Yeah. I know, I know. I'm an iconoclast. Yep and I'm proud of it. So the other day I got to thinking about religion and other things in the Homo Sapiens space called life. You know I get philosophical from time to time. And then I get inspired to tackle some very touchy and sensitive subjects that usually set off a lot of people. I get a perverse joy in rubbing people the wrong way and send them into WFT hissy fits. So you know that this article is going to have some folks seeing red and the God-police will start pulling out their truncheons to give me a whack on the ole noggin just to prove their point that I should not meddle in the affairs of the Great Father somewhere in a place called Heaven.
The fact is that today, with the click of a mouse button the era of seeking answers and advice about God directly from rabbis, pastors, or imams is gradually coming to an end. And the cause of this backsliding and undermining of the hitherto unquestioned role of these "emissaries of God on earth?" Well, it's not a human person but Artificial Intelligence personified and its called "Google." Google may be the well-known supercomputer system that processes information by nano-seconds but AI has been with us for a long time.
Consider the following: Self-driving cars have arrived; Siri (on your Iphones and Ipads) can listen to your voice and find the nearest movie theatre; and I.B.M. set the "Jeopardy"- conquering Watson to work on medicine, initially training medical students, perhaps eventually helping in diagnosis. Nowadays, scarcely a week goes by without the announcement of a new A.I. product or technique.
And for all the constant complaining about the religious right's inappropriate influence in politics and religious conservatives' attempts to tear down the church-state wall, the secular movement in America is actually doing quite well. The most recent Pew Research Center poll says 23 percent of Americans are religiously unaffiliated (atheists, agnostics and no-religion people); that percentage increases to 35 percent for Americans under thirty-five -- young people are not doing too many religious conversions, and see God as part of a belief system of their parents. So, for Americans in the Bible Belt and elsewhere this is alarming news - if secularism hasn't yet taken over the country, its on track for that to happen.
And its all the fault of artificial intelligence as epitomized in the incredible superpower of Google. Now I do NOT intend to be dismissive of religion or disrespect people's beliefs OR their right to worship and believe what they want to. Me? I believe that every Thursday night when karaoke takes place in Brooklyn my bulldog Max turns into a werewolf seeking cats to relieve them of their hemoglobin fluids. You get my drift -- you can believe what you want but that does not make what you believe true.
But one thing is not in doubt -- Google and God are on our daily human agendas. Indeed, the questions that Americans type into Google searches about God appear to confirm the country's rising secularism. For example, according to an economist writing in the New York Times: "Despite the rising popularity of Pope Francis, who was elected in 2013, Google searches for churches are 15 percent lower in the first half of this decade than they were during the last half of the previous one. The top Google search including the word "God" is "God of War," a videogame, with more than 700,000 searches per year."
Bummer, people searching for a videogame with the word "God" in it? WFT! Are people losing their cotton-picking minds? And to make matter worse the same economist, Stephens-Davidowitz, also discovered that "Searches questioning God's existence are up." He went further to seek what questions people Google whilst in their periods of doubt:
The No. 1 question? In the United States of America? Is without a doubt: "who created God?" And the second? "why God allows suffering?" in number 3 "why does God hate me? And in fourth place: "why God needs so much praise?"
It now appears from this data that people in America are looking to Google for answers to some pertinent and serious questions about God and in an oblique way questioning what they were taught by their parents and learned in churches on Sundays for so many years. There is absolutely no doubt that the Internet and Google have been at odds with religion. The Google phenomenon is also explainable in the context of the adversarial relationship between science and religion -- they just don't mix. Religion -- all religions -- are based on a system of blind, unquestioning belief and a rejection of objective inquiry that is substituted with faith. Religions place and validate this faith by statements found in their Holy Books that's interpreted by preachers, pastors, priests and ministers. These writings and teachings MUST be accepted without question by the faithful.
Science on the other hand believes that ALL things in nature should be questioned and examined. And that it is only by this kind of objective inquiry that humankind has progressed and will progress. The Internet and Google are not the products of a Sunday sermon or the dogmatic faith or prayers of the faithful. Advances in medicine, communications technology, transportation, and other things that define modern human existence are the results of science -- not faith or belief. In fact, the cornerstone of the scientific method is to question everything; science accepts nothing that is not provable -- again and again and again.
The rise of American secularism and of individuals with no religious affiliations is directly due to the rise and use of the Internet. Hitherto the Internet, and in particular Google, people used libraries and their church leaders for research on questions of faith, belief, and the existence of God. Religion had a stranglehold on knowledge and issues of God and Sin. But with the advent of Google information and knowledge became readily available and a new generation is now growing up in a society more open to doubting old canards and traditional belief systems.
Google has undermined religion's central premise for the belief in God -- his all-knowing faculty. Google now processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide. Google can bring up literally millions of hits SIMULTANEOUSLY on every conceivable topic that the human mind can imagine -- including Biblical history, origins and that of other religious books, and their pros and cons. For iconoclasts like me declining religious affiliation is akin to social improvement. It's evidence of the clarifying influence of scientific rationality that's the end result of the global information revolution.
I know that one of the questions here will undoubtedly be about personal faith in the context of our ability to pay bills, order clothes and food, communicate with friends and family and send emails across the word in seconds. And too, I'll hear the issue of the difference between Google as a profit-making, altruistic organization, and the church whose primary concern is about the condition of our souls. These are valid arguments when it comes to God and Google. I'm not suggesting that this is an either or situation. But what I am suggesting is that modern experiences in the secular world are now impacting religious belief and not in a very positive manner.
And yes, from a religious standpoint the question is: because of the rise of Google are religious institutions that used to answer questions about God and Sin crowdsourcing the acts of faith that the entire system is built on? Put another way, does religion risk losing its ability to provide answers to life on earth when Google's data cannot do so? And, in today's Internet and Google dominated world will faithful people when in doubt, Google "who created God?"