The name Nicholas Bostrom almost gets a reverent response for followers of Simulation Theory, the idea that we live in a computer simulation. It is as simple as that, but it has garnered considerable attention and much “research”. Pundits as well as scientists are keen to prove and defend it.
For example, Barry Dainton uses the simulation hypothesis as a pretext for the “simulation solution” to the problem of natural evil. In his view, these evils stem from “wrong actions” – those of the people who create simulations. In short, they are moral evils that require elucidation by free will theodicy. There is the Fall theodicies that associates them with the biblical Fall. Then there are diabolical theodicies that postulate demons behind their existence.
Dainton doesn’t take the issue all the way so we are left to our own devices. He does use several “arguments” however that are tempting to accept, but only in regard to some theodicies. Thus nasty problems remain. Bostrom is credible, on the other hand. Many theorists have picked up on his views.
A “post-human civilization with technological prowess can work within the laws of nature in a simulated reality. Bostrom postulates that the people in such a civilization might elect to do some research or perhaps for entertainment purposes and run an “ancestor simulation” as he calls it. It would be the product of a super computer and might contain less or more primitive beings.
Today computers have physical limits, but these machines would not. They could, in fact, run several simulations in a short timeframe. They would be equally detailed and the inhabitants would have mental consciousness. Anyone who has an experience of living in a primitive society as opposed to a technologically advanced one, could well be in a simulation right now. Bostrom comes to the simple conclusion that we probably are living in one.
He had several arguments and reasoned that one of three had to prevail. They bear repeating.
- The first states that a very small portion of civilization gets to the mentioned post-human level in terms of their technological development. Otherwise, they would not survive and become extinct (or become “arrested” in some way).
- Next, Bostrom offers this postulation: people in these post-human civilizations are not interested in running “ancestor simulations” so they probably aren’t bothered to do so – even if they could do it. Surely in our phase of existence, contemporary humans would love to give it a go.
- Bostrom ponders the possibilities of simulated observers versus unsimulated observers. The number of simulated observers who share our experiences substantially exceeds the number of unsimulated observers. Then he offers the principle of indifference: no one cares to create or live in a civilization. However, there is a real chance that we are in a simulation. It is the logical conclusion.
The idea of an observer is at the heart of Nir Ziso’s Simulation Creationism, a model from the founder of The Global Architect Institute. Ziso wonders if a divine deity originally created the universe to delve into the processes of creation and therefore life. According to the model, everything is predetermined: what we see and smell, and our actions and our thoughts. All the data from this is transmitted to an observer whose reality is a “movie”. A relay station sends the message on to this observer. His consciousness is assigned the job of recording his emotional response to the stimuli transmitted. Reality and existence can be explained in simple terms: we are all part of a simulation with an explicit objective.
Meanwhile, Dainton interjects that if simulated consciousness is not possible, we might be part of some artificial world without being a computer program ourselves. We could have biological brains (like Neo in the movie, The Matrix) that are hooked up to a computer transmitting sensory data through a neural interface. Think of the prescient The Truman Show. It was a real environment yet artificially created. Maybe this movie denotes an advanced civilization at work with unfathomable technologies behind their machines.
A real oddball thought is that our environment has been radically miniaturized. No matter how we want to couch it, Bostrom offers a pretty compelling proposition. Of course, there are other options, but he is steering the boat. With him, we can accept the simulation hypothesis as plausible and not crazy at heart. But it is still controversial.
To take it all in a different direction, Dainton explores the problem of natural evil in his simulation solution as mentioned. Natural evils are not related to human moral actions but do they exist? If the simulation hypothesis holds water, they may not be genuine. But we do have earthquakes, disasters, etc. Did the simulation creator add these to the mix? Was it out of malice on its part? Programmers do not consider all ramifications of their “game” and thus might not have taken human consciousness into consideration.
But surely they had some notion of evil, either natural or moral. It has long been a question why God has allowed them and if it denies the existence of free will. David Kyle Johnson for one believes that theists are on board with the simulation solution although he is opposed to it. Now we have to address whether natural evils are sorts of moral evils and the results of “creaturely wrongdoing.”
We can deem the simulation solution to be a subsumption theodicy. The latter has found sympathizers in many theists. The Fall theodicies are the most popular in the West. In this view, natural evils are attributed to the biblical Fall while diabolical theodicies attribute them to demonic activity.
