January 08, 2017

Should God Create Simulations of Reality?

Hi Craig, thank you so much for creating this website and all the work you've done to spread the word of Christ. I was an atheist for most of my life, but I became a follower of Christ this year. There were a lot of philosophical questions about Christianity that bothered me, but most of these questions have been addressed by watching your debates and reading Christian theology books. There is one question that still bothers me and it is this:

In one of your Q&As (http://bit.ly/1rfcJAR), you mentioned that universal salvation is impossible because of free will. If that's the case, why doesn't God create different simulations/worlds for each person to persuade him to love God? For example, Paul was converted because of Christ's appearance. What if everything in Paul's life, up to that point, was a simulation? (Paul's upbringing was perfectly orchestrated by God and Paul's interactions with people throughout his life were actually angels in disguise) In another simulation, if the Pharaoh of Moses was taught humility early in life, he would been obedient to God.

Assuming there is a perfect simulation for each person, God would then fill Heaven with these people after they pass their simulation. Then, there won't be a need for eternal punishment.

A counter argument to this would be: whether a simulation designed to persuade a person to love God undermines the individual's free will? I would argue that the person still has free will because he was persuaded to love God, which is no different than Christ going to Paul, Peter, and all the other Apostles to persuade them through showing of miracles and his teachings.

Thank you for taking my question.


United States

It’s thrilling to read of your spiritual journey to Christian faith, Victor! I hope that I can be of help with your question.

First, I don’t claim that “universal salvation is impossible because of free will.” The point here is subtle and easily misunderstood. I think that there certainly are logically possible worlds in which everyone freely places his faith in Christ and so is saved. What I’ve said is that, for all we know, such worlds may not be feasible for God to actualize (or, if some are, they may have overriding deficiencies that make them less preferable). The point here is that God’s being omnipotent does not entail that He can actualize just any logically possible world. For the persons in those worlds, were God to try to actualize them, might freely choose to reject God. We can grasp this point by realizing that which world is actual isn’t up to God alone; free creatures are co-actualizers of the world along with God by means of their free choices, which God does not determine. So it may not be feasible for God to actualize a world of free, universal salvation (without overriding deficiencies).

Now your proposal is that for any person, there are circumstances in which that person would freely place his faith in Christ and be saved. So why doesn’t God make a simulation of a world in which that person thinks that he is in such circumstances, even though he’s not? He’d be living in a sort of virtual reality, like the people in the virtual world of The Matrix. That way, everyone would freely come to believe in Christ and be saved.

I agree with you that the persons in such simulations would each exercise his will freely. But I have two other misgivings about the scenario.

First, it doesn’t seem to solve the problem. All these simulations are part of some possible world. As such, it is not enough for each person to have possible circumstances in which he would freely come to faith in Christ. Rather all those simulated circumstances have to be compossible, that is, in the same possible world. But those simulated circumstances may well be no more compossible than real circumstances. It may be the case, for all we know, that in any world feasible for God, not all of the persons in their various simulated circumstances would freely choose for Christ. It may be that in any world feasible for God, some of people in the simulations would go awry. In that case, nothing has been gained by making the circumstances simulated rather than real.

Second, what you propose strikes me as tremendously deceitful: God deceives persons by making them think that they are in certain circumstances when in fact they're not. These may include the illusion that one has loving parents or a loving wife and children, when in fact they’re nothing but simulations. I find it difficult to believe that such scenario is compatible with God’s perfect goodness. God is not a deceiver. Therefore, I question whether the envisioned scenario is metaphysically possible.

Interestingly, the philosopher David Hunt once made such a suggestion as a sort of fanciful conjecture. You might be interested in reading my response here.