trusting in the Lord, for He is our help and our shield (v. 9). We do not fear what the world fears, that is, human extinction at the hands of robots, because we know that our God works all things together for good to us who love Him, and Christ comes quickly and the new Jerusalem with Him where we will dwell with God forever (Rom. 8:28, Rev. 21:3).

News from various denominations

The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the largest Protestant denomination in America, took place in June in New Orleans. Rick Warren, whose Saddleback Church was recently ousted from the SBC for ordaining a woman into the office of teaching pastor, was given the floor for three minutes to plead with the 12,000 plus delegates to reverse the decision. Warren argued that the issue of women’s ordination ought not to divide the denomination. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, was given the floor to give a three-minute rebuttal. Mohler argued that the idea of women pastors was a fundamental issue that violates “both the doctrine and the order of the Southern Baptist Convention.” The overwhelming majority of the delegates (88%) voted to uphold the removal of Saddleback Church and went on to begin a two-year process to add language to the denominational Constitution that will allow only men to be pastors.5 For the time being, officially anyway, it appears that the SBC will hold the line against the inroads of the liberal thinking that puts women into office and then brings in a host of other unbiblical ideas.

The second largest Protestant denomination in America, the United Methodist Church (UMC), is going through a massive split due to differences on homosexuality. In January of this year, Christianity Today reported that the huge schism some anticipated turned out to be smaller than expected. Only about 1,800 churches (!) had disaffiliated with the LGBT-affirming denomination by that time, and they were mostly in the conservative south of the country.6 But the numbers have grown. As of June, more than 5,800 of the 30,000 churches (20%) have withdrawn from the denomination, including many from the north.7 The UMC has adopted a plan that gives churches until the end of this year to disaffiliate and keep their properties. So the exodus will likely continue. Most of the churches leaving the UMC are joining a newly formed Methodist denomination called the Global Methodist Church, which began in 2022 with a plan “to uphold traditional, conservative Wesleyan theology but run on a lighter, leaner infrastructure that emphasizes grassroots accountability and ministry connections.”8 Since Wesleyan theology is Arminian, there is no indication that this more conservative denomination has come any closer to the truth of the gospel than the liberalizing one from which it came.

In June, the delegates to Synod 2023 of the Christian Reformed Church gathered at Calvin University. Among other things, the synod had to deal with repercussions from decisions of Synod 2022. As you may recall, Synod2022 adopted as the official position of the CRC that the sexual sins forbidden by the seventh commandment according to Lord’s Day 41 of the Heidelberg Catechism include “homosexual sex.”9 Synod 2022 also directed the Neland Ave CRC in Grand Rapids to rescind its decision to ordain a lesbian deacon back in 2020. Neland did not do so, but appealed to Synod 2023 with the support of Classis Grand Rapids East. All eyes were on synod again this past June to see whether it would uphold the previous year’s decisions. It did. Synod 2023 rejected the appeal of Neland by a vote of 124 to 47 (with six delegates not voting). Synod instructed Neland to rescind the appointment of any others in same-sex relationships whom they may have put into office. However, an overture requesting synod to discipline Neland and Classis Grand Rapids East failed.10

A synodical delegate from Classis Niagara in Ontario, Canada who attended Neland Ave CRC when he was a student at Calvin College opined that Synod 2023 was “no shining city on a hill—far from it…. We’re a microcosm of our wider culture, right here, deeply divided, politically maneuvered and maneuvering. We’re stuck in our own echo chambers. As a gathered assembly, I’m concerned that we have grace on our lips and contempt in our hearts. We’re not listening.” He was later one of several delegates who turned in his credentials and walked out of the assembly in protest.11 When immature children do not get their way, they sometimes do things like that. When spiritually mature adults do not get their way in the church, they either acquiesce to what the majority decides or protest in the proper manner. But one thing this delegate said is clearly true: the CRC is deeply divided on whether or not to be LGBT-affirming and does seem to be a microcosm of the wider culture when it comes to the battle between righteousness and unrighteousness in this regard.

1 Examples include human cloning, human germline modification, gain-of-function research, and eugenics.

2 For example, ChatGPT could make a sermon on a specified text of Scripture in the style of a specified preacher whose sermons can be accessed online, and fool a general audience. But we know that authentic preaching is a spiritual activity of a man sent by Christ. No robot will ever be able to preach in the true sense of the word. See Russell Moore, Christianity Today, “AI Might Teach, But It Can’t Preach,” January 26, 2023 (https://www. intelligence-ai-preach-sermons-church.html).

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9 However, as reported by John VanDyk of Christian Renewal, “Rather than accepting the result of 2022 a number of local churches decided instead to wave the pride flag, by taking up the tag line on websites and street signs of churches that their congregation is ‘welcoming and affirming.’ They include: Eastern Avenue CRC, Grand Rapids…” (“House Divided: Overtures to Upend the CRC Synod 2022 Human Sexuality Decisions,” Christian Renewal, June 3, 2023). The church of which Herman Hoeksema was the pastor some one hundred years ago now affirms and celebrates sexual perversion.

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11 I have been told that most of the Christian Reformed Churches here in Ontario, Canada are on the liberal side.