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Editor’s Note: This is part of a series from KSL.com looking at the rise of artificial intelligence technology tools like ChatGPT, the opportunities and threats they pose, and the impact they could have on various aspects of our daily lives , deals.
PROVO – People now have the ability to delegate their writing tasks to artificial intelligence thanks to technologies like ChatGPT. And it’s kind of surprising how well the system performs, even though its answers aren’t always flawless.
In the last month there has been a lot of talk about whether ChatGPT could be used to write a sermon or if something would be missing. One pastor said AI technology cannot replicate the passion of actual preaching.
“There’s a soul missing — I don’t know how else to put it,” Hershael York, a pastor in Kentucky who is also a professor of Christian preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told the Associated Press.
Lazy pastors might be tempted to use AI for this purpose, York said, “but not the great shepherds, who love to preach, who love their people.”
I gave ChatGPT the same prompt my bishop sent me a few weeks ago as I was preparing to speak at my congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The result was an eight-paragraph speech that was very similar in structure to the speeches I’m used to hearing from the pulpit. It began with “brothers and sisters,” included a scripture, and ended with an invitation. It stayed on topic, matched exactly my understanding of the gospel, and made connections between different gospel themes.
I quickly realized that it’s possible I actually use ChatGPT when preparing future conversations after learning how to create a better prompt. And this sermon writing technology is definitely useful for writing lectures in a religion where everyone is encouraged to speak in church regardless of expertise.
Ken Alford, professor of church history at Brigham Young University, said the technology behind ChatGPT is fascinating and can definitely help when writing talks; but people should learn how it works first, check his answers and add personal experiences.
“I think the trick is that we have to learn how to use it because it can do some interesting things and has a much larger database than we do individually. The problem, however, is that not all information is accurate,” he warned.
Alford asked ChatGPT to write a talk on a topic of his choice. His choice was forgiveness.
“This is the origin of a really cute speech. It’s certainly not a speech I’d hope anyone would stop giving. But . . . it has some good advice, and some of that text could be straight out of a general conference address,” he said.
What’s missing from ChatGPT’s conversations?
Alford said that various members who give talks in church meetings don’t create church doctrine, but it’s a policy that makes sense in conjunction with lay ministry since no one gets paid to prepare a talk or sermon each week.
“Honestly, it’s a wonderful thing for members because it’s a good experience. It makes a difference. It also lets you hear different life experiences and different perspectives. And… especially for the youth, it’s a really great workout,” he said.
If lectures are written using only AI technology, some of these advantages are lost. Alford specifically said that the learning that comes from an author studying for and writing a sermon is lost.
Alford’s suggestion is to first come up with ideas on the topic, bring them into ChatGPT, and add personal experiences and testimonies to what builds it up – use it as a starting point, not an end.
“If you use ChatGPT or something similar, just use it as another resource or consider it possible first draft material. Don’t do it five minutes before you walk out the door, and then in sacrament meeting, get up and read that talk,” he said.
ChatGPT, Alford said, will not offer a heartfelt personal testimony. That always has to be added by the person preaching.
“ChatGPT is very impersonal, and I think the best conversations in sacrament meeting are personal. … There’s just no way to duplicate that because it doesn’t know how you feel about something or what’s going on in your life,” he said.
Alford said it might be a good idea for youth leaders to host an activity where youth could write a talk using ChatGPT and the leaders could teach them how to build that into a talk that’s ready to be shared from the pulpit to become.
Problems with ChatGPT conversations
The goal of ChatGPT is to create something that answers your input quickly so it can focus processing power on the next input. Because of this, it can find quotes and scriptures quickly. But Alford said the source it finds isn’t guaranteed to be the best on the subject. It can also pull a quote that looks convincing but is nowhere to be found, or one that is a real quote but has the wrong quote.
Alford said that when he asked the AI to write a church lecture on the law of consecration, purposely asking for a more difficult subject, he said the lecture he produced had historical and doctrinal inaccuracies.
“I worry that teens, especially if they rely too heavily on ChatGPT, might inadvertently sneak some things into their conversations that just aren’t accurate. They’re just not right,” he said.
In one of the responses Alford received when he specifically asked about a scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ, she responded with a scripture from Hebrews of the New Testament of the Bible, identifying it as a scripture from the same chapter and verse in Doctrine and Covenants.
The talks Alford created using ChatGPT incorrectly quoted Latter-day Saint Apostles, but the quotes may contain clauses from other Church sources and seemed credible.
In one response, the quote was created: “Faith is a principle of action and power. When we have faith, we have confident assurance that God will fulfill His promises to us.”
The first clause is a quote or near-quote from multiple sources on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints website, and the second half appears to be a quote—but it ties the quote to a specific talk by the Church President on Russell M. Nelson.
It also took actual quotes and gave them an inaccurate quote. One quote used was actually said by another Church apostle, and some were by the same person at a different time.
Just a few years ago, using a cell phone to search for scriptures, sources, and doctrines in church classes was new, and AI could become just as commonplace in the future as technology advances.
Alford said ChatGPT and other AI programs are likely to improve, and some of those clear issues in the current program could be resolved.
He said AI searches are quickly being integrated into search engines, email and programs like Microsoft Word.
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Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com as a reporter in 2021. It covers courts and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.
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