Tornado Simulations, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and God’s Existence

By Luke Nix


For nearly all my life, I’ve had a fascination with the physical sciences. Meteorology and astronomy were two of them that always caught and kept my attention as a kid. In my teens was when I started to focus more on information technology, and in my twenties I was drawn to defending the truth of the Christian worldview through science, philosophy, and other knowledge disciplines. Living in Oklahoma, the weather is always in the news, and being that I frequent philosophical and scientific sites, popular astronomer Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson comes across my screen once in a while as well. In the last year, a few different articles have shown up from the meteorological, astronomical, and philosophical worlds, which the combination is what caught my attention. Today, I want to take some time to show how technology, being used to simulate natural phenomena, can be used to show that God exists, and I will address a popular naturalistic alternative explanation that was proposed by Tyson (and others). Let’s start with the weather and super-computers.

Tornado, Simulation, Tyson and God

Tornadoes And Technology

One of my earliest memories was that of a weather event in Lubbock, TX in the mid-to-late 80s. I was about five years old, and my brother was only two. We were with our parents at the local mall on a spring afternoon. This was pretty typical and nothing exciting, but what happened that afternoon seared this memory into my brain for life. As we were wrapping up our trip and on our way out, nearly everyone in the mall started running frantically, screaming and crying. My parents grabbed my brother and me, and we ran outside to see what was going on. All I remember once we were outside was seeing traffic stopped on an overpass not far from the parking lot and an odd funnel-shaped cloud connecting the sky to the ground. As a five-year-old I had no idea what was going on, but I knew that that funnel was the cause, and it terrified me. Later, it was explained to me that what I saw was a tornado. Since then, I have had a great fascination with tornadoes, and living in Oklahoma has definitely provided a great opportunity to feed that fascination. Over the years, like most mid-westerners, I have had a few close calls with tornadoes, including one that inspired a blog post a few years ago about God’s potential purposes for allowing natural evil.

While I never went to school for meteorology, I did get to take one meteorology course at the local college one spring semester. That same semester I had the opportunity to watch a supercell develop overhead. While that also is nothing odd for a mid-westerner, this was the first time that I purposely went outside to watch it and was actually paying close attention. Seeing the rapid circulation of the dark clouds around me and the scuds develop and get sucked into the circulation was astonishing. Luckily, no tornado developed, but we did get some nice-sized hail. This particular experience in my mid-20s was one of my turning points for realizing the incredible beauty and power of one of nature’s most destructive forces (at least for my area). If you’ve never experienced a storm this way, take a look at this time-lapse video of a supercell and imagine yourself watching it develop from directly below it:

Nebraska Supercells – 4k StormLapse from Chad Cowan on Vimeo.

Historically, weather has been quite challenging to predict despite the continued increase in power of today’s super-computers and the amount of data that they process in the latest models. In early 2017 atmospheric scientist Dr. Leigh Orf at the University of Madison released a video produced by the most extensive and precise simulation of a real supercell that became tornadic. The EF-5 tornado struck Oklahoma in 2011, and Dr. Orf’s team reproduced the entire supercell for the life of the tornado. Here is the simulation video he released:

The enormity and beauty of the storm astound me which creates a sense of wonder and worship of the Creator (not the creator of the simulation, but the Creator of nature which produced the storm). But something else does as well. The amount of time required, on our fastest computers to simulate the visuals of such a small portion of our universe for such a short period of time with precision orders of magnitude less than what this universe exhibits, created that same sense of wonder and worship in me. Some naturalists have posited that perhaps this universe is a simulation, much like what was explored in the movie trilogy, “The Matrix.”

What If We Live In A Simulation?

Popular astronomer Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson moderated a scientific debate a couple years ago where he suggested that science lends credit to the idea that we live in a simulation. Being that he is an agnostic (if not an atheist) he proposes this idea as a possible naturalistic explanation for the evidence coming from the sciences. The idea that this universe may be a simulation presses the bounds of the word “ludicrous” for a naturalist to make for three reasons.

