BA: Hello, this is Brian Auten of Apologetics315. Today’s interview is with astrophysicist Jeff Zweerink. Jeff is a Research Scholar with Reasons to Believe in southern California, and serves part-time on the physics and astronomy research faculty at UCLA. He is author of Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse? And that’ll be the main topic of our interview today. We’ll be discussing the multiverse hypothesis and its implications for Christian theism. Thanks for joining me today, Jeff.
JZ: It’s good to be here Brian, I’m looking forward to the interview here.
BA: I appreciate you being with me. RTB and all of its resources have been a real blessings, through all your podcasts. I hope our listeners find our discussion helpful as well.
JZ: I would agree, and I’ve found, even before I came to RTB, I kind of found that same thing, it’s kind of a unique set of resources to help integrate both science and the Christian faith. So, I’ve found them useful in the past, that’s part of why I’m here on staff.
JZ: Sure, I got a PhD in Astrophysics, I graduated from Iowa State coming up on fifteen years ago, 1997 is when I graduated with my PhD. I grew up in a home where Christianity was just kind of an integral part of how we lived. My parents became Christians at a young age, and so it was just a very logical and reasonable thing to continue on in the Christian faith. I personally became a Christian when I was in the fifth grade, in an Awana Program that I was attending, the first time that I clearly understood what the gospel message was and responded to it that night and talked to my folks when I got home that evening, and they confirmed upon future discussions that I had an accurate understanding of the gospel and what Christ had done and was baptized later that year.
While the Christianity had been an important part of our family and of my life, my dad’s a PhD Chemist. And so, I had had a fascination with science for a long time too, and as I had gone through high school and eventually decided that I liked physics as the science that I liked the most, went in and got a Bachelor’s in Physics from Iowa State as well, and realized that there was a possibility of doing professional Christian work, or missionary work as a scientist as well, and so that’s kind of what attracted me to Reasons to Believe, is that their mission is to reach out to the scientific community with the gospel, and to be able to use the scientific evidence as a way to bring that message to a people who might not otherwise listen.
BA: That’s really interesting, and it makes me think about how some people look up at the starry heavens above if you will, and for them it’s a really strong evidence, almost self-evident, that the cosmos is a creation of God. But, others might look at it and think otherwise, we’re just this random collocation of atoms and a tiny spec of this vast expanse. So, I wonder what your view is of the cosmos, if you find it to be a powerful evidence in and of itself of the Creator?
JZ: I really do find it to be that. As I just look up in the sky, I love being out on a dark night, especially up at higher elevation where you can see lots of stars and it’s just amazing, just the clarity, the things you can see. You can even watch satellites going by. Just the beauty of creation, not only here on earth, but especially as we’ve developed telescopes to see what’s going on out in the heavens, to me argues very strongly that there is a creator who fashioned all this. Another aspect of why I find it fascinating is, the more I learn about it, the more I see how intricately put together and how well designed it is, and that this kind of reaffirms that there is a designer and a creator behind all of this. I think some will look at this and say, “Well, we can explain all of this without the need for a god.” So, therefore, while they look and see the splendor and beauty of creation, they think, “Okay, well we can explain this without appealing to a god, and therefore, we don’t need one.”
BA: I’m curious as well, what role do you think that natural theology plays overall in making a case for God’s existence?
JZ: I think it’s pretty important. Numerous places in the scripture the authors of scripture tell us to go out and look at the creation and how it reveals God’s glory, His power, His majesty, His might, and His care for us. It’s not that creation doesn’t reveal that, but some people choose to suppress the idea that it’s pointing toward God. That’s part of what’s being described there in the first chapter of Romans, it’s not that God’s power, and majesty, and might are not evident through creation, but it’s that some choose to reject that knowledge. And so, I think natural theology is just understanding the creation and the implications of this universe pointing towards God. To strengthen the case that can be made through that, because that is a part of the grace that God has extended to everybody, the common grace that everybody receives. And so, the more that we can develop that, the better.
BA: You mentioned there Jeff how as you look and learn more about the universe, it’s even a greater evidence for God. And I wonder, what particular evidences for design do you see, or do you find most compelling in the universe?
