Reality: Supernaturally Real or Virtually Real?

What follows might be of interest to those who want to compare and contrast the God Hypothesis with the Simulation Hypothesis. It’s a battle between God done it and a computer software programmer done it. What follows is an online exchange I had with someone I’ll just identify as JK which should illustrate some of the comparisons and differences.

JP (quoted by JK) – “We know the Simulation Hypothesis is viable because we – humans – have created computer simulations”.

JK – “Nah, not convinced. Remember, we ‘haven’t’ been able to create a computer game where the characters are able to consider their existence in any way like we do.”

JP – Firstly, we’re relatively new at creating computer simulations compared to the length of time we’re been trodden down Planet Earth. What might we accomplish in another 100 years or 500 years? Secondly, it took Mother Nature 4.5 billion years (or more if you wish to go back to square one and the Big Bang event) to evolve self-awareness, consciousness, free will, whatever you wish to call it. If Mother Nature can do it naturally, unplanned, then I imagine that humans can artificially and deliberately create simulated beings with similar characteristics – in the fullness of time.

JK – “But let’s say we were able to, why would that mean we are not gods? What are you assuming about the nature of god? Are you already assuming there must be one who ‘created’ us in some sense?”

JP – God, or gods or deities are pretty much by definition supernatural entities – entities having powers beyond the natural. We’re not supernatural so our video game / computer simulated characters wouldn’t be correct to assume their creators (us humans) were supernatural, even if that would seem to them to be an obvious conclusion. Clearly if we humans are actually virtual beings ‘existing’ or ‘living’ in a simulated landscape then we were indeed created.

JK – “If there was a software programmer behind our whole reality, then I don’t see a lot of difference between that programmer and the eternal and immaterial mind and all source of being behind it all, as believed in common by Muslims, Jews, Christians, and many classical philosophers.”

JP – What is the probability that a deity (or deities) actually exist? I know of no way to actually answer that. What on the other hand is the probability that computer programmers and programmed software exists? Well it’s 100% and a deity can’t be any more probable than that! Now just using our level of alleged really real reality here on Terra Firma as an example, there are now vastly more virtual ‘worlds’ or realities in existence than really real realities which number just one. These virtual ‘worlds’ (computer games for example) are increasing in number and in sophistication with every passing day, while really real reality remains at just one. So, if you now go up one level, what are the odds that you are a really real being and not a virtual being? I mean E.T. may have created a video game (one of thousands) called “The life and times on the third rock from the star called Sol”.

JP (cont.) – There’s a vast difference between our responses to the God Hypothesis and the Simulation Hypothesis. In the case of the latter, there is no worshipping, no prayer, no dogmas, no discriminations (against women, LGBT people, other religions, etc.), no religious holidays, no holy book(s), no religious institutions (churches, educational institutions), no rituals, no commandments, no collection plates, no religious-themed artistic works, no child abuse, no fatwas, no Crusades, no Inquisition, no religious conflicts (i.e. – Northern Ireland), in fact absolutely none of the trappings associated with theologies of any kind. However, the Simulation Hypothesis can still provide the possibility of an afterlife, albeit a simulated one.

JK – “You assume that what we can create is anything like ‘our creator’ can create. And then you assume that if we could create something mildly similar, it would mean than ‘our creator’ is not (a) god because we’re not gods either. But if that were the case, then you would have to argue for an infinite regression of non-gods, which would never reach to this point in time if it were true.”

JP – A software-generated simulation still exists within really real reality so sooner or later there is a top of the apex software programmer. You can’t have an infinite number of levels of simulations each simulation being caused by a simulation one level higher. Since the top level computer is still finite, and since it would have to contain programming for every level of simulation beneath it, sooner or later you reach the apex computer’s maximum capacity.

JK – “And thus, I actually think it makes more sense to believe that if there was a ‘creator’ (or software programmer), then somewhere along the line there would still need to be an eternal uncaused caused, outside of time as we know it, and thus, very different to us as non-gods. And if somewhere along the line, then why not immediately before us?”

