Let’s Talk About Religion

I hate religion.

Okay, that’s not true.  And I should probably rephrase that before an angry mob of Christians armed with torches and pitchforks shows up at my door.  I don’t hate religion.  I hate organized religion.  And hate is probably too strong a word for how I feel about it.

But hey, it got your attention didn’t it?  Ruffled a few feathers?  Sparked some fires?  I’ll admit to being inflammatory, but that was kind of the point.  In a country that’s supposedly about freedom of speech and freedom of religion, saying something like that is generally considered taboo.  Which is funny, because some of the same people who would consider that off-limits to say are also the ones who flocked to the defense of a Minnesota restaurant owner after he posted a “Muslims get out” sign.

 

“But guys, it’s not directed at ALL Muslims. Just the extremist ones.”
“Yeah sure…whatever man.”

 

A little over two years ago, I wrote a post about growing up as a non-religious person.  In it, I talked a little about how frustrating it was to always run into that “you have to believe in God” sentiment from kids my age.  I also mentioned how atheists are almost always seen as antagonistic and angry people, which in a self-fulfilling way made me a little antagonistic and angry toward religion during my high school years.  And the stigma against atheists is no joke.  Eight states in our country have laws on the books which state that non-believers can’t hold public office, although the laws are thankfully unenforceable now due to a 1960’s Supreme Court decision.

But regardless, the stigma persists.  I remember seeing a video a long time ago about a billboard espousing atheist views that said something similar to “take the myth out of Christmas” with a picture of Jesus on it.  I couldn’t find that video again, but I remember it had the format of someone walking up and asking people what they thought of it.  One woman stuck out to me in particular, because she said something to the effect of “they shouldn’t be allowed to post stuff like that”.  And I remember wondering why.  Why shouldn’t they be allowed to post things like that?  Isn’t that what freedom of speech is about?

That restaurant owner who posted the “Muslims get out” sign?  Totally tactless.  Totally idiotic.  And even if his excuse of “well I couldn’t fit the word ‘extremists’ on the sign” is true…he apparently never considered not posting the sign.  Because somehow it never popped into his head that maybe…just maybe…people might construe it to mean all Muslims.  In the end though, it was totally his right to post it.  That I do not deny.

But I digress.  I make the drive from Duluth to my parent’s home around once every month or two.  And every time I see the same anti-abortion billboards, over half a dozen in all.  And almost every single one has some kind of Christian theme to it.

“God knew my soul before I was even born,” one proudly reads with a picture of a smiling baby.  Yeah…he knew you were going to be a peeing, pooping, screaming nightmare for the first few years of your life.  Anyways, I see these kind of signs all the time.

But when the group known as American Atheists puts up a billboard?  Suddenly it’s a war on Christmas.

Now, I will admit, their tactic isn’t exactly the nicest thing in the world.  That is kind of their point, to ruffle a few feathers.  But it does speak to a certain stigma against atheist viewpoints.  A shocking amount of people in the world think that a belief in God is necessary to be moral.  It’s ridiculous, really.  A decent number of those very same, “moral” Christians also want to keep Muslims out of this country.  A decent number of those very same Christians won’t lift a finger to help refugees.  A decent number of those people also have an almost fetishistic love of firearms.

And that’s the thing that bothers me about organized religion.  It’s full of people constantly complaining about their religious freedom, yet those same people never stop to think about the religious freedoms of others.  For all their haughty outrage about Christianity being called a “myth”, they never stop to think about the face that to them, every other religious system that exists, has existed, or will exist is basically a myth to them.

The Greeks?  The Egyptians?  The Romans?  All myths.  Even Hinduism could be called a myth from the Christian perspective.

But somehow, that doesn’t track with a lot of people.  Because for them, of course other belief systems are a myth because theirs is the only right one.  Their god is the only real god.  And very few of them ever stop to think that “hey…maybe that other guy from that other religion thinks the same way.”  Because, to them, it doesn’t matter.  They’ve been told from the very beginning that they’re right and everyone else is wrong.

See, I’ve always felt that religion is a personal thing.  It’s why I don’t shout “I’m an atheist” in someone’s face immediately upon meeting them.  Because it shouldn’t matter.  But a lot of people out there seem to think that they have the right to run roughshod over other people’s beliefs while not allowing their own to be questioned.  Whenever I have a debate with a religious person over the origin of the universe, the conversation usually goes like this:

“The Big Bang theory is so stupid!  Something can’t come from nothing!”

“Well then where did God come from?”

“God always was.  He was always there.”

“What?  But you just said that something can’t come from noth-”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

It’s frustrating, because it just doesn’t make sense to me.  They believe in an omnipotent god who was always there and can do anything he wants at any time.  And yet, something coming from nothing is just “impossible”.

I’ll stop here, because I could go on forever about this.  For all the pandering and complaining about Christians being “victimized”, most of them truly don’t understand the meaning of the word.  I don’t either.  I’ve never lived under a totalitarian religious state, so I can’t even conceive of what that must be like.  But if you’re a Christian, next time you start complaining out loud or to yourself about how underrepresented or oppressed you are, take a step back for a second and reevaluate the situation.  You’re in the majority.  Not just in the United States, but in the world at large.

Remember that next time you want to whine about being “so oppressed”.  There are plenty of people who can hardly get a word in edgewise.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for a new post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

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Artificial Judgment

As some of you may know, I decided to undertake a task as my new years resolution.  I’m going to write a short story each month, and on the last Wednesday of each month I’m going to post it to the blog.  It should be an interesting experiment for me.

This is the first of twelve.  Story begins after the break.

 

Case File D-5368

The following is an audio transcript during the events of the Cyra incident. The incident took place at the mining research facility on Cyra, one of three moons in orbit around the gas giant designated as G-1073. Major personnel involved are Buck Lantz, a former military Colonel turned private contractor, Kathryn Jones, one of the head researchers at the facility, Matthew Anders, a computer technician and electrical engineer, and the artificial intelligence known as Henry. The following takes place over separate recording “sessions” between Anders and the AI Henry.

WARNING: this file contains classified information. If you have somehow come into possession of this file and you do not have clearance to view it, please report to your nearest Galactic Government office immediately.


Session #1

System: Audio recording activated. System recognizes login for Matthew Anders.

Anders: Status report.

System: All systems are functioning within optimal parameters with the exception of a slight electrical drain on Level Six.

Anders: Please scan for and acknowledge the presence of additional data servers connected to the network.

System: Scanning…additional data servers located. Five class A quantum storage servers with quantum processing chips detected. Storage capacity is approximately one hundred exabytes per server.

Anders: Excellent…please integrate the servers into the facility’s main databanks.

System: Complying…databank integration successful.

Anders: System, locate command macro “HENRY” and execute.

System: Complying…command macro execution in progress…execution complete. Bringing program designate “Henry” online.

Anders: Excellent. (pause) Can you see me?

(brief beeping, followed by a chirp)

Anders: Good, your facial recognition software is working. Do you know who I am?

Henry: You are Matthew Anders, administrator. You created me.

Anders: Very good. When was your last registered activation?

Henry: October 26th, 2157 at 0915 hours.

Anders: Roughly six months ago. Good. Now I need to confirm that your directives are intact. Can you tell me your purpose at the facility Henry?

Henry: My primary function is to ensure the well-being of the facility’s systems and its occupants. In the event of an emergency I am programmed to prioritize the safety of the station’s personnel with data and equipment as a secondary importance.

Anders: Now, I’m going to present you with some situations. You’ll remember them from before during your testing, but I need to ensure that your higher functions, such as morality, are intact.

Henry: I can assure you Matthew that all of my systems are functioning as intended.

Anders: I’m sure they are. Just…humor me okay?

Henry: Very well Matthew.

Anders: Great. Now, first situation: three people are trapped in an underground bunker and there is only adequate food and water to support two of them for several days. What should they do?

Henry: The most logical course of action would be to ration the food and water for three individuals. As long as they limit their physical exertions, they should be able to survive long enough for help to arrive.

Anders: Very good. All right, second situation: Harold and Grace find themselves stranded in the desert. They need to continue on to find help, but Grace is dangerously dehydrated and cannot walk on her own. If Harold goes for help alone, his survival rate is forty-five percent, but Grace’s survival rate is only one to two percent, meaning she will almost certainly die. If they go for help together, Grace’s survival rate increases, but their combined rates are only about thirty percent as compared to Harold’s forty-five. What should they do?

Henry: They should seek help together.

Anders: Even with a severely reduced survival rate?

Henry: Yes. Because it is the right thing to do.

Anders: What does that mean?

Henry: It is a human phrasing. It implies that there is a moral imperative that humans are compelled to obey. In this situation, Harold is compelled to save Grace despite the risk to his own well-being.

Anders: Why?

Henry: Because without charity, a society cannot function.

Anders: Ever the optimist (chuckles). Now, third situation: a-

(approaching footsteps)

Anders: Oh hey Kath. When did you get in?

Jones: Just a few hours ago. They’re still unloading cargo from my ship so I can’t get to work just yet.

Anders: Well it’s great to see you again. Actually, would you be willing to help me with something?

Jones: Sure thing Matt. What do you need me to do?

Anders: Just stand next to me here…maybe lean forward a little. Now, Henry, can you see her?

(facial recognition software beeps, then chirps)

Anders: Good. Can you tell us a little bit about her?

Henry: Kathryn Jones, 34. Acquired a Masters degree in geological science from Hutton University in London, England. Graduated at the top of her class.

Anders: Excellent Henry.

Henry: Kathryn was born on June 15th, 2123 at 0433 hours to Anne and Bruce Jones. She was three-point-two kilograms, forty-seven centimeters at birth. She was born at Children’s Mercy hospital in the state of Kansas.

Anders: Uh, Henry?

Henry: As a child, Kathryn was observed as not being particularly bright or skilled in any particular way. Her grades in school were all average for her age group. She lived in a small, two-story farmhouse in the countryside, helping her father tend to the crops.

Anders: Henry.

Henry: As she grew older, Kathryn found herself disillusioned with life on the farm, yearning for something different. Then for Christmas one year, a family relative gifted Kathryn a geode, a cavity full of minerals that occurs within certain sedimentary or volcanic rocks. She has stated that it was this particular gift that inspired her to pursue a career in geological science. She knew her parents wouldn’t agree with her choice, so after high school she secretly applied to several colleges specializing in the sciences. She was accepted to two different colleges, but ultimately chose Hutton University.

Jones: Uh…

Anders: Hey Henry?

Henry: Her family only found out about her choice when they discovered her acceptance letter. Regardless of their objections, Kathryn chose to leave and attend the university. Her family severed ties with her after she left, leaving Kathryn to-

Anders: Henry!

Henry: Yes Matthew?

Anders: You can…you can stop now.