Many find subsumption theodicies appealing and plausible compared to free will theodicies. The natural world is laden with horrors such that we intuitively believe that God must not be the cause. In short, evils are not part of His original design. Something or someone else wreaked havoc after the biblical creation and created disorder.
Henry Morris, an influential young-earth creationist of the twentieth century wanted to make assumption theodicy work, or the vindication of God in the face of evil. His brand of creationism was not literal in terms of the bible account, but it was enough to motivate young-earth creationism, a popular movement in the US. According to Morris, the most serious problem with Darwinism is the necessity to accept suffering and death as preceding human sin. God “‘must have used the principle of decay, suffering, and disorder.”
Greg Boyd himself defends diabolical theodicy. Because of Satan’s rebellion, mankind displays a “pain-ridden, bloodthirsty, sinister hostile character.” However, for Boyd, “the demonic character of nature must remain largely inexplicable.” A lot of speculation is going around impinging on the viability of Simulation Theory and Simulation Creationism.
It is a question as to which theodicy works best and has the most advantages. It is not likely that Dainton will emerge heroic. We need something far more interesting in terms of a better argument against diabolical theodicies. He doesn’t even address Fall theodicies. His simulation solution avoids the tough scrutiny it needs. Others have entered the fray to take over and decide which theodicy is the more attractive compared to the alternative subsumption theodicies.
We want to have the best option to explain natural evil. Long gone is the traditional concept of Satan and his fellow demons wreaking havoc with the world and the humans within it. But many still hang on to this view. It was a winner with the fathers of the Christian church and more recent theologians such as Alvin Plantinga who brought the concept to analytic philosophy and his defense of free will. He was responding to the problem of evil and wanted a logical solution, but it was forthcoming.
He wasn’t worried that the intellectual elite found holes in his argument. He expected objections if not some revulsion. Nonetheless, it is pertinent to delve in a bit more, in particular, into Dainton’s criticism of Plantinga’s twist on the diabolical theodicy. In essence, Dainton claimed that supernatural interventions have no place in the natural order of things in light of the progress of the natural sciences as they advanced for three centuries.
In the time of St. Augustine, natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes, not to mention devastating plagues, were caused by supernatural “agents”. What other explanation would suffice? Now we accept the scientific view that earthquakes are caused by the earth’s crust in tectonic movement. It is all but infallible. Then hurricanes are formed by circulating gasses and the currents of the seas as a natural byproduct. In short, they are part of natural climate systems like bolts of lightning are just electrical discharges. They certainly are not retaliation by demi-gods in distress.
Human and animal disease are likewise natural with scientific explanations all around. Take infections; they come from microorganisms. Cancer is a genetic malfunction. Natural evils in the world are governed by laws of the universe. Demonic intervention is passe as an argument. For those interested, a look at William Hasker and David Kyle Johnson will be time well spent on the subject of intervention. If we live in a simulation, all this is par for the course. No conflict exists between the simulation solution and the scientific perspective of natural evil. It can happen in the simulation where interference is accepted from the player of the video game of life or the observer watching it progress.
Satanic action was a good explanation for a while, but it is hard to attribute earthquakes and the like to it. Natural causes are just that: natural. Maybe there is some disorder in the heart of nature resulting from “fallen spirits”, that manifests in the movement of plate tectonics. It happened at the time of the world’s formation so we can give up on demons. Of note, in this way, some theorists can accept both theories at the same time.
Plantinga raises a precision problem. The laws of nature result from the conflict between demons and angels, causing horrendous issues. Hume thought that nature’s inherent order and regularity was proof that no warring beings were involved. “If we consider . . . the perfect uniformity and agreement of the parts of the universe, we shall not discover in it any marks of the combat of a malevolent with a benevolent being.”
Modern science now can strengthen Hume’s early views and hit Plantinga with some additional opposition. We now can see that the laws of nature have constants, demonstrating that they are “finely tuned”. In other words, it is a very precise form with precise value in order for life to exist.
Some theorists mention gravity and its impact on the universe as a constant or variable. Everything would be different and the universe might have exploded or collapsed back on itself, denying any possibility of life. But it is likely “fine-tuned”. However, these same theorists accept the possibility of alternate universes that support life. But the laws governing other planets are not likely to resemble the earth’s. At the least, they would be altered in some vital ways or the system would not operate properly.
