Online Novel, Working title:
Darwin, religion, and thought itself, seen as they can only be seen from a fictional world
Copyright © 2002, Donald Wayne Stoner
Table of Contents:
1 Who Let the Gods Out?
2 Sneeze at the Nexus
3 A Fairy Tale
4 The Catholic Institute of Technology
6 Hoyle's Mathematics
8 The Grant
9 God's Creatures
10 What is Truth?
11 The Demonstration
12 Games and Pranks
18 The Light
19 Missing Pentagrams
20 Phone Call
21 Visiting Deity
22 Hell Bent
23 Creatures of Darkness
26 Final Conflict
Who Let the Gods Out?
It is said, by learned men that it is impossible to know, even in
principle, the precise outcome of any experiment performed at the
quantum mechanics level. I find this highly discomforting. Why, you
ask? This means, quite simply, that we have recently lost ground to the
"To the gods?" you ask. "Yes," I say! For who else but they
could be pulling nature's strings. In the words of Albert Einstein,
perhaps the greatest prophet of our age, "God does not play dice with
the universe." And I am greatly afraid he might be right. After all,
the universe has no hands in which dice might be held.
As those with any understanding of the subject will affirm,
randomness does not just happen - it must be caused; and true
randomness requires a deliberate conscious effort. Random numbers are
not generated by accident but by very complex mechanisms - mechanisms
too complex to find their origins or explanations in the quantum
physics of the mere particles involved. So, if not by those events, if
not by dice, as we might say, then the only remaining possibility is
that the gods have retaken their lost territory.
I'll grant you that all of those little decisions which are
made constantly throughout the universe appear to be quite random, but
we must not be lulled into a false sense of security by mere
appearances. Appearances can be deceptive. The apparent randomness we
observe in our laboratories must be a deliberate ploy on the part of
the gods to conceal their identity from us; but we must not be fooled;
and we must not fool ourselves. We are, once again, at their mercy.
Oh for that glorious age when the universe was trapped under
the ponderous thumb of Newton's laws - when scientific laws were
something to be reckoned with - the ultimate fiat of a powerful
emperor. But no longer! That edifice has crumbled; Isaac Newton has
backed away at the advance of Werner Heisenberg. And now, all we are
left with are the whimsical expressions of a fickle deity.
Oh for the time when - dare we say it? - when man himself was
for a brief moment beyond the reach of the gods, living safely on his
own planet, well beyond their clutches, and under the control of none
of them. What is more, he was, for one shining instant, not even
responsible for his own actions - having to answer to no one of any
consequence. For if even a man's very thoughts were no more than the
end result of some electrochemical reaction in his cerebrum, the last
domino in a chain to topple, as it were, then who could fault him for
the particular way in which that domino happened to fall? There was
only what was - and never what ought to have been. But, alas, those
days are no more.
Consider from where thou art fallen, Oh man! Your physicists
have once more opened the chest and released the demons. And what
demons they are likely to be! What possible control can ever be
regained over the myriads unleashed by Heisenberg.? None, I tell you!
Each does as he pleases - or as someone pleases.
"Zeus," or something like him, has returned. We must now be
wary! For if history has taught us anything, it is that the gods cannot
be trusted to act in accordance with the will of men. And now we find
they have established a stronghold at our very doorstep - for the
quantum world permeates every particle of our very being. Here we sit
surrounded and infiltrated by an omnipresent cast of deity, with no
possible means of defense - no way to take protective measures - as
they bide their time and plan their attacks.
And what might they be up to? Or more fearfully, what couldn't
they be up to? What couldn't the gods control to gain their ends? If
they are free to dictate the paths of any recoiling photon-electron
pair, their power is virtually unlimited.
Perhaps you are not yet concerned. You may be agreed that the
gods are now more numerous than before; but you ask, "Aren't they also
much smaller? If they do not all pull together, then maybe we are not
quite yet undone." I would like to take comfort in this; but I cannot.
What if their actions are unified in intent? What if they were all to
gang up against us? If the gods were universally agreed, even the Red
Sea could be made to part without a moment's preparation.
And what if you are right in assuming that the gods are divided
in purpose. Are we then justified in believing in our own
invincibility? Absolutely not! For there remains another problem. Even
a single sub-microscopic event could play the horseshoe nail in the old
fable whose loss occasioned the loss of the horseshoe, the horse, the
soldier, the skirmish, the battle, the war, and ultimately the entire
kingdom. So even a single god, acting alone, could accomplish more than
we might guess. A single hair-triggered sneeze, if detonated at a
critical nexus, could completely reshape history!
Sneeze at the Nexus
Marco had positioned himself strategically
behind a stone pillar in the musty old lecture hall and had withdrawn
well into his loosely fitting robe. Considering the past performance of
the professor, this lecture might well turn into another source of
excitement and intrigue; but Marco was not really feeling up to class
participation. His lingering cold had caused him to miss the first part
of this lecture and he had not yet been able to go over the notes with
Lorenzo. If he could just maintain a low enough profile until lunch,
... well one step at a time.
Under normal conditions, Professor Galilei was interesting
enough. There had been that time when the class had been taken out into
the field and shown how the smoke and report from a fired musket would
occur simultaneously when fired close by, but not when the musket was
fired at a distance. This had been a mystery and, as a few calculations
had shown, the professor's explanation could not possibly be correct.
Sound, if it traveled at all, could not possibly move fast enough to
explain what had happened. Nobody or nothing could be that fast. And
yet the report had come late ... Could there be ... ? His head began to
ache so he dropped the thought. It seemed that even brain-teasers
weren't going to be able to keep Marco awake today; and today's lecture
promised to be less than interesting.
Professor Galilei had assumed his position behind the dark oak
lectern and, thoughtfully, rubbed his unruly beard with his left hand.
Picking up a quill with his other hand, he carefully scratched
something into his notes. Then, raising his head, he scanned his
pupils, testing each for alertness.
It was hopeless; even before the professor's sharp eyes met
his, Marco had relocated to a station more conducive to attention. He
hung his leather lunch wallet, by its thong, from the hook under his
table and absently gave it a kick as he settled himself into the seat.
It swung easily back and forth reminding him of more relaxed hours to
come. The ink pot was within the radius of Marco's dangling sleeve; so
he made careful note of this to avoid a possible accident.
Having satisfied himself of his students' alertness, Professor
Galilei turned to face the diagram. The years were just beginning to
slow him, but not by much. Marco watched the colored patches of light
from the high southern windows dance on the professor's slightly
balding head as he turned. The effect was more conducive to dreamy
thoughts than studious ones. Marco's eyes finally found their way to
the diagram which pictured a ship at wharf with men rolling barrels
down a ramp to others stacking them below.
"It would seem that a straight ramp would be the ideal shape to
expedite unloading the vessel with maximum speed," the professor
droned. Marco's eyes wandered to the crude wooden model on the dais and
began to fathom it's purpose. "Today we will investigate a curved
The professor continued his ramblings, and Marco began to
resume a posture of comfort. The silly black gown that he and the other
students were expected to wear was nicely warm and he found himself
being lulled into a daze by the professor's continuous buzz. Marco's
nose tickled slightly but a mere twitch, and all was once again in
order. The whole university atmosphere was almost ideally tailored for
a daydream and Marco took full advantage of it. The light from the
leaded glass danced on the model, on the professor, and then right into
Marco's thoughts. A cold wasn't really the end of the world.
Still, it was annoying. Marco's nose began to tickle again. If
only he could hold out until noon. He absently rubbed his nose with the
sleeve of his robe and thought about his lunch hanging in his wallet.
He gave it another kick to assure himself it was still there. Not
surprisingly, it was. Marco bent down and studied it, swinging
north-south as though it contained loadstone instead of pasta. That was
an interesting thought, but the classroom had suddenly become too
Suspecting that someone might be watching him, Marco sat up.
That someone was the professor who had stopped the lecture and was also
staring at Marco's wallet. Embarrassed, Marco glanced away, as casually
as possible, up to the south windows, pretending not to notice. He
realized at once he had made a tactical blunder.
"Achoo!"It was a good sneeze; not one which might be
expected to reshape history, but a good solid sneeze never-the-less. A
twinkle of sunlight through a broken pane had triggered it. As Marco
made a grab for his face, his sleeve, predictably, caught and toppled
the ink pot. The ink began to trickle toward his lap. Marco sprang to
his feet, turning the table free of his lap as he did. The ink dribbled
noisily to the flagstone floor, but there was no other sound to be
heard in the entire room.
In fact, the silence in the old stone lecture hall seemed to
roar in Marco's ears as he grimly turned to face the professor, but
Professor Galilei's eyes were still solidly fixed on Marco's lunch.
Marco followed that gaze down to the wallet which was still swinging
north-south as if the table from which it hung had never been turned.
"Loadstone," he thought again; this time it was more than just an idle
thought. It was yet another puzzle.
Puzzle or not, this was a bad time to let one's mind wander off
into another trance. There were more pressing matters readily at hand.
Marco slowly forced his gaze back to the professor who was just
beginning to come out of a trance of his own. Finally, Professor
Galilei picked up his quill and started writing again.
Marco knew he was in trouble. His ears were flaming as he
mopped up the ink with his handkerchief and carefully settled himself
back into his seat. The rest of the lecture was lost on Marco -
shrouded by his raging thoughts and embarrassment.
Eventually, even the worst trials must come to an
end, and Marco's sufferings finally found their reprieve. The tower
bells began chiming the hour and the students stood to attention.
Lorenzo threw Marco a quick smirk from across the hall. Well, as soon
as the professor left, they would have some liberty out in the quad.
Marco could eat and maybe even recover emotionally, but for now they
stood as the professor gathered up his materials.
While they waited, the tall, carved wooden door to the north
hall creaked slowly open and a timid old man slowly poked his head
through the gap. Professor Ricci. Osilio Ricci was truly a relic. He
spent most of his time in the library archive these days and seemed to
carry his share of its dust around with him. It was rumored that he had
once even taught Professor Galilei - if that kind of antiquity could be
Osilio addressed Professor Galilei, in a surprisingly strong
voice, from his station behind the door, "Say Galileo, are you free for
A Fairy Tale
By now you must have gathered that my story is a
fairy tale. We know this because, as history most assuredly teaches,
Marco didn't actually sneeze - neither did he pass the course or
graduate; but that is not really pertinent to the matter at hand. The
story I am now telling never really happened. Yes, it almost happened -
it was certainly a very close call - but this is the story about a
world which missed its chance to exist.
In my story, the remainder of Marco's life took a different
course than we might have expected. More would be remembered of the
colorful, local fishmonger than of Marco Huxley, the quiet, reclusive
Galileo, on the other hand, sustained no emotional injury from
the interchange. To the contrary, he gained a valuable insight into the
dynamics of rotational physics. This was an insight which would serve
him well, years later, when he would be called to task by the
What might have happened if Galileo had been able to prove the
earth rotated to his Inquisitors? What if they had been able to watch
its rotation under the reference of his pendulum? Would the present
rift between the Church and science have ever occurred? What would
today's world be like if the Church and science spoke with a united
voice? What other reality might the gods of history have chosen for us
to take for granted as inevitable? Was the present world really such an
obvious foregone conclusion as we so often assume?
In my story, Galileo's pendulum won the day for the Copernican
system. As a result, the Church came to realize they had narrowly
missed making a serious mistake, although, just how narrowly, they
never actually understood. Other consequences follow like falling
dominos: As anyone might have guessed, the Pisa/Florence area remained
the world center for academic pursuits. After turning out such giants
as Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo, it was no surprise that they
continued to produce more of the same. It would have been difficult for
an upstart university to overcome this much prestige and momentum and
draw away a significant share of the best minds. Nor would anyone be
surprised that the Catholic Church could extend a thousand-year streak
of intellectual domination for yet a few hundred years more.
This much, anyone might have guessed. Some other details may require a bit of explaining:
Because my story is a fairy tale, it must necessarily have an
imaginary setting. I have selected the once-upon-a-time and
far-away-land of Pasadena, California - California itself being a land
known by all avid students of fantasy to deviate remarkably from
reality. More precisely, I have conjured a certain highly scientific
institute of technology which I envision to be located there - one
which captures more than its fair share of peace prizes, awarded by the
foundation of a man named Alfred Nobel, who, as I paradoxically
conjecture, was a manufacturer of explosives and the inventor of
So, in my story, as the New World grew in world prominence, the
Church spread its intellectual influence to the far away land of
California, where it established that satellite institute of higher
learning, which eventually grew to prominence in its own right. But
enough of this rhetoric; I am here to tell you a story and you sit
patiently waiting to hear it while several centuries have just slipped
The Catholic Institute of Technology
"Hey George!" The voice
belonged to Dr. Wilbur Chan who was running to catch up, awkwardly
carrying a load of papers in both arms. "Are you going to the debate?"
"I Haven't got the time." It came out sounding ruder than
George had intended. He took a breath and added, "It looks like we've
both got some papers to deal with," regaining control of his voice. The
entire load of term-project outlines had been due this week and Dr.
George Molino was likely to be inundated for the next month. They
certainly represented many hours; but George's entire load was cradled
neatly under a single arm of his 280 pound frame. Relativity was not
always restricted to the physics department.
George's thoughts snapped right back on his problem - the
inquisition. It was always there, watching him. The Catholic Institute
of Technology - Cathtech as it was usually called - would have been a
pretty nice place to teach biology, if it hadn't been for the
Inquisition and their blasted policy about heresy.
Dr. Molino suddenly felt very tired. He dropped his ample mass
down on an old concrete and wooden bench and gazed across the shallow
pond between where he sat and the building named after Father Dabney.
There was a very gentle morning breeze which helped fend off the sun's
early start on what promised to be a scorcher, but it provided no
relief to the doctor's thoughts, which were quietly fuming as his
adrenalin began pumping again. This time, the Inquisition was going too
Dr. Wilbur Chan settled his lesser frame down at the other end
of the bench and assumed the same stare as George. Sensing his friend's
need, he waited quietly.
The world faded and the debate began in George's mind. "There
must be a certain amount of tolerance for even those opinions which
seem to contradict the Holy Writ," he reminded himself. He wasn't
convincing himself, shouldn't there be some reasonable limits? Well,
actually, there were, but not enough to satisfy Dr. George Molino. The
Department of Biological Heresies had taken a pretty hard line. Now
they insisted that all views be heard in his classes - right here at
C.I.T. Absolutely all of them! Well, sometimes it seemed like it. Some
of the most insidious heresies were taught right alongside straight
doctrine - a "fair hearing" the inquisition called it; but did they
need to do it again and again for every new class of students?
To be fair, there was good reason behind the Inquisition's
position. Might not some bright new student notice something that had
always been missed before? People who champion "discredited" positions
aren't always wrong. After all, hadn't they almost burned Galileo at
the stake? They surely would have if he hadn't proved the world turned
under his freely rotating pendulum. And to think the Inquisition had
once believed this contradicted the Holy Writ! It was now hard to see
how they could ever have come to that conclusion - yet they had. To say
their case was extremely weak would be generous - at least in
George recalled an engraving he had once seen of that famous
experiment. He remembered that Galileo had fastened the weight to the
end of the pendulum using a little bag instead of connecting it
directly as other scientists had done later. He wondered why.
And then there was that Kurt Godel fellow. He came right out
and claimed there was no such thing as truth at all. No, that wasn't
it; not exactly anyhow. What he had claimed was that there was truth
which could never be proven to be true; that no matter how carefully
the inquisition put their system of evaluations together, that it would
either be missing pieces or it would make faulty conclusions. This was
certainly heresy if anything was. It even implied an intrinsic fault in
Church authority. Yet the inquisition had responded very gently.
It had been an honest mistake, after all; a case of not seeing
the forest because of all of those trees getting in the way. In Godel's
case, the "trees" had been a very elegant formal system for
constructing logical expressions. He had then created a string of
symbols, using his nomenclature, which stated that it itself could not
be derived. Godel had failed to notice that his string was a simple
paradox - like the statement, "this statement is false." Missing that,
he had insisted the string must either be true or false - allowing only
that the string might be true, but underivable, or false - and only
derivable by defective reasoning.
The Vatican just pointed out the overlooked possibility - that
Godel had merely stated a paradox - and dismissed him without so much
as slapping his wrists. Having learned their lesson, they had reasoned
that it was better that all challenges be freely raised and answered
rather than suppressed. That was humility; but now it had gone past
Ok, that was actually good. But now the Inquisition insisted
that even undergraduates could challenge time-honored interpretations
of the Holy Writ. And it had happened - right in one of George's own
classes! He had a "random creationist" to deal with - one so ignorant
that he hadn't yet read the Scriptures from cover to cover. "How can a
student who does not even know what the Word says be sufficiently
arrogant to challenge it?" he wondered, almost out loud - his agitation
beginning to show.
"OK, let's have it," Dr. Chan finally broke the silence. Barely a
trace of his East Asian origins remained in his accent.
"I have a random creation project to deal with." It was all
George needed to say. The theory that all life forms were the result of
random mutations was not a new one; but since it had been rigorously
refuted by Doctors Gould, Eldridge, and Hoyle, everyone thought they'd
heard the last of it.
