I used to work on the development team of a very popular and well-known videogame. A major part of my job was interviewing the designers, software engineers, and artists in order to document how to use the various systems, editors, quest lines and such that we used to make the game. After that, I would spin up a test realm so I could take some screenshots and play around with whatever system I was documenting to make sure I had understood it correctly. While running that test realm I had immense power over it. I could change one value in the weather editor and turn day into night or summon a torrent of rain. With a single click I could teleport myself instantly across the world. Drag a slider to level a mountain range or drown an entire continent under the sea. With only the effort it took to type in a short text command I could materialize that universe’s biggest, most powerful end boss to appear in the middle of a newbie starting village and cause incredible mayhem.
I had total control over that world. With the flick of a finger I could break any of that world’s laws of nature and reality I wanted. To the digital “people” inhabiting that world, I was an all-powerful god.
Currently it’s in vogue among astrophysicists-turned-armchair-philosophers to try and blow our minds by positing that we are almost certainly living in a universe that is actually a gigantic simulation just like that test realm of mine. Like a real-life Matrix. Or the most largest, complex game of Age of Empires ever played. Even Elon Musk has gotten in on it.
It goes something like this: If there is just one civilization in all of real existence that has evolved into a post-human level of technology, then that civilization would have a prodigious amount of computing power. This would give them the ability to create a practically unlimited number of hyper-realistic simulations of the universe. Such a simulation would be so advanced that it would be indistinguishable from reality to the simulated beings.
Next the argument goes on to say that the number of simulated beings would certainly vastly outnumber the number of actual beings in the “real” Universe. Thus, the odds are very high that you and I are actually a simulated being in a simulated universe.
Basically, the theory goes, you’re way more likely to be a Sim than to be a person playing The Sims.
I’m not going to spend the time to rebut the hypothesis here. At its core it’s merely just another way to cast a smokescreen over the issue of first origins and avoid invoking the possibility that an infinite, eternal God exists. The simulation theory is just one more in a long, long line of man-made gods with no power to save, much like the old Greek and Roman deities using us as their playthings. Plus, I think that deep down, we all really know it’s not true. We are more than a super-advanced computer character in someone else’s game. We know this in our bones. Eternity has been set in our hearts. That’s why even hardcore astrophysicists call upon worshipful and romantic imagery while trying to spiritualize their belief that we are insignificant beings within an unfeeling cosmos.
But let’s play a little thought game here for a moment, shall we?*
Just for argument’s sake, let’s say we are living in a simulation or a giant game created by some super-advanced being. How would we know this? Are there any ways in which we would be able to ascertain this? What evidence could we find, from within the game itself, that pointed to the presence of a game designer?
Pretty tall order, but I can think of a few ways this would be possible:
- You could study the code itself for clues that it was artfully designed (physics, mathematics, etc.)
- If the Designer left markers of their presence within the simulation
- If the Designer had an avatar who interacted directly with the inhabitants of the game (and ya know, if the Designer did have an avatar that entered our world, then that avatar would certainly have access to “cheat codes” or an “admin mode” that the sims (us) would experience as miracles.)**
I think you get where I’m going with this, right?
It’s always fascinating to me to read or listen to discussions of our origins by scientists devoted to physical materialism (i.e. this universe is all there is; your “soul” is nothing more than organized chemicals which ceases to exist upon death). They always seem to reject out of hand the possibility that a personal Creator God exists, without even considering this as a logical option. They’re fond of saying things like “There can only be [x number of] explanations for our existence”, but God never seems to be one of those explanations. Even in the article linked above that kicked off this post, the bottom half of it states quite confidently that there are only 2 possible reasons that we humans have consciousness: either there is an evolutionary reason for it that we don’t yet understand, or that it exists to serve someone else’s purpose. It seems to completely escape the author that perhaps our consciousness exists for its own sake and has an inherent worth and value all on its own. That just maybe the One who gifted us consciousness wants us to be truly free beings rather than mindless videogame characters.
I’ve got news for these folks: whether they believe it’s likely or not, the existence of an eternal God IS a logical possible explanation for the existence of the universe and our consciousness. You can’t just hand-wave that away and make it disappear because you don’t like it. That’s the opposite of the scientific method.
Now of course the standard justification for excluding God from the discussion is to say that since God is not measurable, the scientific method cannot be used to “prove” God. The existence of God is not falsifiable by experiment, and therefore there is no point to considering Him.
First, that’s not necessarily true–we may not be able to directly measure God, but there are verifiable clues all around us that infer the presence of a Designer, three of which are listed above (and which I write in more depth about elsewhere). There is also all kinds of experimental evidence you can accumulate in your own life and examine in the lives of others. Perhaps one day I’ll write about the experimental evidence I have concerning my own individual life that has proven God’s existence beyond a reasonable doubt to me (in Christian terms, my testimony).
Second, even if their objection was completely true, it still wouldn’t eliminate the possibility that God exists! Just because something cannot be quantifiably measured does not mean it is not real. Right? I mean, how much does your love weigh? What is the wavelength of courage?
