The Nine Billion Names of God

The one thing about this story that struck me most were the final closing remarks. The author does well to note that the stars are the things that the two technological employees notice going out. However, the light that we see from the stars is billions of years old and cannot possibly be happening in real time. If the monks had really figured out the 9 billion names of god, then wouldn't they have not seen the stars go out for another billion years? Maybe what they failed to realized that their ancestors had already figured out the names of god and were just waiting for the world to end. I also believe that the monks are cheating God by using technology to aid them in what should have been a several hundred year quest, not a one hundred day quest.

Does anyone else think that the monks were wrong in turning to technology to do God's work and figure out his names?

~Mike Wolff


In argument, I would like to say that the ending is perfect. Is it really just a coincodence that all of the stars died out at intervals enough to allow their own light to stop reaching earth all at the same time? That is a litte hard to belive for me, knowing that some of the stars that we see in the night sky are not stars at all, but distant galaxies. It is just improbable in a scientific outlook. Also, the ending line in parenthesis, (There is always a last time for everything.), is just great. It alludes that the end is coming. That night was the last night that George and Chuck, and anyone else for that matter, would see the stars. All the stars dying and going out at once just signifies that things are dying. I think Clarke used them on purpose, because we know starlight takes how many ever amount of light years to reach us. Then suddenly they all go out at once? Shows something wrong in the world is happening.
In another argumenative point, the monks are not cheating God. If one looks at what Sam Jaffe said, which comes pretty close to this: Mankind's purpose on this Earth will be fulfilled and will no longer have a purpose. So if God has them, or us, here just for one purpose, I really don't think it matters how we achieve that purpose. God would be watching us evolve and become more intelligent, and I'm sure he'd expect it from us at a certain time, but whether we achieve that goal before or after his prediction, God puts our destiny in our own hands. He cares not if it takes 10,000 years or 5. He is testing our intelligence factor to see if we really do what he put us here for. And if we are smart enough to get help, even if from computers, that just aides us in our intelligence. It is not cheating to get assistance. Yes the computer can process 1000 symbols per second, but it is only expediting what the monks can do by hand. The monks already know what they are doing, they are just doing it faster, that is all.

- Matt Chrobak



Matt Chrobak's 500 word Response to The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke

In The Nine Billion Names of God, a high monk travels to the United States to inquire about purchasing a Mark V computer that will greatly expedite the monks’ research. The monks are going through every possible letter combination, in a language they have created, to find every known name of God. The monks figure there are about nine billion names for God. What would have taken 15,000 years if done by hand, can be done in 3 months with the Mark V computer. Two technicians for the Mark V, Chuck and George, are sent to the monk’s lamasery in Tibet to over see the project and to make sure the Mark V does not break down. Near the end of the job, Chuck finds out from the high monk, who is referred to as Sam Jaffe, that mankind’s purpose on Earth will be fulfilled once all the names of God are deciphered.
Chuck surmises that the world will end from what Sam Jaffe tells him. Of Course Chuck and George do not believe in the theory, so they try to fix everything so they can be gone as the last name is deciphered. George and Chuck fear that the monks will retaliate against them once they find out that nothing is going to happen when the deciphering is done. Chuck messes with the machine and takes three days to fix it, leaving four days left in the process. When the last name is deciphered, George and Chuck are making their way down the mountain side to their awaiting ride home on a cloudless night. Chuck notices that the stars above begin to go out. George follows suit and sees that things are beginning to fall apart.
The idea of the world ending once the truth about God is found is a very unsettling topic. If it were as easy as it were in this story, then there is something to fear in technology. Maybe that is the point of the story. That technology will bring us to death a lot faster than by natural means. It definitely is true in the aspect of weaponry. Millions of years ago, sticks and stones were ideal weapons. Today, it is a high velocity, fully automatic rifle that can kill in one shot. The other contemporary weapon which can bring us to death ever so quickly is nuclear bombs.
Maybe this is the underlying theme of the story.
On the other hand, one can take the story for what it is; a religious outlook on the world. If viewed in this aspect, the point could be one of two things. The first, that no matter what we do, as insignificant beings on this Earth, there is nothing that can stop the will of God. The second, is that non-believers, doubting Thomas’s if you will, will not be saved when God’s wrath is placed upon our world. It is debatable whether or not the monks witnessed any changes to the world. But from what is given to the reader, only George and Chuck witness the beginning of the end. This is definitely apparent by the lines, “Look,” whispered Chuck, and George lifted his eyes to heaven. (There is always a last time for everything.) Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going.” Maybe only non-believers, who learn about the end of days, will not be saved.
Regardless of the theme Arthur C. Clarke is trying to convey in this story, it is apparent that the end of days is coming someday and that there is no way we can stop it. If it be by the wrath of God, or by the advancement of technology to the point where we cannot control it; or even the combination of the two, nothing can stop it.


