/ Is Reality a Simulation?

Is Reality a Simulation?

Elon Musk may be the most famous proponent of the possibility that reality is just a simulation. And quite a lot of scientists agree with him that this is a very real possibility (Neil deGrasse Tyson puts the odds at 50/50).

I too agree that this is possible, and it solves a lot of problems:

  1. How can we explain the origin of the Big Bang? Problem: All the energy and matter in the universe came into existence spontaneously even though there was no space in existence for that matter and energy to come into existence into. Unless there has been infinite expansion and contraction (and there is no evidence for this), then the Big Bang is unexplainable.
  2. How can we explain that life began? Problem: evolution neatly explains the progression of life, but there is no credible or agreed upon theory on how life originated.
  3. Why haven’t we found aliens? Problem: Given that we exist, it seems likely that other intelligent life exists because, given so many stars, planets, and passage of time, it seems likely that this would be the case. But, as the Fermi Paradox simply puts out, if there is intelligent life out there, then where is it? If it became intelligent even a million years before us (a tiny amount of time in the span of the universe’s existence), then it would very likely be dramatically more progressed than us and we would have seen signs of its existence (or that of many other alien civilizations). Probability seems to imply that we are not “special,” but we have no evidence that we are not.
  4. If most people are quite rational, then why do the vast majority of people believe in the metaphysical (something beyond just the material world, which for most people is a deity)? Problem: Given the large prevalence of belief in the metaphysical by quite rational beings, it could be reasonable to conclude that it’s possible or likely that people have some awareness of the metaphysical.

A simulation thesis solves all of these:

  1. Just like any simulation, it was booted up. There was no “Big Bang” or, if there was, then it was all in the simulation. There would be something before the “Big Bang” — the computer program, so there is no issue of everything coming into existence when there is no space for anything to exist in.
  2. Whatever started the simulation, that’s what put in motion the simulation of life.
  3. We were the only characters created (not surprising in a simulation).
  4. These characters have some awareness that reality is more than meets the eye. Logic about the origin of the universe, origin of life, etc lead them to search for answers that we might assume would be more obvious if we were not in a simulation.

What I find most fascinating, however, about the simulation thesis is that it relies on belief in a Creator — one could easily call this “Creator of Our Simulation” a God or a deity. Because to us, the Creator would be a deity — this being could control our entire universe.

And yet no atheists or scientists say “No. That’s crazy.” So why accept the simulation thesis as highly plausible?

I think the answer stems from what atheists really mean by atheism. While most atheists say that they base their beliefs only on science, that is very obviously not the case. There are no truly scientific theories of the origin of the universe or the origin of life. There is speculation, i.e. there is belief. Now, atheists might revolt at that idea, but it is categorically true: there is no evidence of anything before the Big Bang and no evidence that life could have begun on its own. None. That leaves only belief.

So science might give the false comfort that it has ultimate answers, and maybe people believe that they don’t really believe in the metaphysical, but of course they do.

Here’s another proof of belief in the metaphysical: Do you believe that you have free will?

Almost everyone will answer “Yes.” And, for those people who answer, “No”, well they are admitting that their life has absolutely no meaning whatsoever and that they have never made a decision in their entire lives because everything in their life and all of their actions and reactions have been entirely determined by their genetics, their upbringing, and incoming stimuli. So, “no” is a very depressing answer. Which is why essentially everyone rejects determinism and believes that they have free will.

Well, if you believe that you have free will, then you believe in the metaphysical. There is no evidence whatsoever that you have ever done anything freely. Again, none. Unless there is something metaphysical, then all of your thoughts and actions were guaranteed to happen given your specific circumstances. You can take no pride in anything you have ever done.

And certainly we feel that we have free will. But, if you believe you have free will, then you believe in the metaphysical. And, if you believe in the metaphysical, then you can’t properly be called an atheist — unless you’re fine saying that you have unscientific beliefs on some things but not on others. The belief that there is something beyond the purely physical world cuts against the heart of atheism.

So most atheists — except the most reasoned who believe in determinism and then necessarily nihilism and live horribly depressing lives — actually believe that there is something beyond the physical. They just don’t like to call that something a personal God who loves them.

So I think that’s what most atheists really mean when they say that they are atheists: they don’t believe in a personal God who loves them.

It’s really only after Jesus Christ that “atheism” grows.

Prior to Jesus Christ, essentially everyone believed in the metaphysical. To do otherwise would be inexplicable: how would you explain everything around you and existence? You couldn’t. And still can’t. We know a lot more about the universe, but we still have no explanations for how the universe or ourselves exist.

The central question then becomes not if there is something beyond the material but what? At that point, I think we really do need to stop and look at the world’s religions. Do any of them have knowledge of what the metaphysical is?

For me, I believe that there is sufficient evidence to say that Jesus Christ very likely rose from the dead. Look into it. And, I have had numerous encounters with God that I cannot explain otherwise. Maybe there is another explanation, but I don’t have one. So both on evidence and experience, my bet is on Christianity. Its logic is quite coherent too: If God really does love us infinitely, then how could He show us that He does so that we would believe Him? It’s one thing to say it, but actions speak louder than words. One way He could do that is to become incarnate with us and die for our sins. And I believe that is exactly what He did. The crucifixion and resurrection are how God proved to us that He loved us.

And, if you accept this, life gets better. You realize you are fully known and fully loved. You realize how radical the gospel is. It often upsets those who have been righteous their whole lives because anyone who lived the worst life but repents at any time receives the same grace. That doesn’t seem just. Because it’s not. It’s grace. No one deserves it, but it is given to all those who seek it.

Even scientists think it’s probable that there is a Creator (albeit through the sanitized version of the simulation thesis). It might be that you can also have a better life by following the example of this Creator and living according to how we were created to thrive.


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