Simulations, Dreams, Reality, God? What’s it all about?

My friend Lance introduced a lot of topics in the comment stream under my article Debunking Myself: What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been so I moved it here to create a fresh thread. He introduced five topics which I will in answer in order of appearance:

I am quite interested in what you think we can know, if anything, about reality (whatever that is). Having studied physics you will have a better understanding than I do regarding our current theoretical understanding of the material universe. 1) It may be that we are all in a simulation created by a more technologically advanced “species” and that we don’t really exist in the way we feel we do. If we believe that then it’s sort of the end of the discussion as there really is no you and me in the way we ordinarily think about our existence.

The hypothesis that we are living in a simulation has gained a lot of attention recently. It’s been the focus of books, articles, Ted talks, podcasts, etc. I’ve always liked movies that question the nature of reality such as The Matrix and Vanilla Sky which are just technological variations on the ancient story of Chang Tzu who woke from dreaming he was a butterfly, only to wonder if he was actually a butterfly dreaming he was a man. No matter what the source of our apparent existence, I can think of no way to prove it is not a dream or a simulation. When I was a Christian, I always thought of reality as a “Dream in the Mind of God” and for most of my life have tended towards philosophical Idealism. It made more sense to me to see Consciousness as fundamental, since I could easily understand how object could arise from consciousness, but not the reverse.

But I’m evenly split on this question now, because I see how my mind is made of matter, and if I make a little change to that matter, such as ingesting a hundred millionths of a gram of LSD, my conscious radically changes. How can ingesting matter cause such a profound change if my consciousness is truly independent of my brain? And if my consciousness is a product of a physical thing like my brain, I see no reason it could not be the product of an artificial brain, a simulation.

With that introduction, maybe I can answer your point that “there really is no you and me” if we exist in a simulation. I don’t see how that follows. If Buddhists (and many neuroscientists like Sam Harris) are correct, there is no “real you and me” regardless of the nature of the reality we perceive. It sounds like you are importing the concept of an “immortal soul” – a spiritual entity that continues to exist after the death of the body. That would be a great topic of conversation, but I think it’s entirely separate from whether or not we are living in a dream, simulation, or ontologically fundamental “real world.” And this leads to another rabbit hole. It reminds me of C. S. Lewis’s book The Great Divide in which heaven was the REALITY and this world a mere shadow. So much to discuss! So my final answer to your first point is: Even if we live in a simulation, it’s no dead end! We could easily spend the rest of our lives discussing the ramifications, how it would relate to ultimate reality, God, the existence of selves and souls, etc., etc., etc. And most significantly, we could explore the possibility of escaping the Matrix and becoming REAL like the Velveteen Rabbit or Pinocchio. So now we are back to children’s tales. Maybe we do live in a simulation and it is a nursery for the creation new souls! There never will be an end to Fantasia, so long as we we know how to stop the Nothing.

2) The postmodern “idea” that everything is narrative and that there is no objective “truth” or “reality” that can be known is, again, a dead end. If we believe there is no reality outside of ourselves that can be objectively known (to some degree of accuracy or predictability) then what more is there to say. Personally, I find the whole postmodern, deconstructionist “philosophy” repugnant and deeply anti-human. Of course subjectivity, belief systems etc. act as lenses through which we “know” and “think” – but to deny that one cannot know some things objectively (to some or other degree of accuracy) is self-refuting.

I agree that postmodernism has taken a “repugnant and anti-human” turn. But that’s not how it started. It contains a lot of useful insights that are worthy of study. It is a correction to the over-confidence created by “grand narratives” that trapped people in an ideology. But now it has morphed into it’s opposite and is itself an anti-intellectual ideology used by authoritarian leftists to dominate and shut-down open discourse which I find altogether repulsive, destructive, and dangerous. If anything contains the “seeds of it’s own destruction” it is Postmodern Philosophy!

I agree that it is absurd to deny the ability to “know” anything, but on the other hand, there is almost nothing that we know in an “absolute” sense. And everyone seems terribly confused about the meaning of “Objectivity.” This is particularly obvious when it comes to Christian theologians who argue for “objective morality” and then fail to define what they mean. I talk about this in my old article The Logic of Love: A Natural Theory of Morality (and many other articles).

