Timothy O’Connor

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The Multiverse and Theism: Theistic reflections on many worlds

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.

Which world would God Create?

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.

My thoughts

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.

Sources

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).

Links

I discuss and rebut multiverse objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument here and here.

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.

SDG.

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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. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: Theism and Ultimate Explanation by Timothy O’Connor

Timothy O’Connor’s brief Theism and Ultimate Explanation has already garnered much discussion since its publication in 2008. Notably, the most recent edition of Philosophia Christi features a book symposium on the work. What is all the fuss about?

Theism and Ultimate Explanation is broken into two parts. Part I addresses “The Explanatory Role of Necessity” while Part II addresses “The Necessary Shape of Contingency.”

Part I contains some fantastic arguments. O’Connor outlines various views on modality and seeks to defend modal realism, which takes modal truths to be actual truths about our world (and other worlds). Further, he defends the possibility of a priori truths against attacks from those who argue that all such truths need to be established empirically.

There are some who argue that empirical evidence (such as quantum mechanics) helps to undermine belief in some methods of reasoning, such as the law of non-contradiction, but O’Connor counters this by pointing out that those who make the argument that the “odd” data which may seem to contradict the method of reasoning against which their argument is directed are using the very methods of reasoning which they are trying to undermine. Another possibility is that the empiricist making this claim has switched to a different method of reasoning in order to critique that which holds to things like the law of non-contradiction, but O’Connor points out that a critique from such a method is “underwhelming” at best (46).

In Part II, O’Connor argues that it is coherent to ask the question, “Why is there anything (contingent) at all?” (65). He further argues that the only possible answer to this question is a termination in a necessary being. “If the universe truly is contingent, the obtaining of certain fundamental facts or other will be unexplained within empirical theory, whatever the topological structure of contingent reality… it will have to ground in some way… in a necessary being, something which has the reason for its existence within its own nature” (76).

He then turns to the question of what the nature of that necessary being may be, by examining two possibilities: “chaos” and “logos“. Logos is the view which calls the necessary being God, whilst chaos argues that it is a random being or a brute fact. O’Connor argues that logos is the most rational view to hold.

Finally, in chapter 6, O’Connor turns to theological reflections on the argument thus far. He argues that the concept of an immutable, timeless being seems contradictory to things like the trinity, but maintains that a less restricted of both of these views is plausible. He argues against molinism briefly, by stating that the counterfactuals involved would have no truthmakers.

O’Connor’s book weighs in at about 144 pages of text, but he makes use of every word. My biggest complaint about the book is how short it is. Often, it seems as though O’Connor simply doesn’t take the time to address the issues he is discussing in enough detail. Part I and the argument for the necessary being do seem to be adequately established, but chapter 6 in particular doesn’t do justice to opposing views. For example, the molinist could respond to O’Connor’s argument by saying that the “truthmaker” of such counterfactuals is simply existence in the mind of God. This could lead to an argument for determinism on molinism, but then the molinist could point to the distinction between de re and de dicto necessity. The arguments leveled against a timeless deity or an immutable one suffer similarly from limitations of space. I think O’Connor should have used the space of this chapter to expand the other ideas already present in his work.

As it stands, Theism and Ultimate Explanation is a fantastic work which is great reading for the philosopher of religion. It can be finished in one sitting, but the ideas therein will keep readers contemplating the work for quite a while afterwards. It comes recommended, but with the stipulation that readers may be left wanting more.

SDG.

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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 and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

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