Tegmark cosmology implies not only that there is a universe which runs this one as a simulation, but that there are infinitely many such universes and infinitely many such simulations. In some fraction of those universes, the simulation will have been designed by an intelligent entity. In some smaller fraction, that entity has the ability to mess with the contents of the simulation (our universe) or copy data out of it (eg, upload minds and give them afterlives). My theism is equal to my estimate of this latter fraction, which is very small.

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It seems to me that, if we insist on using simulation hypotheses as a model for theism, this has to be narrowed still further. Theism adds the constraint that though $deity is simulating us, no-one is simulating $deity; He's really really real and the buck stops with Him. We live in the floor just above reality's basement; isn't that nice.

I think that this might be what Eliezer's quote about "ontological distinctness" refers to, but I'm not sure.

1Oligopsony9yWhat does "fraction" mean here?
5Perplexed9yI'm not sure that this is true. My understanding is that IF a universe which runs this one as a simulation is possible, THEN Tegmark cosmology implies that such a universe exists. But I'm not sure that such a universe is possible. After all, a universe which contains a perfect simulation of this one would need to be larger (in duration and/or size) than this one. But there is a largest possible finite simple group, so why not a largest possible universe? I am not confident enough of my understanding of the constraints applicable to universes to be confident that we are not already in the biggest one possible. There is a spooky similarity between the Tegmark-inspired argument that we may live in a simulation and the Godel/St. Anselm-inspired argument that we were created by a Deity. Both draw their plausibility by jumping from the assertion that something (rather poorly characterized) is conceivable to the claim that that thing is possible. That strikes me as too big of a jump.

Theists are wrong; is theism?

by Will_Newsome 1 min read20th Jan 2011539 comments


Many folk here on LW take the simulation argument (in its more general forms) seriously. Many others take Singularitarianism1 seriously. Still others take Tegmark cosmology (and related big universe hypotheses) seriously. But then I see them proceed to self-describe as atheist (instead of omnitheist, theist, deist, having a predictive distribution over states of religious belief, et cetera), and many tend to be overtly dismissive of theism. Is this signalling cultural affiliation, an attempt to communicate a point estimate, or what?

I am especially confused that the theism/atheism debate is considered a closed question on Less Wrong. Eliezer's reformulations of the Problem of Evil in terms of Fun Theory provided a fresh look at theodicy, but I do not find those arguments conclusive. A look at Luke Muehlhauser's blog surprised me; the arguments against theism are just not nearly as convincing as I'd been brought up to believe2, nor nearly convincing enough to cause what I saw as massive overconfidence on the part of most atheists, aspiring rationalists or no.

It may be that theism is in the class of hypotheses that we have yet to develop a strong enough practice of rationality to handle, even if the hypothesis has non-negligible probability given our best understanding of the evidence. We are becoming adept at wielding Occam's razor, but it may be that we are still too foolhardy to wield Solomonoff's lightsaber Tegmark's Black Blade of Disaster without chopping off our own arm. The literature on cognitive biases gives us every reason to believe we are poorly equipped to reason about infinite cosmology, decision theory, the motives of superintelligences, or our place in the universe.

Due to these considerations, it is unclear if we should go ahead doing the equivalent of philosoraptorizing amidst these poorly asked questions so far outside the realm of science. This is not the sort of domain where one should tread if one is feeling insecure in one's sanity, and it is possible that no one should tread here. Human philosophers are probably not as good at philosophy as hypothetical Friendly AI philosophers (though we've seen in the cases of decision theory and utility functions that not everything can be left for the AI to solve). I don't want to stress your epistemology too much, since it's not like your immortal soul3 matters very much. Does it?

Added: By theism I do not mean the hypothesis that Jehovah created the universe. (Well, mostly.) I am talking about the possibility of agenty processes in general creating this universe, as opposed to impersonal math-like processes like cosmological natural selection.

Added: The answer to the question raised by the post is "Yes, theism is wrong, and we don't have good words for the thing that looks a lot like theism but has less unfortunate connotations, but we do know that calling it theism would be stupid." As to whether this universe gets most of its reality fluid from agenty creators... perhaps we will come back to that argument on a day with less distracting terminology on the table.



1 Of either the 'AI-go-FOOM' or 'someday we'll be able to do lots of brain emulations' variety.

2 I was never a theist, and only recently began to question some old assumptions about the likelihood of various Creators. This perhaps either lends credibility to my interest, or lends credibility to the idea that I'm insane.

Or the set of things that would have been translated to Archimedes by the Chronophone as the equivalent of an immortal soul (id est, whatever concept ends up being actually significant).