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The simulation theory has gained track in recent years; even Elon Musk has spoken on it.

As it follows the associated, can belief in the simulation theory be considered a form of religion?

  1. The belief in controlling power; someone or something of higher intelligence is running the simulation

  2. Relates humanity to supernatural; supernatural being something that is not yet scientifically proven, it is not proven we are actually in a simulation

  3. Gives the purpose of explaining the origin of life, the universe, and other things; the simulation theory explains by not having to explain the original of life as things just come to existence in simulations, there doesn't have to be a set beginning or end.

If the simulation theory can be considered a religion, wouldn't it be the only religion as it can help explain and relate other religions and their history? Such as each religion can be categorized as a different version of the simulation?

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    Ironically, when I was around 6-8 years of age the thought suddenly crossed my mind: "What if none of this is real. My brain may really be in a vat somewhere being controlled by some mad scientist." I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing at the time, too. But I quickly dismissed the idea, and the memory still embarrasses me. I was a very imaginative, creative child, so I guess it is to be expected. Technically any belief system may be called a religion, so I consider it a very bizarre, irrational religion whose adherents are woefully immature. I would even call it a cult. – Bread Feb 13 at 1:41
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    Not yet, but it is getting there. For now, it is more of a conduit for idle talk. That is because most people who love talking about the simulation theory do not actually believe in the simulation theory. Starting with Bostrom. – Conifold Feb 13 at 1:41
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    @Richard - I'd say so, at least in the case of some of its adherents. This view is possible, but it all comes down to definitions. Both simulation theory and atheism are just vague ideas, not theories in any meaningful sense of the word. They explain nothing and solve no problems. They're optional accessories, not rich enough in content to be theories rather than just unecessary articles of faith. But it doesn't seem to matter much what we call them. . . – PeterJ Feb 13 at 11:51
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    @Richard - Glad we more or less agree. I'd just note that not all religions teach that we have to develop speculative beliefs or even endorse theism. Thus atheism is not a rejection of religion but a rejection of dogmatic monotheism. The eliding of religion and faith-driven Victorian monotheism causes endless problems. The former is a far richer phenomenon that the latter, a point Dawkin's and most atheists very carefully never notice. . – PeterJ Feb 13 at 12:52
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    @PeterJ etymologically.. it is "without theism". I share your definition of theism as being 'organised religion'. I consider myself an Atheist.. but I'm not a-deist. By which i mean.. i reject the idea centeal tenets of most organised religions.. but i'm not averse to the idea of a creator. That having been said.. i think the creator might be an electron. On tbe other point.. there are atheists who throw out the baby with the bathwater. But i find wisedom in a lot of religious texts etc. I'm just not a fan of malevolent beards in the sky. – Richard Feb 13 at 15:22
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It depends on a) how you conceptualize the simulation theory and b) how you conceptualize religion. The best-known version of the simulation theory is the one formulated by Professor Nick Bostrom of Oxford. In it, he explicitly states that the simulator in his theory would be analogous to God as viewed in traditional religions.

That may or may not make belief in the simulation theory a religion per se. Religion typically involves worship of a deity, ritual observances, moral codes, and a range of other elements not typically found in the simulator theories.

With that said, you are correct that belief in a simulator is a metaphysical belief, and as such, has much in common with the kinds of belief we associate with religion. It's also true that there are subcultures that have arguably entered pseudo-religious relationships with the hypothetical simulator.

  • My book-length series on this very topic, "Saints and Simulators", is currently featured on the Partially Examined Life blog. Introductory essay is above, most recent essay is here. – Chris Sunami Feb 13 at 17:33
  • on a related note (if taking a somewhat more negative turn than what you wrote) theguardian.com/technology/2017/apr/18/… – Alexander S King Feb 14 at 1:24
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    @AlexanderSKing Yes, there's a MUCH stronger case to be made that Transhumanism is in fact a religion. Thanks for the link, I've integrated it into my answer. BTW I'd love to have your comments on the series, if you'd like to respond on the site. – Chris Sunami Feb 14 at 3:48
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The simulation theory (or more precisely the simulation hypothesis) falls under the general heading of metaphysics. Most religions also delve into metaphysics by offering explanations of the origins of the universe, the nature of mind and matter, life after death, etc...hence the similarity between the simulation hypothesis and various religious doctrines.

However religions go beyond metaphysics and into ethics, value theory, and axiology, which the simulation hypothesis doesn't do.

So the simulation hypothesis is still far from being a full fledged religion.

If Elon Musk or Nick Bostrom were to start deriving moral codes and injunctions based on the simulation hypothesis like "Thou shalt recycle" or "An AI should be respected as much as a Human", then one could argue that it has achieved the status of religion, but until then it is just metaphysics.

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    I wish you'd ask questions like in the old times, the quality has gone down since then :) – Conifold Feb 13 at 22:03
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    @Conifold nice to talk to you again. It's been a while. Work has been forcing me to spend most of my time on Cross-Validated and Stack- Overflow...I yearn to come back to the serious questions in life at some point. – Alexander S King Feb 14 at 0:33
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Yes, it can be considered so.

We have all the required elements that define religion:

  • worshiping of something (a God, an Alien, a Simulation's Operator/Designer, etc) - clearly true

  • commitment or devotion to it - clearly that exist

  • a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practice (not practically fully institutionalized yet, but the rest fits)

  • a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith - yes

The fact that it can explain the variations present in other religions, just makes it stronger in the above points that actually define a religion.

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    Interesting answer. I would have said no (or not yet), precisely because I see no evidence of worship, What makes you say that the operator/designer is being worshipped as against just postulated? – Alex Feb 13 at 12:17
  • If the theory is assumed true, that designer is practically human's God. And there are groups already worshiping his complex job and his ability to sustain all this without any critical system crash. Now on this aspect, maybe the sudden end of certain civilizations and their sudden disappearance was just that: a big system crash, like a game map error with too many variables to check in which case you keep the layout and textures only and re-do all other objects inside it. – Overmind Feb 13 at 12:33
  • Also, things are a little dependent on the accepted definition of God. God as in the creator of everything (Universally speaking) or as in the creator of man only (the two can differ). – Overmind Feb 13 at 12:36
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    i completely agree with the idea that it has a lot in common with other theist belief systems. I'm just a little surprised about the worship bit and, as most definitions of religion include worship, I wouldn't categorise it as one. Do you, by any chance, have any links that refer to worshipping a simulator? Would be fascinated to read. – Alex Feb 13 at 13:03
  • I did find some info of such groups at a point about an year ago when I was looking into this a lot (I'll check if I bookmarked some). We should not be surprised. Even Jedi religion is quite large and officially registered at this point and it has plenty of worshiping. Btw, they don't worship the simulator, but the creator of it. – Overmind Feb 13 at 13:07
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To address your last paragraph, simulationism isn't the only religion (if it even counts as one). I'm free to think that I'm in the real world and have a relationship with a real God. If I believed I was in a simulation, I could believe that the simulator is in the real world with a real God, even if the simulation had a God that differed from the real one.

A simulationist would be free to believe that any deities in the observable Universe were merely simulations, but believing that one's religion is true and others are only true so far as they agree with one is pretty common.

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