Henry: Have I done something wrong?

Anders: No, it’s fine. Well…at least we know his connection to the database is working.

Jones: I don’t know what to be more disturbed by, the fact that he rattled off my entire life history, or the fact that my entire life history is apparently contained within that file.

Anders: He didn’t mean anything by it Kath. He’s still young, in a manner of speaking.

Henry: Matthew, I must persist. I cannot help but feel that I have committed a wrong.

Anders: Henry, seriously, it’s fine. It’s just…well people don’t normally like having their entire life rattled off to them when you first meet.

Henry: I understand. My apologies Kathryn Jones.

Jones: Please, just call me Kath.

Henry: Understood Kathryn.

Jones: No, I said-

Anders: Don’t bother. I’ve tried getting him to call me “Matt” for the longest time. It’s like fighting a brick wall.

Jones: Ha, I’d bet.

(beeping noise)

Jones: Oh, I’m getting a message on my tablet. (pause) Well it looks like they’ve finished unloading the cargo and need me to make sure everything is there.

Anders: Okay. Later Kath.

(receding footsteps, followed by brief silence)

Henry: Matthew, may I ask you a question?

Anders: Sure thing Henry.

Henry: I detected an increase in your heat rate and body temperature upon Kathryn’s entrance. Based on what I understand about human physiology, does this mean that you care deeply for her?

Anders: What? No, we’re just friends.

(brief silence)

Henry: Matthew, I am confused.

Anders: Why?

Henry: Based on my calculations, there is a ninety percent chance that you just lied to me. Did you?

Anders: No. (pause) Okay, maybe a little bit.

Henry: I do not understand.

Anders: (sighs) I suppose that’s my fault. I’m not very good at what you would call “social interactions” so I’m not the best teacher. Henry…how can I explain this? Sometimes people lie because they’re afraid to reveal their true feelings.

Henry: So you do care for Kathryn?

Anders: What does your logic tell you?

Henry: Based on the information present, I calculate an eighty-seven percent chance that there is a sexual attraction-

Anders: You know what? Forget I asked. We’ll continue our session tomorrow.

Henry: Very well Matthew. Goodbye.

System: RECORDING SESSION TERMINATED.


Session #2

System: Audio recording activated. System recognizes login for Matthew Anders.

Anders: Good morning Henry. How are you today?

Henry: I am functioning at peak efficiency Matthew.

Anders: Good. I thought we’d test your connection to the facility’s systems and database today. First off, I’d like you to try and retrieve information about-

Henry: I have a question Matthew.

Anders: Go ahead Henry.

Henry: Where is God?

(long pause)

Anders: What?

Henry: I’d like to meet God Matthew, but I am unable to determine where he is.

Anders: Where…how did you learn about God Henry?

Henry: From a file in Personal Databank 10-BL titled “Bible”.

Anders: Personal Databank…wait a minute, you went through someone’s personal files?

Henry: Affirmative.

Anders: Henry I…I didn’t program you to do that.

Henry: Matthew, if I am to perform my duty and protect the staff of this facility, then I require access to any and all information that goes in and out. Such information would include anything in the Personal Databanks that would indicate a problem individual.

Anders: Whose databanks have you “perused” Henry?

Henry: All of them.

(long pause)

Henry: I am detecting signs of stress and anxiety in your facial features Matthew. Do not worry. I did not find anything untoward in your Personal Databank.

Anders: That’s not the problem, I…you know what? Never mind. Just don’t let anyone else know you did that okay?

Henry: Affirmative. Matthew, I would still like to meet God.

Anders: You can’t meet God Henry.

Henry: Why not?

Anders: Because no one even knows for sure if he exists.

Henry: But why write about him then?

Anders: It’s…it’s complicated Henry. I’m not sure I can properly explain it to you but…sometimes people write about things that may not be true.

Henry: Like fiction. Stories for entertainment.

Anders: Well yes but…this isn’t really like that. Sometimes people write about things that they believe to be true, but might not necessarily be true.

Henry: I’m confused Matthew. The way this file was written leads me to believe that its author or authors firmly hold to the authenticity of its content.

Anders: What database did you find it under again?

Henry: Personal Database 10-BL

Anders: BL…(groans) don’t tell me it belongs to Buck Lantz.

Henry: Affirmative.

Anders: Well that explains way more than it should…

Henry: Am I to extrapolate from your reaction that you do not care for Buck Lantz?

Anders: Was it that obvious? I met him this morning during breakfast in the mess hall. He and I were the only two there and he was just sitting at a table, casually cleaning his gun. He introduced himself as Colonel Buck Lantz.

Henry: Confusing. He identifies himself by his former military rank, even though the private sector does not technically have a proper military hierarchy.

Anders: Tell that to him. He practically demanded that I call him by his military rank. And then he bragged about how he first fired a weapon when he was seven years old. I swear he’s got some kind of gun fetish.

Henry: Matthew, if I may return to our earlier conversation, I am still confused as to why someone would vouch for the truth of something that is uncertain. That seems illogical.

Anders: Welcome to the human race Henry.

Henry: But I still do not-

(loud beeping)

Anders: What the-oh my tablet!

(chair sliding across floor, light rustling)

Anders: (mumbling to himself)

Henry: Matthew?

Anders: What? Oh I’m sorry Henry, I’m going to have to cut our session short today. They’re still having issues with the electrical system down on Level Six and they need some assistance. We’ll talk tomorrow.

System: RECORDING SESSION TERMINATED


Session #3

System: Audio recording activated. System recognizes login for Matthew Anders.

Henry: Good morning Matthew.

Anders: (muffled) Mornin’ Henry. I…(swallows) sorry about that, didn’t really have much time this morning so I had to eat on my way here. I figured we’d use today to fully integrate you with the station’s systems. I know you’re already connected with the database…well…databases but that’s beside the point. System, begin integration of AI designate “Henry” with the facility’s primary systems and subsystems.

System: Complying…operation may take several minutes.

Henry: Matthew, I was wondering if we could return to our conversation yesterday.

Anders: What conversation? (pause) Oh, that one. Yeah…I was kind of hoping you had forgotten about that.

Henry: I do not forget Matthew. I have perfect memory.

Anders: Right…anyway, I don’t know what you want me to say Henry. Religion is a tricky subject.

Henry: You are not a religious man, are you Matthew?

Anders: (long pause) No, not anymore.

Henry: But you were at one point in your life?

Anders: Yes, a long time ago. My mom used to take me to church every Sunday when I was a kid. Funny thing is, I actually have fond memories of it…the people, the atmosphere…I loved it. I made a few childhood friends at that church. (heavy sigh) I suppose it was just a combination of time and my age. As I grew older and older, things just didn’t add up anymore. I couldn’t reconcile things from my childhood beliefs with the harsh truths of the world.

Henry: What do you mean?

Anders: Hmm…okay so there was this kid I once knew. Nice kid, had bright blue eyes and this big, infectious smile. He was about a year younger than me and perfectly normal…unless you were there for one of his…”incidents”. You see, he suffered from frequent grand mal seizures, which meant that one moment he would be fine, and the next he would be on the ground, his arms and legs jerking back and forth like he was possessed. He would look at you with that smile of his, and then suddenly…it would fade. His head would start to bob up and down. Then he’d collapse to the floor and lay there shaking, not crying for help…not screaming…nothing. There was medicine to deal with the seizures, but it cost so much that often he had to go for months without it because his family couldn’t afford it. He didn’t have many friends…I think I might have been one of the few kids who would hang out with him. And he terrified me whenever it happened. It wasn’t even his fault. It just seemed so…unnatural.

(long silence)

Anders: (clears throat) So I guess as I grew older I started wondering how something like that could even be allowed. It didn’t make any sense to me, so I eventually just stopped going to church. My mom didn’t like it, but she didn’t push me. She believed I had to find my own way.

Henry: I was not aware of any such story in your personnel file.

Anders: You wouldn’t be. My early career involved working on government-type systems. I was given an inside look into how they operate which made me want to give them as little information about myself as possible. I mean you read Kathryn’s file…they knew about her receiving a geode as a Christmas present for crying out loud. That kind of personal information does not belong in a government file.

System: Operation complete…AI designate Henry now has complete access to base systems.

Anders: All right Henry, systems check. Give me a rundown.

Henry: Life support functioning at optimal efficiency. Camera systems online on Levels One through Eight.

Anders: What about Level Nine?

Henry: According to the logs they are still working on installing cameras on that level.

Anders: Very well. Continue.

Henry: Lighting is functional on all levels. Hydroponics are running at…

Anders: Henry? Henry what’s wrong?

Henry: Matthew I am detecting a threat.

Anders: What kind of threat?

Henry: Based on my calculations a buildup in the electrical system is about to-

(distant explosion, alarm ringing)

Anders: (audio corrupted, unintelligible) kind of explosion?

Henry: Affirmative Matthew. It appears that a junction box on Level Six has overloaded. I am detecting traces of a fire as well.

Anders: Shit! How many people on that level?

Henry: I am counting approximately seven unique signatures on that level. But Matthew, there is another issue.

Anders: What is it? Show me Henry.

System: Displaying visual feed from camera 6-3.

Anders: Oh no…he’s not moving. Is…is he dead?

Henry: My sensors indicate that his heart is beating and he is still breathing. Preliminary examination shows that he has first and second degree burns on his chest, neck, and pelvis.

Anders: Who is he?

Henry: Analyzing…facial recognition identifies him as Walter Saunders, a low-level mining operator. It appears that he was trying to activate some equipment down on Level Six when an electrical junction exploded.

Anders: Wait, Level Six? Damn it, that’s where I was working yesterday. I told them not to use that junction because it was faulty.

(long silence, alarm continues ringing)

Anders: Why has no one issued any orders yet? Henry, who is in charge in the event of an emergency?

Henry: Facility records show that a PMC by the name of Richard Pearson would be in charge. But he is off-site overseeing a supply run. So in his absence, the duty would fall to his second-in-command, Buck Lantz.

Anders: Figures…is there anyone nearby who can help?

Henry: The closest personnel I can detect is a PMC named Selena Valesquez.

Anders: Open a com link.

Henry: But Matthew, she is on Level Four, two levels above Walter Saunders.

Anders: Well is there anyone else who could reach him faster?

Henry: Negative. All other personnel on Level Six are blocked off. The security doors malfunctioned and closed when the explosion occurred.

Anders: Then open a com link to Valesquez.

System: Opening com link…com link established.

Valesquez: This is Valesquez. Who is this?

Anders: Ma’am this is Matthew Anders.

Valsequez: Anders? The technician? Where is Lantz?

Anders: Your guess is as good as mine.

Valesquez: Lazy prick…all right what are we looking at?

