Wednesday, February 23, 2011

February Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour

Why you always bein' a hater?

The God Hater by Bill Myers.

Apology:  We're having some temporary technical issues.

Second Apology:  No, no, the blog isn't dead.  It's only mostly dead.

The book for this month's blog tour is The God Hater by Bill Myers.  I haven't read it; I'm afraid I simply don't have time at the moment to accept review copies or even blog regularly, and in fact I have a review copy of a different novel that I've been sitting on so long that the authors would be justified in sending me razor blades in the mail as a friendly reminder.  So I'm not going to review The God Hater.  I'm going to review the blurb for The God Hater and the excerpt available on the website.  Admittedly, that might not have very much to do with the book as a whole, but after reading some reviews, I'm guessing I'm not too far off base.

Here's the blurb:

A cranky, atheist philosophy professor loves to shred incoming freshmen of their faith. He is chosen by a group of scientists to create a philosophy for a computer-generated world exactly like ours.

Much to his frustration every model introduced from Darwinism, to Existentialism, to Eastern beliefs fails. The only way to preserve the computer world is to introduce laws from outside their system through a Law Giver. Of course this goes against everything he believes and he hates it. But even this doesn't completely work because the citizens of that world become legalists and completely miss the spirit behind the Law.

The only way to save them is to create a computer character like himself to personally explain it. He does. So now there are two of him—the one in our world and the one in the computer world. (Sound familiar?)

Unfortunately, a rival has introduced a virus into the computer world. Things grow worse until the professor in that computer world sees the only way to save his world is to personally absorb the virus and the penalty for breaking the Law. Of course it's clear to all, including our real world professor, that this act of selfless love has become a complete reenactment of the Gospel. It is the only possible choice to save the computer world and, as he finally understands, our own.

I take it that running the anti-virus software was out of the question.

Let's break this down.  First, we have the odd parenthetical interrogative at the end of the third paragraph:  "Sound familiar?".  Well, no, it doesn't, or at least nothing's coming to me off the top of my head.  I hope this isn't trying to suggest that the Incarnation is like God creating an avatar in a video game.

The blurb here brings up an interesting issue, one I would be willing to bet money that the book does not address:  if this is indeed an artificial world "exactly like ours," then the computer programmers are apparently able to program simulated human beings complete with simulated consciousness and simulated volition, meaning they have successfully simulated minds (that is, created programs that behave as if they have minds when they do not in fact have minds) with inanimate matter, and thus they have reduced all causes to material causes.  If accomplished, this would prove nothing about the real world, but it would strongly suggest that deterministic reductive materialism is adequate to explain the real world; that, in turn, would tend to support the atheism of the protagonist.  I suspect that was not Myers's intent here.

On the other hand, if these are not mere simulations but actual people with real minds--albeit people made out of electric signals inside a computer--then this whole experiment is grossly immoral, as our atheist hero and his computer programmer compatriots are playing God with other human beings.  Either way, the setup does not sound to me like a promising one for delivering Christian apologetics.

The excerpt from the novel features a scene in which the simulated world is overrun by simulated rats and plague because of the simulated people's "Eastern mysticism."  I'm not sure why "Eastern mysticism," whatever that consists of (it looks like it might be Jainism), is supposed to cause rat plagues, but I assume that was explained in an earlier chapter.  However, I do find it ironic that Myers chose to make rat-borne illness a consequence of "Eastern mysticism" when Western Christendom experienced such a plague, though not as a result of its Christianity.

In the excerpt, our God-hating protagonist decides that the only way to deal with the plague of rats is to contact one of the simulated people directly and anoint him as a prophet to preach the message of love and pest-control.  To me, the scene begs a simple question:  If they don't want rats in the simu-verse, why don't they delete the rats?  If I were an irascible God-hating atheist like Myers's protagonist, instead of doubting my firmly held godless beliefs and glancing in embarrassment at the pretty Christian girl I've been mooning over/arguing with, I would instead turn to that pretty Christian girl and say, "As the designers of this world, we could wave our hands over the keyboard and eliminate those simulated rats and stop all the simulated suffering!  That's what I would do if only you programmers--who must get some perverse delight out of watching AI programs in agony--would let me.  If you really believe in a God who's all-powerful and all-good, why doesn't he just wave his hands over our real world and eliminate suffering?  Why did the bubonic plague happen if your God is such a good, all-powerful God?"

In other words, Myers's novel is screaming for somebody to address the old problem of theodicy, one of the most potent weapons in the atheist's kit.  If the programmers are really running the show in this world, why don't they just design it so it has no rat plagues?  If they see a rat plague coming, why don't they just sweep away the rats?  The question of theodicy goes for the blurb, too:  How did that virus get in there?  Are the programmers incompetent?  Why can't they just wipe the virus away if they're the ones running this world?

Theodicy is not a new problem invented by modern atheists; it's an old problem, and if memory serves, St. Thomas Aquinas even suggested everyone would be a believer if it were not for the thorny fact of evil in the world.  Biblical books wrestle with theodicy, most famously Job, and Job's answer to the problem is famously ambiguous.

Also, I'm not sure why an atheist would be okay with introducing "Eastern mysticism" into this world if he's so down on religion.  Also, if the big revelation in this book is supposed to be that people need their laws handed to them from on high, it would seem that if Mr. Atheist has been designing the worldviews for these simulated people, attempting various philosophical and religious systems as the blurb says he has, then the simulated people have in fact been getting their laws handed to them from on high all this while, meaning the moment when Mr. Atheist steps in and delivers an audible message is not all that different from what he's been doing already, especially since his big message is simply, "Love each other and kill rats."

Also, while I'm at it, is this book really trying to suggest, as its reviewers indicate it's trying to suggest, that no society could survive or function without divine revelation?  That's just not so.  In addition to Divine Law, which is revealed, there's this thing called Natural Law, which contains the precepts of the Eternal Law imprinted in the human conscience.  People have a moral sense.  They are able to construct human laws that reflect Eternal Law at least enough, in many or most cases, to make a society function, even if their perception of the demands of conscience will be mixed with much error.

The reviews I'm reading suggest that the book spends much of its time trying to lay down an argument from design, one of the weakest tools in the Christian apologist's kit.  If I were an irascible atheist, when a Christian started talking to me about watches on beaches, I would sneer, wave him off, and say, "A universe is not like a watch.  Your analogy is invalid."  Likewise, if someone who'd read Myers came up to me and started talking about vasty computer simulations, I would roll my eyes, sneer with extra effort, punch him in the nose, and say, "The real world is not like The Matrix.  You watch too much television."

So . . . does any of that accurately criticize the book?  Dunno.  But the info available on it does not make me keen to pick it up.

But on a more positive note, all this talk about a virtual reality Christian allegory is making me want to re-watch Tron.

See the author's Facebook page and website.

See the Blog Tour:

Noah Arsenault
Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Rachel Briard
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Carol Bruce Collett
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
CSFF Blog Tour
April Erwin
Amber French
Andrea Graham
Tori Greene
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Joleen Howell
Bruce Hennigan
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emily LaVigne
Shannon McDermott
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Andrea Schultz
Tammy Shelnut
Kathleen Smith
James Somers
Donna Swanson
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Nicole White
Dave Wilson