“…and this universe has a God,” said the one we shall call Mr Burns.
“But it’s not so different from ours” commented the one we shall call Mr Smith.
“The Christian God of late industrial civilization is very different from the God of pre-industrial society. He’s more of a background character, exposing himself only to a chosen few, rarely taking credit for events – other than all of Creation, that is.”
“– but they still believe in him?”
“Oh yes, nine out of ten, though some pretend to believe, and some pretend not to.”
“As it was in our world. But I see differences.”
“Surprisingly, not many. Suicide and depression are higher, for example.”
“But doesn’t He grant their prayers?”
“That seems to be the problem.”
“You see, they only allow Him to grant a few wishes, ostensibly at random. Granting all their prayers would make the requirement of faith irrelevant, which is the core of their beliefs.”
“But wouldn’t any prayers granted be a – excuse my pun – blessing?”
“The trouble is, that encourages them. Once they believe that simply wanting things makes them happen, they are loath to go out and actually make them happen.”
Mr Burns focused on a region named “North Carolina.”
“Here is a peculiar activity – the majority of adults here spend a significant portion of their earnings on the lottery. Their mathematical skills are well above the level necessary to know that the probability of a profitable outcome is highly unlikely, yet they persist, for hundreds or thousands of cycles.”
Mr Smith focused in on one individual who was buying ten tickets at a fuel depot.
“Curious indeed. This man knows he will lose, but every other Friday, he chooses to act contrary to that knowledge.”
“This is just what I mean. About five of his years back, God miraculously granted him the funds to buy a new vehicle. Ever since, he’s been buying lottery tickets, and going broke every month. And watch this – “
Mr Burns flashed subjective time forward two weeks, and made a minuscule alteration
“ God’s granted his prayer, and he’s won the lottery – “
Mr Burns flashed forward two years
“ – and now he’s bankrupt and on the streets. The wealth was as ethereal as the whim that created it. Observe — ”
“– he begs for food during the day and prays for his former riches at night. He could make a good living once, but now he believes that wealth comes from the heavens, and he would rather stave to death than work for his keep.”
Mr Smith considered this.
“It makes sense that granting unearned riches will make men lazy and unwilling to work for them. But what about the altruistic prayers, the ones to heal their loved ones, and all the strange afflictions of our ancestors?”
“Oh, those prayers are the most destructive. See this man here – a Mr Gentillo. He emerged from a troubled youth to become a brilliant surgeon who saved many lives – in our universe.”
Mr Smith replayed the simulation for the duration of the man’s life.
“But he is a priest in this one.”
“You see, when he was a small boy, his sister was stricken with cancer and died, inspiring him to go to medical school – in our timeline. But in this universe, she survived after a miraculous faith-healing ceremony, inspiring Mr Gentillo to become a faith healer.”
“I see. But look here – God has granted Mr Gentillo’s prayers several times, miraculously healing his patients.”
“Indeed – He saved a few, but the Mr Gentillo of our timeline saved hundreds of thousands with his skills and the medical innovations he introduced. As you know, God necessarily operates by mysterious ways, whereas science is repetitive and predictable, so Mr Gentillo the faith-healer is no match for Mr Gentillo the surgeon.”
Mr Smith shifted his focus to a hospital –
“Now this is interesting – there are thousands of believers here, all concentrating on healing one patient under the direction of a minister. Even if God only listens to a few of their prayers, such a well-organized scientific (according to the science of their universe, at least) approach is bound to have results.”
“Oh, it does now and then. But the God of our ancestors cannot exist without the need for faith, and any repeatable results would erode that. So their prayers sometimes work, but more often than not, they delay real treatment and waste their time. Some of the sick even refuse all medical treatment because they believe that only God can heal them.”
“You don’t say! I’m glad our ancestors were not that barbaric. But look at this individual – she is ignoring all the prayers.”
“She’s actually one of the few atheists of this world. They are persecuted sometimes, but she’s been a very successful doctor. Funny that she ridicules religion and prayer as pre-scientific woodo, when in fact there is a God in her universe, and prayer does sometimes work”
“Yet she appears to be a successful and contented individual despite her erroneous beliefs.”
Mr Burns paused before answering.
“Yes, it seems that independent judgment and a self-directed purpose in life works best regardless of whether or not your particular universe has a Creator. You might keep that in mind next time you lecture me on the computational nature of our own universe.”
“Old disagreements aside, did you ever try granting all their wishes? Isn’t that their notion of heaven? Was it anything like when our civilization evolved out of 21st century society?”
I did, but the results were uninteresting. Immediately after God started granting all prayers, complexity spikes dramatically – I had to activate 1023 additional KJ of processing to track it all and resolve all the contradictions. But within days, the people run out of wishes, or keep asking for the same ones over and over. Without any challenges, perils, or goals to achieve, social interaction virtually disappears, and within months, they become listless robots – indestructible, but utterly without purpose or values.”
“Sounds like the nano-goo that ate up Acharnae II. Hey, so what’s it like to be God?”
“Oh, I never did it myself – I let the simulation run with it. Who wants to be an all-powerful being with the manners and morals of a spoiled child, obsessed with policing every random thought of some (with all due respect to our ancestors) puny creature? But go ahead if you wish – just don’t forget to turn the simul-verse off when you’re done.”