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Articles of Faith: Deduction, God, and Robots

Recommendation: Find a quiet spot so that you can read this deceptively simple story and pick up the pieces of your head after it explodes.

Robots: humanoid

Mike Resnick’s 2008 short story Articles of Faith tackles religion head on, posing that robots can be a purer, better- and more spiritual- version of man. Jackson, a new domestic humanoid robot, works for Reverend Morris in a parish experiencing economic disruption, and begins to question the good reverend about God. The results are both surprising and logical— and deeply /moving.

Jackson, without explicitly saying so, uses deductive logic to determine that robots are children of God and have souls. Deduction is what Sherlock Holmes uses; it is a form of reasoning which involves determining what logically follows from a set of axioms. (See the review of The Secret Life of Bots for a discussion of the types of reasoning in artificial intelligence.) It is about whether a concept is true or not given the facts. Jackson takes what he is told by Reverend Morris, the articles of faith or creed that is often explicitly stated by a denomination, as axioms, and then proceeds to reason that he has a soul. And he wants to attend church.

Resnick isn’t making fun of religion or espousing any particular view, as the validity of the axioms are never questioned or mocked. The book focuses only on the logical deductions form the axioms and the logical consequences. The axioms may be wrong, but the deductive reasoning is provably correct. Articles of Faith follows the tradition of another great scifi robot short story, Supertoys Last All Summer Long (included in my forthcoming book), as the logical consequences have real social consequences.

Although Articles of Faith didn’t win the 2009 Hugo for best short story, it is one of the most memorable robot stories ever. It is available for free online from Baen in keeping with the practice of making nominees available for the public to read and vote on.

- Robin

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