Chris Price April 11, 2016
At a scientific forum, Stephen Hawking was once asked about the cosmological implications of a young pop star named Zayn leaving the famous boy band, One Direction, consequently breaking the hearts of teenage girls across the globe. Hawking’s response was brilliant and helpful. “Finally, a question about something important,” he began. He continued by adding these memorable words:
My advice to any heartbroken young girl is to pay close attention to the study of theoretical physics. Because one day there may well be proof of multiple universes. It would not be beyond the realms of possibility that somewhere outside of our own universe lies another different universe. And in that universe, Zayn is still in One Direction.
Lastly, Hawking added, “This girl may like to know that in another possible universe, she and Zayn are happily married.”1
An Infinite Number of Universes
Hawking is obviously making a joke, though it is a humorous comment rooted in a necessary implication of the multiverse, as it is sometimes understood. Some atheists who believe in the multiverse postulate that there are, potentially, an infinite number of universes. This allows atheists to both avoid an original universe in the series, which may require a first cause outside of itself, as well as deftly sidestepping the potential design implications of our universes remarkable fine-tuning. The reasoning is as follows: with enough universes eventually, by chance alone, you will have one with the physical parameters necessary for the development of complex, carbon-based life and this is, of course, the type of universe we happen to find ourselves in (otherwise known as the Weak-Anthropic principle). With an infinite number of universes this result is more than guaranteed, as we will see. And, again, without a first universe in the series of universes you avoid the need to explain what caused the first universe, undercutting the explanatory force of various cosmological arguments for God’s existence. All in all, an infinite number of universes suit both the heartbroken teenage girl and the intellectual atheist just fine.
The Problem with Infinity
Infinity is a mathematical concept that is well established in that field, but it doesn’t really exist in physical reality. Think of how strange the concept of an infinite number of events, or series, or physical objects would actually be. Imagine, for example, that you had an infinite number of jellybeans and you ate one hundred thousand over the course of a weekend given over to binge watching Friends re-runs. How many Jellybeans would remain? The answer: an infinite number! Even if you subtracted an infinite number of jellybeans from an infinite number of jellybeans an infinite number would remain and you would never arrive at the bottom of the bag. Mind boggling, I know!
Now, what are the implications of having an infinite number of universes? Douglas Ell is an MIT graduate in both physics and mathematics and holds a Masters degree in theoretical mathematics. Ell writes in his book, Counting to God:
If there are an infinite number of universes, then, regardless of how small the probability may be that one of them is a universe with exactly the same physical laws as ours, there are an infinite number of universes exactly like ours…if there are an infinite number of universes exactly like ours, then, regardless of how small the probability may be that exactly all the atoms in your body are put together exactly right to make you, there are or have been an infinite number of persons exactly like you.2
Fasten your theoretical seat belts because it gets even weirder. When one has an infinite number of universes anything that is logically possible is actualized in some universe. That is why, according to Stephen Hawking, there is a possible universe in which Zayn (thank God!) is still in One Direction and, more than that, a possible universe in which every teenage girl’s dream comes true because they find themselves wedded to the pop idol of their fantasies.
The Multiverse & God
The concept of an infinite number of universes also has other interesting implications. For example, it is logically possible that an all-powerful, all-good, everywhere-present God exists. The concept of this sort of theistic God is not logically contradictory as philosophers like Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga have convincingly shown. Therefore, if it is logically possible this God exists, than this God must exist in a possible universe. Because this God is everywhere-present, if this God exists in one possible universe, this God exists in all possible universes. Therefore, God exists in our cosmos. An infinite number of universes require it.
Now, one may move away from an infinite number of universes, as many have because of the absurd logical implications involved in the hypothesis, and instead assume a large amount of universes. Yet as soon as this happens, one is left with the problem of what caused the first in the series of universes and God as an explanatory hypothesis gains force again, which is why many theists have no problem (other than the lack of actual proof) with the concept of a multiverse. To quote Ell again:
If you choose to believe there are other universes, but a finite number of other universes, then at least one of them was not created by another universe. At least one universe just is, just exists. What caused that universe to exist? What was its first cause? That something, that first cause, could again be God, and could again be the God of the Bible. So this belief is consistent with Abrahamic faith…and here also the fine-tuning of our universe is perhaps less of a surprise.3
In the end, the multiverse as an attempt to explain the fine-tuning of the universe or avoid the implications of a cosmic beginning, not only violates Occam’s razor and lacks any real proof, it fails to avoid the need for invoking a divine creator. And, curiously, if one insists on an infinite number of universes this may logically require the existence of a theistic God.
Chris Price is the lead pastor at Calvary Baptist church and the author of Suffering with God, published by Apologetics Canada. He lives in Port Coquitlam, B.C. with his beautiful wife Diandra and his two children Kaeden and Mila.