The Multiverse Is an Attempt to Avoid the Implication of Cosmic Fine-Tuning
“Yeah. The fine-tuning, that one degree, well, one degree, one hair different of nothing—that even though it doesn’t prove design, doesn’t prove a Designer, [it] could have all happened without [God]—You have to spend time thinking about it, working on it. It’s not a trivial [argument]. We all say that.”—Christopher Hitchens, 2012
Thus, the late atheist Christopher Hitchens—hardly one given to charity toward his philosophical nemeses—to his credit conceded that the fine-tuning argument is not a trivial argument, that the precision with which a host of physical forces is specified and coordinated in a way that makes our life-permitting universe possible, must be accounted for.
Indeed, the explanatory power of chance and physical law fails in the face of the staggering number and accuracy of life-permitting coincidences. Even so, Hitchens, true to his worldview, held out the hope that it could be explained (someday?) without reference to a designer.
Absurdity vs. Reality
So, in the years since Hitchens’s admission, how have atheists responded to the ever-growing body of fine-tuning evidence in favor of the design hypothesis?
One tactic is to advance the absurd claim put forth by Lawrence Krauss in A Universe from Nothing. Contrary to both logic and observation, Krauss asserts that actual “nothing” can exert causal power. Another current form of evading the evidence involves circular non-explanations such as, “The values are the way they are because they are the way they are” and “We can’t change the values, so they have to be what they are.”
The crux of the issue for the atheist is determining how formidable an obstacle the observed fine-tuning is, and whether it can be accounted for by chance and physical necessity. Astronomer Hugh Ross stated the matter succinctly:
Fine-tuning requires a shaping source. The greater the degree and pervasiveness of fine-tuning, the more capable must be the fine-tuner. Therefore, pursuing evidence of cosmic fine-tuning for the specific benefit of humanity holds profound personal and philosophical significance.
If the observed fine-tuned designs prove to be of little or no consequence, then one could surmise that no intentionality is implied. On the other hand, if the observed fine-tuning is multifaceted and each facet is crucial for making human existence possible, then the fine-tuning source must be more than a mindless, impersonal force or process. The more numerous, specific, and purposeful the fine-tuned requirements, the more these required features reveal about the characteristics and identity of the fine-tuner.1
When it uses the evidence of fine-tuning, the case for biblical theism is not a “God of the gaps” argument, but a “God in the data” argument. It’s based on what we know, not on what we don’t know. With the number of fine-tuning requirements still unexplained only increasing, and in some cases (e.g., the fine structure constant) the known degree of fine-tuning becoming significantly finer,2 the materialists are not making the obvious inference to the best conclusion—that the universe appears to be designed because it is designed. Instead, they are seeking ever more absurd ways to expand the available probabilistic resources to salvage chance and physical law as valid explanations.
Quantum Pop, Collapsing Waves
From its ubiquity in discussions about contemporary research in cosmology, you’d think that quantum foam was a product readily available at your local Walmart. For those unfamiliar with the concept, here is a succinct definition taken from Fermilab:
And this [quantum foam] appears everywhere. At the quantum level, matter and antimatter particles are constantly popping into existence and popping back out, with an electron-positron pair here and a top quark-antiquark pair there. This behavior is the reason that scientists call these ephemeral particles “quantum foam”: It’s similar to how bubbles in foam form and then pop.3
From this phenomenon arises the inference, in essence, that sub-atomic particles in the vacuum of space come into existence and then collapse back into nothingness. That much is observable and measurable. But materialists then assert that this appearance of sub-atomic particles in interstellar space (note that the assertion presupposes the existence of space, time, matter, and energy, i.e., our real, existing universe) implies that the many-worlds interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics (QM) is true. In other words, the theoretical conjecture of the MWI they call the multiverse is real.
In turn, this would mean that the fine-tuning we observe in everything from the fundamental forces of matter and energy to the valence of the carbon atom is only a coincidental product of our being in the one universe that won the multi-cosmic lottery out of an infinite number of universes existing somewhere out of reach of our scientific observations.
A good illustration of the multiverse as a counter-explanation for fine-tuning came from Mike Wall at space.com in 2012:
In the very weird world of quantum mechanics, which describes action on a subatomic scale, random fluctuations can produce matter and energy out of nothingness. And this can lead to very big things indeed, researchers say.
“Quantum mechanical fluctuations can produce the cosmos,” said panelist Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the non-profit Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute . “If you would just, in this room, just twist time and space the right way, you might create an entirely new universe. It’s not clear you could get into that universe, but you would create it.”4
Contrary to Shostak, though, it would not, in the world of QM, even require any twisting of space and time to generate new universes because this infinite series of quantum creation events just happens with every collapse of a quantum wave function.
