Beliefs And Multiple Universes

The History Channel aired a fascinating program last week in its The Universe series on parallel universes.

The Universe: Parallel Universes

Some of the world’s leading physicists believe they have found startling new evidence showing the existence of universes other than our own. One possibility is that the universe is so vast that an exact replica of our Solar System, our planet and ourselves exists many times over. These Doppelganger Universes exist within our own Universe; in what scientist now call “The Multiverse.” Today, trailblazing experiments by state of the art particle colliders are looking for evidence of higher dimensions and Parallel Universes. If proof is found, it will change our lives, our minds, our planet, our science and our universe.

I’ve always been intrigued by theoretical physics.  Some of my favorite childhood memories revolved around watching films in science class or on public television that explained Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity or the Big Bang Theory.  I enjoy learning about how the universe works, and challenging myself to understand the theories that modern science is working from.

Yes, I know, I’m a geek.  And at the risk of losing what little bit of readership this blog enjoys, let me delve into some of the geeky details of parallel universes, or the Multiverse.

How Many Universes… Let Me Count The Ways

Theoretical physicists have actually postulated as many as four different ways that multiple universes might come into existence:

  • Level I: is described in the History Channel excerpt above.  Our universe may be infinite, therefore the laws of probability dictate that exact replicas of our solar system, our world, and even us can exist at this moment “in a galaxy far, far away.”  They’d have different histories, but share the same physics and extended space with us.
  • Level II: arises from the math of  “string theory” being used to develop the Theory of Everything, a mathematical equation that physicists believe will combine the cosmic-level forces described in the General Theory of Relativity with the microscopic-level forces of quantum physics.  Our universe may be one of many bubble-shaped universes adrift in the vast expanse of hyperspace scientists call “The Bulk.”  New bubbles may be popping into existence or budding off of old universes all the time.  What’s more, Level I universes could exist inside of Level II’s.  Here’s a link to a site devoted to explaining string theory.  Check out the Basics section; I was humbled at how little of the Mathematics list I’ve been exposed to.
  • Level III: the universes in this set are the type that science fiction writers love to play with.  At the quantum level, matter can exist as particles or waves.  The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle tells us we can’t know both the position and momentum of a specific particle – the act of observing it changes it.  This gives rise to quantum differences, multiple ways that the universe could go.  It’s possible that a new universe arises to follow each possibility.  It’s like flipping a coin and the universe splits into two nearly identical universes, one to follow heads and the other to follow tails.  These universes share the same history and physics, existing in parallel dimensions, but they diverge from the difference point on, which could lead to huge differences over time. 
  • Level IV: these universes are like Levels II and III, but they don’t share the same laws of physics with ours.  Turns out, we live in an “anthropic” universe, one that seems fine-tuned to allow life, as we know it, to exist.  There may be other universes where these physical constants aren’t so hospitable.

There’s a vast amount of information on the internet regarding multiple universes.  Even a superficial study of this information can lead to multiple, branching links on other subjects of interest in cosmology, physics, and philosophy.  Fascinating stuff!

Beliefs And Biases

But I was surprised early on in my search by an on-line article from Tim Folger for Discovery Magazine called Science’s Alternative to an Intelligent Creator: the Multiverse Theory .  In the article, cosmologist Bernard Carr states, “If there is only one universe, you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.” 

Naturally, a few lines further down in my Google search was a blog entry titled ‘Multiverse’ Theory Fails to Explain Away God.  Institute for Creation Research science writer Brian Thomas takes on the Discovery article directly stating, “When atheistic bias is removed, the old teleological argument still holds: Precise specification of fundamental parameters implies a precisely-minded ‘specifier.’ ”

The atheistic bias is evident in the first article, but so is the creationist bias in the second.  The scientists quoted in the first article have devoted their lives to the persuit of the scientific explanations for how the universe works, and they believe the work supporting their theories is compelling.  Since multiple universes at this point are unprovable, their belief in their science sounds an awful lot like the faith in a Creator that Thomas defends in his article.

Both articles have faith, what they lack is imagination.  Why would the possible existence of multiple universes make it less likely that God exists?  Christian theology (the one I understand best) holds that our God is both infinite and intimate.  We once believed the earth to be at the center of the universe; now we know we live on a very small planet that orbits a relatively small star at the edge of one average-sized galaxy among millions or even billions of other galaxies.  My little human mind struggles with really big numbers, but I’ve begun to get comfortable with the concept of a seven-hundred-billion-dollar bail out plan for the US economy.  If I can handle that, isn’t it possible that an infinite God can handle an infinite number of universes?

Science is focused on understanding how this universe works; that’s why I find it so interesting.  But equally important is trying to understand the “why’s” of this universe that only faith can provide.

In next week’s post, we’ll explore how the theory of parallel universes and an intimate God might work together.