Imago Dei in the City of God: Exploring Augustine’s Theological Anthropology in the Age of AI

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and ChatGPT has spurred a new wave of interest in theological anthropology.[1] The theological concern for AI from a Christian respective is not a new thing: Twenty years ago, Herzfeld published a seminal paper that calls for a relational critique in the theological study of AI: “To replace relationship with God and with each other with relationship with our own artifacts is idolatry.”[2] Yet, she posits that AI as another form of imago dei that “can also be read to extend to the relations of non-human intelligences, creation can be argued to extend from this eternal act of divine creation to any human creation in time of machines, computers, and any conceivable artificial intelligence.” [3] It is theological imbalanced to consider imago dei from a merely functional perspective, without considering its biblical, theological and ontological meaning. Augustine, the philosopher and theologian of late Antiquity, has never been exposed to AI; still, his teaching has propagated through the centuries and informed us of the meaning of imago dei. Theologians, however, should not merely regurgitate what even ChatGPT ‘knows’ about the image of God[4], but explore refreshed way into the text of Augustine to recognize imago dei as a dynamic and growing divine embodiment.[5] For example, in the City of God (ciu.), Augustine directs his readers to recognize “in ourselves an image of God, that is, the supreme Trinity. It is not equal to God but rather falls far short of him . . . [A]among all the things made by God, that is closer to him by nature, even though it still needs to be reformed and perfected in order to be nearest to him in likeness as well” (ciu. 11.26)[6]. This paper will explore Augustine’s theological anthropology as expressed in the seven passages on imago dei in the City of God—specifically looking into his biblical hermeneutics—and claim that, due to a specific nature of embodiment entwined with his eschatology, humans, and only humans (not AI), can truly be imago dei.

Notes
1. Joe Carter, “The FAQs: What Christians Should Know About Artificial Intelligence,” April 18, 2019, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-faqs-what-christians-should-know-about-artificial-intelligence/”.
2. Noreen Herzfeld, “Creating in Our Own Image: Artificial Intelligence and the Image of God,” Journal of Religion and Science 37, no. (2003): 313. https://digitalcommons.csbsju.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1005&context=theology_pubs.
3. “Artificial Intelligence in the Image of God?,” William Temple Foundation, 2019. https://williamtemplefoundation.org.uk/blog-artificial-intelligence-in-the-image-of-god/.
4. See Dale Chamberlain, “Can ChatGPT Explain Basic Christian Theology?,” February 16, 2023, https://outreachmagazine.com/features/74090-can-chatgpt-explain-basic-christian-theology.html.
5. The Image of God in Augustine has been widely explored, especially from De Trinitate. See, for example, Luigi Gioia, ’11 The Image of God’, The Theological Epistemology of Augustine’s De Trinitate, Oxford Theological Monographs (Oxford, 2008; online edn, Oxford Academic, 1 Jan. 2009), https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199553464.003.0012. My paper will focus on the City of God (De civitate Dei).
6. Augustine, The City of God, ed. Boniface Ramsey, trans. William Babcock, vol. 7, The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2012–2013), 26.

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