I wish I had known about J.R.R Tolkien’s theory of sub-creation when I wrote my Video Game Theology post. I discovered it while reading The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams (surely one of the longest book titles in recent memory). In a nutshell, “[Sub-creation was] used by J.R.R. Tolkien to refer to the process of world-building and creating myths. In this context, a human author is a ‘little maker’ creating his own world as a sub-set within God’s primary creation … Tolkien saw his works as mere emulation of the true creation performed by God” (Tolkien Gateway).
In my post as well as a post on Christian Art, I argued that “humanity directly reflects the image of God when we engage in creative acts – when we bring something good into existence out of “nothing,” we are intentionally or unintentionally imitating the work of the ultimate Creator. This divine reflection reaches its apex when our art involves worldbuilding.” Compare the similarities between my concept and Tolkien’s: “The doctrine of sub-creation was especially congenial to Tolkien, both as a Christian and as a fantasy writer. As a Christian, Tolkien could view sub-creation as a form of worship, a way for creatures to express the divine image in them by becoming creators” (Sub-Creation or Smuggled Theology).
Messianic Michael wisely pointed out in the comments that, of course, such worldbuilding goes far beyond fictional / entertainment-oriented constructs and can really apply to any form of computer modeling or computer simulation. Indeed! And to take it a step further, the technology which has allowed us to run increasingly complex simulations may open a door for a new wave of academic research.
Theology is supposed to be the science of God. However, theology fails to smoothly fit into the accepted standards of scientific methodology due to at least one inherent limitation: repeatability. Here is a section of a research paper I wrote for my Theology 525 class several years ago (references here omitted and available upon request):
“Despite the past, present, and future availability of sense data in which theological propositions can be empirically verified, such propositions cannot be submitted to the classic scientific method due to a lack of testability. The scientific method demands that results of empirical observations must be repeatable. The concepts of finite impingement and God’s freedom show how repeatability cannot really be applied in the observation of God’s actions into our world.
Oswalt describes non-repeatable interventions of God into human affairs which do not conform to science’s focus on “uniform occurrences of all things in all times.” Oswalt states: “Here the transcendent God is accomplishing his will through an obedient nature in a specific historic event. In a unique moment in time and space, never to be repeated, but also never to be forgotten…” Furthermore, Erickson defines God as free. God is “not under any compulsion” and “nothing in Scripture suggests that God’s will is determined or bound by any external factors.” The finite impingement of an infinite God into our space-time cannot be repeatedly observed like one would observe the effects of vinegar being poured onto baking soda.”
Well, for the first time in human history, by the benefit of simulated world technology, we have a chance of testing philosophical and theological propositions. Yes, we cannot view God through a microscope, but we can simulate small, laboratory-controlled versions of reality and change the variables. Molinism in a box! Who are the brave pioneers willing to step up to the challenge? Soli Deo gloria.