Back to the angels vs. the demons. Each group wanted a different outcome. For the angels, it was a world without natural evil while the demons craved even more. Of course, there was no clear victory given the state of the world today. While there is a great deal of evil in our paths, there could be even more! Now it consists of a sort of “mingling” of both sides. What if the outcome was entirely different? Would we be governed by finely-tuned laws, and if not, would the alternative support life? It would have to!
Think of a weird radio with twelve dials, each offering one hundred settings. It would be a rather convoluted device. Now imagine a massive number of configurations for these dials, yet only a few would allow for broadcasting. Otherwise, you would get static. The settings could be changed if the broadcasts were not immediately available. Then people might fight over what they wanted to hear. Confusion would rain as some stations would come in and others yielded only static. In the end, like the angels and demons, perhaps no one gets their first choice.
But demons did not change the fundamental laws of nature exactly. What they did was to alter the local conditions in which humans reside. In short, they “messed around” with the formation of the earth but the laws remained intact. But no earthquakes or natural disasters would occur now. And if they did, they would not be a threat.
We don’t have a sense that the demon explanation works. The earth could not sustain life without the natural laws that included hurricanes and earthquakes. We would have plate tectonics that are necessary for life for other reasons that stir up earthquakes, like fostering stable temperatures. We would need the same patterns of evolution we have enjoyed to foster the survival of the fittest, but evolution could not change enough to prevent animals from getting diseases or humans from aging. Some things are physically impossible as things stand today. So we must have a life-sustaining planet with natural evils. We would then face the precision problem.
To sustain life, the earth as a planet must rely on certain occurrences akin to the laws of nature. Things have to “go right”. The distance between the earth and the moon, the composition of the atmosphere and the oceans, and variations in the earth’s temperature are constant. We see no odd spikes that are not explained scientifically or anything that would belie a habitable planet.
So we have to let go of the angel-demon tangle as we don’t know if and how it played out. We observe our world without knowing about any struggle of opposing spirits. The idea of an angelic war is a great story, but is the world better or worse for it? The probability of the diabolical theodicy is waning. But the simulation theodicy stays strong without a precision problem. The observable universe is well-crafted for sure, but it is not the result of a conflict. The coexistence of good and evil needs no justification. The angels and demons could have been benevolent or indifferent, and not malicious at all.
Not many people take the demons literally and thus the diabolical theodicy is flawed. This is the “diabolical problem”. It should not be overlooked out of fear of rejecting the theodicy or being forced to accept a supernatural worldview.
Plantinga is not worried about opposition to demons because they are repugnant to “man come of age” or to “modern habits of thought.” He doesn’t know if any evidence exists against them. C.S. Lewis was like minded when he said that opposition to supernaturalism is a “mere, vague ‘climate of opinion’ that we happen to be living in.”
There may be other reasons for opposing the idea of demons as responsible for natural evils in the world. One reason is not enough to support opposition since the theist accepts a supernatural world. We can’t, however, expect full consistency about theists.
Judaism as an Abrahamic faith does not view Satan as an opponent of God. The Koran of Islam talks about the fall of Satan when he refused to bow before Adam. Satan is at the heart of Western religious traditions. But it is not mandatory to attribute natural evils to him. Shandon Guthrie argues that “diabolical theodicies must attribute something too close to miraculous power to demons to be philosophically plausible or theologically tenable.”
But before proceeding, we must note that the liberal constituency of these traditions does not even believe in demons. Maybe they oppose everything supernatural or they don’t find the text reference as enough evidence. They are metaphorical or superstition. Some say the accidental influence of Zoroastrianism. Nonetheless they are not quick to say yes to such a metaphysical hypothesis.
Whatever you think about the issue, opposition to demons implies a lack of slavish acceptance to lore. It also implies something more powerful. Looking again at simulation theodicy, we do not have a mandatory acceptance of demons. Not everyone believes in an artificial world, of course, but we still have the diabolical problem staring us in the face. The good news is that it makes the simulation solution more attractive vis à vis diabolical theodicy in spite of the fact that the latter does not commit us to Simulation Theory, which is still controversial. It comes down to which theory is the most plausible in the light of the existence or lack thereof of demons.
