Best Commentaries: The best deal on the best commentaries: 50% off in July. Save now or 888-568-3589.

From Data to Discernment: Why AI Can’t Replace Cultivating of Wisdom

An image of a robotic figure thinking to represent AI and its limits on wisdom.

Recent advances in highly sophisticated, generative AI technologies have made headlines and sparked countless hot takes. These headlines and hot takes—on the novelty of ChatGPT, AI-generated deepfakes, and so forth—will appear antiquated in just a few years, however. AI will soon infuse everyday life as much as the internet does today.

For Christians, the question is not whether we will use AI going forward, but how we should use it. Crucial to this question is clarity on what AI is and what it isn’t; what AI can do well (in many cases better than humans) and what AI can’t do well (what remains the unique domain of humanity).

Here is one quick attempt at an answer: AI synthesizes, sorts, and summarizes vast quantities of knowledge in a highly efficient, mind-blowingly fast way in response to a question, problem, or prompt given to it. That’s what it does well. But AI does not create new knowledge, nor does it originate questions or big-picture theories in the manner of a theologian, philosopher, or poet deep in contemplation. An AI algorithm can “problem solve” in creative, adaptive ways. But it’s not great at knowing why a problem is a problem, or why one problem should be prioritized over another. It lacks the judgment to triage greater or lesser concerns. It can’t morally evaluate problems and propose solutions. It is utilitarian, data-driven, and efficient. It computes with astonishing speed and precision, but it can’t contemplate. It quickly gets the “right answer” to even complicated questions. But it can’t tell us how to live rightly.

In other words, AI is great at knowledge, but incapable of wisdom.

Related article: A Theology of AI by a Bible Software Nerd

Use AI to supplement knowledge; look elsewhere for wisdom

We shouldn’t fear AI’s abilities to supplement our knowledge. Used carefully and in its right place, AI as an information-synthesizer can be a helpful tool with wide-ranging applications. Think of AI as a digital research assistant. If you are a pastor or seminary student, for example, AI should never replace your firsthand familiarity with and love for Scripture. But it can definitely enhance your study in ways similar to how various Logos study tools already do. Parsing biblical languages, sifting through complicated webs of cross-references, and tracing biblical motifs across Scripture can be laborious work. We should never turn these over to AI completely, but enlisting AI’s help will be beneficial—not only to save time, but also to discover things we might otherwise miss. Our finite minds can store only so many names, details, numbers, patterns, and so forth. AI does not have that problem. Insofar as we deploy AI for “grunt work” tasks more than we use it for higher-level thinking (e.g., moral evaluation, making actual arguments, discerning which among various goods is the most important, etc.), it can be a wonderful tool.

Wisdom is a capacity unique to humans, who uniquely bear the image of God, wisdom incarnate.

As AI becomes frighteningly advanced in the years to come, it will certainly surpass humans in its ability to acquire and store knowledge (if it hasn’t already). But it won’t surpass us in wisdom, because wisdom is not something it can have. Wisdom is a capacity unique to humans, who uniquely bear the image of God, wisdom incarnate (see Prov 8; 1 Cor 1:24). As a result, we possess a moral intuition imbued by God, an intuition robots can’t have.

It seems AI agrees. I recently asked ChatGPT, Can artificial intelligence be wise? To which it responded (in roughly three seconds):

Artificial intelligence can perform tasks that might seem wise, such as making decisions based on large amounts of data, but it cannot truly be considered wise in the same way that a human can be. Wisdom involves a deep understanding of the world and human nature, combined with a capacity for empathy, creativity, and moral judgment. These qualities are not yet within the reach of current artificial intelligence technology, which is limited to processing data and making predictions based on that data.

Additionally, AI systems lack consciousness and the ability to have personal experiences and emotions, which are fundamental aspects of human wisdom. AI systems may be able to learn from data and make decisions, but they do not have the capacity to reflect on their own experiences, understand the consequences of their actions, or make moral judgments based on empathy and compassion. While AI has the potential to augment human decision-making and provide useful insights, it cannot replace human wisdom.

One key reason AI can’t be wise is that wisdom comes through prayerful intimacy with God (Jas 1:5; 3:13–18). The key concept in Proverbs is wisdom is found in relationship with, and in reference to, God.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Prov 9:10 ESV)

Wisdom is not just knowing about God. AI can know facts about God. You could type, “What are ten true things about God?” into ChatGPT, and I imagine it would spit out ten true things. But wisdom is more than just knowing about God. Wisdom comes from knowing God, loving him, and worshiping him with reverence and awe. Robots aren’t relational, worshipful beings.

In a technological world that increasingly tempts us to think of ourselves as gods—an idolatry exasperated by AI-enabled capacities that seem to approach omniscience—wisdom comes from a healthy deference to God’s authority and a humble acceptance of our limitations. We are creatures and he is the Creator. His truth is always infinitely more trustworthy than “our truth.”