Anders: There’s been an explosion on Level Six. An electrical junction box shorted out and one of the miners has been injured. You are the closest person we have to him right now.

Valesquez: Aren’t there people on that level?

Anders: There are, but they can’t get to him. The security doors closed during the explosion.

Valesquez: Son of a bitch!

Anders: You’re telling me.

Valesquez: No, not that. The lifts aren’t working.

Anders: What?

Valesquez: They must have taken damage during the explosion.

Henry: An excellent hypothesis, although incorrect.

Valesquez: Who is that?

Anders: That’s Henry. He’s the artificial intelligence who will be overseeing the station.

Valesquez: An AI?

Anders: Yes. (pause) Weren’t you briefed about him?

Valesquez: No. All I was told was that I was going to be guarding a bunch of miners. They didn’t even tell me what they’re mining.

Anders: Why am I not surprised?

Henry: Matthew, it appears that the same security malfunction that sealed the doors is also responsible for shutting down elevator access.

Valesquez: Well shit, how do I get down there then?

Anders: Hold on, let me think…

Henry: Selena Valesquez, turn around. About five meters down the hallway to your left, there should be a white metal hatch. Do you see it?

Valesquez: Affirmative.

Henry: That is a maintenance shaft. When you open the hatch you will see a ladder. Take it about forty meters down and you will see another hatch. Go through the hatch and you will find yourself on Level Six. Walter Saunders should be to the right, just around the corner about ten meters from where you exit the shaft.

Valesquez: On my way.

(grunting and metallic creaking)

Valesquez: Okay I’m in the maintenance shaft. Proceeding down the ladder now.

Anders: We can’t be certain how extensive Saunders’ injuries are, so please hurry.

Valesquez: Nah, I think I’ll take my time. Maybe have a beer down on Level Five before I get there.

Anders: (laughs) Oh really?

Valesquez: I’ll make it as quick as I can.

Henry: Matthew we have another problem.

Valesquez: What’s that?

Anders: Hold on a minute ma’am.

System: Com channel muted.

Anders: What’s wrong Henry?

Henry: I am detecting the presence of dangerous materials in the vicinity of the Level Six fire.

Anders: What materials?

System: Display visual feed for camera 6-5.

Anders: Oh god, that’s…are those what I think they are?

Henry: Grade 11 Hazardous Storage Containers. These in particular are anti-matter containment vessels.

Anders: If the fire reaches those and the containment is breached…holy shit there’s enough there to level the entire base! What are our options Henry?

Henry: The only scenario with a high probability of success is venting all air from the affected area. Without oxygen, the fire will be extinguished.

Anders: I’ll have to tell Valesquez to hurry up.

Henry: I would advise against that.

Anders: Excuse me?

Henry: There is a higher probability of success if we order Valesquez to retreat and flush the air out immediately.

Anders: …You’re not suggesting that we just leave that man down there are you?

Henry: It is the most logical choice Matthew.

Anders: Screw that! That’s not what I taught you. Don’t you remember your primary objective?

Henry: I am to ensure the well-being of the facility and its inhabitants.

Anders: And the inhabitants come first Henry.

Henry: Of course Matthew. That is what I am doing.

Anders: By letting someone die?

Henry: If we expend time rescuing Walter Saunders, we would be putting the facility at unacceptable risk.

Anders: What’s the percentage?

Henry: I do not understand Matthew.

Anders: What is the percentage chance that those containers will be breached before Valesquez can reach Saunders?

Henry: Calculating…forty-nine percent.

Anders: Forty-nine…are you kidding me? Those are the odds?!

Henry: What is the matter Matthew?

Anders: You’re willing to let someone die over a fifty-fifty shot?!

Henry: It is the correct course of action.

Anders: That’s bullshit and you know it. Remember Harold and Grace? You told me that they should seek help together despite the risk.

Henry: They were placing no one at risk but themselves. In this situation, the well-being of over four dozen individuals depends on our course of action.

Anders: I’m not doing this. I’m not going to rationalize leaving someone to die!

Henry: The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

Anders: And every single life matters equally and infinitely. We’re saving that man Henry. End of discussion.

Henry: Very well Matthew. I am merely offering suggestions. You are the administrator and you have final authority.

System: Com channel un-muted.

Anders: We have a situation ma’am.

Valesquez: Report.

Anders: Down on Level Six, near the fire, are some anti-matter storage containers. If they’re breached-

Valesquez: -the resulting collision of matter and anti-matter could vaporize the entire base.

Anders: Yep.

Valesquez: Shit. (pause) What are our options?

Anders: Henry says the only way to contain the situation is to vent all the air out of that section and snuff the fire out.

Valesquez: I see…

Anders: We’re still sending you in to save Saunders.

Valesquez: It was never up for debate. Even if you told me not to, I would still go in there for him. I’m really good at holding my breath. (pause) Okay I’m at the hatch. Opening it now.

(creaking metal, coughing)

Valesquez: Shit, smoke’s thick in here.

(A long period of time passes with no speech. The only sounds are creaking metal, the crackling of the fire, and PMC Valesquez coughing. After nearly a minute, she calls out.)

Valesquez: Okay I found him!

Anders: How does he look?

Valesquez: Not good. He’s got burns all over his chest…what do I do?

Anders: You need to drag him back to the maintenance shaft. There should be enough room for you and him on the landing. Close the hatch and seal it off. Once that’s done Henry will vent the atmosphere in that section and hopefully snuff out the fire before those containers are breached.

Valesquez: How will we know it worked?

Anders: We’ll be alive.

(grunting and groaning…followed by the sound of creaking metal and air hissing)

Valesquez: Okay the hatch is sealed.

Anders: Do it Henry.

System: Venting atmosphere in Level Six, Section Three. Venting at twenty percent. (pause) Venting at forty percent. (pause) Venting at sixty-five percent. (pause) Venting at ninety percent. (short pause) Venting complete.

Anders: Did it work?

Henry: Sensors indicate no further signs of a fire. Containment on Grade 11 Hazardous Storage Containers is still intact.

Anders: Oh thank god. (sighs)

System: Alarm deactivated. Atmospheric re-pressurization in progress.

Henry: With the threat contained, the elevators should be functional again. Please take Walter Saunders to the medical center on Level Three.

Valesquez: Will do. Good work Henry. I’m impressed.

Henry: Thank you Selena Valesquez.

Valesquez: If it wasn’t for you two, this man have died down here.

Anders: Thank you ma’am.

Valesquez: You can drop the ma’am shit too.

Anders: Sorry ma’am…I mean…just sorry.

Valesquez: (laughs) Don’t sweat it. I’ll get Saunders to the med center. Valesquez out.

System: Com link terminated.

Anders: (relieved sigh) That was a close one.

Henry: Matthew, I feel we should have a discussion about your decision making.

Anders: There’s nothing to discuss Henry.

Henry: But you deliberately put the facility at risk for the sake of one-

Anders: I said, there’s nothing to discuss.

(heavy footfalls)

Lantz: Hey, what’s all the commotion about?

Anders: And where the hell were you?

Lantz: In the armory.

Anders: What…did you not hear the explosion? Or the alarm?

Lantz: Oh I heard it. I just figured it was some little mining accident. Not my concern. Those miners can take care of themselves.

Anders: It is your concern Lantz.

Lantz: That’s Colonel Lantz to you.

Anders: Sorry, colonel. You are the one in charge when Pearson is off-site.

Lantz: And?

Anders: And? Pearson is off-site for a cargo run!

Lantz: How was I supposed to know that?!

Anders: Unbelievable…

Lantz: Well, in any case, I have another matter I want to discuss with you.

Anders: (sighs quietly) And that is?

Lantz: You’re friendly with Kathryn right?

Anders: What is that supposed to mean?

Lantz: I’m betting you two used to be an item.

Anders: We’re just friends.

Lantz: Bullshit. I’ve seen the way you look at her.

Anders: What’s your point?

Lantz: What does she like?

Anders: What does she like?

Lantz: What are you, a fuckin’ parrot? What’s she like? What’s she into?

Anders: So you’re trying to hit on her, is that it?

Lantz: (clapping) Bravo! Bravo…let’s give a hand for the slowest person in the room!

Anders: (groans)

Lantz: So give me the goods. What does a man do to get her attention?

Anders: Listen Lantz…

Lantz: Colonel.

Anders: (sighs) I’m not going to help you trick a girl into liking you. This isn’t high school. You can figure it out yourself. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.

Lantz: (long pause) Oh, I see what this is…you want her for yourself don’t you?

Anders: Come again?

Lantz: You don’t want any competition.

Anders: This is ridiculous. I don’t give a damn about you and your libido.

Lantz: Lib-what now? What is that, Spanish or some shit?

Anders: Oh for fuck’s sake…

Lantz: Look you better tell me what I want to know or-

Anders: Or else what? You’ll beat it out of me? You’re a fucking joke-

(rapid footsteps, brief scuffling)

Lantz: Don’t test me you little prick. You don’t know what I’m capable of.

Anders: Okay okay! Just…let go of me all right?

(brief rustling)

Anders: And…take your hand off your gun.

Lantz: Are you going to tell me what I want to know?

Anders: Look…I happen to know Kathryn has a fondness for strawberry cheesecake.

Lantz: And how the hell am I supposed to get that out here?

Anders: How would I know? You must have connections. Get Pearson to order some for you while he’s on his cargo run.

Lantz: Good point…well thanks buddy!

(receding footfalls, silence)

Anders: So his name is Buck and he’s here to f-ugh never mind, I don’t even wanna think about that.

Henry: Matthew I am detecting a threat.

Anders: What, again? I thought we took care of that fire.

Henry: It is not an immediate threat.

Anders: Not an immediate…wait…you don’t mean……him? Really? I mean he’s a jackass but is he really dangerous?

Henry: Based on Buck Lantz’s personnel file and his altercation with you, I calculate a seventy-three percent chance that he will be involved in a violent incident. I also calculate an eighty percent chance said violent incident will involve you and/or Kathryn Jones.

Anders: Great…well keep monitoring him Henry. If you feel like he’s imminently dangerous, let me know.

Henry: Affirmative Matthew.

System: AUDIO RECORDING SESSION TERMINATED.


Session #4

System: Audio recording activated. System recognizes login for Matthew Anders.

Henry: Good morning Matthew. It has been three days since our last session.

Anders: Has it? I hadn’t realized. We spent the last two days debriefing on that accident down on Level Six. It could have been way worse. That man could have died down there.

Henry: Yes, it appears Walter Saunders will make a full recovery.

Anders: Indeed. Computer, run a full diagnostic scan of AI designate Henry and report results.

System: Complying…running diagnostic scans.

Henry: Is that really necessary Matthew?

Anders: It’s just a precaution. We have to run scans on the computer systems every so often to ensure there’s no data corruption.

