Does the multiverse theory have scientific merit?

Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins seem very satisfied with the multiverse theory as an explanation for the universe. But for the multiverse theory to be a scientific hypothesis rather than metaphysical speculation, it seems one would have to articulate how these imaginary universes came into being. It avoids the question of material origins and multiplies the problem with billions of universes just to explain one. The only 'evidence’ they both present is that the multiverse theory is more probable than God,¬†which sounds more like an exercise of opinion than science.

Posted: February 17th 2011

George Locke

There are several different kinds of “multiverse theories” that we have to keep straight. Perhaps the most common multiverse theory is the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, which is one of a few popular ways of making sense of quantum mechanics. I don’t think that’s the one you’re thinking of, since it doesn’t seem to answer the question of where the universe came from.

Cyclic universe theories do account for the origin of matter. In a nutshell, the cyclic universe model says that universes arise spontaneously out of previous universes. The scientific details are interesting in themselves but not all that germane to our discussion.

The important thing is that the cyclic universe solves the “something from nothing” problem by attacking the premise that there was ever “nothing” to begin with. These theories assert that there is no beginning to account for.

Incidentally, you don’t need cosmology to demolish this line of apologetics. The apologist argument says that the universe can’t come from nothing, so there has to be something (call it “god”) to cause the universe. It’s the apologist who needs cosmology, since he claims that the universe came from nothing. This is superficially appealing, seems to jive with the big bang, but you can’t just assume it’s true because it helps your argument. If your argument relies on it, you have to prove it. Thus, the main apologetic significance of the cyclic universe theory is to show that the “no nothing” alternative is consistent with known physics. The atheist doesn’t have to prove that cyclic universe theory is true; the apologist arguing that God is required to solve a problem has to show that the cyclic universe theory cannot possibly solve the problem.

Yet another variety of multiverse theory is the string theory landscape. The essence of this idea is that the natural laws that govern our universe are not immutable, but fluctuate randomly. The time between fluctuations is typically extremely long, much longer than the age of the universe, and only certain kinds of natural laws are possible within the theory.

This hypothesis is occasionally invoked to solve the fine tuning problem. Some say that the various constants that determine natural law (e.g. Newton’s G and the fine-structure constant) appear to be hand-picked to support life. Again, a priori arguments are sufficient to show that this line of reasoning can’t prove the existence of God (see bitbutter’s response here), and the speculative physics just hammers it home. Any set of physical constants is accessible in the string theory landscape, so even if the particular constants we see are special, the theory predicts that a universe with these constants will appear if you wait long enough, so there’s no problem that you need God to solve.

While each of these theories is consistent with what we know of the world, we don’t know if any of them are likely due to a lack of evidence. These theories are falsifiable in principle, but we have no way to test them at the moment. We may never be able to test any of them, but if that’s the case it wouldn’t make the apologist’s job any easier.

I conclude by pointing out that each of these theories is a modest extension of well founded science while the God hypothesis conjures an immensely complex being out of thin air. Worse, the hypothesis is apparently inconsistent with known science – it disagrees with the second law of thermodynamics, it proposes that consciousness can exist outside of a body, it implies action at a distance in contradiction with special relativity, and on and on. So don’t start in with how none of these theories has a leg to stand on until you clear up your own problems.

Posted: May 25th 2011

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brian thomson www

The multiverse theory may go some way towards answering the fine-tuned universe question – the idea that this universe’s conditions are “just right” for life. The multiverse theory suggests that there may be other universes in which conditions are different, and therefore life in them would be different or non-existent. We just happen to be in one where life is possible, but that doesn’t make it special, since if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be here to wonder about it anyway (see the Anthropic Principle).

Posted: February 17th 2011

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Paula Kirby www

I have attended several events which had Richard Dawkins as the speaker and can assure you that, when asked about cosmological issues, he always stresses that he is not a physicist, that this is not his field, and that he is therefore not qualified to comment on the merits of one idea over another. To describe an idea as an interesting possibility is not to declare it definitively or even probably true. Your opening statement is therefore dubious at best, I’m afraid.

As for whether multiverse theory has scientific merit, you should ask some cosmologists, not a group of random atheists. Atheism does not depend on a multiverse.

Posted: February 17th 2011

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Reed Braden www

Neither of these scientists claimed to have empirical evidence for a multiverse. When the theory was briefly mentioned in Dawkins’ The God Delusion, and in the few times that is was discussed by Sagan, it was mentioned as an interesting possibility, but one for which we may never have evidence. It is highly unlikely that we shall ever have the technology to peer beyond our universe—indeed, to see into existence before the Big Bang, whatever that might be. So instead, we can only postulate what might be there.

The dishonesty of your argument is revealed in that you seem to be claiming their entire worldview falls apart if this one point is disproved… but neither scientist claimed to have proof. The only thing Sagan and Dawkins need to prove is the naturalistic origin of our own universe, not the structure (if any) that our universe reside in. And we’ve done that. There is no doubt in the informed mind that the Big Bang is by far the most likely explanation of the origins of the universe ever posited.

[Further reading: The Big Bang by Simon Singh gives a detailed, accessible, and thoroughly entertaining history of cosmology and the Big Bang theory and the scientists behind the observations that make the theory.]

Posted: February 17th 2011

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