Simulated Worlds and Harmonizing the Age of the Earth

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Elon Musk believes that we live inside of an advanced computer simulation. Spoiler alert: we don’t. However, the concept of the simulated universe is a useful tool, perhaps the tool, to drive the next leap of theological advancement. See my related posts here, here, and here.

This is not dissimilar to other secular origin theories that have arisen out of skepticism and dissatisfaction with traditional Darwinian evolution, Big Bang cosmology, and philosophical naturalism that can actually be leveraged in favor of Christian creation theories. For example, Directed Panspermia is a theory that early lifeforms were deliberately transported and planted on Earth by advanced beings (extraterrestrials). Compare this to the Christian concept of life being purposefully created on Earth by an advanced being (God). Another example, The Black Hole at the Beginning of Time theory basically argues, “that our universe may have emerged from a black hole in a higher-dimensional universe.” Compare this to the Christian concept of matter and energy appearing in nothingness, originating from a higher-dimensional source outside of our physical universe.

But I digress. The age of the Earth is a point of Christian contention between Old-Earth Creationists and Young-Earth Creationists and, at times, between Christians and non-Christian scientists. In my current thinking, the only two coherent arguments that have been advanced which satisfy evidence found in both General and Special revelation is the Day-Age Theory and the Ideal-Age Theory (or Apparent-Age Theory) of creation. The Day-Age Theory states that each day or “yom” of creation is really a period of time, so that creation is then completed in six periods of time or stages rather than literal 24-hour days in a calendar week. The Ideal-Age Theory states that the universe was created with all the hallmarks of age: Adam had the body of an adult male, trees had rings, distant stars as well as the light particles between them and the Earth were created simultaneously, etc. For a good discussion from Wayne Grudem on this debate, go here. Both views have adamant advocates and detractors, and neither are without difficulties.

Using the concepts of Simulated Worlds or Simulated Universes, we can actually harmonize these two conflicting views. Let’s look at the world generating process of the computer game, Dwarf Fortress. I am pulling the next section whole cloth from Wikipedia:

The first step in Dwarf Fortress is generating a playable world; only one game can be played per world at a time. The player can adjust certain parameters governing size, savagery, mineral occurrences and the length of history. The map shows symbols representing roads, hills, towns and cities of the various civilizations, and it changes as the generation progresses.

The process involves procedurally-generated basic elements like elevation, rainfall, mineral distribution, drainage and temperature. For example, a high-rainfall and low-drainage area would make a swamp. Areas are thus categorized into biomes, which have two variables: savagery and alignment. They have their own specific type of plant and animal populations. The next phase is erosion—which the drainage simulates. Rivers are created by tracing their paths from the mountains (which get eroded) to its end which is usually an ocean; some form into lakes. The salinity field defines oceans, mangroves or alluvial plains. Names are generated for the biomes and rivers. The names depend on the area’s good/evil variable (the alignment) and though in English, they are originally in one of the four in-game languages of dwarves, elves, humans and goblins; these are the four main races in any generated world.

 After a few minutes the world is populated and its history develops for the amount of in-game years selected in the history parameter. Civilizations, races and religions spread and wars occur, with the “population” and “deaths” counters increasing. The ticker stops at the designated “years” value, at which point the world can be saved for use in any game mode. Should the player choose to retire a fortress or gets defeated, this world will persist and will become available for further games.

So, here you have an example of a simulated world that does not pop up instantly, but rather develops algorithmically and procedurally. But this process, which covers an incredible stretch of in-game time, takes only a few minutes of outside-game time or real time. To put it another way, in our higher-dimensional world, we experience the acceleration of lower-dimensional time for a set period, and then a more normalized lower-dimensional passage of time when the world generation ends and the game begins.

So, a harmonization of the Day-Age and Ideal-Age theories of Christian creation might be as follows. During the process of creation, the universe did not appear pre-fabricated, but rather developed procedurally. For example, light emitted from distant stars had to travel through the vacuum of space, the Grand Canyon slowly eroded, etc. However, all of these events occurred at an accelerated pace. We might say that a higher-dimensional measure of time (the Transcendent Time’s Arrow? Multiversal Standard Speed?), was increased, while all the processes remained at the same relative speed to one another within the physical universe. For example, the speed of light stayed the same relative to other physical processes, such as radioactive decay, but all were greatly accelerated relative to a measure of time external to this physical universe.

In this way, you could have what would ordinarily take millions of years accomplished in a much shorter period of time, and the higher-dimensional acceleration would go unnoticed in the lower-dimensional world because of in-universe relativity. I am not saying that I personally hold to this view, but hey, if an old PC running Windows 98 with 256 ram can do it, why not God?

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Sub-Creation and Simulated Worlds

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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.