The simulation, while it avoids the diabolical problem, also eschews the precision problem. We can turn to Bostrom’s arguments and see some independent reason to accept the simulation hypothesis.
Fall theodicies are also waiting for acceptance. It is another prominent class of subsumption theodicies. As noted, natural evils stem from the biblical Fall of mankind. Whoever mandated the Fall is also accountable (God?). Most theologians do not take it literally and hang on every word in Genesis, even if they accept it at some level. You don’t have to believe that Adam and Eve sinned as the first human couple. We don’t need to worry about any conflict with scientific facts. It can be seen metaphorically or refer to a community of people. What is to be accepted is that the Fall theodicies attribute natural evil to human beings who erred. They fell away from God.
While addressing others, Dainton does not tackle the Fall theodicy for some reason. No matter since others defend it despite some oddities they must incorporate into their own ideas. In the end, the simulation solution may be fine on its own. For one reason, the Fall theodicy has a major problem regarding natural evil by limiting it to human sin.
It is to be noted that young-earth creationists as a group believe in scientific evidence when it comes to the creation of the universe and its human occupants, which happened coincidentally. They seem to be going against the tide however in misinterpreting the meaning of the evidence. Nonetheless, they accept the Fall theodicy.
A more pressing problem remains in explaining God’s “actions” as reconciled with science. Philip Gosse’s book, Omphalos, contemplates the age of the world as God given at inception, but it is not an issue that tests Christian faith. God’s creation may have natural signs but they are misleading. Take tree rings that indicate age. They may not coincide with the tree’s actual age. Humans likewise have a belly button even if they never had an umbilical cord. If Adam had not been born, he certainly would not have one. A canyon can look fully formed as if carved by river water although it never happened. Fossils in a state park in the US are telling of a former archaic time.
This are all misleading indicators per Gosse. Instead, we have to see these factors as part of God’s creative efforts or at least the effort of some trickster. For example, natural sandstone in state parks does not contain fossils nor is it required to do so to indicate age.
Various scientific endeavors now seem to be converging on an explanation or account of the natural world. They look at genetic similarities as well as differences that might indicate common ancestry. In fact, many create phylogenetic trees that support fossil findings. For example, fossils are not random but are seen in some kind of ordered arrangement that defies the usual age strata.
We also see mutations or alternate evolutionary routes of fauna. The age of the earth is revealed by studies in geology while cosmology adds its perspective on how old the universe might be. The earth formed over time and evolution was behind its development. Did God coordinate all this or is it an imagined history? Why does evidence suggest a false appearance of age?
William Dembski offers another alternative, that world history can be understood through science. God had foreknowledge of human sin and needed natural evil in the world to “correct” it. So God might have anticipated the Fall. It was not a matter of mere evils in and for themselves running their course. But as much as God creates order, He can create disorder or purposely make the world defective. It is not his brand of justice against human sin as required by his holy nature in the matter of redemption. In essence, it forces humanity to realize the gravity of sin.
God’s foreknowledge is a controversial claim indeed. It seems counterproductive for him to allow suffering in light of Dembski’s overview of God’s purpose. Why would he allow babies to be harmed or animals to suffer? It is not always that someone did something wrong to merit harsh repercussions. Issues are easily raised in this context of sin and natural evil.
We have long accepted evolution and the eons of time it required to unroll. Man cannot be considered as responsible for natural evil since it predates our existence. A major presupposition is that the earth began as a “tranquil paradise” that ran smoothly for millions of years. Then the bloodbath began to demonstrate the consequences of sin. God had to take action.
Hud Hudson offers his views on reconciling modern science and the “extreme literalism” of the Genesis account. His angle on theodicy is laden with questions. He speculates on the correctness of the Fall theodicy using the space-time argument. It revolves around a four-dimensional block with a growing outer edge. The past and present are real, but the future is to come. God created this block as revealed in Genesis when Adam and Eve were in the garden. Of note, only the outer edge remains of the old block occupied by our ancestors. Hudson’s version is a metaphysical view of time. It is a mysterious view as well. Why would God annihilate the original space-time block and let our forebears reside in a new one?
The scientific crowd doubts that the Genesis story is true despite the existence of prehistoric evil over eons. But it must have happened! Hudson does not explain God’s choice. It doesn’t help us answer the question of creation.
