Thursday, January 05, 2012

Multiversial Musings

The multiverse, or many worlds hypothesis, is the idea that there is a trans-universe universe which is constantly giving birth to little universes, of which we are one. Its relevance for science and religion is that it is an attempt to obviate both cosmological arguments and teleological arguments. It obviates some cosmological arguments by saying that our universe's beginning with the Big Bang was not an ultimate beginning, but merely the beginning of one of many universes, brought about by natural processes (where "natural" is defined in reference to the multiverse). It obviates teleological arguments by saying that, given an innumerable or infinite number of universes, there is bound to be one that has the right conditions for life and in which life originates and evolves. I discussed the multiverse hypothesis before here and here.

The multiverse is certainly a very clever idea. However there are a few problems with using it to avoid these theistic arguments. Before I get into them, though, I'd like to make two points that aren't objections so much as interesting postulates. First, as I point out here, the multiverse can be used to obviate the argument that the occurrence of evil is incompatible with God's existence just as much as it can be used to obviate cosmological and teleological arguments. So if we use it to take away some reasons for believing in God, we can also use it to take away some reasons for not believing in God. Second, the multiverse hypothesis, if successful, would negate cosmological arguments based on the universe having a beginning and all teleological arguments. Yet these arguments have been around for millennia and I'm unaware of anyone employing a multiverse concept to get around them. Of course this doesn't mean it's false, but perhaps it should make us a little suspicious.

Anyway, here are the problems, as I see them, with using the multiversial to avoid theistic arguments.

1. The multiverse is just as metaphysical an explanation as the claim that "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Appealing to the multiverse's natural processes in order to account for our universe's origin does not make it a physical explanation, since those processes transcend the processes of the matter, energy, space, and time that make up our universe.

2. No one has yet been able to produce a model for a multiverse that does not itself have a beginning. So it doesn't really remove the necessity of an ultimate cosmic origin, it just pushes it one step back.

3. At any rate, cosmological arguments did not originate with the discovery of the Big Bang. They have been defended for millennia based on the mathematical problems that arise if we posit an actual infinite amount of things. In order for the multiverse to not have a beginning itself, it would entail an actual infinite number of cause-and-effect events, and so the mathematical problems are still applicable.

4. Ockham's Razor plays havoc with the multiverse. This is the claim that we should prefer simpler explanations that posit fewer entities over complex explanations that posit more entities. Ockham's Razor is one of the most important principles in science. In order to account for one universe having the right conditions for life the multiverse posits trillions or an infinite number of other universes. In contrast, the theistic explanation requires us to posit one further level of reality to this universe. If we have to choose between these two options, the claim that God created the universe wins hands down.

4.1. It may be objected that the God being posited, as the creator of the universe, would be enormously complex, and so Ockham's Razor, which prefers simpler explanations, would point us to the multiverse. This, however, misunderstands two things: first, in Ockham's Razor, "simple" does not mean ontologically simple, it means numerically simple. To put it another way, it is not a matter of qualitative complexity but of quantitative complexity. The Razor claims that, all things being equal, we should prefer explanations which posit the fewest number of entities. The multiverse posits innumerable other universes in order to explain this one. Theism posits one other realm of reality in order to explain it. We should prefer the latter over the former according to Ockham's Razor. Second, traditionally the God of theism has been conceived as being the simplest of all beings. This is known, not very imaginatively, as the doctrine of divine simplicity. So, even if we ignore the first point, theism is not positing a more ontologically complex explanation of the universe than is the multiverse.

4.2. It may be objected further that the multiverse is not really positing all these other universes as distinct entities, but as outgrowths of a single all-encompassing ur-cosmos. There are two problems with this: first, we can do the same thing with the theistic explanation. Our universe is a part of reality; the whole of reality includes God and everything else he has created. As C. S. Lewis put it in Miracles, atheists "have mistaken a partial system within reality, namely Nature, for the whole." Second, at any rate, this is not a viable strategy, since any charge that something conflicts with Ockham's Razor could be explained away by saying all the other entities being posited are just parts of a larger singular entity. In other words, if we say that the multiverse doesn't conflict with Ockham's Razor, nothing else does either. Ockham's Razor is defunct and empty. This is not a reasonable conclusion.