JZ: I think the things that I find most interesting or compelling about the universe is that how what we find as we study the universe correlates and corroborates how the bible describes the universe. Particularly, the bible describes the universe that has a beginning to it, and our best scientific evidence points to the universe having a beginning. Whether that beginning is the “big bang” itself, or whether there’s some multiverse that has a beginning, all of the scientific evidence does point to the universe not being past infinite, or having a beginning to it. We see a universe that is undergoing expansion, or God is stretching out the heavens. When we look at the scientific evidence, the universe is being stretched out, we see a universe that is governed by constant laws of physics, both from a biblical description, and as we look out, as we try and understand this cosmos. In fact, our general relativity, which is arguably one of the best tested and verified theories, explicitly builds into its framework the idea that the laws of physics are constant, and don’t depend upon your motion or location in any sort of way. So, this correlation between the biblical universe, and the physical universe that we study through science, is to me a very powerful evidence. Coupled in with that is, as we learn more and more about creation, what we see is that the universe could be different. I mean, we could imagine how we could have laws of physics that were different, either more or less laws of physics, or laws of physics that have different strengths. Or, even just dimensionality of space-time. You know, we kind of take for granted that we live in a universe that has three large spatial dimensions and one time dimension. But, when you begin tweaking any one of those things, very rapidly you end up with a universe that’s incapable of supporting physical life. And so, I don’t know that I can point to any one particular instance, or one particular example, but it’s kind of this cumulative and growing body of evidence that we live in a universe that matches the biblical description in its growth features – the beginning, an expansion, and constant laws of physics, and also a universe that appears designed for us to be here. Scientifically, it’s just a non-controversial statement to say that the universe appears designed to support life. Some would say, “We’re going to explain that design.” And that it’s just an apparent design, it’s not real design. But, the appearance of design is overwhelming.
BA: Those arguments you mentioned, some Christian apologists would be quite familiar with arguments from fine tuning, the need for a beginning, “a big banger,” if you will. You’ve probably heard a lot of different arguments working in apologetics yourself, and I’m wondering, are there certain arguments you would rather Christians avoid, and if so, why?
JZ: I think probably the single class of arguments we need to be very careful with are arguments where we try and formulate a probability-type argument. Because, especially in light of research over the past ten to fifteen years, we need to be careful how we formulate those probability arguments. Because, typically we see that we have to have the dark energy density must be what it is at one part in a hundred twenty, and because it’s that way, that just seems kind of “case closed” that you live in a designed universe. Well, with probabilities, you’ve got to formulate them properly, and especially in the context of the multiverse there’s some pretty good responses to that. But, I think more than rather than any single argument for or against, it’s just important that we understand how strong that argument really is, and in particular, would you be able to defend that argument in front of someone who knew as much science as you did, or rather, who was an expert in that field. And, if you could defend that argument in front of someone who is an expert in that field, then I think it’s a good argument. And so, it’s not just any particular argument that’s good or bad, but just making sure that we really do understand the strengths and weaknesses of any argument we use so that we don’t get caught off-guard saying something that makes Christianity look foolish.
BA: Well, that’s good advice. Now you mentioned there the multiverse. Many cosmologists and physicists refer to not just a universe, a term that used to mean “everything that’s out there,” but know, they’re referring to the possibility at least, of a multiverse, so some even speak of it as if it’s “case closed,” it’s kind of a thing that’s already settled, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to interview you today, Jeff, because you’ve written even a booklet about the multiverse entitled, Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse? I want to talk more about what you cover in that booklet, but first, a couple questions. When people talk about “the universe” today, what do they mean?
JZ: That’s a really good question, and that’s actually the first thing I address in the booklet, is just kind of defining what the universe is, and for the context of talking about a multiverse, the way you have to define the universe is this: When we look out into the heavens, we don’t see things how they are today, we see things how they were in the past. It’s simply because light has to take time to travel from that object to us. Most people are aware that it takes light a little bit over eight minutes to get from the sun to us, so if the sun were to immediately disappear from the universe right now, we would not know that by looking at the light until eight and a half minutes, because that light is still going to be propagating toward us. So, we’re seeing the sun as it was eight and a half minutes ago, eight to eight and a half minutes ago. Well, when we look out further, maybe the Andromeda Galaxy, we’re seeing it as was roughly two and a half million years ago. And as we go out to the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, and even further, we’re seeing things as they were upwards of thirteen plus billion years ago. In fact, the cosmic microwave background radiation that we use, that the COBE Satellite detected the ripples in, WMAP produced a beautiful map of, five or six years ago. We’re seeing that light as it appeared 13.7 billion years ago. And so, you see that the further out we look, or the further away we look, the further back in time we’re seeing. Because the universe is only 13.7 and a little billion years old, there’s a limit to how far out we can see. And, typically, when you’re having a multiverse-type discussion, when people refer to the universe, they’re referring to the limit of what we can see. And so, the radius of that limit right now is about fifty billion light years from us. But nonetheless, there’s a limit to how out far we can see, and we can define that as the observable universe, or a Hubble volume, are kind of some of the terms used for it, but that’s kind of the physical realm that we can actually measure and figure out what’s going on. And so, when I’m talking about the multiverse, the universe would be that observable universe.
