This involves the interplay of a few different websites, so we’ll try to make it coherent. The Hayden Planetarium recently hosted the 2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate on the subject “Is the Universe a Simulation?” They have a link to a video of the entire debate, which is two hours long. Neil deGrasse Tyson was the host and moderator, and Lisa Randall was one of the panelists.
Although the topic was a bit esoteric, it attracted some news coverage. For example, the Atlanta Constitution had this headline: Neil deGrasse Tyson believes we could be living in Matrix-like simulation. The newspaper said:
Tyson, who has posited his beliefs about interplanetary life in the past, is open to the simulation possibility and offered a thought experiment. Humans might be the most intelligent life on Earth but the smartest human might only have the brain capacity of a toddler compared to alien life. “That is not a stretch to think about and if that’s the case, it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just a creation of some other entity for their entertainment,” Tyson said. “The day we learn that it is true. I will be the only one in the room who will say, I’m not surprised.”
A wee bit hypothetical. Nonsensical, really, but fun nevertheless. However, it seems to have upset PZ Myers, who posted We have a term for that, Neil deGrasse Tyson: “Intelligent Design”. PZ said:
Neil deGrasse Tyson led a debate on whether the universe is a simulation. He took the affirmative side. He agrees that there’s no way to prove it one way or the other, but he claims that the probability that we may be part of a simulation “may be very high”. Aargh. Facepalm.
I am disappointed to say that Tyson gives the worst argument in favor of the simulation hypothesis. It’s the idea that of course there could be super-intelligent beings, and of course what super-intelligent beings would do is create us.
Okay, PZ is disappointed. Now the fun begins. At the creationist blog of the Discovery Institute, this just appeared: Neil deGrasse Tyson Says Chances of Intelligently Designed Universe “May Be Very High”. It was written by David Klinghoffer, a Discoveroid “senior fellow” (i.e., flaming, full-blown creationist), who eagerly functions as their journalistic slasher and poo flinger. We’ll give you a few excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis.
[O]f course he [Tyson] was referring to the odds that the universe is an artificial computer simulation by advanced aliens. And that, as opposed to picturing an intelligent designer in more traditional terms [hee hee!] or (as ID theorists prefer) simply leaving open the question of identifying the designer, makes the hypothesis compatible with science? It seems so.
The panel discussion wasn’t remotely about intelligent design, yet Klinghoffer is criticizing Tyson for being a sloppy thinker about that subject. Amazing, huh? Let’s read on:
Fellow atheist P.Z. Myers is appalled [quote from PZ/s blog]. But no. While a simulated universe would indeed be intelligently designed, by definition, Myers has not correctly identified an ID argument.
Klinghoffer is frustrated because PZ doesn’t understand the Discoveroids’ “theory” of intelligent design. He attempts to clarify our thinking:
In simplest terms, the case for ID is twofold, negative and positive. First, all known theories of undirected origins fundamentally fail to makes sense of the scientific evidence. [Hee hee!] Second, a theory of directed origins makes good sense of the evidence, conforming to what we already know about the operation of intelligent causes. Therefore as a provisional matter, we’re justified in inferring design as the best explanation, the best available explanation, of what we see.
The Discoveroids don’t like evolution, so they say Oogity Boogity is the next best explanation. Simple, huh? Here’s more from Klinghoffer:
If Tyson had said: Theories of the universe as non-simulated fail while theories of simulation succeed — then that would be reminiscent of arguments for ID. Of course he would need to suggest some ways his idea could be tested.
But Tyson said nothing like that, because he isn’t crazy. And except for the Discoveroids, everyone knows that their “theory” can’t be tested.
At the end, Klinghoffer actually approves of something PZ said, which may be the first time that has ever happened:
P.Z. congratulates Harvard physicist Lisa Randall, another participant in the debate:
[Klinghoffer quotes from PZ’s blog:] Lisa Randall is the voice of reason who says she thinks the question is only interesting if we have a way to test it. You go, Lisa Randall. That’s how a scientist should think, and she finds the whole argument hilarious.
Randall is always worth quoting. Even Klinghoffer appears to agree with her — but for a bizarre reason. He says:
And she’s right. In the context of ID, despite atheist counterclaims, the fact that the design hypothesis is testable is one thing that makes it of intense scientific interest.
BWAHAHAHAHAHA! We can imagine Klinghoffer at the panel discussion. When it’s over, he climbs out of the audience and creeps close to Lisa to show his approval — but then, when she realizes who it is, she cringes and quickly moves away.
So there you are. A panel discussion where Tyson’s entertaining remarks were blown out of proportion, and now the Discoveroids are trying to use the thing to legitimize their mystical view of the universe. Well, why not? What else have they got?
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