Simulation Theory and Theism
In 2016 Elon Musk was being interviewed at the Code Conference held in California, asked if he thought we were living in a computer simulation he answered that, yes, he does believe the universe is a simulation. The statement brought the simulation theory into the spotlight as multiple media outlets reported on the statement and explained the theory to people who may not have been exposed to its ideas before.
Simply put simulation theory is the theory that our reality is the result of a simulation being conducted in another layer of reality. That everything we perceive is nothing more than computer code, and in fact our own consciousnesses are nothing more than computer code. Think “The Matrix” except for us our “real” bodies don’t exist, we’re like the programs who exist within the Matrix, it is our reality and we’ll never know any other. The primary argument for the simulation theory comes down to statistics. The argument goes that if simulating universes is possible, and there’s no real reason to think that it isn’t, then statistically we are far more likely to be living in a universe that is being simulated than one that is real. After all every “real” universe could potentially have millions of universe simulations running in parallel, and those universe simulations could be running universe simulations of their own. When you go down this chain suddenly there are billions of simulated universes for every “real” universe that exists, meaning that if you’re just going on numbers alone then the safe bet is that we’re simulated, not real.
The theory is provocative, and is a perennial favorite of secularists who are interested in these types of thought experiments, I suspect because it is a socially acceptable way of musing about the true nature of existence within those circles. After all doesn’t the idea that we’re simply computer code being executed on a higher dimensional beings laptop sound so much more scientific than the idea of God? Despite the secular tendency to embrace simulation theory while rejecting theism outright the two ideas have more in common than you think. What I’ve found is that this makes the theory a useful tool for becoming a “trojan horse” to get around the prejudice that theism faces in the modern world and get people to start thinking about ontology with a theory that presents itself as more “rational” to the modern atheist skeptic yet has many facets in common with the theistic worldview.
The most obvious commonality between the two is the idea that our physical reality is the projection of a more fundamental layer of reality, whether that be computer code or the spiritual realm of God. What this means is that suddenly the highly materialistic naturalistic outlook of the hardened empiricist is made moot. Consider that if we were in a simulation how would you determine that? If we simulated a mini universe could the people inhabiting that universe ever discover the true nature of their reality? Certainly not by empiricism, their senses are part of the simulation itself, if they axiomatically reject everything they cannot sense then they will never discover the true nature of their reality. All they can do is deduce the rules that the programmer has set into their reality, the laws which govern the way their universe works. But they can go no further. Furthermore consider that if we make two universes and slightly tweak the physics of each. Separated from each other each of the inhabitants of these universes come to the conclusion that their universes must have “naturally” formed based on the laws that govern their universes. In addition they decide that each of their universes looks like what you would imagine a natural universe to be, despite the two of them being fundamentally different. Both of them, of course, are completely wrong. Their universes are artificial constructs with laws baked into them by a creator, but neither of them can ever reach that conclusion simply by quantifying and reverse engineering the mathematical logic that determines how their simulation functions.
Simulation theory also provides a nice framework for understanding miracles, again sidestepping the naturalistic prejudice one faces when proposing these things today. The laws of a simulated universe are determined by the code of that universe, but the code is determined by the programmer. If the programmer wants to intervene in their simulated universe are they bound by the code that dictates the normal functioning of their simulated universe? Of course not, rather the programmer if they wanted to create a planet could copy and paste the planet object code right into their program and execute it and have a planet appear. To the inhabitants of the universe such an event would appear “supernatural”, breaking the very laws that they understand their reality to work by. But is it supernatural? Not really, it’s only because the inhabitants of that universe do not understand anything beyond what they perceive as their physical reality that they would consider such a thing beyond what is natural. If they understood the true nature of their reality they would know that what occurred was not supernatural at all, and what they understand as hard laws of reality are simply arbitrary lines of code implemented by the true creator of their reality.