JP – You’ve already suggested an infinite regression of non-gods which would have to apply to gods as well. No matter how you slice and dice things, there is an infinity problem. In the natural order, the First Law of Thermodynamics says that matter / energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Therefore, it logically follows that something has always existed – that is matter / energy has always existed. Our Universe arose from within a preexisting Cosmos. You arose, but you arose from something – in this case your parents. Or, if you argue that a God or god or gods have always existed – well that’s still infinity. On the other hand, if a watch needs a watchmaker and life needs a life-maker and the Universe needs a Universe-maker then you have to argue that a deity needs a deity-maker and a deity-maker needs in turn another deity-maker and so on as an infinite regress. Assuming otherwise is special pleading.

JP (cont.) – A deity cannot exist eternally as timeless and changeless or exist in a state of no time and in a state of no change. Presumably the ultimate creator deity of our Universe at some stage did not have the notion or idea to create our Universe and then that creator deity did have that very notion or idea. Sorry, but that change-of-state has to take place in time (before and after) and the very idea of having an idea is in and of itself change. The very act of creation requires time (6 days?) and is in itself change. So this creator deity had to somehow slip out of a state of no time and no change and into a state of time and of change. And just how does a deity go from a state of no time and no change to a state of change and a state of time without changing from one state of no time / change state to that state of time / change without actually engaging in changing and changing in temporal framework?

JK – “And so no, I still think there is no better evidence for a simulation hypothesis over a god hypothesis, if that means that a ‘software programmer’ must be a non-god like us.”

JP – I’ll give an example where the Simulation Hypothesis is logically better than the God Hypothesis. There is absolutely no way the Sun and the Moon could have stood still in the sky as commanded by Joshua. If that had actual happened, you wouldn’t be here today and neither would anything and anyone else. However, if that were just a simulation, special effects, well that’s a different kettle of fish.

JK – “The reality is that we will never know what the nature of any ‘creator’ might be like, unless they revealed themselves to us. And here, there might be a religion that claims that the creator has. And we would need to weigh up those claims on whatever grounds they’re claimed upon!”

JP – If there was a religion that claimed that a deity has revealed itself to us, well 1) that claim would be irrelevant since we’d already know of that revelation in no uncertain terms, but 2) any religion making such a claim has the burden of proof to prove that their claim is true. Clearly that hasn’t happened otherwise there would be no need for further correspondence on the matter. I’m reminded here that if you want to know what is wrong with Religion X, then ask somebody from Religion Y and vice versa.

JK – “Further, there is a difference between verifying something and thinking something is the best conclusion to all the evidence. You don’t have to verify something in say, a scientific sense, to think there is good evidence for something, or that it’s reasonable/plausible to believe it – or at least, more plausible to believe than some other alternative. But that also doesn’t mean everyone will be convinced by it. We all have our unprovable assumptions, and almost every conclusion is logically avoidable – philosophically speaking.”

JP – I have to note here that there tends to be one science based around the best evidence and that science tends to be independent of geographical regions. The same isn’t true for religious belief systems. Japan would be vastly different relative to Canada; India isn’t of the same religious mix as say Brazil. Since there are literally multi-thousands of religions, even thousands of variations on the main trilogy of monotheistic religions, then there must be multi-thousands of sets of evidence, each set different to a greater or lesser extent from every other set. That really doesn’t speak well for the evidence being especially “good”. Let’s be honest, every believer in any one religion’s set of deities (or deity) is an atheist when it comes to every other religion’s set of deities (or deity). A physicist in say Australia is not an atheist when it comes to the actual hardcore evidence for a new discovery in physics in New Zealand. You can’t say that about religious beliefs when comparing / contrasting say Iran and Saudi Arabia.

JP (quoted by JK) – “What we now call ancient Egyptian mythology or ancient Greek / Roman mythology wasn’t mythology to the ancient Egyptians or to the ancients Greeks or Romans.”

