The Rejection of “I AM” and the Rejection of “I am”

In Exodus 3:14 God identifies himself to Moses as “I am what I am”. It is one of the most explicitly metaphysical verses in the Bible with God explaining His nature to Moses as a being who is, a being whose nature it is to exist. Gods nature is “I AM” because God simply exists as a fact of being God. John takes this and makes it part of his gospel narrative with the “I am” statements of Jesus. The most important of which is “Truly I tell you, before Abraham was I AM” which was Jesus way of connecting his identity with who Moses spoke to in Exodus and asserting His divinity.

1600 years later Rene Descartes used “I am” in a different way. Descartes struggled to find something concrete, something we know for a fact exists to form the basis of our knowledge and understanding of the world. He found his answer in the phrase “I think, therefore I am”. In the formation of any epistemology you need to start with a foundation that is self evidently true and existent, and what else could serve this purpose than your mind? The one thing every individual can be absolutely sure exists since all your experiences are filtered through it. We may be living in the matrix, hooked up to vats siphoning off our body heat while our minds exist in a virtual world but at least we know our mind is real even if the sensory information fed to it is not.

It is interesting then in the modern world how so many people are willing to reject that idea and claim that consciousness itself is non-existent. Dan Dennett, one of the “four horsemen” of atheism is a notable proponent of this in his attempts to debunk the hard problem of consciousness he denies there exists any such thing in the first place. His 1991 book “Consciousness Explained” was called by some of his peers “Consciousness Explained Away”.

The terrible metaphysics of naturalism has seemingly led us inextricably to a point where material reductionists have to admit that the thing that Descartes said must exist as a predicate for any knowledge to be gained at all, is now something we need to say doesn’t exist, at least in any meaningful capacity as the internal mental life of a person is solely dictated by neural processes as the human being is a biological automaton. Since naturalists by definition must deny any supernatural or transcendental aspects of reality they’re stuck with a conclusion that undermines everything they purport to know as fact. It seems as though the consequence rejecting the great “I AM” is rejecting the smaller “I am”. Denying the existence of God leads us to denying the existence of self, at least as traditionally understood as free agents with phenomenal experiences that transcend their biological underpinnings in the physical brain.

Naturalists in a sense have inverted Descartes statement on the existence of the mind being the basis on which we know other things to be true, instead now asserting that the existence of the material world which we know solely through empiricism proves that our mind is “illusory” and a result of evolutionary pressures. The fact we have an internal monologue is simply a result of the brains need to interpret the data it is collecting. It’s not “our” monologue, the thoughts of a mentally independent being, but a side effect of the physical brain processing data. We know empiricism is true therefore the mind is false. Very questionable since it then begs the question of how you know the conclusions you’re reaching are valid since they’re being reached by filtering information through that thing you claim has no real existence of its own beyond the brains physical processing? Some try to point to computers as the answer but that doesn’t seem to work since the logic a computer reaches is ultimately verified as either true or false by a human mind. You could program a computer to output 4 when you enter 1 + 2 and the computer would do it, the computer is a slave to its programming and the way its logic gates are set up. The computer cannot know whether the answer it is giving is correct because it can’t make those judgments, it simply processes the inputs according to a predetermined set of instructions and provides the output. Ultimately whether that output is correct rests on the mind of a human who views it. But this relies on the idea that the human is any different to the machine and actually can know the truth because we utilize logic free from the constraints of the rigid processes of electronic logic gates. Are we free under a naturalistic worldview? The answer seems to be no, and if that’s the case then you can’t really trust that you’re coming to correct conclusions given certain information any more than the computer can.

Naturalists have spent so long chopping away any branches of the tree of knowledge that are annoying to deal with from a materialistic perspective that the tree has toppled down on them entirely. Their epistemology withers because it ends with the vaunted empirical methods of science being filtered through a mind that is every bit a slave to its physical logic gates as a computer.

The reactions to this conundrum are interesting to say the least. Apart from some interesting thoughts on how accepting a deterministic worldview is detremental:

Further studies by Baumeister and colleagues have linked a diminished belief in free will to stress, unhappiness, and a lesser commitment to relationships. They found that when subjects were induced to believe that “all human actions follow from prior events and ultimately can be understood in terms of the movement of molecules,” those subjects came away with a lower sense of life’s meaningfulness. Early this year, other researchers published a study showing that a weaker belief in free will correlates with poor academic performance.

The list goes on: Believing that free will is an illusion has been shown to make people less creative, more likely to conform, less willing to learn from their mistakes, and less grateful toward one another. In every regard, it seems, when we embrace determinism, we indulge our dark side.

There’s no such Thing as Free Will – Stephen Cave

It’s the fact that some of these philosophers believe it is irresponsible and even dangerous for these things they believe are truth to be spread among people. The conclusion of the article highlights the absurdity of the naturalistic position. Free will doesn’t exist but we should act like it does. What? So you come to a position you acknowledge is absurd, detrimental and eats away at the basis of knowledge and humans as independent moral agents but rather than ditching the idea you choose to try and have your cake and eat it too by claiming it is the objective truth but we should live as though it isn’t. Ok then. That doesn’t work for me and I doubt it works for most people who believe the search for truth should impact our lives, we should live in conformity to how we understand reality because its fact. To claim that you understand the truth of the human condition and then turn around and say “Ignore it and live as though it wasn’t true” because the implications make you uncomfortable is cowardice. The truth is the truth follow it to its logical conclusion.

Given this a rational person has two options. The first is to cling to naturalism like a warm blanket, to claim that there exist no other paths to true knowledge beyond the quantitative inquiries of modern science and that if we can’t find any non-physical aspects of reality through their methodology entirely geared toward cataloging and predicting physical phenomena then we must accept we’re just meat robots. The second is to stay true to Descartes, to assert that the existence of the mind as a real thing that can interpret the world yet is apart from it, forms the basis of our knowledge and that if any knowledge we gain runs counter to that we must accept we’re missing part of the picture, that there exist some facets of reality we haven’t discovered or cannot discover through purely empirical methodologies.

It turns out that God has the last laugh in this philosophical trend. In denying God we deny ourselves, and we cannot escape that except to choose to live a lie we “know” to be false. It is in times like this that I feel most comfortable with theism because I know that I’m not required to perform these mental gymnastics. The truth I know and believe to be the objective truth of reality doesn’t require any such concessions from me, rather I embrace it and base my entire life around it. It certainly is a comfortable position, and I pity those who feel like they need to cling to a truth that involves rejecting that truth to go on living.

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.