June 13, 2016

Elon Musk and the Arrogance of Man

by Jordan Standridge

Imagine a video game. In this video game, the graphics are so advanced that they are indistinguishable from reality. In fact, the game is so realistic that the characters in the game believe that they are actually living human beings. Impossible, right?

Not so, according to Elon Musk.

HECw8AzKElon Musk is one of the brightest minds in the world. In fact, several rocket scientists believe that Elon Musk might be the smartest human to ever live. He was one of the founders of Paypal. After selling that company, he founded Tesla, a company that produces cars that run on electricity. He also started Solar City, a company that produces solar panels. Last but not least, he runs SpaceX, an American aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company hoping to colonize Mars one day. (He is pretty confident that he will be able to do so before the end of his life.)

Elon Musk was recently the keynote speaker at a big conference. During the Q & A section, he was asked a question that everyone thought was pretty comical.

He was asked if he’d ever heard of the simulation question. That if he’d ever considered whether we were in a simulation.

To everyone’s shock, he said that he’s had so many simulation type conversations that it’s not even funny. He mentioned that it got to the point where every conversation became the simulation/artificial intelligence conversation, and that he and his brother had to ban it from the hot tub because “It killed the mood”. Of course, this statement made the entire room laugh hysterically, and just about everyone thought it was over.

But Elon wasn’t ready to move on, he added,

The strongest argument for us being in a simulation probably is the following. Forty years ago, we had pong. Pong is basically two rectangles and a dot. That was what video games were. 40 years later, we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously, and it’s improving every year. Soon we’ll have virtual reality, augmented reality, etc. If you assume any rate of improvement at all, the games will become indistinguishable from reality, even if that rate of advancement drops by a thousandth from what it is now. Then you might say, “Okay, let’s imagine it’s 10,000 years in the future!” which is still nothing on the evolutionary scale.

So given that we’re clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality, and those games could be played on any set-top box or PC or whatever, and there would probably be billions of such computers or set-top boxes, it would seem to follow that the odds that we’re in base reality is one in billions.

Tell me what’s wrong with that argument.

No, seriously. What’s wrong with that argument?

basement2In other words, there is a one-in-a-billion chance that we are not in a video game.

The smartest man in the universe, a man who learned rocket science in his spare-time for fun, believes that we are in a video game.

He would rather have a guy in his underwear living in his mother’s basement playing a video game and dictating his life than recognizing the sovereign God of the universe who created him and, despite his incredible arrogance, loves him.

You would think that the whole room pointed and laughed at Elon Musk for suggesting such a preposterous thing. But not only was he not mocked, it seemed that by the end of his answer, the whole room was convinced by his argument! “The argument makes sense,” Said Josh Topolsky, the journalist who asked him the original question. “But what do you think?”

“There’s a one in billions chance we’re in base reality,”

“Arguably we should hope that that’s true, because if civilization stops advancing, that may be due to some calamitous event that erases civilization. So maybe we should be hopeful this is a simulation, because otherwise we are going to create simulations indistinguishable from reality or civilization ceases to exist. We’re unlikely to go into some multimillion-year stasis.”

According to Musk, the only possibility we have to guarantee civilization’s endurance is that we would develop video games to the point where they become indistinguishable from reality. In fact, in his estimation, this must have already happened and we are all currently just products of someone playing games.

How do we think about this as believers?

First of all, we need to realize the Bible says that “The fool says in his own heart that there is no God.” (Psalm 14:1) This is not an intellectual judgment. Few Christians can compare intellectually with Elon Musk; rather, it is a moral judgment. God has gifted these men beyond belief. They can read books in their spare time and discover incredible truths about God’s creation. They can invent cars that run completely on electricity. They can develop space programs to the point where they become pretty confident that they can bring people to other planets, and yet they won’t humble themselves to recognize the creator who gave them these gifts. Like Satan, they glorify themselves to the point where they not only think they can live without God, but they elevate man to god-like status.

Second, we must believe Romans 1:18-19 when it says that God has made evident the truth about Himself, and yet they suppress the truth in unrighteousness. The reason they make up scenarios where we are just products of a video game is not because those scenarios are more plausible than the Bible, but because those scenarios don’t involve punishment for sin. In a simulation, there is no such thing as a perfect and Holy God who hates sin, and who will punish those who do so.

