Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Multiverse Does Not Disprove God

Along with evolution, the multiverse is regarded by many as a way for science to remove the need for God.  Both evolution and multiverse theory are viable theories and neither one should just be dismissed simply because they seem to contradict the Christian world view; this dismissal unnecessarily alienates a large proportion of society from the truth of Christianity. As almost all scientific research in the last 100 years has shown, the more we understand God’s creation, the more that creation points us to God. Research into the multiverse actually strengthens apologetic arguments for the Christian faith.  I am using Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse by Jeff Zweerink as an outline and the main reference for this article.[1]

Some basic background is necessary to understand why a multiverse has been proposed.  First, there is a limit to how much of the universe we can directly observe. We can only “see” the parts of the universe from which light has had time to come to us.  As time goes by, more light will make it to earth, so we will be able to see more and more of the distant universe.  At the same time, however, the amount of matter and energy in the portion of the universe we can observe will shrink once the expansion rate of the universe exceeds the speed of light. So, while we will be able to increasingly detect more of the universe, the density of what we will be able to detect will actually decrease. The crucial point here is that space does not end at the edge of what we can observe and we will never directly detect anything beyond that edge.

Second, it is generally accepted that the universe is exceedingly fine-tuned for life to exist on earth.  (There has already been much written on this; if you need more of an explanation, go here and here.)

Third, there is an abundance of evidence that the universe experienced a brief period of hyperinflation very early in its history. This rapid, early expansion of the universe is necessary to explain why we observe the universe to be uniform in every direction.  The hyperfast expansion at the start of the universe takes small regions with the same temperature and expands them to a size comparable with the observable universe. Inflation is also necessary to show why the universe has close to a flat geometry.  A simple definition of “flat” means that two parallel beams of light remain separated by the same distance regardless of how far they travel. Inflation is also necessary to explain why we don’t see a multitude of cosmic defects (like magnetic monopoles) as the universe cools.  Go here to read about a recent measurement that supports inflation.

Lastly, the possibility of many different universes naturally arises from the most popular unification model. “Unification” has been a major goal of physics ever since Isaac Newton.  Newton showed that the forces we experience on earth are the same as the forces in the heavens; unifying the heavens and the earth.  Since then, we have been able to show that electricity, magnetism, light, and the forces that exist inside the atom can all be explained with the same theoretical framework; namely quantum mechanics.  Gravity, the lone hold out to this unification process, has proven incompatible with quantum mechanics.  String theory is the most successful and popular theory that attempts to unify general relativity (gravity) and quantum mechanics.  What comes out of string theory, though, is a potentially enormous number of different universes with possibly different laws of physics.

Multiverse theory comes from these four major pieces of evidence (the universe is larger than what we can detect, fine tuning, inflation, string theory).  Just like the word evolution, the term multiverse has several meanings.  While a multiverse always involves regions beyond what we can observe, the MIT physicist Max Tegmark has classified multiverse models into four levels.

The first type of multiverse is uncontroversial and has good evidence for its existence.  A “Level 1 Multiverse” simply means that the universe is larger than what we can see; there are parts of our universe that are not directly observable.  Inflation implies the existence of a level 1 multiverse. The only unknown with the level 1 multiverse is its size.

A “Level 2 Multiverse” is one in which other universes exist, each with different laws of physics.  This is what most scientists are referring to when they use the term multiverse. Evidence for a level 2 multiverse also comes from inflation, but with the added observation that when the hyperinflation period stopped, things would have to be exceedingly fine-tuned for all parts of the universe to stop expanding in the same manner; giving us the uniformity we observe in the universe. Mathematical calculations to “fix” this problem of the extreme fine-tuning give the possibility of many “bubble universes” forming; the vast majority of these having different physical laws from ours.  The fine-tuning we observe in our universe can be explained as simply a “selection effect” – meaning that we just happen to be in the one lucky universe where the physical laws match those necessary for life.  A level 2 multiverse requires a particular theoretical understanding of inflation for which there is almost no observational or experimental evidence.

One interpretation of quantum mechanics describes the “Level 3 Multiverse.” Simply stated, this model describes parallel universes arising from quantum uncertainty and probabilities and from the concepts of decoherence and unitarity.  Quantum mechanics is described very well in mathematical terms, but how this mathematical description is to be interpreted is still a matter of great debate. No specific observational evidence exists that specifically points to this interpretation of quantum mechanics; parallel universes instead are a philosophical preference of one interpretation over another.

An infinite number of universes describes a “Level 4 Multiverse.” This, I believe, is what most people are thinking of when they think of a multiverse. This also explains the fine-tuning we see in the same manner as the level 2 multiverse. There is currently no observational evidence to help us decide whether an infinite number of universes exist, but the larger problem with an infinite number of universes is that it would explain too much!  An infinite number of universes means that anything could be explained away by using the selection effect; in such a model every possible situation - no matter how improbable - occurs somewhere, so on what basis would science itself operate?

