How Computer Nerds Describe God
Among articles on the power of prayer, the Pope's astrophysicist, and the convergence of faith and the lab, the issue includes "God is the Machine," a speculative essay connecting the idea of God with controversial theories about the universe as a giant computer. Wired's founding editor, Kevin Kelly, wonders whether God is "the Ultimate Software and Source Code," "the Ultimate Programmer," or "the off-universe platform where this universe is computed."
In 1979, at the age of 27, Kelly traveled to Jerusalem, to photograph Easter ceremonies. Unexpectedly locked out of his hostel—and without money for another place to stay—he wandered Jerusalem's Old City and finally found the doors to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher open. Inside, he fell asleep on a stone slab.
The next morning he followed the crowds to the Garden Tomb, where he experienced a profound conviction that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. Kelly returned to his hostel to rest, and there had a strong sense that he would die within six months—and that he should live accordingly.
Rather than seek adventure, Kelly returned to his parents' home to strengthen those bonds, gave anonymous gifts of money, and took a 5,000-mile bike trip to re-establish ties with relatives. Kelly first told this story in 1999 on public radio's This American Life (audio file).
Christianity Today assistant online editor Todd Hertz talked to Kelly about using the terms of science to talk about God, his mission as a believer, and how science fiction writers function as theologians.
Have you seen an increase in the intersection of science and religion?
I think there has been a minimal formal interaction between those spheres, but I detect an increase in frustration that there is not more.
I think my meager attempts to bridge those [through writing] are done slightly against the grain in the sense that there are not a lot of other attempts to do it. It is difficult to do because technology is seen as almost the antithesis of spirituality. Science is cast as the rational vs. the irrational of belief. It is a huge gap to overcome.
With such a gap, how have you balanced faith with science in your own life?
My interest in science came first. I was science nerd in high school. The way I have reconciled it is that I see my mission as to talk about it, to explore the two, and to talk about faith using the vocabulary and logic of science.
I don't feel a division in terms of emotion. I recognize it is a division in the logic. My attempt is to articulate why science and religion are really talking about the same thing or how they can talk about the same thing.
What does your Wired article "God is the Machine" say about the identity of God?
There was part of that piece cut out in which I was stressing that every age reinterprets God with their own metaphor. God doesn't change, but our metaphors do. The current reigning metaphor that is very unacknowledged in our culture right now is the computational metaphor. It permeates everything and we don't even know it.
What I was suggesting was that one could use this completely universal and accepted metaphor to describe God. It isn't necessarily truer than other metaphors, but it is only truer to the age. It may be no more valid than past metaphors, but it makes a lot more sense to people 30 years and under. It is an attempt to use a current language and syntax and perspective and metaphor to describe an eternal thing.