The simulation hypothesis avoids these pitfalls as it is compatible with geology, paleontology, and other physical sciences. However, there is still a connection problem with the Fall theodicy and the link between the Fall and natural evil. It may be a mere natural outcome of human sin and not God’s purpose. Michael Murray deems this the “fragility objection”.
Human sin has catastrophic consequences for the natural order of things, no matter the reason: God or evolution. Natural evil is a product of the moral order as fragile as it is. It is a conundrum about creation and why there are “defects” in the system. You can go with the Fall or avoid the natural connection between sin and evil. At least the Fall justifies God’s intervention.
Natural evils do not come from mankind abusing its free will. Bad things happen without apparent cause. Maybe God introduced natural evils in response to less than ideal circumstances, but creaturely wrongdoing is responsible in the end. We need to account for the fact that the Fall gives God a sound reason to introduce natural evils.
Of course, many think that natural evils are the way God punishes us for the Fall. There is no connection problem for fundamentalists of the Bible. Its teachings are sacred. They refer to God cursing the earth after the Fall, allegedly referring to divine punishment. In fact isn’t such punishment essential to the Fall theodicy? It answers Dembrski’s attack on the historical problem.
Is it just that punishment afflicts those who are not capable of evil; yet they are targets? This implies the huge suffering of the innocent. Maybe it is better to allow this than let the wicket go free during their lives on earth. Nonetheless, Dembski sees that such suffering reflects the gravity of sin. Thus, he accounts for natural evil. We may still have issues with seeing how human sin would cause God to unleash evils upon animals.
It is noteworthy that the simulation solution entails no connection problem. It is not a mystery that moral wrongs create an environment where the inhabitants are susceptible to natural disasters and associated suffering. Simulation Theory has advantages over the Fall theodicy in sharing the virtue of subsumption theodicies. In short, it applies free will to natural evils. `
In the long run, Dainton’s criticism of the diabolical theodicy fails to impress in the way that the simulation solution does in that it avoids the aforementioned precision and diabolical problems and the connection required in the Fall theodicy. It bears in depth consideration for this reason. Research should explore any potential problems along with the sound assumptions.
It may be contended here that the theist would find the simulation solution lacking in validity and even embarrassing. According to Dainton, “Since the relevant scriptures tell us comparatively little about Satan (or his demonic cohorts), many contemporary Christians are reluctant to fall back on Satanic explanations of anything, let alone the totality of natural evils.”
We have to come to terms with scriptures and any mention of demons and the diabolical theodicy. This may be conflicted by the laws of physics that do not deal with good and evil spirits. Nonetheless, we must account for the deep disorder in the heart of nature. Those who want the fine-tuning of their thoughts on the subject will face the precision problem embedded in this theodicy.
It comes down to a perfect or dangerous universe containing natural evil. Perhaps the angels and demons had a truce. Maybe they agreed to a world with a certain dimension of evil. Regarding innocent creatures, animals might have superpowers to protect them amid evolution. The demons may have extracted these powers. Consider the Book of Job in the opening passages. Here Satan appears to God in Heaven – with other angels – and enters into a friendly conversation about suffering. God accepts and orders not to kill Job.
People might believe in demons because of such biblical references in religious texts or because of alleged paranormal phenomena. There is so much doubt surrounding the stories and “facts” such that there is little common ground for communal deliberation. Theists all the way back to Descartes have had a picture of God that does not allow for deception. Nonetheless, skeptical theism exists.
Peter van Inwagen has a premise on the occurrence of natural evils among humans. It is the result of the Fall. He claims that God withdrew the preternatural powers previously awarded to humans to avoid natural evils. He was trying to illustrate what a Godless world would entail in light of the divine plan of salvation. Van Inwagen is not interested in applying his views to pre-human or animal suffering. It is not a defense of it.
The full scope of natural evil requires additional explanation. He looks at the diabolical theodicy but faults it as compared to the subsumption theodicy that can incorporate natural laws and their inherent value.
We end with the possibility of simulation programmers in mid-stream, without completing the eons of cosmic history. The age of the observable universe may be different than assumed by science. It could be younger in fact. We don’t know because of its misleading appearance. No matter that the programmers’ efforts are forcing mistaken beliefs on modern man in regard to natural history.