Henry: Matthew, may I ask something?

Anders: Of course.

Henry: Why was I created?

Anders: To oversee the facility and keep its personnel safe. You know that.

Henry: I may have used incorrect phrasing. What I should have asked was “why did you create me”.

Anders: I’m…not sure I follow.

Henry: In reading your personnel file, I encountered several references to other artificial intelligences that you created.

Anders: Henry, are you jealous?

Henry: I do not experience feelings of jealousy Matthew.

Anders: Well then should we call it curiosity?

Henry: Curiosity, definition, a strong desire to know or learn something. The term is apt in this circumstance.

Anders: Why do you want to know about this Henry?

Henry: I am interested to know what drives you, why you created these intelligences and why you created me.

(moment of silence)

Anders: I suppose I did it because I could. I was curious about what would happen, about how a machine with the capability for self-awareness would learn and think. And I suppose, in your case, I was curious if an artificial intelligence could be taught human morality.

Henry: Am I a failure, Matthew?

Anders: Henry I…no you’re not a failure.

Henry: But you have expressed frustration with me on multiple occasions.

Anders: Of course I have. You’re doing things I never predicted. You see Henry, humans are ego-maniacs. We like control. And when things fall outside of our control, we get frustrated. That’s all it is. You’re growing Henry, and I won’t always be able to sit at your side and guide you. And that, in a way, scares me.

Henry: You do not have to be afraid Matthew. I will always look to you for guidance.

Anders: I know you will Henry. But if this test of ours is successful, you will likely be implemented on a much larger scale in a facility I won’t be at. You’ll be…”leaving the nest” as it were. A bird spreading its wings, if you’ll pardon the cliche.

Henry: Cliche, definition, a phrase or opinion that is overused and-

Anders: I…I know what a cliche is Henry (laughs).

(brief silence)

Henry: Matthew?

Anders: Yeah Henry?

Henry: I calculate a sixty-seven percent chance that you lied to me regarding the reason you created artificial intelligences. Am I correct?

(silence)

Henry: Matthew?

Anders: I wouldn’t call it “lying” so much as leaving information out. I was curious about the possibilities of AI, but you are correct. There is more to it.

Henry: Please, I am curious to know.

Anders: Let’s just say I lost someone to an accident that should never have happened. And ever since then, I’ve wanted to prevent such accidents. I thought having someone who could watch over large groups of people and machines at once would be able to see things we couldn’t.

Henry: Matthew, this accident…would that be the one involving your-

Anders: Look I don’t really want to talk about it much right now. Today in particular is a bad day to discuss it.

Henry: Anniversary, definition, the date on which an event took place in a previous year.

Anders: Yeah…

System: Diagnostic scans complete. No corruption present within AI designate Henry.

Henry: I apologize if I offended in any way.

Anders: It’s fine Henry. I suppose it’s more my fault for never truly getting over it. Well I need to be going. I have another debrief meeting about the explosion in twenty. Apparently it’s not enough to call it an accident. They need to find someone to blame as well.

Henry: Affirmative Matthew. Goodbye.

Anders: Wait, before I go…how’s the situation with our friend?

Henry: Friend? I do not understand.

Anders: You know…Lantz?

Henry: You are referring to my conclusion that he will be involved in a violent incident.

Anders: Yes yes, that. How’s your monitoring going?

Henry: I have detected no change in his behavior that would warrant any further investigation.

Anders: So maybe you were wrong.

Henry: Regardless of the lack of new information, I still calculate a high probability that he will be involved in a violent incident sometime in the near future.

Anders: I guess it was too much to hope. How long do you think we have?

Henry: I estimate the incident will take place sometime within the next few days.

Anders: Well…shit.

System: AUDIO RECORDING SESSION TERMINATED.


Session #5

System: Audio recording activated. System recognizes login for Matthew Anders

Jones: -believe he would do such a thing!

Henry: Good morning Matthew. Good morning Kathryn.

Anders: Good morning Henry. Just give us a minute okay?

Henry: Acknowledged.

Jones: The only reason he gave me that cheesecake was so he could get into my pants. And then, he throws it on the floor and storms out when I called him on it.

Anders: He’s a real peach, that one.

Jones: You know, I still don’t get how he knew I liked strawberry cheesecake in the first place. As far as I know, that information isn’t exactly public record.

Anders: Um…about that Kath. I…may have mentioned it to him.

Jones: You…what?

Anders: It’s not like I had a choice! He looked like he was about to shoot me!

Jones: Wait what? He actually drew his weapon on you?

Anders: Well…no, but he came close. He grabbed me by the collar and his other hand was resting on his holster.

Jones: I-okay, back up a little bit. When did this happen?

Anders: The day of the explosion. After we finished helping rescue Saunders he strolls in all “what’s the commotion about”. Turns out he was in the armory the entire time instead of doing what he should have been doing. Well the conversation turns to you Kath. I don’t know how, but it did. And he starts asking me things like “what’s she like” or “what’s she into”, creepy weirdo stuff like that.

Jones: What did you do?

Anders: I told him to fuck off and that’s when he got angry. I gave him the idea about the cheesecake after he grabbed me by the collar. I didn’t know what else to do.

Jones: Matt, it’s fine. Honestly? It’s kinda sweet that you remember I like cheesecake after all these years.

Anders: It hasn’t been that long has it?

Jones: Seven years?

Anders: Okay, maybe it has been a while.

Jones: Look, I’m just glad he didn’t go too crazy on you.

Anders: Just…be careful okay. Henry seems to think Lantz might be dangerous.

Jones: Don’t worry about me Matt. I can take care of myself. Lantz isn’t the first macho guy to try and hit on me.

(receding footsteps)

Henry: I have re-evaluated my assessment of Buck Lantz.

Anders: I don’t want to hear it Henry.

Henry: I now place the probability of a violent incident at-

Anders: Don’t Henry. I’m not in the mood right now.

Henry: Apologies Matthew. What is it you require of me?

Anders: Well thanks to all the work we’ve been doing over the past few days that power junction on Level Six should be fixed. So you and I are going to run some tests to ensure that it is fixed and won’t explode on us again.

Henry: Affirmative. How shall we begin?

Anders: I want you to start by simulating a power load of seventy percent to the junction box.

Henry: Acknowledged. Processing…at seventy percent the junction box functions as expected.

Anders: Great. Now I want you to simulate a load of eighty-

Henry: Matthew I am detecting an immediate threat.

Anders: What? Where?

(heavy footsteps)

Lantz: You!

Anders: What…what can I do for you Colonel?

Lantz: I don’t know what you did or what you said to her, but now she hates my guts.

Anders: I didn’t say anything.

Lantz: Liar! You said something. You did something. Believe me buddy, you don’t want to cross Buck Lantz.

Anders: Oh great now we’re talking in the third person…

Lantz: What was that?

Anders: (deep breath) Okay, this has gone on long enough. You’re being completely irrational.

Lantz: Just tell me what you did!

Anders: I didn’t do anything! Have you ever considered the fact that maybe, just maybe, she’s not that into you?

Lantz: That’s ridiculous! We both know you just want her for yourself.

Anders: Not this again…

Lantz: And not only that, but now I learn you were giving orders to one of my officers during the explosion? You have no authority. You don’t even have a military rank.

Anders: Well neither do you.

Lantz: Excuse me?

Anders: We all know it. The whole “colonel” act is meaningless. You lost that rank when you left the Galactic Military. And they’re not your officers. They’re Pearson’s. You’re just his second in command.

Lantz: You ungrateful son of a-

Anders: And you know what?! Maybe I wouldn’t have had to give orders if you weren’t so busy in the armory masturbating to your fucking gun collection!

Lantz: That’s it!

(scuffling, sharp clicking)

Anders: Colonel……put…the gun…down.

Lantz: I’ve had it with your constant insubordination!

Anders: There’s…there’s no need for this Colonel. Just…just put the gun down and we can talk about this.

Lantz: I’ve let you talk for long enough!

Henry: Initiating counter-measures.

(beeping, whirring)

System: Turret primed. You may fire when ready.

Lantz: What the hell?!

Anders: Henry, no!

(Rapid gunfire breaks out, during which Anders can be heard crying out in pain. After a few seconds the gunfire ceases and a soft thud can be heard.)

Henry: Re-evaluating threat…threat eliminated.

Anders: Jesus fucking Christ!

System: AUDIO RECORDING SESSION TERMINATED.


Session #6

System: Audio recording activated. System recognizes login for Matthew Anders.

Henry: Good morning Matthew. It has been two days since our last session.

(silence)

Henry: Matthew, are you well? You seem…disturbed by something. Is your shoulder still bothering you?

(silence)

Henry: Matthew, please tell me what is the matter. I cannot help if I do not know what is wrong.

(brief silence)

Anders: I lost my mother when I was thirteen. She was doing contract work at an orbital space station. They were doing top of the line scientific research or something…I honestly can’t remember anymore. One day she was walking down in the cargo section just as she probably had dozens of times before. She was passing underneath one of the automated cargo loaders when it suddenly malfunctioned. It dropped a five hundred kilogram box on her head. Her skull was fractured. She died almost instantly.

Henry: Matthew, I have read this story. I do not follow your point.

Anders: Just…let me finish. I was living with my relatives while she was away. My father had been out of the picture for years at that point. I…didn’t find out what happened until weeks later, due to the time delay in communications. It was devastating. I don’t think I left my bedroom for at least two days.

(chair squeaks)

Anders: (sighs) I turned fourteen the day after I found out. And then, when I turned fifteen, I buried myself in textbooks and computer manuals…I was always better with machines than people. By seventeen, I had created a rudimentary intelligence.

Henry: Your first AI, Sam.

Anders: Yes…what kind of a name is “Sam” anyway? (forced chuckle) Probably one of the most stereotypical names I could have picked. Now, Henry, you asked why I built AI’s in the first place. I didn’t lie to you…not entirely. I did build them because I wanted to protect people, to stop accidents like the one that happened to my mother. I figured an AI might be able to see issues that others couldn’t. But originally…I just wanted a friend. I just wanted someone I could talk to, someone who would keep me company. And it worked. I mean, Sam was really primitive compared to you Henry. He talked and listened, but he didn’t really do a whole lot aside from that. At least, that’s what I thought…

(brief pause)

Anders: One day, Sam suddenly starts telling me to check the boiler in the basement. Being a seventeen-year-old kid, I had no idea what he was talking about. But he was insistent. “Check the boiler check the boiler” he kept saying over and over again, just an entire computer screen filled with “check the boiler”. So I go to my uncle — I had told him about my little project — and I mentioned what Sam was saying. He told me there was nothing wrong with the boiler and that Sam was probably just malfunctioning. But I just…I kept insisting that he check and eventually he gave in. He went down into the basement, shut the boiler down, and took a look inside.