Here is a selection of Dr. Zweerink’s conclusions (all taken from Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse) from his work with multiverse models:

A large proportion of the scientific community disagrees with or simply does not support multiverse theories.  Some scientists argue that these models are unscientific because they offer no testable predictions.  Others contend that simpler solutions explain fine-tuning without invoking the existence of completely separate universes that, by definition, forever lie beyond scientists’ ability to detect.

In a Christian context, the apologists battle does not directly concern the supposed or actual existence of the multiverse. Instead, it is the naturalist’s claim that the multiverse provides an adequate, comprehensive, and consistent explanation for humanity’s existence here on Earth without the need of a supernatural Designer. 

Whether the multiverse proves true or false substantially affects none of the fundamental Christian doctrines.

At first glance, the multiverse theory seems to effectively buttress the human “selection effect” explanation for the fine-tuned appearance of our universe. Yet as research into multiverse scenarios advances, it appears that they may simply move the design “up one level.” In other words, instead of just one universe requiring fine-tuning to support life, it appears that any multiverse-generating mechanism also requires a high degree of fine-tuning to reproduce the observable universe in which we live.

Go here to watch a recent lecture by Dr. Zweerink regarding the multiverse.

[1] Jeffrey A. Zweerink, Ph.D., Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse, Reasons to Believe, 2008

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Christian Church Did Not Persecute Science!

In the introduction to his 2009 book, In Search of the Multiverse, Dr. Gribbin starts off with the tired myth that Christianity hindered scientific thought. As I wrote in my very first blog, the truth is exactly the opposite. The impression that Dr. Gribbin gives in the introduction is that Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake by the Catholic Church for exposing heretical scientific ideas “that the stars are other suns, and that there must be other earths, and life elsewhere in the universe.”[1] He does add that this was not the main reason for his conviction, but nonetheless leaves the impression that Christianity persecuted science.
The Church did not silence Bruno for his scientific beliefs. Even though Bruno did a little speculative astronomy, he was not really a scientist. He was a renegade monk, a Hermetic sorcerer, and a philosopher.  The troubles he had with the Church were theological; involving the polytheistic existence of an infinite number of worlds. This position included the idea that the universe was infinite, but he came to that conclusion solely through imagination and speculation with absolutely no evidence.
Bruno’s scientific position of an infinite universe was not at all unique. There were many others in the same time period who held similar scientific views and were never persecuted by the church. Nicolaus Cusanus, in the first half of the 15th century, wrote of an unbounded universe with many worlds and all of its parts in motion.  The Church made him Papal legate to Germany in 1446, he was appointed cardinal for his merits by Pope Nicholas V in 1448, and he became vicar general in the Papal States in 1459.  Obviously the Church was trying to silence his views! Marsilio Ficino thought the sun was at the center of the universe because it was created first.  In 1489 he was accused of magic (not free thinking) before Pope Innocent VIII, but he escaped any punishment. Georg Peurbach at the University of Vienna improved on the planetary system of Ptolemy in 1473. Thomas Diggs, an English mathematician and astronomer, in 1576 wrote about the stars extending infinitely up, and William Gilbert, in the late 16th century, understood the universe to be infinite.
There is a long list of intellectual thinkers who were never persecuted, even though they had scientific ideas contrary to the Church.  Science and Christianity have historically complemented each other. Christians see God as a Lawgiver, as a rational mind, and as the Creator. Because of this, the world must be rational, must follow prescribed laws, and must have a reason for its existence. Science is the way we study the world, the laws, and the reasons. Christian theology also teaches that man was created in the image of God, so we also have the ability to comprehend God’s laws and reasons. Therefore, science arose only once: In Christian Western Europe in the 17th century.

Christianity depicted God as a rational, responsive, dependable, and omnipotent being and the universe as His personal creation, thus having a rational stable structure, awaiting human comprehension. Christians developed science because they believed it could be done and they thought it should be done.[2]

Since they believed it could be done, the vast majority of initial thinkers in science were Christians who did their investigations because of the Christian ideas they had about the universe. Nicolaus Copernicus was a church deacon who did astronomy in his spare time. Robert Boyle, father of modern chemistry, set up Christian apologetics lectures. Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, was a Christian monk. Isaac Newton, discoverer of the universal laws of gravitation, finishes his Principia with:

This most beautiful system of sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being...This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God.[3]

Johannes Kepler, discoverer of the laws of planetary motion, wrote:

The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order which has been imposed on it by God, and which he revealed to us in the language of mathematics.[4]

