Is the Multiverse Hypothesis Scientific Or Not? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of the most powerful arguments for God’s existence is the fine tuning argument.  Rather than rehearse it here, please read Wintery Knight’s presentation of the argument.  Many atheist scholars acknowledge the persuasiveness of this argument (e.g., philosopher Peter Millican did as much in his recent debate with William Lane Craig), although not granting its conclusion.

The most common escape hatch that atheists scurry through when confronted with this argument is to offer the multiverse hypothesis.  This hypothesis, some of them argue, is much more plausible than the God hypothesis because it is a scientific explanation for the fine tuning of the universe for life.  What is this hypothesis and is it scientific?

In the August 2011 issue of Scientific American the world-renowned cosmologist George F. R. Ellis weighs in to explain exactly what the multiverse is.  First, Ellis clarifies what cosmologists mean by the term “multiverse.”

The word “multiverse” has different meanings. Astronomers are able to see out to a distance of about 42 billion light-years, our cosmic visual horizon. We have no reason to suspect the universe stops there. Beyond it could be many—even infinitely many—domains much like the one we see. Each has a different initial distribution of matter, but the same laws of physics operate in all. Nearly all cosmologists today (including me) accept this type of multiverse, which Max Tegmark calls “level 1.”

The level 1 multiverse refers to what lies outside our visual horizon.  This “multiverse” contains the same laws of physics as the universe we can observe, and it is really just an extension of our universe.  I find the term “multiverse” to be misleading in this case, but I don’t get to choose the names for scientific theories.  As Ellis says, the level 1 multiverse is not controversial.  But this is not the notion of the multiverse that atheists invoke to avoid the conclusion of the fine tuning argument. 

Ellis continues:

Yet some go further. They suggest completely different kinds of universes, with different physics, different histories, maybe different numbers of spatial dimensions. Most will be sterile, although some will be teeming with life.  A chief proponent of this “level 2” multiverse is Alexander Vilenkin, who paints a dramatic picture of an infinite set of universes with an infinite number of galaxies, an infinite number of planets and an infinite number of people with your name who are reading this article.

If there truly are an infinite set of universes, argue some atheists, then it seems that at least one would have the life-permitting fine tuning of our universe.  Therefore, there is no need to posit a Designer of our universe at all.  The level 2 multiverse virtually guarantees that our universe would exist, as it guarantees that every other kind of conceivable universe exists.

In part 2 of this series, we will look at what is wrong with the level 2 multiverse hypothesis.

  • Here’s a new post about the fine-tuning argument – an MIT physicist explains the problem posed by the fine-tuning, and then gives a naturalist response:
    http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2012/01/03/mit-physicist-explains-the-challenge-of-cosmic-fine-tuning-for-naturalism/

  • Todd

    Bill,

    The argument for fine-tuning is hardly a “most powerful argument for God’s existence.” I would question any atheist scholar that takes this argument seriously.

    First, there is no need to invoke your “level 2” straw man of a multi-verse to disprove this argument. Atheists need no “escape hatch” to demonstrate that the fine-tuning argument proposes that the universe was tailored to suit life, when a simple look at evolution proves just the opposite; that we have evolved to suit the environment in which we live. What is more probable, an unobservable supernatural watch maker, or the culmination of billions of years of evolution observed by science and conclusive demonstration how life adapts to its environment?

    Second, “fine” is a relative term when comparing the constants of the universe and subject to human interpretation. There is no objective value to ‘fine’. It may seem neat, or even elegant that a 2% change in binding forces would preclude life. But I’ve also seen binding constants portrayed as being numbers an order of 6 to the power of 10 different from one another. Does that mean it’s not ‘fine’ enough to make god real?

    Third, god is not a logical conclusion if someone buys into the idea of fine tuning. It’s still more likely that we humans find there happens to be interesting coincidences in mathematical numbers than a supernatural force setting those values in an interesting configuration.

    Strangely the argument could be used to disprove god’s omnipotence if you are implying that he could not create life in a universe where conditions do not allow for it. Though I’m sure you are not…

  • Todd,
    How does biological evolution have anything to do with the fine tuning argument? Biological evolution can’t even get started until you have a living organism capable of self-replication.

    The fine tuning argument addresses the antecedent conditions for a self-replicating organism to exist in the first place. In other words, evolution cannot get started unless the fine tuning is in place.

    With regard to the word “fine,” this is the word that almost everyone uses, even atheists. Stephen Hawking said the following in a Brief History of Time, “The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers [i.e. the constants of physics] seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.” I can dig up plenty more quotes of non-theists using the word “fine” if you want.

    Your final point about calling all of this an interesting coincidence in mathematical numbers is telling. In every other part of your life, if you came across these kinds of amazing “coincidences,” you would immediately conclude design.

    In my line of work, we develop extremely complex silicon chips that rely on mathematical descriptions of semiconductor behavior. I have never yet found a person who looks at the outputs of a complex semiconductor chip and says, “Oh wow! Look at the mathematical coincidences this chip produced. Clearly no designer of this chip existed!”

