#187 ChatGPT has Assumptions

"The Christian Economist" with logo and a closeup of a dollar bill in the background

ChatGPT leans liberal and can be deceptive, but Christians should not be afraid of it; It’s simply another machine that will cause creative destruction that makes us economically richer.


Toward the end of last semester, I wrote to my Dean in the College of Business, “I either have the best student in the history of our program, or he’s using ChatGPT to write his essay answers.”  After noticing some similarities in a few students’ essays, I got something of a sense of what was written by students, and what was written by the Bot.  I had asked a strategy question, and the guilty answers contained more financial information than I had asked for.

This is not a huge deal.  Students have been cheating on answers since Cain said he didn’t know where his brother was.  Keeping up with cheating is what we do as teachers and professors.  This is simply a new technique.

It IS cheating, by the way.  Passing off someone else’s work as your own is cheating.  Even if the “someone” is a computer program.

There are many Biblical warnings about deception.  Here’s just one from the Old Testament, and one from the New Testament.  Job 15:31 “Let him not deceive himself by trusting what is worthless, for he will get nothing in return”.  In 2 Timothy 3:13-14, the apostle Paul warns us, “Evil people and impostors will go from bad to worse as they deceive others and are themselves deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and found to be true because you know from whom you learned it”.  So, we shouldn’t be alarmed by a bot trying to change our thinking.



An article in the Washington Post by Gerrit De Vynck is titled “ChatGPT leans liberal, research shows.”  I assume Mr. De Vynck wrote the article, and that he didn’t use AI to write it for him.  Now THAT would be interesting, wouldn’t it?  Asking a bot to write an article criticizing a bot?  He cited a research paper that said the following, “The paper adds to a growing body of research on chatbots showing that despite their designers trying to control potential biases, the bots are infused with assumptions, beliefs, and stereotypes found in the reams of data scraped from the open internet that they are trained on.”

So, it’s “garbage in – garbage out.”  All computer programs are that way.  The frightening thing about this one is its apparent ability to teach itself.  That’s reminiscent of the robot Hal’s response in the 1968 movie, 2001 A Space Odyssey, “Sorry Dave, ‘m afraid I can’t do that.”

But for now, let’s look back – to assumptions – not forward.  The Economics textbook I use in my Macro class at Dallas Baptist University was authored by Gregory Mankiw.  He has a section in an early chapter about assumptions.

As a warning about false assumptions, I tell this story.  I bought this painting while waiting for the Vaporetto – that’s the water bus – in Venice, Italy.  In 1609, Galileo hauled the Doge – that’s the governor of the city-state of Venice – up the 323 steps of San Marco tower to show him what he’d found in the night sky, using his newly refined telescope.  It seemed to indicate that my predecessors – Catholic Priests – were wrong and that the earth was NOT the center of the solar system.  Galileo was tried by my predecessors, who claimed to contain all the information in the world at the time.  He tried to defend himself by saying it was only a theory, and he didn’t really believe it.  Well, he spent the rest of his life under house arrest.  The message was pretty clear: Don’t mess with the folks who held the power of information.

Legend has it that after his prosecution, he uttered the famous phrase, “Yet it moves.”  You still hear that phrase used occasionally when someone thinks they are clearly correct after losing an argument.  Maybe like a reasonable person who does the math and finds that the Inflation Reduction Act actually CAUSED inflation.  But I digress.

The point is that assumptions matter.  Where you start has a lot to do with where you end up.  That’s why the Christian worldview is so important.  If you don’t believe people are falling, you will end up in the wrong place, with economic policies that don’t work.

Machines are Frightening

Machines have always threatened humans, and we’ve always – with God’s grace – figured out how to deal with them.  Way back in 2014, my fellow faculty members and I were being taught the Learning Management Systems called Blackboard.  To ease our concerns about the fear of change, we were told the story about the dangers predicted by the first ballpoint pen.  Instructors were concerned that it would write so fast that it would produce garbled thoughts.  The idea was that, the time invested in dipping the old quill pen into the ink gave the author time to think about what she was writing.  But our predecessors somehow survived the threat of the ballpoint pen, and we went on to bigger and better things.  Which is my next subject.


Creative Destruction

Joseph Schumpeter came up with this idea of creative destruction.  Back to the writing theme from the previous section, after the danger of the ballpoint pen, we were faced with the typewriter.  When I joined the workforce in 1976, an IBM salesman would stop by our office every few months to try to sell us an updated typewriter.  His industry was creatively destroyed by the computer.

This might seem axiomatic, but creative destruction is part of the creation, not the fall.  God created a perfect world, fallen humans have messed it up.  Our job is to seek redemption by returning our world closer to God’s creative intent.  Creative destruction does that.

Economists like creative destruction, because it improves productivity.  Politicians don’t appreciate it, because it destroys the jobs of their constituents.  So, politicians go to various economically stupid tricks to try to maintain jobs that should be replaced by machines.

Indians understand creative destruction very well.  They even have a god for it.  There are hundreds of Gods in Hinduism, and I get lost quickly, but I always return to the main three: Brahma was the creator God, Vishnu is the sustainer god, and Shiva is the destroyer god.  They are quick to point out that Shiva’s work is good.  She has to destroy the old, so the new can come about.

That’s actually a pretty good philosophy, which aligns quite well with Christian Economics.  We liked it when tractors replaced oxen, printed newspapers replaced the town crier, and telegraph creatively destroyed the Wells Fargo stagecoach.  We all got richer because of it.  Of course, some people will lose their jobs.  That’s always the case.  And, flexible economies always outperform static ones.  One of the main reasons the US has the greatest economic machine in human history is directly traceable to our flexibility.  When whales got scarce, John Rockefeller creatively destroyed the whaling industry with kerosene.  Then Henry Ford replaced the horse and wagon with the horseless carriage.  The examples go on and on.  As does our economy.


The Antidote

I made a technological upgrade in my podcasts, from audio to video at podcast #72.  That happens to be one of my favorites.  It’s called “Two Worlds,” and it traces the split in our nation to a difference in worldview that I don’t think will diminish.  I make a suggestion for how we can be “In the world, but not of the world,” in that podcast titled, “two worlds.”  I say that Christians need to form themselves into tightly knit groups that replicate the first-century church.  Two examples:  One comes from the book Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas, where he explains how William Wilberforce had the strength to enter the arena of the House of Commons each day, only after he spent the evening with his Christian colleagues in the hamlet called Clapham.  The other comes from the book The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher, where he explains how Benedict fled the Sodom and Gomorrah culture of Rome early in the sixth century and retreated to a cave to start what would become the Benedictine order.

As technological changes change the economic world we live in, we must figure out how to adapt, while holding on to our basic beliefs.  That’s what Wilberforce and Benedict did.  We will also, as we build an economy that is not only flexible but stronger than ever.

Fear God
Tell the Truth
Earn a Profit