BA: Okay, when we’re talking about the multiverse, what do we mean? Is this like a parallel universe, or there are an infinite number of these, or just lots of them?
JZ: Well, that’s another good question. Because, now that we’ve defined what the universe is, we can now…the multiverse is just simply the idea that there are physical realms beyond what we can see. And there are different kinds of multiverse that you could envision. I talked about the furthest limits we could see, given what we understand about our universe and how inflation works, and how it’s expanded. If we were to be instantaneously transported out from here to the edge of the observable universe, in all likelihood, we’re just going to see more of the same. And so, the first type of multiverse, or what people refer to as a “level one multiverse,” is simply the idea that space extends beyond what we can see, and it’s at least as large or larger than our observable universe. And so, you could imagine if you could step outside our observable universe, and look at this on a big picture scale, there’s some sphere that you could define as our observable universe, and if you could see the whole realm beyond that, you could just put a whole bunch of things the size of our observable universe in that realm. And so, that’s a level one multiverse. I find that idea very non-controversial, and I would speak of that as though it is already a done and settled issue.
Typically, when people are talking about the multiverse though, they’re talking about something a little different. There’s this space that exists beyond what we can see, it’s still essentially the same laws of physics, it doesn’t look any different than where we are here. The level two multiverse is actually arguing that there are other universes that might have different laws of physics, and different dimensionality, that are completely separate from our universe. So, if I could travel fast enough through our space, I would get to these level one multiverses. The level two multiverses are presumably so far away that I could never travel to them. And, even if I could, they would have such different laws of physics that I wouldn’t be able to interact with them. And again, that level two multiverse typically flows out of inflationary cosmology, where the way they understand it is that our universe formed as a bubble in this inflating realm, and there are other bubbles that are going to form. And so, the level two multiverse is kind of the most common that people talk about, and that’s this idea that there are other universes completely separate from ours that have different laws of physics, different sizes, different dimensionalities, just are completely separate from ours.
BA: Well, let me pause and interrupt you there to make sure I’m following you, and hopefully maybe it’ll also help our listeners, but when you’re talking about the level one multiverse, that idea, tell me if I’m gettin’ this right. In other words, if you were to be transported instantly to the edge of our current observable universe, then we would be able to see that it just keeps on going further, and there’s vastness beyond what we can currently observe. Is that sort of correct?
JZ: Yeah, you know, if you’re lookin’ for a good science fiction movie to base this off of, this is kind of a “Star Wars” type multiverse. You know, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away.” Presumably, this is so far away that it’s beyond what would ever interact with us, but yet it’s still kind of the same universe. It’s just different planets, different stars, that sort of stuff. But it’s largely the same…it appears essentially the same as our universe.
BA: Now, when we’re talking about a level two, here’s where maybe I’m getting a little fuzzy because sometimes people will say something like a “parallel universe,” and it kind of gives you the idea that this is simply another dimension kind of riding on top of our current space, like we just can’t observe it, but there’s another dimension there. But, you’re not talking about another dimension of our current universe, you’re talking about something so drastically distant from us that it’s just really far way that we can never interact with it. Is that correct?
JZ: A good approximation, yeah, I’m going to put a little caveat on that last statement, because it’s possible that these other bubble universes might run into ours, depending on how our model behalves. But, as a general rule, these other universes…what distinguishes the bubble universes, you can use the term “parallel universes,” but that does kind of have that implication you described, of just kind of more of the same of ours, or dimensions just outside ours. The significant feature of these bubble universes is that they’re completely separate, they have different laws of physics, different dimensionality, different concepts of physics, they’re really a different animal than our universe is. They look very differently, and if we were to be instantaneously transported into them, we would find that we wouldn’t be able to exist in all likelihood.
BA: Alright Jeff, you’ve talked about these level one and level twos, so I believe there’s four basic universe models. What are the other third and fourth?
JZ: The level three multiverse arises from a little bit of a different scientific principle, whereas the level one and level two really flow out of inflationary cosmology models where you’ve got these bubbles that are growing into universes and expanding very rapidly, those sorts of things. The level three multiverse actually arises from quantum mechanical ideas. And the issue with quantum mechanics is that the very nature of the way quantum mechanical interactions happen is that regardless of how well specified the initial conditions are, the outcomes can only be predicted in a probabilistic sense. Something can be either up or down, and you can only predict up or down with some degree of probability. That’s different from the classical way we think of things. And how the multiverse comes in, is some have argued that the interpretation or the reality behind that probabilistic nature is that rather than there being a single outcome that occurs, and that poses some dilemmas scientifically, that it means that things are non-unitary, I’ll put that terminology out there without really explaining it. There’s a reason to believe that the universe ought to be unitary, or that creation ought to be unitary. And the implication of that is that where you have these quantum mechanical events that have probabilistic outcomes, while we can predict them probabilistically, all of the outcomes actually happened. And so, we are only aware of a particular outcome, but there’s another realm where the other outcome occurred.