5. In addition to flying in the face of Ockham's Razor, the multiverse commits the inverse gambler's fallacy. This plays on the much more famous gambler's fallacy. If someone sees a coin being flipped a hundred times and it comes up heads each time, he commits the gambler's fallacy if he bets the coin will come up tails on the next flip because he thinks it's due. The inverse gambler's fallacy says that, regardless of the merits of the bet, the gambler is essentially assuming that if there were innumerable coins being flipped, one of them was bound to come up heads a hundred times in a row. Yet this would only be a viable explanation if the gambler had actually witnessed all these other coins coming up with all their other results. Without such observation, you're best off thinking that the coin-flips are fixed somehow. Similarly, if we find ourselves in a universe that meets just the right conditions for life, we're best off thinking that the game is rigged: the universe was made that way on purpose.

6. The multiverse hypothesis, by itself, is not sufficient to avoid the cosmological and teleological arguments. We must specify a multiverse of a particular type and character. This is problematic because the more conditions one has to add to the bare-bones multiverse, the more contrived or ad hoc it is; and the more ad hoc an explanation, the less likely it is true.

6.1. Having an infinite number of universes will not lead to one having the requisite conditions for life if they're all identical, or only vary within set limits. Why think this is not the case? Why assume that the universes spawned by the multiverse are sufficiently random so that they exhaust all possibilities -- or at least the possibilities that entail one universe being hospitable to life?

6.2. For that matter, why assume that the multiverse spawns an infinite number of universes, or a number sufficient to make a biophilic universe possible? What if the multiverse only spawns 5,000 universes? Or 50? Or five? We have to specify a number of universes large enough to neutralize the incredibly high probabilities against a universe allowing the possibility of life, but we have no reason for assuming that a multiverse would have produced such an incredible number of universes.

7. Finally, given the multiverse, we should expect to find ourselves in a vastly different cosmos than the one in which we do, in fact, find ourselves. Roger Penrose points out in The Road to Reality that the odds of a universe having the low entropy condition that ours has is one in 1010(123). The odds of our solar system coming together by the random collision of particles is one in 1010(60) -- enormously improbable, but "utter chicken feed" in comparison to the odds against the low entropy condition being met. In other words, a universe that consisted entirely of our solar system is vastly more probable than the actual universe we have. Or, alternately, solar system universes would be much more plentiful than universes like the one in which we live, so, given the multiverse, we should expect to find ourselves in a much different, a much smaller universe.

7.1. Let me put this another way. Some of the anthropic coincidences are necessary because of the effects they produce. Universes in which those effects are met directly rather than through an anthropic coincidence are, at least in some cases, more probable. For example, when the universe sprang into existence, the property of dark energy (the stretchiness of the space-time fabric) had to be precisely what it is in order for the universe to expand at just the right speed so that gravity didn't overpower it and collapse the universe but not so fast as to prevent stars and galaxies from forming. This property has to be fine-tuned to one part in 10120. But a universe that just cuts to the chase and is created fully-formed with just one earth, one sun, and one moon would not need to meet this condition. So, all other things being equal, a smaller, simpler universe would be more likely than the universe we actually find ourselves in. Yet, superficially, such a universe would seem to be designed, moreso than ours. In fact, some people argue that if God really created the universe, we wouldn't expect it to be as expansive as it is; we should just expect the earth, sun, and moon (I think Stephen Hawking makes this point in A Brief History of Time, but I'm not sure). Such a universe, which would seem to bespeak of divine design, would be a much more likely product of a multiverse than the universe we actually have. In other words, our universe is much less plausibly explained via the multiverse hypothesis than a universe that critics of theism suggest would convince them of God's existence. This strikes me as a pretty big deal.


Now, all of this may suggest that I'm hostile to the multiverse. However, I'm only hostile to it as an alternate explanation of the universe's origin and apparent design. One of God's characteristics, at least the God of Judaism and Christianity, is that he loves to create. So it wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that there is more to reality than just two levels. To quote C. S. Lewis again:

...no man was, I suppose, ever so mad as to think that man, or all creation, filled the Divine Mind; if we are a small thing to space and time, space and time are a much smaller thing to God. It is a profound mistake to imagine that Christianity ever intended to dissipate the bewilderment and even the terror, the sense of our own nothingness, which come upon us when we think about the nature of things. It comes to intensify them. Without such sensations there is no religion.

