Are we living in a simulation?

Does this theory have any substance, any evidence, and how does it relate to God and the origins of the universe?

Are we living in a simulation?
Photo by Sean Do / Unsplash

This topic just came up again thanks to a new article by WIRED magazine. It is interesting to me because I want to stay in tune with the latest scientific opinions and theories as to how the creation happened.  This article, however, is more philosophical and it calls out the philosophical problem that scientists face. Science is supposed to comment on the measurable and theorizes about the observable.

In a recent article, I looked at the idea that science has already proven the existence of God by affirming that:

  • The universe has a beginning
  • The natural laws, or forces, existed before the universe and therefore outside of time
  • The forces caused the universe to be created out of nothing
  • Matter was created from light
  • Light holds the universe together

This article takes that analysis and makes it seemingly irrelevant.  The theory is that as we develop our own virtual worlds and begin to spend more and more time in those worlds, and interact inside of them in more and more tangible ways, then those worlds will eventually become indistinguishable from our own physical reality.  We have watched over the last decades as graphics have become such good quality that sometimes we cannot distinguish computer-generated imagery from video imagery.

The visualization of those worlds and their rapid pace of improvement, we can clearly see from our own experience.  Computer games demonstrate the social aspects of spending time together with other people in a virtual world, even though the worlds may not attempt to be life-like, the experiences in those worlds are real.

Still a Way to Go

A use-case may currently be missing, although that will come, the same way many team meetings have now become virtual.  Virtual meetings were technically possible before 2018 just not desirable by a large majority of companies.  The experience is not quite the same.  The interfaces are somewhat clunky and unrefined.  We need a camera, a headset (ensure mute is on or off at the right time), everyone needs the same software and a reliable Internet connection.  To refine the process further would require something like a headset with built-in microphone and speakers, and probably a virtual meeting room and an avatar (because now you have some bulky equipment covering your face). These interfaces clearly leave something to be desired.

Virtual Reality
Photo by Maxim Hopman / Unsplash

Enter Elon Musk, a technology visionary, who is famously working on his Neuralink project with hopes that one day we can control computers using our minds.  The reverse, however, is also true, that those computers will be able to control our minds - control what we see, how things feel, what we smell and taste. It could be a virtual utopia, but it starts to look a lot like the Matrix.

Hacker binary attack code. Made with Canon 5d Mark III and analog vintage lens, Leica APO Macro Elmarit-R 2.8 100mm (Year: 1993)
Photo by Markus Spiske / Unsplash

So take this thought one step further still, if we humans can (probably in the future) create a world that is indistinguishable from our present physical world, how do we know that our current physical world is not itself a simulation created by a superior intelligence?

The first paragraph of the WIRED article is very similar to what I have written before, and this sentence in particular many theists can agree with:  

The best theory physicists have for the birth of the universe makes no sense.

The current best theory has no causal explanation. The universe and everything occurred because of a quantum vacuum and a fluctuation, both of which are something but apparently also nothing. That is, according to scientists.

This simulation theory, although made famous by the 1999 movie, The Matrix, has received a revival this decade with the release of three new films including The Matrix Resurrection.  Australian philosopher and techno-enthusiast David Chalmers perfectly timed the publication of his new book called Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy.

Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy

Virtual reality is a genuine reality, but does it explain life, the universe and everything?

Buy on Amazon

Chalmers considers what little it takes to make things seem real.  A tree for example seems real, but at the atomic level, there is far more empty space than physical matter.  According to quantum theory, there is only a good probability that the tree is even there.

A Real Reckoning

Physicists, and I'd argue evolutionary biologists, or in fact, any atheist, does not like to consider the simulation theory. I think this is because it is an admission that there might be an intelligence that transcends our own intelligence.  This intelligence would be outside of our space and time and therefore unobservable and beyond the reach of science. It is to admit that we are far from answering the question of our origins and that there may be someone else to whom one day we may be answerable. An admission that there is an alternate reality and that there may indeed be an afterlife.

The questions of ethical responsibility and life after death are not mentioned in the Wired article, but it seems an obvious conclusion that if someone places our consciousness inside of a simulation, then they can just as easily remove our consciousness from that simulation and indeed judge the decision we made whilst inside the simulation.

The Case For

  • If humans can create an interactive life-like reality why couldn't another intelligence?
  • The universe and the Earth itself is perfectly created for human life
  • The universe contains mostly empty space
  • Physical things seem to be digital, they can only be divided to the smallest particle and they are indivisible
  • There is no plausible explanation for the origin of matter
  • God knows and has a record of our thoughts and all our actions
  • Those who have experienced the after-life claim it feels more real than this physical reality
  • The Bible says there is a reality beyond our current reality

The Case Against

  • God said he is light, if the light is not a physical or spiritual entity then how is this possible.
  • God said he holds the universe together, but this would technically not be true if it was a simulation run on a physical system
  • In the book of Revelation, we are told that God will one day recreate the Heavens and the Earth and that we will live on the new Earth

Conclusion

There is certainly a lot more that could be said, but I want to get to the conclusion. What does this ultimately mean?

The case for a simulation is compelling, and if you are intent on ignoring the Bible then it certainly seems like a very credible proposal.  My problems with the theory are not philosophical or scientific, they are theological.

My primary problem with the simulation theory is that of God creating an alternative reality that one day we will be removed from, normally through our death, but then our ultimate destiny is to be put back into a virtual world.

Also, the Heavens and the Earth will be made new, which could mean the Universe including the Earth, but typically it is interpreted as God's dwelling place. Ultimately he will dwell with man in a common location and a simulation cannot be what he has in mind, it has to be what we understand as a physical reality.

How should we finite humans know the difference?

I think the conclusion has got to be that God is far beyond our comprehension, that what he actually creates is a reality and for an all-powerful God it is as simple to create a true reality as it is to create a simulated reality. How should we finite humans know the difference? Furthermore, he could just as easily create multiple dimensions of reality.  All of creation exists, as though it were a simulation except it is not.  We are not locked in a matrix while our physical bodies are kept in a soup in Heaven. I think rather all that is, has been and will be made exists in dimensions that God has created.  He is the only being outside of creation, he can see the beginning and the end, he imagines each one of us and brings us into being and he can move us between dimensions by his will.

NASA/WMAP Science Team, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

NASA produced this image known as WMAP showing all of our universe from the big bang until the present day.  Around the outside of the funnel is what they call Nothing. However, we can say God is there. He can walk around our universe and see the beginning and the end of time.  He can put several of these funnels side by side and then you have the Heavens and the Earth. God can move freely between them and forwards and backwards in time as he pleases.

That is how I imagine it right now. I think it fits with the Bible and with the best scientific theories.  Of course, it is not a testable hypothesis, but that is a problem that remains for all origin theories and philosophies.

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