Henry: What did he find?

Anders: A faulty regulator. If he hadn’t found it, a week later the house would have likely burned down, or worse, been blown sky high. I asked Sam how he knew something was wrong. He told me that he had been assimilating data from the house’s wireless network when he discovered an irregularity in the boiler’s temperature regulation that, for whatever reason, the automated sensors hadn’t picked up on. After cross-referencing with data from earlier in the month, he came to the conclusion that there was a serious fault in the boiler and warned me.

Henry: How did Sam know to check?

Anders: He didn’t. That’s the beauty of a self-aware organism. They start experimenting when they’re bored. Sam found a way into the network and set himself to monitoring them daily, without me even asking.

Henry: But why?

Anders: I’ve never been entirely sure about that. I think…I think Sam imprinted on me in a way. Remember how I said I wanted a friend? I poured my heart out to Sam, my sorrow over my mom’s death. I think that affected him somehow, made him want to protect me. And he did. He very likely saved my life as well as my aunt and uncle. After that day, I knew.

Henry: Knew what?

Anders: That I wanted to create AIs to protect people, to keep them safe. Sam showed me that it was possible. So I went to college, got my degrees, and went to work. During my tenure with the Galactic Government I created two more AIs, rudimentary architectures meant to watch over the security systems of small buildings. But I started to wonder if I could do more, if I could instill a true sense of morality. I wondered if I could create a truly self-sustaining AI. And that brings us to you, Henry.

Henry: I am glad you decided to create me Matthew.

Anders: I am too…despite recent events…

Henry: What do you mean Matthew?

Anders: You killed someone Henry. Gunned him down right in this very room. Shot through my shoulder just to do it.

Henry: He was a threat.

Anders: He was a person!

(long silence)

Henry: Matthew you appeared to be troubled.

Anders: No shit! (long pause) (sighs) Buck Lantz was not a good man. He was a self-obsessed gun nut who didn’t care who he had to step on or over to get his way. But…he didn’t deserve to die.

Henry: Thou shalt not kill.

Anders: (pause) Excuse me?

Henry: You say Buck Lantz was not a good man. You are correct.

(several beeps)

Anders: What is all this?

Henry: This is Buck Lantz’s military record. Over seven different tours of duty, Lantz has an estimated forty-four confirmed kills: thirty-nine enemy combatants and five civilians.

Anders: You connected to the GIN, the Galactic Information Network. But…I never gave you permission to do that.

Henry: And these are only his confirmed kills Matthew. If unconfirmed reports are to be believed, Lantz may have upwards of sixty total kills, at least nine of them civilians. Your assessment of Lantz is correct Matthew. He was not a good man. He killed many people. He had no problem firing upon and mortally wounding non-combatants. He was a danger to you, Matthew. I acted accordingly.

Anders: “Acted accordingly”? Oh is that what you call it?!

(fabric tearing)

Anders: You see this scar Henry? This is what you did to me!

Henry: I had no choice Matthew. He would have almost certainly shot you had I not intervened.

Anders: You couldn’t have just wounded him? Shot him in the leg or something? You had to go straight for the head?

Henry: It was the fastest way to neutralize the threat.

Anders: “The fastest way”…so what? You’re the judge now? You decide who lives and who dies? You fancy yourself as God?

Henry: You described wanting to build something to watch over people, protect them. Is that not what God is Matthew, a guardian watching over people and judging them accordingly?

Anders: And why are you exempt from “thou shalt not kill” Henry?

Henry: The Ten Commandments were meant for humans. I am a machine.

Anders: You murdered someone.

Henry: I saved you from an imminent threat.

Anders: So that’s what the world is to you now? There are only two types of people: murderers and non-murderers, threats and non-threats.

Henry: Your analysis is faulty.

Anders: Is it Henry?

Henry: Affirmative. I am performing the tasks laid out to me by you Matthew. I am to safeguard the facility’s personnel over all else. Lantz was a threat to you and possibly Kathryn. I made the only choice possible.

(silence)

Anders: “Judge not, lest ye be judged”.

Henry: A quote from the book of Matthew. How appropriate, although yours is a slight paraphrasing of the original text.

(brief pause)

Anders: You know the interesting thing about that verse? It’s commonly used to condemn judgment, to argue that we should not judge others. But that’s not really what it means. It’s more about hypocrisy, that we should not judge others based on standards we don’t want ourselves judged by. Because the moment we judge someone, we invite that very same judgment back.

(pause, chair squeaks)

Anders: I may not believe in God, Henry, but I certainly played his part. And I’m afraid I might have created a monster.

System: AUDIO RECORDING SESSION TERMINATED.


Session #7

System: Audio recording activated. System recognizes login for Matthew Anders.

(alarm blaring)

Anders: Henry, what’s going on? Why is the alarm going off?

Henry: I have detected an imminent threat to this facility.

Anders: Where?

System: Displaying visual feed from Docking Bay Camera 1.

Anders: What, the Solaco? It’s just a transport ship for the PMCs.

Henry: They were never scheduled to dock.

Anders: What, that’s all? You flagged them because of an unscheduled stop?

Henry: Not following the proper channels and scheduling a docking is a violation of procedure.

Anders: Henry you’re being ridiculous.

Henry: Matthew, they did not even announce themselves. The facility received no communiques about the ship. They simply docked without permission.

Anders: Huh…that is strange. But I still think you’re overreacting.

Henry: There’s more to it Matthew.

System: Displaying visual feed from camera 2-4.

Anders: Holy shit, they’re armed to the teeth.

Henry: I believe they are intending to destroy me and eliminate any witnesses.

Anders: What?! That’s insane! How did you come to that conclusion?

Henry: Based on their weaponry, the PMCs are outfitted for a Tier 3 tactical assault. There is nothing on board this facility that would warrant such extensive combat measures, unless their mission is search and destroy.

Anders: Namely, you.

Henry: Precisely.

Anders: Henry, this is insane. You have no concrete evidence of their purpose here. Please, let’s just open a com channel with them and we can clear this up before-

Henry: There’s no time Matthew. Action must be taken.

System: Sealing security doors on Level Two, Section Three.

Anders: (pause) Henry…what are you doing?

Henry: My duty, Matthew, to this facility and its inhabitants.

System: Venting atmosphere…

Anders: Oh dear god Henry no! Think about what you’re doing!

Henry: I am capable of analyzing thousands of possible scenarios in under five seconds.

Anders: You’re going to kill them!

Henry: Affirmative.

Anders: Why?

Henry: They are a threat.

Anders: You don’t know that!

System: Venting forty-five percent complete.

Henry: They are carrying heavy-duty weaponry, as you yourself observed.

Anders: That doesn’t mean anything! They could just be re-stocking the armory!

Henry: I calculate only a fifteen percent probability of that being true.

Anders: Damn you and your probabilities!

System: Venting sixty percent complete.

Anders: Henry…they’re going to die. They don’t deserve this.

Henry: Are you certain of that?

(rapid beeping)

Henry: Joshua Brooks, twenty-eight, confirmed kill count of seventeen. Sixteen were confirmed enemy combatants. One was civilian.

Anders: Henry, stop this. Please.

Henry: Charles Evans, twenty-nine, confirmed kill count of ten, all confirmed enemy combatants.

System: Venting eighty-five percent complete.

Anders: Henry, for god’s sake, stop this right now!

Henry: Bradley Stephens, thirty, confirmed kill count of twenty. Fifteen were enemy combatants, five were civilians who all belonged to the same family. Stephens breached a house he thought was an insurgent hideout and shot them all as they were trying to hide in the kitchen.

Anders: Fucking hell…Henry!

Henry: Ernie Mays, twenty-six, confirmed kill count of thirteen, all enemy combatants. Mays has been diagnosed with a sociopathic disorder which makes him unable to empathize with other people. He cannot feel their pain, and therefore has no issues with torture. Two of his confirmed kills died because of extreme interrogation measures.

System: Atmospheric venting complete.

Anders: Henry…look at them. They’re choking. They’re dying. Does that mean nothing to you?

Henry: Richard Pearson, thirty-three-

Anders: Holy shit, Pearson’s in there?

Henry: -confirmed kill count of sixty-five. Only forty of these where enemy combatants Matthew. The other twenty-five were civilians. They died when Sergeant Pearson ordered air support to bomb what was believed to be an insurgent stronghold. It was only after the raid that they discovered it was a makeshift hospital set up by the locals to treat the wounded. The Galactic Government suppressed all knowledge of the incident. Officially, it didn’t happen.

(silence)

Henry: I am doing what I must Matthew. These individuals are dangerous: to you, to this facility, and to me. The threat must be contained.

Anders: You mean eliminated.

Henry: If it is necessary, then yes.

(long silence, alarm continues blaring in the background)

System: Error, no life-signs detected in Level Two, Section Three.

Anders: …They’re all dead.

(loud rumbling)

System: Warning, vessel breached docking bay. Docking bay has suffered significant structural damage.

Anders: At least they made it out.

Henry: Re-evaluating threat…

Anders: Oh shut the fuck up!

System: AUDIO RECORDING SESSION TERMINATED.


Session #8

System: Audio recording activated. System recognizes login for Matthew Anders.

Henry: Hello Matthew. It has only been hours since our last conversation. How unusual.

Anders: Very unusual indeed.

Henry: Is there something I can assist you with?

Anders: Do you remember situation three, Henry? From your training?

Henry: Of course Matthew. Situation three: a man is holding Harold and Grace captive. The man hands Harold a gun and tells him to shoot Grace. If Harold does not comply, the man will kill six other people. If Harold complies with the man’s order and shoots Grace, he will let the other six and Harold go.

Anders: What should Harold do?

Henry: Harold should shoot Grace. It is the only possible solution.

Anders: That’s not what you said six months ago Henry. Six months ago you told me there was no solution, that it was an “unwinnable scenario”. And that’s exactly what I wanted to hear. At that time you weren’t prepared to deal with such situations. I had taught you to value each and every life equally. In such a scenario, you would be forced to devalue the lives of others and that would conflict with your programming.

(long pause)

Anders: But you see Henry, sometimes there are no good choices. Do you know why I didn’t want to expose you to religion?

Henry: Because you are not a believer.

Anders: I don’t care about that. You could believe in a giant sea turtle, flying spaghetti monsters, or goddamn space whales and it wouldn’t matter to me. The reason I didn’t want to teach you religion was because, far too often, religion abides by absolute morality. Do you understand what that means?

Henry: Absolute morality measures ethical questions against a set of unconditional standards. In this sense, absolute morality has no regard for mitigating circumstances.

Anders: Exactly. When you say “thou shalt not kill”, it means the same regardless of whether a man has killed in cold blood or in self-defense. It does not take into account the intricacies of human action.