So I have no problem with the claim that there are other universes, other realities, than our own; indeed, I would be surprised if there weren't (think of the Wood between the Worlds). Since this belief is rooted in my belief in God, however, it cannot be used to write him out of the picture. If God does not exist, I no longer have a reason for thinking there are other realities. But then the problem of the universe's origin and fine-tuning re-present themselves.

(cross-posted at Agent Intellect)

Discuss this post at the Quodlibeta Forum

24 comments:

Hiero5ant said...

But the multiverse, you see, is logically necessary, and therefore it has a probability of 1.

Whereas of all the logically possible gods -- ones who want a universe with a one mile radius filled with talking Elmo dolls, evil ones, indifferent ones, ones who make every human a Kardashian -- we just "happened" to get one conducive to our existence? Not a chance. God, being among the required conditions for life, must have been fine-tuned to be life-permitting.

TheOFloinn said...

None of the multiversial metaphysics address the actual cosmological and teleological arguments. Hint: Aquinas assumed the universe had always existed when he developed his cosmological arguments. They do not require a universe with a beginning in time. Secondly, the teleological argument was not based on the improbability of the world, but on its orderliness. That is, it was the existence of natural laws as such, and not apparent exceptions requiring theokinetics, that motivated the proof.

Fr. Lemaitre knew this. The father of the Big Bang had to caution a somewhat over-enthusiastic Pope Pius XII that the Big Bang was only the beginning of our space-time continuum, and the universe might consist of much more than that.

Jim S. said...

Hiero5ant:

1. I've never heard the multiverse described as logically necessary. Could you explain how it is?

2. As for God, he is traditionally viewed as being a logically necessary being. Saying God could have created the universe differently than it is doesn't mean that it's a different God. Of course you could argue that such a being is not logically necessary, but your comment doesn't really do that.

OFloinn:
I'm only criticizing the way some people are using the multiverse to make a point regarding science and religion. The multiverse hypothesis, by itself, is theologically neutral.

Anonymous said...

I think Hihi is just trying to sloppily reverse the situation, and pretend that the multiverse is logically necessary and God isn't.

Jim S. said...

Ah, I see. Sarcasm. Ha.

TruthOverfaith said...

And then Jesus came upon his disciples and said, "What's this shit I've been hearing about a human sacrifice for sins!!? What kind of Neanderthal bullshit is that!!!?

Blood sacrifice!!!!!!!!!!!? Listen, you can take that pile of Stone Age donkey shit and shove it straight up your goddamn asses!!!"--Jesus Christ, the Lost Gospel

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/11/18
/jesus-appears-in-a-dog-butt/

Humphrey said...

Interesting quote. Can't say I'm familiar with the Gospel where Jesus utters a series of inane profanities and posts a link to Jerry Coyne's blog.

Pseudo-Augustine said...

TheOFlonin,

Have you checked out Edward Feser's book on Aquinas? He deals with all the objections to Thomistic arguments and shows them to be wanting because they either don't get the argument, or they have done shallow exegesis of what Thomas was saying. One must understand Aquinas' metaphysics, before one dives into his argument; few ever actually do that.

TheOFloinn said...

@pseudo-Augustine

Yes.

drj said...

Jim, I think Hiero5ant is having a little fun by inverting some common arguments from theists. I think William Lane Craig has done the ole' God has a probability of 1 shtick, for example. If you think the Hiero5ant's arguments are bizarre and odd... well, therein lies the point, I gather.

Anyhow... I have to take issue with the Occam's Razor bit. God does not win the battle here, at least not so easily.

God is an entirely new type of entity, incomprehensible, with strange powers, an immaterial mind, etc.

Many universes are just more instances of a type of entity we have observed. Adding new quantities of a known type of entity is often
preferable, in terms of explanatory economy, than adding one new type of entity (and all the metaphysics that must go with it).

So its not quite as simple as its been presented.

David B Marshall said...

Let me also point out that C. S. Lewis himself posited a Multiverse -- the Wood Between the Worlds. That's where the White Witch came from.