It’s curious to me that most people who take the above view are so resistant to the possibility that there would be something and Someone beyond our finite understanding. After all, the same logic that allows for the possibility that we’re just simulations also allows for miracles to occur with no problem at all, just as I could do in my game world. Not only that, but the whole foundation of science is the progressive discovery of things we didn’t know before and the refinement of knowledge we thought we understood. Think about the science of quantum physics and all the strange things we’ve discovered about that realm. A particle can be rotating both clockwise and counterclockwise at the same time! Two particles can be linked in such a way so that if one of them changes its state, the other one instantly changes too, even if it is on the other side of the universe! Quantum physics is so baffling, unintuitive, and weird, and so different from our daily experience of life; Niels Bohr said if you aren’t completely shocked and confused by it then you don’t really understand it. A little over a hundred years ago, if you had told the world’s most brilliant scientists about quantum theory, they’d have thrown you out of the room and revoked your society membership! And yet it is real. These theories have been experimentally verified over and over again to astonishing levels of detail. What else is still out there to be discovered that we haven’t even conceived of yet?
Point is, there’s so much uncharted terrain out there, so many unintuitive modes of existence that threaten to melt our brain just by thinking about them. So why is a “super”-natural mode of existence so hard to reckon with? If you’re an atheistically-minded person, why is this the one you have such trouble with? We already know that the quantum realm is an entirely different mode of existing, with very different rules, than the realm we inhabit. It’s the realm of the infinitesimally Small. Why can’t there be a realm on the other side, a realm of the infinitely Big?
The entire history of science is one of ideas previously thought impossible becoming real! If you can easily believe there might be an infinite number of unobserved universes (the “multiverse”) to explain reality, then why not a unified realm that supersedes the natural universe we live inside (what the Bible calls “the heavens”)? That’s like a goldfish refusing to believe there could be any reality beyond the glass bowl.
I’m starting to digress, so let’s get back to the original thought game: Are we no more than fake people living in someone else’s simulation?
In one sense, the answer to this question doesn’t really matter, in the same way that it doesn’t really matter whether we live in a true multiverse or whether this one is the only one. In what way doesn’t it matter? In the sense that the answer has no bearing at all on whether God actually exists. The question itself is just kicking the can down the road a bit, because whether you’re talking about a simulation or a multiverse or an infinitely-repeating Big Bounce, in the end another question always remains: “Is our existence caused by something or by nothing?” If this is a simulation, who is the Simulator? If a multiverse, who made the multi’s of ‘verses? Who put the Bounce in the bounce bah bounce bah bounce? That’s a philosophical question that no amount of experiments can decide. But good news! There’s a vast amount of evidence that the creator who gave us our existence HAS made Himself known to us.
However, I do believe there is at least one meaningful way our universe *is* sort of like a simulation, and it’s this: We live in an incredibly complex and well-designed universe, filled with secrets to find, mysteries to solve, knowledge to discover, and worlds to explore. And there *is* a “Master Programmer” who created it and can control it in any way He wants. This Programmer exists completely outside of His creation and is therefore not bound by any of its rules of existence. In fact, He’s the one who made those rules! He is a consummate Designer, a genius Engineer, a stunning Artist, and a master Producer and Director.
I actually love pondering this whole train of thought, because when you understand it, it truly makes manifest the glory of God. The simulation theory does hit upon a slice of profound truth, but it’s terribly limited by our shrunken, human-sized imaginations. The theory does seem mind-blowing at first, but ultimately it is something contained within the bounds of our understanding. It does not exceed our own ability to fully comprehend, which is the telltale sign of a made-up god. Now think of the awesome power God has, in that He is able to create a universe filled not with simple simulated automatons, but beings possessed of real and true freedom, with real and true eternal souls. *That* is the grandeur of God right there!
But there is at least one absolutely critical distinction between living a real life in a real universe or a sim life in a pretend universe, and it makes all the difference, and it’s this:
When I would switch off my test realm, every being in it would cease to exist. When they “died” that was it. There was nothing more waiting for them once the power went out. This is the atheist’s way of looking at the universe: that the universe and everything in it utilizes local storage.
You, however, have an immaterial and everlasting soul with true freedom of will. Dallas Willard writes that every one of us is “an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny.” Just chew on that wondrous phrase for a minute. And unlike a simulated being, your life won’t end when the system gets turned off. You, my friend, are saved in the cloud.
Truth poorly defended loses not its truthfulness;
Falsehood aptly defended loses not it’s falsity.
* I admit that much of this post is a bit of the tail wagging the dog but it’s really just a fun thought exercise, not a formal apologetic, so I’m okay with that. There are a lot of analogies in here–just remember that an analogy can only go so far before breaking. So don’t take these analogies farther than they’re meant to go–which isn’t very far!
** Again, just a fun thought experiment and not actual theology! I believe Paul meant what he said in Philippians 2 that Jesus emptied himself of his godhood as part of the Incarnation. Jesus didn’t actually avail himself of the “cheat codes” available to him. He lived his life as fully human (while still retaining his godhood), temporarily setting aside the power of the second person of the Trinity. He was very clear that the miracles he performed came *through* him from the Father’s power–he didn’t perform them on his own in his own strength. There’s this often unspoken thought that Jesus was just kind of pretending to be a man on earth while still having all his powers, like Superman disguised as Clark Kent. But Jesus didn’t live life with cheats enabled, so to speak. That’s an unbiblical view and takes away from the power of his example to us of a human life lived perfectly in sync with the Father. See this video for a great, down-to-earth discussion on this topic.