Arno Penzias, Nobel Laureate and co-discoverer of the cosmic background radiation, says of Kepler’s philosophy:
That really goes back to the triumph, not of Copernicus, but really the triumph of Kepler. That's because, after all, the notion of epicycles and so forth goes back to days when scientists were swapping opinions. All this went along until we had a true believer and this was Kepler. Kepler, after all, was the Old Testament Christian. Right? He really believed in God the Lawgiver. And so he demanded that the same God who spoke in single words and created the universe is not going to have a universe with 35 epicycles in it. And he said there's got to be something simpler and more powerful. Now he was lucky or maybe there was something deeper, but Kepler's faith was rewarded with his laws of nature. And so from that day on, it's been an awful struggle, but over long centuries, we find that very simple laws of nature actually do apply. And so that expectation is still with scientists. And it comes essentially from Kepler, and Kepler got it out of his belief in the Bible, as far as I can tell. This passionate belief turned out to be right. And he gave us his laws of motion, the first real laws of nature we ever had. And so nature turned out to redeem the expectations he had based on his faith. And scientists have adopted Kepler's faith, without the cause.[5]
One common charge against Christianity is that it “hinders scientific progress.” Any commonly accepted idea could hinder science—not just ones that Christians hold. The best example was the dogmatic adherence to Aristotle that hindered scientific progress for over 2000 years. One of the first people to disagree with Aristotle was a Christian, Nicolaus Copernicus. And it was Galileo, also a Christian, who challenged the prevailing scientific view of the universe in the name of science. Most people at the time, including secular scientists, held the Aristotelian idea that the earth was at the center of the solar system and heavenly bodies moved in perfect circles. It was Kepler who showed planetary orbits to be ellipses. Christians were the ones actually pushing science forward in an age of scientific stagnation.
Another example of this was Louis Pasteur, a devout Christian credited with the discovery of germ theory. The prevailing view in Pasteur’s time was that microbes could spontaneously appear from chemicals and this was the cause of illness. Spontaneous generation disagrees with the Christian Doctrine of Creation, so Pasteur set out, with obvious success, to show that life appearing from non-life could not be correct. Based on his Christian beliefs, Pasteur was motivated to test a prevailing scientific theory to the benefit of mankind.
A current example of a theory holding back science is the belief that our DNA contains a vast amount of “junk” that has no function. Scientists held to this belief because it was one of the evidences for evolutionary theory and this “held back” science for 30 years. We are now discovering all kinds of function in “junk DNA” that we never bothered to look for earlier because of a dogmatic adherence to evolutionary theory. Christianity is no more guilty of “holding back science” than any other commonly held idea that society sees as correct.
For Giordano Bruno and others persecuted by the Church, the dispute was not with science, but in almost every case when blood was shed, the disputes were over theology, not a dispute between theology and science. Bruno, for example, suggested that Satan was destined to be saved and redeemed by God, he didn't think Jesus was the son of God, but rather “an unusually skilled magician.” He also publicly disputed Mary's virginity and the doctrine of the trinity. In addition, he constantly ranted about how idiotic his fellow friars were, calling them names and lamenting their adherence to Catholic doctrine. For years, he'd set up shop in some city, find new patrons, and promptly make enemies of them with his combative sarcasm and relentless arguments. Even fellow Copernican pioneers, Galileo and Kepler, scientists who actually used evidence, had no love for Bruno.[6] Very few were harshly persecuted for reading a scientific book or proposing a scientific theory. The Church allowed scientific thought and, as shown above, science began and flourished during the Church’s reign in Western Europe.
Persecution of beliefs did, sadly, occur because heretical theologies threaten the authority of those in control in a way that science doesn’t. Galileo was never put on the list of forbidden books and his harassment was over Church authority and who had the right to interpret scripture. Church leaders usually allowed scientists to sidestep theological conflict.

In this spirit the pope reassured Galileo that he had nothing to fear as long as he made it clear that he spoke as a mathematician, not a theologian. Specifically, Pope Urban instructed Galileo to acknowledge in his publications that “definitive conclusions could not be reached in the natural sciences. God in his omnipotence could produce a natural phenomenon in any number of ways and it was therefore presumptuous for any philosopher to claim that he had a unique solution.”[7]

Galileo did include this statement in his Dialogue concerning the Two Chief World Systems, but he tauntingly put it in the mouth of Simplicio, the dullard who voiced all the errors in his book. Similarly to Bruno, Galileo hurt himself by lying to, betraying, and insulting the Pope.  Even so, the Pope did thwart efforts to impose more serious penalties on Galileo. All powerful institutions and organizations suppress dissent and nonconformity and abuse their power.  Autocrats do not tolerate disagreement.

But, insofar as the suppression of science is concerned, the bloodiest incidents have been recent and have had nothing to do with religion. It was the Nazi Party, not the German Evangelical Church, that tried to eradicate “Jewish” physics, and it was the Communist Party, not the Russian Orthodox Church, that destroyed the “bourgeois” genetics and left many other fields of Soviet science in disarray.[8]

It is interesting to me that Bruno is commonly used as an example of a scientist that was burned at the stake for his heretical free thinking when Bruno was actually persecuted (according to Dr. Tyson in Cosmos) for teaching something that he learned in a vision, for which he had no evidence, and that he initially read in an ancient text!

[1] John Gribbin, In Search of the Multiverse, Wiley, 2009, page 1
[2] Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God, Princeton University Press, 2003, page 147
[3] Isaac Newton, Principia, 1687
[4] Johannes Kepler, Astronomia nova, 1609
[5] Michael Bumbulis, Christianity and the Birth of Science,

[7] Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God, 2003, Princeton University Press
[8] ibid