Malcolm Muggeridge, the British journalist who was largely responsible for bringing Mother Teresa to the world’s attention, once said:
One of the peculiar sins of the twentieth century which we’ve developed to a very high level is the sin of credulity. It has been said that when human beings stop believing in God they believe in nothing. The truth is much worse: they believe in anything.
(Malcolm Muggeridge and Christopher Ralling, Muggeridge Through the Microphone, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1967, p. 44)
I couldn’t help but think of that quote when a student asked me to read Scientific American’s article entitled, “Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?”
Apparently, that question was the topic of a debate held at the American Museum of Natural History back in 2016. The debate was moderated by serial spreader of falsehoods Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is responsible for one historian asking if it’s okay to lie about history, as long as the lies support a good cause.
According to the article, Dr. Tyson made the evidence-free speculation that there is a 50/50 chance we are, indeed, living in a computer simulation. Why? Because as Muggeridge suggested 50 years ago, when you give up belief in God, you must believe in all sorts of wild ideas in order to make sense of the universe around you.
For example, the article points out that we live in a world governed by mathematics. For many scientists, that’s a real mystery. After all, according to these scientists, mathematics is just a construct invented by people. Why in the world would this construct describe the natural world so perfectly? Of course, for the scientist who believes in God, this isn’t a problem at all. Galileo explained this fact nearly 400 years ago:
[The universe] cannot be read until we have learnt the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without which means it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word.
In other words, mathematics wasn’t invented by people. It was discovered by them. It is part of the language in which God wrote His creation. As soon as you reject the existence of a Creator, however, you have to come up with some reason as to why mathematics describes nature so well. Proposing that we are part of a computer simulation is one way to explain it!
Of course, there’s more to it than just mathematics. In the end, most honest scientists admit that there is a lot of design evident in the universe. If you refuse to believe in a Designer, you have to come up with some other explanation. One possibility is that we are just incredibly lucky. There is no design, but in an amazing series of astoundingly unlikely events, random processes produced a universe that just appears to be the result of design. Of course, that requires a person to ignore most of what we know about statistics, but if you really, really don’t want to believe in a Creator, you can probably ignore inconvenient details like that.
Another way an atheist can try to deal with the design we see in the universe is to come up with some other designer. That’s where the computer simulation idea comes from. If we are living in a computer simulation, our designer is just some advanced computer programmer. For some who don’t want to believe in God, this is a palatable alternative.
I, for one, think there is a much more effective explanation for the exquisite design you see in nature. Robert Boyle, the founder of modern chemistry, wrote it more than 350 years ago:
…when, in a word, by the help of anatomical knives, and the light of chymical furnaces, I study the book of nature, and consult the glosses of Aristotle, Epicurus, Paracelsus, Harvey, Helmont, and other learned expositors of that instructive volume: I find myself oftentimes reduced to exclaim with the Psalmist, How manifold are Thy works, O Lord? in wisdom hast Thou made them all!
(Thomas Birch. The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle, Volume 1. London 1772. p. 262.)