This really does kind of lend itself to this parallel universe type idea, so presumably, we’re kind of going along and there’s some quantum mechanical decision that’s made, and we now only become aware of this reality, but there’s another reality very similar to ours where the other outcome occurs. So this is the level three multiverse. This is the type of multiverse that Stephen Hawking is talking about in his book, The Grand Design. It arises from these quantum mechanical type processes. What’s interesting is if you’re able to step outside the whole multiverse even and look at it, the level three multiverse, and the level two multiverse look essentially identical on a large scale, even though the scientific basis for postulating them are very different. So, you’ve got the level one which is just there’s more space than we can see. You’ve got the level two which is there are different universes with different laws of physics. You’ve got the level three in which you’ve kind of got this quantum mechanical multiverse. And then the level four is just the collection of any other kind of way you might envision the multiverse. It’s kind of a catch all category at this point in time. So, that’s kind of the different types of multiverses that people talk about, and that’s a terminology first developed by a fellow who works at, I believe it’s Harvard, it’s either Harvard or MIT, I can’t remember which off the top of my head, a fellow named Max Tegmark. He just came up with that classification, but I think it’s a useful way to delineate what type of multiverse you’re talking about because they each a little bit of a different…different implications.
BA: So of these various models, which one is the most common?
JZ: I think most scientists would take the level one multiverse as basically a done deal. I would be very surprised to see that the level one multiverse doesn’t actually exist. Most people, when they’re talking about a multiverse, are generally referring to this level two multiverse. Although, like I said, Stephen Hawking, and people who tend to do particle physics are more likely to talk about the level three multiverse, just because of the quantum mechanical nature of it, and that’s typically what particle physics is dealing with is quantum mechanics.
BA: Alright, well, the question here then next is, how do astrophysicists actually come to the conclusion, or feel the need to postulate the existence of a multiverse? You mentioned some of the reasons on a quantum scale for the level three, but what if someone said to you, “Jeff, what’s the reason for this?” What do you point to?
JZ: Well, what I would point to, and part of why I am at the very minimum at least ambivalent to the existence of a level two multiverse, is that when we look out at our universe, what we see is that it’s expanding, it has this beginning to it, and it’s governed by general relativity, and as we look backwards in time, what we see is that there’s a strong and growing body of evidence that our universe underwent a period of very rapid inflation very early in its history. And, like I said, there’s a growing body of evidence that inflation did indeed occur. And, as we try and formulate a theory or a model of how this inflation works, the implications of the general class of models that are out there right now are that our universe is a bubble that formed in this inflating space. So, the given, or what exists, or what happened before our universe formed is there’s this inflating stuff, it’s called the “false vacuum,” and it’s nature is to expand very very rapidly. Occasionally, the energy of the false vacuum will decay away in a particular region and form a bubble that grows larger and larger over time where this inflationary expansion is decayed away to a more normal expansion. And the picture is that our universe is within one of those bubbles. That that’s really the only way to make this model work. Well, if you’ve ever watched a pot boil, granted it’s a little bit different physics there, but it would be really weird to have a pot boil and you just get this one bubble, you know you’re going to get lots of bubbles, and so inflation kind of works out the same way, that once inflation starts, that you’re going to get lots of these bubbles, and so there’s going to be lots of different universes out there, or multiverses as it’s referred to. And so that, coupled with some developments of string theory. The relevant aspect of string theory is that as we’re looking to unify the four fundamental laws of physics, what we see is that there are lots of different ways that a universe could look. Ours is not the only way it could look, and so there’s a whole plethora of different ways that a universe could look -- different laws of physics, different dimensionality, different physical constants, and so, you’ve got inflation that produces all these different bubble universes, and you’ve got string theory which says, “Okay, all of these different universes are likely to have different laws of physics.” And so, that’s kind of the experimental, or the theoretical scientific basis for proposing the multiverse. It really kind of flows that if you’re going to say, “Inflation occurred, and our understanding of inflation is relatively correct,” then a logical outworking of that is you have this level two multiverse.
BA: Alright, sometimes people object to the multiverse for various reasons, but could someone object to there being a multiverse as simply, “Hey, this isn’t an idea that’s unfalsifiable. That you know, there’s really no way to prove this wrong.”
