god, multiverses and science

multiverseThe idea that there are other universes than our own (perhaps an infinite number) is quite common today. It is often used to explain how our universe was able to produce and sustain such rich biodiversity that we see on Earth. The idea being that given an infinite number of chances, our ordered and balanced universe is simply eventual. Sometimes, even, this talk is used as evidence that ‘science’ shows (even ‘proves’!) that our universe, after all, is not the result of the action of any kind of Creator.

As a Theist, I want to say that the idea of other universes or other dimensions is interesting to me, but completely unnecessary. For example, the suggestion by some that other universes or other dimensions to reality could finally provide a scientific explanation for ‘where god is’, is silly to me – the most basic of all versions of classic monotheism has always been that the Creator is present in all space.

Further, I want to say that using the word ‘science’ with regard to theories about multiple universes or dimensions is to stretch the word ‘science’. As the paper ‘Multiverses and Cosmology: Philosophical Issues‘ points out, while these kinds of theories may be interesting and useful, they are firmly unscientific.

We may, of course, postulate the existence of such a multiverse as a metaphysical assumption, but it would be a metaphysical assumption without any further justifiability – it would be untestable and unsupportable by any direct or indeed indirect evidence.” … “The point is that there is not just an issue of showing a multiverse exists. If this is a scientific proposition one needs to be able to show which specific multiverse exists; but there is no observational way to do this. Indeed if you can’t show which particular one exists, it is doubtful you have shown any one exists.” (p. 26, underlining not in original)

This objection to multiverse theory being specifically ‘scientific’ is not an attack on science or an attempt to limit it. Quite the opposite, in fact. This objection is an attempt to protect the methods inherent to science, which assumes that reality is consistent, verifiable and meaningfully testable.

Does this mean that multiverses do not exist? Of course not. It simply means that theories concerning them (however logical and rational) cannot be advanced in the realm of ‘science.’ Multiverses, like a Creator, are not proved or dis-proved by science.

13 thoughts on “god, multiverses and science”

  1. I agree. There is some interesting speculation out there but if you can’t observe, test or falsify it, it ain’t science.

    That said I’m impressed that people are able to use genuine science to discuss the first few nanoseconds of the Big Bang.

    Most astronomy websites and podcasts I’ve come across don’t make any pretence of treating anything before the Big Bang as anything more than speculation.

    I haven’t read anything of a philosophical or theological bent that deals with multiverses and struggle to see how anyone could pretend that this would prove either way whether God exists or not. Perhaps they should limit themselves to discussions of ‘multi-verses’ instead?

  2. Damian,

    Thanks. :)

    John,

    Thank you as well. I hope to post more often, but we’ll see how I go! :) Thanks for the encouragement. Means a lot.

  3. Damian – like the comment on ‘multi-verses’ !

    Yes, I see the idea of multiverses as being just that – a scientific idea. And most ideas in science are wrong – and shown to be by mapping against reality. We are nowhere near doing that with the multiverse idea yet.

    It intrigues me, though, that this idea about the universe and beyond – the very large – really is coming out of the very small. The question of the fundamental nature of matter. And specifically, does matter as we know it have to be that way? Do the fundamental physical constants have to be what they are?

    Inevitably, these questions produce philosophical discussion and (probably also inevitably) religion gets involved (the “Goldilocks” planet, “anthropic” arguments, etc.).

    A worrying aspect of ideas like the multiverse one is the assumptions of untestability. It seems to me that this violates a key concept of reality. Just because we can’t possibly think of a way of testing such ideas doesn’t mean that in principle it can’t be tested. The multiverse idea may, in the future, well end up as a scientific hypothesis open to verification.

    In fact, the suggestion by Paul Davies, that we may now be at the stage of really being able to understand the fundamental nature of matter, the reason for its order, and why the physical constants are what they are, perhaps provides a way of testing.

    After all, if our universe is the way it is because that is the nature of matter and there was never a “choice” about the physical constants, a major argument for other universes disappears.

  4. The paper, ‘Multiverses and Cosmology: Philosophical Issues’, is a fascinating read.

    Multiverses or a single Macroverse?

    Do you think our favourite Bishop touches on this in a fairly direct way?
    NTW often speaks of times, places and people that realise and reveal an intersection of heaven and earth.
    The definition of heaven as a ‘place up there’, as depicted in much religious art or song, NTW sees as misleading. Rather, he sees heaven or kingdom of God, as the domain where God is revealed and openly acknowledged as the personal, sustaining, creator God.
    Creation (earth) is the universe of our physicality, measured in finite terms (science) of our senses and intellect.
    Where ‘heaven and earth’ intersect at certain times and places, affirming one another, they are both within and reveal something of the full domain of God. Obviously, this opposes some christian and non-christian religious understandings, which set the spiritual and physical against each other.
    Wright sees this intersection particularly in the life of Jesus; the miracles, parables, the transfiguration, the resurrection and mission.
    Also, maybe, is it touched on by St Paul, where he speaks of resurrection through Jesus Christ; the re-enlivening of physical, spirit-empowered souls inhabiting the renewed creation unified with the kingdom of God (earth and heaven); the completed macroverse?

