What If God Is A Programmer?

Recently I participated in a discussion that basically asked the question, “Do Republicans believe in evolution?” Although I’m not a Republican, I know plenty of people who would classify themselves as Republicans and who accept the reality that evolution is a fact. Notice how I didn’t state that they believe it was real. The reason why is because evolution is a scientific fact. Again, I’m not a Republican. I’m a Libertarian. Libertarians share some common ideological bent with some who would call themselves Republicans.

The conversation soon devolved—intentional pun—into a debate of whether evolution was real or not. At that point I lose interest. You can’t have a meaningful discussion about, say, math if the person with whom you are talking can’t accept the fact that 2+2=4. But before it got to that point, the discussion touched on the coexistence of evolution and a creator; God, if you will. Some view evolution as an exemplification of a creator. That it could not possibly occur without some intelligent designer pulling levers like Oz behind the curtain. Others view evolution as being unnecessary and an affront to the notion of God.

This sort of discussion is difficult for me because although the two need not be mutually exclusive, I know that evolution is a verifiable fact. A creator or God is a belief.

As it stands there is not presently a way in which we can either prove the existence of a creator or the nonexistence of a creator. We simply cannot know. Both sides of that argument are basing everything on belief; both the theist and the atheist. One believes in a god, one does not, but both are basing everything on a belief. It’s an expression of faith. I accept the fact that I cannot know if there is a god or not therefore I’m agnostic on the matter. Every time an atheist looks down on a theist in snooty derision, I want to punch them in the throat. “Ass hole, the basis of your assumption is the exact same as the theist; belief. Now put a cork in it.”

Keep in mind that I don’t disregard religion as a whole. I do not. I fully acknowledge the important role that Judeo-Christianity has played in the development of Western Culture and accept that though not without flaws, that role has been by and large a positive one. I appreciate Western Culture and know that it would not exist as we know it without the Judeo-Christian influence that it has benefited from.

Amidst the debate of if a creator exists or not is a theory known as the “simulation theory.” It goes something like this: The universe and everything in it including us is one giant computer simulation. Basically, what if God is a programmer? It may sound crazy, but there are some serious thinkers that have tackled this idea. A great article on the simulation theory can be read at Aeon. No, this isn’t some rehash of The Matrix. It’s far more complex than that. And, frankly, much more interesting.

Our species is not going to last forever. One way or another, humanity will vanish from the Universe, but before it does, it might summon together sufficient computing power to emulate human experience, in all of its rich detail. Some philosophers and physicists have begun to wonder if we’re already there. Maybe we are in a computer simulation, and the reality we experience is just part of the program.

A pair of philosophers recently argued that if we accept the eventual complexity of computer hardware, it’s quite probable we’re already part of an ‘ancestor simulation’, a virtual recreation of humanity’s past. Meanwhile, a trio of nuclear physicists has proposed a way to test this hypothesis, based on the notion that every scientific programme makes simplifying assumptions. If we live in a simulation, the thinking goes, we might be able to use experiments to detect these assumptions.

The article goes on in great detail on how some of these experiments may work. I really do recommend taking the time to read it, especially for fiction writer types looking for inspiration.

The interesting thing is that if science were ever able to prove that our existence is simply a computer simulation, it would both prove and disprove the arguments of both the theist and the atheist. In fact the only real winner in that scenario would be nihilism. Wrap your head around that one.

The prospect that our existence could be nothing more than a computer simulation is a frightening one that has as much credence as theism or atheism from a completely empirical standpoint. But imagine a world in which we have advanced enough technologically to empirically determine the genesis of our existence and it turns out that our existence is not real; that we are simply nothing more than a simulation. Now think about the implications of that.

That is frightening.

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