So Many Universes!
Updated: May 15
“We have no reason to assume there aren’t many universes. Even if our particular universe is highly unlikely, the chance that we are one of many could be as high as 100 percent.”
- Victor Stenger
The idea that there might be other universes has been a topic of science fiction for quite some time but has only recently been embraced by scientists. Victor Stenger is one of them. He was a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii and a very vocal atheist. Stenger saw “no reason to assume there aren’t many universes.” This is a surprising statement from a scientist. After all, isn’t science supposed to be based on evidence rather than assumptions?
Are there other universes?
How many other universes are there? Based on the scientific evidence available, none. If there were any others, what are the chances another exists that supports life like ours? According to biologist Stephen Jay Gould, essentially zero. Given this, how many other universes would be required for even one like ours with fine-tuned laws that can support intelligent life to exist randomly? An almost infinite number. Wow.
Without evidence for other universes, why does Victor Stenger embrace the multiverse idea? It may be because he finds the alternative to be untenable. The alternative supported by evidence is that there is just one universe – ours. And, because the probability of our universe coming into existence and supporting life as it does randomly is essentially zero, it’s difficult to ignore the idea of an intelligent cause. That would open the door to the existence of God.
Does the multiverse idea make sense? Even beyond the obvious lack of evidence to support it, many scientists think it has a lot of problems. Here are just a few.
The infinity problem
If there are an infinite number of universes, why is our universe not infinite? What keeps it from being filled with infinite space, energy and matter? On the other hand, if there are a limited number of universes, what limits their number and the amount of space, matter and energy within them? In either case, it seems that some regulating agent is required.
Physical problems with the multiverse
Owen Gingerich, a Harvard University astronomy professor, explains that there have been two primary multiverse scenarios put forth.
1. Physically separate universes – The first scenario is that universes exist in “their own separate spaces, totally disconnected from each other.” The challenge with this idea is, since there would have to be an almost infinite number of universes for even one like ours to exist, wouldn’t at least one be crashing into ours? After all, we do see galaxies crashing into each other.
If it’s assumed that all of the nearly infinite number of universes follow the same set of laws with a built-in collision protection feature, what or whom was the source of the laws? Wouldn’t an intelligent source be required?
2. Cohabitating universes – To solve the crashing problem, the idea that universes with entirely different laws that “lie within the same space” was advanced. However the same problem exists. If an almost infinite number of universes exist with varying laws, wouldn’t some of them be similar enough to ours to be discernable and possibly even encroaching into our space?
Conceptual problems with the multiverse
If the physical problems of the multiverse aren’t enough, there are also conceptual problems. Michael Forrest, a professor at the University of Warwick in England, states that, if there are an infinite or near infinite number of universes with different attributes and laws, there might be at least one where living beings have the capability of creating other universes and life forms. That would essentially make them gods. This poses a problem for those who hold to atheism.
This would also mean there could be an almost infinite number of you – one tall, green, hairless, no nose, six arms and seventeen eyes. However, at least one version of you might be really handsome, good at math and a great golfer. (That would be nice.) The implications of the logical extremes of the multiverse are very strange indeed.
Are there more reasonable ideas?
Owen Gingerich doesn’t buy the multiverse idea. He see no evidence to support it. Given what he does observe – one intelligible universe that is fine-tuned, subject to laws and congenial to intelligent life – he concludes there was an intelligent originating cause. He calls that cause God.
John Polkinghorne holds doctorates in quantum field theory and elementary particle physics and was a professor at Cambridge University. As a scientist, he’s also not a fan of the multiverse idea. He calls it a guess.
“Such a prodigal suggestion is not science, since we have no knowledge of, or access to, any universe other than our own. The multiverse is a metaphysical guess.”
Instead, Polkinghorne also sees the structure, fine-tuning and intelligibility of the universe to be supportive of the idea of a creator. He sees this as more reasonable than the notion that we just happened to win the unobservable multiverse lottery and live in one that supports intelligent carbon-based life.
So where does this leave us?
Stephen Barr, a particle physics professor at the University of Delaware, sums up the discussion like this:
“It seems that to abolish one unobservable God, it takes an infinite number of unobservable substitutes.”
He makes a great point.
About Victor Stenger (1935-2014) - Victor Stenger earned a BS and a MS at the Newark College of Engineering (NJIT) and a PhD in physics at UCLA. He was a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii and then an adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado. He was also a prolific writer in support of atheism.
 Victor Stenger, The New Atheism, (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2009), 89.  John Polkinghorne and Nicholas Beale, Questions of Truth (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 13.  Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1999), 272.  John Lennox also points out that even if the multiverse concept was reality, it would not rule out God as its source. John Lennox, God and Stephen Hawking, (Oxford, England: Lion, 2011), 49.  Owen Gingerich, God’s Planet (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), 131.  Elizabeth Howell, Hubble Telescope Spots Two Galaxies in a Doomed (but Dazzling) Dance, space.com., August 18, 2019, https://www.space.com/colliding-galaxies-cosmic-dance-hubble-photo.html (The obvious question is, if finite galaxies collide in finite space, why would infinite universes not collide in infinite space?)  Owen Gingerich, God’s Planet, 132.  Michael Forrest, God is a Vacuum Fluctuation, Journal of Cosmology, (2015), Vol. 24, No. 27, pp 12363-12370.  Owen Gingerich, God’s Planet, 134, 152.  Polkinghorne was also the President of Queens College Cambridge from 1989 to 1996.  John Polkinghorne and Nicholas Beale, Questions of Truth (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 13.  IBID, 13.  Stephen Barr, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), 157. Copyright 2020 by Patrick Prill