  5. good post :)

    surely the same reasoning of the metaphysics of the universe can also be applied to the metaphysics of God (such as the trinity )

    i.e its all mostly trying to rationalise what we can’t really rationalise about?

  6. Ken,
    Thanks. Indeed, the intrigue surrounding the basic essence of matter is fascinating to me, and the link to such ‘big’ ideas is interesting. I like to think of it in terms of ‘microscopes and telescopes’. We’re limited by the strength of both in our efforts to understand both big (telescopes) and small (microscopes). But, of course, we keep looking, thinking, re-looking and re-thinking, etc. :)

    I think I see what you’re on about re: multi-verses possibly being somehow testable in the future, but I think the point Stoeger, Ellis and Kirchner were trying to make was that notion of another universe is very much like the notion of another entire reality altogether…
    …the implication being that another reality would/could be known in a way completely ‘other’ to the way we interact with our own – unless one would specify that the ‘multi-verse’ in their theory operated by the same ‘rules’ as our own… Another way of thinking about or saying it might be that if the theorised ‘other universe’ operated in exactly the same way as ours, why call it an ‘other’ universe? And how can another space, time, matter universe possibly be ‘seen’ within the ‘confines’ of our space, our time & our matter? And further, if someone is looking at (for example) a distant cool-spot/region in the background microwave pattern in our universe, why would that person suggest that it could be the ‘edge’ of another universe? Do universes have ‘edges’? How in the universe do we know this? :) Do the dimensions of time and/or space have an ‘edge’? What? :)

    BC,
    Yeah, I think our Bishops comments on heaven and earth and their ‘inter-locking’ and ‘over-lapping’ are certainly apt here. The scope of this view is just so BIG and all-encompassing; that’s one of the reasons I love it! :)

    Keith,
    Thanks for stopping by!

    It might depend on what means by ‘rationalise’… I don’t, for example, think God can be ‘rationalised’ (Whether you’re talking about basic theological concepts or detailed ones – like some of the finer points of trinitarian theology!). However, I do think that belief in God (in at least a few important ways) – ‘rational’. And, of course, this says nothing of ‘proving’ anything (which is yet another word that is sometimes used unhelpfully…). :)

    Gods existence, then (or Gods nature, of course), is not ‘rationalised’ about by using the tool(s) of natural science (be it biology, cosmology, physics or whatever), but can be rationalised about by using the tools of philosophy, theology, etc.

    But – and this is a key point – things are still not this simple. It would be really nice and neat if these different fields (i.e. – philosophy and cosmology) had nice and neat borders where one started and the other started… but they don’t. Sure, it’s quite obvious when you’re discussing philosophy or when you’re discussing cosmology, but there are many times at which you may be discussing a bit of both. This goes the same for many other fields, I reckon. It’s not frustrating for me, because I think all of the fields of study enrich and enhance the other ones, not the opposite.

    And, with that, I’ve once again realised that I’m rambling, so I’ll cut it there! :)

    Cheers,

    -d-

  7. I’m not questioning the belief or rationality of god….

    I was just pondering the similarities of the metaphysics of the universe and the metaphysics of god

    so we have the idea of multiple universes and we have the idea of 3 identities of god…

    is it fair to say we can’t really know either of these things for sure? and no matter how compelling the idea is, it’s likely to be wrong? in fact we are unlikely to have the mental faculties / frame of reference to even begin to understand things like this?

    yet we feel a strong urge to try and define things like this! loose ends tend to upset us as a species. We need some kind of explanation for everything :-)

  8. Keith says…

    so we have the idea of multiple universes and we have the idea of 3 identities of god…

    is it fair to say we can’t really know either of these things for sure? and no matter how compelling the idea is, it’s likely to be wrong? in fact we are unlikely to have the mental faculties / frame of reference to even begin to understand things like this?

    I guess, Keith, that’s why the Christian scriptures claim that Jesus came to reveal God to mankind, more fully, than the Old Testament did (frame of reference). Not just to explain (mental faculties) in rational terms, but to demonstrate who God is (holistic). See the beginning of John’s gospel.

  9. My testing suggestion is more to do with the origins of megaverse, multiverse, concepts in “String Theory.” While it has been suggested that string theory is untestable because the energy required is so huge (a particle accelerator the size of the universe is required), there have been other suggestions that some aspects of string theory could be tested using the next generation of accelerators. I am optimistic that we won’t have to give up the power of the scientific method.

    An interesting thought about this though. It strikes me that ideas like string theory and megaverses are raising the prospect of a new stage of science where we give away the need for verification (because it is deemed impossible). Brian Greene describes this as a “dangerous idea” in his interesting Edge article(
    Brian Greene):
    “When faced with seemingly inexplicable observations, researchers may invoke the framework of the multiverse prematurely — proclaiming some or other phenomenon to merely reflect conditions in our bubble universe — thereby failing to discover the deeper understanding that awaits us.”