JZ: That’s a common objection, and it’s a common objection even among scientists who are working on this. You know, the things I’ve described are kind of theoretical ideas which the mathematics works out well, and there’s kind of an elegance to them, but the history of science is littered with ideas that were mathematically elegant that turned out to be incorrect. And so, what really helps you keep your feet to the rubber is to make sure you have some way of testing and falsifying the idea. And so, people who’re working in multiverse research have worked really hard at asking, “How could we falsify this?” And it turns out there are some measurements we can make in our universe that can make it unfalsifiable. In fact, earlier this month, I did a Science News Flash podcast that talked about a research paper published in a physical review journal, one in the Physical Review Letters, one in Physical Review D that was looking at the cosmic microwave background radiation to see if we find evidence of another one of these bubble universes colliding with ours. And so, if we were to find evidence of a universe colliding with ours, then that would be a confirmation that we live in such and such a multiverse. If we looked and looked and looked, and never found a bubble universe that was colliding with ours, that wouldn’t necessarily falsify the multiverse idea, but it certainly is a way to validate and confirm that such bubble universes do exist. And so, the point that I’m trying to make is that scientists are working very hard to ask the question, “What measurements can we make that either would affirm or tend to invalidate or falsify the multiverse idea?” They’re working hard at that, some are stronger than others, it’s not where it needs to be, but I would kinda point out, even when Einstein proposed general relativity, it wasn’t falsifiable by no means at the time. I mean, it was decades later before we even had the tools to really think about how to falsify or verify it. And so, let’s realize that the multiverse is in what I term the “scientifically speculative category,” but let’s also give it time to develop and see if we can develop those tests that would allow us to falsify or validate the multiverse idea. And scientists are working pretty hard at doing just that, so they take that charge of being unfalsifiable seriously, and are saying, “Okay, what can we do to address this concern?” And, they’ve done a lot of work, but there’s still much to be done.
BA: Well, again, you’ve written this booklet called, Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse? And in a few minutes I’m going to ask you whether or not I should be afraid. But first, another objection that someone might hear regarding the multiverse would be along the lines of Occum’s Razor, basically this principle that roughly says that you should generally prefer a simpler theory over one that makes a greater number of assumptions. So, they might say something like, “Well, doesn’t postulating an infinite number of universes, isn’t that a bit of overkill?” And I wonder where scientists would stand on that, do they really say there’s an infinite number of them or if there’s just many of them?
JZ: That’s again another good point, and I would point this out with Occum’s Razor, it’s typically thought, “Okay, we’re going to look for the simplest explanation and leave it at that.” But, there is a very important caveat, is that you’ve got to find the simplest explanation that explains everything we see. And so, simply because an explanation may have a degree of complexity, that complexity may be required to explain all that we see in the universe. Now, that’s one comment I would make. But, the responses I’ve heard to such charges of you know, “Okay, postulating an infinite number of, just kind of adding assumptions or that Occum’s Razor would just kind of eliminate that,” is, you also have to be careful how you define “simpler.” Because, for example, if I were to want to define integers, if I want to specify a single integer, there’s actually a fair bit of work I have to do, or I have to specify rules to say that this is the specific integer I want. Whereas, it’s very easy, a very simple set of rules that specify how to generate every integer. And so, if I want to specify how to generate the integer 10, I have to add in two or three rules. Whereas, if I want to specify how to generate every integer, it’s only one or two rules. And so, the set of rules to specify all integers, is simpler than the set of rules to specify a given integer. And you can see how that kind of applies to a multiverse idea. Is that, what people are arguing, is that it’s simpler to specify how to generate every possible universe, than it is to specify how to generate a universe like ours. And so, while it’s important to keep in mind that we’re not just adding things on unnecessarily, I don’t know that Occum’s Razor is a good way of saying, “Okay, this multiverse thing is just a thing not to be doing.” I think that it’s a rule of thumb that helps us ferret out what are the best explanations, but I don’t know that it’s a way of saying, “Okay, we ought to rule the multiverse out because it’s too complex.” I think there’s ways that you can make an argument that it’s actually the simpler way of doing things, and I know people who have done that. So, again, it’s kinda just be careful that we’re not trying to use this as kind of the silver bullet that will kill some multiverse model.
BA: Sure. Well, I’ve mentioned a couple times your book, Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse? So, tell me what your goal is in that book and here’s the question, “Should Christians be afraid of the multiverse?”