Now there are some problems with this and it’s certainly not a 1:1 comparison. Some readers may have noticed that this more accurately describes a deistic God, rather than the God in theism, in how the clockwork of the universe is created and then allowed to function on its own with no further intervention. Rather the God of classical theism is constantly upholding and creating the universe from moment to moment. But when you’re trying to get through to a hardened atheist and make them understand the position of theists such nuances can wait until you convince them that the theistic worldview is much more than just believing in a “magical sky daddy”. It’s about understanding that the material is not all there is, that we can, and should, investigate the physical universe to the best of our abilities but just knowing how our universe functions tells you nothing about the actual nature of the universe.
There’s one last point we need to consider as well. The inhabitants of a simulated universe cannot discern that they are being simulated through empiricism since everything they can “sense” is nothing but code being fed into their consciousnesses. However a particularly insightful inhabitant might be able to discern the nature of their reality through use of reason. This brings us back to why simulation theory is so interesting and such a useful tool, because it’s a deduction made about the nature of our own reality through reason alone. There is, of course, no empirical evidence that our reality is a simulation. You can make arguments but in the end whether or not you believe we are in a simulation comes down to how compelling you find those arguments and whether you consider the premises reasonable. It does open peoples minds to a different way of considering reality however. If we can reason about whether or not our reality is a simulation why not reason about God?
This argument probably won’t convince a hardened naturalist, but it does show one important thing. Empiricism isn’t sufficient in itself to know the true nature of reality. If our universe is a simulation there is no amount of empirical data you can collect that can ever prove that, empiricism can only work within the framework of the system. You’re trapped in the Matrix so to speak. However you can you reason to deduce that maybe more is going on than meets the eye. In a world where people are obsessed with what they can see, touch and hear it might be the person who considers what we can know beyond those things who sees things the most accurately.
The Freer Logion
Most people these days know that the ending of Mark in our Bibles is not how it originally ended. The earliest manuscripts of Mark end at 16:8. Mark ends with:
6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. 7 But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”
8 So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Which is a fairly abrupt ending. You can certainly understand why the original scribes were bewildered by it and attempted to “fill in the gap” with an ending they were more familiar with. With a bit of thought the ending of Mark actually makes sense, but that’s a post for another time. For now I want to talk about the ending few people have heard of, the Freer Logion.
There are a few separate endings of Mark. The “long ending” and the “short ending”. The short ending is:
But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this, Jesus himself (appeared to them and) sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.
Personally I like the short ending. In some way it reminds us the story isn’t yet finished, the gospel was the start of the story and it has continued ever since. I like the way it feels like it’s leading on to the next era of the world, the era of the Church. The longer ending of Mark goes:
9 Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. 11 And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.
12 After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country. 13 And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either.
14 Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. 15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
19 So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.
Which is of course the most common ending since it is the ending in the vast majority of manuscripts we have today. This ending, though we know it isn’t part of the original text today, has been declared part of scripture by the Church so it’s just as authoritative as the rest of the gospel. However there is one more ending that exists. It’s called the Freer Logion and exists only as part of the Codex Washingtonainus, discovered in the early 20th Century. The Freer Logion goes:
And they excused themselves, saying, “This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits [or: does not allow what lies under the unclean spirits to understand the truth and power of God]. Therefore reveal thy righteousness now” – thus they spoke to Christ. And Christ replied to them, “The term of years of Satan’s power has been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near. And for those who have sinned I was delivered over to death, that they may return to the truth and sin no more in order to inherit the spiritual and incorruptible glory of righteousness which is in heaven.
It’s a fascinating passage. It seems almost John-esque in it’s phrasing. The two women excuse themselves, explaining that because the world is under Satan it was difficult for them to accept the truth that Christ was indeed risen before their eyes. They then ask Christ to reveal his righteousness, presumably to end the age of Satan and begin the Kingdom of God. However Jesus replies that although Satan has been defeated there are worse things to come, but tells them the good news, that even for those who have sinned Jesus sacrificed himself so that we may all inherit eternal life in his Kingdom.
The freer logion is a little esoteric, it’s certainly not as straightforward as the short or long endings we’re used to. It seems almost deliberately cryptic, almost bordering on being gnostic in the way that it talks about the spirits not allowing people to understand the truth. Of course nothing can stop God from drawing people to Himself except those people themselves, Satan certainly tries his best to distract people but Satan can’t disallow the truth and power of God from permeating our world. It’s a simple fact that people are blind because they choose to be blind, not because God cannot overcome Satan.