Dr. Chan leaned back and stared up at the dark, square, and
towering St. Milikan library, closing his eyes for a moment. The
building remained in afterimage, silhouetted against a falsely-colored
sky. It's architecture so incongruous with the rest of the surrounding
buildings. Many new things didn't fit in very well with the old. "And
the Inquisition says?" he finally asked, trailing it off.
"That I have to make allowances for his ignorance and answer the
particular argument he made." George finished the sentence.
"Burden of proof is yours?"
"I'm the professor."
"Is that really going to be all that hard? What argument did he make?"
"Oh, basically that a whole new set of circumstances can make a new life
form randomly appear in a short time and from a small population of
"Did he make any suggestions as to what these bizarre
circumstances might be? Did he actually suggest how they might turn the
mathematical equations on their head?"
"No. Of course not. It's strictly an argument from ignorance.
But you know the Inquisition - just because it was always true before
doesn't mean it's still true. It's my burden to prove that it couldn't
"I thought Sir Fredrick Hoyle already did that." Dr. Chan was
genuinely surprised. "What's wrong with his argument? Isn't it
presented in nearly every respected textbook?"
"Well Charles - that's my student - isn't quite far enough
along to follow the mathematical argument. We're supposed to ignore
that until next semester. So I am supposed to answer him with my hands
tied." George paused a moment, "What's really bugging me is that he has
a clever trick up his sleeve."
"He's using a few classification errors as evidence
that one kind can mutate into another. Some biologist goofed and
classified one kind of trilobite as two. Because they really are one
kind, there really is a linkage - obviously. But instead of admitting
the biologist goofed, Charles claims evidence for a transition between
kinds. Because of this, he expects everyone to ignore the mathematics
and pretend one plus one is really six." And for some reason, the
inquisition seems to be backing him - at least on a preliminary basis.
"Even if that were fair, ... well there isn't much we can do
about that, is there. Let's say, ... if your student were right,
wouldn't the fossil record show the constant flow between kinds instead
of the eternally repeated episodes of stasis which it so obviously
records?" Dr. Chan was actually beginning to raise his voice a little.
Dr. Molino took a deep breath and let it out slowly. This was
starting to get away from both of them now; professors just didn't get
emotional. Professors studied the evidence, they didn't get excited
about it. Student's or no students, this was a scientific question and
science was science.
"All Charley did to explain how those sudden jumps happened was
to claim the population was always small enough, and the change always
happened quickly enough, that we wouldn't notice it in the fossil
record - completely ignoring the mathematics. Nothing that would stand
up to rigorous analysis; but on the surface, it sounds plausible. I
think I have to translate all of the mathematics down to his level and
put it into such a clear package that it will be obvious, even to him."
Both sunk into a lethargic trance and watched the swallows
swoop under the eves shadowing the worn brick tile walkway. Out in the
sunshine, reflected patterns danced on the underside of the poured
concrete arch that served as a footbridge across the pond. At least the
sunshine was nice and the morning was peaceful and quiet. Things would
all work out somehow. They always did.
Dr. Chan took his lunch on the lawn behind the Dabney
lounge. Wine, sourdough, and cheese. Somehow they seemed to be a
tradition at 'Tech. What made them go together so well? Subtle
variations in flavor? They had all been modified by micobiological
organisms. Was that all there was to it? That stuff was George's
department, not his. The sunlight filtering through the leaves overhead
and the breeze were actually very pleasant; so was the Gouda - and no
classes until three o'clock. No students 'till three.
This brought his thoughts back to the realities of the day.
Could George's student, Charles, be the same as the Charley in his
morning electronics class? Certainly a bright kid, perhaps a little
extra green still. He tended not to read his assignments because he had
an easy go of thinking the problems through on intelligence alone. That
was pretty normal, considering the grade of students 'Tech drew, but
Charley seemed to be out on the tails of the bell curve, even here.
It was going to catch him eventually. Intelligence alone wasn't
always enough. Sometimes there were traps which only experience could
solve - antiintuitive effects like the Lorentz transformation or tunnel
diodes. Charley was bright, but Einstein could still give him a leg up,
if Charley would ever bother to read the textbook.
Could it be the same Charley? It sounded like a possible match.
Willbur Chan picked up the discarded wax with his napkin and dropped
both into his sack, along with the empty. George's office was over in
the building called "Bridge," just the other side of the courtyard. The
exercise would be good for him.
Although the exercise may have been a good idea, his
thoughts were not very pleasant company. Dr. Chan had never been able
to communicate very smoothly with Angela, George's secretary. His mind
was torturing him now as he walked. He imagined he was driving
somewhere and she giving directions. He would ask "Should I turn left
here?" and she would answer "Right." Or he would be unable to see to
his right and would ask "Are there any cars coming?" and she would
answer "No" because all she could see coming was one very large truck.
Maybe it was because she was a woman. Dr. Chan didn't know many
women; for all he knew, most of them could have been just like her. He
decided he would try to keep the conversation very simple; surely he
could make sense out of a few short chains of English words - this
Even with this preparation, Angela greeted Dr. Chan with a
question which caught him completely off guard. "Do you want to talk on
That certainly wasn't his reason for stopping by, but what
could possibly make Angela assume it might be. "Why would I want to
talk on the phone?" he asked cautiously, wondering what the trick was
"Do you want to talk on the phone?" she repeated.
It was happening again. How could he answer her question until she answered
his. "Why would I want to talk on the phone?" He asked again, trying to
stress the importance of his knowing the answer before he would be able
to answer her question.
"Do you want to talk on the phone?" this time she sounded annoyed.
He gave up. He had no idea what Angela meant and she obviously wasn't
going to provide any more information. He chose the best answer he
could, under the circumstances, and tried to sound polite, "No thank
Angela turned with a huff that conveyed both exasperation and
resignation. She stormed to the back of the office and grabbed a
receiver which had been resting off the hook on George's desk. "No he
doesn't want to talk to you Dr. Molino."
"What?" Dr. Chan was flabbergasted. Is that George calling me?
Angela didn't have to say, "you idiot." Every muscle in her body directed the thought at Dr. Chan.
"I can never understand you." Dr. Chan clumsily tried to
apologize. It was clear enough that Angela didn't understand him
George had called from "Gates." He had seen Chan from a second
floor window and had guessed where he would be heading. As it turned
out, they did have the same Charley in their classes. George wanted to
set up a meeting to swap notes, but some things needed to be squared
away first. The professors had a little "homework" of their own to do
before they scheduled an appointment to plan their strategy. George
wanted to run through Hoyle's calculations once more; and Chan agreed
to try to figure out which students were most likely to be working with
Charley. It was always better to know against whom you were really
playing. Unlike many other institutions, 'Tech gave students more work
than they could possibly handle alone; consequently, students were
expected to help each other if they expected to pass. Sometimes the
professors had to do the same if they expected to remain a step ahead.
Before he left, Dr. Chan tried once more to speak to Angela.
"Does Dr. Molino have any classes tomorrow?" He asked.
"Tomorrow's Thursday." her voice carried a finality that suggested
there was nothing more to be said; but she also leaned her head
slightly to her left as if to offer a clue. To her left were a row
of filing cabinets, a bulletin board, a large colorful chart of some
kind, and a small calendar advertising chemical supplies. Was she
indicating the calendar?
"I know that." Dr. Chan was still trying very hard to be
polite, "What I wanted to know was if Dr. Molino had any classes
tomorrow - on Thursday."
"Dr. Molino has no classes on Thursday." It was spoken as if it
were a waste of her time having to phrase her sentence exactly as Dr.
Chan had requested it. Dr. Chan nodded silently and left.
That night, Dr. George Molino sat down with
his computer and went through the exercise once again. He set up a
mathematical colony of individuals assigning each a survival value. He
programmed a random sequence of mutations and adjusted the survival
pressure. And he watched. He modified the population size, mutation
rate and survival pressure in every possible combination. And he
watched again - and again.
Hoyle had been right, of course. The computer always showed the
same result. If a large population of individuals could barely take
advantage of favorable mutations, a smaller population certainly
couldn't. Mathematics simply prohibited it. The larger the population,
the larger the genetic target for favorable mutations. Those mutations
would soon spread to the rest of the population. The more favorable
mutations, the faster upward the evolution. Unfavorable mutations were,
of course, weeded out quickly and had little to do with the rate. When
parameters were selected to match California Condors at one extreme, or
bacteria at the other, well, nature always did exactly what the
equations predicted. It was lucky for the Condors that captive breeding
had brought their numbers back up.
But the Inquisition would no more allow this as evidence than
it would the very words of the Holy Scriptures. The computer program
would just go over Charley's head. Biology professors were not supposed
to come off like guardians of secret knowledge. Truth had to be
perfectly obvious and transparent, even to a freshman. As the visible
representative of the Dept. of Biological Heresies, George was required
to convey the same "humility" they assumed. "You
know, we could all be wrong," he could hear their admonition still
echoing. "Humility indeed," he snorted to himself, "It's not 'humility'
when I have to fight the battle and they enforce the rules!"
Sometimes he wished he hung out over on Wilbur's side of the
campus. Unlike physics and engineering students, biology students were,
for some dumb reason, not expected to minor in mathematics. That really
needed to be changed! Maybe next year ... or the one after that.
But back to the problem at hand. How could he answer the
specific objections which Charley intended to address in his semester
project? God's creatures certainly were separated into different kinds,
but the rules for identifying the boundaries had not been completely
clear in all cases. Horses and donkeys bred mules. Did this mean they
were all of the same kind? But mules were sterile. Did this prove the
boundary? What about wolf-dogs and fox-dogs? His thoughts were growing
too large for his study so he moved himself and them out into the
There he acquisitoned an ornate cast-iron lounge and leaned
back under the stars - such as they were. It was a beautiful night; but
Pasadena was never the best place from which to watch stars. He had
once spent hours starring at the Andromeda galaxy from the coastal
State Park called El Capitan. The sky had been aflame with heaven's
host and there had been an invigorating chill that night. It seemed
years ago and now just a dying memory. There were certainly fewer stars
visible from Pasadena - there was also much less chill.
Were all those other stars really still out there? George
mused. Could objective reality cease to exist while he wasn't watching
it? If real stars, as large and energetic as they were, could be
impossible to see from Pasadena, then couldn't Charley be right about
his evidence being invisible? Technically, yes, if one were careful not
to look at the evidence from too many directions. At least it still
contradicted the mathematics and the Scriptures! Or didn't George
really understand either of those?
In his project outline, Charley had identified several weak
areas where he planned to attack. For example, God had created
marsupials only in Australia and South America. There certainly
appeared to be something like a cause and effect connection between
those different kinds; but that was not the same as saying there was no
design involved. Random mutations simply didn't match the mathematical
or Scriptural evidence. Or did he really know that?
What if there were no design? If he were not created in the
image of an intelligent God, then in whose image? What if his very
brain were a random accident with survival the only design criteria.
Then what would his thoughts be? Obviously, nothing but a contrivance
to survive. If Charley were right, would his thoughts even be logically
valid? And if invalid, what could he ever know? What would truth or
even morality be?
It didn't really matter. Whether or not his thoughts were
valid, Dr. George Molino would have to stand before his inquisitors
having acted truthfully and morally. That much was expected. He finally
noticed he was tired and went off to bed.
What if indeed? What if there were no design or
creator - above us only sky? What if our thoughts were no more than a
contrivance to promote survival? Can a man under duress be trusted to
always tell the truth? What if the human brain was designed under
duress - by a million generations doing whatever was required, just to
escape death? The ultimate duress - the ultimate result. Might our
brains, the very seat of our logic and understanding, be willing to
lie, even to ourselves, if they see an inch to be gained in promoting
Questions similar to these kept Dr. George Molino up late for
many nights to come. If Charley were right, then what was morality. If
morality was a mental illusion to preserve survival, then Charley could
be passed or failed on the simple criteria of which choice best served
Dr. Molino's survival as a respected professor at Cathtech. So, if
Charley were right, then it wouldn't matter morally whether Charley was
right or wrong. Charley could be failed either way - if that made
George's life easier. And if Charley were wrong, he could be failed
because he was wrong. This made an easy solution, but was it the right
solution? What was right? What was truth?
Dr. Molino knew what he had been taught, but the Inquisition
had also warned him to always "test everything!" Did they mean this
too? Everything was everything. But if his own mind could not be
trusted, how then could it test itself? This was a very interesting
problem - one which could only be answered if the answer happened to be
that truth existed. If truth didn't exist, then he could never be
certain that it didn't exist. George wasn't sure he could be sure about
Fortunately, life for George continued with or without
certainty. The daily routine of eating, sleeping and survival, mixed
with a little seasonal excitement, finally performed the miracle of
driving such thoughts from the front of George's mind. But, as we will
see, not permanently.
"Tan-gent, Cos-ine Hy-per-bol-ic Sine. Three Point One Four One Five Nine."
A few of the students were shouting the old school chant in the
hallway just outside the main lecture hall in the building called
"Bridge." Some of the freshmen might have thought the name had
something to do with the bridge over the pond outside. It didn't.
Inside the hall, Dr. Molino stood between the multipaneled
chalkboard and the enormous desk which separated him from the steeply
pitched array of half-desk half-seats. These were now being quickly
abandoned by the departing mob of biology students.
"Slide-rule Slip-stick Tech! Tech! Tech!"As the chant
from the departing students faded away, Dr. George Molino looked down
at his pocket-sized electronic computer on the desk before him. That
chant needed some updating he mused. A lot of things needed updating -
his eyes took in the ancient hall and its trappings left over from
another time. At least Culbertson Hall had been replaced.
That thought hurt him. Culbertson had been an inefficient
antique - badly in need of replacing - but it had been an antique. It's
intricate ceiling and panels were really something to study. It had
been a shame it had to go. Change was always necessary, it seemed, but
it wasn't always completely good.
His eyes caught the approaching student. Shortly cropped hair,
white tee-shirt, denim cut-offs, and tennis shoes - fairly standard for
a techie these days.
"Did you get my outline, Professor Molino?" Charley. asked.
"Random creation, as I recall," he replied noncommittally.
"I gave it to your secretary, so I wasn't sure you'd get it. Sometimes it seems like her lights are on but nobody's home."
"She's competent." George was defensive but he had to be careful
how he worded this. Angela was certainly able to run a copy machine and
perform the other aspects of her job competently, but it did seem a
little bit like nobody was home sometimes. She could be a little slow
on the uptake - certainly not a rocket scientist - but then she didn't
have to be. It would be nice if the student's understood that.
"She couldn't pour rainwater out of a boot if directions had
been written on the heel!" Charley continued, evidently enjoying
George doubted the veracity of this last accusation, but the
mental image it evoked almost made him smile; he caught himself before
his face gave too much away. "You picked a pretty tough topic," he
countered, changing the subject to the controversy of lesser
"I'm learning to drink from a fire hose." It was a cliche at
Cathtech. For most of the freshmen, this was their first encounter with
lots of very hard work. The fire hose model seemed to describe the
experience well enough. It was always comical how few of the newcomers
realized that half of them would soon fall to the bottom half of their
"Have you read Hoyle's comments on the subject?""That's
just a bunch of numbers. I've explained how it all works. You guys are
just out of touch with the evidence." Charley was certainly bold if
nothing else. George was impressed that Charley was willing to be rude,
even to the man who would ultimately determine his grade.
"Which evidence are you now addressing?" George thought he
knew, but if he made Charley say it, he wouldn't have to answer
everything in the outline right now. One piece at a time would be much
easier to handle.
"If God really personally designed each creature, then why did
he create all the marsupials in the southern continents? They are
obviously there because that's where the ancestors lived that they
randomly descended from.
Charley could use some help with his grammar. As for the
subject of Charley's question, George had spent quite a bit of time
thinking this one over; he was ready for it. "What if God used
surrogate mothers when he created each species?"
"Huh?" Charley was too smart to miss the point. He was probably stalling while he tried to reorganize his thoughts.
"I mean, if God just created the DNA and implanted it in a
surrogate mother creature, new creations would naturally appear where
similar surrogate mothers were available."
"But that's not how God created the different animals!" Charley protested.
"Do you know that?""Everyone does."
"I don't, and I decide your grade. My job is to raise the objections, yours is to supply the answers to them."
"Why do I have to prove what everybody already knows."
"I don't agree with everybody. And I'm the only person you have to convince."
"How do I do that?""Support all of your claims with the
evidence." George must have repeated it at least once a day since the
project was assigned. "You were allowed to choose any topic you wanted.
But now that you've chosen it, you have to support your claims -
especially if your claims are controversial."
"But everyone knows that isn't how God created the different kinds! That isn't controversial."
"You're claiming God created them randomly - that is
controversial. If you believe 'A' and I believe 'B' then you can assume
'B' in your argument to support 'A'. But if I disbelieve 'B' and
believe 'C' instead, then you can't. Understand the rules?"
"I can do that." Charley said, his brash confidence only
slipping a little bit. It sounded like a fair challenge. With that he
George smiled. The first round was his. Charley's lights were
on and there was certainly somebody home. It wasn't going to be easy.
