In June of last year, entrepreneur Elon Musk intrigued the science and technology community with his controversial remarks about the world being a “simulation.” “The odds that we’re in base reality,” he said during the Code Conference interview, “is one in billions.” In other words, the universe we live in is probably (or is probably like) a sophisticated computer game.
This general idea has gained interest ever since the release of the popular film The Matrix (1999)—though not with much seriousness. However, through the eyes of many contemporary scientists and engineers—perhaps the most respected group of people in our age—the world is looking more and more “rigged” for life. Even a recent study debunking the theory shows that the idea is serious enough to be more than science fiction. As Musk demonstrated, it’s certainly not embarrassing to discuss it in public anymore. Oddly enough, this conversation presents a unique opportunity for Christians to present the power and validity of the biblical world-and-life-view.
Christian theology is ripe with analogies, metaphor, parable, and symbolism—all of which are contingent on the time and language of the day. This figurative speech is the primary mode in which theology works, and this is particularly true with regard to the doctrine of creation. Popular texts like Faith Seeking Understanding (Daniel Migliore) provide several analogies for creation, such as “generation,” “formation,” “emanation,” “mind-body relationship,” and “artistic expression” (where creation is like a portrait that God is painting).
There seems to be no immediate reason why “computer simulation” or “video game” is off the table as another helpful analogy (acknowledging inadequacies). In fact, given today’s culture, computer and technological analogies might actually prove to be the most helpful in describing that central topic of systematic theology—“God and creation.”
Use with caution
This is anything but a novel proposal. Countless sermons today utilize metaphors and analogies such as “following God’s Twitter” by reading the Bible, “connecting to God’s Wi-Fi” by walking with the Spirit, “decoding” passages in the New Testament, “rewiring” our spiritual lives, and so on. Limitations in talking this way are assumed, and that’s what allows hearers to get the basic point. If computer science is simply furnishing our generation with new models for describing creation, then it should be welcome.
Christianity is particularly robust in its ability to be translated and re-translated. But, if we’re witnessing another modern attempt at reductionistic metaphysics where everything is forced into an unquestionable, all-encompassing metanarrative, then perhaps it is not so welcome. Especially after the most violent century in human history, it seems the world doesn’t need another dose of Darwinism, Marxism, Freudianism, Scientism, or otherwise. It needs Jesus of Nazareth and the gospel incarnated, here and now.
As it turns out, this world-beyond-this-world idea also isn’t new. For thousands of years, theologians, religious priests, and philosophers have asserted that our immediate, visible, and experienced reality is not “all there is.” Whether one turns to the ancient Egyptians, Greek philosophers, Indian Brahmins, or medieval scholastics, the universe is always depicted as multi-dimensional in one way or another.