First, the fact that a naturalist would even suggest such a thing is a philosophical concession to intelligent design on two levels. We know that simulations can only be the product of intelligent designers: the designers of the hardware and the designers of the software. To suggest this universe is a simulation is to suggest the universe was intelligently designed. Let us also not forget what a simulation is: an imprecise representation of something else. So, not only has the naturalist conceded intelligent design but they have merely pushed back the explanation, for they must then assume a universe of greater complexity and precision is what is being imprecisely simulated in the designed hardware by designed software. If this universe is, indeed, a simulation then it has a Designer.

Second, just as the 2011 Oklahoma City tornado was more complex than Dr. Leigh Orf’s simulation, the universe that this universe is imprecisely simulating would be more complex as well, so the naturalist has inadvertently increased the difficulty level of the problem of design because they now need to explain the complexity and design in the universe that our universe is simulating.

Third, all simulations (once the hardware is designed, programmed, and put together, and the software is designed and loaded) must begin. Someone must be there to start the simulation. If the universe is a simulation, all simulations begin, and anything that begins has a cause outside itself, then the simulation (universe) has a beginning outside itself. The universe, if a simulation, indeed must have a Beginner.

If the naturalist wishes to posit that our universe is a simulation, then they have conceded that our universe is designed (thus has a designer), that there exists another universe of greater complexity and design, and that the universe has a beginning (thus a beginner). If a naturalist proposes the option of a simulation, these three issues can be used to show how they have actually granted God’s existence.

Do We Live In A Simulation?

The but the question remains: “Do we live in a computer simulation?” The latest research published in the journal Scientific Advances addresses this possibility. According to one summary of this paper,

“The researchers calculated that just storing information about a couple of hundred electrons would require a computer memory that would physically require more atoms than exist in the universe.”

In other words, not a chance! Lucky for the naturalist the problem is not actually more difficult due to our universe being some big simulation. But they are still stuck with the universe’s beginning and the universe’s design and fine-tuning. The naturalist simply cannot escape these two realities. The possibility of the universe being a simulation appeared to explain these realities (the agent could have been an alien race in the multiverse, or intelligent machines like in “The Matrix,” after all), but when working out the logical implications, it did not, and recent research shows that the whole discussion is moot anyway. So, the naturalist, even if they were right, is still stuck. Evidence for design in the universe is so strong that the naturalist cannot reasonably appeal to an “appearance of design;” they know that they must come up with a way to affirm that the design is real, and they almost (not really) had a way to affirm actual design via the simulation hypothesis, but now they must deny it yet again.


If we conclude from the design in the universe that it is a simulation (based on what we know about the origins of computer simulations), but we discover that the universe is real (not a simulation), shall we then deny the design of the universe again just to avoid the notion of a cosmic Designer and Creator? Shall we further deny the design of the computer simulation by the scientists and say that the simulation was nothing special and just a “chance” occurrence? I do not believe that Dr. Orf would appreciate such a conclusion. Let’s now apply this to the universe.

Rather than denying the evidence there is an option that has been established, not only through the process of elimination (a negative argument) but also through argument by analogy (positive argument): God. Just as we know that purposeful designs created by human designers exhibit lesser levels of complexity and specificity that we see in the universe and we know that those levels are the product of designers, so too we can know that the greater levels of complexity and specificity that we see in the universe are the products of a Designer. We can either follow the scientific evidence where it leads, or we can continue to deny it, even though we know deep down that to do so is a denial of all that is rational. Given the numerous other positive arguments for the God of the Bible, when the whole of reality is considered (quoting homicide detective J. Warner Wallace from his book Forensic Faith– “Everything counts as evidence”), only the God of the Bible stands as the logical explanation. We can either follow the evidence and logic and surrender our lives to Jesus Christ, or we can deny reason and the evidence and live our lives in opposition to our Creator and Savior. It is our free choice, and no one is morally responsible for making the wrong decision but us.