3) My “belief” is that there is something really real that can be observed or theorised about and which has an objective reality independent of our thoughts and theories. If every human dies this instant the Universe would not cease to exist.

I agree there is something really real, but what that is remains a mystery. It could be the world in which I’m a butterfly dreaming I’m a man. It could be the world in which the simulation is being run. It could be the “Mind of God.” It could be One Universal Consciousness that is “dreaming the world.” It could be an ever-expanding multiverse of elementary particles blindly evolving according to fundamental laws.

4) Our current theories about the physical nature of the Universe allow us, in many cases, to make stunningly accurate predictions about how that Universe operates. However, we cannot say that they are a complete or even accurate description of the Universe. We don’t really know how this Universe came to be; our theories break down at the very beginning, we have theories about quantum fluctuations in a vacuum (ie “nothing” but not really nothing), we don’t really have a theory of quantum gravity, we aren’t really sure what dark energy and matter is (and if it even exists) etc. etc. What I am saying is that, despite the incredible advances we have made in understanding the Universe and despite the stunning accuracy of our theories, they are incomplete and it’s epistemic arrogance to say that we “know” how this Universe came to be, operates and will end. I am not making an argument for a “God of the gaps”. Many scientists don’t like admitting the limitations of their knowledge as they fear it will give ammunition to, for example, creationists. What I am saying is that the material Universe is probably still a lot stranger (and more wonderful) than we currently understand.

I doubt many, if any, scientists would have trouble agreeing with your assessment of the limitations of our knowledge. It’s also unlikely that they would fear giving “ammunition” to creationists since they probably don’t even cross their mind. Of course, “creationist” is too broad a term, since there are a great variety spanning everything from serious scientists to cranks and cons. There are Young Earth Creationists, Flat Earth Creationists, Old Earth Creationists, Evolutionary Creationists, etc., etc., etc. (Gotta love the King and I!)

I agree that the material Universe is probably “a lot stranger (and more wonderful) than we currently understand. But I strike the word “material” because I doubt “matter” is the fundamental reality. Einstein taught us that matter and energy are really the same thing (E = mc2 ) and we don’t know what either “really” are and if everything really is just an “object of consciousness (Idealism) then there is no “matter” at all. I tend towards philosophic monism (ultimate reality is one kind of thing) so there’s no “natural” vs. “supernatural. I just call myself a “naturalist.”

5) In summary, my first presupposition is that we are, if nothing else, real “beings” in a real Universe about which we can, through reasoning, obtain knowledge that exits independently of us and our thoughts. I am not, at this stage anyway, making any argument for some kind of non-energy/matter reality at this stage (ie no spiritual/supernatural realm). What do you believe with regard to the reality of the Universe and what we can and do know about it? I am genuinely interested.

I agree that we are “real” even if we don’t exist as a “self” (in which case “I” is just a handy way to refer to the entity others recognize when they look at my body). And we are “real” even if the apparent reality we find ourselves in is not the “ultimate” reality. It doesn’t matter if it is a simulation, a dream, an ex-nihilo creation by a God, or whatever. But I am very excited to explore these possiblities with you, and any friends who’d like to join in.

Great questions Lance! Really glad you took the time to discuss them with me.

Posted in Philosophy Tagged with: ,

Answers for Kristina – Was I really a Believer?

I received a long list of questions from Kristina Biro in the comment stream under my post Answers for Amber on Why I Quit Christianity. Here are my answers:

I have yet to find anything on your site where you have declared Jesus as your Lord and Savior at anytime in your past.

Did you have an experience with Jesus? Did he call your name?