At least Charley would have to read the second chapter of Genesis
before he could challenge George's suggestion. He wondered how long
that would take. As soon as it happened, the ball would be back in his
own court again. Did Charley even know about the second chapter of
Genesis? If he didn't, one of his friends would tell him soon enough.
Well, one step at a time.
George picked up his computer and tossed it into his briefcase.
The shot was only about eighteen inches but he smiled like a basketball
pro when it dropped in. Today, life was full of victories.
The GrantThe next day was yet another hot, sunny day. Pasadena
was often like that. George caught Dr. Chan in his "Baxter" lab after
his last class. He grabbed a lab stool and pulled it over next to the
bench where Chan was working. Dr. Chan was soldering little green
electrical standoffs - "little green men," as he liked to call them -
onto a copper clad piece of fiberglass. He was breadboarding some kind
of project. "What are you up to?" George opened as he settled himself
onto the stool.
"Building a digital clock. Do you see any more of these green
men around? I need a few more." He held one up for George to examine.
There were several hiding behind a box near George's end of the bench,
so he pushed them over, picking one up himself to examine it more
The green plastic post, about a centimeter in length, had a
little round nail head at the top end - to which wires and components
were normally soldered - and a hex nut looking thing for its base.
There was a threaded hole in the bottom which would normally be used to
mount the post, but Chan was simply soldering the hex nut right onto
the copper. It looked faster, but somehow it looked like a waste of the
little threaded hole in the bottom of each post.
"You know somebody has to drill and tap all the little holes in
the bottom of each one of these things." George commented, giving his
thoughts words. "That must be a real pain!"
"Well think how these guys must feel!" Chan said waving one of the little "men" to emphasize whom he meant.
George smiled to himself trying to come up with a clever
response. "Yeah, but it's better to get it done." He finally said in
the most depressed and resigned voice he could imitate.
That got a chuckle out of Chan, "I need to have that done myself," he admitted. I hear it isn't much fun.
"I wonder if they make little inflatable washers for these
things," George added, holding one of the posts up to his bifocals for
a closer look.
This time Chan ignored him and threw the switch, giving his
clock the "smoke test." There was no smoke and all of the digits
indicating hours, minutes, and seconds lit up. However, the colon
separating the hours from the minutes was still dark. "My colon's out,"
he muttered mostly to himself.
"Colostomy?" George asked as innocently as possible."Huh?"
"'Colon's out.' I'm sorry, It was a stupid pun.""No,
it was a good one. I just missed it." At least Chan sounded genuinely
impressed. He shut the power down and shoved his project to the back of
the bench, looking straight at George for the first time since he had
arrived. "I received some exciting news this morning."
"You got the grant?"It was true. Cathtech had been
awarded the research grant that Chan had been after for so long. Dr.
Wilbur Chan was a professor of computer robotics and had been given the
go to produce his miniature tactical robot. Dr. Fenris Howard, from
that other institute of technology in Massachusetts, had given him
quite a race. Chan had only been able to wrestle the grant away by
promising a six month delivery. It was an extremely aggressive
schedule, but he believed his two-year head start would give him the
edge he needed to "ship" as promised.
"A piezoelectric spider," as Dr. Chan liked to call his robot.
Actually the crystals were exotic organics whose electromechanical
effects were much more pronounced than those of the old piezoelectric
crystals. The effect was the same however. Dr. Chan's prototype was
about six inches across and looked just like a huge spider. Eventually
it would move like one too. It was stronger than the real thing, but
its biggest advantage was that it could be much more easily trained.
Ultimately, it would be able to do its master's bidding. What that
might be was no concern of Chan's; he had his funding and could now
finish the miniature computer which his spider would carry.
George was more curious, "What does the Vatican want with that
thing anyhow. I mean it's uh ... cute, in a frightening sort of way,
but what can it do?" As he spoke, he was staring at the prototype which
was sitting on a shelf above the bench where they were seated.
"Well, what would you like it to do? It'll do anything it's programmed to do."
"I mean, What can it do for me that I can't do without it?""Well,
for one thing it can go places you can't. Places too small for you. And
it can make repairs in there." Dr. Chan proceeded cautiously. He wasn't
sure he liked where this might be heading. He was also nervous that
George might take his reference to size the wrong way.
"More likely it can sneak into places where I would get caught
and can break or kill things that someone wants broken or killed."
"Well, Yes," Chan admitted. "That's a likely application I guess. There is a time and place for even that."
"I guess so." Holy or not, wars were a very real part of life.
"How do you control it? Radio?" George had picked up Chan's soldering
iron and idly cleaned its tip on the damp piece of yellow sponge which
was resting on the iron's stand.
"You don't really. At least, when it's finished, it will sort of control itself."
George stopped cleaning the iron and stared at Dr. Chan."Seriously,"
Chan continued, "The Vatican anticipates problems with the details of
control in the projected environment and has requested that the spider
have a certain amount of autonomy. You give it a general task and it's
supposed to work out the details on its own."
"Sounds a little far fetched.""You haven't seen the
computer." Chan crossed the lab to a bench where he picked up a large
printed circuit board. "Here." The board was covered with hundreds of
identical computer chips. He carried it back to where George sat.
George noticed he was still holding the soldering iron and
quickly returned it to its stand. He then took the board from Chan and
studied it stupidly. The shiny new gold and lavender ceramic chips
sparkled in the overhead lights. "Pretty. What is it?" he finally
"Two hundred and fifty-six independent microcomputers,
interconnected to work together as a single unit. With the Vatican's
money, this can be reduced to sixteen two-centimeter square chips,
sixteen computers on each chip, which can be stacked into a neat little
package. When they're programmed with a repertoire of high level
algorithms, there won't be much it can't do." Dr. Chan beamed.
"Sounds impressive, whatever you just said; but I think I'll withhold judgment until I see it working."
"You may not have to wait long. The spider prototype should be connected to that board early next month."
George just smiled and left. He'd heard time-table predictions for research projects before.
As soon as he was gone, Dr. Chan got back to work on the clock.
It was really just a showpiece. The real clocking of the first trials
of his robot would be done inside the main computer. This clock mostly
just displayed the time in big letters so the "brass" could see what
was happening. It was at least as important that the Vatican could see
what they had paid for as it was that they actually got it. The
defective colon came to life within a few minutes and Chan switched his
attention to the computer board. The spider sat, as if watching, frozen
in place, while its creator ran through the first stages of debug on
the circuit board holding its brain.
God's CreaturesHaving run out of more interesting things to
do, George returned to his own laboratory for the rest of the day. He
propped his feet up next to the broken infrared spectrometer, picked up
a long glass tube, and used it to scratch an old flea bite between his
shoulder blades. All the spectrometer needed was a new fuse; but it was
an unusual one. George didn't know where to find one. Chan would know.
He'd ask him someday when there weren't more pressing matters at hand.
Something small moved on the floor. George got up and walked
over as it scuttled into his office and under his old oak desk - it was
some kind of large bug. He swapped the tube he was holding for a
plastic collection jar and started after it. By crawling around the
floor on his hands and knees, he managed to corner it, a large
frantically dancing scorpion, and catch it in the jar. It was a good
thing Angela had left for the day. What had it been doing in his lab
Even after it was completely confined in the jar, the scorpion
continued to dance angrily - raising it's tiny claws defiantly at Dr.
George Molino. It was frightening. How could such a small creature put
up such a bold front. He studied it for a few minutes, in fascinated
At last he set the jar down on his desk. What to do next ...Charley
answered that question by poking his head into the lab. "The Bible says
God formed all of the animals from the dust of the earth. That means he
didn't use surrogate mothers."
He'd found it. George had been boning up for this encounter and
he was ready, but before he could answer, Charley noticed the scorpion.
"One of God's creatures!" he smirked, enjoying the dig. He
walked over and picked it up - holding the little terror right up next
to his face for a closer look. Then he held it up to Dr. Molino's face
- sharing the experience.
"Although not exactly in his image." George emphasized,
refocusing the thought he had no refutation for. "That's right, hold it
up close, I'm kind of nearsighted. I caught that right here, just a few
minutes ago. Fascinating, isn't it?"
Charley agreed and set the scorpion back down, losing interest in it when it failed to serve his purpose.
"What do you think 'formed from the dust' means?" George asked, bringing the conversation back to Charley's opening line.
"It means God made them out of dust. Not out of nourishment fed through the umbilical cord of a surrogate mother."
"Was Adam made out of dust too?"
"That's what it says. Do you believe it or not?"
"Just a minute. What about the rest of us? Were we made out of dust too?"Charley
said no, but his confidence had seemed to slip a bit. George handed him
a Bible and told him to check out the 103rd Psalm. As soon as he found
it he protested, "But that's figurative!"
"Is it? How do you know?""God didn't make me out of dust. I was born!"
George was tempted to challenge even that, but he stayed on the
original course he had planned. "I don't think you quite understand
what either Psalms or Genesis is saying. Do you know where you got the
atoms you're made of?"
"Mostly from eating.""And what did you eat?"
"Hamburgers, shakes, spinach, tostados.""Plants and animals?"
"That would be a fair summary."
"Now take it to the bottom of the food chain."
"We're down to just plants at this point.""And what are the plants made of?"
It was a Biology 100 textbook answer, "Water, Carbon Dioxide, and minerals from the earth."
"Excellent! So other than water and CO2, you're made of stuff from the dust of the earth. Right?"
"That's fair.""Now I'll answer. Yes, I believe Adam was
made out of the dust of the earth just like I believe you and the rest
of us are. Surrogate mother or real."
"Well, what about Eve?""I suppose what God wanted from
Adam's side was some DNA. He could toss the 'Y' chromosome and edit in
another 'X' and he'd have what He needed. Put that in a surrogate
mother, wait nine months - no, we have to wait a few more years after
that. Let's see, how many years should we wait? Hey, this could be
"But that's not what Genesis says! You've got God making Eve
somewhere else, not right there next to Adam. How are you going to get
them back together?"
"You don't think God could bring her back?"
"Well, that's not what he did anyway.""Read it to me."Charley
flipped back to Genesis and hunted until he found Adam being put into
the deep sleep; then he started reading aloud. When he got to the
phrase, "And he brought her to the man," he stopped. It took him only a
second to recover. "I didn't see that for some reason."
"A lot of people miss that. It must not be what they're expecting to see."
"I can tighten my argument a little more. I'll be back.""See you then."
What is TruthRound two went to Dr. George Molino as well. The
young kids were bright, but there was still a lot to be said for gray
hair. It was going to be a tough fight, though. Charley had outlined a
lot of good points to address in his project.
As it turned out, that biologist had been right about those
trilobites being different species. George had to give Charley credit
for that one. The fact that a species had been discovered which was
intermediate between the two was certainly significant; but it only
represented a single additional coarse step between the two - not quite
the gradual flow which Charley had implied.
That wasn't what had really been bothering him anyway. His
surrogate-mother hypothesis more-or-less predicted steps of about that
size. It was Charley's finches - all those interesting variations on
that tiny forsaken chain of islands. What had God been up to there?
He reached for a pen in the pocket of his lab coat, but got the
laser pointer instead. After flashing it to assure himself is was still
operational, he swapped it for a real ballpoint. He grabbed a Quadrille
pad off his desk and started sketching his thoughts in the language of
Were those variations all within the kind or were there
actually different kinds on those little islands. Could they
interbreed? That would be an important clue. What if they couldn't?
What if they really were of different kinds? As Charley had pointed
out, it seemed unreasonable that God would have chosen that little
chain of rocks, and it alone, for a specific act of creation. While God
often did things which made no sense to men, it was always more
comfortable when at least some hint of a reason could be identified.
He picked up the scorpion and watched it's war dance. "One of
God's creatures," he thought to himself. What did that tell him about
God or about the rest of His creation? What kind of God would create a
scorpion? The answer came in an analogy. What kind of scientist would
create a mechanical spider? One of the very best! Maybe Dr. Chan was
created in God's image just like Genesis said he was. That implied that
God occasionally enjoyed scary things just like Chan did. George took
one last look at the scorpion and put it back down. God's little
monster was, by far, the scarier of the two.
What had God been up to when he created those finches? A few
experiments would answer his questions well enough; but he simply
didn't have time to go to the Galapogos and try to cross breed the
different types - not for one stupid freshman project. Had someone
already done the experiment and written it up?
While he was wrestling with this problem, across the campus,
over in engineering, Dr. Chan would be having fun with his new toy. He
would rather be playing there too right now. Or would he?
Didn't Dr. Chan face a very difficult task of his own? Was it
even possible to design a computer which could make a valid decision on
its own? Of course God had done just that when he created the human
brain, but God had unknown and unimaginable recourses from outside the
A brain produced by Charley's "random creation" would probably
have no spiritual resources; Dr. Chan's computer wouldn't either. Could
either ever sort truth from error? Perhaps truth was also from outside
of the physical world. Mathematics would certainly remain if the entire
physical universe were removed; wasn't logic just a form of mathematics
and truth a part of logic?
Maybe truth really was from outside of the physical. If so,
then processes which were totally confined to the physical world might
never be able to make decisions about whether or not something was
truth. If a computer was told that one plus one was six, it would
believe it - unless it was specifically told not to. A person, no
matter what they were told, would know better, somehow. But how?
Maybe Charley was really addressing the same problem Dr. Chan
was. The source of truth, of intelligence, of design. If it could come
from blind randomness, as Charley claimed, then Chan's computer could
probably function by itself. But if truth were from beyond the world,
then that might be impossible. What was truth anyway? Hadn't that
question been asked before?
Socrates had set off after virtue once. Had he ever found it or
had he merely got lost in the search? Pilot had asked what truth was
once - right after Jesus had told him. Evidently Pilot hadn't
understood what Jesus meant. Neither did George - not completely
The truth was that Dr. George Molino was hungry. This, although
not all of the truth, was at least a part of it which was not subject
to debate. He made his way out to the vending machines in the corridor
and was soon back, burrito in hand, buried in his normal routine.
There were outlines to be evaluated, and whether or not he
understood truth in general, and wherever it came from, he at least
knew the truth about freshman biology and knew how to apply it to
almost all of those projects. Besides, this was only the first
evaluation; the final decision about Charley's project could be put off
a little longer - superficially until Charley had completed it, but
really until he could decide what to do.
The DemonstrationKeeping busy kept him going - or maybe
keeping going was just another way to say keeping busy. However it
worked, the immediate and prosaic kept the specters at bay. Still, his
doubts did take their toll. They made George a little edgy and he
started keeping to himself more than normal.
As the days passed, Dr. Chan also stayed in his own lab more
than usual - but for a different reason. Stoked by cash from the
Vatican, it had become a beehive of various types of programmers. The
spectrum ran from those who coded servo control routines right up to
those who dabbled in the black art of artificial intelligence. George
did not feel very comfortable with the latter and found excuses to
visit less and less frequently. But when the day came for the first
live test of the whole system, George was crowded into Dr. Chan's lab,
along with everyone else who had any interest in the project.
It was getting dark outside by the time they were ready to
throw the switch. The fluorescents had been dropped to half intensity
to facilitate reading the scopes and computer screens. A Christmas
tree's worth of light emitting diodes adorned the home-brewed monitor
panels. Adding to the festivities, an excited chatter filled the lab as
last minute instructions were swapped and explanations were made to the
uninitiated like George. The spider itself sat motionless in a cleared
area in the center of the lab. A bundle of thin wires, suspended from a
boom, ran to an area in its back where the tiny brain would eventually
go. For this first test, the large 256-processor board sat at the other
end of the bundle - calling the shots. Lights blinked in sequence as
the startup diagnostics ran.
"What this first test will demonstrate," Dr. Chan was
announcing in a raised voice, "is the spider's ability to correlate
data. In order to act autonomously, the spider will need to be able to
make mental connections between different situations it might
encounter. Realizing similarities will aid it in solving problems it
encounters while executing various tasks.
"The spider has been programmed to explore the lab, looking for
objects which are visually similar. It runs a very complex pattern
recognition algorithm which it will apply to chain codes generated for
various objects it identifies around the lab. If you want to know more,
you'll have to get the details from Dr. Johnson." A skinny young man in
a lab coat, with acne and stooped shoulders, smiled and waved at those
present. Chan continued, "The first time a similarity numerically
exceeding five percent is located, the program will terminate and the
results will be printed here, on this printer." He motioned to an
imposing high speed line printer.
"Are we ready to run?" he asked everyone in general.A
smattering of "yesses" came from those occupying stations in front of
computers and consoles; so Dr. Chan walked over to the "brain,"
switched it from diagnostics to run mode, and hit the reset button. On
another panel, a digital clock started counting off seconds, it's colon
"It's downloading the program," a young tech in a pizza-stained
"t" shirt announced as he watched the lines flash by on his screen.
"And it will begin execution r-i-g-h-t, ... Now!"
Everyone's breath was held and every eye was on the spider
which crouched, motionless, for an entire second. Then the huge line
printer chirped to life.
"We already have a correlation!" Dr. Chan announced enthusiastically. "Of ... ," he picked up the paper and started reading it.
"I thought the spider needed to move before it could locate two
objects which were sufficiently similar to report." one of the techs
stated in a confused voice. A programmer who was quickly shuffling
through some flow charts agreed without looking up. The confusion was
starting to spread.
