There has been much philosophical and scientific discussion on the topic of the multiverse. Recently, a lot of this discussion has been happening within philosophy of religion. Some attempt to use the multiverse to overcome classical theistic arguments like the Kalam Cosmological Argument, while others try to utilize it to avoid the teleological argument. Atheists and skeptics are not the only ones who are interested in the multiverse, however. Recently, a few prominent theistic philosophers have utilized the multiverse in inventive ways.
The Multiverse and the Problem of Evil
Some theistic philosophers have argued that the multiverse can provide a new type of theodicy. As eminent a philosopher as Alvin Plantinga writes:
…a theist might agree that it is unlikely, given just what we know about our world, that there is such a person as God. But perhaps God has created countless worlds, in fact, all the… universes… in which there is a substantial overall balance of good or evil… [A]s it happens, we find ourselves in one of the worlds in which there is a good deal [of evil]. But the probability of theism, given the whole ensemble of worlds, isn’t particularly low (Plantinga, 463).
Does such a theodicy help theists with the problem of evil? It seems to me that it may, but that it is not particularly strong. It could be included in a cumulative-case type of theodicy, however.
First, Michael Almeida offers a critique of this position. Suppose that God did, in fact, create such a multiverse. It seems plausible that such a universe would be infinite in the number of worlds (after all, for every “good” world, there seems one can always imagine a “better” world). Here Almeida ingeniously applies William Lane Craig’s arguments about the infinite, not to show that the set of universes cannot be infinite, but to show that in an infinite multiverse one could subtract specific worlds from this set without decreasing the good of the multiverse (Almeida, 305-306). Suppose God did in fact actualize an infinite multiverse–all the worlds which are, on the whole, good. If that’s the case, then God could easily not actualize any one (or infinite!) world(s) without decreasing the total good of creation. After all, it would remain infinitely good!
Timothy O’Connor offered a possible response to this argument, noting that “It may well be that [God] would have a distinct motivation to realize every fundamental kind of good-making feature, some of which are incommensurable. If so, this would put a further constraint on universe types… within a candidate infinite hierarchy” (O’Connor 2, 315). God could have chosen to actualize each individual type of good–some of which may exist in our own world to a maximal extent. This doesn’t seem implausible given the tremendous goodness of an event like the Redemption.
Some may be concerned that an appeal to the multiverse may undermine more traditional theodicies such as the “greater good theodicy” or the “free-will defense.” One might envision the multiverse as a kind of “throwing in the towel” on the traditional theistic defenses. I don’t see why this should follow, because any of these traditional theodicies would be just as applicable to our own universe whether it were one or one of many. There are, however, a few problems I see with this defense, which I’ll put off until the section “On the Possibility of a Multiverse” below.
Some have argued theism is irrational because they hold God is a perfect being, which would entail that God would create the best possible universe–itself an incoherent concept. It is possible that God need not create the best possible world. Robert Merrihew Adams, for example, doesn’t agree that God is obligated to create the “best possible world.” Rather, God could choose to create worlds which manifest His grace (Adams, 62). O’Connor cites William Rowe as providing an effective counter to this by arguing that there would then be a possible being better than the perfect being (O’Connor 1, 114). I’m unconvinced by this counter. If there is no best possible world, God cannot be obligated to create it (because it doesn’t exist).
O’Connor anticipates this response and seems to grant that it may be plausible (115). However, he among other theists, seems to believe that God would actualize a multiverse. He writes, “God’s choice isn’t between… single universes, but between the super universes [‘super universe’ being a ‘collection of one or more totalities that are mutually disconnected save for their common origin within God’s creative choice’]” (O’Connor 1, 116). God, on this view, actualizes many “good” worlds. He writes, “the creative motivation would be not to settle for a finite limit on the individual organic goodness of any of His products” (O’Connor 2, 315). God’s creation of many universes shows his “artisanship” (Ibid).
Such arguments are both interesting and compelling. Those who attack theism based upon the “best possible world” objection may be thwarted by the hypothesis of God’s creative multiverse.
On the Possibility of a Multiverse
Theistic proposals of a multiverse are clearly sometimes motivated for entirely different reasons than naturalists. What difficulties are there with such a proposal?
First, some theists object to the multiverse by arguing that it undermines several theistic arguments. It does not seem that the multiverse would do so, however. The cosmological argument would stand strong in spite of a multiverse, because any inflationary multiverse would still have a beginning in time. Design arguments would similarly be unchallenged because one would have to explain the fine-tuning of the multiverse. These objections to the multiverse, therefore, do not do much damage.