Hey there Kristina,

I’m rather mystified by your first question since my site is saturated with the answers you failed to find. And it’s not like they were hidden in a corner. On the contrary, the post that you commented on contained a link to my article “Why I Quit Christianity” which began with three examples of my own declaration that Christ was my Lord and Savior. Here is one example from my old “About” page:

I remain eternally grateful to my Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, for shedding His Light upon me and guiding my path – usually without my knowledge – and giving me both the burning desire and the ability to proclaim the neverending wonders of His Holy Word. Oh! The wonders of His Grace! Had He left me to myself, doubtless I’d be dead or wandering aimless and lost through this dark world. Thank you, my Lord!

And here is an example from my original home page:

To this end I labour, to glorify the Triune God; to glorify the Father Almighty, Creator of all, to glorify His Son Jesus Christ my Saviour and Hope, and to glorify the Giver of all divine gifts, my Comforter, Guide, Teacher and Friend, God the Holy Spirit. To You be the glory, thrice holy blessed God of Eternity! To You be the glory, now and forevermore. Amen. Amen. Amen.

The same may be said about my “experience with Jesus” – for many years I strongly believed I had had had many such encounters. For example, I believed he spoke directly to me when I was converted at a “Praise the Lord” festival in Vancouver Washington in 1979. I tell the story in my article “Why I became a Christian.”

What church were you connected to?

Who was your pastor?

I have been “connected” with many churches over the years, but I had always considered myself a “non-denominational Christian” as explained on my old FAQ in answer to the question “Are you a Christian? Protestant? Catholic?” –

Praise God, I am a man saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesian 2:8). I am a non-denominational blood-bought Bible-believing Trinitarian Christian. I believe that the true “faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3) is well stated in the early creeds of the church that Christ founded.

As you can see, I took my faith very seriously and believed it with my whole heart.

When did you repent/turn from your sins?

The first time was at the PTL festival I mentioned above. And then it became a daily practice for many years.

When did you get submerged in the baptismal waters as an outward sign of an inner work?

I was baptized by immersion at the First Christian Church in West Seattle where my stepmother worshiped. It was about a week after my conversion at the PTL festival.

Did you ask the Holy Spirit to give you your prayer language?

Yes, many times over the years because I tended to hang around with believers who said it was an important gift and that God would give it to me if only I asked. But it never happened to me no matter how much I prayed.

In reading your own biography you had an experience with LSD which led you deeper into the occult. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ of Nazareth has not begun yet. When were you re-born? Given a new start? New life? Date please?

It’s strange that you read that biography without seeing my answers to those questions. Please read the article again. I will be happy to answer more if you don’t find what you are looking for.

You started a relationship with demons who have used you to promote the ungodly one world religion by creating the bible wheel.

Ungodly? One world religion? Where did you get those ideas? The Bible Wheel is nothing but a simple two dimensional representation of the the traditional Protestant Bible. I was absolutely convinced that it was proof that God had designed the Bible and that the faith taught in its pages was true. I did not believe in any “one world religion.” Where did you get that idea?

The wheel became your God. Not the God of the Bible.

Your faith in the Bible was rooted in mystisysm and the occult. Not in the teachings of Jesus.

How do you justify such a judgment? Do you know my heart? Is there any evidence that I treated the “wheel” as if it were my God? Of course not. I believed the Bible was the Word of God and that he had designed it in the pattern of the wheel to reveal the glory of his wisdom and the truth of his Word. I believed that Jesus was the Living Word of God, and that the Bible was designed by him to reveal him. I based everything on the Bible. You might want to take your own advice and follow the teachings of Jesus concerning false accusations, self-righteousness, and unjust judgement.

How can you recant something that never actually happened?

I once believed in God, the Bible, and Jesus. Now I do not, and I can give good reasons for my rejection of those beliefs. Simple as that.

The God of the Bible wants to heal all of you (spiritual, emotional, and physical) and give you a sound mind. A new heart of love and compassion as well as understanding and insights you cannot imagine. He is waiting for you to yield your rational thinking to His ways. Which are not yours.

A true God would never tell his followers to “yield their rational thinking” since that is the path to ignorance, delusion, and deception. It is what the cults teach. If there is a true God, he would delight in truth, not in ignorant blind belief which has misled so many throughout the sad history of religion on this planet.

