By James Bishop| Philosopher William Lane Craig rightly identifies the motivation behind the fad that the multiverse has had within certain skeptical circles, “Indeed, I suspect,” explains Craig “[that] for many in our contemporary culture the multiverse serves as a sort of God surrogate. The multiverse serves the role of a creator and designer of the universe. It explains why the universe came into being and why the universe is fine-tuned for the existence of intelligent, interactive life. It is thus a sort of substitute deity” (1).
It is no surprise then why a number of atheist-naturalists find the idea so appealing; for example, several notable atheist scientists such as Sean Carroll, Stephen Hawking, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, to name a few, have proposed the notion. However, I don’t think the argument that so often accompanies the concept is necessarily successful.
On a first note, I’d argue that the skeptic ought to exercise some caution with this argument. The multiverse, despite some contemporary pop-science claims online and in the media, is far from achieving any consensus within contemporary cosmology (2).
Consider, for instance, the difficulty that a multiverse scenario is presented with. According to South African Distinguished Professor George Ellis (University of Cape Town), one of the world’s leading authorities in the field, there are the level 1 and level 2 multiverse concepts. The Level 1 multiverse suggests that there are many more domains like ours within our universe where the same laws of physics operate. These other domains are speculated to exist beyond our cosmic visual horizon which is at 42 billion light years away, and is thus a promising avenue of research for cosmologists.
However, the Level 2 multiverse (L2) speculates far more in that it says that there are actually many different types of universes (billions perhaps) that have different physics, different histories, and that are possibly teeming with life; a view that has been proposed by Alexander Vilenkin (3). The problem is that a L2 concept of the multiverse is at most an exercise in sheer speculation. Why so? Ellis argues that a L2 multiverse concept ought to not be considered a scientific theory on the grounds that a scientific theory implies something “being mathematically rigorous and experimentally testable” (4).
He says that not only haven’t the existence of these other universes been proven or demonstrated but that they almost certainly could never be. After all, how if these universes exist could they ever be experimentally testable? As a result, “none of the claims made by multiverse enthusiasts can be directly substantiated,” concludes Ellis.
Notable cosmologist Paul Davies shares a similar view, “For a start, how is the existence of the other universes to be tested? To be sure, all cosmologists accept that there are some regions of the universe that lie beyond the reach of our telescopes, but somewhere on the slippery slope between that and the idea that there are an infinite number of universes, credibility reaches a limit” (5).
Davies goes further, “Indeed, invoking an infinity of unseen universes to explain the unusual features of the one we do see is just as ad hoc as invoking an unseen Creator. The multiverse theory may be dressed up in scientific language, but in essence it requires the same leap of faith.”
But suppose that the L2 multiverse could somehow be scientifically validated; would it replace God as creator, and would it be a knockdown argument against the existence of God? Well, no. Why? Because the multiverse is not inconsistent with theism. There is nothing in it that says God couldn’t have made the universe that way. Moreover, a theist might also wonder why one ought to suppose that the multiverse renders God’s existence obsolete given that it says almost nothing about the other arguments for God’s existence?
There is nothing in the moral argument, for example, that is affected by it as it given that the multiverse cannot provide any basis for objective moral values. And, if one’s a Christian theist specifically, the argument from Jesus’ resurrection, ministry, and deity is just as strong as it has always been, whether or not an L2 multiverse exists.
Nor would the multiverse counteract other claims that theists have traditionally alleged to support the inspiration of biblical texts, such as fulfilled prophecy and so on. Nor does it impact the kalam cosmological argument which says that the universe had a finite beginning and thus a cause.
On this latter point, the Big Bang model is what the vast majority of cosmologists and astrophysicists accept as the best explanation of the scientific data (6). This is despite the fact that prior to the 1920s scientists assumed that the universe was eternal; an assumption challenged by Albert Einstein’s theory of General Relativity that conflicted with a static and eternal model of the universe. Subsequently, astronomer Georges Lemaître and mathematician Alexander Friedman worked on Einstein’s equations which supported the idea of an expanding universe.
Lemaître’s views were initially met with skepticism because it was known that he was himself a Christian theist, and that the idea that the universe had a beginning would lend support his theological views that God created the universe. However, Lemaître made it clear that he kept his theological and scientific views separate, especially after the Catholic church attempted to use his view as scientific validation for Catholicism (7).
But given the multiverse itself, it too would require a cause; as Craig has argued,
“Far from eliminating the need for a creator,” the multiverse actually “requires a creator to bring it into being” (8).
Though skeptics might hope it to be the case, the multiverse doesn’t avoid a finite a beginning to the universe, and thus neither avoids creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing). Arvind Borde and Alexander Vilenkin, Vilenkin being one of the chief proponents of the multiverse, showed that spacetime must have existed at some point in the past an initial singularity. The Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem, for example, strongly supported the notion that classical space-time, under a single, very general condition, cannot be extended to past infinity but must reach a boundary at some time in the finite past (9).
Hence, the multiverse cannot be past eternal from a scientific standpoint, and this doesn’t even take into consideration the philosophical arguments against the infinity of the past. When we begin to speak about an absolute amount of time, events, or objects, we quickly fall into the realm of incoherence. For example, if time went infinitely into the eternal past, it would have take an infinite amount of time for us to reach the present, meaning we would never be able to arrive at this present moment because an infinite amount of time cannot be crossed and reached.
Vilenkin, moreover, engaged contemporary cosmology and asked the question, “Did the Universe Have a Beginning?” He argues that the multiverse did not in fact avoid a finite beginning to the universe, and even conceded the fact that “All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning” (10). Vilenkin concluded saying that
“With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.”