JZ: The title is kind of particularly provocative like that, because my experience has been even I found this in myself and I talk with Christians about the multiverse, the idea that, well, if there’s just all these universes out there, then God isn’t really necessary. That all of our arguments for design, and our argument for the beginning are just going to disappear, and God becomes unnecessary. And so, as Christians we need to be afraid of it. And that was really how I approached it when I first began looking into the idea of a multiverse. And as I studied more, what I realized is that one, there’s some good scientific reasons for postulating the multiverse, but the problem is that we don’t have a way of testing whether the multiverse is there or not. So, I began to take a little bit of a different approach and say, “Okay, let’s just for kicks say the multiverse does exist. Does this fit more comfortably within a theistic worldview, or an atheistic worldview?” Or another way of saying this is, “Does the multiverse help the naturalist in his case of arguing there is no god, or does the multiverse help the Christian in arguing for his case that there is a god?” And what I’ve identified is that if you’re going to, as a naturalist, argue that the multiverse helps you remove the need for a god, well then, what you have to do is, there are a number of requirements, and I outline five, and I’ll just kind of highlight a couple of them here.
One, in the multiverse, there must be no beginning, because if the physical realm has a beginning, that implies that there is a beginner that exists or transcends the creation. There must be no design in the multiverse, because if you have design in the multiverse, then again, that implies a designer. And for the multiverse to help the naturalist, life also must be completely physical. And that’s a strong assumption made by most naturalists. But, if there’s anything about life, particularly humanity that is non-physical, like a spirit, then no amount of re-arranging and having all of this physical matter at your disposal is going to explain how humanity’s here. So, life must be completely physical in order for the multiverse to help the naturalist. Well then, I go in and I ask the question specifically, “Okay, does the multiverse indicate that there’s a beginning, or does it remove the need for a beginner?” And each of the different levels of multiverse kind of address this in a different fashion, but the conclusion I come away with, or highlight, is that even if a multiverse exists, any multiverse that seems consistent with our universe appears also to have a beginning. And so, by doing research into the multiverse, it actually strengthens the case that there’s a beginning, and if there’s a beginning, there’s a beginner. And so, it strengthens the cosmological argument for God’s existence. Similarly, when you look at design, obviously postulating a vast realm of other stuff out there has a significant impact on how you develop probability type arguments. But, you can ask the question, “Does a multiverse, still exhibit design, or does our existence in the multiverse require design?” And, while the nature of that question changes, or how you answer that question changes, whether you’re dealing with a multiverse or not, ultimately, you end up with a teleological argument or argument for design, even in the context of a multiverse. And so, what I argue is that the multiverse research has actually made the cosmological and teleological arguments, or the argument for a beginner and the argument for a designer, more robust and stronger. And so, that this actually fits more comfortably in a theistic worldview than it does in an atheistic worldview, or a strictly naturalistic worldview. And so, I would argue that the Christian doesn’t have anything to fear from the multiverse. It does require us to think correctly, and make sure our theology of how we interact with the created realm is good. But, whether the multiverse exists or not, it still makes the case for a god, a creator, and a designer even stronger. So, I think the naturalist really has more to worry about with the multiverse than a Christian does.
BA: Would you say that really the question of the multiverse is a question more about the nature of the created realm, but it doesn’t really change anything for the arguments for Christian theism, because you still need all of the same things on a multiverse description of reality as you do with a non-multiverse?
JZ: I would say so, yes. But, one of the hopes that the naturalist, or the atheist had as they began looking at the multiverse, was this idea that while our universe began in a big bang, maybe the multiverse didn’t have a beginning, that it was simply just self-existent. You know, very similar to how we argue that God doesn’t require a beginning because He’s self-existent, or, God doesn’t have a beginning because He’s self-existent. And so, the hope was that maybe just the universe was past eternal, and that therefore, all the evidence for a beginning that we see in our universe is really not that compelling. Well again, as people begin to investigate the multiverse and ask this question of does the multiverse get rid of the need for a beginning? What they found was even on more general grounds you can now argue that the multiverse had a beginning. And so, it makes the take a little more nuanced, so instead of arguing big bang cosmology, you have to argue it in a little be more of a broader context, and have a little more subtlety and nuance to it. But, it makes the argument for a beginning even stronger. And so, whereas the naturalist, the strict naturalist, would hope that the multiverse would solve the problem, really it just pushed it back one step and actually made the problem again from a naturalist perspective even stronger, that the case for a beginner and a designer grew even stronger in the context of a multiverse than when compared to just looking at a single universe.
BA: Well Jeff, I wonder how you’d respond to those who might say that the existence of a multiverse pretty much does away with the fine tuning argument for the universe. For instance, atheists might say, or they might prefer to embrace the multiverse for the reason that the fine tuning for life isn’t surprising after all if you have this infinite number of universes, every possibility will become actualized. So, does a multiverse hypothesis pose a threat to an argument for a fine tuner?