Third, we must remember that if it weren’t for God’s absolutely kind and rich mercy (Eph 2:4-6), we would still believe in a lie as well. Maybe we wouldn’t believe in solipsism, or that we are in the matrix, as Mr. Musk does, but we would still be lost and on our way to Hell. We must remember that the only reason we know the Gospel is because God graciously sent someone to explain the scripture to us, and opened our eyes to see our foolishness and our need for Christ.

Fourth, we must remember that the Gospel has the power to save even people with the hardest of hearts. God’s patience is astounding. He is so gracious that even Elon Musk, if he repents of his sin and trusts in Christ, can be saved from his sin and worship and serve Christ forever in heaven.

Fifth, we must remember that it is not intellectual arguments that will convince the world to be saved. As we saw, unbelief isn’t an intellectual problem, but a moral one. We must call people to repentance and faith in Christ through explaining scripture to them. God gives faith through His word, (Romans 10:17) and knowledge of the truth only comes after repentance (2 Tim 2:25).

Elon Musk is very much like every other human who doesn’t know Christ. Despite the astounding evidence of God around him, he would rather live in a fake made-up world than to live with true accountability for his sin. On his heart sits a throne, but rather than allowing God to reign, he knocks Him out of His rightful seat and placed himself on it. We must pray for him, and most importantly for those that God has placed around us. We also must live in thankfulness because God, in His great mercy, showed us much grace and opened our blind eyes to the truth.

Jordan Standridge

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Jordan is a pastoral associate at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA, where he leads the college ministry. He is also the founder of The Foundry Bible Immersion. You can find his personal blog at surrender.us.
  • elainebitt

    Smart is not necessarily wise. =)

    Anyway… if this is my matrix, who chose this matrix for me? It couldn’t had been me, because I am sure I could have picked a better storyline.

    Proverbs 14 really says it all: “The fool says in his own heart that there is no God.”

    Thank you for your blog today Jordan!

  • Jane Hildebrand

    Yes, God may grant amazing wisdom and abilities to men and this is a gift to mankind. But God’s pleasure is in revealing salvation to the weak, not the strong, to the foolish, not the wise. As Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” (Luke 10:21)

  • Johnny

    The article speaks to the rarefied air this dude lives in, that he has to “ban topics from being discussed in his hot tub”. Yeah, I can relate there, bro, I’m always banning existential topics from being discussed in my hot tub (facepalm)

  • Allen Duan

    “He would rather have a guy in his underwear living in his mother’s basement playing a video game..”

    I hope you don’t view all gamers this way. I’m sure this is not what Musk is imagining. When I first read the story, I imagined more of futuristic sci-fi scene where scientists create a simulation to do some sort of study/research.

    That being said, I completely agree with the main point of your article. It is ridiculous that this belief is deemed more probable than the existence of a creator God. I just needed to point out the unhealthy trend in the church of demonizing video games and those who responsibly enjoy them. (yes I’m a gamer)

    • Jordan Standridge

      Allen, that was written tongue and cheek. I do not view all gamers this way, but there some of those out there, or I should say down there. I hope I didn’t offend you! Game on to the glory of God…in moderation! Thanks for your comment.

  • Just an American

    Hi Jordan, I don’t think this necessarily says that Elon Musk is not a Christian (not that I have proof that he is or he isn’t)… I do think that these kinds of thought experiments are valuable and can help us make inferences into God’s world. For example, could this world be a simulation from God’s perspective, and the reality heaven and the kingdom of God on the other side? We of course don’t know, but I think math and science are wonderful tools to help us seek God. A great case in point was Isaac Newton… who thought this way. Thanks always, for your columns.

  • 4Commencefiring4

    All I hear him saying is that it’s actually impossible to prove that all we think of as “reality” isn’t instead some creation of another operator/entity outside of ourselves. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much what we say, too: We’re a creation of another mind, and we’re actors in that creation. God is the coder, this life–this “reality”–is the program.

    Does that mean we’re just a “simulation”? I guess it depends on what you mean by that word. We’re a reflection of God’s nature, just as a AI program reflects its creator.

    Maybe he’s smarter than we think. 🙂