The Simulation Hypothesis and the Nephi-Laban Problem
IMAGE: PHOTO OF A VIDEO GAME SCREENSHOT
I marvel at the creativity I witness from my son’s young and fresh mind. His curiosity and originality unbounded, he darts between Youtube toy reviews, LEGO experiments, and Minecraft explorations. At age 4, he has no limits and can dream up amazing things. Of course he’s impressionable: every subsequent waking hour of his life is shaped by the media of the previous hour. But just as much as he is shaped, he then builds himself as a shaper, a maker.
Interestingly, when a problem is introduced in his creative environment, he deals with it. If a LEGO piece is applied to a construct in a way which goes against the instructions -- the “plan”, if you will -- he will immediately remove the piece and set things right, and move on with the next piece. If in Minecraft, he either destroys the offending blocks and replaces them, or he builds around the problem and continues toward his goal.
How does this idea of a Creator and the simulations he creates work into solving the ethical problems we see in life or in the Scriptures? One of the biggest ethical problems in LDS canon is the story of Nephi killing Laban in 1 Nephi 4 in the Book of Mormon. Most of the time we look at this from Nephi’s perspective, and practically ignore his brothers, the angel that visited him, or the Eternal Programmer in Heaven who is intervening here.
Bear in mind that Nephi's main objection to killing him was that he had never killed a man. He just didn't want to take that step, much less on a defenseless man. He probably knew per the law that he had been taught since childhood that he was justified, since Laban had stolen all his father’s property and sought to kill him and his brothers and would do so again at first sight, but he just wanted to hear WHY he was justified in doing so. Then he got a bunch of reasons:
appearance of an angel who promised that the Lord would deliver him into his hands (a special phrase used throughout the OT meaning "you are justified in killing"),
the voice of the Spirit which said that the Lord delivered him into his hands, (important because this is the fulfilling of a prophecy made just hours earlier by the angel -- I never realized this before)
being told that it was the Lord slaying Laban ("The Lord slayeth the wicked")
that it was needed to allow him to get the plates to prevent unbelief and societal mayhem in his progeny.
It was likely an excruciating decision, and along with his later deception to Zoram, it's possible this night haunted him for his whole life. Or perhaps he understood with perfect clarity that it was supposed to happen, and that he was just acting fatalistically, in which case he felt peace and confidence regarding it for the rest of his days.
It may seem totally crazy, but if you can get past the crassness, the 2006 South Park episode “Make Love, Not Warcraft” is actually an uncanny parallel to the Nephi-Laban arc. Watch it if you desire (“R”-rated material), and read the following:
A group of four friends/brothers are pursued and killed by a character who is causing the entire nation (the WoW player community) to dwindle and perish in unbelief (unbelief that they can enjoy playing the game, thus without interested players, the world dies)
They attempt multiple times to prevail against the murderous character, but fail multiple times
They fight amongst themselves, but ultimately one succeeds at leading the rest to press forward and try again.
They are prophesied to use a special sword to kill the murderous character.
The Creator(s) intervene, send a messenger to give them what they need to stop the murderous character, and deliver the murderous character into their hands.
After killing the murderous character, they don't exhibit much satisfaction, but rather continue on their quest as if nothing had happened.
There may be other parallels, but the point is that seen from the perspective of the Great Programmer of the Simulation, if something is frustrating the plan to see the Simulation develop and grow in love and agency, then as a Programmer, you may take certain steps to "fix" the "bug". Nephi probably never realized how much was riding on what he did, but God did.
Another great similarity is the Tron world, where Creator Kevin Flynn intervenes in his created world to empower Tron to destroy MCP. This is an allegory repeated throughout fiction and history.
My personal caveat is that I prefer the Anti-Nephi-Lehis (what an appropriate name for a group with an opposite response to the violence seen in Nephi’s actions here). Nonviolence is preferred. I can see how self-defense is justified, though, and I can see why God might frown on violence, even in self-defense, but does not prohibit violence in self-defense, and might sometimes explicitly prescribe violence in defense of the mission of allowing love and agency for the greatest number of his simulations.
I don’t propose this article as a solution, but merely as a new perspective. If you were the programmer and had a goal for your simulation, how would you fix bugs or viruses that would threaten to derail the progress in love and agency that you had instilled in the artificial intelligences within your simulation? I argue that if God is there, that He largely watches, but that from time to time He may employ his creations to “fix bugs”, and that He would do so in the way that works best for Him.