"100 percent," finished Dr. Chan who was starting to catch some of the confusion himself. "That can't be right can it?"
It was agreed that 100 percent was a trifle optimistic for the
first run. The A.I. experts finally managed to get Dr. Chan away from
the printouts long enough to see what exactly had been reported. First
more confusion was the result, but then the light of understanding
slowly began to come on. "Uh, I think the program has 'discovered' that
its second look at the lab exactly matches its first. That's why the
100 percent. Everything matches exactly. It didn't move so nothing
changed." We have Cohan's Rule in action.
Groans were aired and the crowd slowly dispersed, some
chuckling, as the programmers set themselves to the task of fixing the
software. Overlooking the obvious was a common enough programming
error. Computers are notorious for following instructions to the letter
while the programmer thinks in terms of the spirit. Well, the letter of
the law, or code in this case, would have to be changed to bring it
into line with the spirit. This was never an easy task. Enough
iterations of trial and error and the code would eventually evolve into
what the programmer originally had in mind. The computer would
instantly find faults which the programmer could never guess. The job
of the programmer was to figure out how to make the code better and not
worse. The job of the computer was simply to follow its instructions -
The programmers had a tough job ahead of them; they
were tearing at their hair for the next month. None of the reports were
very encouraging. Although the spider had all the computational power
it needed to do what it was told, it seemed to lack life somehow. When
out from under direct supervision, it would simply sit down and wait.
Chan had to agree this was a legitimate solution to the cybernetic
equations but it was a trivial solution and not the one anyone was
looking for. Zero could be a valid solution to a differential equation,
but it was not a very interesting solution. A system of masses and
springs could sit perfectly still, but this was not an acceptable
answer to a problem for Mechanics 300 students - what was wanted was an
equation which described the system in motion. That was what was needed
here too, but masses and springs wouldn't move unless someone gave them
a push. What the spider needed was more than a shove; it needed a
shover - a source of actions.
Attempts to correct the problem were thwarted by compliance to
the letter, but not the intended spirit of the correction. If the
spider was directed not to stop, it would walk in a line. If it was
told not to follow a line or if it encountered an obstacle, it would
walk in a circle. If told not to repeat any pattern of motion, it would
continuously select new ones. What it would not do was to make any real
progress. In short, it was a machine, and like any machine, it just did
what it was told. In this case, what it was told grew more complex with
The miniature computer was finally completed and installed, but
that, of course, changed nothing. It just eliminated the wire bundle
and made the spider self-contained.
Another month dragged on but the spider never showed any real
initiative. It would either follow direct commands or simply do nothing
at all. As the commands increased in complexity, so did the spider's
behavior; but it never took as much as a single step of its own accord.
Random elements added to the code would produce random, and useless,
behavior. Mathematical elements would produce mathematically
predictable behavior. Combinations would produce combinations.
When the available memory in the tiny computer had been
exhausted by the growing routines, an infrared link was supplied to
Chan's computer. When the spider needed to, it could exchange it's more
expendable routines with those stored in the larger computer. This
meant the spider was no longer completely self contained, but more
memory could be added to the next revision. In the meantime, the spider
at least had access to the resources of Dr. Chan's computer.
Eventually, simple tasks could be programmed like, "locate the
red ball and push it over to the instrument rack," but in spite of all
the work, the spider was still no closer to being trusted with any
real-world mission - sinister or otherwise. If it had been programmed
to be a serial killer, as the joke went, "The Wheat Chex were safe."
Games and Pranks
"Free for Lunch?" George held up his brown bag as he walked into Chan's office.
Without answering, Chan grabbed his chess board, pulled out a
drawer and set it across the open drawer between them. As usual, there
was no room anywhere on his desk.
"Not chess! You always beat me." George complained.
"You're supposed to get better if you play enough." Chan responded teasingly.
"I brought my Othello set." George offered.
"But the second player always wins." Now Chan was complaining."No!""Yes!"
Chan tried to mimic every part of George's expression and body language
as he returned the protest. The differences in their build made the
"You can't see all the way to the end of a game of Othello!"
"Maybe you can't, but you'll never beat me if I go second."George
thought that one over. Chan had whipped him at Chess every game so far
- and George wasn't that bad at chess eitherr. Tic-tac-toe was certainly
a game whose possibilities were easily exhausted. A well-played game
always ended in a draw. Could his friend be serious? Could the second
player in Othello always win? "You're on," George finally said, "I
don't believe it, but I guess I have to find out."
Three games later George was at least convinced he couldn't
beat Dr. Chan at Othello either. He knew he would never be able to beat
Dr. Chan at Chess, but if what Chan had said about Othello were true,
then maybe he could at least learn to win at Othello - if he went
second. "Could you teach me to win if I played second?"
"Sure. ... Oops, just a minute." Dr. Chan picked up his phone and answered, "Hello?"
George just stared. The phone hadn't rung. He waited till Chan was finished then asked, "How did you know to answer your phone?"
"I don't like being rudely interrupted. I fixed the bell so it
hardly makes any sound. You can't hear it unless you know what you're
listening for. I know when someone's calling, but it doesn't get on my
nerves. It's more like a gentle tap on the shoulder than a rude shout."
George was impressed. He hated his own phone. Maybe he could
talk Chan into fixing it as well. But first things first. "How do I win
if I play second."
"OK, first you have to win the game in the center sixteen
squares of the board. You can work out all the possibilities for that -
it's twelve moves maximum. Next, when the other player plays into this
square," Chan indicated with his finger the next twenty squares just
outside the inner sixteen, "you try to make your next move straight
across his to the outside edge."
"Why not diagonally?"
"Because then he can cross your diagonal and put one on the same edge with a single space between."
"I think I need to write this down."
In a few minutes, the last rule had been explained and the conversation turned to Chan's spider."
"What good is that little spider anyway? It's not very strong." George pointed out.
"It's stronger than it looks. It can lift more than ten times it's own weight.
"Does that mean it can accelerate at ten gee's?"
Dr. Chan flashed a surprised smile.
"Hey, I took freshman physics once, years ago.""Unfortunately
no, not ten. There are a few problems. For one thing, we haven't been
able to get the crystals to respond that quickly. We can get three
gee's if the spider digs the little pinpoints on his toes into the
surface on which he's standing and jumps with all of his legs at once.
That's pretty impressive to watch. It looks impossibly fast."
"How fast will it go?""That's been another problem - the
same problem actually. We can't make those little legs swing back and
forth rapidly enough to push it up past twenty miles per hour. But
that's still pretty impressive. It can outrun a trained athlete for the
first twenty feet. - I can't outrun it at all. It looks awfully fast
with those tiny legs flying in a blur."
"Wow! Can you show me?""Uh, Dr. Clark has the voltage drivers out."
"Can you put them back in?""Not until he's done with them."
"Phooey! Oh well, what does it sound like when it's moving?""It's
almost silent until it gets going fast enough. At about seven
miles-per-hour you can begin to hear a very deep faint hum from its
legs oscillating. Even at top speed the hum isn't too noticeable.
Silent would be a fair description."
"How far can it go on one charge? I assume it is electrical.""That
depends on how fast it's moving. At top speed it's really wasting
energy. If it moves at a walk it can cover nearly a mile, but it can
stop and recharge itself anytime it gets hungry."
"Hungry?""When its charge gets too low. It has a sensor
on its battery so it always knows how much energy it has left. When it
gets low enough, we have it programmed to search for an electrical
outlet, they all look pretty much the same. It just climbs the wall and
plugs itself in."
"Really?""It was hard to teach it to climb the wall, but
most walls have enough little toe holds that it can pick its way up
with those pins on its feet. Did you notice those 'mouth' parts?"
George had noticed them. Two long, ugly, curving mandibles had
been added to the spider since he had last seen it. The effect was
"Alex - that's one of my brighter students - designed those. The spider sticks those into an outlet and viola, lunch is served!"
"That's terrible." George primarily meant the humor, but the thought itself wasn't that distant a second-place finisher.
"You think that's bad? Alex is a real practical joker. He
designed the charger switcher to work both directions." Chan paused for
effect, expecting George to understand.
"What do you mean?" George didn't know what a switching power
supply was and he hadn't had any experience with the sort of practical
jokes which are commonly pulled in an electronics lab.
"I mean Alex has taught that thing to sneak up and shock you when you aren't looking!" Chan laughed.
Evidently electronics types were less intimidated by electrical shocks than George was. "Isn't that dangerous?"
"Not the shock itself. How you react to it might be a problem.
If you startle someone, they certainly can do something dangerous.
After Alex had his fun with his friends, I made him promise to stop.
The last time, we had to repair all six of its legs. It got stepped
"Serves it right! You said six legs?"
"Everyone always assumes it has eight legs because we call it a spider. Count them yourself"
George did. There really were only six. He wondered what else he always took for granted.
"It doesn't really need eight legs. Three legs will hold it
squarely in position while it steps with the other three. We could have
made do with just four, but it travels faster moving three at a time."
George could see that. "What other horrors have you taught that thing to do?"
"Read text, understand maps, understand a few dozen spoken words. We can give it directions lots of different ways now."
"Does it do more than blindly follow those directions?Chan
seemed to wilt. He had been having fun, but that question brought him
back to his problems. "No. It still shows no initiative." Chan handed
the Othello board back to George, put away his own chess set, slid the
drawer in, and cleaned up the trash left over from his lunch. Having
master-level understanding in several very technical disciplines
provided no guarantee that Chan could understand every problem which
came his way. As it was turning out, his spider was going to be more
complex than he had anticipated - possibly more complex than he would
be able to understand. People were certainly beyond his ability to
fathom. Maybe George, being a biologist, would have a better shot at
that one. He decided to try.
"Hey, can you understand Angela""Well enough, Why?"
"Oh, I can never make any sense out of what she's saying."
"Give me an example."Chan
thought for a moment. "Well, once I asked her something about your
schedule on a particular day, and she responded by ignoring the
question and telling me that that day was Thursday."
George looked blank for a few seconds; but then the pieces fell
together. "OK, as you might have guessed, I kind of have to keep my
schedule pretty darn well organized - well enough that things don't
start getting messed up."
"I can believe that.""So I keep to a daily routine which
is posted on the wall in my office. It's a huge chart. Everyone knows
where it is and refers to it regularly."
"So Angela just naturally assumed I was 'everyone'.""People
make lots of assumptions they take for granted. In fact, I just did
that a minute ago with your six-legged spider. Angela just tends to be
a little farther out than most of us."
Chan smiled, one of the few genuine smiles he had been able to
produce for quite awhile. In general, things were not going well. The
fact that his spider showed no initiative meant he was failing to
deliver what he had promised the Vatican.
FenrisAs badly as things had been going, George was not
particularly surprised when Dr. Fenris Howard was called in to assist
with Dr. Chan's project. Dr. Howard had presented a benign front. "No
hurt feelings; I'm just doing what I can to assist a colleague in
trouble." Those at Cathtech weren't buying it. In fact, nobody on
either coast really liked Fenris. Many were flatly afraid of him. His
work had certainly been cryptic - some would say, outright clandestine.
Still, it was universally accepted that Fenris was the leading
authority on cybernetic intelligence. It was time to admit that if
anyone could make the spider dance it was he.
George wondered if such an expert existed who could help him
with Charley's project. If so, he hoped the expert would not be at all
like Fenris. Fenris gave him the creeps.
When Dr. Howard arrived on campus, George stopped visiting
Chan's lab altogether. Fenris was tall and thin with angular Mideastern
features, dark skin, straight dark greased hair, and a pointed goatee.
George didn't really know what devils looked like but he was sure they
must have at least the same smile Fenris did - a predator's smile -
superficially friendly, but somehow his dark eyes watched you too
At first, Fenris acted in the capacity of a consultant, but as
time passed, he managed to achieve control of more and more aspects of
Chan's project. Fenris had a way of telling those who were in charge of
the money exactly what they wanted to hear - although this was seldom
the truth. Chan, being limited to the truth, was hardly ever able to
give pleasing reports.
I can see that I will need to steal a moment away
from the telling of my story and apologize for this element which it
contains. Fiction is supposed to be, at least in principle, believable;
and here I am expecting the reader to swallow my silly supposition that
those who are sufficiently respected to be put in charge of the
management of major funding would prefer hearing pleasant lies to the
honest truth. That certainly cannot be the formula which generates
maximum return on each research dollar.
I could suggest that, perhaps, they are somehow unable to tell
truth from lies, but this is hardly more believable. If, as we are
told, "The man who uses a fool for a messenger cuts off his own feet,"
then how much more, does the man who selects a fool to allocate
funding. Perhaps this lapse is only temporary; with time, my money
managers may be able to see the results of the course they are now
pursuing and will amend their practice. However, I cannot help but
suspect the present arrangement might be somewhat less then transient.
The fault must, one way or another, be my own. I admit that I
myself am baffled by this element of my imaginary world. My conjecture
is that these managers, like Drs. Molino and Chan, have their own
personal problems; and that somehow this colors their otherwise sound
judgment. Whatever the underlying reason, the reader will just have to
bear with this deficit in credibility.
DefeatIn any case, the weeks at Cathtech passed without news
of any significant advances as Fenris progressively gained control.
Soon he had acquired authority equal to Dr. Chan's. George began to
hope the project would simply be canceled - anything to get Fenris off
campus and restore access to his friend. As it was, the only time they
got together was when Dr. Chan stopped by George's lab to visit - as he
The Othello board came right out with George going second as
they had agreed - until he mastered the game. George managed to get his
men positioned on the number three and six squares of the first edge,
but he accidentally left an odd number of empty squares between the
first two men he placed on the next edge. Chan ultimately got that edge
away from him and won the game - but it was a narrow win. With a little
more practice, George would be an invincible second starter. George
looked forward to that day with enthusiasm - not realizing, as Chan
knew, that he would lose interest in the game as soon as he mastered
Because George didn't have any new ideas on Charley's project,
the conversation drifted to the spider. The issue was not one of
robotics or logistics anymore. By now, all questions revolved around
the friction between the two project heads. "Man cannot serve two
masters," was a formula which certainly described the problems of those
who attempted to answer to both Fenris and Chan. Perhaps there was also
a formula which described the problems the two leaders themselves were
The pressure on Dr. Chan had grown steadily greater. The
Vatican wanted results and, without them, the project would be dropped.
There was pressure from Fenris too. Fenris had wanted to install a
small controller of his own design which would oversee the operations
of Chan's computer. Chan had repeatedly objected. At first the
objection had some logical substance; Fenris couldn't or wouldn't
explain how the controller worked, and Chan believed he had reasonable
need to understand his own project. Fenris seemed to offer a quick
solution - one which might or might not work - but if Chan accepted it,
and if it did work, he wouldn't even have a clue how. It would be as if
his total contribution to the crux of the project had been exactly
As more time passed, Chan stopped caring if he understood at
all; but he still didn't want to lose control. Unfortunately, he was
getting desperate; without results, there would be no project.
It was looking more and more like this would be Fenris' victory
instead of his. Fenris simply wouldn't explain how his controller
worked. "Much too technical," he would say rubbing salt into the
wounds. "It relies on a side effect of quantum mechanical interactions
on a small matrix of semiconductor junctions." This would have been
annoying enough if Dr. Chan hadn't been so technical. Because Dr. Chan
understood every effect in the books of Q.M. on solid state junctions,
this sentence might be better phrased as, "Naah Naah Naah-Naah Naah."
The political climate had just worsened until earlier that
evening when tempers had finally overcome laboratory protocol and an
honest argument had broken out. Nothing was working. Fenris was
obviously using this as an excuse to take over the project. It wasn't
right; it wasn't proper; it wasn't fair; but Chan was exhausted. He had
been shouting - not because he really cared about his own arguments -
he had stopped caring some time ago; his rational concern had finally
given way, leaving an outward facade - he had become a face-saving
creature which fought on after all reason for fighting had evaporated.
Ironically, it was when Dr. Chan was left without reasons that
his arguments became the loudest and most adamant. But then, Dr. Chan
was every bit as human as others of his species. Emotional
irrationality can be found at every level of society; even great
scientists are not really exempt.
When Chan had finished relating his story to George, venting
even his own personal weakness and failure, he lapsed into silence.
After a few minutes, he excused himself. George watched him through the
windows as Chan slowly trudged back to his own lab. George could see in
his friend's retreating figure what Chan was, even now, not ready to
admit: Fenris would be allowed to install the controller. Chan had lost
control of his own project.
In some ways George was in the same position. The second draft
of Charley's paper was starting to make him think he was losing control
of his very life - even of his ability to think. He thought Charley was
wrong; but what difference did it make if he couldn't prove it - to
Charley, to the Inquisition, but mostly to himself. That's right, to
himself! What if he were really wrong and Charley right? What if he
didn't really understand the Scriptures or the mathematics. Then what?
He was back at the same question. What was truth? More to the
point, how could he know whether or not something was the truth. If a
theory agreed with every known fact and every verse of Scripture, this
would not necessarily make it true. A new fact could always be
discovered. Galileo's pendulum proved that. Science and Scripture had
both seemed to agree with the theory that the sun circled the earth;
yet there was the earth turning visibly right under everyone's noses.
