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Americans more fearful than hopeful about artificial intelligence

Most Americans don’t see a moral or spiritual benefit to artificial intelligence, the American Bible Society said on May 9 in the latest release from its 2024 State of the Bible.

Most, 68 percent, don’t believe AI could be used to enhance their spiritual practices and thus promote spiritual health; 58 percent don’t believe the technology could aid in their moral reasoning, and 57 percent don’t believe AI can produce a sermon as well-written as a pastor’s original work.

Thirty-seven percent of responders would even view unfavorably a pastor who uses AI to prepare sermons, researchers found.

Scripture-engaged Christians expressed even more pessimism over the technology, including the digitally savvy Gen Z.

More than half of respondents, 51 percent, believe the use of AI will increase unemployment, with Gen Z and Boomer generations expressing the belief in equal measure.

“Americans are more fearful than hopeful about Artificial Intelligence, but our survey also shows a great deal of uncertainty,” John Farquhar Plake, ABS chief program officer and State of the Bible editor-in-chief, said of the findings. “People just don’t know how AI will change the culture, but they’re mildly uneasy about it. And how do people of faith feel? The same way – uncertain, uneasy – but more so.”

AI’s possible connection to Christian faith should be more thoroughly explored, researchers said, referencing the critique given by Carey Nieuwhof and Kenny Jahng in their December 2023 book, “The Ultimate Guide to AI, Pastors, and the Church.”

“The question for church leaders becomes not whether the church will embrace AI, but how the church will embrace AI,” Nieuwhof and Jahng write. “History would tell us that ignoring technological revolutions probably isn’t the wisest choice and AI is no exception. Leaders who ignore the future have a hard time doing ministry in the future.

embracing AI fully without thinking through the theological, ethical, and existential questions of AI poses difficulties

“But embracing AI fully without thinking through the theological, ethical, and existential questions of AI poses difficulties too.”

The findings are included in the 2024 State of the Bible’s second chapter, titled “Faith and Technology.”

In addition to AI, the chapter focuses on how online church worship is embraced and how it impacts Christians.

The chapter references Lifeway Research from 2020, that showed 97 percent of U.S. churches were putting their services online. At that time, 67 percent were livestreaming and others providing access to videos for later viewing.

Past the pandemic, in-person worship is rebounding, ABS said, with 75 percent of respondents primarily attending worship in person in 2023, 14 percent worshiping primarily online, and 12 percent using both formats equally. The findings contrast to 2020, when 38 percent primarily worshiped in person, 45 percent primarily online, and 17 percent using both formats equally.

Gen X and Gen Z are more likely to attend in person, with Millennials and the Boomers-plus generations choosing online worship more often. Still, a majority of all age groups primarily attend worship in person, including 82 percent of Gen X, 78 percent of Gen Z, 71 percent of Millennials and 70 percent of Boomers-plus.

In-person worship is also more popular among those who attend service weekly and among white Americans, researchers found.

Echoing findings from 2023, researchers said online worshipers are more Scripture-engaged than those who attend in person. Most, 81 percent, of online worshipers are more likely to read the Bible on their own, researchers said, compared to about two-thirds of those who primarily worship in person.

State of the Bible is based on a nationally representative survey conducted for ABS by NORC (previously the National Opinion Research Center) at the University of Chicago, using the AmeriSpeak panel. Findings are based on 2,506 online interviews conducted in January 2024 with adults in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

ABS will release seven additional chapters June-December, offering insights on several topics including philanthropy, being a good neighbor and coping with loneliness.

You can access the first two chapters of the report here.

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ senior writer.


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