Friday, 6 December 2013

You Can't Google God

New contributor Michael Suderman writes:

According to Google’s annual search statistics, in 2012 the average number of searches per day on Google was 5,134,000,000. Our world is searching!

But what are we really searching for? Are we really so sure? Does Google have all the answers?

Many of my friends back home in Kansas, when thinking of what my time of study in Oxford must be like, imagine me spending all day in ancient libraries flipping through dusty tomes of theology in Latin.

The reality is that as a twenty-first century grad student I undertake most of my research in modern buildings via online databases and search engines.

Don’t let anyone fool you, Wikipedia and Google are invaluable resources - even for students at Oxford. To cite either in an essay would be academic suicide, but as long as you don’t let the buck stop at those sources they can function as helpful guides and prompts for both content and questions.

While the amount of information Google can sort through for answers is virtually immeasurable, Google does have its limitations. One of those limitations is that the answers Google provides are completely dependent upon and cater directly to the initial question.

Why is this a problem? Well, let me attempt to explain:

One of the marks of a great teacher is that he or she has an ability to communicate something of great complexity with utter clarity. Great teachers can make the complex seem simple and accessible. 

As a graduate student at Oxford University I have been most impressed and inspired by professors with that ability. This type of teaching requires a great depth of knowledge, which enables effective translation from technical terms to vivid illustrations for those of us lowly students struggling to understand. What’s more is that those professors I’m speaking of often subversively expose the assumptions behind a question asked either by questioning the question itself, or even by questioning the questioner.

Herein lies Google’s limitation! Google caters to your question; Google caters to youIt has no capacity to expose the presuppositions of a question or reorient the questioner. The only ones with a capacity to do so are those with a capacity to search you.

Often when we Google something we have in mind a certain kind of specificity for our desired answer, and often we have at least some prior notion of the answer we’re looking for. But what if we’ve asked the wrong question? What if what we’re really looking for cannot even be answered by the question we’re pursuing?

What if what we need in an answer isn’t specificity? What if what we really need is an incisive response that cuts deep to the heart of the question or even the intent behind it? Reorientation rather than resolution?

Philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote, ‘There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing.’ Although we attempt to fill this void with all sorts of material substitutes, often we’re left unsatisfied or even weary of pleasure in the process.

But what if what we’re really searching for isn’t a created thing? What if what we’re really searching for must be capable of relationship — something (or, to be more accurate, someone) with the capacity to truly search us? 

Could it be that our millions of Google searches are in vain, because in reality what we really long for isn't more information in our search for answers? Could it be that, instead of information, the answers we’re truly longing for are actually relational?

If that's the case, then maybe we need to start a new search.

Michael Suderman is an evangelist and apologist
who is fascinated by the intersection between
theology and the rest of reality. Originally from
Kansas, he is currently engaged in postgraduate
research at Oxford University.

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