Re: irrational atheists

Nick Bostrom (
Mon, 11 Jan 1999 18:37:33 +0000

Damien Broderick wrote:

> At 11:49 PM 1/10/99 +0000, Nick wrote:
> >I used to say that I was an atheist, but I've changed my mind and now
> >I'm just an agnostic. This is partly because of the possibility that
> >our world is a simulation; the posthumans running the simulation
> >could well be said to be gods.
> I doubt it, at least not in any sense of deity recognized by modern
> theologians

I've been discussing this with a friend who is doing his PhD on the concept of God, and he is sympathetic to calling such entities gods.

(Frank Tipler's Omega Point is another possible type of naturalistic god.)

> (although it might fit with the plural and anthropomorphic gods
> of Greek, Roman and Norse mythology, not to mention Xena and a lot of Star
> Trek eps). If you build a snazzy alife sim and its GAs construct
> intelligent CAs, you'd be a kind of bridging `first cause', and might even
> have the power to intervene in their lives - even obliterate their entire
> experienced cosmos,

plus: you might be "omniscient", and immortal; exist on a "different level of reality"; be "omnipresent"; you might have a purpose with the simulation; you may have granted the inhabitants "free will" (i.e. not decided explicitly what will happen, just set the simulation up to wait and see what they turn out to do); your ways may be inscrutable to humans, etc.

> - but that wouldn't make you a god in any interesting
> sense. Gods are ontologically distinct from creatures, or they're not
> worth the paper they're written on.

Oh what do you expect from a humble god! This impressive list of attributes should be enough to qualify anybody for divinity (in an interesting sense). Ontological distinctness is not a necessary requirement. Pantheists believe that the divine is identical with the universe. And beside, you would indeed have some sort of ontological distinction between the simulation and the computer on which it is running.

> >There is also the possibility
> >that all possible worlds exist; then gods would exist since there are
> >gods in some possible worlds. Or if the universe is spatially
> >infinite, which it is on the simplest topology if it is open (which
> >it seems to be) then random fluctuations should lead to the
> >existence of godlike physical creatures somewhere (but would these
> >be real gods?).
> Again, I think this is an abuse of language. In an infinite universe there
> would be very powerful beings by that path; there could not (I think, but
> my set theory isn't remotely up to this) be a quantum fluctuation that
> yielded an infinite volitional entity coextensive with *all* those infinite
> worlds.

No, but there are legitimate ways of using the word "god" that do not imply that the being is all-encompassing.

As I see it, whether to call certain posthuman forms "gods" is not a question of correct or incorrect usage -- it's a question of marketing strategy. It's not clear what is the best choice.

Nick Bostrom Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method London School of Economics