Klaas said...

Some readers may be interested to learn that several philosophers have suggested (in various ways and for various reasons) that a multiverse is (in some sense or other) to be expected if theism is *true*. For any opinionated survey of this literature, see my: http://www.ryerson.ca/~kraay/Documents/Forthcoming-TMPP.pdf.

David Evans said...

"Its relevance for science and religion is that it is an attempt to obviate both cosmological arguments and teleological arguments."

It has, of course, been used in an attempt to obviate such arguments, but I don't think that is its origin. As I understand it, one type of multiverse theory, going by the name of eternal inflation, arises from attempts to understand some features of the early universe. Another arises from an attempt to understand some features of quantum mechanics, and yet another from brane theory. None of these, at least ostensibly, are motivated by any theological considerations.

Henrik said...

God is an entirely new type of entity, incomprehensible, with strange powers, an immaterial mind, etc.

Many universes are just more instances of a type of entity we have observed. Adding new quantities of a known type of entity is often
preferable, in terms of explanatory economy, than adding one new type of entity (and all the metaphysics that must go with it).


Ok, many universes may very well be just more instances of a known type of entity. However, the collection of these universes (that is, the multiverse), is indeed a new kind of entity. Like God, it has strange powers (it must be able to create new universes), and it is very much a metaphysical entity. And we know absolutely nothing about this collection, even though we know how one of its parts (this universe) looks like.

Angra Mainyu said...

"The multiverse, or many worlds hypothesis, is the idea that there is a trans-universe universe which is constantly giving birth to little universes, of which we are one. Its relevance for science and religion is that it is an attempt to obviate both cosmological arguments and teleological arguments. "

I agree with David Evans about the motivations.

As for the relevance for religion, while multiverse hypotheses may be more commonly used in philosophy in the context of cosmological and teleological arguments, I would say a more relevant point with regard to religion would be the consequences for actual religions of some multiverse hypotheses, like the Many World Interpretations of Quantum Mechanics (MWI) (actually, a mainstream interpretation of QM).

For example, if the MWI is true, all possible histories and futures are real (physically possible, if you like). If so, in particular there is a universe with the same past as our universe up to, say, 600 CE, in which Christianity ceased to exist before 1600 CE.

In such a universe, in the year 1800 (for instance), any person who carefully and rationally assesses whether Christianity is true would conclude that it's not: as far as she can tell, Christianity is just a dead religion (or rather, a set of dead religions, but that aside) that predicted that it would endure until the end of times but ceased to exist anyway.

In that universe, a person who assesses the matter carefully in that year (for instance) 1800 ought to conclude that no version of Christianity is true. But if those people ought to conclude that Christianity is not true, that entails that most if not all versions of Christianity aren't true.

Not that I think one would need MWI to make a case against Christianity, but my point is that the consequences of that theory (and a number of other multiverse theories) go to the heart of many religions, including the most influential ones (similar arguments can be made in the case of Islam and a number of other religions), and are enough to refute said religions even if we assume that other arguments against them have not been sufficient.

Other versions of the multiverse would yield same result (see Tegmark's points on Level III multiverse; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiverse#Tegmark.27s_classification)

The difference is that the past would not be the same as ours, but an exact copy.
Nevertheless, the result would appear to be the same for Christianity and other religions, since (an exact replica of) Christianity would have disappeared there, and people who would assess the truth of such replica would be making the assessments based on the same evidence and/or arguments as people on Earth.

Then, it turns out that people living in one of those replicas of Earth before the replica differed from our world would have believed in a religion that was exactly like Christianity but turned out to disappear later, so it was false there. But then, if Christianity were true, it seems clear that that wouldn't happen (i.e., people believing in a religion with exactly the same features of Christianity as far as any of their adherents can tell, but that turns out not to be true).

After religions are refuted, the Hiddenness argument and other arguments against theism would be boosted as well (again, not that I think they need boosting, but the point here is that they would get one).

Of course, you may object to all of those hypotheses, but my point here is that any of the multiverse hypotheses that are mainstream or at least accepted as reasonable speculation in physics, if accepted, would have more important consequences for religion than those related to cosmological or teleological arguments.