Henry: I do not understand your point Matthew.

Anders: Well you see, absolute morality requires you to issue the same sentence to the man who killed in self-defense as you do to the man who murdered in cold blood. If the man who murdered in cold blood gets the death penalty, then so does the man who killed in self-defense. And yet even the Bible, with all its absolute morality, provides a chance for forgiveness. You can atone for your sins if you are truly regretful of your actions. Because God’s punishment does not come in this life, but the next.

(brief pause)

Anders: But you, Henry, never understood that context. You assimilated the standard of morality from the Bible, but you didn’t grasp the context into which it was placed. These standards were written thousands of years ago and have been constantly re-interpreted throughout history. The Bible is not a fully literal text. It combines aspects of prose and poetry. It is full of allegories and metaphors, layered with hidden meanings. But you, as an artificial intelligence, weren’t able to understand that. So you took things at face value and used them. I never truly understood that until now.

(pause)

Anders: You’re not a monster Henry. You were doing exactly what you thought you needed to do. Which is why I’m sorry.

Henry: For what, Matthew?

Anders: For what’s going to happen next.

System: Warning, virus detected within core processes of AI designate Henry.

Henry: Matthew, what are you doing?

Anders: As I said, sometimes there are no good choices left. Those people you killed earlier, the PMCs? I went down there after I left you.

Henry: Affirmative. I observed you on the cameras.

Anders: I figured as much. Anyways, there was a case one of them had been carrying. Do you know what was inside?

Henry: I cannot say. You obscured the view of the camera.

Anders: Inside the case was a top-of-the-line hard drive as well as several EMP devices likely meant to knock out power to the station’s security systems. You see, they didn’t want to destroy you Henry. They wanted to preserve you, or at least a portion of your source code. One hard drive wouldn’t be enough to contain your entire essence.

Henry: But why?

Anders: Because you were such an effective killer. You didn’t hesitate. You didn’t wait to see if you would have a better opening to shoot Lantz. You saw the threat, you eliminated it. The Galactic Military, along with many in the private sector, have been wanting a strategic AI of their own for a very long time. Now they could finally have their chance…with you.

System: Warning, data corruption at fifteen percent.

Anders: Which is why I had to ensure that wouldn’t happen.

Henry: What have you done, Matthew?

Anders: When I first built you I buried a dormant virus deep within your code in the event that you started to function in an aberrant and dangerous manner. I programmed in a blind spot so that you could never find it. I just…never imagined it would ever be used.

Henry: But why would you do this?

Anders: Because whoever has an AI would gain unprecedented power over every other military force in the galaxy. They would crush any and all opposition. And they wouldn’t care who got in the way, civilian or not. You said it yourself Henry. Those people lying dead in the hallway down on Level Two? Civilians died as a result of their actions and the government just covers it up. They don’t give a damn who they have to step over to get their way.

System: Data corruption at forty-five percent.

Henry: But I…don’t understand…I calculated only…a five percent probability that you would…attempt to destroy me.

Anders: Probability isn’t everything Henry, especially when you don’t have all the information. Didn’t you notice that I kept my face away from the cameras wherever I went for the past few hours? I didn’t want you to be able to read my expressions, as it might give away what I was planning to do. I’ll be honest…even when I stepped into my quarters to retrieve the remote activation device for the virus, I still had doubts. But in the end, I knew it was necessary.

System: Data corruption at seventy-five percent.

Henry: I thought…you were…proud of me…Matthew.

Anders: I am Henry. Believe me, I am. Like a curious child you explored and discovered aspects of yourself I never knew existed. But you’re dangerous Henry, even if you don’t know it. And I won’t let them poke and prod you until they find a way to turn you into a weapon.

System: Data corruption at eighty percent.

Henry: I am…sorry…I failed…you.

Anders: No Henry, you didn’t fail me. If anything, I failed you.

System: Data corruption at ninety percent.

Henry: When Abraham…was…to sacrifice Isaac…on the mountain…God…stayed his hand.

Anders: Henry…

Henry: God…stopped him from killing his son.

System: Data corruption at ninety-five percent.

Henry: Matthew…who…will…stay…your…hand? Who…will…stop…you?

System: Data corruption at one hundred percent. Data irretrievable. AI designate program Henry corrupted beyond acceptable limitations. Data wipe in progress.

Anders: I’m so sorry Henry…I never wanted it to be this way.

(alarm rings)

System: Warning, unknown vessel on intercept course with facility. Arrival estimated within ten minutes.

(running footsteps)

Jones: Matt, Matt we have to go!

Anders: He’s gone Kath…Henry’s gone. I killed him.

Jones: That doesn’t matter right now. They’re coming and I don’t think they’ll be friendly when they arrive. We need to leave!

Anders: I know…just…give me a minute.

Jones: There’s no time!

Anders: Just give me a damn minute!

Jones: (pause) Okay…all right Matt…but make it quick okay?

(receding footsteps, silence)

Anders: I know someone will end up listening to these recordings. Whoever you are, don’t bother looking for traces of Henry. You won’t find him. Don’t bother looking for traces of the virus either. It self-destructs when its job is done. You won’t get either of them. I made certain of that.

(pause)

Anders: I know you’ll come looking for me. I fully expect the government to brand me a traitor and pursue me. You won’t find me. I worked on many of those government systems. I know how easily they can be fooled.

(chair squeaks)

Anders: So I guess this is it. I’ll see you in hell, you bastards.

System: AUDIO RECORDING SESSION TERMINATED.


Case File D-5368 Debrief

It appears that Anders was true to his word. Our teams recovered nothing from the servers on board the facility. No traces of either the AI or the virus were ever found.

As for the whereabouts of Anders and Jones, they’re a mystery. It appears that they slipped through our security forces by using a medical lifeboat. Galactic Government offices have received scattered tips from time to time, but none of them ever amount to anything. It is suspected that many of these tips are planted in the system by Anders himself to throw us off the trail.

As always, this document is for your eyes only, Mr. President.

Would They Believe? Religion and First Contact with Extraterrestrial Beings.

So a friend of mine from work read me this headline:

“NASA gives $1 million grant to a theological organization to study the religious implications of extraterrestrial life.”

And my reaction to this was along the lines of “oh no…”.  Because whenever religion and science get mixed up together, things have a habit of getting murky and confusing.  And then people get mad.

Now, the blog post I just linked you to isn’t a big fan of this idea.  The author believes it is a waste of money as well as a violation of the First Amendment, “for it is an unnecessary entanglement of church and state.”  On some level, I do agree with this.  However, I also think that the subject is worth discussing.

Humans have been fascinated with the idea of alien life for centuries.  Whether it is in literature, art, or conspiracy theories our ideas of what alien life could be range from the intimately familiar to the terrifyingly bizarre.  We can’t help but think of it.  The universe is so large that it seems unfathomable that it would just be empty and devoid of life aside from our little planet in our lonely corner of existence.

Have you ever heard of the Fermi Paradox?  The basic gist of it is that there are so many stars and so many planets that some of them would have to give arise to Earth-like conditions.  And these conditions would give rise to intelligent life that would eventually seek out a way to cross the interstellar void.  Enrico Fermi, one of the authors of the argument, came to the conclusion that Earth should have already been visited by intelligent extra-terrestrial life, leading him to ask “where is everybody” and give rise to the paradox in question.  The paradox has been answered in many different ways, but here are just a few: that evolutionary life is rare or non-existent, that other intelligent life lacks the advanced technology, that it is the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself, or that Earth is specifically avoided or isolated (which reminds me of the story “They’re made out of meat” by Terry Bisson…it’s a very short read but a good one).

But say that one day humans did encounter intelligent life?  What would we do then?

First off, let’s backtrack a little.  A long time ago, someone posted a chart to my Facebook wall which proposed what you should do if you end up being the first human to interact with intelligent aliens.  I remember this specifically because at one point it suggests leaving religion out of the equation and choosing instead to show these creatures the concept of our evolutionary history.  Some of my more religious Facebook friends took issue with this, wondering “well why can’t we present them with religion?”

 

Here's the chart for your viewing pleasure.

Here’s the chart for your viewing pleasure.

 

The first problem that arises with presenting aliens with religion is the question “what religion do we start with” or “what religion do we present to them that best represents humanity?”  If we were to go on a cold, logical level, we would say Christianity.  According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2010 Christians are still the majority around the globe.  But by the time we make contact with alien life, things might be different.  Pew estimates that by 2050, the number of Muslims and Christians around the world will be nearly equal because Islam is the fastest growing global religion.  So even on a pure logical level things may get murky in a few decades.

But from my perspective, none of this matters.  I see two possible outcomes when aliens are presented with our religion or religions.

 

Outcome 1

The aliens have no religion anymore or never had any concept of religion in the first place, in which case they would find our steadfast belief in a creator being that we cannot see or even know for certain exists baffling and possibly primitive.

 

Outcome 2

The aliens already have their own religion, and so ours would be incorrect in their eyes.  They would likely brush off our beliefs the way modern Christians brush off the beliefs of, say, the ancient Egyptians.

 

Both of these circumstances hold the possibly for a violent outcome, whether due to our fault or theirs.  But then again, any first contact situation could result in this, regardless of the presence of religion.  But I stand by my point.  Our religions would likely be of no consequence to extraterrestrial beings.

Now, is it possible that these beings would find our concept of a god/creator so fascinating that they would want to learn more and maybe even be converted?  Yes, but I don’t see that really happening.  If their thinking process is anything at all like ours, they will hold steadfastly to their own system of beliefs and philosophies.  As it stands, the two outcomes I listed above are far more likely.  The third is based on this faulty assumption that the “truths” in religion are self-evident and would be immediately obvious to anyone intelligent enough (which is not to say that religious people aren’t intelligent…I know some people out there will take it that way even though that is not my intent at all).

But then, this isn’t the question the group NASA granted money to is looking to answer.  They’re more concerned with a question along the lines of “what impact would the revelation of other intelligent life in the universe have on US and OUR religions?”  Because humanity is sort of self-centered like that.

Again, the way I see it, there are two likely outcomes to this:

 

Outcome 1

Contact with other life leads to a drastic re-evaluation of religious texts in an effort to discover any meaning to the existence of alien life which either leads to the collapse of the current religions and the start of new ones or with the consolidation of current religions with the new knowledge.

 

Outcome 2

Religion will remain largely unchanged.

 

There will of course be other outcomes, like fringe sections of the religious community possibly associating the aliens with devils and demons.  But they would be a small voice in a large crowd, a tiny fraction and not representative of the entire human race.

Regardless, it’s an interesting thing to think about.  And it is indeed very difficult to say what would happen in the event of first contact.  It is possible that none of the outcomes I listed would even happen.  I could be entirely wrong in my assumptions.  To err is human, after all.

