Extropian gods

Hal Finney (hal@rain.org)
Wed, 7 Jan 1998 09:19:29 -0800

M. E. Smith, <mesmith@rocketmail.com>, writes:
> (Can a person believe in God and still be effectively
> extropian? I would say, "Yes, provided that he/she
> accepted that their belief was unproven and
> unfalsifiable, and therefore outside the realm of
> science and rationality." Such a person might act in
> an extropian manner in all ways that matter to
> extropians. Perhaps, in light of studies (which may
> have been poorly conducted) that belief in God is
> good for a person's health and longevity, the person
> merely chose to carry the God meme for his/her own
> extropian benefit, although some might consider this
> quite a mental juggling act. How is it spelled,
> "Deism"?)

I suggest that there are some variants on a belief in God which are
consistent with Extropian thought. In fact, some thinkers who are quite
Extropian in many ways would suggest that it is almost certain that God
(or someone like him) exists. I am referring to the belief that the
universe we live in is engineered or constructed, and possibly maintained,
by intelligent beings.

Hans Moravec and Frank Tipler have both proposed that in the future we
will be able to create computer simulations of this and other universes,
and that it will be quite natural to do so. In particular we may choose
to simulate past times of our own universe in different variations.
If this is done enough times (and Tipler believes that it will be done
an infinite number of times) then you could argue that the odds are
overwhelming that "this instance" of our lives (if that phrase means
anything!) is actually part of one of these simulations rather than the
original real-space run-through.

In addition there is the prospect of creating basement universes,
entirely new Big Bangs where we might even have control over some of
the laws of nature, and where we could eventually design those laws to
favor the formation of new living and intelligent beings. Conceivably we
could even encode our own minds into those laws so that we can guide or
control events in certain ways.

The existence of these kinds of gods may not be completely untestable,
although without knowing their motivations it is hard to know what we
might do to discover their existence. Moravec describes a scenario where
a sufficiently advanced life form in a simulation is able to deduce the
facts about its situation, but the prospect seemed a bit far-fetched.
Tipler proposes that the gods will extract people from the simulation at
the moment of their death, at least some of the time. Presumably there
would be nothing to stop someone running a simulation from intervening
to produce miracles or even answer prayers, if they chose. But evidently
this behavior is not common in our universe.

In the context of Extropian philosophy, there are two aspects to believing
in this kind of God. On the negative side, it could induce passivity, as
people hope with Tipler that a merciful God will resurrect them into a
marvelous new world upon their death. On the positive side, it holds out
the prospect that we could become Gods of our own universes.

People often complain about God's management of the universe, with the
existence of evil and suffering often being suggested as signs of God's
nonexistence or even his evil nature. But it may be that in as little
as a few decades we will have the ability to create conscious simulated
entities within computers, which we can rule absolutely. This will be
an awesome power, with heavy responsibilities. Will we do better than
the universe we see around us? Should we insure that our creatures live
lifes of ease and comfort, with never an unpleasant moment? Or may it
turn out that we must subject them to difficulties and give them freedom
to behave badly in order to produce the most fulfilling lives? In a few
years we may not find it so easy to criticize God for his mismanagement.