Apologetics Answers, Philosophy and Religion

Does the Multiverse Get Rid of the Need for God?

Multiverse-possible-orig

The short answer is not really, but of course I will need to qualify this and I will certainly aim to do so. But before I get to that…just what exactly is the ‘multiverse’ and what does it have to do with God?

Does the universe look like a put-up Job?

Within the last century – since Einstein’s theory of relativity – scientists have made a rather shocking discovery. To put it bluntly the universe looks as if it has been created by someone. In the words of physicists Paul Davies “The really amazing thing is not that life on Earth is balanced on a knife-edge, but that the entire universe is balanced on a knife-edge. You see, even if you dismiss mankind as just a mere hiccup in the great scheme of things, the fact remains that the entire universe seems unreasonably suited to the existence of life — almost contrived — you might say a “put-up job. What Davies is talking about here has come to be termed the Fine Tuning of the universe, or the Anthropic Principle, the idea essentially that the universe looks like a “put-up job”.1 Now of course theists – such as myself – will be very at home with this news, but of course non-theists – such as Paul Davies or Richard Dawkins – will not and are not very comfortable with it; fine tuning seems to point too much towards a mind…it seems to point to much towards God.

Just to give one example of fine tuning so that we can get a flavor of the countless discoveries made over the last century – the second law of thermodynamics states that: entropy (i.e. disorder) increases over time (just think about how metal begins to rust the longer it interacts with air). Physicist and mathematician Roger Penrose discovered that in the early stages of the universe, the total phase space (the space of all possible options for the amount of entropy) that would permit intelligent life (such as ourselves) had to be vanishingly small compared to the total phase space in all. Just how vanishingly small? The total phase space in all was calculated to be 1010123 and the total phase space that would permit life was calculated by Penrose to be only 1 in 1010123, that is, if the phase space was shifted by just 1 part out of 1010123 intelligent life would not have been possible. To help better illustrate just how significant this is, image that the visible universe is a dart board, this would be like a subatomic dart being thrown at the universe and hitting the exact target it needs to, the target being the size of a proton.2

Naturally – as you might expect with finds as stated above – a giant debate has erupted over the last few decades. Theists continue to utilize the anthropic principle in order to provide evidence for God and non-theists attempt to find (naturalistic) explanations that can account for fine tuning without appealing to some sort of mind i.e. God.

One of the most popular naturalistic explanations to date is the multiverse hypothesis. A quick YouTube or Google search will reveal just how popular this hypothesis is. It has become the GO-TO explanation in the mainstream scientific community.

What exactly is the multiverse?

In its most simple terms the multiverse states that there isn’t just one universe, rather, there are an infinite array of universes out there. All these universes have slightly different configuration setting and our universe just happens to be the one with the perfect configuration setting that allow for intelligent life like ourselves. Since there is an infinite array of universes it is inevitable that one universe would feature just the correct setting that would allow for intelligent life…therefore there is no need for a creator God, the multiverse explains why life exists in our universe, and it explains how the configuration settings could seem so perfect for life.

What are the problems with the multiverse hypothesis?

  • The first issue should be rather obvious to anyone…there is no observable evidence for a multiverse (we simply cannot see beyond our own universe) and all physicists are aware of this. Since observation is a key part of science (although not the only way of discovering knowledge within science) the multiverse hypothesis does not pass the test on these grounds. However, since I want to present a fair argument, I would like to state that this objection is slightly unfair and although valid, it should not be the only response towards the multiverse. This is because, the multiverse (in the sense we are talking about) is not a theory on its own, it is actually a consequence of another more grander theory called inflation. Since this is the case, it would be slightly unfair to simply critique the multiverse on observational grounds since it is perfectly fine to accept a sub-hypothesis (such as the multiverse) on the grounds that the grander hypothesis has some good evidence for it. With that being said let’s move on to some more pressing arguments against the multiverse.

