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Is the universe a simulation?



Do we live in a simulation, like the Matrix? How would we even know if we were? John F. from the Philippines writes:

Hi, I found your site very interesting it is also one of the best sites to refute evolutionism. I am firm believer in God and the reality that we are not just a result of chance. There is a great intelligence behind the universe. I have this question below:
What does say about the simulation theory which is gaining evidence? The theory says that the universe is a simulation and we are living in it.
Thank you,

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

I wouldn’t say that it’s ‘gaining evidence’. People may be talking about it recently in greater numbers than before because the 17th annual Isaac Asimov Debate at New York’s American Museum of Natural History discussed this topic.1

Let’s say that we live in a simulation. Question: what is a ‘simulation’? The notion is inescapably laden with presuppositions of both design and a real substratum from which the ‘simulation’ arose. Perhaps we could talk of a ‘virtual world’ to try and escape implications of design. But that still presupposes a real substratum from which it arises. The point is, if we are in what can be properly termed a ‘virtual world’ or a ‘simulation’, then there still must be a real world from which the virtual world arises, by the very meaning of those terms.

Another idea that they talked about was an infinite regress of simulations within simulations. But for every virtual world, there needs to be a world from which it arose. As such, if we have an infinite regress of virtual worlds, we also have an infinite regress of worlds that they arose from. However, this is a vicious regress; every entity needs another entity to explain it. Question: how do we stop such an infinite regress? Can we stop it with a virtual world? No, because, as we established above, a virtual world needs to arise from something to be a virtual world. So we can only stop it with a world that is not virtual; i.e. a real world.

Interestingly, several panellists pointed out that the designer of such a simulation, being outside and above the simulation, parallels the idea of God. As secularists, though, most panellists preferred to think of some ‘teenage hacker’ having fun on his ‘computer’. But is it so easy to limit the designer to a physical world? After all, a physical simulator would live in a life-permitting universe, as ours is. However, the simulation hypothesis implicitly admits that the fine-tuning argument is sound. Wouldn’t that suggest a similar fine-tuning argument could also be run for the world the simulation was designed in? Indeed, it’s reasonable to think that any universe with a simulator would be subject to a fine-tuning argument. The simplest way out of this fine-tuning regress is a non-physical designer like God.

And ask yourself, what is the simplest conclusion: that we’re a 5th level simulation, or that we’re living in a real world? Clearly the latter. As such, without any evidence for being in a simulation, we have no reason to suppose that we are in one. After all, why should we think e.g. our sense and memory beliefs (by which we ‘know’ about the physical world) are untrustworthy? And I’m not talking about occasional failures in those faculties. I’m asking: why should we consider our sense perception and memory beliefs generally unreliable? See, to be able to judge them as generally unreliable, we need some means of doing so. But we can’t get outside of our own sense and memory beliefs to do so! So there’s no way to do that apart from using our sense and memory faculties. But if we do, we end up assuming the general reliability of our sense and memory faculties to deny their general reliability. So, such skepticism about the reality of the physical world by and large ends up having to presume what it tries to deny.

The fundamental mistake people tend to make with this extreme skeptical line is thinking that, just because sense and memory can be fooled, that means they are habitually fooled. Now, sometimes this is indeed the case. But why are such cases so readably discernible to us as cognitive disorders (e.g. Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia)? None of this disproves conclusively the idea that we are in some sort of Matrix. Nonetheless, these considerations should help us see that the burden of proof is on the skeptic who tries to say that our sense and memory beliefs are generally unreliable. It’s not on the person who, as a rule, trusts their sense and memory as representing a real physical world external to themselves. And yet, does naturalism actually provide the resources to generate reliable cognitive faculties? See Naturalism in the light of reality and Monkey minds: How evolution undercuts reason and science for more information.

References and notes

  1. For a report on the debate, see Lewin, S., Is the Universe a Simulation? Scientists Debate,, 12 April 2016. Return to text.
For a report on the debate, see Lewin, S., Is the Universe a Simulation? Scientists Debate,, 12 April 2016.

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Readers’ comments
graham P., New Zealand, 26 February 2017
Great response. When I was a teen I took alcohol, LSD and cannibis to escape reality. It is verging on the bizarre to believe that people would seek to escape a macro-simulation by creating their own simulation.... and look at the movie 'the unbearable lighteness of being': its global appeal tells us that we find reality crushing and inescapable: hardly a simulation.
A. D., Lebanon, 26 February 2017
I wish that these articles could be translated to Arabic, Creation Ministry is a great blessing. Thank you from Lebanon!!!!!!
Hans B., Australia, 27 February 2017
To combat secular theories (or even mere conjecture) we have to keep pace with the new ideas that's out there. From the Big Bang model to Branes to the Black Hole universe, strings and now this the simulation or holographic universe to correct the flawed physics in the Big Bang. It never ends. Ecclesiastes 12v12 comes to mind. An excellent article by Duane Gish "Evolution Is Not Based on Natural Laws" talks of around 50 physical constants that need to be present and even just 1 of the 50 to be perfect at the 'Big Bang' is vanishingly small. With the sim/holo universe it just adds more complexity to the issue of randomness. A projection needs a point to project to. Has anyone defined where the screen is? Can I buy popcorn?
Ryan B., United States, 27 February 2017
Its funny, it seems that secularists are realizing that the universe couldnt have made to the universe itself, so instead of looking to the bible that has loads of evidence to support it, they postulate some "simulation" theory with ZERO evidence to avoid admitting that God created them, its kinda very sad seeing how far mankind will go trying to avoid God at all costs...
Norman W., United States, 28 February 2017
A simulation would, naturally, suppose something to which it is similar; a similitude. What is the point of believing we are in a simulation if that simply means we are in another existence, virtually the same as the one that created it. Even as a created universe, by an infinite, all knowing, God, cannot be referred to as a simulation, even if He knows the beginning from the end. There is nothing that pre-existed us, which could even be remotely similar, or if there were, then God is a charlatan, because He says we are unique and His son died four our sins, not since of other "aliens" or other simulations.
murk P., Canada, 28 February 2017
If our perception of reality is getting pumped into our brains - "simulation" Then the Bible is false And if the Bible is false knowledge about anything is impossible