The fine-tuning argument and the simulation argument

Probably the worst feature of the “fine-tuning argument” (mentioned last week) is that it’s always presented as an argument for the existence of God, which it plainly isn’t. It’s just an argument for some kind of designer or other. And “some kind of designer or other” might not be anything at all like God as traditionally conceived. One thing that drives home just how far a generic designer might be from a traditional god is the simulation argument.

The idea of the argument is this: it seems likely that unless our civilization goes extinct, we will eventually develop the capacity to run computer simulations of our history. Simulations that would include simulated people, simulated in such great detail that they would behave like real people. And in fact, these simulated people wouldn’t know they were living in a simulation.

Now, with increases in processor capacity, it seems likely that we’ll be able to run a whole lot of these simulations. As Nick Bostrom (the philosopher who came up with the argument) explains in this summary:

We assume that technologically mature civilisations would have access to enormous amounts of computing power.

So enormous, in fact, that by devoting even a tiny fraction to ancestor simulations, they would be able to implement billions of simulations, each containing as many people as have ever existed. In other words, almost all minds like yours would be simulated. Therefore, by a very weak principle of indifference, you would have to assume that you are probably one of these simulated minds rather than one of the ones that are not simulated.

I’m not really convinced by this argument, but I won’t get into why here. Argue about it in the comments if you like. I just want to point out that that this argument accomplishes everything the fine-tuning argument purports to accomplish and more. After all, if we’re living in a computer simulation, it means the universe as we know it is a computer simulation. That means the universe as we know it is designed. And the simulation argument gives us some ideas about what the designers are like, more than the fine-tuning argument does, while suggesting designers very different than those supposed by traditional theism.

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