 

  • The multiverse idea that we are discussing stems from the inflation theory which suggests that early on in the universe when inflation (expansion) was taking place, sub-universes formed (as a consequence of this expansion) and these universes are what display the ranges of different setting within the entire ensemble of universes. The problem here is that this answer does not skirt around the need for an ultimate explanation. This is because our universe is based on the principle of universal laws that govern what take place. These laws are not self-existent and are in need of an explanation themselves. If you want to posit a multiverse, you will need a multiverse-generator; the issue is that this multiverse-generator will also be based on the same principle of laws, and these laws will in fact be much more complicated than the laws for just one universe, which means that the multiverse-generator itself needs an ultimate explanation, and that ultimate explanation needs to be even more intelligent in order to be able to create such a complex piece of matter that it can put out entire universes. We are right back to God.

 

  • The final problem is that even if we accept a multiverse, we are still justified in asking why our universe seems to be so finely tuned for life. Let me explain why via a simple example. Let’s say that I want to do some target practice (for some strange reason), so I draw a relatively large circle on my wall at home. I have a dart and some blue-tack. I mark a tiny section of the wall with a small circular piece of blue-tack and then proceed to try and hit that mark with my dart. Now let’s say I want to change the rules a bit, I still intend to hit that same mark that I have chosen, but now I decide to cover the entire circle with similar tiny ball shaped blue tack pieces. Does my doing this increase the chances that I will hit my original mark? Of course not, I (more or less) have the same chances that I would if there was only the one blue tack mark as opposite to many. This can be likened to the multiverse idea: an array of multiverses does not increase the chances that our universe has the setting it does have, and it does not explain away that fact either. We still need to ask why our universe and why not another? This answer still requires an ultimate explanation…ultimately.3

So, the multiverse as an alternative explanation to God doesn’t seem to work very well, ironically as one theist has stated: if the fine tuning didn’t point so strongly to God, the multiverse explanation would never have arisen! Indeed, multiverse explanations attest directly to the power of the fine tuning arguments for the existence of God.

References:

1) Paul Davies, 2012. Horizon – The Anthropic Principle – Part 2 of 4, BBC Horizon Documentary. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5aaBDbHl8I&t=51s&gt;

2) Penrose, R.,1989. The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics. Oxford University Press. p339‐345

3) Alvin Plantinga proposes a similar scenario to show why we are still justified in asking the question of why? Plantinga, A., 2011. Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism. Oxford: OUP. p212‐219

 

 

12 thoughts on “Does the Multiverse Get Rid of the Need for God?”

  1. Thanks Nathan for this thought provoking post. Best wishes to you.

    Sir James Jeans (20th century British physicist, died 1946) wrote in his book, The Mysterious Universe (1930), that the more one looked at the universe in light of recent scientific discoveries and theories, the more the universe appeared to be like a thought (I am paraphrasing from memory here). Structured like a thought? . . . . We might ask: In the mind of God?

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    1. Hi Larry, always appreciated for the comments.

      That is a good point to make Re Sir James Jeans. And it certainly echos the words of many physicists since the 1900s till today, Sir Fred Hoyle, Paul Davies etc. The idea that the universe looks structured like a thought could very well mean that it is structured like a thought/by a mind as you rightly say!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Nathan, you write a good article.
    I’m an atheist myself and I agree with you that the apparent fine-tuning is both a difficult problem for an atheist and that the multiverse hypothesis is the best explanation for it.
    Some comments:

    First of all any physicist who supports the multiverse hypothesis will disagree with the claim that there’s no observable evidence. The multiverse hypothesis grew out of the need for a coherent interpretation of quantum theory. Physicists who support the multiverse hypothesis will claim that the fact that quantum physics is what it is is evidence for many worlds.

    Also your final argument is flawed. Think about it for the case of the Earth. Because there are so many planets in the universe, there was bound to be one that was capable of harboring life. It’s no wonder that we find ourselves on a planet that can harbor life, because we wouldn’t exist on one that didn’t. It’s the same for the multiverse – if there are many universes then it’s no wonder that one of them can harbor life. And then it’s no wonder that we found ourselves in a universe that could harbor life because we’d never exist in a universe that couldn’t in the first place!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Matthew,
      Many thanks for your comments and glad that you liked the article even if we disagree!

      I think I partially agree with you here. When I say there is no observable evidence, I say that there is no ‘directly’ observable evidence i.e. we have not, and in principle cannot, see another universe outside of our own one. That the multiverse theory grew out of another theory is something I can accept and so I made sure to make that clear in my argument in the article. So I agree with you to an extent, but disagree if we are talking about directly observing the multiverse.