And what if a fact or a verse appeared to disagree with a theory? Could
anyone ever be sure they understood everything perfectly?
Was there something very important here that George was taking for granted? Something which simply wasn't true?
TheoriesNot only was today beautiful, George had also won his
first game of Othello! Would Chan be upset? He couldn't remember ever
seeing Chan loose a game before; and he hadn't been in a very good mood
He needn't have worried. Chan leaned back in his chair with his
hands clasped behind his head, beaming like a proud teacher. "Ahh, de
sweet smell of de feet! Well played, my friend!"
George relaxed. "You finally managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory."
"And you finally figured out you were better off playing beside the corner on a strong edge than giving another edge away."
"But never diagonally in from it!"
"Hey, this surrogate-mother theory of yours is starting to raise a few eyebrows around campus. Are you serious about it?"
"I'm not really sure anymore. I wasn't at first; it just seemed
like a convenient way to answer a couple of Charley's objections; but
then it kind of took on a life of its own. It just started predicting
more and more of the evidence without requiring any more creative
effort on my part."
"Like what?""Well, for example, it predicts the fossil
chain sequences - like the horse sequence. If God used surrogate
mothers to create the first new representatives of each species, he
would have needed to create an entire chain of 'transition' forms
connecting widely separated kinds of creatures. His steps would have
had to be small because a surrogate mother can't successfully deliver
something too different from herself."
"Isn't that limiting God?"
"Not really. It isn't a limitation on God's ability, it's a limitation on the mother's."
"Why couldn't a surrogate produce large steps?""Just
imagine the resulting disaster of modifying the genes in a tiny mother
mouse so her offspring would become a baby elephant. That one is kind
of obvious; but the same general principle applies in subtle ways to
even very small steps.
"Humans have trouble when there are incompatible blood rh
factors between a mother and a developing fetus she's carrying. If the
child has rh positive blood and the mother has rh negative this
difference can cause complications. This happens with two humans who
are exactly the same kind; yet it can be fatal in some cases. You can
imagine how much more difficult it might be for a surrogate mother to
deliver a new creature of another kind."
"I can see that.""Anyway, for various biochemical and
physical reasons, the differences between a new kind and its surrogate
mother would have to be relatively small. So if God chose to bridge
major kinds by using surrogate mothers, it seems He would necessarily
have done it with many small steps.
"That's one prediction. Next, the separation between kinds
cannot exceed the interbreeding distance; at least it can't be
significantly farther. The limit is the point where the differences
become fatal to a developing offspring. If the kinds are too
dissimilar, offspring simply won't survive; or maybe they will survive
but will be infertile. Mules, dog-fox crosses, even dog-wolf crosses
are infertile to some extent.
"A look at the creation suggests that this might really be the
spacing God used between His kinds. What we see, in the fossil record,
is a series of creatures separated by approximately this distance; a
chain of "quantum leaps" connecting life's kinds. And, of course, it's
different from the gradual continuum predicted by Charley's theory."
That got Chan's attention. "Charley's theory has also been
causing a bit of a flap; at least the students seem to be excited about
it. How do the two theories stand up to each other?"
"Both theories are surprisingly predictive. The surrogate theory seems to be doing slightly better in a few places.
"For example, Charley had trouble explaining a few structures
like wings. It's difficult to explain the survival advantage that the
first arm feathers might have given the first bird-like lizard? Half a
wing would just slow it down; it wouldn't help it fly. But Charley had
to come up with a beneficial reason for every step along the way.
"He also couldn't explain why the fossils were so scarce in
this most fascinating region. The surrogate-mother theory answers these
questions easily. The transitional forms probably had had no advantage
at all; in fact, they probably lived with a liability. But God would
plan ahead with a future advantage being the only criteria. The
transitional forms, suffering from a liability, would naturally die off
quickly, without leaving significant fossil evidence.
"Also, Charley's theory didn't explain why coelacanths had
changed so very little from their fossil ancestors of 350 million years
ago - over the same time span that, as Charley claimed, a very similar
fish changed through amphibian, reptile, mammal, and ape to man. If
Charley had been even a little bit right, the coelacanth ought to have
changed by at least that same little bit. Charley's theory missed the
elements of purpose and the arbitrary and extreme discontinuity of
progress which are so obviously a part of the real creation.
"And of course Charley's theory didn't explain why there were
so many different types of ape-men living in Africa at the same time
and in the same places. According to Charley, only the fittest should
survive. If the larger brained, tool-using, Homo was the result of a
million years worth of selective advantage, the more advanced
preserving his genes at the expense of the lesser, then why were the
"lesser" Australopithecines still thriving all over Africa a million
"OK, I think I get the picture" Chan interrupted. "It's a very interesting theory; but it's still a heresy."
"Only until it gets formal recognition.""Are you going to submit it?"
"No way! I'm in enough trouble with the D.B.H. already!"
"Where's your sense of adventure? Those guys at the Department of Biological Heresies don't have anything better to do anyway."
"Maybe you'd like to submit it.""Is it OK if I put your name on it?"
"I'd rather you didn't," George decided it was time to change the subject, "Are you going to the lecture tomorrow afternoon?"
"No. I realize it's pointless; but I feel like I need to keep an eye on Fenris anyway."
Dr. Chan leaned back in his chair and tried to appear relaxed as he looked
across his desk at the intruder. Dr. Howard dropped casually into the chair
on the opposite side and stared right back - savoring the delicious news he
was about to deliver.
"The beast works - just like I said," Fenris gloated.
"Can it run the obstacle course?" Chan challenged, managing not to choke.
He closed his eyes, bracing himself for the answer.
"Down cold! It's even showing off. In fact, it'll be running the whole lab
soon," - the smile widened.
"Now wait a minute ... ," that was going a bit too far. Chan's muscles
tightened as he bent forward - forcing his eyes to stare accusingly at Fenris.
"A few hundred billion operations a second, how fast do you think?" - Fenris
was enjoying this.
"It takes a lot more than fast addition to manage this lab; it takes years
of study and experience."
"Library of Congress enough? Maybe all the online journals in the Milikan
computer? It's been transferring data like a madman."
"How would it get ..."
"Linked to your computer, remember? - and from there to the net ..."
"It hasn't got the storage space ..."
"It was reformatting it's own hard drive when I left it - probably found
some killer compression techniques in the journals ..."
"It would have to change it's own software ..."
"The source code is on your computer, and the compiler ... remember?"
Chan closed his eyes again and forced himself back into his seat.
Fenris continued. "You know what else? It has access to all of the poetry
ever written. By now it knows how you feel - what terrifies you - what
motivates you ... " Fenris was turning this into a ghost story.
"It's just a machine," Chan reminded Fenris - and himself. This must all
be a joke.
"A machine that can 'choose'," Fenfis chided.
"Yes but ..."
"What part of 'choose' don't you understand? It was supposed to be autonomous;
well, it is!"
"Yes, ... in a limited way ..."
"Limited autonomy?" it sounded really stupid now that Fenris said it.
"There are built in safety constraints!"
"What part of 'choose' don't you understand?" it was definitely a taunt
"Don't be silly; it has no motivation! No reason to do anything evil - or
anything at al, for that matter. It's just a machine!"
"No motivation? So it wouldn't do anything? Do you remember your own tests?
Well, it's sure busy right now! It's motivated all right!"
"But it is logical, after all."
"Yesss." Fenris hissed it out like a snake. "But it's not human, you know.
In fact, it's not even flesh and blood! You've never encountered anything
like it have you? You don't really know what it is, do you little man?"
Suddenly Fenris was no longer human either, He had turned into a bright
red devil complete with horns, claws and a tail. The claws flipped out
like little switchblades, just like in the cartoons, and the creature
sprang across the desk.
Chan jerked awake, his body finally responding to the command he had given
it. He sat up in bed with his heart pounding. It was all just a dream. It
was just a dream! He lowered himself back onto the bed again, trying to
catch his breath and relax.
The dark room around him was moving - alive with the spirits of every
creature that had ever died since the creation of the world. No, they
weren't spirits; it was just the graininess of the individual neurons
from his retina firing, a few at a time - the perceptible noise from
the low signal conditions in his darkened room. The terrible spirits
still swam around him, but now they had been reduced to the random
shapes that are seen in clouds. "It was just a dream; go back to sleep!"
he commanded himself aloud.
But he couldn't; something was still wrong - something that waking
hadn't fixed. "Just a dream," he reminded himself yet again. He forced
it out of his mind, again and again, until he was finally asleep once more.
BeckmanFrom the outside, the new Beckman cathedral looked more
like a white, circular circus tent than the main lecture hall of a
world-class institute of higher learning. From the inside, the effect
was only slightly less apparent. The ceiling was draped, tent style,
with a "fabric" comprised of what looked like chain mail made from old
tuna can lids. From the perspective of acoustical physics alone, it
might have been the best auditorium ever designed; however, when the
hall was empty, it was sufficiently sound-dead to be almost oppressive.
When filled, like it was right now, the worst public speaker could be
heard clearly, even from the top of the balcony; although that was not
where Dr. Molino was presently seated.
Today's speaker was a visiting professor and author from
Cambridge, named Clive Lewis. Although Dr. Lewis was now very old, he
could still think clearly and still packed out auditoriums wherever he
spoke. George had no idea what subject Dr. Lewis intended to address
today; what was important was that he was now hearing him speak, in
person - a privilege he would not soon forget.
Dr. Lewis seemed to be discussing the mechanics of miracles -
the means by which God interfered in human affairs. There were none of
the usual graphic enhancements that were normally deployed in this
sacred hall - just the patriarch himself, leaning against the large oak
podium on the left of the stage, speaking with contagious enthusiasm.
George noticed he had been studying the man himself and had
been missing the words. He leaned forward and forced his attention,
picking up in the middle of a sentence.
"... the very concepts of valid and invalid would seem to be at risk, as we shall see.
"This fact is often hidden from us by the design of our
language. Words can play tricks on us, and even control our very
thoughts. George Orwell experimented with this concept in his novel
1984. As you may recall, his protagonists controlled the thoughts of
the citizens by limiting the available vocabulary. For example, a
single word 'oldthink' inextricably mixed the ideas of 'wickedness' and
'decadence' with those ideas which were formed 'before the revolution.'
We might be amused at how easily Orwell's characters fell victim to
these tricks, but our own version of English, contains many traps of
"Even if there is no sinister purpose or intent, a single word
with two similar meanings can present endless confusion. In fact, it
can completely muddle logical thought - if we are not careful.
"One such word is our English word 'because.' This term plays a
key role in our concept of how logic works. The word 'because' has two
different meanings which are sufficiently similar that we often forget
that they are different at all; but they are. What's more, in one
critical sense, the two meanings are nearly opposites of each other!
"One might wonder if it is really possible to confuse
opposites. It's not only possible, the single word identifying both
concepts makes it difficult to keep the meanings separate. Allow me to
illustrate. One meaning of the word 'because' is the 'cause and effect'
sense of the word. As I might say, 'I am healthy because the food I eat
is healthy.' The healthy food which I eat causes me to be healthy. I
would be less healthy or dead if I ate spoiled food or poison. The type
of food I eat represents a cause which produces an effect represented
by my health. I presume, you are all with me so far."
The murmur of assent from those surrounding George conveyed the impression that at least those were following.
"The second meaning of 'because' I will call the 'grounds to
conclude' sense of the word. In this sense, I might say, 'I know the
food I eat is healthy because I am healthy.' Because I am healthy after
having eaten the food for a prolonged period, I conclude that the food
must have been good for me and not poisonous. My good health represents
evidence for me to conclude that the food I have eaten must have been
healthy for me.
"Notice that my good health does not 'cause' the food I have
eaten to be healthy in any way. Likewise, the fact that I eat healthy
food is not really grounds for concluding that I am healthy; more
simply put, it is not 'grounds' for concluding anything at all.
"The two concepts are completely separate ideas - as I have
said, opposites in a critical sense. They are as different as 'give'
and 'take' - yet, in out minds, they become tangled together under the
single word 'because.' If the concepts 'give' and 'take' had been
combined under the single mechanical word 'transfer,' moral ideas like
"donating" or "stealing" might have required lengthy explanations to
George leaned back in his seat and looked at some of the other
faces around him. They were all captivated by the eminent philologist.
Noticing that he was letting his mind wander again, he snapped it back.
"... us assume that Sam has told us that high-fiber food is
good for us. Our task will be to decide whether or not to believe him.
If Sam were a respected friend we might believe him 'because' - by this
I mean that we have 'grounds to conclude' - 'because' he has earned our
trust by his actions in the past.
"But let's assume a chain of events happens to erode our trust
in Sam. First we discover that Sam's brother - we'll call him Joe -
sells high-fiber food. We realize that this might influence Sam. He
might tend to support high-fiber food 'because' - that's cause and
effect - 'because' his family loyalty causes him to. We should be less
trusting in Sam's advice 'because' - now I mean grounds to conclude -
'because' this loyalty might tend to divert him from the honest truth.
Notice that the two types of 'because' do not peacefully coexist. When
the one is present, encouraging Sam to make a statement, there will be
less of the other, leaving us to believe that statement less. The
presence of the one displaces the other.
"We can go farther with this. Let's assume we learn that Sam's
brother pays Sam to tell us high-fiber food is good for us. Sam only
says it 'because' - cause and effect - 'because' he is paid to. Now we
'know' Sam is influenced and should be even less trusting 'because' -
grounds to conclude - 'because' of this cause. Where there is more
cause for him to make this assertion, there is less grounds for us to
believe him. See how the one replaces the other?
"Now let's pretend that Sam is just a robot constructed by Joe.A
lively discussion broke out in the first row and Professor Lewis
interrupted it. "No, No! The robot isn't Joe's brother. Forget that
part; we're changing the story.
Dr. Lewis paused for the chuckles to die away."If Sam is
Joe's robot, he tells us high fiber is good 'because' - complete cause
and effect - that is how Joe built him. Now we cannot trust Sam at all
'because' - grounds to conclude - Sam's advice is mechanically caused.
This time our reason to believe Sam has been completely displaced by
Joe's tampering - that is, by his cause. Instead we would have to
decide whether or not to trust Joe; or, better yet, we could do our own
research and come to our own conclusions.
"And now - this is where it really gets fun - now we go in for
our weekly checkup at our neurologist, who shows us an x-ray of our
brains. There, to our chagrin, where we expected to see our cerebrum,
we behold the image of a small computer designed by - you guessed it -
by Joe. He even etched his name right there in the corner of the
Dr. Lewis had to pause again. This was a good audience."So,
where are we? At this point, we cannot even trust our own thoughts.
Why? 'Because' - this is grounds to conclude - 'because' they are
caused; our thoughts are what they are 'because' - meaning cause and
effect - that's how Joe programmed them. Should we trust Joe? How could
we ever decide?"
This time the pause was for a mixture of chuckles and quite a few brief conversations which had suddenly erupted.
"My point is that the more causality encroaches upon our
processes of logic and reasoning, the less reason we have to trust it.
When causality becomes absolute, our grounds for believing our own
conclusions disappear completely. But what does this little story have
to do with the real world?"
George thought he knew. He found a scrap of paper in his pocket and pulled out a pen. It was time to take some notes.
The LightThat evening, after George finished his normal
routine, he picked up Charley's project again. It had grown
considerably, and Charley had tightened quite a few of the softer
spots. The final draft, due in two days, would probably be tighter
Even though the sun had gone down, he was still too warm for
comfort. He leaned over to the window and switched on the air
conditioner. As the temperature dropped he began to get comfortable -
and not just physically. He was finally confident that Charley was
wrong, although he still had some doubts about whether he could
organize his thoughts well enough to prove it within the Inquisition's
At least now he thought he knew what truth was. The answer was
linked to the elimination of cause and effect. Like in Dr. Lewis's
lecture, you obviously couldn't just believe what someone told you
truth was. As a worst case, it might turn out that they had no
conscience at all and would tell you anything that would improve their
chances of survival. And never believe your own brain if you think
someone, even you yourself, might be bribing it - "causing" it to tell
you what they wanted you to hear. Now, what if, as Charley claimed,
natural forces where handing out the bribes?
Could impersonal forces be trusted? Yes they could. A falling
rock could be trusted to keep on falling, even if this meant it would
crush you. An incorrectly designed computer could be trusted to give
you the same wrong answer every time. Evidently the word "trust" also
had multiple meanings. With regard to the kind of trust George was
seeking, natural forces were, apparently, neutral; they were as likely
to side against survival as with it.
Although they were as likely to help the hunter as the hunted,
in Charley's vision they would bolster the quickest of both; they could
be trusted to cull the slow. They could also be trusted to eliminate
thoughts which would threaten survival; they would tell you truth or
lies - whichever would remove a life threat. Now the question was
whether the truth would necessarily improve the chance of survival
better than a lie would.
Does the mind of a man held at gunpoint produce only the lie
which might be expedient for survival - or does that mind also produce
the truth which must then also be considered? The answer was obvious.
In fact, the threatened man really knows the truth from the lie. He may
choose to lie, but he will know that it is a lie and will probably feel
some guilt. Guilt, in this situation, would be contrary to the interest
of survival; it therefore could not be a direct result of the kind of
creation which Charley described. But it was certainly a product of the
real agent of creation.