The freer logion is definitely not canonical, but it provides an interesting look at the mindset of early Christians and how they saw the faith. If anything at least it has the end right. Jesus is the path, one which we can all take to avoid sin and inherit the spiritual and incorruptible glory of righteousness that is in heaven.
How do we Know Christianity is True?
It’s a question that will often be asked by the non-religious. It’s not a bad question by any means, it’s an entirely valid question and reinforces why all Christians should have at least some understanding of why they’re Christian beyond blind faith. Faith isn’t merely believing in something that cannot be proven by empiricism, it’s intellectually assenting to the truth of Christian doctrine by recognizing that it’s supported by the facts.
So how do we know Christianity is true? Well the first thing to recognize is that the question is usually asked by people who consider anything that cannot be proven empirically as simply something subjective, a matter of choice. I discussed this in my previous post about atheism and the naturalist epistemology where naturalism is so prevalent as a worldview that many people accept it as a given. Because no religion can be definitively proven by the scientific methodology many people will simply say it’s a matter of faith alone, that it’s nothing more than a blind choice and that reason doesn’t enter into it. Of course that’s complete nonsense. Not only is using our faculties of reason essential to guiding people to the faith the Catholic Church teaches that the existence of God can be known through the light of reason alone without any need for additional revelation.
So then how do we discern the truth of Christianity? Well there are several steps one needs to take. In order the facts that need to be accepted are:
- There is a God
- Monotheism is more reasonable than polytheism, pantheism, deism or any other alternative
- The God that exists is correctly described by Christianity
- Jesus Christ was a real person and the incarnate God
The first step is the main battleground in atheist vs theist debates. There are several compelling arguments for the existence of God to the point that many atheists are willing to concede that deism at least is a reasonable position, they then take issue with the idea that there are any instances in history at which this God interacted with the world or humanity.
The second step comes off the back of the first step. If we accept that the existence of God is reasonable and/or likely then we need to address why we believe it’s simply one God and not a pantheon or race of gods. Again this mostly boils down to philosophical reasoning such as the argument that any being with the attributes God possesses would by necessity be God, not a separate being. Infinity plus infinity simply gives one infinity, not two.
The third step is one of the most difficult. Even if people accept that theism is a reasonable position and that the philosophical arguments for monotheism are stronger than that of polytheism or pantheism, then we need to show that this “God of Philosophy” is indeed the God described by the Christian scriptures, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Personally for me the evidence lies in how sublime the scriptures are, how accurately they convey the human condition, the story of humans and what it is to be humans, warts and all, and finally the path to overcome and reunite with God. I’ve read other religious texts, the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao Te Ching and the Koran. While each of them have excellent teachings I never got the sense that any of them were divinely inspired.
The last point is where everything hinges. Christianity is based around the teachings of Jesus Christ. That Jesus was the messiah, was crucified, died and was buried, rose from the dead after three days then ascended into heaven. Even if everything before this was airtight if Jesus is not the incarnate Son, the Logos, then Christianity is false. As Paul put it:
“But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”
Again this is a difficult one because of all the points this is probably the one that largely needs to be a leap of faith. There are no strong philosophical arguments for whether Christ was raised from the dead, it simply happened or it didn’t as a matter of historical fact. Certainly the apostles themselves were convinced, even secular scholars largely acknowledge that. Does that mean it was true though? It’s here that perhaps we need to deviate from logic and appeal to sentimentality. Jesus was an impoverished carpenter from Galilee who was executed by the Roman authorities for stirring up trouble. 350 years later the empire that executed him worshiped him as the true God. Without a time machine none of us will know (in this life at least) whether Jesus was truly raised as a fact. For me? I believe he was. Reason can take you 95% of the way to Christianity, it can exclude almost every other religion from contention. If you want to make the leap from atheist to Christian that 5% all hinges on the question Jesus asked his disciples almost 2000 yeas ago.
“Who do you say I am?”