In Blockchain We Trust? New Paths to Religious Consensus

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GUEST POST by Ferando Sanchez

Religion and technological advancement are concepts that often find themselves in conflict with each other. Those who believe in superiority by higher powers tend to dismiss the more rational and scientific explanations for the grandest issues in human life, and vice-versa. The mere suggestion of using technology for purely religious affairs triggers a strong backlash. For instance, the Ghanaian Interior Minister recently suggested using WhatsApp to issue the Muslim call to prayer, instead of broadcasting the call over loudspeakers. The idea proved rather unpopular, however. Religious groups took deep offense for several reasons, including the comparison of such holy act as a call to prayer with noise pollution.

The Ghanaian affair is only the latest skirmish in a centuries-old conflict. Religion and technology just cannot get along. Or can they?

From Flat Earthers to blockchain evangelists: History of an age-old quandary

There was a time when people were led to believe that the planet we live in is as flat as a sheet of paper, and no amount of scientific explanation would convince them otherwise. Such fallacy was popular in ancient Greece and Egypt for instance. Even today, there remain ‘secret’ societies that support and attempt to promote the idea that planet Earth is some sort of an oblong-shaped disk floating in space. A lot of these groups (usually just a few people who meet in the nearest pub once a month) are tongue-in-cheek. Others take it more seriously, and fuel their misguided beliefs through pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, or pure religious determination.

All this illustrates the fact that reaching a consensus between the sacred and the secular is far from easy. There just seems to be no middle ground where the two can meet.

But as it happens, achieving consensus is big on the blockchain. In fact, it’s blockchain’s very raison d’etre.

Blockchain is a decentralized, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) system, which means there is no central authority (‘middleman’) in control of the whole thing. While this is positive in many aspects, it also means that all the nodes in the network must be able to somehow agree that a given transaction is genuine, and can be added to the ever-growing chain as a new block.

This is where consensus mechanisms come in.

Consensus can be defined as an irrefutable system of agreement between all the devices across the network. Blockchain uses protocols (i.e., a set of rules that describe how the communication and transmission of data should work) to achieve consensus (‘agreement’). Once all nodes agree that a dataset is genuine, a new block is added to the chain. And so on.

Now, let’s extrapolate the concept of consensus to the thorny field of religion. Few would agree that agreement is a commonly used term between members of different faiths and beliefs. Christians think their God is the only one, Muslims have something to say about that, and Buddhists would add their own sacred flavor to the mix. In short, the world of religion is a swirling cauldron of misguided beliefs, obstinate faiths, and violent factions whose only agreeable cause would likely be the destruction of one another.

But what if blockchain, with its inherent ability to generate consensus, could become part of the solution for this ancient quandary?

Using blockchain as a basis for religious faith is by no means a new concept. A recent Forbes article recounted the tale of 0xΩ, a ‘blockchain-inspired’ religion initiated by former Augur founder and CEO Matt Liston.

Liston, whose departure from Augur is still the subject of a multi-million lawsuit, went on to become the founder of the world’s first religious movement based, or inspired by, blockchain technology.

Many were quick to dismiss 0xΩ (pronounced ‘zero ex omega’) as little more than a novelty, a pet project to pass time between real jobs. But Liston’s idea of using blockchain as the underlying framework for religion is sound. Why? Because of blockchain’s main strength, its ability to create consensus. Liston himself posted a tweet that appears to emphasize 0xΩ’s focus on achieving consensus, reaffirming the central idea and the role of blockchain in this enterprise.

What is a belief, and can we believe through technology?

All this raises some fundamental questions. What is a belief, and can people express their faiths and set of beliefs through technological means?

Anthony Levandowski is an ex-Google and ex-Google engineer who recently filed official papers describing himself as the Dean of the Way of The Future, the world’s first AI-based religion. According to Wired, the papers talk in detail about “the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) developed through computer hardware and software.”

The creation of an AI divinity, in other words.

Levandowski is, by all accounts, a very smart man. And he’s also a controversial individual. A hefty lawsuit over alleged industrial espionage hangs over his head. He’s pleaded not guilty to all 33 counts, but his fate will be decided inside a real, rather than a virtual courtroom.

Nevertheless, he has gone on record to say that humankind would be much better off if an AI entity was running the show, going as far as saying that such entity would favorably look upon those humans who facilitated its rise to absolute power. The implications and potential ramifications for this concept go well beyond the scope of this piece, so that’s a tale for another day.

And so we come full circle. Religion and technology meet yet again, breaking their uneasy truce for another go at the wheel of life.

Humans need to believe in something greater than themselves, and the realization of these beliefs is what makes us who and what we are. But who’s to say that believing and praying in a self-aware and sentient holographic representation of a deity, or storing and studying your prayer books on the blockchain, is in any way different to seeking solace in a white-robed man in the sky?

This article was written and originally published by Fernando Sanchez on Blockchain.news on September 28, 2019.