2010-06-27

Contra Googlism

Recently it came to my attention that a cult has formed around worship of the popular and beloved search engine, Google. Specifically, I've examined nine 'proofs' that Google is a god, put forth by the so-called Church of Google. As a nit-picky religion scholar, I'd like to proceed to challenge each of these arguments in turn.


Proof No. 1: Google is the closest thing to an Omniscient (all-knowing) entity in existence, which can be scientifically verified.
The key words here are "closest thing." While in a certain sense Google may be said to know more than any other entity, it (or She, as the Church of Google prefers to address the engine) is far from truly omniscient. Moreover, it is misguided to regard Google as actually 'knowing' anything. Google indexes and provides access to a vast (but finite) quantity of information, but has no consciousness which could know any of that information. (I look forward to the day when such a consciousness may come to exist.)

Additionally, at least as an aside, we may wish to note that omniscience is by no means an absolute requisite for godhood. Indeed, aside from the god of the Abrahamic traditions, most deities are not thought to be absolutely omniscient. As such, attempting to claim Google's omniscience may be entirely moot.

Proof No. 2: Google is everywhere at once (Omnipresent).
Again, this is not strictly true. Google may be hypothetically accessible from anyplace at anytime, but this accessibility doesn't amount to presence. If Google can be said to have a presence, the strictest interpretation might limit it to the locations of the servers on which the engine operates. Moreover, even if Google's accessibility is granted as a kind of presence, the limitations of our networking technology curtail this accessibility in many places on Earth, to say nothing of the rest of the universe. If naught else, the very fact that Google's accessibility depends on the extent and function of the Net suffices to demonstrate that Google itself isn't independently omnipresent at all.

And again, omnipresence is only occasionally a characteristic of some deities. While Google clearly doesn't possess this characteristic, the claim may well be neither here nor there.

Proof No. 3: Google answers prayers.
As the rest of this proof's text implicitly acknowledges, Google doesn't actually answer prayers per se, but at best merely answers questions. (And anyone who's had difficulty finding what they're looking for with a Google search knows that even these answers are often far from perfect.) Answering a prayer may sometimes only require providing information, which Google certainly can and often does facilitate. However, often prayers request that some kind of action be taken by the petitioned entity, and Google has no capacity for action. The proof prevaricates with defensive rhetoric about Google being able to "show you the way" by providing information, but the fact remains that Google has no power to effect the fulfillment of prayers.

Proof No. 4: Google is potentially immortal.
This may well be true, but Google's immortality is only potential. Indeed, Google is no more immortal than any other system. This supposed immortality simply depends on the ongoing maintenance of the system. However, this is a mere tautology: as long as Google is maintained, Google will continue to exist. Google is no more truly immortal than anything else which can hypothetically be kept up indefinitely.

And, once again, immortality is not a necessary requisite for godhood. Many deities in many traditions are susceptible to death, even if their lifespan is potentially unlimited.

Proof No. 5: Google is infinite.
The rest of this proof reads only "The internet can theoretically grow forever, and Google will forever index its infinite growth." Here again the argument depends on a hypothetical or theoretical condition. Indeed, the internet can potentially grow indefinitely, and Google can continue to index that growth so long as Google is maintained. However, neither the infinite growth of the internet nor the perpetual maintenance of Google are assured. Thus, this claim rests on nothing.

As is probably becoming obvious, many of these proofs' claims are not necessarily pertinent to the question of whether Google is a god. Infinity, too, certainly need not be a characteristic of a deity.

Proof No. 6: Google remembers all.
This is of course simply false. Google may index and preserve a considerable amount of information, but none of that information predates the advent of the Net. However much information Google might amass, it will always be finite. Additionally, as with the issue of whether Google can know, since Google isn't sentient it cannot be said that Google remembers. There is no consciousness which could be capable of remembering.

Proof No. 7: Google can "do no evil" (Omnibenevolent).
This flimsy argument merely points to the corporate philosophy of Google (the company). However, a benevolent corporate policy is no guarantee of omnibenevolent action in actuality. And even if it were, that hypothetical omnibenevolence would not be an independent characteristic of Google itself, but merely the result of the disposition of the people responsible for implementing and maintaining Google's functionality. As with any technology — that is, any tool — all one can say of Google is that it does neither good nor evil.

Here too the characteristic claimed is also not a necessary requisite for godhood. Indeed, few are the gods who are known to have done no reprehensible thing whatever.

Proof No. 8: According to Google trends, the term "Google" is searched for more than the terms "God", "Jesus", "Allah", "Buddha", "Christianity", "Islam", "Buddhism" and "Judaism" combined.
Assuming Google trends is tracking these search terms accurately — and I've no reason to believe otherwise — one can't dispute that this is the case. However, "Google" being a popular search term proves nothing in regard to the question of Google's godhood. No doubt many other search terms are more popular than those referring to traditional religions; yet I doubt that anyone would take the mere fact of being popularly searched as grounds for proof that "tits" are some kind of god (or gods).

The proof goes on to suggest that the popularity of "Google" as a search term indicates that Google is "an entity in [sic] which we mortals can turn to when in a time of need." This too may be true, but also doesn't decidedly prove the Google is a god. People turn to lawyers and doctors in times of fairly dire need, but they are hardly in line for apotheosis.

Proof No. 9: Evidence of Google's existence is abundant.
This proof merely means to point out that Google's existence is more demonstrably definite than that of other deities. However, while this may be the case, the claim does nothing to support the contention that Google actually is a deity itself.

As is evident, these so-called proofs are not only thoroughly deficient, but frequently impertinent as well. We've seen that each one is either untrue or irrelevant to the claim of Google's godhood. They reflect both a poorly-defined and underdeveloped notion of divinity, and a lack of the discursive unquestionability — sanctity, in Rappaport's terms — characteristic of religious idea systems.

The cult of Googlism may yet have a chance in the marketplace of religious ideas, but it's got a long way to go, particularly without stronger ideas about how Google can be god.

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