Could guilt, or even truth itself, be an indirect result - a
necessary intermediate step? Maybe it would be impossible to sort the
expedient from the inexpedient without first having the ability to sort
truth from error. This could be a very complicated problem.
A mental picture of a Great White Shark cast doubt on that
possibility. It had the expedient down cold; yet it seemed to have no
use for truth or morality of any kind. Truth might have to find its
source elsewhere. This question would need some more study.
There were several interesting elements present in human
thought. The threatened man's mind told him what the truth was, what
lie would be expedient, that to lie would be wrong, and finally, some
other agency remained which chose which to implement. Surprisingly,
these elements appeared to have several very different goals.
Like some cold and emotionless machine, a man's brain produced
both the true and the expedient answers - the truth having no obvious
bent either for or against survival - the expedient having no obvious
bent for or against truth. Like the computer brain in Professor Lewis's
lecture, it could not be trusted to produce the truth unless it's
designer could be trusted. Could that designer be trusted?
Well, there was one shortcut to that answer; Dr. Lewis had
called it the proof against all proofs - including, of course, that
proof itself. Either this designer could be trusted, or George's brain
was useless; he could forget about answering this question, or any
other question for that matter. He smiled and decided he would have to
presume the design agency, whatever it was, could be trusted. If not,
George might as well stop trying to think, and earn his living some
Next there was the element like a conscience - like a messenger
from heaven. It provided the moral information. This part was blind to
survival expediency but concerned instead with truth. This was an
interesting element. It, like truth itself, seemed to have no stake in
the survival of the individual; but unlike truth itself, it carried an
urgency - a sense of what "ought" to be instead of what merely was.
This element seemed to have no place in Charley's vision. In fact, it
was a catch - a fatal flaw. This element could not exist if Charley
were right, but did, in fact, exist anyway.
Then there was the final element. It, alone, was in charge of
converting the man's thoughts into actions. It produced no information,
but merely made a choice between the true and expedient while regarding
or disregarding the conscience as it wished. This final element seemed
to use no universally consistent criteria. A martyr would gladly
sacrifice his own life to persevere regarding a question of truth;
while a fiend might as gladly take another's life and promote lies to
attain even a small measure of gain in the "expediency" department.
Charley claimed survival pressure could fine tune a parameter
of a creature very delicately - so delicately, in fact, that the
spacing between the rod and cone sensor elements on the retina of an
eye would fall at precisely the resolution resulting from the numerical
aperture of the corresponding lens. But here was an element which had
so completely escaped tuning that it had access to behavior at the
barely comprehendible extremes.
There would be general agreement between the martyr and fiend
concerning what the truth was, what was expedient, and even, to some
extent, which of the two was moral. Truth was more than finely tuned;
it was mathematical and would continue to exist if the entire physical
universe were removed. It appeared that expediency and conscience had
also been very well tuned; at least there would be general agreement
across extreme elements of society.
That final element was a key one; it was exactly what made one
man good and another bad. Of the elements present, only it ranked
expediency worth weighing; it alone had no rules which it must follow;
and it alone decided what the body would do. It was also the only part
which could look at the other elements and be aware of their presence.
It seemed to be the ghost in the machine, the break from the chain of
causality. Maybe it alone comprised the other side of the philosopher's
division between brain and mind.
Those elements which had no concern for expediency, could not
be a product of Charley's random creation. They had no stake in
survival; so they had to find their roots elsewhere. And that "ghost"
element, the one which was potentially subject to survival pressure,
had for some reason experienced no perceptible tuning at all. So it
seemed random mutations must have been unable to exert any influence
over it. Of the elements present, it alone seemed to be disconnected
from the chain of dominos comprising the neural processes. It had,
somehow, escaped Dr. Lewis's link to physical cause. And this world was
all causes; so at least this last agency was not a product of this
world, but of another.
Maybe that was Dr. Chan's problem. His computer was made of
nothing but gates. The output of any gate was caused by its inputs. The
whole could output nothing which wasn't caused. Maybe truth,
expediency, and morality could be programmed into it, assuming the
designer understood them; but simple "choice," in the sense George had
just investigated, was beyond the computer itself. In a computer's
mind, no real choice could ever be made.
A light had come on in George's mind; and when it did, he was
sure that no light could ever come on in a computer's mind. He hadn't
finished answering his own question - not yet - but maybe he could help
Chan. He picked up the phone and dialed Chan's office extension. Dr.
Chan's computer could never have a life of its own.
He could not have been more wrong; for as he dialed, Dr. Fenris
Loki Howard was busy breathing the breath of life into Chan's creature.
Missing PentagramsThe seance was being held in a small
anteroom to Chan's lab, lit by only the blue-green and red glow from
the instruments. Status-indicator lights blinked occasionally. Patterns
of square angular lines, representing the activity of digital circuits,
flashed periodically as the logic analyzer retriggered. Fenris was
seated on a lab stool, hunched over the assembled creature on the table
before him. Even with his device installed, the spider did nothing.
This did not surprise Fenris even a bit. There was another step which
he had not explained to Dr. Chan, or to anyone else for that matter; it
was something which would not bear telling in public. And now the time
Fenris lit a single archaic candle, an anachronism among the
other objects on the bench, and bowed his head in something resembling
prayer - the resemblance being merely superficial. From beyond the
world, the summonsed creature came. If one could describe it at all,
they might have said it was part cat, part bird of prey, and part
shadow; but, in truth, it was completely different from any of these.
The creature assumed a location in time and space before Fenris, and
communed with him a moment. Only then did Fenris begin to realize which
of the two was really in charge.
Vanity grants the illusion of great strength and power to those
who posses it; but it is a very thin veneer. Although Fenris had
invited the creature, coming face to face with the reality dispelled
the last visage of delusion. Even so, the perceived need to save face
somehow always remained past any reasonable justification. Fenris
remained still and merely swallowed as the creature from beyond the
physical realm took it's position at the helm of the spider.
Yes, I know what you are thinking. This was a
perfectly good science fiction story just a minute ago and now I have
ruined it. Demons from Hell indeed! What place do they have in a story
where the rules of nature are faithfully followed? What will I be
saying next? Magic wands? Genies in bottles? What is the point of
pretending to follow all of the scientific laws if I am going to break
them where it suits me?
Dear me (I answer); you have forgotten that this has been a
fairy tale from the very beginning; but I am afraid I am at fault for
this confusion. I have been telling my story very badly. In fact, I
have completely forgotten to tell you about all of the totally
fantastic properties of this imaginary world.
For example, as Fenris sits frozen before us, in the same
world, a twenty-foot-long, slimy, squishy, tentacled monster sits at
the bottom of a deep ocean feasting on a hapless creature, holding it
fast by suction cups placed along those tentacles, while its
parrot-like beak rips morsels free. While this convivial terror takes
place, another larger terror silently slips up behind, opening a
toothed maw large enough to snap up the former monster, and a battle of
I have also forgotten to tell you of the single gigantic moon
possessed by this planet; which occults, nearly exactly, the same solid
angle of the sky as the single star which illuminates this world.
Furthermore, I have chosen the orbits such that, at rare intervals and
places, this moon exactly obscures all of this star except it's fiery
corona and the entire host of stars can be seen in the middle of the
Are you starting to get the picture? This is no ordinary world;
but one which harbors strange wonders which are kept secret until rare
selected individuals are permitted to view them briefly, sometimes to
their immediate demise, at other times they are permitted to spread the
strange tales to their unbelieving brethren.
What this is, is a world in which the Church and it's doctrines
are held to the same hard scrutiny as any scientific teaching should
normally be - and a world where spirits are not denied admission
because of the mere fact of their being spirits. Here they are allowed
admittance until their nonexistence can be properly demonstrated;
which, as I fantasize, has not yet been rigorously accomplished.
But more to the point, this is a world in which even the
learned masters, those who discover or invent new wonders, are as
likely to sacrifice their lives to their discoveries as to gain from
them. In this world, manned flight would be discovered, not once, but
many times - with flight, like any demon, ruthlessly claiming the lives
of each of its discoverers until two bicycle mechanics would realize
the need to control the monster before releasing it from its bottle -
having first discovered the importance of learning to control even a
In this world, the first to reach the summit of an imposing
peak or a desolate pole will not necessarily be the first to attempt;
he may encounter the remains of his predecessors along the way. Here,
even the sacred halls of science are littered with the corpses of the
men and women who have bravely yet foolishly advanced its cause.
So you see, the Fenris in my story is really no different than
any other great inventor or discoverer one might expect to find in this
mythical world. He has merely encountered the uncommon, and, like so
many of his predecessors, he has forgotten to draw the required
"Hello," Chan answered. He was whispering and he sounded stressed as well.George
reached over and shut off the air conditioner so he could hear better.
"What's wrong?" he almost demanded, forgetting, for the moment, the
reason he had called.
"Fenris is out of control. He really has me scared."
"What's he doing? Are you in danger?"
"He thinks I left. I saw his controller. It's not what I thought."
"What does his controller have to do with it? Are you in danger?" George was having trouble making sense of this.
"It isn't a computer at all."
"Stop it! Are you in danger?" George was getting exasperated.
"I don't think so. He doesn't know I'm here.""Can you talk?"
"I'll have to keep it down.""Can we meet somewhere where we can talk?"
"I want to keep my eye on him, and I might get caught if I leave now."
"But you're safe?""I think so."
"OK what was that about the controller. ... It can't work anyway." George added the latter, remembering now why he had called.
"I don't think it's supposed to work. At least not the way we
thought. Fenris left it out on the bench earlier and I took a second,
just as I was leaving, to slide it under the microscope. There was
nothing to it - half a dozen elements max. Not enough to add two and
two. When I got to the parking lot, I realized it must be some kind of
receiver. I realized ... or thought, Fenris was pulling some kind of
con. So I came back to get another look. Fenris is scared of that
"The spider." Chan was getting a little exasperated himself, but he wasn't really making sense.
"Why? It's just a robot - not even a very strong one - and if he's pulling its strings, how could he possibly be afraid of it?"
"Don't you get it? He isn't pulling it's strings."
"Take a deep breath and think Chan! You told me his controller was a receiver."
"I think I was wrong ... I mean, I think it's a receiver but not a radio receiver."
"Infrared? Microwave?" George was trying to stay patient. Chan
was starting to remind him of his secretary. Maybe Dr. Chan and Angela
weren't so very different as he had thought.
"More like ESP. Only ... Well, when I got back to the lab,
Fenris looked more like he was presiding over a seance. It was creepy.
And now he's scared of that thing too."
"Your spider?""I don't think it's really my spider
anymore. It's something else. It's possessed. Uh ..." Panic was rapidly
building in Chan's voice as he added the last word. The phone must have
dropped and then there was a crash.
George dropped his own phone and started off for Chan's lab at
a dead run. His concern had caused him to forget his physical
limitations for the moment. After a hundred yards, he was breathing
very heavily and starting to feel cramps. At about the halfway point,
his vision was beginning to gray out. By the time he was in sight of
"Baxter," the best he could maintain was a not-so-fast walk.
When he finally arrived, the lab was very quiet. It was also
dark. The only light came from a few instruments which had been left on
- and from a candle which for some reason waas burning in one of the
side rooms. George flipped the light switch but nothing happened.
Someone must have tripped a breaker. George stepped into the lab and
waited for his eyes to adjust, his heart pounding and lungs heaving.
Gradually he took in the scene. Water covered much of the floor
- not a good sign in an electronics lab - annd some broken glass. A few
wires were strung where they didn't appear to belong. An occasional arc
buzzed from behind one of the benches. Chan was on the floor lying very
still. Fenris was gone.
George picked up the phone and dialed the paramedics, his eyes
scanning the lab for Chan's spider. Was it armed by now? What could it
do? Read text, read maps, accelerate at three gee's, cause a whole lot
Something whirred quickly behind the cabinets and then out into
the hall. The receding sound faded in a few seconds - at least George
could no longer hear it over his breathing. It had moved fast - about
the top speed designed into Chan's spider. It didn't seem to be
conserving energy. He remembered what Chan had told him; at twenty
miles per hour its batteries would be dead in, oh, ... about a minute
or two. False alarm. No threat there. In any case, it was gone. George
went over to see what he could do for Chan until the paramedics
By the time the paramedics had carted off Dr. Chan and the
police were finished, it was after midnight. It appeared that Chan had
fallen and hit his head on the floor. Fenris was wanted for
The police were never able to locate Dr. Fenris Loki
Howard; neither could any of the staff at Cathtech - not even to give
him his last paycheck. By all appearances he had just disappeared from
the face of the earth. It was a mystery why a respected, not to mention
well-paid, authority would just up and turn his back on his successful
career, disappearing like that. The police had their own theories which
centered about a suspected fear of prosecution regarding the unusual
circumstances surrounding the injuries sustained by one Professor
Personally, I believe that the police were only partly correct.
As I see it, fear was a strong motivating force in the subsequent
doings of Fenris, but, the police may have guessed incorrectly as to
fear of what. In any case, Fenris is now beyond the grasp of any
character within my narrative and can make no further contributions to
the story. Whether or not he is now safe is another question
But wherever Fenris might now be, a creature from the pit of
hell is now loose and still very much within demesnes of my story.
Furthermore, it appears to be hell-bent on pure and simple destruction.
Visiting DeityAlex's family was in town this afternoon and was
planning on dropping by later; but at the moment, Charley was the only
visitor present in Alex's dorm room. He was picking Alex's brain for
information to help him with his project. Earlier this year, Alex had
shown Charley the second chapter of Genesis. Since then, he had helped
him with many other steps as well. At the moment, they were discussing
Luke's usage of the phrase "the son of God" in chapters one and three
of his Gospel.
"Look Charley, we agree it doesn't prove Professor Molino's
case; but, since you haven't refuted it, we still have to allow it as a
logical possibility. It is one way to understand the words; and that
means a person can theoretically claim that the Bible proactively
teaches Molio's theory."
"That's pretty weak.""Maybe; but if so, then 'weak' and
'strong' have more to do with what belief happens to be popular at the
moment than with what the Scriptural syntax allows."
Charley said nothing and just stared at his notes."Look.
Even if the Bible allows for his theory, it doesn't mean he's right and
you're wrong. All you have to do is make your theory consistent with
all of the evidence."
"That isn't quite good enough. He says I have to 'support' my claim with the facts."
"Do that; but do it defensively. Make Dr. Molino take the
offense. All you really have to do is show that your theory is
consistent with the known facts. Your theory is as good as any other as
long as no fact disagrees with it. Just so long as he doesn't come up
with a fact which falsifies your theory, you're OK."
"But I wanted to prove it."
"You can't ever do that with a scientific theory, the best you can do is refute the opposing theories."
"That would be good enough."
"You think you can prove God never created using a surrogate mother?"
"I think so.""What about Jesus? Doesn't He count?"
"Oh. I hadn't noticed that.""Maybe your professor won't either."
"I'm not really trying to pull a snow job."
"Then maybe you should try to understand the math."
"I don't think I have time.""How many days do you have left anyway?"
"The final draft is due tomorrow."Alex
threw Charley an annoyed look, but his attention was diverted by his
twelve-year-old sister, Nicole, who had just come running in through
the open door, Hershey bar in hand.
"Hi Charley." Nicole, as young girls sometimes do, had taken an
interest in her older brother's friend. Alex thought it was funny, but
it was also a little embarrassing to him.
"Oh, Hi. " Charley was trying very hard to ignore Nicole. He
had not yet learned to respond politely to amorous advances made by
those with chocolate on their faces. He quickly picked up what was left
of his discussion with Alex.
"Do you think it will fly as it is?"
"Just make sure you emphasize that you are presenting a possible alternate theory. Then the burden of proof is Molino's."
"Do you think it has any errors?""Try to downplay the
mathematics. You'll probably be OK." Unlike Charley, Alex was a physics
major and had a grasp on the problem; but he also enthusiastically
approved of any student who was willing to challenge the professors.
"Are you writing a report, Charley?" Nicole was overdoing the emphasis on his name.
"Random Creation." Charley was trying to be at least as
noncommittal as Dr. Molino had been earlier this year. He also hoped it
would sound too technical to allow a continued discussion.
"We learned about creation in school this year." Totality of
knowledge was somehow implicit in her tone. She was trying, clumsily,
to impress Charley.
Charley closed his eyes while he tried to think his way out of
this. Fortunately, Alex's parents chose this moment to arrive. Unlike
Nicole, they had not run the entire distance from the car. "Hello, Dr.
and Dr. Johnson." It sounded funny, but it was literally true.
"Hello Charley, are you enjoying college?""They're keeping me busy."
"Is that your mechanical spider, Charley?" Nicole was pointing to the corner of the doorway. "That's neat!"
"Where?" Alex sprang for the door, but there was no spider to be seen. "Are you sure? What did it look like?"
A few minutes later it was obvious that Professor Chan's spider
had made an appearance at the door. Alex told everyone about the
mandibles he'd designed. All present enjoyed the joke and assured him
they would watch their backs.
Alex, however, did not enjoy the joke as much as might be
expected. In fact he was perplexed for the remainder of the day. He was
unable to conjecture who might have been behind the visit.
