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The following ideas have long been rejected by the scientific skeptical community as superstitious and incompatible with reason:

  • That the universe has been designed by intelligent being(s) - the so-called intelligent design;
  • That supernatural interventions by supernatural beings in the natural world are possible;
  • That there may be some life after death.

These ideas are typically associated with religious beliefs (although some religious authorities will also reject some of the above ideas, for example afaik intelligent design will also be rejected by some of the more scientifically inclined Catholics).

As far as I'm aware the simulation hypothesis is associated with the transhumanist community, which can be considered a subgroup of the scientific skeptics community (correct me if I'm wrong here) - while not all scientific skeptics are transhumanists, nonetheless tranhumanism did arise from scientism / neopositivism / humanism and did inherit its philosophical core from scientific skepticism (incl. the opposition to religion and putting forth rationalism and science as the only sound approach to getting knowledge about reality).

Nonetheless, it seems to me that certain transhumanist ideas are strikingly similar to beliefs typically associated with religion and the simulation hypothesis is not an exception here.

In order:

  • The simulation hypothesis trivially entails that our world has been designed by intelligent being(s). Melvin Vopson claims that by scientific observations of information and entropy in the universe we can arrive at the conclusion that we live in a simulation. But this is intelligent design in its purest (and most vehemently rejected) form. Quoting Wikipedia's atricle about intelligent design: "Proponents [of intelligent design] claim that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection."
  • Unlike intelligent design, the simulation hypothesis does not necessitate supernatural interventions in natural world, but it does make such interventions seem probable. Perhaps we all are but NPCs in a video game. But in this case there will be at least one player character who might enter cheat codes if they are frustrated by their inability to progress in the game fast enough. Or they may load an old save state because they died (this effectively makes at least one person in the world unkillable, as if they die the whole timeline gets rewound). Or perhaps the developers will soon release a patch, effectively amending the laws of physics. Alterantively, perhaps we live in a scientific experiment and therefore some supernatural scientists will, from time to time, mess things up to observe and note results. Maybe they thought: "Let three beautiful women, all already used many times in other experiments, appear in front of a prince named Paris and let them demand that he chooses which one of them is the prettiest." Oh nice, the result was a war and the destruction of the city of Troy! They could now write a whitepaper describing that experiment. Or, likewise: "Let us speak through a burning bush to a man of a nation that has been enslaved by the Egyptians, promising him freedom". Again a whitepaper was written, describing the results. These scientists could quite well correspond to religious ideas of 'gods' or 'angels' or 'demons'.
  • Life after death seems least probable of these three ideas under the simulation hypothesis, but nonetheless, under simulation hypothesis, it cannot be just rejected as absurd. If we are all just bits in a grand computer, then these bits may be saved and later restored. Maybe at least some NPCs will be reused in a later installment of the game we all live in. Or maybe - and that is even more strikengly similar to some religious ideas - we just live in an enormous penitentiary facility. We committed some crimes in the outside world, for these crimes we were uploaded to a simulated world that serves as a prison, but once our sentence runs out we might be restored to the outside world. Perhaps reincarnation is possible: for example, maybe I was sentenced to 50 lives in the simulation and once I die for the 50th time in my 50th incarnation I will be set free?

Am I correct that the simulation hypothesis makes a return to the above ideas, typically considered religious and long rejected by the rationalist community?

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  • "That the universe has been designed by intelligent being(s) - the so-called intelligent design" - "intelligent design" typically refers to the pseudoscientific idea that life didn't evolve naturally. That's quite a bit more specific than the universe having a designer.
    – NotThatGuy
    Nov 12, 2023 at 19:00
  • "about 40 per cent of scientists still believe in a personal God and an afterlife" this is less than in america in general, but not exactly negligable (nb i cannot read the article or i would answer)
    – user67675
    Nov 13, 2023 at 21:16
  • I wrote a series of articles on this exact topic: partiallyexaminedlife.com/2019/01/31/the-simulationargument Nov 13, 2023 at 21:52

4 Answers 4

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Yes, it clearly does. There is not a shred of evidence for the simulation hypothesis no matter how much one pretends there is. It could, though, be argued that traditional religious beliefs would still be more outlandish than the simulation hypothesis. This is because the current world would still be a simulation of some sort by an intelligent being, but in this case, this intelligent being would have infinite powers and be able to literally do anything! As such, theism and religion would still be more complex.

With that being said, the most ludicrous of ideas are ones with zero evidence. There is nothing that differentiates one speculation with no evidence from another.

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One of the oldest and most foundational debates in philosophy is what has more primacy, the physical/material or the mental/spiritual. Idealists like Plato, Berkeley or Descartes, who believe the physical is secondary to the mental, or built on top of it, contrast with Empiricists like Hume, who see the physical as primary, and the mental as somehow inhering in it.

For a long time, the materialist viewpoint has been in the ascendancy. The last significant challenger was the spiritualist movement of the 1800s. Since then, scientific empiricism has become the dominant outlook of the intellectual world.

The rise of of materialism has drawn power from technological advances, especially in neuroscience and in AI, which have lent support to a materialist view of consciousness. But advances in Virtual Reality represent a new challenge to materialism in as much as they demonstrate how easy it is to simulate a physical world. The scenario of a convincingly simulated reality is both increasingly plausible and reminiscent of the thriller The Matrix, which, in turn, hearkens back to scenarios pictured by idealist Descartes. So in this way, the reality of simulations (which do already exist, just not yet in comprehensively convincing forms) do in fact lead us back in the direction of older, more idealist conceptions of the universe. After all, there's nothing that necessitates that a simulation must be physical.

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Some 50% of scientists believe in God and an afterlife, and even among eminent physicists it's roughtly 20%, about the same as in philosophy staff and postgrads

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You can put this down to some sort of psychological weakness or kink if you need to, but in no way is contemporay physics meant to rule out God, miracles or an afterlife, even while claiming to speak to the dead or God would make for bad scientific research.

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I think that belief in the simulation is similar to the beliefs you cite. Would there be any difference between reality, or base state, and a perfectly executed simulation? Logically, no. See the Leibniz Principle.

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