God and the Simulation Theory

July 21 2020 - Tammuz 29 5780

Is God a Super-Intelligent Programmer?

American theoretical physicist, S. James Gates, has claimed to find computer code written in the fabric of the cosmos.

One of the most intriguing, though-provoking, and innovative theories today is the idea that the human race experiences life in a vast and complex virtual reality scenario, known as Simulation Theory. While there is certainly no unilateral conclusion about it, some serious thinkers out there (such as Nick Bostrom and Elon Musk) treat this concept very seriously and practically. A fascinating excerpt from a discussion between S. James Gates and Neil deGrasse Tyson describes how serious such a condition would be.

The following is Wikipedia’s description of our speakers:

  • James Gates - an “American theoretical physicist, known for work on supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory.”
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson - “an American astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science communicator, and television host.”

The Dialog

The following video is an excerpt from a video showing a discovery made by Gates.

Gates: And what I’ve come to understand is that there are these incredible pictures that contain all of the information in a set of equations that are related to string theory. And it’s even more bizarre than that because when you then try to understand these pictures, you find out that buried in them are computer codes, just like the type that you’d find in the browser when you go surf the web. And so I'm left with the puzzle of trying to figure out whether I live in the Matrix or not.

Tyson: Wait, you're blowing my mind at this moment. Are you saying that your attempt to understand the fundamental operations of nature leads you to a set of equations that are indistinguishable from the equations that drive search engines and browsers on our computers?

Gates: Yeah, that is correct.

Tyson: Wait, wait, I'm still... I have to... Just be silent for a minute here. So you're saying, as you dig deeper you find computer code writ in the fabric of the cosmos?

Gates: Into the equations that we want to use to describe the cosmos, yes.

Tyson: Computer code?

Gates: Computer code; strings of bits of ones and zeroes.

Tyson: It not just, sort of, resembles computer code. You’re saying it is computer code?

Gates: It's not even just [that] it is computer code, it's a special kind of computer code that was invented by a scientist named Claude Shannon in the 1940's. That’s what we find buried very deeply inside the equations that occur in String Theory, and in general in systems that we say are super-symmetric...

The Explanation

This is certainly baffling from the perspective of a naturalist! If what is being discussed above is true, the cosmos don’t just contain order, or information, they contain a specific type of information not comparable, but identical, to the type of information found in search engines. Natural processes cannot be responsible for producing this type of information because it has semantic value. In other words, the elements in contains have assigned meanings. This is different than the appearance of design, such as in Intelligent Design; it is designed. Binary data is data with a function, and that function is to represent information that is used to execute instructions.

While naturalist theories argue that natural processes can produce complexity, it is entirely different to argue that natural processes can produce systems designed to represent information that executes instructions. That's a whole other level of complexity. In fact, it isn't complexity at all, it's actual thinking!

From the perspective of a theist (someone who believes in the existence of God) it is quite natural to assume that information is responsible for maintaining the structures of the physical world. And in that vein it is also relatively natural to assume that these structures are discoverable and can, in measure, be observed and studied. Indeed the ancient Jewish tradition describes reality as being governed by numerous, if not infinite, sets of systems and sub-systems, each with their own rules and functions.

What is highly interesting is that when studying such texts, such as the book Derech Hashem written by the Ramchal (1707 – May, 16 1746) an Italian rabbi, kabbalist, theologian, and philosopher, one finds concepts that seem startlingly similar to our current understanding of computer science. Today we possess the technical knowledge and terminology useful for thinking about the natural world in terms of computer code. Thinkers in previous generations, such as the Ramchal, were forced to use their own words to describe the systems related in Jewish sources.

Modern computers run on programs. A computer program is defined as “a collection of instructions that can be executed by a computer to perform a specific task.” This definition is virtually identical to the one given by the Ramchal of a function of a particular class of angels known as Forces (kochos). The role of the Forces is that of what today we would call a program. While these Forces are actual (spiritual, non-physical) beings, according to the Ramchal:

…everything in the physical world has a counterpart among the transcendental Forces. Every entity and process in the physical world is linked to these Forces following a system decreed by God’s wisdom. These Forces are therefore the roots of all physical things, and everything in the physical world is a branch and result of these Forces. The physical and spiritual are thus bound together like links in a chain.

In other words, these Forces are background programs that run our user interface, which is the phsyical environment in which we live. In addition, the Ramchal states that these Forces “were arranged in various systems and placed in different domains.” Note certain keywords in the description above that sound like programming jargon. Also note that this is an English translation of this work in which the words were carefully selected by the modern translators. It is noteworthy that they sought to use these specific words to accurately convey concepts originally described in a book written in the 18th century in Hebrew by someone who would never see a computer.


To conclude, a person that does not believe in God, or does not want to, may have to grapple with the strange phenomenon discussed earlier regarding binary code that, according to Gates, is found “buried very deeply in the equations” written into the fabric of the cosmos. One way to address this without concluding that God exists is to attribute such design to a simulation hypothesis in which humanity is a complex program run by a super-intelligent AI or alien life form. However, what lies at the core of this assumption is the same one held by theists, which is that design, function, and information cannot come about incidentally and therefore requires a designer. While they don’t believe the hidden orderly nature of existence to imply God, and therefore has no moral imperatives, whoever or whatever it is certainly has the powers and abilities attributed to God.

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