I am praying daily for the salvation of your soul.

Why would you do that? If there is anything we know about God, it is that he cannot be trusted to answer any prayer. See my article Is God Trustworthy? The Root of Religious Delusion.

Great chatting! Thanks for the interesting questions. Please don’t hesitate with any followups.


Posted in Bible Wheel, Losing My Religion

Reader’s Questions: Is there a God? Who was Jesus?

I received these questions in a comment from “Skybreaker” under my article Debunking Myself: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Hi Richard,

It must be over 10 years since I bought your book and I am very surprised about your change of faith. Therefore Im also quite curious to what your current worldview looks like, so… if you`re able and willing, please let me know the following :

1.Is there a God?
2.Who do you think Jesus is / was? Or do you believe he didnt exist at all?

Please elaborate if possible.


Hey there Skybreaker,

I do not know if there is a God.  I’m open to the idea that there could be some sort of “mystical God” that is the Ground of Being, much like philosophical Idealism that posits Mind in that role. But such a God is nothing like the Gods of the mainstream religions invented by humans such as Allah, Krishna, Yahweh, and Zeus. Those God’s almost certainly do not exist since they have false and/or self-contradictory properties. For example, the God of Reformed Christianity is believed to have ordained “whatsoever comes to pass” and yet holds the creature, which had no freedom to choose otherwise, responsible for doing what was preordained. This is an incoherent doctrine. Likewise, they teach that God is good, loving and merciful, and yet that he created an infinite evil of eternal conscious torment in hell for those creatures he created with the intent of tormenting them forever. Such doctrines are obviously absurd. No such God could exist, because real beings cannot have self-contradictory properties.

I was always inclined towards the “mystical God” or just “Universal Consciousness” but I really don’t have a good reason to believe that is true. It seems unlikely given the apparent dependence of mind upon matter (brain), but I don’t rule it out entirely. And when I think about it, I wonder why it would matter anyway? What am I? Why would it matter if I continue to exist after this body dies? If I cease to exist, it obviously won’t bother me. And if it mattered and it was important that I knew there is a God, s/he would certainly have revealed it to us. But that has not happened, so I don’t worry about it.

As for the existence of Jesus, there’s not much to believe about him since even if he existed, it is impossible to separate the myth from the historical man. The one thing we can know with great certainty is that many of the Biblical statements about him are not true, because they are mutually contradictory.

Thanks for the questions. Sorry for the slow response. I’ve been distracted a lot lately. I look forward to discussing these topics with you.





Posted in Losing My Religion

The Times They Are A Changin’

The times continue their incessant change (both inside and out), as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 BC – 475 BC) famously observed. And while looking up that quote for this post, I learned that he also was responsible for “establishing the term Logos (λόγος) in Western philosophy as meaning both the source and fundamental order of the Cosmos.” I knew that John had based his theology on existing secular philosophy, but did not realize it had originated five centuries earlier.

The changes in the outer world are pretty much the same as they have been throughout record history – hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, senseless mass murder – though it’s probably safe to say that the intensity of the last few months has spiked a bit above average. Those without a sense of history take these latest perturbations as evidence that we have finally reached the “end times” that were promised to be “coming quickly” in the Bible two thousand years ago. It’s a pity that the fundamentalist mindset makes it impossible for them to see the irony of their position.

Meanwhile, my internal changes have continued on their relatively smooth trajectory towards a more settled sense of self. One of the big questions was “What should I do with this site?” I’ve neglected it quite a bit lately, busying myself with work and recreation. It took a lot of work to set everything up again after the crash, and with work and recreation, there wasn’t much time or energy left to write posts and answer questions. But that’s changing now. I have the site working better than before. I installed SSL for security and upgraded this blog to a new theme that is responsive for mobile clients. I have lots of new ideas for where I want to take it. But first I will begin by responding to a lot of unanswered comments in various threads.