JZ: Well, it poses an argument, or poses a threat, to the way those arguments are traditionally formulated, but there’s two comments I would make. One addressing specifically whether we see design in a multiverse, and how you evaluate that. But also pointing out that that sort of argument or reasoning is a double-edged sword for the scientist, because, if we’re arguing that, “Okay, we see that life is incredibly rare on earth, that the probabilities are small, but given enough space and volume, it’s just going to happen.” And you postulate this kind of infinitude of infinitely large universes, then what ends up happening is that every possible thing that can happen does happen. Now, how science operates in practice, is that there are certain things that are small enough probability that we just don’t have to worry about them. Well, now you’ve eliminated that practical outworking of how science operates, so we can no longer argue which is the most probable or which is the most likely, or even if we could, we can’t say that that’s what’s happening here, because anything that can happen in the multiverse does happen. And so, if you’re arguing that the chance occurrence of humanity arising on a planet, though incredibly small, just happens because everything happens, that poses a significant problem for the functioning of science.
Now, addressing the specific question of whether just adding all this stuff really removes the argument from design, and again, you have to address the question, or instead of talking about how rare humanity appears, if the naturalist is correct, that there’s all this infinitude of universes which are very large, and life is purely physical, then life abounds throughout the multiverse. And that’s a thing that is not often appreciated by people who just say, “Okay, the multiverse is so big that we’re bound to happen.” Because, if life abounds in the multiverse, there are different ways you can formulate life, and I address these in my multiverse booklet. But, you can get life by having this kind of evolutionary process that scientists will talk about, but you can also get life developing multiple brains, or, you can get life by advanced civilizations running simulations. And so, the very nature of how our life looks, and whether it’s typical of all the different kinds of life that can exist in the multiverse, is where the design argument arises. And so, rather than asking, “How do you explain our rareness?” Which is what you do in a context of a single universe, you ask the question, “How typical are we of all the life that ought to exist in the multiverse?” And it turns out that the best we can count it at this point in time, it seems like we’re very atypical. And things that are atypical are evidence of design. Now, my suspicion is as most people who are listening to that for the first time say, “Okay, well that doesn’t seem like a very strong argument.” But, again, that’s because we’re so used to thinking of things in the context of a small sample size of just our universe. But the atypicality argument of asking whether human life is typical or not is actually a pretty strong argument for design. And, it’s the way you have to formulate it in the context of a multiverse. And so, just the same way the multiverse strengthens the cosmological argument, it also strengthens the teleological argument, the argument from design. But again, without spending a lot of time here, it’s hard to get into some of those details, and so, I would refer you to my booklet or some of the articles I’ve written on our website to get into some of the more details there.
BA: Yeah, we will do that. Now Jeff, you’re interacting with this sort of material practically on a daily basis, but the layman who may be listening, and they’ve made it this far, they may be well acquainted with a fraction of the terminology, and you mentioned there how it’s going to take a long time to explain a lot of these ideas to bring someone to a good understanding, to kind of get their mind around it. So, my question is this – if someone comes up to you, Jeff, and they come up to you and say, “Hey, I just watched this thing on the Discovery Channel, and they say that we live in this multiverse and this basically eliminates the need for God.” What do you tell your friend, when you just have a brief few minutes and you don’t have time to explain all the terminology. What sort of a “nutshell” idea that would you want to put their way?
JZ: I would say this, especially when I talk with other Christians. What my general encouragement in all of this, whether we’re talking about multiverses, or extra-solar planets, or global warming, or whatever the latest hot scientific topic is, is basically to encourage them, “Okay, what does the bible say about this?” We often have thoughts that the bible says this or that about certain things that are not actually in the bible. And, I would make an argument, and the thing I would point out, is the bible is largely silent on whether there is the existence of a multiverse or not. And so, the question is not, “Does the multiverse destroy God?” It’s, “Okay, what do we know about this, what do we know that God says did happen?” And that will help us spot where people are making false arguments. It’s kind of the principle of, if you, the argument that’s typically used of bank tellers. You don’t train them in how to spot all the counterfeits, it’s that you get them so familiar with dollar bills, that when they feel a counterfeit, they know it’s counterfeit. Even if they may not know why. And then, when the counterfeit comes up, they could say, “Okay, I could go figure out why this is counterfeit.”