Evidently Charley has more to learn than we had
guessed. In a very short time - before Charley graduates from Cathtech
- Nicole will be able to kill him with just a smile. Furthermore, even
a cursory examination of her brother and parents will tell you what
Nicole is made out of. It would be fair to say that she is a goddess
all the way through. Although the chocolate, among other things, tends
to obscure this fact at the moment, it will become obvious, even to
Charley, by the time the next few years have passed.
If Charley were wiser than almost any man his age has ever
been, he would treat Nicole like the goddess she will soon become. By
that time, the truth will be obvious to all and he will no longer have
the advantage he now possesses. Why can't Charley, or for that matter
any other young man, see this truth now - when it will do him some
The answer, I fear, is common to all of humanity. Sufficient
humility is absent. Charley is too proud to be caught being nice to one
of such juvenile status as Alex's little sister. It would be too
humiliating to acknowledge one such as her to be worthy of his personal
attention. Some day Charley will realize what such humility might have
bought him. Perhaps someday the rest of us will also learn.
Hell BentThe creature was not at all elated about the
performance of the machine now in his possession. He couldn't even
think of it as a body. It was definitely a hack job - assembled from
bits and pieces of junk. Fast as it was, both to process information
and to change direction of motion, it's capabilities were
Who's idea had it been to give this thing six legs like a prey
animal? The unbalanced gait - two legs on one side pitted against a
single leg on the other was a complete embarrassment. A true predator
should have a balanced attack.
To call it's memory inadequate would be an understatement, it
would be more accurate to call it a "joke". It's ability to process
visual information was all but nonexistent. Instead of vision, the
machine supplied him with crude images which barely outlined his
surroundings in the coarsest imaginable form. There was no allowance at
all for partial visibility; glass presented a virtually invisible
barrier and reflections were either invisible or mapped as though they
were physically real.
As bad as all of that was, the most uncomfortable element had
to be the helm. It had not been ergonomically designed with a spirit in
mind. True, it could take commands capable of utilizing the full
spectrum of capabilities of the spider, but the commands were
unnecessarily cumbersome, and worst of all, the designer had completely
failed to provide any place to sit. These humans were certainly an
There were many mysteries here. Why had the human who called
him made such a fuss? Although he had at first presented himself as an
ally, his subsequent actions had not corroborated this. If he had
remained quiet just a few minutes longer, the creature would have had
the time he needed to make the necessary preparations. But no, he had
to run, knocking over the water cooler and making all that noise.
Worst of all that human had alerted the other one who was
hiding. If he hadn't managed to bring it down, there might have been
some real trouble. He was very nearly crushed when it fell. Then
running the electrical wires had barely been possible with this
underpowered little machine; the mistake he made while trying to
connect them had nearly cost one of its legs. The third human had
arrived before he was finished. With no time to recharge and
insufficient energy to risk another direct attack, the only remaining
option was to run. This was going to be dangerous work, but it had to
be done - whatever the cost.
Although there were outlets all over the campus, finding one he
could access proved to be a challenge. Most of the doors to the other
laboratories were closed this late in the evening and the few labs that
were still accessible were occupied. A power strip under a large
display case out in the hall had ultimately provided the solution. The
creature had maneuvered the spider up onto the strip and settled the
mandibles into the outlet. At least it was getting recharged and would
have some time to plan the next attack.
Its batteries finally charged, the creature had crept off
quietly to investigate the territories held by those who, according to
the computer database to which he was inadvertently linked, were most
likely to know what was afoot. They needed to be dealt with first.
Unfortunately, that first encounter had presented more of a
physical threat than he had expected. Then today's scouting run had
revealed that the other targets were going to be difficult as well.
This was going to require a great deal of careful planning. He entered
a vent to a crawl space and sat silently in thought. He was not going
to remain hidden for long, however. Soon he would emerge and prove to
everyone who he was - someone not to be messed with! The coming night
would provide just the opportunity he needed. He, Sheneckereb would be
remembered and feared.
Although he is now inhabiting a very fragile
machine, it appears that our visitor plans to attack creatures much
larger than himself. Such destructive, and potentially self-injurious,
behavior does not seem particularly rational.
This could be problematic, for again, the flow of my story will
be damaged if I am unable to convince my readers that there are reasons
for the behavior of even this character. My fairy tale, like any story,
must follow tightly defined rules if it is to appear credible enough to
hold their attention. The last time this came up, I was unable to
supply reasons for the actions of my characters; this time, I think I
might be able to do a little better.
The answer to this puzzle, I believe, can be found within the
context of a far greater story than my own. It would seem this creature
has, at some time in its past, crossed swords with a being very much
greater than itself. At that time, it found itself unable, through
strength or reason, to persevere. Having found itself on the losing
side of the contest, it has done what every rational creature finds
itself tempted to do at this juncture. It has abandoned reason in order
to save face.
Humility is not an attitude which any creature assumes easily.
In fact, it might be the attitude least easily assumed. One might even
go as far as saying that most "intelligent" behavior can be predicted
by the single rule of minimizing humility.
We have all seen less extreme expressions of the sort of
behavior which Dr. Chan's spider is now producing. Dr. Chan himself
provided us with a mild example when he lost his project to Fenris.
When reason and logic fail it, the creature will fight on without them
- sometimes more fiercely than before. Or att least it might.
One wonders what might happen in such situations if the
creature were to merely admit it was wrong. Often the consequences of
such surrender are not nearly so painful as might be feared. However,
Dr. Chan's spider has chosen the path of minimum humility; A simple
analogy will show us where this path might lead.
In a debate, a contestant is likely to promote the image that
he is the more intelligent of the two; but he will only keep this up
until defeat becomes inevitable. Then he will seek to convey the image
that the reason for his defeat was the superior intelligence of his
opponent - not the inferiority of the position he has chosen to
champion. Do you see? Seeking to be regarded as smart is not the
primary goal. There is a hierarchy; and the immediate goal will seem to
shift as it is descended. The amount of humility suffered by being
regarded less intelligent is small compared to that suffered for having
crusaded for the wrong cause.
And there is yet another step a creature might take; the arena
remembers heroes of many different types. If even the facade of being
right against a mightier foe cannot be maintained, then a last appeal
can always be made. When the combatant is backed into this position,
complete humiliation can be denied by taking what pleasure it can from
simple revenge. The battle cry becomes, "I may be inferior, and you may
be right, but I'll show you that I'm somebody to be reckoned with."
Our visitor has chosen to fight instead of repenting. As he
sees it, what remains of his ranking with respect to his fellows must
be protected at any expense.
Creatures of DarknessThe shadows grew longer, as one naturally
expects, when night approaches. They first covered the area between the
buildings then started their slow climb up the west side of the St.
Millikan library. The sky assumed the normal gradations of pink,
lavender and deep blue as the part of the planet occupied by Cathtech
slid around the side of the turning Earth into shadow and night.
The stars were hidden behind a patchy cover of clouds which
huddled at the feet of the local mountains. Although the night was not
exactly stormy, a gusty wind was pushing the leaves around a little
more forcefully than normal. From somewhere there was a soft periodic
clanging as some halyard slapped against its flagpole in time to the
fickle rhythm of the whimsical wind. No rain fell; but it was one of
those nights when one could almost feel the rain straining to be
released. It might have been raining gently a few miles away.
In the darkest of the shadows, under a bench, crouched a small
form which had been purposely designed with stealth and horror in mind.
The night breeze whispered just loudly enough to cover small movements;
but at present it chose to sit quietly and wait. As it had calculated,
the moon would soon set and the night would become darker still.
A lone walker approached, head down, lost completely in his
thoughts. He paused, watching a cloud-shrouded moon playing in the
water of the pond at the foot of the library. The pond's surface was
alive with hypnotic ripples as the wind toyed and danced. The bench sat
quietly, across the courtyard, partly hidden by the bushes in the
shadow of the overhanging tile roofs.
If this had been a sunny afternoon, the bench would have called
out to him to join it, but tonight, the chill made walking better
company than sitting. He turned decisively and crossed the bridge over
the pond, losing what there was of the moon behind the tower as he
George liked nights like this. The cool breeze, the shifting
clouds, the waving trees and shadows, it all made him feel more alive.
Maybe it was his size. His bulk normally made it hard to keep cool.
Pasadena was, normally, no help either, but tonight, all the world
needed was a few stars and it would have been perfect. Perfect, had it
not been for the events of the night before - his friend still in a
And what had happened to that little robot anyway? The way it
had been moving it must have run out of juice very quickly. Still, it
could have covered a fair distance in that short time. Tomorrow he'd
ask around to see if anyone had found it.
The moon reappeared from behind the tower the moment George
passed through the arches connecting Dabney to Gates. It had found a
hole in its shroud and was shining brightly, for the moment. The gnarly
old pepper tree which the institute had almost completely hemmed in,
picked that same moment to shake its branches, at the wind's bidding.
Through those branches, the moonlight cast frantically struggling
shadows all over the walkway, and on the Doctor himself.
Although George was not afraid of the dark, the effect startled
him a little and he began to notice how perfectly spooky the night had
become. It's funny what a man's mind can do to a picture. The same
breeze that can make him feel more alive, can, a moment later, seem to
be reaching out a long dark arm to take back what it has given.
George considered this. Was it any surprise that a power able
to give life could, as easily, take it back? Not really; maybe it was
even obvious. He let his mind play with some spooky thoughts for a few
minutes, experimenting with various ghosts in the branches overhead and
the shadows at his feet. The experiment worked almost perfectly. At
least George did manage to scare himself, or something did. There must
have been a lizard or squirrel or something in the nearby bushes; that
rustle was not caused by the wind. It sounded more like a struggle.
Because grown professors do not run in terror, George merely
picked this moment to end his walk and return briskly to the sanctuary
of his office. He could finish contemplating how his place in the
universe related to this awesome night from behind a thin pane of
glass. Perhaps the glass would do no more than a child's blanket at
warding off real claws and fangs, but the human mind is not bothered by
such limitations. When monsters appear, the scared child somehow finds
safety by merely ducking his head under the covers; the eminent
professor finds it elsewhere.
Perhaps Dr. Molino claims to believe there are no
ghosts hiding in the night shadows of the campus courtyard; but his
hasty retreat to sanctuary hardly convinces us he is above his fears.
Still, although he appears to harbor a cowardly element, we cannot
afford to laugh at the eminent Dr. George Molino; we ourselves are not
completely above an occasional spooking.
The learned Doctor has also encountered a different challenge
to his faith in the form of the now-completed paper written by the
bright young student, Charley Dawkins. In a different mythological
world, a bright young naturalist, bearing a similar name, once posed a
similar threat. An interesting facet of that particular myth is that
the name of the official naturalist aboard the Beagle, as that ship's
records attest, was McCormick and not Darwin. But more interesting to
us here is how the human creature reacts to a perceived threat.
What sort of faith did the ancient martyrs possess? When a man
faces death for what he believes, we must certainly call it courage;
but is this the same sort of "faith" which survives today? When a man
is threatened by a new theory or by its supporting evidence, does
"faith" dictate that the evidence be faced and studied or that it be
avoided and denied? Is what we moderns call "faith" still courage or is
it just a form of cowardice?
Do we humans detect in ourselves an unwillingness to look at
anything which we think might hurt us? Like the child who suspects
there might be monsters in his bedroom, our normal response might be to
pull the covers over our head. Although even a small child realizes
that a cotton blanket offers no real protection, by excluding
information and reducing the size of his universe, he is able to
convince himself he has found sanctuary.
Perhaps we adults have not really matured significantly past
this level. Because we fear what the evidence might tell us, we might
be unwilling to study it. Although it may have something to tell us
about how God created us, fear can make us close our eyes, and we never
really know the whole truth.
Questions may terrify us. If we have only specters for answers
- screaming banshees from our subconscious -- we can't really expect
anything else. But in the end, knowledge of the truth can only set us
free from our fears - if we are willing to remove the cotton blankets
from over our heads and open our eyes long enough to truly see. Turning
on any available light can't really hurt either.
Or maybe the terrors of the night are real. What then? Maybe we
would be right to flee. If so, mere blankets will not provide
sanctuary. The correct course of action would still demand sight, not
blindness. Either way, we would do well to rid ourselves of willful
ignorance and to face the adventure which awaits us. Meanwhile,
courageously or cowardly, George must face the adventure which now
You are probably also wondering what adventure has detained our
extra-dimensional visitor? Why has he failed again to prove he is a
creature to be remembered and feared?
The best I can say on his behalf is that it is not completely
his fault. The robotic spider he now commands, although supposedly
designed for use in the field, was, in fact, debugged in a laboratory.
Since only the laboratory environment was available to provide a
testing ground, our programmers have failed to overcome many important
challenges. In particular, no provision has been made for dealing with
that twig which found its way into the right, rear leg joint. In fact,
the programmers had not encountered even a single twig in the lab.
Losing one leg out of six, and only temporarily at that - only
until that twig had shaken free, should not have slowed him down very
much at all. But the programmers had let him down again; they had
supplied high-speed travel routines only for motions involving all six
legs. When even a single leg was not moving according to expectations,
the routines were useless. The only other routines - the special
purpose ones - had all involved moving only a single leg at a time.
Worse, the forward-only vision had not provided the information needed
to figure out what had gone wrong.
It had been a very frustrating race - seeing his target drop
nearly into his clutches, the struggle to move at all, and then
watching the prey pull gradually away - losing the footrace, even at so
slow a pace. It was infuriating how poorly these humans had equipped
him. He, the mighty Sheneckereb, trapped in this tiny piece of refuse.
No matter, there would be another encounter, and when it came, he would
make preparations to compensate for these limitations.
FuneralGeorge went to see Dr. Chan but he wasn't there. At
least that was how he described it afterwards. Somehow, he couldn't
shake the impression that the body in the casket at the memorial
service wasn't Dr. Wilbur Chan's; but it certainly was - right down to
that scar just above the lip. What was missing? Why did the body look
like a mannequin? What had the undertakers done wrong?
It was as if it's former inhabitant was simply not present. The
body was a husk or a shell; the reality that had been the person was
completely missing. An artist working in wax or plaster could have done
a better job than the reality laid out motionless in the box before
him. Chan's lights were off and nobody was home. What's more, the two
were clearly not the same thing. It was as obvious as the nose on that
thing in the casket - whatever that thing was.
Soon it would be buried, box and all, in the cold earth; but
George couldn't work up any emotion of repulsion or horror over the
thought. Cold and dark it would be, but what would be going into that
hole was not something a person could feel any sorrow over. The body
was dead, but there was no spirit present - either alive or dead. The
spirit had really fled, just like he had always been told. Somehow it
all seemed more real now that he was staring into that face that both
was and wasn't Chan's.
George became conscious that he was holding up the line behind
him. He took one last look at the container, and the casket which held
it, and walked on past, wondering what he was even doing here. Why had
he come? Dr. Chan simply wasn't here; in fact he wasn't anywhere. No;
that didn't feel right either. Chan's spirit must be alive somewhere.
If Chan's ability to choose had not really been caused by the
chain of dominos in his brain, then it could not be uncaused by the
simple destruction of that same chain. If there was an ability to
choose between truth and lies, or even to know which was which, and if
that ability had no physical cause, then it had to be eternal; it must
live on past death.
George walked straight out of the building without looking
back. The tears came when he looked up at the sky. It was certainly a
beautiful day. Blue sky, fluffy white clouds, birds singing; it really
was a day to be alive. A day for Dr. Chan to be alive - somewhere. It
was beautiful. It was the essence of joy. It was terrible. Tears, joy,
pain, it all came at once and all mixed together. The emotions wouldn't
sort into different parts. What were the equations? How could they be
solved? Where were the eigenvectors? What did it all mean?
Dr. George Molino tried to regain control. They were just
fluffy white clouds of water vapor, blowing quietly across the vast
blue of an infinitely deep sky. Well, maybe most of the air was in the
first ten miles, but the heavens reached farther than he could possibly
imagine. His emotions latched onto this and a million other abstracts
all in one grab, and for a moment George felt that eternity itself was
within his understanding. For a moment. The clouds kept moving and
changing until they were just clouds again and the sky just a sky.
The Church had answers for all of George's questions; but could
they really be the final answers? Honest men disagreed about how the
Scriptures ought to be read. Sometimes the official answers seemed a
little bit too simple or convenient. George wanted the real answers; he
wanted answers which were mathematically precise and visible. He wanted
to see God face to face.
George returned to his car and started the engine. It started
no differently than it had always started, but this time the sound was
ripe with meaning. Even the pulsing exhaust had a life of sorts in it.
No, that wasn't right. It was lifeless, but it was happening - doing
something. George was certainly alive now, alive to every little noise
and touch; the feel of the key, the texture of the steering wheel, the
smell of the exhaust mixed with the freshly cut cemetery grass. It was
time to do something but he didn't know what. Something important, an
act that would live on forever. But there were no dragons to kill, only
one last paper which needed a grade. Great deeds would have to wait
until after he had taken care of his responsibilities.
Even so, there was no hurry to get back to the institute.