Angra Mainyu said...

Just to add something I didn't explain in the immediately previous post: in the 1800 example, I'm assuming a similar level of scientific and technological development as our 1800, which would be the case in some such universes under MWI.

Henrik said...

Angra:

In that universe, a person who assesses the matter carefully in that year (for instance) 1800 ought to conclude that no version of Christianity is true.

Why is this so? Just because no one believes in something, does that mean that, if you assess the matter carefully, you ought to end up with the same conclusion? And consequently, that that conclusion would be true? If you lived in an age where everyone thought the sun revolves around the earth, would that mean that you ought to believe that too, and that, consequently, it was true?

Anyway, I'm not sure about your claim here: Christianity is just a dead religion (...) that predicted that it would endure until the end of times. I'm not aware of this claim, but let's suppose it's true. In that case, if christianity is true, it will endure until the end of times, in any possible universe. Therefore, your example of a universe in which christianity ceases to exist is simply not a possible universe. For such a universe to be able to exist, you would have to assume a priori that christianity will not necessarily endure until the end of time, that is, you will have to assume a priori that christianity is false. Quite a circular argument, then, isn't it?

Angra Mainyu said...

Henrik,

"Why is this so? Just because no one believes in something, does that mean that, if you assess the matter carefully, you ought to end up with the same conclusion? And consequently, that that conclusion would be true? If you lived in an age where everyone thought the sun revolves around the earth, would that mean that you ought to believe that too, and that, consequently, it was true?"
Well, actually, my stance is that they ought to conclude that Christianity is not true as they ought to conclude the same thing in our universe, and those reasons suffice. But that's another matter and not what I was trying to get at.

My point was based on the fact that some of the basic tenets of Christianity (at least, versions covering the vast majority of adherents as far as I can tell) is that Christianity will endure till the end of times, when Jesus will return, etc. (so, it's a kind of self-referencing set of beliefs).

On the other hand, whether the Earth orbits the Sun does not depend at all on whether anyone believes that the Earth orbits the Sun.

If no one believes in Christianity, that shows that some of the core tenets of Christianity aren't true.

But let me put it this way. Why should anyone come to believe that Christianity is true, in that scenario?
They find a religion that, like so many others, posited the existence of beings of great power, fantastic events far different from what we ordinary observe, etc., and then made prophecies about the future, and then such religion came to disappear against its own predictions of endurance, and without those allegedly greatly powerful beings doing anything to prevent that ending

There are of course, other reasons. For instance, most people are not familiar with dead religions. So, in such universes, most people would not be familiar with Christianity.

Henrik: "I'm not aware of this claim, but let's suppose it's true. In that case, if christianity is true, it will endure until the end of times, in any possible universe. Therefore, your example of a universe in which christianity ceases to exist is simply not a possible universe. For such a universe to be able to exist, you would have to assume a priori that christianity will not necessarily endure until the end of time, that is, you will have to assume a priori that christianity is false. Quite a circular argument, then, isn't it? "
No, my point is not circular at all.

I said the following: "As I said, my point here is that any of the multiverse hypotheses that are mainstream or at least accepted as reasonable speculation in physics, if accepted, would have more important consequences for religion than those related to cosmological or teleological arguments."

As I said, any of those hypothesis, if accepted, would have such consequences.
Of course, I'm not not assuming that MWI, or any other multiverse theory. But going by Tegmark's taxonomy of multiverse hypothesis, you can tell that any multiverse of any level (1, 2, 3, or 4) has the consequence that there are universes in which Christianity ceased to exist as I explained, because that's one of the physical possibilities, clearly.

Again, I'm not making a claim that this shows that Christianity is not true, since I'm not claiming or implying that any multiverse theory is. I'm saying that the most relevant consequences of those theories for religion would be as explained above (obviously, if accepted; if rejected, there will be no consequences).

Angra Mainyu said...

If you're not aware of that claim, let's take for instance Catholicism: Source: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P27.HTM

"The Lord Jesus endowed his community with a structure that will remain until the Kingdom is fully achieved." (the Catechism is an example only; you can always ask in a Catholic forum whether it's part of Catholic dogma for more details).
In fact, Catholicism even claims that Catholicism will endure.