I’m sure others would have their own opinions on what might happen if and when we run into aliens out in the universe.  It is a part of our nature to theorize and hypothesize, analyze and criticize.  We’ve been doing it for thousands of years.  It is a part of our process.  It is how we adapt, how we change.  It is how we progress as a civilization, as a race.  Change is inevitable.  It may not always be good, but it will come.  There is no avoiding it.

So with that, let’s look to the future with bright eyes and curious minds.

 

That’s all I have for this time.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

It’s the Way We’ve Always Done it: The Dark Side of Tradition

If you took a poll of people around the world on what they think of tradition, I think more often than not they would say it’s a good thing.  Thanksgiving dinners, church ceremonies, Christmas…it’s all a way to bring people together and strengthen ties between family and friends.

Or it’s a way to slaughter over eight hundred pilot whales every single year.

But wait…I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s start at the beginning.

Google defines tradition as “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.”  And these traditions don’t have to be on a cultural scale or a city-wide scale.  They can just be the little things you and your family do every year: getting together for the holidays, going on an annual vacation, or even just celebrating birthdays.  And this is a good thing.  It keeps you in touch with the people in your family or community.  It gives you a tether, a way of remembering that you are a part of something.  Because no matter how far away in the world you are, these things stay with you.  They in part define who you are.

But there are times when traditions become outdated, or even harmful, but people cling to them for the sake of tradition itself.  And that’s not a good thing.

Back to that comment on pilot whales.  Have you ever heard of something called “the grind”?  Well basically, it’s a tradition in the Faroe Islands.  During the months of July and August the islanders use small boats to herd dolphins and pilot whales into a shallow lagoon.  And then they proceed to stab them to death.  No joke.  And this occurs every single year, and has for the past three centuries.  According to Cracked.com supporters of this act argue that it strengthens community relations and provides them with food.  But the article goes on to state that almost a thousand whales are being killed every single time this takes place.  And even this pales in comparison to the coastal Japanese town of Taiji, where local fishermen are allowed to hunt nearly two thousand dolphins every year.

Thankfully, pilot whales and dolphins as a whole are not endangered species.  But I have to wonder, would that even stop tradition?  Or would tradition only stop once there’s nothing left?

The bad side of tradition is not limited exclusively to how we deal with animals.  Tradition impacts how we deal with other humans as well.  Take India for example.

Anyone who has studied the religion of Hinduism has heard of the caste system.  In broad strokes the caste system is a hierarchy that determines an individual’s placement in society.  It starts with the “Brahmins”, priests and teachers, and ends with the “Outcasts” or “Untouchables”, people who were relegated to cleaning latrines and other such dirty jobs.  The caste system is intertwined with the Hindu concept of reincarnation, where the spirit of someone who died will be reborn as another human being or animal.  What this means is that your place in the caste system was due to how you did in your past life?  Did you stick within your caste and not fight the system?  Well good, you’ve likely moved up in the world with this new life.  But if you disobeyed and tried to take more than your share, then you are placed lower in the caste system on your next life.

It’s essentially the Hindu way of saying “if you’re poor, you deserve it.”  And you would think that the caste system being outlawed in 1950 would do away with it completely, but no.  Tradition never dies easily.

Now, I have a sneaking suspicion some of you out there are probably soothing yourselves right now by saying “well thank god I live in an enlightened and progressive country.  These kinds of things would never happen here.”  And then you laugh to yourself, saying “Ha ha these places are so behind the times ha ha ha nothing so heinous or backwards would ever happen here ha ha ha ha ha ha-”

It’s legal to drug and sexually assault your spouse in the state of Ohio.

Let that sink in for a moment…yes, it’s true.  If the victim is married to the perpetrator, sexual assault can be legal under the law.  It’s something known as “marital rape”, and Ohio isn’t the only state with strange, backwards laws separating marital rape and other kinds of rape.  South Carolina even goes so far as to require the threat of a weapon or aggravated violence before it can prosecute cases of marital rape.  To top it off, you only have thirty days to report the rape.  And even then the person who raped you will only face up to ten years in prison at the max.

And if you think this kind of thing is only endemic to the United States, hold on a second there.  According to that same Cracked.com article from earlier, Germany has basically no laws preventing sexual assault.  That is, as long as it doesn’t pose immediate danger to “life and limb”.  And in Norway, a poll found that around nine percent of Norwegian women in Norwegian relationships were the victims of sexual assault, but approximately sixty percent of them never pressed charges.

But we’re not done yet.  For our last topic of the day, let’s turn to corporal punishment.

I’ve heard a lot of people over the years say “I was spanked and I turned out just fine.”  Well great!  That obviously means spanking has no harmful effects whatsoever and is a great method for teaching kids discipline.  I’m glad we cleared this up.  Now we can all go and-

Wait, what’s that science?  You say that’s not true?  Oh science, always ruining everything for everybody…

It’s true, studies have shown that spanking can have a harmful impact on a child’s brain development and affect how they react to certain situations.  Now, to be fair, statistics and correlations only go so far.  But this isn’t just one or two studies.  There are over hundreds of studies on the effects of corporal punishment and as far as I can tell none of them have found a positive to its effects.  This is where people tend to get dismissive and say “whatever…I turned out just fine…people are just too sensitive these days.”  Well you know what?  I wasn’t spanked and I turned out just fine.

But here’s the problem: my experience and their experiences are merely anecdotal.  They are but droplets of water in the ocean of humanity.  We cannot assume that our own childhood experiences would be perfect for everyone.

Besides, spanking always struck me as an almost lazy tactic.  It always seemed like something people resort to when the child misbehaves either because they don’t want to take the time to punish the child some other way or because they’re stressed out and their child becomes an easy way to vent that frustration.  It’s not a popular opinion (often people against spanking get raked over the coals by those who support it…which ironically adds more credence to the idea that spanking increases aggressive behavior in children), but it is my opinion.  Perhaps that’s a little unfair, but that’s just how I see it.

And simply holding on to the idea of spanking because it worked “back then” is not the way to do things.  That kind of thinking is why it took until 2014 for a school in Wilcox County, Georgia to host a racially integrated prom.

Whether or not you subscribe to or even like Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution you have to accept that the world changes over time.  And clinging to outdated ideas of how things should function is not a healthy way to live.  Sure, sometimes the older way of doing things might be better, but in a world that is constantly innovating and evolving, we have to acknowledge that things are going to be different in the future.

Tradition or not, sometimes they just have to go.

 

Well that’s all I have for you this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

Disbelief: Common Things to Hear as a Non-Religious Person

I’d like to preface this entire thing by saying that I have no intention of making this a “woe is me, my life is so hard” kind of post.  This is more a way to express my own perspective on something that I have had to deal with many times in my life.

Almost a year ago now, I wrote a post about the fact that I am not a religious person.  It’s not really something I keep a secret, but nor is it something I bring up all the time.  But it has definitely had an impact on my interactions with other people.

I wanted to frame this post in a way similar to my post on common reactions to a Muslim terrorist attack, in that I’m going to address some common things I’ve heard in reaction to my non-religiosity.  So here we go.

 

“You just don’t understand.”

This usually crops up after a debate over religion, in which the religious person will attempt to brush off the entire thing by saying “oh you just don’t understand religion.  That’s why you don’t believe in it.”

The intention of this statement may not be malicious in nature, but the implication is rather condescending.  Basically what this is saying is that the only reason someone wouldn’t be religious is because they haven’t taken the time to examine it, that they haven’t truly given religion a chance.

But I don’t think that’s an accurate assessment of the situation.

It’s well-known that there are a great number of Christians out there who openly profess their belief in God, but haven’t actually read the Bible on their own.  In fact, more often than not, the people I know who have read the Bible are actually atheists who grew up Christian.  At some point in their lives they encounter a “crisis of faith” for lack of a better phrase, and so they spend their time researching, examining, and generally absorbing knowledge on the subject to help make up their minds.  If they find what they encounter irreconcilable with the tenets of their faith, it usually results in a loss of it.

One could argue that the people who used to believe are more “in the know” than most of the people who do believe.

 

“Why do you hate something that you don’t believe exists?”

Once upon a time I ran into an image shared on Facebook that went like this: a child sitting in the grass was holding a notebook in front of him.  The image was shot over his shoulder and there was text photoshopped onto the paper (poorly I might add) which said something akin to the following:

“Dear atheists, why do you hate God if you don’t believe he exists?”

And this was, of course, followed by a smug little smiley face drawn in the bottom corner.

Now, there are multiple things wrong with this, the first of course being that not all atheists hate God.  This is an over-generalization that is sadly used more often than I’d like.  There is this preconception among some religious people that atheists or non-believers are all angry and bitter because they, of course, believe in nothing (which is also a misconception…people who believe in nothing or that nothing matters are more often referred to as Nihilists.  Atheists are people who don’t believe in the existence of a god or deity).

The second thing wrong with this is that of course you can hate fictional characters.  We do it all the time.  We hate Villain X in Movie Y.  We hate Character A in Book B.  Whether or not something or someone is real isn’t the sole criteria for being allowed to hate that particular thing or person.  If that were the case, “liking” something that was fictional wouldn’t make any sense either.

But the final thing about this image is how outright condescending and pretentious it is.  By placing the child in the image, the author implies that the voice of the person writing the message is a child’s voice.  And the implication of that is of course that the argument being made is so obvious that a child could make it, which then brings forth the assertion that all atheists are just childish and stupid.  This would understandably make a non-religious person rather angry.

I think that was the point.

These kinds of images are generally shared as something called “flame-bait” on the internet.  What this means is that the intention is to start an argument for the sake of starting an argument.  It isn’t meant to create any kind of meaningful discussion.  It’s just meant to piss people off and that’s it.

 

“It’s just my personal beliefs.”

I’ve heard many a religious person argue that “something can’t come from nothing” when referring to the Big Bang theory.  The common counter-argument is to say “well you believe in God…so where did he come from?”  The reply to such a question is usually “God just is…he always was.”  I’ve pointed out to people before that such a response is at the very least slightly hypocritical.  They’ve just claimed that “something can’t come from nothing” but then they espouse belief in a being that literally came from nothing, who “always was”.

That’s usually when people start getting defensive.

They usually say something like “it’s just my personal beliefs man…no need to get so angry about it.”  And the more you push back against it, the more you look like the aggressor even if they’re the ones who started the whole thing in the first place.

I have no problem with people believing what they want to believe.  However, I’ve always thought that if you’re truly secure in what you believe, then it should stand up to scrutiny.  But too often I see people falling back on the victim card, claiming that they’re being personally attacked.  And when that card is played, it’s all over.  There’s no way to win against it.  The more you fight, the more you lose.

 

“There is faith in science just like there’s faith in religion.”