      Secondly, I would argue that my argument is not flawed, rather your argument is and I will try to explain why. Your argument presented here is essentially what is known as the Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP) which states that only in a universe that is finely-tuned would we expect there to be life, and so it is no surprise that we are here since the universe is finely tuned. This argument was posed by philosopher Brandon Carter a number of decades ago, however it faces a huge problem. As many Philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga have shown, this argument is akin to a scenario like this: You are on a plane journey from America to England, just before England, the plane has a fault and crashes, everyone on the plane dies apart from you, you are fine and have not even one scratch. When asked by investigators why you survived you reply “well if I hadn’t survived, I would not be here to tell you that I survived, so it is no surprise that in fact I did survive”. This answer is clearly a non-answer, it completely avoids the question asked. Similarly to suggest that it is not a surprise that we are here is a non-answer, rather it begs that very questions, why are we here? why is the universe so fine-tuned?
      And so whilst I see where you are coming from, I don’t think the argument is good and a number of philosophers such as Plantinga and William Lane Craig have shown it’s flaws as I have briefly alluded to here.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It seems we may have to agree to disagree here, but I’ll have a go at explaining why I think that the aeroplane scenario you have described misrepresents the situation. Presumably in this aeroplane scenario you would identify the dead passengers with the universes that can’t support life and the survivor with this universe.
        Now if we were to ask the universe why it is able to support life, I agree it would be a non-answer if it replied “If I hadn’t been able to support life, you wouldn’t have been around to ask that question, so of course I can support life”.
        This is the analogy you describe, as it appears to me. The problem with this is that both the passenger can give a better answer which is what we’re actually looking for.
        A better reply from the passenger would be: “I can’t tell you why I in particular survived, but on probability there was bound to be a survivor, so it’s no surprise that you’re interviewing one because you can’t interview a dead person.”
        Similarly the universe could reply “I can’t tell you why this universe is the one that can support life, but by probability there was bound to be one universe which could support life, so it’s no surprise that you’re asking the question to a universe that can support life because you couldn’t have asked the question to a dead universe.”
        The reason the aeroplane scenario you describe misrepresents the situation is subtle. The aeroplane scenario assumes that we care why we’re in a particular universe (why are we in universe A, not universe B) but the argument I’m proposing is that we don’t care why we’re in universe A not universe B, all we care about is that there is a universe out of A and B which can support life.

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      2. Hi Matthew, good to hear your feedback on this and yes it seems we will have to agree to disagree which is fine, I am all for a good conversation on such topics!

        You raise a fair point when suggesting that there is a better reply that the passenger could give. I agree that that is a more modest answer in total as you have given. However, the one problem is that my plane scenario was not meant to represent the universes that support and don’t support life. The point of my analogy was simply to show that that type of an answer when transferred to another situation is a non-answer of which I think you agree with me on. (I did not clarify that my scenario was not meant to represent the multiverse so I can understand why you might have thought that that was what I was doing).

        So in terms of the earlier response you gave prior to your last comment, my point would be that that sort of answer does not stand as it is a non-answer.

        If we take your second answer now however, from what you have just given then we can go down a different route. Whilst it is true that on a probability basis the fact that one universe does support life could be shown, if we are to utilise inference, specifically inference to the best explanation then I would suggest that the fact of life on this universe makes much better sense on theism than atheism or naturalism precisely due to the fine-tuning of this universe. Hence it is the fine-tuning that seems to provide strong evidence for the inference of a designer.

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  3. “Hence it is the fine-tuning that seems to provide strong evidence for the inference of a designer.”

    Of course, the devout and committed atheist will reply that this is just the result of chance. In an innumerable number of universes, of course, the right conditions (or fine tuning, if you prefer) will occur in one or more of such universes. One might opine that the required leaps of faith for the atheist are greater than those for the believer in God. And, make no mistake, atheism is a statement of faith.

    A certain humility may help us as we reflect that God is not required to prove Himself to us. The creatures ought not make such demands on the Creator.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes Larry, this I find to be one of the key problems, as Dr Frank Turek regularly states, it takes more faith to be an atheist than it does to be a theist in many respects. Atheists have faith too as philosophers regularly point out, the question is what grounds their faith?

      Liked by 1 person

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