It’s been suggested that theoretical physics could become the next battleground for believers. Most of the “battle” surrounds multiverse theory and whether or not the idea of untold possible realities undermines traditional biblical theology. Some have accused scientists of concocting the idea of a multiverse specifically “to avoid the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science.” Evangelical philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig has even called the idea an act of “desperation” on the part of atheist scientists.
In a recent article in Aeon magazine entitled Parallel Worlds, novelist Andrew Crumey explores the history of multiverse theory. The subtitle for his piece — If human history turns on the tilt of the multiverse, can we still trust our ideas of achievement, progress and morality? — reveals the implications such a theory would have upon a broad range of beliefs and advances. Theology is just one field forced to grapple with the possible ramifications of multiverse theory.
While some atheists have extrapolated mutiverse theory with the intent to undermine Christian cosmology, Crumey points out that not all believers saw the multiverse as antithetical to a biblical worldview
In the 17th century, the mathematician and philosopher Gottfried von Leibniz introduced a new kind of multiverse. He was intrigued by the way that so many natural processes appear ‘optimised’— soap bubbles minimise surface area by being spherical; light beams take the quickest route through space. Detecting the work of a divine hand, Leibniz proposed that the universe is optimised in every detail by God... that we live in the best of all possible worlds. Applying the theory to the problem of why evil exists, Leibniz gave it graphic form, as a pyramid, infinite and many-roomed, in each of which is a possible world. At the pyramid’s peak is the one true world we inhabit. Leibniz modelled the various possible lives of the notorious Sextus Tarquinius, speculating that in most rooms Sextus leads a virtuous life, but in the highest he rapes Lucretia and is banished. Why is that the best of possible worlds? Because his banishment leads to the founding of the Roman Republic: an evil act produces a greater good. Or, as optimists say nowadays when trying to come to terms with disaster, everything happens for a reason.
Unlike Democritus (who was an atheist), Leibniz insisted that the possible worlds exist purely in the mind of God, who selects one of them for true existence. Like a hologram, his universe is projected by God into every mind and made consistent by a ‘principle of harmony’. What makes it authentic is God’s benevolence: he wouldn’t play the nasty trick of making us believe in the reality of a false world. That scenario would be left for much later writers to contemplate, in darkly sinister films such as The Truman Show (1998) and The Matrix (1999). (bold mine)
If the human will is truly free, then the rape of Lucretia must be “possible.” As must the “possibility” that Sextus remains virtuous. Whether it is divine coercion or simply God’s foreknowledge of human events, the possibility for either must exist, if only in the mind of God.
So perhaps then multiverse theory is not as antithetical to theology as many suggest. Nathan Schneider, author of the recent release God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet, wrote in Seed magazine about “the growing credibility of multiverse theory” among Christian academies:
Among the scientists and theologians focused on the theological consequences of multiverse theory, many of them believe that it actually expands the job description for god. Last March, a conference on the theological implications of string theory and multiverse theory was held by the physics department of Wheaton, an evangelical Christian college in Illinois. Don Page, an evangelical and theoretical physicist at the University of Alberta, gave a presentation entitled “Does God Love the Multiverse?” (mp3 | PDF), explaining to a mostly religious audience how multiverse models arose out of key questions in particle physics, string theory, and cosmic inflation — not in order to avoid evidence of design in the cosmos. Page insists that undercutting one argument for god does not defeat the whole case for divine creation. “The multiverse is not an alternative to design by god,” he says. “God could have designed the whole thing.” (bold mine)
I read once about a church father who was asked, “Where was God before He created the universe?” to which the theologian replied, “He was in Himself.” As C.S. Lewis once suggested, rather than think of God as existing in the universe, it is more accurate to think of the universe as existing in God.
Thus, if there are other possible universes, they must exist in the mind of God.
It opens the door for fascinating philosophical and religious conjecture, and the idea that multiple possible universes may not be as hostile to traditional theology as once thought.
What do you think? How does multiverse theory mesh with biblical theology? Or can it?