Clarke, Arthur C. “The Nine Billion Names of God.” The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume One, 1929-1964. Ed. Robert Silverberg. An Orb Book, Pub. by Tom Doherty Associates LLC. 426-433

Stephany- This story is about a group of monks who a trying to come up with all the names that represent God. They ask these two guys who know how to run a computer/machine that calculates all the different names to help. So the guys help and it takes three months and they never knew why the monks wanted all the names until one day when one of the monks told them. The monks believe that it will be the end of the world when the computer spits out the last name. The guys were affraid so they left early and when they were almost to the aircraft the stars were vanishing. So it makes you think the world was ending.

Rhiannon: I know that we discussed that the monks would want the world to end so that they could meet the creator, but that's kind of inconsiderate of them to decide to play God and end the world. Not everyone is as holy as a monk, and don't monks want to try to "save" as many people as they can before the end of the world? They may not have cheated by using the computer to help them, but I do think it sucked the mystery out of everything. I think it was a smart, lazy, and non - traditional approach. Good for them for breaking a stereotype.

Jesse- What if this god business was this simple. We take the time to write out all his names and once we are done, we get to go to heaven. Ahh, but lets speed up the process with a computer! Why waste the time doing it by hand when we can have something else do it for us. Its the american way. It is like a reflection of our fast food society. Right now my way, right away. If only religion could be like that.... we might have more people helping other people.

David: I think it's funny that the monks are in such a hurry to end the world. Aren't monks suppose to be peaceful and not selfish. In this story they want to end the world to fullfill their religous goals. Thats selfish and is inconsiderate. Thats unmonk like. It's a nice touch that they find a short cut by using modern technology to undo the modern world. I really like the statement Jesse made "It's like a reflection of our fast food society"

Kaizer - The story brought up an interesting point about the differences between religions. Which religion is the right religion? Could it really be possible to believe in something your entire life and then find out that you were wrong? Maybe, though, all religions are right and what ever you believe in will happen in the end. Being a good person and living life through to the end seems to be the real underlining point to religion. The other thing is; could computers lead us to the next level of enlightenment? Technology could easily be considered as the fall of religion, but how could it help? The monks in this story used technology to aid them in there search for "nirvana". Where will it take us next?

Lisa:
While I was reading this story I could not completely fathom why people are so interested in "the end." Why must everyone feel like we need answers for everything that happens in life? Where is the excitement and the trill in that? I keep asking myself what I would be able to do if I know all the answers to all of life questions...first I would be dead, so that puts a damper on that right off the bat. Two, what comes next? If you know EVERYTHING than there is nothing but waiting for something to happen that you have no comprehension of, but that will never happen because you already know everything and you would already know that something is about to happen, so there would no longer be any surprises and where is the fun in that?

There are 2 aspects of this story that really made it amazing for me, one was the quest for the end of the universe and two was the lack of respect for beliefs. Religious zelots always seem entranced with the idea of bringing about the end of mankind to fullfill their destinies to be one with god or which ever belief drives them. This idea doesnt really shock me, the idea that shocks me is the willingness of outsiders to help these monks bring about the end, even if you dont believe its no reason to aid in the possible destruction of humanity. For instance I wouldnt aid in research that could develop a weapon to destroy a continant based on a theory that has a .01% provability of working, that .01% makes it completely dangerous and wreckless. The end gives you a choice to decide exactly what happens, its true that stars are projections of light from so far away that the stars producing that light could not exist anymore, although there's also the possibility that the project succeeded and it was the universe shutting itself off. Honestly I think the whole point of this story is to write off end of the world theories because it ends in such a way that the rational explanation would fit best. I however choose to say that the world ended because someone tampered in something they had no belief or reason for being involved in, grim endings for me make a story all that much better.

-Alex


Vincent
It usually seems like, in many stories, technology is used to simulate or invoke a disaster. Now that I think about it, technology almost never seems to be portrayed as a way to better the world than it already is. Even if using a computer for religious reasons seems way "out there," the characters knew nothing good could come out of it. To be honest, I saw something like it coming since I started reading the story. I wouldn't have suspected any less from the technology depicted in the story. Now, I don't know this for sure, but maybe it's a message by the author that technology is a burden on a religious society? It could very well be. This story was printed in the 50's when computer and modern technology was still experimental, so maybe the author was making this message.

Charles Jones
I think this story definately reflects to how a lot of people see religion in our time. There is always a lot of debate on wheter science should be used to prove whether certain events happened or not.One example is the tomb of Jesus Christ where scientists had a chance to extract DNA from a veil of where the body was at.They had the technology to extract the DNA but in the end decided not to do it not only because of a moral decision on their part but it would destroy a piece of biblical history.In this story uncovering the names of god is something that must be discovered,no matter what the consequences would have been.I think the stars went out to show a reflection to the story of Adam and Eve and other biblical stories where temptation is the central theme.The only difference with the consequences is that Adam and Eve are only kicked out of paradise while in this story all existance seems to pay the price.