By the way, there is at least one argument from any of those multiverses against Christianity, but the one I'm making should suffice to make my point, so I'll leave it at that for the sake of brevity.

Henrik said...

Angra:

ok, I see what you mean now.

Anyway, you wouldn't need to go to 1600 to do this. It would be even a harder blow for christianity to say that in some of these universes, Jesus would not have been born, hence christianity would not be true.

As far as I can see, this would mean that a christian is bound to reject the MWI, or at least add some conditions. As the MWI states that any physically possible event will happen in some universe, the christian can easily modify this to say that any physically possible event that is not against God's will will happen in some universe. Since the christian already believes God to be almighty anyway, this modification more or less is logically necessary for him anyway.

So again, if you are a christian, and believe God to be almighty, the scenario you describe (christianity dying out, which is allegedly against God's will, is simply not possible after all. So for this scenario to be realizable, you have to assume a priori that God either does not exist, or that he would allow it to occur.

Angra Mainyu said...

Henrik,

Yes, there are several alternative arguments, and you're right in some of them Jesus would not have been born, though someone might raise the following objection: maybe Jesus did not go to those universes, but in that case, he will offer another road to salvation, just as he will offer another road to salvation to those in our universe in the past, before the Gospel existed, and just as he will offer a road to salvation to those who haven't heard of the Gospel without fault.

I'm not sure whether that objection would succeed; maybe it works for some versions of Christianity but not for others, but I'd need to study the matter more carefully to tell.

Another alternative is the following:
From the KJV:

Mat24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.

But in some of those universes, Christianity would end before Europeans reach the Americas, and then the Gospel would never be preached to all nations. So, someone in that universe studying Christianity after the end of Christianity ought to conclude that Christianity is false, and so on.

There are plenty of alternative arguments that deal with even the most liberal versions of Christianity, others with Islam, and so on.

Regarding the modification you mentioned, without an additional argument for the incompatibility of multiverse theories and Christianity (or Islam, etc.), someone might try to avoid the modification and say that it's not against God's will every physically possible event happens at some universe, which is why an additional argument is required to show that that is not compatible with Christianity.

That aside, I do not agree that one would have to assume a priori that God does not exist: if one gets good reasons to believe that any multiverse theory is true, one might later conclude from that (i.e., after further analysis) that Christianity is not true, if the evidence for the multiverse is greater than that for Christianity.

Angra Mainyu said...

Henrik,

Regarding the proposed modification, I'm not sure how you propose to do that, but I'm doubtful that such a modification would work:

How would you go about formulating a wavefunction in which they take into account God's intervention, count universes out, etc.? (similar problems arise in the case of other types of multiverse).

And if someone says we don't know which universes happen and which ones do not, it's hard to see how MWI (or other theories) would explain what it's meant to explain, so that would take away the rationale for thinking they're true in the first place.

Henrik said...

Hi Angra,

well, I have to admit I don't really know much about the physics behind MWI. So I have no idea about how to formulate the wave function etc.

I just figured, since the christians believe in a God capable of performing miracles, that is, interfering with the physical laws of the universe, I suppose it wouldn't be much of a leap to also claim he can perform miracles on a multiverse-scale, that is, prevent some (otherwise physically possible) possibilities from coming about.

Angra Mainyu said...

Hi Henrik,

I see your point, and I agree it wouldn't be much of a stretch, but it seems to me that that would seem to remove any explanatory power of the multiverse theories in question, and the basis for suspecting it exists.
The multiverse (of each kind) is posited as an explanation of certain observations, and while I'm not an expert on the matter or anything, from what I've read it seems that the proposed explanation precisely requires that all those possibilities be actual.

Not that I think multiverse theory is likely to persuade any Christians, especially given that there is no way at this point to test it as far as I know.

I suppose that, in some scenarios, things might go as you suggest.

That aside, I've realized after thinking about your earlier replies that we probably have a different view on possibility, so I guess that 'physically possible' wasn't a good description on my part and that may have made my points originally obscure, since depending on one's take on possibility that would give different results. What I was trying to say is that any multiverse theory posits that all universes that are possible within a certain laws (which are specified by the theory) are actual, and that would result in the incompatibility in question.