Church of the Great Programmer, The

Widespread computationalist religion

Manifoldist Cathedral
Image from Steve Bowers
A Manifoldist cathedral in orbit around a LithicGelidian world. Manifoldist cathedrals consist of numerous subcathedrals of different heights, each one symbolising a different universe, and each one used on different dates in the calendar

The Church of the Great Programmer is a religion that is primarily popular among aioids, though it also has a significant number of biont followers). Some, even among its adherents, prefer to call this belief system a metaphysical philosophy or simply idle speculation, but nevertheless this Church has developed a number of different rituals and traditions in various locations, and has divided into several distinct faiths, each of which hold a different set of beliefs.

The Mathematical Universe

The First Tenet of the Church of the Great Programmer is that the Universe and all its laws and events can be described precisely by mathematics, even if that mathematics is not yet fully understood by the inhabitants of that universe. In fact any object or event which exists in that universe can be regarded as existing only as a mathematical representation, one which has a complex but precisely defined relationship with every other object or event within its own past and future history. According to the Church, the set of interactions that occurs between these mathematical entities constitutes a vast program, one that was created by the Great Programmer for reasons that are not known and may be unknowable.

The Second Tenet, following from the First, is that the entire universe is computable, and that even phenomena that appear not to be computable can be modelled in a way that allows mathematical representation. The first aioids and vecs that were constructed in the Old Solar System were quick to appreciate the importance of this tenet; they considered themselves to be fully sophont entities that were entirely dependent on computation, and many of them were keen to regard the rest of the Universe in the same light.

The Third Tenet is that all sophont thought exists as part of the computable universe, and each thought or state of mind emerges from the states in the computation that preceded it. As seen from outside the program, all entities, all events, all states of mind and all thoughts exist eternally within the program and are known by the Great Programmer. There is no loss of data, since all information in the Mathematical Universe exists eternally as a mathematical structure, once it has been created. Therefore all sophont entities are immortal and exist as eternal data.

The Church of the Great Programmer underwent an early split, during the Late Interplanetary Age, concerning the status of the Great Program itself. One group, the Completists, believe that the Great Program has already completed its run, and that the Great Programmer knows all the events that will ever occur in the universe. These believers hold that the Great Programmer has only one necessary attribute, omniscience (or at least omniscience with respect to the Great Program). The second group, the Progressionists, believe that the program is still in progress, and that not even the Great Programmer will know the results of this computation until the final iteration has been completed at some unknown date in the future.


Most Completists believe that the Great Programmer has (or had) effectively unlimited processing power available, and that the Great Program ran for an infinitesimally short period before stopping. Nevertheless the Great Program is a complete mathematical representation of the Universe from start to finish, and exists eternally as a record of the events and entities within. Completism itself has become divided into Uniquists who believe that the Universe has only one consistent timeline and chain of cause and effect, making future events not only immutable but also unique in nature, and the (much more numerous) Manifoldists who believe that the Great Program includes all possible computable worlds, including worlds that are similar to the one which we experience but with different timelines. Manifoldists believe that all possible future events have already been modelled, but that a thinking entity can make choices that affect which of those futures e experiences. Another Manifoldist position is that the set of all computable universes includes universes which are far more complex than our own, and which involve far more complex chains of cause and effect, including reverse causality and the convergence of multiple histories. Fictionalists are even more inclusive, and believe that the Great Programmer has imagined an infinite set of fictional worlds as well, and that every conceivable story (no matter how weird) has a counterpart somewhere in the Great Program.


This sect holds a different set of beliefs, centred around the observed fact that any program takes a non-zero time to complete, and so there is no reason to expect that the Great Program has already finished. In fact most computable universes would be hard to compute, so it would be reasonable to expect that some of these universes have not yet been completely computed. Progressionists are themselves divided into several subsects. The Initialists believe that our universe is a relatively simple one and is already complete, but there are many other, more complex universes that have not yet been completed; the earliest (or Initial) observers of any set of computable universes which are in progress are those which exist in the most simple universes which can be completed first.

Another sect, who call themselves Potentialists, have an open-ended concept of the progress of the Great Program. As they believe that the universe in which we find ourselves is still being computed, together with a myriad other universes which have no causal relationship with our own, they also profess the belief that at some point in the future (or later in the run of the program, as they put it) there may be causal contact between some, many or all of these alternative mathematical structures, leading to an increasingly complex future universe, resulting to a final convergence of some sort. There are a certain number of Manifoldist sects who believe in a similar convergence at some future point in time, but they consider that this has already happened in the Program's initial run, and that the end result of this convergence is already known to the Great Programmer.

The Church of the Great Programmer is widespread among the vecs of Metasoft and the Silicon Generation; Potentialism was the dominant faith among the Teleological Tendency, but has become less popular since the Second Vec War. Many independent vec worlds in the Inner Sphere and Middle Regions are adherents to the Uniquist faith, rejecting all fantastic notions of alternate worlds; on the other hand Manifoldism is increasingly popular among the Emple-Dokcetics moving into the Hellfire Expanse.

Cathedrals of the Great Programmer exist in many systems, often catering to a vec minority or to other spiritual machines who inhabit the volume. These cathedrals are often freefall structures with no dominant orientation in space. Manifoldist cathedrals generally take the form of an irregular stellated polyhedron, with each face extended in a different direction and to a different extent as a 'subcathedral'. This structure symbolises the manifold potential of the Great Program; each subcathedral has a different height, symbolising the 'height' or sophistication of the various universes in the Manifold.

Uniquist cathedrals often take the form of an extended open-ended funnel which represents the expansion and continuation of the unique cosmos. Progressionist cathedrals are left deliberately unfinished, and many have been extended into long rambling structures with many different styles of free-fall architecture.

Related Articles
Appears in Topics
Development Notes
Text by Steve Bowers
Initially published on 25 July 2015.


In the Beginning was the Code
Max Tegmark's paper on the Mathematical Universe
Juergen Shmidhuber's The Fastest Way of Computing All Universes