For more on God’s existence from the Sciences, I recommend:

Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity’s Home by Dr. Hugh Ross

Where The Conflict Realy Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism by Dr. Alvin Plantinga

Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off by Dr. Fazale Rana and Dr. Hugh Ross

Origin Science: A Proposal for the Creation-Evolution Controversy by Dr. Norman Geisler


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18 replies
  1. TGM says:

    Do you really want to go down this path? I don’t think positing our existence as a simulation really does the theist any favors. But let’s play with this…
    For starters, if we are in a simulation, then I would concede there is a creator, there is intelligent design, and you get your fine-tuning; but that is where we stop. We know nothing about the world outside of the simulation, so we cannot describe how approximate our simulation is to the external reality. We have no idea about the nature of logic, physics, or the creator of that place. Nor does it seem likely that our simulated reality can offer us any clues about that external reality.
    Now, how does one tell the difference between the God-model that Christianity proposes and a well-crafted simulation with a simulation creator/operator (who might not be one in the same)? I don’t think you can tell the difference. So now you risk attributing Everything to a pseudo-mortal some-such that might be just a lazy sim-tech with a hangover.
    What are the properties of this simulation operator? Immensely powerful by our standards, perhaps. But it’s not clear if power has much meaning here. I suppose the operator could alter a bit here or a byte there and change everything, but that does not make the operator omniscient or omnipotent. Programmers that create simulations here learn a lot, but bandwidth, randomness, and non-linearities prevent them from knowing/predicting everything within the simulation.
    But it gets worse. Because you’ve implied that this simulation operator is equivalent to God. And since morality is ever so important, I have to wonder what imbues the creator with the moral sense you claim He has? This is dangerous territory if you believe in “perfection above”.
    So I have to ask… Since you cannot tell that you’re in a simulation, do you really believe the Creator is an appropriate object of your worship: an entity of unknown properties, uncertain power, uncertain scope, whose really might just be some dude managing the operation of an artificial reality that you call “existence”?
    I suppose if you are in a simulation, at least you can claim to have meaning in your life by being useful data. But, in summary, if we are indistinguishable from a simulation within a deeper reality that you know nothing about, then what (and why) are you worshiping?

  2. David says:

    Science only matters to the Christian when it seems to support his argument. When it directly contradicts it the science is ignored or discounted. The science of archaeology is a great example of this. No matter how much evidence is discovered that contradicts the biblical stories of the Egyptian captivity, the sojourn in the wilderness or the conquest narratives the Christian apologist ignores it and resorts to fringe, nonsense, prove the bible archaeology.

    I also wonder how this god that supposedly “fine tuned” the universe failed to do the same with the texts of the bible. The science of textual criticism shows us what a mess the biblical texts are yet this evidence means nothing to the believer.

    • Austin Larger says:

      I’m a Christian who holds science and the Bible in high regards. It’s ultimate truth that’s the point no? Unfortunately, there are certain questions that fall out of the bounds of science’s capability to aid us in answering, but if there is conflict in assertions, much different than an assumed contradiction, the resolution should never be to ignore or discount. Clearly, both should be looked at in light of the evidence and reevaluated to see which is more consistent or if one is flawed. Can we agree with this premise?
      Now certainly, I don’t think either of us are biblical scholars, archaeologists, or Egyptology experts, but our discussion should be evaluated on the merit of the argument itself. That being said, I do believe it’d behove us not to undermine our own points… Did you really just accuse Christians of ignoring and discrediting arguments but then, right after, do the same to their counterarguments, calling them “fringe nonsense”? Because, without any points backing such a statement, do you really see yourself as any different?
      To the actual discussion, have you ever considered that maybe Christian apologists, as a generalization, have done their research, found truth, and their stance is just one with which you currently disagree? It’s a possibility, right?
      Now, you listed a few items, but what part of the bible specifically do you believe is inconsistent or otherwise disproven by science, and why? What is the science? If we could, let’s talk about one assertion/topic at a time.

      • David says:

        Let’s start with archaeology. The consensus of modern archaeology agrees that the Canaanite conquest never happened. The time frames don’t fit. The destruction layers, with a few exceptions, are not there. The evidence of the infusion of a foreign material culture are not there. Almost all agree that the Israelite people rose up as a subgroup from within Canaanite culture. I think William Dever would serve as a true moderate in this field. In his book “Who Were The Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From?” he takes on minimalists who try to rewrite history and claim that Israel had no ancient presence in the land. He also takes on bible maximalists who claim that it all literally happened. Have you read him? Do you disagree that those putting forth radical new proposals, proposals that have been disproven over and over again, are engaged in “prove the bible” archaeology? William McCray’s acceptance of Jerry Vardaman and his magic coin theory would be a great example of prove the bible science. This total quack who called himself an “archeologist”, in an attempt to help resolve the contradiction of Luke and Matthew’s dating of Jesus’ birth, puts forward the ridiculous claim of having found microscopic letters written on ancient coins. And no less than the modern day apologetic golden boy Lee Strobel picks it up and uses it in The Case For Christ. Vardaman’s theory was completely debunked in the late 70’s yet Strobel still put it in his book. Do you see a problem with any of this?

