(The Carillon, November 5, 2009)
Universe’s Fine-tuning vs. Multiple Universe Theory
Contemporary science tells us that the initial conditions of the universe’s coming into being are exquisitely fine-tuned for life, so much so that many thoughtful people conclude that this fine-tuning is evidence of a supernatural intelligent designer.
The idea is this: Because there are an astronomical number of conditions that have to be “just right” for life to exist, and because life has intrinsic moral worth, it very much seems that there is a delicate orchestration of factors (instead of just a huge number of mere coincidences) aimed to bring about an end or value—and this smacks of intelligent design.
Thus, the universe’s fine-tuning for life provides one more sub-argument for a cumulative case argument for God’s existence.
Some critics, however, dismiss the above argument by making an appeal to what is called Multiverse or Multiple Universe Theory (MUT).
The idea is that our universe is but one of trillions or an infinite number of universes and so it is reasonable to think that the occurrence of the fine-tuning of our universe happened by undirected chance. Because trillions or an infinite number of arrows were shot, it is reasonable to think that no archery skill—that is, no direction by an intelligent agent—is required for an arrow to hit the bull’s-eye.
MUTs, however, are seriously problematic explanations, for (at least) five reasons, which have a cumulative force.
First, MUTs lack strong positive evidence. Scientist-theologian John Polkinghorne writes: "Science speaks only of one universe of our own experience. People try to trick out a 'many universe' account in sort of pseudo-scientific terms, but that is pseudo-science. It is a metaphysical guess that there might be many universes with different laws and circumstances."
In fact, as philosopher John Leslie points out, "all multiple universe theories are highly speculative and some may verge on the fantastic."
Moreover, even theoretical physicist Lee Smolin describes his own multiverse model as “frank speculation” and “fantasy.”
Second, MUTs require a "generator" to bring about the various different universes (to shoot the various arrows), but such a mechanism would have to be randomizing to ensure the eventual actualization of the very remote possibility of our universe (the bull's-eye), which seems unlikely to be the case. Indeed, as philosopher Robin Collins points out, for such a generator to ensure randomness would require fine-tuning—i.e., a "conspiracy of factors"—and, hence, would suggest a designer of the generator.
Third, MUTs seem less simple than design theory. An appeal to one very powerful and transcendent designing mind (or even a few thousand of such minds) seems more elegant than an appeal to gazillions of different universes (which probably would contain all sorts and multitudes of minds).
According to philosopher Richard Swinburne, "To postulate a trillion trillion other universes, rather than one God in order to explain the orderliness of our universe, seems the height of irrationality." In other words, MUTs seem very much to violate Ockham's Razor (the principle that in explaining X, entities are not to be multiplied beyond what is needed to explain X).
Fourth, the appeal to an MUT is not a natural extrapolation from our common experience.
As Collins observes, “In the case of fine-tuning, we already know that minds often produce fine-tuned devices, such as Swiss watches. Postulating God—a supermind—as the explanation of the [universe's] fine-tuning, therefore, is a natural extrapolation from what we already observe minds to do. In contrast, it is difficult to see how the atheistic many-universes hypothesis could be considered a natural extrapolation from what we observe.”
Fifth, the appeal to MUTs commits what philosopher William Dembski calls the inflationary fallacy, the mistake of "bolster[ing] an otherwise failing chance hypothesis by artificially inflating its probabilistic resources (i.e., the number of opportunities for the event)."
This fallacy is well illustrated by the following hypothetical example from philosopher William Lane Craig: “[A] card player who gets four aces every time he deals could explain this away by saying, ‘there are an infinite number of universes with poker games going on in them, and therefore, in some of them someone always by chance gets four aces every time he deals, and—lucky me!—I just happen to be in one of those universes.’"
In other words, making an appeal to the existence of a multitude of other universes to avoid the design inference seems very much to be a move that is philosophically dubious.
Thus, the universe’s initial conditions, which are exquisitely fine-tuned for life, continue to point to an intelligent designer.
(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is assistant professor of philosophy at Providence College, Otterburne, Manitoba. The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)