Why We're Rarely Taken Seriously

Michael Metzger

My critics say I’m unduly critical of evangelicals. But a new paper written by evangelicals on Artificial Intelligence suggests otherwise.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention recently published a paper: “Artificial Intelligence: An Evangelical Statement of Principles.” The authors address AI related to sex, medicine, accountability and the image of God.

It’s encouraging to see religious leaders tackle this issue. But in a Wall Street Journal article titled Evangelicals Take on Artificial Intelligence, Dr. S. Joshua Swamidass, an associate professor of laboratory and genomic medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, writes, “I found the document disappointing.” Swamidass is an artificial-intelligence scientist. He’s an expert on the subject of AI. And he’s an evangelical.

Swamidass says the problem is the paper’s authors. He likens the document to the Lausanne Covenant of 1974 (what—you haven’t heard of it?). Hailed as one of the most important statements in modern evangelicalism, most of the signatories are pastors and theologians representing a thin slice of evangelicalism. Your average everyday workaday evangelical has never heard of the Lausanne Covenant. They don’t take it seriously.

Swamidass says this is the AI paper’s problem. It “only superficially engages the reality of artificial intelligence. It often reads as if the community of AI scientists and ethicists weren’t even consulted. Most signatories are pastors and theologians, and almost none have expertise in artificial intelligence.” AI experts don’t take it seriously.

This isn’t just an evangelical problem. It’s a Western Christianity problem. Take America’s growing disdain for capitalism. Clergy and theologians publish voluminous papers on faith, work, economics, and capitalism. I’m glad they’re tackling this issue. But do our nation’s leading economists take them seriously? It doesn’t seem so.

US Rep Joe Kennedy III is trying. He’s preaching moral capitalism. At Harvard Law School. I don’t think Kennedy’s an evangelical but he knows serious institutions have to take your ideas seriously if you want to change the world in significant ways.

Now the abortion issue is likely headed for the US Supreme Court. Ten years ago, 152 Christians signed The Manhattan Declaration (what—you haven’t heard of it?). It is a call to preserve the sanctity of life, including the unborn. I’m glad we’re engaging this issue, but most of the signatories are clergy and theologians. Where are the doctors, attorneys, legislators?

You could say I’m the pot calling the kettle black. I was a pastor (doubt I’m a theologian). But I never pretended to be an expert on subjects I had no firsthand experience in. In the Christian tradition, an expert is someone with hands-on experience. Experience yields expertise, making you an expert.

It’s different in Western Christianity. If you write a paper, you’re an expert on the subject. Except that serious people and institutions in the wider world are not fooled. They don’t read our manifestos. They rarely take us seriously.

Sociologists say the cultural impact of a faith is measured by the degree to which serious institutions and influencers take your definition of reality seriously and act on it. America’s serious institutions and influencers don’t take our definition of Artificial Intelligence, capitalism, and human life seriously. I wonder if they even understand it.

The Quakers didn’t recognize this in the 1700s. Clergy penned voluminous papers on the evils of the slave trade. Parliament ignored them. They couldn’t make heads or tails of the Quakers’ language. The Clapham circle (c.1790-1833) translated Quaker research into images accessible to all (that’s what Clapham Institute does). The most popular image was of a slave asking a question: AM I NOT A MAN AND A BROTHER?

Swamidass suggests clergy take the same approach. “Start with a list of questions.” That’s what Jacques Ellul did in his 1964 book, The Technological Society. The French philosopher, theological, and sociologist asked 76 questions regarding technology. Many serious institutions and influencers have read Ellul. Some in the technology industry have even taken him seriously. Clapham Institute is working to develop more evangelicals like Ellul.


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  1. Very important and timely observations. This paired with evangelicalism populist anti-intellectualism and anti-center institutions (because of their fear of elites) is further indication of its growing irrelevance to cultural life, much less political life of the country. National leadership was not stolen, but abdicated.

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