Neil deGrasse Tyson’s recent debate at the American Museum of Natural History on the question of whether we live in a real or a simulated universe was fascinating. The first interesting thing is that such a hypothesis is considered worthy of scientific discussion. After all, what this hypothesis proposes is that we might be living in a much more advanced analogy of a computer game, something akin to the false world of the film The Matrix. The argument is that if we (assumed to be of not very high intelligence) can simulate reality, then it is extremely likely that some of all those putative intelligent creatures who exist somewhere must have already become incredibly good at simulations, and we could very well be living in one.
Apparently this hypothesis is being taken seriously by some scientists. All of them atheists. My question is, if you are going to talk about simulators (those who made the simulations), how exactly is that different from talking about a creator? Or to be clear, God. In fact, this subject came up in the discussion, and the fact that the panel was edging quite close to forbidden territory was pointed out more than once.
The consensus, if there was any, seemed to be that if we are a simulation, in other words, created, then there should be clues to that in the rules by which we are playing the game, better known as the laws of physics. In fact one of the panelists, Dr. James Gates, said that he has found evidence of error-correcting codes in some of the equations of symmetry related to string theory. And that this appears to be evidence that the universe was computed, and not a random event of accidental causes.
It certainly does seem that we are living in a mathematical universe, according to Max Tegmark, another physicist, who wrote a book on the subject. Many theists have been pointing out for a long time that the fact that the physical laws that govern everything are generally simple and elegant mathematical formulas is just what one would expect in a universe created by a Being. And this doesn’t even touch on the setting of the physical constants, which is also consistent with some super-intelligent game designer far, far away.
So back to my question. Why is it that the idea of a simulated universe is acceptable for scientific discussion, but the idea of a universe created and maintained by God is not?
Gates says that for non-scientists, acceptance of the simulation hypothesis as an accurate view of our universe is equivalent to belief in a deity. He goes on to say that if there is a programmer who is philosophically equivalent to a creator but who cannot be observed, then the whole thing is outside the realm of science, a statement agreed to by the whole panel.
At that point, Chalmers (a strong atheist) admits that a simulated universe could be theological, but could also be purely naturalistic, say if the actual simulator of all of our reality in this universe was the work of some teenage hacker in the next universe up.
He also admits that this sounds very much like a God hypothesis, with the important caveat that he would never worship such a simulator/creator largely because he sees no evidence of any sort of goodness in the creation, and thus no sign that the simulator/creator is essentially good.
And people are still surprised when I state that science is the best road to faith.