Book Review and Blog Tour: Devotionals from a Soulless Machine (Magic Machine Series #1) by Preston and Harriet Lewis

MAGIC MACHINE SERIES
by
Preston Lewis
and Harriet Kocher Lewis
The intent of these books was to see how artificial intelligence (A.I.) dealt with the Bible and with humor. Since A.I. is generated by godless algorithms and computers, the authors sought to see if ChatGPT would treat faith issues with respect, especially in a world where Christianity is coming under increasing attacks and where the architects of A.I. seem to demean religion regularly. Additionally, the authors sought to see if A.I. had a sense of humor and if ChatGPT could generate rib-tickling jokes based on some standard comic memes and on topical and controversial issues in contemporary culture.
The results were surprising with A.I. generally being respectful of religious issues but failing to show a refined sense of humor. The books provide as much insight on artificial intelligence’s “thinking” as much as it does faith and comedy.

With the release of OpenAI making ChatGPT available to the public in 2022, the authors wondered how a soulless machine would interpret biblical verses.  Would the results from a godless computer be derogatory or supportive of their Christian beliefs?  Using some of the most beloved verses as well as several of the more disturbing passages from the Bible, Preston and Harriet Lewis began a faith journey through artificial intelligence that provided surprising results.

Devotionals from a Soulless Machine: A Journey of Faith through Artificial Intelligence takes the reader along as these two laypersons explore how A.I. interprets God’s message and the basic tenets of Christianity.  The co-authors prompted ChatGPT to develop a devotional of 500 words or less along with a related prayer on more than a hundred biblical verses, including some of the most-recognized verses as well as some of the most obscure or vile passages never covered in Sunday school lessons.

In the end the exercise provided the authors with some reassurances about how artificial intelligence can support religious growth as well as raising questions about the technology’s long-term implications for the religious experience.  Devotionals from a Soulless Machine: A Journey of Faith through Artificial Intelligence provides an eye-opening look into the majesty of Christian convictions, even in the age of algorithms and chatbots.

Review Header
I’ll admit, I haven’t yet bought into the benefits of AI, especially not as it relates to my Christian faith. Faith seems like something too personal, too intimate, too real to be adequately addressed by a machine intelligence. I’d read about the church that hosted a service totally created by AI, including the sermon, and I was a little bit horrified, if I’m honest. So when I saw that Preston and Harriet Lewis had a book of devotionals created using ChatGPT, I thought, okay, I gotta see this. I was skeptical. REALLY skeptical.

The authors do a good job explaining their process and setting out their own faith, so it’s clear where they’re coming from. Their beliefs line up with mine, which seemed like a good starting point. The book is broken down into chapters, with each chapter covering a different topic and including several AI-generated devotionals on that topic. Each devotional includes a verse, a devotional, and a prayer. The authors also included a chapter with devotionals that they had drafted, to allow for comparison between AI-generated and human-created works.As I read, I didn’t see anything that stood in stark opposition to my faith. Quite the contrary. The AI-created material seemed to line up well with what I hold as scriptural truth. It hit all the right notes. But it didn’t feel quite “right” as I pored over the devotionals. The prayers seemed, well, scripted, not like something I would pray from the heart, and really, not even like something I could use as a starting point. It made me think of the parable in Luke comparing the Pharisee’s prayer with the tax collector’s. “The Pharisee stood and began praying this in regard to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, crooked, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to raise his eyes toward heaven, but was beating his chest, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’” (Luke 18:11-13 NASB) The AI-written prayers felt like the Pharisee’s prayer – slick.

I also noticed that the AI-drafted works tended to start sounding alike over time. There were words used often enough to be noticeable. One such word was “unwavering.” I think I counted it 33 times before I quit keeping track. If it was something written by a person, edited by a person, that repetition would eventually catch the eye, and the writer would think, “Huh, perhaps I should vary my word choice a little!”

And when I got to the personal devotionals, it hit me: AI doesn’t include any personal stories. There are no tales about kids and grandkids, no gentle humor at one’s own expense, no relatable experiences that encourage and uplift the reader. That’s why I think calling it “AI-generated” is accurate. AI can manipulate the data it’s trained on and produce a document that fits specified parameters. But AI can’t take an idea and put emotion behind it.

This was a fascinating experiment. I’m glad Preston and Harriet Lewis put this out there, and I like the way they structured it. For this Bible-believing girl, though, AI’s affirmation of my faith will never take the place of sharing the Word with a body of like-minded believers. We’re created for community, and AI can’t give us that.

Five stars for an engaging intellectual exercise and because I loved the personally written devotional chapter!

Preston Lewis is the award-winning author of more than 50 novels and nonfiction books as well as numerous articles, short stories, and book reviews. He began his career working at four Texas newspapers before moving into higher education communications and marketing at Texas Tech University and Angelo State University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Baylor University plus master’s degrees from Ohio State University in journalism and Angelo State in history. Lewis’s honors include two Spur Awards for western novels and articles from Western Writers of America as well as nine Will Rogers Medallion Awards for western humor, novels, short stories and articles.

Harriet Kocher Lewis is a retired physical therapist and academician at Angelo State University, where she co-authored or edited numerous scientific articles or professional presentations. Her other writings include several published meditations for her church. As a member of an American Physical Therapy Association work group, she helped write the advanced level clinical education curriculum for therapists nationally. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology/PT at Baylor University as well as a PT certificate from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. Lewis also has a master’s degree from Texas Tech University in health, physical education and recreation with an industrial engineering minor. She is the wife of Preston Lewis, the mother of two and the grandmother of five.

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FOR DIRECT LINKS TO EACH POST ON THIS TOUR, UPDATED DAILY, 
or visit the blogs directly:

12/13/23

Hall Ways Blog

Series Spotlight

12/13/23

LSBBT Blog

BONUS Stop

12/14/23

Forgotten Winds

Review Jokes

12/15/23

Book Fidelity

Review Devotionals

12/16/23

The Real World According to Sam

Review Jokes

12/17/23

The Plain-Spoken Pen

Review Devotionals

12/18/23

Jennie Reads

Review Jokes

12/19/23

Librariel Book Adventures

Review Devotionals

12/20/23

It’s Not All Gravy

Review Jokes

12/21/23

Rox Burkey Blog

Review Devotionals

12/21/23

The Page Unbound

Review Jokes

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