JK – “But they are still mythological religions by nature. Doesn’t mean that people didn’t really believe them. Perhaps you are using the word ‘myth’ to describe a widely held, but false idea. I am using the word to describe the nature of a belief – as in, ‘a traditional story used to explain things’. These stories, though widely believed to be true, don’t have any real evidence to back them up. But not all religions are as easy to knock down as that. For instance, ‘mainstream’ scholarship doesn’t dismiss Christianity’s claims about Jesus on mythological grounds. They are debated on historical and philosophical grounds. One might say they are just myths like all other religions, but that won’t be very convincing to an intelligent believer.”

JP – If some religions are mythological, why not all of them? The ancient Greeks really did believe in the existence of the Olympians and made pilgrimages to the Oracle at Delphi to consult with Apollo. The ancient Egyptians really did believe in Horus, Isis and Osiris and how their gods and goddesses would judge them before passing them on (or not) to their afterlife. The ancient Incas really did believe in Viracocha who was very much a Jesus figure. There are many parallels of other entities akin to Jesus thus not making Jesus a unique entity. For example, there’s the myths and legends regarding the birth, life, death and resurrection surrounding Horus, Attis, Krishna, Dionysus, Mithra, Osiris, Adonis, Romulus, Inanna, Zalmoxis and even Hercules. If these are entities are mythical, why not Jesus? You do realize that there is no non-Biblical source that can be dated to 1 AD to say 50 AD that even mentions Jesus. Where are the ancient Roman records that deal with the trial and execution of Jesus? Nowhere to be found.

JK – “Your point was that we should expect belief in all religions to fade the same way as beliefs in different mythological religions have faded. But my point is that the reason beliefs in those religions have faded doesn’t so easily apply to all religions.”

JP – There are some ancient religions that have now faded away that actually lasted longer than our trilogy of monotheistic faiths. So, there’s time yet.

JK – “This doesn’t mean belief in these other religions won’t also fade. But only that your argument suggesting it will, isn’t very convincing… to me at least.”

JP – Religious belief across the board is dwindling albeit not equally in every region. In any event, you do realize that across at least the Christian world, the rise of the “no religion” faction is on the steady increase. In fact based on the 2016 Australian census, “no religion” was the leading box ticked of all the various religions offered up on the census form. You might be aware that the American right-wing fundamentalist / evangelistic Christian community goes on and on and on about how they are being persecuted by the non-believers, by the LGBT community, by pro-choice advocates, etc. Some Christians feel persecuted when they aren’t given the freedom to persecute others by shoving down the throats of non-Christians their faith and their morals. While the U.S. is still a very religious country, “no religion” is gaining there as well and Europe has already become predominately a union of nations of relatively little religious faith. While there is no one reason for that, reasons could be that the world is getting more educated especially with the rise of the Internet; science gets way more coverage in the media and has a far more direct influence on our lives now relative to 500 years ago; that End of Days / Second Coming just never seems to eventuate which rather tests the faith to breaking point; religious wars and conflicts don’t inspire much confidence in religions; and of course there have been numerous church-related scandals that make headlines. What’s God done for me lately – or ever? Probably not very much. What’s Sony, Microsoft, Apple, etc. done for me lately? An awful lot more at least in terms of personal satisfaction and ability to assimilate with what’s happening in real time.

JK – “Believing or not believing in god isn’t determined by how intelligent or rational one is. There are plenty of simple and brilliant minds on all sides of the debate. And remember, almost any conclusion is logically avoidable. It all depends on your starting presupposition.”

JP – Faith is not a pathway to truth regardless of how simple or how brilliant, how rational or intelligent you are.

JP (cont.) – But ultimately it doesn’t really matter if your creator was Mother Nature, a deity or a computer programmer. Your existence is your existence is your existence – it is what it is what it is what it is and you are powerless to change it.

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