Other objections to the multiverse require more discussion of the meaning of the term “multiverse.” Jeffrey Zweerink notes several levels of multiverse. Some of these are uncontroversial. For example, the “Level I” multiverse is simply a description of other regions beyond the observable universe (Zweerink, 28). Of course, this is hardly what many mean when they refer to a “multiverse.” What is meant by multiverse here is a Level II or higher multiverse, such as inflationary bubble universes or other generative scenarios (Zweerink, 28-29). The difficulty with these is that there doesn’t seem to be any reason to hold that these universes exist. Zweerink notes that the Level II multiverse is predicted by some models of string theory, but to believe there are literally other unobservable universes on the basis of theoretical predictions alone hardly seems convincing.
Given these observations, it seems initially that while theism is unthreatened by the multiverse (and perhaps even bolstered by its possible existence), there is no better reason to think it exists on theism as on other worldviews. But perhaps that’s not the case. One can reflect once more on O’Connor’s belief that the multiverse shows God’s creative artistry (O’Connor 2, 315). Not only that, but one may even predict that God would actualize many worlds in order to bring about His desire to actualize various goods (O’Connor 1, 112ff). Perhaps one could argue that theism may even predict many universes. In that case, the multiverse is more likely than not.
Clearly, I think there may be some merit in the use of the multiverse in theistic arguments. I think it would amazing if, somehow, we made a discovery which confirmed the existence of other universes, and I do believe people could hold that theism might even predict such a discovery, but color me skeptical. I think it would generate an enormous amount of metaphysical baggage to hold to the existence of a multiverse. While the previous arguments may have shown that theism increases the likelihood of a multiverse, I don’t think it increases it enough to justify belief in a world ensemble. I remain open to the possibility, and indeed some compelling arguments have been offered in its favor, but for now I remain unconvinced. That said, I think theists could still utilize the multiverse in response to the problems illustrated above, because even a hypothetical multiverse could be used to bolster these defenses. Those opposed to theism might here object, saying that I condemn their own uses of the multiverse to try to get around theistic arguments. They would be incorrect. I condemn the use of the multiverse on competing views because I don’t think the other views can justify belief in the multiverse, nor do I think their usage actually defeats the difficulties with their own positions.
Is there a theistic multiverse? Maybe. Can theists utilize a hypothetical multiverse in their philosophical speculations? Absolutely.
Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (New York, NY: Oxford, 2000).
Timothy O’Connor 1, Theism and Ultimate Explanation (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008).
Timothy O’Connor 2, “Is God’s Necessity Necessary? Replies to Senor, Oppy, McCann, and Almeida,” Philosophia Christi 12 (2010), 309-316.
Michael J. Almeida, “O’Connor’s Permissive Multiverse” Philosophia Christi 12 (2010), 297-307.
Robert Merrihew Adams, “Must God Create the Best?” in The Virtue of Faith and Other Essays in Philosophical Theology 51-64 (New York: Oxford, 1987).
Jeffrey Zweerink, Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse? (Reasons to Believe, 2008).
The Theological Attraction of the Multiverse– An interesting post on the theology of the multiverse.
Christological Implications of the Multiverse– Another post worth reading on theology and the multiverse.
Living in the Multiverse- Is It Science?– Discussion of scientific evidence for the multiverse.
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Dawkins vs. the Kalam
Dawkins is frequently witty, but often wrong. The argument is for broad theism. The Kalam is intended to show that the universe is caused, it is not an argument for Christianity specifically. I pointed out in another post that just because an argument is for broad theism (or just the brute existence of God), that doesn’t mean the argument is useless evidentially for Christianity. If we know the universe is caused, then we also know whatever caused the universe must be capable of causation (obviously), choice (it must select a moment to bring about the universe), powerful enough to bring the universe into existence out of nothing, etc. This would be powerful evidence and part of a cumulative case towards Christianity.
Then there’s Dawkins’ quote in The God Delusion which I have seen utilized to challenge the Kalam. First, I should note that Dawkins’ quote is in response to Aquinas’ Five Ways/Proofs. Further, it seems to be intentionally pointed towards a Leibnizian version of the Cosmological Argument (for a fuller defense of that argument, see here). But, a simple answer to Dawkins objection, which he seems to think is devastating, would be to point out that the universe and God are different types of entities. The universe is contingent, and God is necessary. That’s not arbitrary, that’s just the kind of things those entities are.
A Philosophical Attack On the Kalam
Not all atheists are as capable of blind, willful ignorance as Dawkins. Graham Oppy’s recent book Arguing About Gods has a thoughtful, challenging section dedicated to William Lane Craig’s exposition of the Kalam.
