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I LEARNED YEARS ago that our Founding Fathers were Deists. And I knew from Roman Catholic Latin/English missals that “Deus” meant “God.” Thus, I figured, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and those guys believed in God, and that was more or less as far as I took it.
Recently, however, a book review in AAAS Science enhanced my knowledge of this—and linked it to science fiction tales about our lives being mere simulations. The article, John Zerilli’s “From Dualism to Deism,” Science, February 3, 2022, is a review of David J. Chalmers’s book Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy.
David Chalmers is University Professor of Philosophy and Neural Science and codirector of the Center for Mind, Brain and Consciousness at New York University.
John Zerilli calls Chalmers’s book an “intriguing and entertaining romp through philosophy… a kind of deism—the view that the universe is the work of an intelligent being who sets its laws of operation in motion but then declines to intervene further.”
Deism Versus Theism. The Pediaa website contrasts deism with theism; the latter having “the belief that God intervenes in human affairs through miracles or supernatural revelation.” Similarly, Britannica.com says, “Deism closely resembles theism, but for the deist God is not involved in the world in the same personal way.”
God’s Hard Drive. “Deism,” Zerilli observes, “was the theology de rigueur of elite opinion in the late 18th century United States. But in Chalmers’s hands, deism is not quite the view that a supreme being created the universe. It is the view that there is a ‘serious possibility’ that our universe is a computer simulation run by an advanced civilization.”
“It is not clear,” Zerilli says, “that any civilization can survive long enough to develop simulation technology in the first place. Furthermore, consciousness may not be the sort of thing that can be simulated at all. Or ethical constraints in an advanced civilization may forbid the running of simulations containing sentient creatures.”
Zerilli continues, “Chalmers considers all these objections and several more. He concludes that we can be highly confident that one of the following scenarios holds true: (i) we are simulated entities, (ii) humanlike simulated entities are impossible, or (iii) humanlike simulated entities are possible, but few humanlike simulators will create them.”
Likelihood. Chalmers calculates the probability of the first scenario to be 25 percent. “If the simulation argument is even approximately as good as the design argument,” Chalmers writes, “it deserves to be in the pantheon of arguments for God’s existence.”
Sci-Fi: Been There, Done That. I am an enthusiast of SiriusXM’s “Radio Classics,” where 1950s’ sci-fi Dimension X and X Minus One are regular features. I recall several of these episodes imagining lives in a simulated world or, to rephrase in later parlance, on a hard drive.
The Top 100 Classic Radio Shows describes the X Minus One rendering of James Blish’s “Surface Tension,” in which scientists create “a race of sub-microscopic humans living in a drop of water.”
Another X Minus One episode is based on Frederik Pohl’s “The Tunnel under the World,” in which reality is revealed to be a simulated world created by a ruthless advertising executive.
In the Villiers Gerson “Beyond Infinity” episode on Dimension X, a scientist enters his own super-miniaturized world of military hardware.
And, in a Dimension X favorite of mine, Ernest Kinoy adapted Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt” into a chilling family tale of a simulation playroom for the kids transforming into a deadly experience for their unsuspecting parents.
All in good fun. Or …? ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022
I don’t know who said it first, but it’s possible that we are God’s fifth grade science project.