      • David says:

        And Austin,
        You expose yourself as a biblicist in your use of the terms “assumed contradiction”. True, there are some assumed contradictions found in the bible. But there are many real contradictions too. The contradiction on the date of Jesus’ birth found in Matthew and Luke is not assumed. It is a demonstrable fact. Yet Christians can’t accept it or the whole inerrancy myth comes tumbling down. It’s frustrating to engage in discussions with a group of people that will never concede a single point.

        • Clinton says:

          Neither Luke nor Mathew dates Christ’s birth.
          Mathew gives a short account of the birth, while Luke gave much more detail. There’s no contradiction there. Like other ancient biographies of people from history, different accounts had different details and sometimes sequence of those details.
          Any other contradictions you can think of?

          • Andy Ryan says:

            We’ve been over the contradicting accounts of Judas’ death here many times. Different reasons for how the field got its blood name, different accounts of how he actually died. Taking ‘He hung himself’ and ‘he fell headlong and split open’ and pretending they describe the same event makes you look desperate.

          • David says:

            Sorry Clinton, you can’t get off that easily. They do by the details they provide in the passages. By Matthew’s account Jesus had to have been born between 4 and 6 BC. By Luke’s account he could not have been born before 6 AD. If they don’t contradict why have apologists put forward dozens of ideas for how to reconcile this ten to twelve year difference? Check out the following for a comprehensive treatment of the subject. One contradiction is all it takes for the bible to have errors.


          • Clinton says:

            These are scholars that come up with these ideas. The Gospels don’t date Christ’s birth. They give some clues, and that’s where they decide these ideas. Most scholars generally accept a date of around 4 and 6 bc.
            Luke wasn’t an eye witness to Jesus’ life. He must have talked with Mary or Joseph, Jesus’ parents, and a few other people maybe. Mathew gives a short account of His birth. His purpose wasn’t necessarily to tell us the date of His birth. Reading through Mathew, it’s easy to see that his purpose was mostly to show that Jesus was the Messiah spoke about on the old testament scripture. Luke, seems to have written a historical biography, and thus, included much more detail to several points.
            To the point of Judas Iscariot, none of these guys were an eyewitness to his suicide, so they must have took the story from someone else.
            These Gospels are biographies. And like I said before, most ancient historical biographies, when more than one account by different people, you get different details, different chronology and even different accounts of events.
            These people who wrote these books had something more than simple history.
            When people say inerrent, we’re not assuming that everything is scientifically accurate and everything is going to be perfect. It means it does not mislead on doctrine and matters of faith. I know what the word sounds like though.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            “To the point of Judas Iscariot, none of these guys were an eyewitness to his suicide, so they must have took the story from someone else”
            Right, so…. contradictions and second-hand stories.

          • David says:

            So that’s the new apologetic approach, just deny that there is a way to determine when each writer thought Jesus was born. “He must have talked with Mary or Joseph”. HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! Right, because they would have been alive in the 80s or 90s (or even as late as 90-110 AD) when Luke’s gospel was first written down. You’re in denial Clinton. Did you read the article I referenced? I know this is hard but you have to face the facts.

          • David says:

            Clinton says, “These are scholars that come up with these ideas”. I’ll say the same about “scholarship” and the Christian as I said above about science. Scholarship only matters to the Christian when it seems to support his argument. When it directly contradicts it the scholarship is ignored or discounted. If a Christian “scholar” comes up with evidence or a theory that supports the veracity of the bible, Christians are on it like a chicken on a June bug. But any scholarship that undermines their beliefs they simply set aside as the work of the devil.