    In a funny way – I see the mutiverse as the new god – of more danger to the scientific enterprise than the old gods. Newton may have given up on his attempt to explain the ordered structure of the solar system by attributing to his God (that was a “science stopper” for him but didn’t put off others who came after and did explain it) but that sort of approach has died out in science (although ID proponents are attempting to re-introduce it).

    We have moved past that approach but are we now moving forward into the equivalent approach because we think we are approaching a situation where we can longer test fundamental theories.

    I hope not, but it worries me that some scientists are actually making those sort of suggestions. I have seen ID apologists remark on the irony and argue that it gives them justification for introducing untestable concepts into science. They have a point – although they aren’t honest in this because the situation is completely different. Evolutionary theory has been, and is continually being verified because verification is possible. Megaverse ideas are being presented in a situation where verification is thought impossible because of the extreme energies involved.

  10. Keith,
    No worries. :) In one sense, I agree that our thinking, reasoning, observing, etc. abilities are in fact limited. At the same time, I think we do what we can with what we have. :) That’s all we can do, really. :)
    Regarding trinitarian theology, I agree with BC’s comment. And, I should say, underlying our comments is the issue of what ‘knowledge’ is, and/or what the different kinds of ‘knowledge’ are… Some things are ‘unknowable’ in some senses, but ‘knowable’ in other senses… :) I don’t scientifically ‘know’ my wife. I don’t always treat her ‘rationally’ – matter of fact, when I do it causes some sparks! :) But, I digress…

    BC,
    Good comment. I like the way Wright talks of the post-Jesus ‘reworking’ of the picture of God, and how (for the New Testament authors) any picture of God must now have Jesus in the middle of it… :)

    Ken,
    (I just –for some reason– realised how ‘Keith and Ken’ sounds like ‘Kith and Kin’! :) )
    Like I was saying to Keith, I think we should always do what we can with whatever perceiving, testing and/or thinking abilities we find ourselves with. In a very important sense, this is all anyone can do…
    I still lean toward the idea that other universes aren’t meaningfully testable in terms of methodological naturalism. How could we interact with something which is totally ‘other’?
    Hopefully you know my thought well enough to know that, for me, this doesn’t (shouldn’t) mean any kind of ‘lessening’ or ‘ceasing’ or ‘reducing’ of science. But there just are limits. In your example of hopefully testing ‘aspects’ of string theory, I want to say that whatever we find ourselves able (or not able) to test (or not test), we will not need to ‘give up the power of the scientific method.’

    -d-

  11. Not sure that Issac Newton’s enthusiasm for either the Bible or science waned due to any perceived preeminence of either within his mind. Certainly his passion for science did not seem to wane.
    The melding of God and science, was common in his day. Much what may be detected as waning christian conformity was probably due more to the political and religious turmoil of his era. Any deviation under the laws of religious conformity could result in death. Newton was neither an active Roman Catholic or Anglican, but that was no indication of his great enthusiasm for studying the Bible.
    Also, in his day there were other, what we would call unscientific influences within learning, such as alchemy, and ancient books from the middle east, that reintroduced Europe to Greek philosophies. All of which influenced Newton’s thinking.
    The development of his schema of the universe, he felt was enabled by the fact that he and the universe were ordered by a creator God; the universe was made elegantly knowable and Newton felt he was made to develop ways of perceiving it.
    Although for many, it may seem that Christians have a just-so story about the universe, human origins etc, it is interesting to see how many Christians are involved in science at different levels. None that I know feel imprisoned by Christian beliefs to the detriment of their vocation as scientists.
    In fact, they face the same unmistakable challenge of coming to grips with scientific discoveries and changing scientific ideas, with enthusiasm as do their non-christian colleagues.
    One of the current influences on the scientific fringe, that suggests a danger to scientific thinking, is from eastern religion and new age philosophy; panentheism and pantheism. A number of teachers in philosophy are pursuing ideas in this area. (Remember the doco, ‘What the bleep to we know?) Naturally this infuses some scientific thinking, where evidence gives way to philosophical considerations proposing viable ways to incorporate diverse evidence and interpretations of evidence.
    Fortunately or unfortunately, Keith, some features of modernity espoused by the enlightenment, are being challenged both from within and without the scientific community; hopefully not just because of a perceived lack of resources.
    I agree that from wherever the challenge comes, we should remain inspired to pursue the questions and answers.

  12. Well put, BC,

    Indeed, the ‘What the Bleep…’ and ‘The Secret’ are two obvious examples of how science (in this case, quantum physics) is being hi-jacked to provide support for some very… um… ‘interesting’ notions of reality. :)

    And I loved your final point about pursuing questions AND answers – both; not just one or the other…

    Cheers,

    -d-

Comments are closed.