The recreation has really helped me tremendously both physically and mentally. Rose and I typically ride over a hundred miles a week, and just last week I joined the Bearded Monkeys of Yakima for a 100 mile ride called Field 41 Century. It was excellent. I felt strong, healthy, and energetic. I finished the 100 miles in 5 hours 39 minutes, at an average pace of 17.7 mph. You can checkout the ride on my Strava page. Here I am with my bike just before the ride:

At the start of the Field 41 Century ride.

At the start of the Field 41 Century ride.

And here I am near the finish line:

At the finish of the Field 41 Century ride.

At the finish of the Field 41 Century ride.

Rose and I also get out for an intense hike once a week. They typically take up most of our Saturdays. Last week we conquered the 3350 foot climb up to Goat Peak. It was only a six mile round trip, so the average grade was about 20%. Here’s a panorama from the top:

View from the top of Goat Peak

View from the top of Goat Peak

We would have been very hesitant to stress our middle aged knees on such a descent if not for the amazing assistance provided by our Nordic Walking Poles which also gives a full body workout. They are the best hiking innovation since the invention of the shoe. We call them our “magic sticks” because they have totally transformed our hiking experience, giving us an aerobic upper body workout while easily doubling our endurance and reducing knee strain to almost nothing.

On top of Goat Peak

On top of Goat Peak


And on that note … it’s time for Rose and I to head out for our Saturday hike. Today we are going to head north on the Pacific Crest Trail from Chinook Pass.


Posted in Thinking Freely

The forum is back up now

The image is something I drew on the cover page of my journal I wrote while hitch-hiking around the country back in 1987. It captures the essence of the human condition. We are made of “dust” – all that we do and all that we are is destined to crumble to nothing. But on the other hand, being trapped forever in our current condition would be quite hellish. So we are dancing on the razor’s edge between existence and the abyss. Not a bad place to be when you think about it. Indeed, it seems to be the only place we could be!

The impermanence of life became quite vivid recently. This site has been online since February 11, 2001. I’ve put countless hours into it, first as a convinced Bible believing Christian, then as a skeptical mystic, and finally as an atheist. It records my changes and the reasons for them, the questions I struggled with, and the many answers my fine friends have contributed along the way. Then on February 17, 2017 the server hosting this site crashed. The company which had been hosting it for the last sixteen years was not been able to provide any backups, claiming they all had mysteriously become corrupted through some mechanical failure. It seems  more likely that they simply failed to configure the backups correctly. In any case, I had, fortunately, made my own backup a couple years ago and so have been able to recover about 80% of the posts (62,624)  spanning the time from when the forum opened in June 7, 2007 to October 25, 2014.

This experience really brings home the fact that nothing is permanent. Our lives and our work are like footprints in the sand, destined to be washed away by wind and rain no matter what we do. On the upside, it also means that things we wish were not on the internet are also destined to pass. The new “old adage” that “once on the internet, always on the internet” is not really true. There are literally thousands of posts that were published on my site for many years that already have vanished because Google and Bing clear their cache frequently. I was hoping I could automate a Google search to find the old posts and reinsert them in my database, but they simply don’t exist anywhere any more as far as I can tell.

It’s not the same with this blog though. As it turns out, the Wayback Machine (Internet Archive) took snapshots of all my blog articles, so I will be able to retrieve them and their comment streams. I don’t know why they do this for WordPress blogs but not vBulletin forums.

I look forward to continuing our many conversations. Here’s the link to the forum.

Posted in What's New?

As you can see, the site is no longer down. ;)

The server for this site crashed a couple weeks ago and the the company hosting it said all their backups were corrupted, so it has taken some time for me to reconstruct it from my personal backups. I moved to a new host and have restored full functionality to the Full Text Bible Database (the most popular feature of this site) and most of the articles relating to my old research on the Bible Wheel.  I also have gotten this blog up and running (obviously) though I’ve lost the posts written after 2014 and many of the graphics in the articles are missing. I have yet to restore the forum. My latest backup contains all the posts up to November 2014. I hope to restore it tomorrow.

Please leave a comment if you encounter any errors so I can fix them.

Thank you for your patience!