    Every other technology that relies on physics would exhibit these same finely tuned mathematical “coincidences,” as you call them. Why is it when the fine tuning applies to fundamental laws and constants governing the universe, the conclusion of design is denied?

  • Todd

    Bill,

    While the cosmological constants will not change, the environment will. Evolution is relevant to show that we have adapted to our environment based on the variables that are present over a period of time. Eventually, life will not be sustainable on earth due to collapse of the sun. Even if we win the race against the sun and escape to other inhabitable galaxies, the expansion of the universe or perhaps the mating of black holes will eventually preclude life as we know it all together. To say that the variables of the universe were fine-tuned for life implies that design was meant for life to be the tiniest blip on the radar of time. If you look at the vast amount of time without life, it is likely miniscule compared to the probable vastness of time after life has been extinguished by the resulting properties of these same constants. It would seem to me the universe, ultimately, is not fine-tuned for life.

    Speaking to the interpretation of the word ‘fine’; while Hawking may find the numbers elegant as well, he does not draw the same conclusion you do about there being design behind the elegance. They are simply numbers from whence we have concluded coincidence. Regardless of how many theistic, or atheistic people use the word ‘fine’ to describe the constants of the universe, they are still subject to interpretation.

    As an aside, even if one were to find the constants so compelling an argument that they believed it implied a designer, it would certainly not imply any truth to the god of Abraham or the bible.

    When I look around and see a silicon chip; I’m certain a human designer created it. If I see the human eye, I’m certain it is a product of evolution. When I look at the universe, I don’t know how it was created. No one does, and that’s ok with me though I find it a noble endeavor to try and learn. I have no fear of eternal torture if I don’t agree with ancient texts that god exists. But the fine tuning argument is ultimately a subjective personal decision to find meaning where no objective conclusion exists.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Not just a tiny blip, but also a tiny section of the universe supports life.

  • Boz

    in relation to the fine tuning argument, how can we tell the difference between an environment that is arranged to suit an inhabitant, or an inhabitant that is arranged to suit an environment ?

    The former is assumed in the fine-tuning argument (linked).

  • The fine tuning argument doesn’t just say that the environment was suited for a particular inhabitant.

    It says that the entire universe – the laws that govern it, the initial conditions of its origination, the fundamental gravitational, nuclear, and electromagnetic forces – are all suited to a ridiculously precise degree to allow any inhabitant at all to exist.

    We don’t just have any old universe (environment) where certain life forms evolved to become suited to this universe. There could not be any evolution, nor any life form whatsoever unless the universe was finely tuned. That is why scientists are amazed.

  • Yes, and if you talk to astrophysicists and cosmologists, they will tell you that all of the vast “stuff” of the universe (e.g., stars, black holes, dark matter) is necessary for life to exist on tiny little earth. That makes the fine tuning argument even more powerful in my eyes.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Thanks Bill, I see what you mean.

  • Boz

    Yes, I know what the fine-tuning argument says. Perhaps I can rephrase the question to receive an answer.

    how can we tell the difference between an environment that is arranged to suit inhabitants, or inhabitants that are arranged to suit an environment ?

  • I think what Bill is saying is that the environment allowing for life would not exist at all ..thus your question is moot since there would not be any environment options or variety in regard to permitting life to choose to adapt in etc.. there simply would be no possibilty of life period.

  • A mechanism exists, without agent causality, that pops everything that Can Be into existence and this solves the problem of why we exist?

    ——-
    Think, materialists say the mind is just a random illusion of order.
    To explain this order isnt real they have to propose something which has NO order. First, is a random number generator that produces order..without order itself? Of course not. It is its very order that allows it to produces disorder. So the Multiverse fails within the first few seconds its proposed but bias and serious deficiency in Reason allows these people to continue.

    The infantile thinker proposes there will be some universes that collapse, some that have a little perceived order, and ones like ours with insurmountable odds of order–after all, my ordered mind of random particles colliding is now typing logical thoughts.

    The advanced thinker can see there would be universes that drastically changed from apparent order to disorder *Back to order and so on forever. Which means there is no reason why the particles in our universe should not, right at this moment, all take the worst path possible path for universal coherence. Simply put, there is no reason this universe should not completely fall apart right now. So while trying to explain the odds..they allow odds that make science impossible.

    There is no reason to expect that in our past these inconceivable odds you allowed into reality have not already occurred in an infinite amount of ways producing no way of trusting the world we observe.

    There has to be worlds where tails come up on every flip of the coin if you allow these odds, which means no experiment done in our past can be trusted. To actually believe we get to live in a world in which the only insurmountable probability it defeated was the path to consciousness–yet it somehow fails to produces any *other odds defeating acts at any other point in time.
    It allows super heroes, unlikeable men, gods, brains with feet, and worlds where non locality and wave collapse ARE real –leaving one of the very reasons Many Worlds are proposed moot because by trying to avoid non locality you just allowed a world to exists with it.

    Trust me..these guys dont think…they are just arrogant and so afraid that God does exist, that they’ll propose anything to avoid being judged by Him.