Saturday, September 25, 2010

Are We A Simulation?

A post by Nullasalus at Telic Thoughts caused me to reflect on what I think is an interesting development in the battle over Intelligent Design as an explanation for both the highly ordered precision of the universe and the complexity of living things.

There seems to be a growing tendency among naturalists to tacitly acknowledge that the universe is quite probably designed by an intelligent agent of some sort even as they refuse to consider any non-natural agent as the designer. We talked last week about John Gribbin's hypothesis that the universe was designed by super-intelligent beings like ourselves, only much more advanced, living in some other universe.

Nullasalus also jogs our memory of a proposal by Nick Bostrom, made about a decade ago, that we are actually living in a computer simulated world designed by a civilization that has evolved from us. This civilization has an enormous amount of technological power at its disposal and has chosen to construct a simulation of its evolutionary past. Since we are part of that past, even though we seem to be real we're really just a sophisticated form of Sim City.

The world that we inhabit, according to this theory, is not real. It's like the Matrix designed by beings living in the future, our descendents. Bostrom, believe it or not, actually constructs a pretty interesting argument for this belief and claims that it's much more likely that we really are a sim than that we're not.

Whatever the case, I have three thoughts:

1) As I said in the post on Gribbin I find it amusing the lengths to which naturalists will stretch their imaginations in order to avoid having to say that maybe a God did design the world after all.

2) It also seems that given the expanding number of potential naturalistic designers it's time to tow the old clunker of an argument that ID is a necessarily religious hypothesis, a gussied up version of creationism, out to the junkyard of broken down ideas.

3) I have no problem with the notion that we are living in a simulation and in fact wrote a post suggesting something somewhat similar to this about four years ago. The difference between what Bostrom and I imagine, however, is pretty stark. It's the difference, really, between naturalism and theism.

Check it out.

Can't We All Just Talk Nice

Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine recently issued a plea for civil discourse in the upcoming election season.
Let’s try it. For the next six weeks before the election, let’s focus on truth and civility.
Why? Because it’s getting worse. With the campaign season in full swing, the level of our public discourse has hit new lows. From politicians to commentators, I keep hearing the same thing, “We’ve never seen it get this bad.” And some of them are clearly helping to make things worse.
Except for the part about it never having been this bad before - it was much worse, in my opinion, when George Bush was president, and Barack Obama hasn't been subjected to anything close to the horrendous treatment dished out to Bush or to Sarah Palin in the last campaign and its aftermath - I totally support what Wallis is asking for. Our public discourse is often abominable and degrading.

As an example here's Ed Shultz, one of MSNBC's stable of liberal talk show hosts, who doesn't seem to have gotten Wallis' memo. Shultz is referring to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in this video. The relevant portion starts at the 2:00 minute mark:
Wow, that was a persuasive argument Ed made there, don't you think? I was feeling pretty good about Christie until I heard Ed's analysis of what's wrong with him. Now that I know that Christie's just a "cold-hearted fat slob" I've changed my mind completely about the Governor. Now I want him to run for president in 2012 instead of 2016.

Seriously, personal insults, misrepresentations of opponents' positions, and baseless accusations of malicious motives, should have no place in our public discourse. We should be better people than this. Let's show each other some respect, especially when we disagree.