And so, in discussions, make sure you understand your scriptures well enough and study it so you know what the bible does and doesn’t say about creation, the beginning, about who God is, about how He interacts with creation, so that when scientific stuff comes up, you can spot what is really a threat to Christianity and what isn’t. And, why that’s helpful is that it helps you identify where to have that discussion with the person you’re dialoging with. I don’t really have a whole great discussion on whether the multiverse exists or not. My questions are, “Okay, if the multiverse exists, does that change whether we need a god or not?” That’s a very different line of conversation than having to get into whether inflation is true or not, or how quantum mechanics is interpreted. We can actually talk (about), “Okay, what’s necessary for the multiverse to get rid of the need for a god?” Well, it means to not have a “beginner,” but my understanding of how the research plays out is that there is a beginning even in the multiverse. And so, you get to where you can use the research that’s out there as you need it, but more importantly, you’re aware of the topic to engage in a dialog with the person you’re talking. Because most of the time, they have about as much scientific knowledge as you do. And so, you can get bogged down in the scientific details, but really, I think what influences how a lot of people interpret this is their worldview. And so, if you can help encourage them to see how a Christian worldview fits with whatever topic you’re discussing, then I think that’s where you’re going to have some fruitful dialog.
BA: That’s good. Now, I want to shift gears just for a moment, away from the multiverse, and but staying on the topic of speaking with others, I want to ask what your advice is for say Christian apologists who are interacting with non-believers regularly, and I want to ask you how can they be better informed of the latest science on these sorts of topics? I’ll of course point them to your podcast, but how would you encourage people to stay abreast of this sort of information?
JZ: What I would encourage them to do is to find a set of resources that allow them to stay current. One of the things that I regularly read is a website called Science Daily. There’s just a whole lot of stuff, these are kind of the scientific discoveries that seem to be of interest. They’re kind of more popular level articles than technical articles, but they have references to all the technical stuff, so you can track that down if you want. The important thing though, is being aware of the audience you’re dealing with. And so, what I stay informed of are apologetic issues related to science and physics, and how the earth works, and astronomy/cosmology, those sorts of things, because those are the people that I am going to regularly interact with. If you’re interacting with a whole bunch of biologists, or people who are in the life sciences, you’re going to have a different realm of science that you’re going to need to have access to. And so, pay attention to the people you’re interacting with. Where are they getting their new from? Where are they getting this information from? And pay attention to those sources, listen to those sources, read those sources, so you’re aware of the information they have. Critical in all of this is just knowing what the bible has to say. There’s a whole lot of unfruitful arguments we can engage in because we’re just not aware of what the bible has to say about a certain topic. And then, once you’ve become aware of who you’re dialoging with, where they’re getting their information, and what information they’re getting, and once you’ve increased your knowledge of scripture so you know what’s taking about there, you just have to go out and find a resource that has the expertise to help you to understand what’s going on in that discipline. Sometimes you might be able to get access to the journals and read them. Sometimes, you may have to go find a scientist who’s a friend, or who’s at the local university. But just finding a resource to elevate your level of science, up to the level of the people you’re talking with. And so, there’s no magic bullet I can give you unfortunately where if you come here and read our website you’re going to be completely equipped for everything you need. It’s really developing relationships with the people you’re around, and as you do that, it will be more and more obvious what you need to do, what you need to study, and then once you figure out what you need to study, how to get that information generally is not too awfully difficult to figure out. I mean it may be difficult to understand the information, but where to go to get that understanding generally falls into place.
BA: Are there particular authors or books that you’d want to direct people to that would help them in studying in particular scientific apologetics?
JZ: Yeah, I know we’ve developed quite a few resources here at Reasons to Believe. One scientist who I find very engaging to read, even though he’s not a Christian, I believe he puts himself in the skeptic category, is a fellow named Paul Davies. He just does a very good job of explaining what are the relevant issues. And even from an apologetics perspective of how this influences whether God exists or not and he just has a very balanced and articulate way of describing those things. I like reading what he has to say. I would say rather than particular authors, typical it’s find the field that you’re engaging in, and find resources in that field. There’s no particular set of books or apologetics. I mean, there’s a wealth of people out there who have good resources. It’s just going to vary depending upon what field you’re in.
BA: Well, do you have any other projects you’re working on with RTB that we should be looking out for?
JZ: One of the biggest projects I’m working on is just developing a response, an outline of what’s going on in finding extra-solar planets. And again, this kind of impacts the area of, you know if we find other planets are we going to find life, and if we find life what does that have to say, and again, it’s just one of those places where I suspect Christians, and again based on my own personal history, have this perception that the more planets we find, the more that’s going to show that God really isn’t who He says He is. Just how to help people understand what we’re finding with planets, what are the big issues there, what are the big questions that people are asking and what we’re expecting to find, and how do we think about this within a Christian worldview. So that’s just the next big project I’m working on.
BA: Well good, I’ll point our listeners to reasons.org for more from Reason to Believe. Well Jeff, it’s been a fascinating interview, and I really appreciate all you’ve done with your resources, and especially RTBs podcasts, and thanks for taking the time to do this interview.
JZ: Well I appreciate the opportunity, again it’s been a lot of fun.