Sunday, February 20, 2011
Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour (February 2011) - Day One.
The God Hater, by Bill Myers.
Thanks to Simon and Schuster who kindly provided a copy of the book for review on the CSFF blog tour.
Artificial intelligence is the pursuit of both fantasy and science. The God Hater by Bill Myers, is a literary effort of the former, whose purpose is to bring salient truths to light regarding the nature and character of man, human free will, and the existence of God.
The story begins with a locally televised show called God Talk where one of the main characters of the novel first appears, Dr Nicholas Mackenzie, atheist and professor of philosophy at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He proceeds to embarrass and demolish another guest, a pastor of a large church who is on the show to talk about his new book. Mackenzie argues the well-worn favorite objections of atheism to religion. Interestingly, those objections are briefly addressed later in the book, not by a Christian, but a former student whose faith was destroyed by Mackenzie himself.
Another main character is Dr Annie Brooks who teaches Molecular Biology and is a fellow professor at UCSB. Annie is a Christian, albeit a single mother. Annie and Nicholas are actually friends though their antithetical world and life views clash from time to time in the classroom. Nicholas visits Annie periodically having a special interest in her son, Rusty, having lost his own son years earlier.
The third personality is Travis (Nicholas’s brother) who becomes involved in a research project funded by a ‘bazillionaire,’ as Travis describes him. The project succeeds in creating a computer program akin to today’s games but in which the cyber-characters are far more advanced having “artificial intelligence...emotions, pattern recognition, free will, the ability to hold contradictory views,” (p. 41) and so on. The purpose of the project is to provide industry with a test environment to determine what to expect from the consumer, i.e., how will a certain product fare.
The project runs into its problems early on. Cyber-mankind knows only of the basic premise, survival of the fittest, which is exercised consistently always resulting in self-extermination. With no intervention allowed by the developers, and with no other input, the cyber-humans always destroy themselves. Travis brings his philosopher brother in to resolve the problem. The single restriction: there must be no violation of the cyber-humans' free will.
To get beyond this, Nicholas offers the solution to make the cyber-humans aware of a greater reality, introducing brute dualism, the view that there are two realities, the physical and metaphysical. This doesn’t violate the cyber-human’s free will, it simply makes them aware of non-physical realities and it is to be their choice alone as to how to live in light of it. Nicholas is convinced this will change the pattern of self-extinction.
This fails also, and Nicholas is called in again. The problem is that the cyber-world chooses to hold ‘nature’ in highest esteem and therefore allows it to carry on without intrusion. This leads to the spread of disease through rats who run free. Eventually, cyber-mankind dies out through pestilence.
Nicholas ponders the problem and comes up with a solution that he’s not entirely comfortable with: make cyber-humanity aware of a higher authority, the authority of Programmer (Nicholas, though he is not actually the programmer), who in turn charges the cyber-humans to take control and become stewards of their own world. The rationale: they, the cyber-humans, are more sacred than the world (nature) itself; they must exercise authority over it.
This too has its problems and the solutions that follow come uncomfortably closer and closer to a theistic view, so much so that eventually one from Programmer’s world enters into the world in cyber-incarnated form. The incarnate personality is none less than Dr Mackenzie himself.
Interwoven into this is corporate espionage and betrayal, and the intriguing factor that the key cyber-human is Mackenzie’s own lost son who becomes the authoritative interpreter and applier of Programmer’s decree.
Non-Christian and Christian philosophy constantly clash, though the language used to express this is dubiously similar to biblical language. The incredulity of the language is especially stark as it is used by non-Christian characters (e.g., “You are sacred because you are programmed to be like us”; “Treat one another as though you are sacred. Treat one another as you would treat me.”)
The novel presents the reader with a number of profound philosophical issues with the intent to demonstrate that the resolution of those issues is found only through a Christian, biblical approach. Yet this is done in such a non-technical way that the average reader, with some effort, can readily sort them out.
The story itself makes the book a fair page-turner. This in spite of the characters being stereotypical and predictable, and the writing itself, average.