While AI has the potential to augment human decision-making and provide useful insights, it cannot replace human wisdom.

In the age of AI, we need to double down on this sort of wisdom. We need wisdom not just because it will be one of the only human capacities AI can’t replicate, but because it will help us use AI in careful, morally discerning ways. AI can give us all the information we need before we make a decision. But only wisdom can help us make the best decision. AI informs. Wisdom evaluates.

3 ways to cultivate wisdom

The future world will need truly wise people to lead it. Christians can be these people, but we need to institute habits now that will help us cultivate wisdom for the days ahead. To that end, here are three suggestions.

1. Slow down

AI rapidly accelerates the speed with which we can access information and gain knowledge. What used to take hours of laborious time in a research library can now take mere seconds. Yet the efficient speed of information in an AI world becomes dangerous if it starts to condition us to think faster than is good for us, molding us into machine-like information processors rather than human contemplators who do our best work when we value intellectual lingering rather than brute efficiency.

The speed of the information age is one of the biggest reasons we struggle to be wise. Our hyperactive, frenzied, every-moment-optimized modus operandi is simply not conducive to wisdom. We need space, silence, and unmediated time if we are to be wise. Yet we live in a media environment that strives to fill every open moment in our lives with stimulation. Speed might give us more cumulative knowledge or information. But slowness gives us wisdom.

The efficient speed of information in an AI world becomes dangerous if it starts to condition us to think faster than is good for us.

The process of learning matters for wisdom. It’s not just about getting from question to answer, from point A to point B, as quickly as possible. The way we get there, which is often circuitous in valuable ways, is rife with rich lessons. This is a crucial point that students, teachers, and everyone should remember in the Age of AI. Reading an AI summary of Crime and Punishment might help us remember the plot and key themes. But it can never replace actually reading Dostoevsky’s novel. The point of a novel is not just the “takeaways” which AI might skillfully summarize for you. The point of a novel includes the very act of reading it, spending time in its world, getting lost in the imagined settings, feeling the emotions its words evoke, and contemplating its resonance in our soul.

The same is true of reading the Bible. You could ask AI to summarize a psalm for you, or the book of Job. But these books are poetry. Their point is not merely the ideas being conveyed, but how they are conveyed in poetic language. But AI has no appetite for or resonance with the poetic how of knowledge; it only cares about the efficient what of knowledge.

To be wise, we need to have an appetite for the poetry of life, the beauty of life beyond its brute facts. Byung Chul-Han, in his Vita Contemplativa, argues that “information is the active form of language,” while in poetry “language enters the mode of contemplation.” In an information-obsessed, hyperactive world, we rarely slow down long enough to bother with poetry:

Dazed by the rush of information and communication, we move away from poetry as the contemplation of language, and begin even to hate it.1

Slow down. Read more poetry. Contemplate the beauty of language and the mysteries of the world. Be still. Rest. You are not a machine. Unlike AI, the point of your life is not efficiency and answers. It is worship. It is awe.

Ad: This Month's Free Book Is Yours for the Reading. Click to get it now.

2. Grow in love and worship

The best path to wisdom is not the accumulation of more knowledge. It’s the cultivation of more love—for your Creator and your neighbor.

This too distinguishes us from AI. Unlike learned machines, which are made to compute, we are made to love. We are wired to worship. We grow in wisdom not primarily when our brains are firing on all cylinders, but when our hearts are aflame with rightly ordered loves.

If God is the source and standard of all wisdom, it makes sense that we become wise the more intimate we are with him: communing with him in his Word, in worship, in prayer, and in grateful appreciation for the abundant gifts of his world. The Westminster Shorter Catechism captures it well: “The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” As humans, we thrive most when we do what we were made to do: love God and enjoy him. To become wise is to come into alignment with this creational purpose.

The chief end of AI, meanwhile, is merely to compute rapidly and synthesize efficiently. The existential purpose of AI is fundamentally different than that of humans. Worship is not what AI was made to do.

We thrive most when we do what we were made to do: love God and enjoy him. To become wise is to come into alignment with this creational purpose.

The best thing you can do for your wisdom is to love God more. Train your affections in his direction. See every moment—every encounter with beauty, every sip of delicious coffee, every waft of jasmine or campfire smoke—as an opportunity to love God more. Go to church weekly and listen to worship music in the car. Walk in nature and pray as joyfully in your soul as the birds sing in the branches.

Love the Lord with your whole life and your whole self. Love others too, as Jesus commanded (Mark 12:30–21): your family, your church, your coworkers, your neighbors, the barista who serves you lattes. Love gratuitously, beyond utility and contractual symmetry. This is how God loves. As we love this way, we become more like him. We become more wise. Humans who choose not to love, or AI machines who are incapable of loving, cannot be wise. Love is a fundamental ingredient to wisdom.

