Science fiction writers have always enjoyed exploring the idea of ‘parallel universes’. More recently, however, serious scientists have played around with the thought that there actually are many universes existing in parallel (the ‘Multiverse’ or ‘Many Worlds’ concept).
A comment on the popularity of these ideas appeared in the prestigious science journal Nature, soon after the dawn of the new millennium: ‘Twenty years ago the Multiverse concept would have seemed utterly far-fetched, but now it threatens to become conventional wisdom’.
We have now reached the position where a large number of theoretical physicists and cosmologists think that there are parallel universes – billions and billions of them!
They think we live in and observe just one of them, but their theoretical research has led them to conclude that our experience is like a tiny drop in an infinite ocean.
Should Christians receive these new ideas as another case of science informing us about the true nature of creation? I suggest otherwise.
Not only should we reject this concept, but science ought to be informed by biblical revelation. In other words, God does have some very clear things to say about these matters.
‘Parallel universes’ was the title of a BBC2 Horizon programme broadcast on 14 February 2002. This documentary traced some of the contributions that have led a growing band of scientists to advocate ideas that used to be unthinkable.
During the 1980s, many scientists were confident that a ‘theory of everything’ was just around the corner.
They were looking for a comprehensive physical theory that would explain all the major characteristics of the universe (that is, why the physical laws and elementary particles are what they are, and why the universe has the particular structure that we observe).
When we can do this, wrote Professor Stephen Hawking, we shall be reading the mind of God.
However, these ambitions were frustrated. The Horizon programme flagged up two important difficulties. The first related to cosmology and the ‘Big Bang’ theory of origins.
Physicists were convinced that they could explain much of what happened immediately after the Big Bang had occurred, but the laws of physics collapsed at the moment of the Big Bang.
This created an awkward gap in the theory. There could be no ‘theory of everything’ while this gap (the ‘singularity problem’) remained.
The second difficulty relates to a sub-discipline of theoretical physics known as ‘String theory’. This was the favoured approach to describing the fundamental nature of matter and energy, utilising nine dimensions of space and the one dimension of time.
Perhaps understandably, the general public has struggled to appreciate why the theoreticians find strings interesting, and struggle even more with nine spatial dimensions instead of the three that we are used to.
Nevertheless, the theoreticians were confident that string theory provided satisfactory explanations of why the elementary particles have the properties they do. The problem was that, instead of a single unified theory, five separate versions of string theory appeared to be equally viable.
The Horizon programme explained that a resolution was reached when string theorists invoked an 11th dimension. This had the dramatic effect of unifying the five competing theories.
The 11th dimension was initially visualised as a membrane: infinitely long and very thin. Later, however, the picture was one of differently ‘shaped’ membranes moving through the 11th dimension.
The crucial breakthrough came when it was realised that the collision of two membranes could have caused the Big Bang.
Designed for life
The new approach, known as ‘M-theory’, has integrated and consolidated previous research. Since it provides an ‘explanation’ of the Big Bang in terms of membrane collisions in the 11th dimension, it solves the singularity problem.
For these reasons, the theoreticians are very excited. So, are we on the verge of a new ‘theory of everything’?
Before coming to the punchline of the Horizon programme, it is worth introducing another thread in the story, one that attracts much more empathy from Christians. This is the growing perception that the universe in which we live seems to be designed for life.
The quest for a ‘theory of everything’ has brought the issue to a focus – because people have asked the question: ‘What do we need to explain?’ The answer that emerged was unanticipated by the theoreticians.
The Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, put it like this: ‘It is a remarkable coincidence that the laws that govern our universe are also exactly what is needed to produce life. It seems too good to be true’.
So impressed was Martin Rees by this finding that he wrote a book about it. The title is Just six numbers (published 1999). Rees takes six cases (out of many) and shows that if any of the parameters associated with these fundamental forces were even a little different to what they are, intelligent life would be impossible.
In other words, the parameters appear to be ‘fine tuned’ and not arbitrary. These observations cry out for an explanation.
There are three ways of dealing with these remarkable findings. The first is to explain the observations via ‘law’ – the original ‘theory of everything’ aimed to show how these parameters could be predicted. The second option is ‘chance’ – which was not remotely viable before the parallel universes concept was accepted.
The third explanation is ‘design’ – that our universe is the way it is because it was designed to be a fit place for living things.
Towards the end of the 1980s, it became clear that ‘law’ was not delivering results and that the design inference was increasingly compelling. However, theoreticians were uncomfortable with ‘design’, because it seemed to be proof of a Creator.
Significantly, Martin Rees argues in his book that the complex ‘fine tunings’ of physical parameters cannot be explained by any fundamental theory. Instead, he opts for the idea that we live in a Multiverse.
There are many universes, he thinks, each containing different values of fundamental forces. In most universes, there is no possibility of life arising. Ours happens to have the ‘right’ values for life, and we have evolved as a consequence.
This brings us back to the Horizon punchline. M-theory is now the preferred ‘theory of everything’, but this leaves nothing to explain! Without the context of ‘fine tuning’, it would be easy to miss the significance of this perceptive comment.
The Horizon conclusion is worth repeating: When there are parallel universes, everything is possible and nothing is prohibited. Our universe is said to have the properties it has by chance, not by law and certainly not by design.
What are Christians to make of all this? Is there a Christian perspective? Most certainly there is! Here are two major points to consider.
First, the way the Multiverse concept has been developed and gained favour is strong evidence that contemporary science is not the objective, rational, truth-seeking system that it claims to be.
The driving forces behind these new ideas are not data, observation or truth, but a desire to explain everything in terms of either the laws of physics or chance. There is, in other words, a strong resistance to design and theism.
Contemporary science has adopted atheism as its working framework for understanding reality. Christians need to respond, not by opposing science, but by pointing out the need for science to be built on the solid foundation of theism.
Second, the design inference is still the most rational and satisfying way to understand the evidences of ‘fine tuning’ and, indeed, the fact that rational physical laws exist at all.
In Genesis 1 we read that God formed and filled the earth to be a fit place for man to inhabit. The God of the Bible is the Designer, and he has declared all things ‘very good’.
The Multiverse advocates must face the fact that they have no evidence for any other universe than our own. Their theories are untestable, because anything is possible within M-theory.
Rationalism has become a kind of drug for intellectuals – people have created a science-fiction world in order to explain away the evidences of design.
By contrast, Christians can rejoice that design is pervasive throughout the cosmos. It is built into the fabric of matter (‘fine tuning’ of the fundamental forces and particles). We can recognise it in our earth, a planet uniquely prepared for life, and in living things themselves, for all life-forms are brimming over with design features.
However, there are barriers to recognising design, for men are spiritually blind. The reality is that unless they believe in God, men cannot discern the wisdom by which he has made all things.
And that understanding, of course, only comes about when we bow before our Lord Jesus Christ (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1-3).
The author is a Member of the Institute of Physics and Secretary of the Biblical Creation Society.