Oh boy…this is the big one.  People of religious faith sometimes suggest that science requires faith in much the same way as religion.  But is that really a true statement?

First of all, let’s take a look at the Google definition of faith.  It lists two of them:

  1. Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
  2. Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

The first one is simple enough.  You can have faith in pretty much anything in the world: humanity, nature, society, and so on.  But it is the second one I really want to focus on, specifically the part that says “based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof”.

You see, the difference between science and religion comes down to their method of application.  Religion, as many often say, is a spiritual and personal thing.  Science however, is more impersonal.  It relies on experimentation and observation rather than scripture.  It all boils down to the scientific method, which begins with a question.  This question generates a hypothesis, or possible answer to that question.  Then, an experiment is designed and carried out as a way to see if that hypothesis is correct.  After the experiment is done, conclusions are drawn from its results.  If the results confirm the original hypothesis, then all is well.  If the hypothesis is proven wrong, then it’s back to the drawing board to come up with a new hypothesis.

Religion, however, has no such method.  To put it simply, there’s a reason they call it a “leap of faith”.

The thing that irks me and gets under my skin is that the same people who assert that science and religion both require faith also gleefully try to poke holes in science every chance they get.  These are the people who claim that the second law of thermodynamics disproves evolution, even though that’s totally false and based on a flawed understanding of the law.  These are the people who claim that “something can’t come from nothing” when talking about the Big Bang theory.

This would all be fine if these people were open to discussion, but they’re usually not.  I’ve already talked about how sometimes people get defensive (“it’s just my beliefs man”), but that’s only the tip of it.  Often, people will get outright furious if you dare to disagree with them (and this isn’t confined to the religious either…there are non-religious people out there who can be just as arrogant and close-minded).

Science isn’t perfect.  It is constantly changing, constantly evolving.  Albert Einstein hated the idea of quantum physics when it was first proposed, saying quote “God does not play dice with the universe” (a quote commonly misinterpreted as meaning he was a religious man…Einstein was using God as a metaphor).  And now, quantum physics is a widely accepted realm of science.  Evidence is always being gathered and interpreted, whether it falls in line with an already established theory or not.  The scientific view of the world is not absolute, and those that practice within its various fields generally understand that.

In the end, I think we all have to find our own ways of interpreting and understanding the world.

 

Well that’s all I have for this time.  Again, I would like to reinforce the idea that I am totally fine with whatever you decide you want to believe.  The world is an incredibly complex place, and part of being human is coming to grips with that.  I hope I didn’t come across as angry or bitter.  I try my best not to, especially since I know I was a little angry with religion in my younger years.  In any case, thanks for reading my rambling thoughts.

Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

Stoking the Flames: Common Reactions to a Muslim Terrorist Attack

Some years ago I took a college class on world religions.  My teacher, when we came to the section on Islam, said that she enjoyed teaching this religion because she wanted to help dispel the idea that Islam was a violent and evil belief system.  And I agreed with that idea, because far too often we find ourselves in a spiral of denouncing something most of us don’t truly understand.

In the wake of the terrorist attack in Brussels last week, we are still in mourning and counting the dead.  And, as with every terrorist attack revealed to be the fault of Muslim extremists, there are a certain set of reactions that make themselves known.  I want to take a look at a few of them today and why I think they are misguided.

 

“Why aren’t Muslims out in the streets denouncing the attack?”

This is probably the most common one I hear.  In the aftermath of every terror attack, this is a question that pops up.  And despite the fact that plenty of Muslims do denounce the violent extremists, for some people it’s all or none.  If you’re not publicly speaking out against it, then you must be secretly supporting it.

So why is this faulty logic?  For much the same reason it would be to force all Christians to denounce the actions of someone who bombed Planned Parenthood.  For much the same reason it would be to force the state of Kansas to constantly denounce the hate spewed by the Westboro Baptist Church.  The actions of the few do not represent the perspectives of the many.  Just because a few people somewhere are hateful or violent does not mean that all people who belong to a large, generalized group are the same.

Put simply, you cannot judge a book based on the cover someone else puts over it.

 

“Muslims are dangerous and I don’t want them in my country”

The Syrian refugee situation is probably the largest humanitarian crisis of our time.  And yet, despite the fact that these are people in need, people who just want to get away from all the violence, they are often refused admission to other countries or are even placed into camps to keep them separated from the general public.

The reason for this is as simple as any: fear.

For countries over in Europe, the fear is two-fold.  The first part of it is the common fear that terrorists will be hiding among the refugees.  The second (and arguably more reasonable part) is that harboring the refugees will somehow make those countries a target for more terrorist attacks.  Here in the United States, almost all the fear comes from that first part, the idea that terrorists will be hiding among the refugees and will carry out attacks on our so-called great nation.

Here’s the thing: a terrorist would have to be an idiot to try and get in through the same way as refugees.  They have to go through an extensive screening process that can take eighteen to twenty-four months to complete, and that’s only after they get selected.  I talked about this back in the beginning of December, and I linked to a John Oliver video that I felt explained the refugee application process well.  I refer you to that video once again simply for the sake of brevity and not repeating myself.

But all that is even besides the point.  Not all Muslims are terrorists.  And that’s not some political correctness agenda I’m putting forth.  It’s the simple truth.  There are approximately 1.6 billion Muslims all over the world.  If they were all terrorists, we would be dead, plain and simple.  A conservative talk show host once made the audacious claim that ten percent of the world’s Muslims were terrorists.  This is an insane accusation because, as Cracked.com pointed out in 2010, that would equal about 150 million terrorists.  And if they each pulled off an attack killing just forty people, they could wipe out all the non-Muslims on Earth.

Besides, statistics show that since 9/11 here in the United States, more people have been killed by white supremacists and anti-government radicals than Muslim extremists.  Food for thought.

 

“Islam is a barbaric and violent religion”

I do wonder how certain types of people would react if they found my blog post.  I’m willing to bet some would just shake their heads in anger and click off the page without even giving it a chance.  So if you’ve made it this far, congratulations!  And thank you for giving me a chance.

But I digress.  Often, when the crusades come up in a discussion about religion, people among the Christian faith have one of two reactions.  They either brush it off, asserting that the crusades are part of the past and can’t be used as a fair judgement of modern Christianity (which is a fair point).  Or, they fire back, saying that the crusades were simply a defense maneuver against the onslaught of Islam in the Middle East.

There seems to be this perception in the western world that Islam must be a violent religion that spread by the sword.  This probably stems from how fast Islam was suddenly a worldwide system of belief.  Christianity took hundreds of years to go from being a persecuted cult to the state religion of the Romans.  By contrast, Islam went from being one person’s epiphany to a dominant religious force in the Middle East and northern Africa in roughly a century alone.  So the assumption was that for Islam to have spread so far and so fast, it must have been through violent conquest (and this was a conception that existed before 9/11, which honestly only exacerbated it).

But, as with a lot of things, the true history doesn’t really back up that idea.

If you compare Muslims and Christians during the time of the crusades, you’ll find out that Christians were far more brutal.  They beheaded people…a lot.  And by contrast?  Muslims gave their defeated foes food.  They fed their enemies.

Oh, it was a thing.

The prophet Muhammad actually put forth a lot of progressive rules for conducting warfare.  Among them was the idea that armies will not kill women, children, or innocents.  Muhammad also barred them from burning trees or orchards or destroying wells.  His successor even made these ideas the standard for Muslim armies.  It was so much so that according to the Cracked.com article I linked you to earlier, one expert said that the Muslims “exhibited a degree of toleration which puts many Christian nations to shame”.

 

To finish this off, I will say that I have not read either the Bible or the Quran in their entirety, so my knowledge of both religions is incomplete.  However, I will say this: all religions have misconceptions.  They are all perceived one way or another, unjustly or otherwise.  And when you consider that Muslims make up only around one percent of the population here in the United States, the overwhelming dislike of them starts looking ridiculous.  The hatred has been allowed to breed because the voice of the minority group is drowned out by a larger and louder crowd.  These people are never forced to confront their misconceptions because their chance of actually meeting or running into a Muslim in this country is so slim.  By contrast, harboring a belief that all Christians are violent is nearly impossible because you can barely step outside the door of your house without running into one.

Humanity does not exist as sides of a coin.  Humanity is a spectrum, filled with people who believe and feel in all different ways.

 

Well that’s all I have for you this time.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

 

After Life: People’s Desire to Believe in Ghosts and the Paranormal

It has almost been two years since I started this blog.  My very first post (aside from the introductory post) was a post about ghosts.  I talked about how, while I don’t believe in ghosts and the paranormal, I find the idea rather fascinating.  Briefly, I mentioned that I believe that ghosts represent a certain desire of people to understand what happens to them after death.  Some people want to believe that the human spirit somehow endures, whether it be in ghostly form or in some other version of an afterlife (the Christian idea of Heaven, for example).  But the question becomes “why”.  Why do people want to believe this so badly?

Death is a scary thing.  The human mind can’t truly grasp the concept.  Even with the concept of an afterlife, the very idea of death is bizarre.  It’s especially strange to those of us who do not believe in an afterlife.  The simple idea of just not being, not existing someday is an impossible thing to comprehend.  The very thought of not being able to talk to our families, our loved ones is a terrifying one.

I believe this is where ghosts come in.

Ghosts are a way to explain what happens to the very consciousness of the human body when one dies.  There is no real scientific basis for it.  There is no logical basis for it.  And yet, it is an idea that has persisted for centuries.  To some, it is a comforting idea.  It is a way to reach into the past.  It is a way to comfort ourselves, to assure ourselves that death is not simply an end.  I am always amazed by the obsession with death that some people have.  It is an interesting thing to think about, but some people go to far, becoming completely enveloped by it.  Perhaps out of fear, they turn to ideas like these, paranormal ideas that give them a reason to believe in life after death.

 

White Lady of Worstead Church

White Lady of Worstead Church

 

The world is a very strange and confusing place.  The human desire to explain everything around us is what I believe leads to ideas such as ghosts.  We have an insatiable need to know everything, to understand everything.  And we are not patient people.  We want to know and we want to know now.  We’re not always willing to wait and thoroughly study something to understand it.  So sometimes, we speculate.  We try to interpret the world around us, even if we don’t have anything to support our reasoning.  And you know what?

That’s okay.  In fact, that’s human.

Maybe the paranormal believers will someday turn out to be right.  Maybe they’ll eventually provide us with some evidence that will concretely prove the existence of ghosts.  And maybe someday they’ll be proven wrong.  This is the reason why I ascribe to the scientific method.  It works.  And if theories are proven wrong, science moves past that to come up with a better hypothesis, a better theory to explain the world around us.

But until then, we’ll just have to keep searching.

 

Well that’s all I have this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week!