  3. Bob Seidensticker says:

    “Evidence for design in the universe is so strong that the naturalist cannot reasonably appeal to an “appearance of design;” they know that they must come up with a way to affirm that the design is real, and they almost (not really) had a way to affirm actual design via the simulation hypothesis, but now they must deny it yet again.”

    Appearance of design? Black holes and unimaginably vast areas of nothing? No, the universe doesn’t look designed, particularly not for human life. We’ve been shaped by natural forces to fit into our little niche. Evolution explains things nicely. No designer required.

    And let’s make a clear distinction between “Christianity answers that question” and “Christianity answers that question with a plausible answer.” All you’ve done is make the former claim.

    Science has unanswered questions. Christianity can answer *any* question with “God did it!” but never with any reason to believe that answer.

    • CS Brownwell says:

      You need to understand the teleological argument for God’s existence a little better. It is not a “God of the gaps” argument. First, you mention black holes and vast areas of space as if they couldn’t possibly be part of a design, which is just silly. Second, you ignore ALL the factors that have to be so precise in order for there to be life. Such precision by impersonal, undirected processes borders on the impossible. Third, we know that evidence of design points to a designer, because when we see design, we find a designer. When we find a watch in the forest, we do not assume it was assembled over time through random, purposeless, undirected processes. Evidence of design is positive evidence for a designer. So, you misunderstand the teleological argument. It is not the Christian saying “I don’t understand it, so God must have done it.” In fact, atheists do just that when they try to explain the origins of the universe. “We don’t know how the universe created itself out of nothing, but natural processes must have done it.”

  4. Charlie says:

    Ever heard of Laminin. Laminin is inside of each person. Look it up on images on google. Jesus loves each person without merit. But God demonstrates His own Love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 God speed every day… Are you listening to His voice John 10:27? Also watching Caroline Leaf gives us even more scientific proof of God’s existence. And not to mention Todd White and other people from school that also hear God’s voice on the daily. He’s personal and kind. Religion is: Just give me the rules. Relationship is: intimacy with the one Who looks a the gold nuggets and romantic Lover of your heart. Jesus is not an a$$hole. The religious spirit(from the devil) is the one who brings shame and guilt. Anything that does not inspire Hope is a lie. A lot of people blame God for the stuff that the devil does such as: kill, steal, and destroy lives and families, while Jesus came to give you Life and that more abundant.John 10:10 Jesus never Blessed a storm. Jesus only did what He saw His Father(DAD) doing. Remember to look up Laminin and Caroline Leaf as well as Todd White(Todd White was an Atheist who hated Christians).

    • toby says:

      Laminin has a vague x or t shape, therefore jesus? You might as well say that chromosomes have an x shape therefore X-Men. What if the laminin was upside down? Satan?

  5. Russell McKenzie says:

    There seems a clear determination to discredit in this discussion by both sides.

    If I as an agnostic, (by this I mean the “stand- alone” noun) are to be swayed, all I get here is one side making impossible to know assertions that come down to belief in an intelligent designer that has to be Christian, while other side claim Naturalism explains everything and attempt to prove it by knowledge not known.

    So here is the thing. How can I with no degree in any science or theology make sense of this, and should I bother when those that do only seem to raise the bar of confusion?

    • Donald Arthur Kronos says:

      I’m not seeing anyone “claim Naturalism explains everything and attempt to prove it by knowledge not known”. In fact, your use of the term “Naturalism” with a capital “N” seems to indicate a bias toward religious belief, especially since the word didn’t come up in any other comments nor even in the article itself except in the title of one of the author’s recommended readings. Furthermore, your use of “explains everything”, which was used only by you, indicates a mindset that is theistic rather than scientific. Why should any single thing explain everything? Why should everything be explained? Sure, if there was an all knowing god out there then that would make sense, but if we live in a world that produced us through natural processes then we should expect more or less exactly what we have. Science is a method of finding the truth. If there were an all-knowing god, we could simply ask and get the answer and not bother to test anything beyond a few tests to show that it was reliable. Obviously, that’s not the world we live in. Science is responsible for all of the great discoveries and advances from which our world benefits. No god has yet supplied even one.


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