Ancient Stoic theology was natural theology. It wasn’t based on any alleged revelations; it was based on reasoning from observations. It was intended to be consistent with science. But science has come along way in the last two thousand or so years. Stoic theology has not kept up, simply because it has not been pursued. Fortunately, since Stoic theology is based on nature, it can be updated. Stoic theology is not tied to some ancient revelation or holy book. And Stoic theological ideas are very general ideas. Stoic theology is like an abstract logical frame in which many different scientific pictures can be set. Moving from the ancient theory of the four elements to the modern Standard Model of Matter doesn’t refute Stoic theology. And, since the Stoics derived their theology from their reflections on the natural order of things, Stoic theology ought to be updated. For the Stoics, whether ancient or modern, theological progress goes hand in hand with scientific progress. So we need to update Stoic theology.
I’ll start by proposing a modern definition of the Stoic God. After that, I’ll tell you why I think it captures the core elements of Stoic theology. Other ways of thinking about the Stoic God are certainly possible. This modern Stoic theology is inspired by computer science. It’s part of digital physics, or, more accurately, digital metaphysics. The idea is that our universe is a software process running on a hardware substratum. That substratum is a computing machine. Of course, it isn’t very much like the computer I’m using to type this up. It’s a computer in the sense that it performs certain abstractly defined functions. The idea that our universe is a software process is sometimes referred to as the simulation hypothesis. But that’s not quite right, because a simulation is an imitation of some original system, like a simulation of the weather. But our universe isn’t a simulation of anything. It is what it is. By now you will have guessed that I mean to say that the computer is the Stoic God. Can this be defended? It can.
The Stoics drew a crucial contrast between God and matter, with God being active and matter being passive. This contrast is preserved: the activity of the divine hardware generates all the activity in the software. The software is utterly passive. The Stoics also thought of God as purely rational. Computers are logical machines. The activity of the divine computer is purely rational activity. The Stoics were determinists. Computer-generated worlds unfold deterministically. They are deterministically generated by the logic of their programming. Fate is an algorithm. The Stoic God was omniscient, knowing all that happens in the universe. The computer that runs a program can observe the program it runs. More precisely, one part of that program, the cosmic part, can be observed by another part. But this leads to another parallel. The Stoics were polytheists. And digital theology is also polytheistic. Any complex program is divided into subroutines. The cosmic programming of our universe is clearly very complex. It is a whole composed of subroutines, and these subroutines are lesser deities. They are not, of course, the literal gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus. But the ancient Stoics themselves rejected that idea as mere superstition.
The Stoic God is analogous to a self-programming computer. It is a hardware machine, but, like all computers, it has an operating system. Its operating system is written directly into its hardware (or, more technically, into its firmware). The operating system contains, among other features, a program for writing programs. The Stoics used the design argument to justify the existence of their God. The argument works just fine: the universe exhibits a programmatic order (expressed in the laws of physics); but where there is a program, there needs to be a programmer; therefore, there exists some cosmic programmer. This cosmic programmer just turns out to be a deeper program, written into the operating system of God. The fine-tuning argument can also be used to justify the existence of the divine self-programming machine: our universe is finely-tuned for life; if it is finely tuned, then there exists some tuner; so there exists some tuner. This tuner adjusted the parameters of our physical laws so that life would be likely to emerge. And this tuner is the self-programming logic of the divine computer.
This computational way of thinking about the Stoic God also coheres with several other aspects of Stoic theology. The Stoic God doesn’t seem to be a personal or conscious God like the Christian God. It is a kind of impersonal rationality. It is mind-like, but it might not really be a mind. So think of artificial intelligence. The kinds of mind-like programs that have artificial intelligence (call them “artillects”) aren’t really minds. They can be extremely smart, but they don’t have psychologies or conscious selves. They are alien minds, if they are minds at all, and that strangeness provides a way to think about the Stoic God. Its intelligence resembles AI rather than human mentality.
All this raises some other issues. The logic of the Stoic God is providential: it has ordered the universe for the best. How can that be reconciled with the obvious fact that this is not the best of all possible worlds (indeed, such a world is not even possible, since very world can be surpassed by better worlds). And this Stoic God faces a challenge from Dawkins: since it is complex, where did it come from? All complex things were produced by evolutionary processes. Can the Stoic God be reconciled with an evolutionary theory of complexity, in which complexity slowly accumulates? Digital theology handles both challenges easily. And what about the Stoic theory of the cosmic cycles? Or that the universe is alive? These are all for another time.