The Idea of a Multiverse
by Dr. Roy Clouser
The proposal by some scientists that there may be a great number – or even an infinite number – of universes, sounds new and surprising but is actually an old idea.
The proposal has been revived in recent years as a way to deny that the universe we inhabit has been designed and planned by God. The reason for its revival is that mathematical calculations have shown that if, following the Big Bang, the universe had expanded at the tiniest rate of speed different from the rate at which it did expand, an organized cosmos including life as we know it would have been impossible.
That is, if the Big Bang had expanded faster or slower by as little as .100,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000 of the rate at which it did expand, it would long ago either have collapsed into one incredibly hot mass point, or expanded so fast that the elements which are the building blocks of life would never have formed. The number is such an incredibly small difference that it is bound to strike many people as no accident. To avoid that suggestion, some of the atheistically-inclined scientists have suggested that perhaps there are infinitely (or nearly infinitely) many universes (the Multiverse), so that sooner or later one such as ours would have occurred. Since our universe is one possible way universes can be, ours can, therefore, be said to be both highly ordered so as to produce intelligent life, and to have occurred both inevitably and purely by chance.
The ancient philosopher Epicurus (d. 270 B.C.) made the same proposal long ago. As a materialist, he held that an infinite number of atoms in an infinite amount of space would – sooner or later – go through every possible combination. Since our world is one possible combination, our world was both inevitable and unplanned. Epicurus admitted that this was a pure guess, and did not regard it as science. A number of present-day scientists have admitted this also, and warned that it can’t pass for science since there is no way to test it.
The really interesting thing about this proposal from a Christian point of view is that it has its roots in ancient Judaism. The Talmud speaks of seven heavenly realms, and in the New Testament St Paul mentions a vision he had of the third heaven (II Cor. 12:2 ff.). According to all these sources, there are other universes or dimensions of reality in addition to the one we inhabit, and they are populated by other intelligent beings. The dimensions of reality are, as we saw, called “heavens,” and the beings that inhabit these realms are called “angels.” Some of these intelligent beings work for God and His purposes and occasionally carry messages to humans (the literal meaning of “angel” is “messenger”). Others work against God’s purposes, and are called “demons.”
The really annoying thing about all this is that many people take the Multiverse proposal as daring and adventurous thinking if proposed by an astrophysicist, but if a Jew or Christian (or a Muslim) affirms the same belief they are dismissed as superstitious! But you can’t have it both ways: either the belief is intellectually respectable or it isn’t. You can’t say the same belief is respectable if uttered by a scientist but superstition if reported in Scripture.
Now you might feel like replying to that last point by saying that it’s not only whether the belief itself is the same that counts, but whether the ground of the belief is respectable. If that is your reaction, you’re right. But in that case, which one is respectable and which is not?
In Astrophysics, the Multiverse occurs as a bare, unsubstantiated, unscientific guess. In the Abrahamic religions, it is accepted on empirical grounds, namely, on the grounds of what humans saw, conversed with, ate with, and wrestled with: namely, beings from other worlds. Which, then, is the better ground for the belief? Direct experience or mere guess?
Philosopher in Residence
Christian Leaders Institute