Some brilliant people in this world are loveless curmudgeons. Many brilliant people with multiple PhDs are angry and narcissistic. They may have lots of knowledge, but they have little wisdom. Remember Paul’s words:

If I … can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge … but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Cor 13:2 NIV)

3. Embrace embodied reality

Another way we become wise is by embracing our embodiment and the actual, tangible, physical world in which we exist. This will be increasingly important as our digital age becomes more and more screen-based and disembodied (and thus, inhuman).

When we live life more and more removed from physical reality, more and more enamored with “virtual” spaces and the deceptive illusions of digital life, the more foolish we become. We gain wisdom insofar as we are tethered to reality, aware of our limitations, okay with our imperfections, and ruthlessly committed to truth rather than whatever enticing fantasies the algorithms feed us. Those who spend inordinate amounts of time online gradually devolve into foolishness. But those who restrict their digital activities and instead prioritize unmediated time—outside in nature, in-person activities with their community—tend to grow in wisdom.

Online life sucks us into a swirl of ephemeral distractions and pseudo-events, often making us highly emotional about faraway things we otherwise would never have heard about. The hyper-connectivity of the digital age warps our perspective by grabbing our attention in a hundred different directions on any given day. But we were made for something more modest, more local, more tangible: “to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands” (1 Thess 4:11).

We thrive in life, and become wise, when we embrace our creational limits. We are not God. We can’t be everywhere. We can know a lot—and AI may help us, as a species, know more than we’ve ever known and do things more efficiently than we’ve ever done. But we can’t know or do everything. We are mortal. The span of our life is the briefest of blips, and we occupy only the tiniest real estate in the universe.

We thrive in life, and become wise, when we embrace our creational limits.

Far from a somber reality, this should lead us to gratitude and worship. However small, and however brief, the fact remains that we are here, and we didn’t need to be. What wisdom it is to recognize this grace and respond to it with worshipful gratitude!

Conclusion

The Age of AI is here. The ways our world will be dramatically reshaped by this technology are only just beginning. Christians need not fear, however. If we harness this tool carefully, especially in data-oriented tasks and “research assistant” type ways, we can benefit from it without becoming too reliant on it or dehumanized by it.

Key to asserting our humanity in the face of human-mimicking technologies is wisdom. We must double down on this human distinctive. Slow down and choose contemplation over computation. Practice habits of the heart that grow you in love, passion, and worship—distinguishing you from the dispassionate data processing of AI. And embrace the tangible order of God’s creation, which includes the beautiful limits of your creatureliness.

Remember, however smart AI becomes, it will never become wise. That’s something only humans can be, because we are made in the image of, and made to worship, the God of wisdom.

Cultivate wisdom with these additional resources

The Wisdom Pyramid: Feeding Your Soul in a Post-Truth World

The Wisdom Pyramid: Feeding Your Soul in a Post-Truth World

Regular price: $12.99

Add to cart
The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity

The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity

Regular price: $10.79

Add to cart
God, Technology, and the Christian Life

God, Technology, and the Christian Life

Regular price: $14.99

Add to cart
Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age

Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age

Regular price: $9.74

Add to cart
Analog Church: Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age

Analog Church: Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age

Regular price: $11.99

Add to cart
Listen, Listen, Speak: Hearing God and Being Heard in a Noisy World

Listen, Listen, Speak: Hearing God and Being Heard in a Noisy World

Regular price: $14.99

Add to cart
Analog Christian: Cultivating Contentment, Resilience, and Wisdom in the Digital Age

Analog Christian: Cultivating Contentment, Resilience, and Wisdom in the Digital Age

Regular price: $13.99

Add to cart
The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place

The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place

Regular price: $15.99

Add to cart
How Do We Live in a Digital World? (Questions for Restless Minds)

How Do We Live in a Digital World? (Questions for Restless Minds)

Regular price: $6.99

Add to cart
Digital Liturgies: Rediscovering Christian Wisdom in an Online Age

Digital Liturgies: Rediscovering Christian Wisdom in an Online Age

Regular price: $13.99

Add to cart
Restless Devices: Recovering Personhood, Presence, and Place in the Digital Age

Restless Devices: Recovering Personhood, Presence, and Place in the Digital Age

Regular price: $16.99

Add to cart

Ad: Think You Don't Have Time for Deep Bible Study? Think Again. Click to start.
  1. Byung-Chul Han, Vita Contemplativa: In Praise of Inactivity (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press), 20–21.
Share
Written by
Brett McCracken

Brett McCracken is a senior editor and director of communications at The Gospel Coalition. He is the author of The Wisdom Pyramid: Feeding Your Soul in a Post-Truth World; Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community; Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty; and Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide. Brett and his wife, Kira, live in Santa Ana, CA, with their three children. They belong to Southlands Church.

View all articles

Your email address has been added

Written by Brett McCracken