Posted in Bible Wheel

On the Couch with Psychoanalyst Terry Blanchard

Terry Blanchard is a long time reader who had a lot to say about my previous article Is God Trustworthy? The Root of Religious Delusion. His comments involve a lot of “psychoanalysis” of my motives, so I cast him in the role of a doctor.

The Doctor Begins: Am I just an impatient petulant child?

There is something missing from your analysis here. Readers of your forum with long memories will recall the two anecdotes you posted describing the two key events which led to your loss of faith. In the first, you were walking up a hill carrying your son, when you hurt your ankle. In pain, you prayed for immediate relief, but the pain did not cease in that moment as you requested. The second incident concerned your son and a stomach complaint, which again, was not instantly healed when you prayed for this to happen.

Out of interest, how is the ankle now? And your son? Hopefully both turned out fine. If so, then one might be tempted to suggest that your prayers were answered, but just not in the time-frame that you requested.

Wow Doc, you have a prodigious memory. As far as I know, I mentioned those two events only once in passing in a post on my forum three years ago. I can’t imagine where you got the idea that those were “key” events. I mentioned them in a reply to a member “CWH” who started a thread called Why Pray? They were meant as nothing but personal illustrations of the vanity of prayer. CWH, like many fundamentalist Christians, had been claiming that God was communicating his displeasure with America through weather patterns. He said that we should pray more to get back under God’s good graces. Here is how I answered: Read more ›

Posted in Losing My Religion, Why Christianity is False

Is God Trustworthy? The Root of Religious Delusion

Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool. ~ Mark Twain

Someone who is trustworthy in a small matter is also trustworthy in large ones, and someone who is dishonest in a small matter is also dishonest in large ones. ~ Luke 16:10

Christianity is founded upon the idea that God is trustworthy. That is its central claim. If God is not trustworthy then Christianity is false. But there is no proof that God even exists, let alone that he is trustworthy. So the first question is, what do Christians mean when they say that God is trustworthy? Here is a typical example from Christian artist and author Richard Gunther: Read more ›

Posted in Why Christianity is False

Debunking Dan Gleason, the “Jesus is a Circle” guy

The early Christian Sacred Geometers called a circle with a circumference of 888 units “the living Jesus” because the diameter of his circle is 282 units, which is the gematria value of the Greek word bios (BioV), meaning “earthly life.”

~ Daniel Gleason,

The quote above typifies the raving lunacy Daniel Gleason publishes on his site. There is not one shred of evidence that any early Christians drew a circle with circumference of 888 units and called it “the living Jesus.” How then could he make such an assertion? The answer is simple; he believes his numerology proves that’s what they must have been doing. He has since changed his words to “may have called” in response to my email asking for his justification. He said he would restore the original assertion after his book with his numerological proofs is published, as if mere numerology, without any textual or historical evidence, could prove what early Christians actually did and said. Read more ›

Posted in Debunking Bullshit

The Isaiah-Bible Coincidence Debunked

MERE COINCIDENCE is the primary “evidence” that convinces most people of the truth of such religious beliefs as “God answers prayers” and “prophecies have been fulfilled” and “God designed the Bible.” Any random coincidence that “confirms” what one wants to believe is accepted as “evidence” while everything else is ignored. Years of habitual magical thinking, accepting mere coincidences as evidence, leads to strong delusions. That’s why people believe weird things like Astrology, Tarot, Numerology, and the Bible Wheel.

The Isaiah-Bible Correlation is another such coincidence that I presented as strong evidence that “confirmed” the exact order and content of the books of the Protestant Bible. Many Christians have noted that the 66 chapters of Isaiah naturally divide into groups of 39 and 27, just like the 66 books of the Bible naturally divide into 39 chapters of the Old Testament and 27 of the New. I independently noticed this in 1993. For more than a decade I made it a habit to always check for any correlation with Isaiah when studying the Bible. Over time, I accumulated enough “connections” to convince me that it could not have happened by chance. Did I have any actual statistical data? No. All I had was “intuition” based on “obvious connections” and, of course, the presupposition that the Bible was designed by God. Read more ›

Posted in Bible Wheel, Debunking Myself