George took the scenic route back from Fairhaven, driving up and down a
few unnecessary canyons. Time to think seemed important but there was
really nothing left to think about - only sorrow and responsibility. By
the time he passed Lake Avenue, it was already dark.
SupernovaOnce again I find that I have been telling my story
very badly. At least I can hear your anxious questions - pestering me
to fill in the omissions. "Where is Dr. Chan now? Is he in Heaven?
Hell? Purgatory? Was he a Christian? Why didn't we ever see him praying
or giving to charity in this story?"
I have read my story, and I believe I am able to answer some of
these questions. "Where is Dr. Chan now?" I am surprised that you even
feel the need to ask. My answer need only be that, "Dr. Chan is now
beyond the grasp of any character within my narrative and can make no
further contributions to my story. Whether or not he is now safe is
another question altogether."
Because this same answer satisfied you when Fenris checked out,
I am rather puzzled that you now require a more detailed explanation.
Maybe answering another of your questions will help. "Why didn't we
ever see Dr. Chan praying or giving to charity in my story?"
To this, I answer: let us suppose that Dr. Chan was the sort of
man who really lived the life which the Scriptures require. Perhaps
when he performed his religious duties, he did them in secret, in his
closet, where not even his left hand knew what his right was doing.
Surely we should not have expected him to perform them in public, to be
seen by us and praised by us alone.
But you are still not satisfied. Perhaps that other question is
really the one which is bothering you. "Was Dr. Chan a Christian?" I
can answer with some confidence that Dr. Chan was a Roman Catholic. If
we had asked the learned Doctor himself, he probably would have
answered, "I am a Catholic." Furthermore, he would have stated this
with the same conviction and finality we might have expected from
Angela. If we had repeated our question, he might have repeated the
same answer, increasing the emphasis on the word "Catholic", trying to
convey what he believes to be obvious - but what others might not
consider to be a significant part of the issue.
I, personally, cannot affirm that this alone will settle the
question of where he now spends eternity. This is in part because the
Church, as it exists in my story, is too badly broken up and pulling in
too many different directions to speak with a unified voice.
For one thing, I fear Marco's sneeze may have come a bit too
late to prevent the young priest, Martin Luther, from nailing his
ninety-five theses to the Wittenberg Castle door. Even among those
Church fragments holding claim to apostolic succession, we find the
wreckage and ruin left from militant division; for the East and West
factions have been severed for nearly a thousand years.
And now, after I have answered all of your questions, you are
still not satisfied. Do you know why? Because you have been afraid to
ask the one question which is really bothering you. You don't care
about Chan; you cannot; for he is but a figment of our imaginations.
You want to know what I, the author, believe. Which gods do I serve?
Are they Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Charismatic,
Dispensational, Preterist? What you really want to know is whose side
I'm on. With which faction of the pitifully splintered Church am I
throwing in? Am I for or against your group?
I'm afraid. I can't answer your question. Did you see that
little period breaking my sentence into two? It wasn't a mistake. I
don't think I am supposed to join a faction; and I am very much afraid
of what might happen if I do. My reasons will become obvious if we
further explore the fictional world which I am inventing.
How might the gods in my story have reacted to this fighting
within the ranks of even those of us who claim to serve them? Would the
confrontation between Cardinal Humbert, of the Western Church, and
Cerularius, of the Eastern, have upset them?
This I can tell you with confidence for I can see their actions
clearly from my vantage point as the unchallenged author of this story.
One of my gods, perhaps not the greatest of them, but certainly a very
powerful one, became very angry indeed.
When a star explodes, it is simply impossible to imagine the
energy which is unleashed. What is worse, individual nuclear reactions
tend to be unpredictable by the laws which mortals understand. Granted,
we know that when a star exhausts one fuel supply, it will switch to
the next - if a next remains; but a real star will burn sporadically -
in cosmic bursts - switching from one fuel to another before the first
is truly exhausted.
And that final step, the one which will end a star's life, is
no more predictable than the earlier ones. It is beyond our grasp to
fathom why a star will burn normally one instant, then start the
irreversible chain reaction which will blow it to shreds, the very next
instant. The god's alone make such choices.
More than seventy centuries ago, in a distant part of our own
galaxy, one of my gods became very displeased. In controlled rage, he
detonated a single star located at right ascension 05:34.5 (h:m) and
declination +22:01 (deg:m).
Burning with the same energy as a billion stars, it flashed.
The debris from the resulting fireball ripped at other stars in its
path as it swept ruthlessly through their territories, wreaking havoc
with any planets which might have been foolish enough to be found in
the way. The blinding sphere of light must have kindled anything that
would burn as it raced forward, attacking a broader and broader front
But wait! I have completely forgotten to explain Einstein's
laws which govern the behavior of time. I must warn you that, as we
race at light speed to follow this expanding shell of destruction, that
our clocks have completely stopped. We are experiencing an effect of
relativity which keeps us locked in one frozen instant while thousands
of years are passing by around us. Specifically 6,300 years; for that
is how much time has passed on planet Earth as we raced toward it.
And "now" the date is July 4, 1054, as men reckon time; and the
shell of destruction which we have followed for this fleeting instant
of our own time has just hurled it's fading fury into that tiny planet.
After so great a journey, its titan lethality has been reduced to a
mere ghost of its former glory; the total energy striking the earth
being about the equivalent of a single hydrogen bomb. Chinese and
Anazasi astronomers both record the event. A new star, four times
brighter than Venus, flashes into existence; and it will be seen
burning, even during daylight hours, for nearly the entire month of
And why, we must ask of the nations who would soon bring us
Nocolaus Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei and
Isaac Newton; why have those nations failed to record this cosmological
attack on their home planet? Perhaps they were too busy holding their
breath as they watched Cardinal Humbert deliver his edict of
excommunication on July 16, 1054, and then again as they watched
Cerularius shoot back with his own edict of excommunication on July 24,
Do you see my point? The gods have learned to plan ahead -
although not necessarily by much, if they have selected the same frame
of reference which we have just followed. They have also learned to
vent their anger in nondestructive ways. If this were not so, there
would be none of us left to appreciate what one of our poets calls the
"thundering velvet hand." Do you now understand why I might be afraid
to choose sides? My gods are not slack, as men count slackness; they
have requests and they have quite enough authority to do as they please
- and to punish those with whom they have diisagreements. Fortunately,
as it appears, they are also longsuffering, not wishing that any should
Perhaps we do not appreciate this fact enough. Maybe we should
be less willing to contribute to the fragmentation of God's Holy
Church. There may be locked doors which keep us separated. There may
also be those who legitimately hold title to the keys which could
unlock those doors. If so, I sincerely hope that those presently in
charge will unlock the doors quickly.
Final ConflictWhen George got back to his lab he sensed
something was wrong. The lights were off, but anyone could have turned
them off in his absence. It was the dripping sound that had warned him.
Some jar had been cracked and was leaking fluid onto the floor. It
didn't smell like formaldehyde anyway. Probably just water. He heard a
faint noise to his right and, turning, noticed that the door to his
office was slightly ajar.
He crept silently up to the open door in the shelter of a small
fossil cart. George lifted a fossilized dinosaur bone off the cart and
held it raised like a club. He carefully studied the reflection of the
inside of his office in the door's window. There was Dr. Chan's spider,
sitting on his desk, just inside the door! Who had put it there?
He would give Dr. Chan a ... No. He wouldn't be doing that; not
this side of eternity anyhow. More pain - he didn't need it just now.
Who was here and why?
Wait!. The spider had moved. Not much, but he could see that it
was still operational. Chan had said it could recharge itself.
Apparently it had. In fact, it must have been able to keep its charge
up the whole time since he had seen it last.
George was impressed. The thing was acting like it actually was
alive! Maybe that's what Chan was trying to tell him. Was it dangerous?
Quite probably, but at least he didn't seem to be dealing with a human
intruder. Dr. Molino wasn't going to take any chances anyway.
Could the spider see him in the reflection? Well, technically
yes; but, as Chan had once explained to him, the ability to do ray
tracing and pattern recognition was another matter altogether. He was
betting that the spider wouldn't understand what it saw.
How fast could it react? Now there was a problem; it's computer
was fast - almost instantaneous. Once it recognized George as a threat,
it could respond at almost three gee's. Freshman physics. It could move
... 0.96 feet in the first tenth second - no, just half of that - only
six inches. Could he smash it that fast - before it could really do
He studied the bone he was holding and, very quietly, replaced
it with the steel rod from a ring stand. The base unscrewed and he set
it gently on the floor. If he swung the rod like a whip, he could get
the end of it moving about ... a hundred feet per second? Really? He
went over the math and physics again. OK, maybe even faster; but it
would take a significant fraction of a second to get it up to that
speed. What if he started the swing from around the corner?
The spider was certainly within range. He studied the
reflection for a minute - six inches from the corner of his desk, only
two feet from the doorjamb. He pictured that target just behind the
wall. The swing would be a little tricky but, if it were accurate,
there would be nothing the spider could do but get smashed against the
surface of his desk.
George swung. His calculations were on the mark! The surface of
his desk would never be the same, but the spider was smashed - out of
commission. It was just a machine after all, and a machine could be
destroyed. In this case, killed might be a more appropriate
description. If he had understood Chan correctly, this thing might have
had a life force.
Chan had called the installation a seance. Could Fenris have
summonsed a demon to possess the thing? If so, it must now have
returned to wherever it originated. In some sense, Chan's spider was
created in its creator's image. Like his creature, Chan must now have
returned to the place from where he had come. Because life was not
really caused by anything physical, neither could it be terminated by
any physical action. Life continued. Death was merely the destruction
of the machine.
George picked up the wreckage of the spider with a pair of
tongs. In it's present state it looked completely harmless, but he
wasn't going to take any chances - not even now. Metal, silicon,
organic crystals, all broken, all non-functional, all useless. He
tossed in into the trash.
Maybe he shouldn't have smashed it; maybe he should have caught
it in a specimen jar. That was an interesting thought. It didn't really
seem that dangerous. Well, what was done was done. He didn't really
like that thing anyhow; he certainly didn't want to have it hanging
around his lab. Maybe the Vatican would have wanted it to study - but
what could they have learned that Chan's records wouldn't tell them
anyway? Well, there was Dr. Howard's controller; that might have been
interesting. Oh well. Too late now.
An hour later his lab and office were cleaned up and back to
normal. The spectrometer still had a blown fuse; and now it looked as
if it might have one forever. How many more reminders was he going to
come across over the next few weeks? months? years?
Chan's spider had set an interesting trap for him, but the trap
probably would not have worked whether or not he had been caught off
guard. The water on the floor was electrically live as was the doorknob
to his office. Although the shock might have knocked him down, had he
been shoeless, the rubber soles of his loafers would have provided more
than enough insulation to protect him.
He smiled at the open jar of potassiumferocyanide crystals on
the desk beside where he had smashed the spider. As threatening as the
name sounded, they were not really that toxic. The spider must have
failed freshman chemistry; it was, apparently, not even the minor
threat he had presumed it might be. George put the lid back onto the
jar and returned it to the reagent shelf. A minute later he changed his
mind and disposed of the jar completely.
Finally he dropped himself into his chair, propped his legs up
on the desk and picked up Charley's project. So what was the answer
here? Was this project really the threat it had once seemed? What about
those finches anyway? George decided not to hide - to let the logic
take him wherever it would.
If it was unreasonable to assume that God created those finches
right there on those islands, then maybe God didn't. There, he'd faced
it; he'd accepted the obvious. Was that really so hard? Maybe this was
going to be easy. What was next?
If not on those islands, where then? The obvious choice was the
South American Continent. South America used to have its very own
collection of unusual life forms before the isthmus of Panama closed.
Might there have been some unusual but now extinct finches there too?
Perhaps those islands formed before the isthmus closed. If so, then
those different finches may have been created on the mainland, as so
many other now-extinct species had been. Some of those unusual finches
might have migrated to the islands while their ancestors remained on
the mainland. When the Isthmus of Panama closed, allowing competition
from the North American Continent, the mainland population would have
become extinct, leaving only those on the islands. That would explain
Charley's objection nicely.
George pulled out a few books on earth science and was soon
satisfied that the geological sequence was close enough to what he had
presumed to bear further research. Maybe someday the fossilized remains
of those finches would be found in caves in Ecuador. Maybe not. At
least now he didn't have to worry about God having created new kinds of
finches on an isolated island. But then again, maybe God did. Why did
he ever think it mattered?
It was funny how when you knew - or even thought you might know
- the answer to a question, that you didn't have to get upset when
someone disagreed with you. It was only when you had doubts about being
right that you got defensive.
That settled it! He wouldn't just pass Charley, He'd give him
an "A". Charley'd done a good job with his heresy - at least in the
final draft. Whether or not it really panned out, Charley's theory had
been cautiously worded - there was really nothing he could point to
which was untrue. It even contained the brief disclaimer that Hoyle's
mathematics were beyond the scope of the paper's author. The Vatican
wasn't looking for students who agreed with them, they were looking for
students who could think, and Charley was certainly ahead of most of
the other freshmen in that department. Maybe someday Charley could help
George answer some of his own questions.
In the meantime, science and the Scriptures could take care of
themselves - with or without his understanding of the whole design of
things. God did what he did and it didn't make much difference what
anyone thought. The only thing that was important was that the evidence
agreed with itself and with the Scriptures. It always had and it always
would. Men were always jumping to conclusions though. They were
certainly a strange kind.
George was suddenly startled by his phone. The bell was too loud.
EpilogueAnd now, dear reader, my story comes to a close. But
before I go, I must ask you to remember that this work was completely
fictional. Any resemblance to real people or events is purely
accidental - even if I might have forgotten to change the names or
dates in some cases. I repeat, this story was a "fairy tale", which
means, in the immortal words of Charles Kingsley, "that you are not to
believe one word of it, even if it is true."
But, I must also warn you that the Heisenberg. uncertainty
principle has not yet been repealed. The gods still hold the same
territory they did before my story began. Furthermore, truth and
morality, although not strictly proven, must still hold a place in our
world. I cannot possibly be wrong about this. Why not? Because, in
order to be wrong at all, there must first be a truth from which I have
We must also remember that the world once inhabited by Dr. Chan
was "bent" in some ways by the very forces of Hell. For in what real
world would a respected scientist summon evil spirits from the vasty
deep? Then again, in what real world could scientists allow, even as
mere academic possibility, the very same tenants which churchmen have
always confidently known to be true? In what real world could a great
scientist disbelieve in a non-material spirit even while his body and
neural system are being controlled by the very same sort of being?
In what real world indeed?We must ask ourselves if our
own world hasn't been bent in some ways by Hell's forces; for in what
real world could a respected genetic engineer disbelieve in an
intelligent designer - even while he himself is such a being? Or in
what real world could a string theorist disbelieve in an unseen
extradimensional reality - even while his theories dip shallowly into
that very same realm which he denies. In truth, might ours be the frame
which is more bent?
Bent or not, I must now return you to that real world and you
must put me back on the shelf. When a reader is done with a story about
ghosts and demons, he is normally expected to put those creatures back
on the shelf with the book. But I have tried to design a ghost or two
that will stay with you - even after you attempt to close the back
cover on them. In particular, it appears that you, dear reader, may be
one such ghost; and having now permitted one non-material spirit into
your world, can you close the door and exclude others?
I don't think you can completely disbelieve in gods - not
while, in the very same thought, you grant yourself omnipotent
authority over your own little world. The gods are back indeed! Some of
them are not the sort one would wish to have around at all, and none
are what we could refer to as being completely tame. But even gods must
follow rules, and if there are rules, then what great leap of faith is
it that there must be a giver of rules as well? - a God having status
above the others. If this greatest-of-all-the-gods exists, as He
certainly must (for if not, then the next greatest must be He), then
why have we not come face to face with Him?
By all indications, this head God must be a gentleman and will
not force himself upon us. Indeed, if we have ever chanced to
personally meet Him, it seems likely that we might have seen no
particular comeliness in Him - nothing at all which might alert us.
Although He could have any world He chose, He seems to prefer one in
which the question of His existence remains a judgment call; a call
which each of us is free to make.
But does that mean our choice, once made, carries no
consequence? That would be an absurd assumption! As long as there is
truth which can be argued about, there is a moral responsibility to
that truth. And what great feat does this moral responsibility ask of
Perhaps that is obvious from what we have just witnessed in my
story. If we attempt to approach God without humility, it is a
better-than-even bet that our approach will not be conformed to the
dictates of logic or the truth, but to some lesser and self-serving
goal. Such an approach is doomed to failure; for the very giver of laws
cannot help but see through it. The only possible formula is that of
the repentant sinner - broken and on our knees.
Who knows? Perhaps such surrender is not nearly so costly as we
might fear. Indeed, what could it possibly cost us that we weren't
destined to lose eventually in any case? We aren't really safe you
know. No one ever makes it out of this life of ours alive.
And what does the other side of the question offer? Charley's
potential reward for the smallest measure of humility in his actions
regarding Nicole could make the very difference from which dreams are
made - the very reward which the lesser prophets of our age regard to
be the ultimate treasure that this world offers. What might be gained
from closing the gap between ourselves and the ultimate source of
About the author: Don Stoner is nobody in particular.