The multiverse hypothesis: separating science from fictionWritten by Subby Szterszky
What's inside this article
Sometimes an idea is just too attractive to be hampered by quibbles about whether it’s true or not. Witness the multiverse hypothesis, that grand speculative exercise that has wound its way through theoretical physics, science education and popular entertainment.
The theory’s appeal to the public imagination is easy to see. There’s an undeniable “wow” factor to the concept that our universe is merely one of an infinite number of universes, some of which are nearly indistinguishable from our own, others so alien that the laws of reality don’t apply.
But in our universe, science is supposed to be grounded in observation and hard evidence rather than speculation. One might therefore expect a degree of skepticism toward the multiverse as a scientific theory. That is, until one recognizes that the multiverse isn’t so much a scientific theory as it is a desperate attempt to explain existence without God.
Metaphysics posing as science
According to standard materialist cosmology, the universe came into existence all by itself, without a creator, through pure chance via random natural processes. But this raises some awkward questions.
First among these is the most basic question of all: Why is there something – anything – instead of nothing? How could non-existence give birth to existence? And why is the universe the way it is? Why does it contain discrete things like matter and energy, time and gravity, galaxies, planets and people, rather than just being an undifferentiated mass of chaos? Not only that, the physical properties of the universe appear to be exquisitely fine-tuned to support life. The most infinitesimal change in any one of a vast array of variables would render life as we know it impossible, and the universe itself uninhabitable.
The odds against all of that clicking into place by random chance are beyond astronomical. They’re unimaginable. So then, how to account for such a creation without a creator?
Enter the multiverse hypothesis. Actually it’s more a collection of hypotheses, some of them mutually contradictory but all boiling down to one principle: Given an infinite number of universes, everything becomes not only possible but inevitable. In other words, our universe not only lucked out against cosmic odds but in fact couldn’t avoid doing so.
Problems with the hypothesis
It wouldn’t be unkind to suggest there’s some shoddy logic at work here. It’s a bit like a small child playing a game, growing frustrated at his inability to win and changing the rules so he can’t lose. Ignoring the facts and stacking the odds makes further evidence and discussion irrelevant. In effect it destroys the basis of genuine scientific inquiry.
The science itself isn’t terribly rigorous either, as far as that goes. It must be remembered that there’s not one iota of evidence for the existence of other universes, nor indeed can there be, since by definition we’re limited to our own universe. As the name suggests, the multiverse is a hypothetical construct. Its purpose isn’t to engage the actual evidence for a designed and fine-tuned universe, but rather to explain it away.
Even taken on its own terms, the hypothesis fails to account for why the multiverse exists. For argument’s sake, suppose there are infinite multitudes of universes, each one governed by a wildly divergent set of physical laws. Where did those laws and those universes come from? The multiverse theory doesn’t know or care. Its only concern is to deny the necessity of a creator. As a cosmological model it fails miserably.
Supporters and critics of the multiverse
Strangely enough and despite all of this, a lot of brilliant scientific minds such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and the late Stephen Hawking have embraced the idea of the multiverse. But not everyone agrees. A growing number of scientists and science communicators, both theist and atheist, have criticized the theory for its fundamental flaws.
As cosmologist George F.R. Ellis points out, “The trouble is that no possible astronomical observations can ever see those other universes. The arguments are indirect at best. And even if the multiverse exists, it leaves the deep mysteries of nature unexplained.”
Radio host Dennis Prager adds, “The fact that atheists have resorted to the multiverse argument constitutes a tacit admission that they have lost the argument about design in this universe. The evidence in this universe for design – or, if you will, the fine-tuning that cannot be explained by chance or by ‘enough time’ – is so compelling that the only way around it is to suggest that our universe is only one of an infinite number of universes.”
Physicist Rob Sheldon sums up the misgivings surrounding the hypothesis: “Multiverse theory is designed for one purpose, and one purpose only, and that is to defend atheism. It makes no predictions, it gives no insight, it provides no control, it produces no technology, it advances no mathematics, it is a science in name only, because it is really metaphysics.”
To be fair, the multiverse hypothesis does offer compelling and imaginative story material for science fiction. That “wow” factor of parallel universes and alternate realities provides terrific grist for the creative mill. But as hard science, the theory leaves much to be desired.
And as for metaphysics, there’s never been a simpler, more elegant or profoundly truthful explanation for the mystery of existence than the one found in the open words of Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
Sources and further reading
Denyse O’Leary, “The Science Fictions series at your fingertips – cosmology,” Uncommon Descent. O’Leary is a journalist who writes about science. Her Science Fictions series of articles, aimed at the educated layperson, offers useful insights into the current discussion about intelligent design.
George F.R. Ellis, “Does the multiverse really exist?” Scientific American, August 2011.
Amanda Gefter, “Existence: Why is there a universe?” New Scientist, July 26, 2011.
Brian Greene, “Welcome to the multiverse,” Newsweek, May 21, 2012.
Alan Lightman, “The accidental universe: Science’s crisis of faith,” Harper’s, December 2011.
Dennis Prager, “Why some scientists embrace the ‘multiverse’,” National Review, June 18, 2013.
Rob Sheldon, “The multiverse gods, part 1: Explaining the origins of our universe without referring to God,” Free Republic, July 10, 2011.
© 2014 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
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