God and the Multiverse: “If you don’t want God …”

Late in 2008 Discover Magazine published an article on God and the multiverse, which contains one of the clearest reasons any scientist has ever stated for favoring multiverse theory. I believe my blog entry on it is worth re-posting (with some edits/updates). Follow it to the end for the key statement, and then ask yourself: is he reasoning from science or from theology?

Discover Magazine tackles the fine-tuning problem in its December 2008 issue, in an article titled “A Universe Built For Us.” You might enjoy reading it to discover what they’ve wrapped around this enticing introductory material:

Physicists don’t like coincidences. They like even less the notion that life is somehow central to the universe, and yet recent discoveries are forcing them to confront that very idea. Life, it seems, is not an incidental component of the universe, burped up out of a random chemical brew on a lonely planet…. In some strange sense, it appears that we are not adapted to the universe; the universe is adapted to us.

Call it a fluke, a mystery, a miracle. Or call it the biggest problem in physics. Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation: Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multiverse.

That’s remarkably well stated. It highlights how some physicists want to run as fast as they can from the idea of God, the possibility that “life is somehow central to the universe.”

And so, says the article, work is proceeding in the area of string theory to try to provide evidence for the vast multiverse. Discover is refreshingly honest about the current status of the work: “evidence … is still lacking;” “Linde’s ideas may make the notion of a multiverse more plausible;” “still very much a work in progress.”

This I find disingenuous, however:

When I ask Linde whether physicists will ever be able to prove that the multiverse is real, he has a simple answer. “Nothing else fits the data… we don’t have any alternative explanations…”

God and the Multiverse

There is an alternative explanation, one that can only be ruled out if you “like even less the notion that life is central to the universe.” The article makes a nod toward that other explanation, referring to John Polkinghorne’s objection to the multiverse. (Polkinghorne is an Anglican priest and philosopher, a theist. He was also at one time a theoretical particle physicist at Cambridge.) He says that the multiverse “can explain anything . . . If a theory allows anything to be possible, it explains nothing; a theory of anything is not the same as a theory of everything.”

Discover does not actually explain why that is a problem, but I suspect Polkinghorne was referring to a point that I have also made. It renders the multiverse theory trivial—or at least the infinite universes version of the theory does.

Discover also quotes Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, an atheist, on the matter of God.

“I don’t think that the multiverse idea destroys the possibility of an intelligent, benevolent creator. . . What it does is remove one of the arguments for it.”

Interesting how that works; and quite a nice example of circular argumentation:

  1. Evidence for the multiverse is completely lacking right now; its theoretical foundations are “still very much a work in progress,”
  2. But “nothing else fits the data.”
  3. Nothing else fits the data, that is, for those who dislike the theistic conception “that life is somehow central to the universe.”
  4. Having excluded that possibility, we infer a multiverse instead, and…
  5. What the multiverse does is remove one of the arguments for a creator.

It seems a waste of energy for Weinberg to think of removing arguments for a creator, since the whole thing seems rather handily to have assumed him right out of existence.

Motivation for the Multiverse

The psychology, the motivation for it all could hardly be clearer than it is in this from cosmologist Bernard Carr, quoted in the same Discover article: “If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.”

“Don’t want God.” Indeed.