A few days ago I wrote about one of the central notions in David Chalmers' new book, "Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy. Namely, that if we're in a simulation, our world is still real.
In this post I'll talk about a chapter in the book with a compelling title: Is God a hacker in the next universe up?
What I'm enjoying most about Reality+, aside from how clearly Chalmers writes and reasons, is how he integrates basic philosophical questions with the specific issue of us being in a simulation.
Does God exist? The question has been asked since the dawn of human history. The most convincing answer is No, since there's no demonstrable evidence for God.
Chalmers summarizes the usual arguments in favor of God. For example, the cosmological argument that he says goes something like this:
Everything has a cause. Therefore, the universe has a cause. That cause must be God.
That argument is easily refuted, something I've done many times on this blog. If God is the cause of the cosmos, everything that exists, which may be much more than our universe, then what caused God? Religions have an answer. God doesn't need a cause, having existed eternally.
The obvious response is, then why not assume the cosmos has existed eternally? The advantage to this is that the cosmos can be perceived, at least the portion we're familiar with, while God can't.
Now, if we're in a simulation, everything changes.
The entity doing the simulating -- such as a being with unlimited computing capacity in a galaxy far, far away -- still may wonder what brought the cosmos into existence (unless this question isn't of interest to them), but obviously they know who created us and our universe.
They did. Chalmers says:
If we create simulated worlds ourselves, we'll be the gods of those worlds. We'll be the creators of those worlds. We'll be all-powerful and all-knowing with respect to those worlds. As the simulated worlds we create grow more complex and come to include simulated beings who may be conscious in their own right, being the god of a simulated world will be an awesome responsibility.
If the simulation hypothesis is true and we're in a simulated world, then the creator of the simulation is our god. The simulator may well be all-knowing and all-powerful. What happens in our world depends on what the simulator wants. We may respect and fear the simulator. At the same time, our simulator may not resemble a traditional god. Perhaps our creator is a mad scientist, like Rick -- or perhaps it's a child, like my nephew.
The transhumanist philosopher David Pearce has observed that the simulation argument is the most interesting argument for the existence of God in a long time. He may be right.
I've considered myself an atheist for as long as I can remember. My family wasn't religious, and religious rituals always seemed a bit quaint to me. I didn't see much evidence for the existence of a god. God seemed supernatural, whereas I was drawn to the natural world of science. Still, the simulation hypothesis has made me take the existence of a god more seriously than I ever had before.
Of course, the god whose existence Chalmers now takes more seriously isn't anything like the gods assumed by most of the world's religions.
The simulation route leads to a distinctive sort of god. The simulator is a natural god, one who is part of nature. The ontological, cosmological, and design arguments are often used to argue for a supernatural god, one who stands outside nature. The simulator is beyond our own physical universe but not beyond nature as a cosmic whole. In principle, the simulator can be explained by the natural laws of the cosmos.
As a result, the simulation hypothesis is compatible with naturalism. Naturalism is a philosophical movement that, at a minimum, rejects the supernatural. It holds that everything is a part of nature and can be explained by natural laws. Many have thought that naturalism and God are hard to reconcile, so that naturalism should lead to atheism. The simulation hypothesis offers a path to reconciliation: a god that even a naturalist can believe in.
He says that the problem of evil, which is difficult to explain if God is good, is easily understood if we're in a simulation: "A simulator need not be all-good. She may well tolerate some evils in the simulation."
Chalmers doesn't see any need for worship if we're in a simulation.
Should we worship our simulator? It's hard to see why. The simulator may simply be a scientist or a decision-maker in the next universe up. We may be grateful to her for creating our world. We may be in awe of the power she has over our world. But gratitude and awe alone are not worship.
...I find myself thinking that even if our simulator is our creator, is all-powerful, is all-knowing, and is all-good, I still don't think of her as a god. The reason is that the simulator is not worthy of worship. And to be a god in the genuine sense, one must be worthy of worship.
For me, this is helpful in understanding why I'm not religious and why I consider myself an atheist. It turns out that I'm open to the idea of a creator who is close to all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. I had once thought that this idea is inconsistent with a naturalistic view of the world, but the simulation idea makes it consistent. There remains a more fundamental reason for my atheism, however: I do not think any being is worthy of worship.
The point here goes beyond simulation. Even if the Abrahamic God exists, with all those godlike qualities of perfection, I will respect, admire, and even be in awe of him, but I won't feel bound to worship him. If Aslan, the lion-god of Narnia, exists as the embodiment of all goodness and wisdom, I won't feel bound to worship him.
Being all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, and entirely wise aren't sufficient reasons for worship. Generalizing the point, I don't think any qualities can make a being worthy of worship. As a result, we never have good reason to worship any being. No possible being is worthy of worship.