What You Can’t (Ever) See
As you might suspect, there are two very significant problems with this materialist “solution” to the fine-tuning problem: (1) Spontaneous creation of sub-atomic particles, which is the basis for the belief that quantum foam can generate other universes, only takes place in an already existing universe, and only particles are ever observed to appear, not “baby universes” or “branching realities.” These latter are the stuff of comic books and science fiction. And (2) the supposed other universes would forever be, in the words of Alexander Vilenkin, “beyond our cosmic horizon and cannot be directly observed.”5 Logically, this means that any thought structures asserting their real existence are more fiction than science.
Why shouldn’t we think that the collapse of a wave function—which occurs with every observation of a quantum phenomenon—also collapses all possible branching realities or baby universes, leaving only the one we observe as the “survivor”? In the literature invoking the MWI, it seems universal to accept that the other wave functions, branching realities, or baby universes (pick your preferred term) continue to exist somehow in some unseeable realm. Call it the “quantum foam of the gaps” cosmologically, or “quantum branching of the gaps” at the level of sub-atomic particles.
Materialists assert that “quantum creationism” must be true because the observed fine-tuning would otherwise demand an explanation involving a non-material account of reality (maybe even a creator or intelligent designer). That we never see and never can see supposed universes emerging from the vacuum of space—well, as far as they’re concerned, that still can’t possibly mean the theory is wrong.
For non-materialists, the problems with the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics have been known and discussed practically since the initial formulation of the field. The key problem is that the branching “realities” that are supposed to persist after the collapse of the wave function can never be observed. They exist only on paper and in the imaginations of physicists, academics, and laypeople who buy into that interpretation of QM.
For Meaning & Knowledge
Applying Occam’s Razor—the principle that simpler theories that explain the evidence should be preferred over more complex conjectures—the design inference, which is based on observation and evaluation of known probabilities, offers a more rational explanation for the observed fine-tuning than the MWI, which requires an unknowable and ever-expanding number of events that can never be observed.
There are also philosophical objections, which have been given a good literary expression by science-fiction writer Larry Niven in his story “All the Myriad Ways.”6 Niven’s point is that if his hero is quantum-replicated in an infinite number of universes with every decision he makes, then no decision he makes can have any real meaning or significance. And that would be true of every single person who lives, has lived, or ever will live. The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics deprives every human life (or any intelligent life at all) of any possible meaning.
Philip Ball sees a problem even bigger than the meaninglessness of individual lives. The MWI is a threat to knowledge, even the ability to know anything at all. He writes:
What the MWI really denies is the existence of facts at all. It replaces them with an experience of pseudo-facts (we think that this happened, even though that happened too). In so doing, it eliminates any coherent notion of what we can experience, or have experienced, or are experiencing right now. We might reasonably wonder if there is any value—any meaning—in what remains, and whether the sacrifice has been worth it.7
Essentially, the problem that arises if the MWI were correct is that even contradictory and mutually exclusive outcomes of a quantum event would be equally “true,” just not equally perceptible. This renders the MWI logically incoherent, as well as beyond the purview of science, which deals with what is observable and measurable.
What is observable and measurable in the universe we can perceive is that the numbers speak heavily in favor of the explanatory power of deliberate design over chance and physical law to account for the numerous life-favoring coincidences seen at every level of physical reality.
If drawing inferences from the observed fine-tuning of the universe is a numbers game, and it is, then the smart money would be on the design inference.
1. Hugh Ross “Does the Puddle Analogy Explain Cosmic Fine-Tuning?” Reasons to Believe (June 7, 2021): https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/does-the-puddle-analogy-explain-cosmic-fine-tuning.
2. Hugh Ross, “New Fine-Structure Constant Measurement Affirms Cosmic Creation,” Reasons to Believe (March 1, 2021): https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/new-fine-structure-constant-measurement-affirms-cosmic-creation.
3. Don Lincoln, “Quantum foam,” Fermilab Today (Feb. 1, 2013): fnal.gov/pub/today/archive/archive_2013/today13-02-01_NutshellReadmore.html.
4. Mike Wall, “The Big Bang Didn’t Need God to Start Universe, Researchers Say,” Space.com (June 24, 2012): space.com/16281-big-bang-god-intervention-science.html.
5. Alexander Vilenkin, “The Principle of Mediocrity” (Aug. 25, 2011): https://arxiv.org/pdf/1108.4990.pdf.
6. The story is available at: https://archive.org/details/Galaxy_v27n03_1968-10/page/n3/mode/2up. It is also in Niven’s anthology N-Space.
7. Philip Ball, “Why the Many-Worlds Interpretation Has Many Problems,” Quanta Magazine (Oct. 18, 2018): quantamagazine.org/why-the-many-worlds-interpretation-of-quantum-mechanics-has-many-problems-20181018.
is a professional translator, missionary, and writer living in Germany, where he works with several different ministries, and lives in a Christian intentional community. He has written academic articles on medieval literature and culture and has published essays in Salvo, First Things, and Boundless. He is a native of Indiana.Get Salvo in your inbox! This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #63, Winter 2022 Copyright © 2023 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo63/frothy-view