Oppy challenges Craig on every step of the Kalam, but I’m going to focus upon one. Oppy writes, “[I]t is quite unclear why one should suppose that the allegedly counter-intuitive behavior of the transfinite [numbers]… casts doubt on the idea that the very smallest transfinite cardinals do find application to ‘the real world'”(Arguing About Gods, 140).
This proposal is meant to challenge Craig’s contention that the infinite cannot actually exist. For, if there can be no actual infinites, then the objects we see around us–indeed, the universe itself–must have begun. Yet Oppy’s contention really only reflects mathematical truths. But surely this is a rather untenable claim. Oppy would have to provide evidence that the infinite actually exists and is not just an abstract mathematical concept. Craig’s contention is that the infinite can only be used in things like Cantor’s theory for mathematical equations. Why does Craig make this restriction? He cites David Hilbert, the famous German Mathematician, who points out that:
the infinite is nowhere found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitmate basis for rational thought… the role for infinite to play is solely that of an idea… (David Hilbert Quoted in Craig, 87, cited below)
Yet Oppy provides no reason to think that there are actually infinite things found in reality. Rather, he resorts to claiming that Craig misinterpreted Hilbert’s paradoxes and that “If the Cantorian theory of the transfinite numbers is intelligible, then we can suppose that some parts of it find application ‘in the real world…'” (Oppy, 140). But is that true? Aren’t there plenty of things that are intelligible but for which we have no application ‘in the real world’? I abstract a bit when I point this out, but it is perfectly intelligible that there could be flying pigs, yet we don’t find an application of that in “the real world” other than as a false statement. There are nearly limitless examples of intelligible things we can think of, or intelligible theories, which have no application in the real world.
But perhaps Oppy isn’t making a claim quite as strong as saying actual infinites exist. Perhaps he is just referring to the possibility that they do. The problem then, however, is that, as Craig writes in a critique of Oppy’s position, “Oppy’s attempt to defend the possibility of the existence of an actual infinite is vitiated by his conflation of narrowly and broadly logical possibility.” The problem is that Oppy has confused broad logical possibility (that it is possible to construct a consistent set with an actual infinite) with modal (the notion that an infinite actually does exist in a possible world) or actual possibility in the real world. Again, Craig writes, ” Oppy… seems to take a proposition’s freedom from inconsistency in first-order logic to be indicative of that proposition’s being true in some possible world” (Craig b, cited below). So Oppy has not done anything to defeat the Kalam. Even were Craig to grant that Cantorian theory allows for broad logical possibility of actual infinites, it would not show that they are actually possible in our world. And again, even were they possible in the real world, an actual infinite would have to exist in order to discredit the Kalam. Thus, Oppy’s counter to the Kalam is quite weak–it’s based upon a conflation of broadly logical and actual possibility, and even were he to show that infinites are actually possible, the problem would remain that we have observed none.
Yet, and this is very important to note, even if actual infinites did exist, that wouldn’t undermine the idea that everything which began has a cause. It would only allow atheists to claim the universe did not begin. But how would they go about claiming that? They’d have to show that a model of the origins of the universe which allowed for an infinite past was plausible–more plausible than the alternative. Yet the only hope for showing this would be to make a theory as parsimonious as the Big Bang theory, which postulates an absolute beginning to the universe. So, even were there actually infinite things in the universe, which I very much doubt, that would not undermine the Kalam. It would make the argument more difficult to defend, but it would not falsify it. All it would show is that there are objects which are not caused.
Thus, I take it that the Kalam Cosmological Argument does not suffer defeat, either from vocal, misguided atheists like Dawkins, or thoughtful philosophers like Graham Oppy.
Again, see an outline and defense of the Kalam Cosmological Arugment here.
William Lane Craig discusses another objection: whether a beginningless past is actually infinite: here. He offers a number of critiques of Oppy’s position here. You can also access a review by Craig of Oppy’s book here (you will need to sign up for a free account on http://www.reasonablefaith.org/).
Check out my review of a recent debate between Craig and Lawrence Krauss, in which the Kalam was discussed here. (Includes a link to the actual debate.)
Wintery Knight writes about how to defend the Kalam at his site: http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2009/04/08/how-to-defend-the-kalam-cosmological-argument-just-like-william-lane-craig/
Graham Oppy, Arguing About Gods (New York, NY: Cambridge, 2006).
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2008).
William Lane Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1979).
William Lane Craig b, “Graham Oppy on the Kalam Cosmological Argument” (Leadership U, November 8, 2005), http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/oppy.html, accessed 9/1/2011. Also found at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5162.
Image credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA: http://spacetelescope.org/images/potw1021a/, found at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PGC_39058.jpg.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.