By L. Alfred James
Last week we saw that there are aspects of our universe (and our planet) that are amazingly fine-tuned for life. For instance, the force of gravity is just right. It’s not too strong and not too weak. The same is true of the nuclear forces within atoms, the cosmological constant, the laws of thermodynamics, and a host of other things. All told, there are more than 200 things about our universe (and planet) that must be precisely fixed to be just right. The best explanation for this is that there is a God and that he finely tuned these parameters to make the universe hospitable for us to live in.
However, because of their religious beliefs, many scientists have proposed that we live in a multiverse. That is, because they do not want to believe in God, they have seriously suggested that there are trillions and trillions of universes. Indeed, they propose that there is an infinite number of universes, and that all of them are different. In some of them gravity is stronger; in others it is weaker. In some of them the nuclear forces within the atom are stronger; in others they are weaker. In some the earth is closer to the sun; in others it is farther from the sun. In some the earth is more reflective; in others it is less reflective. You get the point.
It’s kind of like saying you are going to win the lottery without being lucky. You are going to win by simply purchasing millions of lottery tickets. If you buy every possible combination of numbers, you are guaranteed to win. By the same token, the multiverse theory proposes that every possible combination of natural laws and forces (of varying strengths) exists, and that this explains why we have this amazing universe that is so finely-tuned. We just happen to live in the universe that won the multiverse lottery.1
Please note this: this is a purportedly scientific theory—and it is being seriously embraced by many people—but the motivation for proposing it is almost entirely religious. These scientists do not want to believe in God; that is why they are proposing this theory. In this regard the multiverse theory is very similar to what we have already seen about evolutionary theory.
Months ago, we noticed that belief in evolution is often religiously motivated. Many folks embrace evolution because they are atheists and they have to believe it, no matter how terrible the evidence for it is (and it is pretty terrible). If God does not exist, then evolution simply must be true. The poor atheist has no choice. He simply has to believe it. He is not free to weigh the evidence for and against evolution. He must swallow it as an article of faith. (In case you missed it, you can find that article here >)
The same thing is going on with the multiverse theory. These scientists admit that the universe is finely-tuned to a shocking degree. All of these laws and forces of nature, tuned with such astonishing precision, do not simply whisper the suggestion of design. Rather, they belt out the reality of design with such pitch and force that it’s hard not to hear it. Dozens and dozens of amazingly balanced forces and constants all join together in a mighty chorus that is booming, brilliant, and beautiful. However, a lot of intelligent people are really uncomfortable with all of this. If they were to admit that the universe is designed then they would have to admit that there is a Designer, and they really don’t want to do that. Hence, the multiverse theory.
The multiverse theory is all the rage these days. It seems to have become the default view that every intelligent layperson should accept in order to sound sophisticated and respectable. This is very sad because, as a scientific theory, it is pathetically weak. It is not supported by any scientific proof.2 It is purely speculative. Technically speaking it is not even a scientific theory: it is a metaphysical theory. It does not postulate anything within our universe (as it seeks to explain fine-tuning). It does not postulate anything we would consider “natural.” Instead, it postulates things outside of our universe, entities that we have absolutely no knowledge of. In other words, it is a religious belief. It is an article of faith. Indeed, the multiverse theory is doubly religious. First, it is largely motivated by a religious belief: the belief that there is no God. Second, it is an article of faith in the sense that it has no scientific proof to support it.
Of course, you will hear smart people saying science-y things about the multiverse, so it really sounds like a scientific theory. But it isn’t. It is a religious doctrine. Scientific theories are characterized by parsimony. Parsimony is the principle that is often called Ockham’s razor. According to this principle a theory that postulates fewer entities is—other things being equal—superior to a theory that postulates more entities. For instance, how were the ancient pyramids of Egypt built? Let’s consider two theories:
- Human beings built the pyramids
- Aliens built the pyramids
First-year engineering students at major universities can demonstrate how the great pyramids were built. If you have enough manpower and some basic tools (ramps, levers, pulleys, etc.) you can easily build the pyramids. Thus, the Egyptian pyramids were built, well, by the Egyptians.
But pop-culture documentaries are infatuated with another theory. To present this theory they might show a modern crane failing to lift a big stone block. (The whole thing is an exercise in futility since an educated engineer would probably not try to build a pyramid that way, but I digress.) After showing the crane bumbling and fumbling for a while, the science-y sounding narrator interrupts, “Therefore, some civilization with very advanced technology must have built the pyramids.” And then, quite seriously, he explains that aliens from outer space did it.
This explanation makes for fun storytelling—and it makes lots of money for the networks peddling it—but it fails the test of parsimony because it requires the addition of new entities in order to provide an adequate explanation, namely an entire alien civilization with advanced technology. The standard (and boring) explanation offered by engineers passes the test of parsimony with flying colors because it does not postulate any additional entities. We already know that human beings exist.
By the same token, the theory that God fine-tuned the universe also passes the test of parsimony. Because we have many independent reasons for believing in God (such as the existence of the laws of logic, objective moral values, the creation of the universe from nothing, and the historical events of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—not to mention our own private spiritual experiences) this theory does not require the addition of any new entities. The very same entity that we use to explain all of these things also explains the fine-tuning of the universe. God is a very parsimonious explanation.
However, the multiverse theory requires the addition of a shocking number of new entities, an infinite number of them. And, mind you, these are not just simple entities. They are whole freakin’ universes! Each of them billions of light years in diameter! (Maybe even bigger.) An infinity of them! Can you conceive of anything that fails this test more terribly? If someone were to ask me, “What would be the most un-parsimonious explanation that you could ever come up with?” I would be forced to say, “The multiverse theory.”
Thus, the theory is actually a sad and awful monstrosity of intellectual tripe that sounds really smart. It is extremely unscientific. It miserably falls short of the standards of normal science. It does not have any evidence to support it; it is proposed for purely religious reasons; and it is ridiculously un-parsimonious. Therefore, do not let science-y sounding intellectual celebrities fool you into thinking this is good science. It isn’t good science. It isn’t even science. It is religion masquerading as science.
1. I owe this illustration to John Polkinghorne.
2. Lawrence Rifkin, writing at the Scientific American blog, said, “There is no direct evidence that universes are created by quantum fluctuations in a quantum vacuum, that we live in a multiverse, that there is a theory of everything, or that string theory, cyclic universes or- brane cosmology even exist.” See “The Logic and Beauty of Cosmological Natural Selection” at https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/the-logic-and-beauty-of-cosmological-natural-selection/