Tech billionaire Elon Musk is once again in the headlines, but this time it’s not for rockets or electric cars. No sir.
Instead he has decided to lend his brilliance to the most complex, confounding problem in all of history: the Universe. Finally, after centuries of philosophical and theological scholarship we can rest easy — Silicon Valley is on the case. After all, if the guy who started PayPal can’t tell us what we’re doing here, then chances are no one can.
According to the South African-born entrepreneur, we are all almost certainly living in a computer simulation. A very advanced one to be sure, but a simulation nonetheless. It’s an interesting idea, and one that has been gaining attention lately as technology rapidly evolves and society grows increasingly dependent on its evolution. Musk isn’t the first to propose it, but he is definitely among the best known figures to lend it credence.
The propagation of this “simulation theory” isn’t surprising given the dramatic increase in computing power over the past couple of decades and the possibilities presented by the development of artificial intelligence.
But while it may make for interesting navel-gazing, Musk’s contention that we are simply characters in a seriously advanced version of The Sims suffers from an irreparable and elementary flaw: it’s pure semantics.
Musk’s argument is essentially that we are lesser “creations” playing out our existences in a world designed by a much higher form of intelligence, basically the idea central to every major religion, albeit with a technological twist. The concepts are exactly the same: a world created by a vastly more intelligent being(s) in which human actors are detached from said creator and left to their own devices. While simulation itself seeks to imitate reality, for the actors within the simulation it is their reality, making the line between “simulation” and “reality” completely arbitrary. But for geeks like Musk, reality lacks zeitgeist. Tech is in.
Are we really so desperate to shake the moral and societal confines of religion as to allocate headlines, and by extension credibility, to Musk’s CGI-video game existence? Judging by faith’s steep decline in American and European societies, it would appear so.
This decline is in no doubt due, at least in part, to the enormous advances in science over the past few centuries — men like Newton, Linnaeus, Mendel, Darwin, Einstein, and Salk shed light on the workings of the natural world that religion never could. Of course, religion has always been less concerned with the mechanisms than the outcome, but these discoveries provided some degree of satisfaction for our temporal, mortal existence.
Today, however, those early scientific ambassadors who were so genuinely curious about the world have been replaced by modern-day celebrities such as Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins and, you guessed it, Elon Musk who worship the golden calves of logic and reason with the zeal of a Revivalist preacher while attempting to hold faith to scientific standards, despite their entirely separate natures.
They insist that believers kowtow to their frameworks and convince them with wholly unrealistic demands such as “burden of proof.” While this classic philosophical defense does indeed usually fall on those making the claim, i.e. there is a God(s), proof as a tool for discovery is anchored solely within the realm of science. Faith doesn’t demand proof, but rather belief, even in the purest absence of proof. Proof is science’s cross to bear, not religion’s, and the faithful brush off the burden as if it were a fly, as well they should.
This irks scientists, who uncompromisingly demand that these battles be fought solely on their terms. So I’ll humor them.
Shouldn’t the burden of proof likewise fall on those who so confidently claim there is no God(s)? You know, the same ones that wield science like a saber and proudly claim proof as their bailiwick. Despite hundreds of debates with just as many people, I have yet to see or hear anything to even remotely substantiate the idea that no God(s) exist. And I’m not holding my breath, either.
Of course, the worshippers of logic brush off such common sense with antiquated philosophical rebukes such as “you can’t prove a negative.” Desperation can make even the smartest people say the dumbest things.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m a great believer in science. In fact, I’ve devoted much of my life to it. But like most tools it serves a very specific purpose — explaining the world around us. But when it comes to explaining the “why” of the world, science can be less than effective, like pounding a nail with a rock when a hammer is within reach.
For example, the standard model, physics’ best theory yet for explaining the workings of the Universe, can account for roughly five percent of it; religion can account for 100 percent, and has been able to for millennia. What science can’t explain it conveniently labels “dark energy” and “dark matter.”
For the faithful, however, those things which we can’t explain about the Universe have long worn other labels such as God, or Allah, or Yaweh. Again, simple semantics.
And hence my proposal. For just as science relies on stark boundaries among its many disciplines such as geology, chemistry, biology, and psychology, perhaps science as a whole should stick to describing the world in which we live, not the one from which we came.
After all, it’s the rare psychologist who tolerates a geologist’s critique of attachment theory. Why should the faithful tolerate an even greater incursion?
But as science, and progressivism, advance and religion and spirituality decline, they will most certainly have to. And all while witnessing the rise of half-baked ideas such as Musk’s simulation theory.
After all, it’s the perfect canard for our future secular society simply due to its lacking the messy morality inherent in religion. We can all lie, cheat, and steal with zero repercussions because no one really knows who wrote the code (although I strongly suspect he, or more likely she, is more “spiritual” than “religious” and can surf).
Babies can be aborted, people can change sexes at the drop of a hat, and Musk can still get invited to all the cool Hollywood parties, all while piggybacking on the central concept of every major religion. Oh yeah, and you’re free on Sunday mornings, too.