It is now a reasonably well acknowledged facti that our Universeii is “finely-tuned” for life. In other words, small differences in its fundamental laws and their numerical constants and initial conditions would mean that, not only “life as we know it”, but any form of physical life would be impossible. This is because the kinds of natural parameters and structures friendly to life (“biophilic”) are very particular. Long-term physical life requires concentrations of energy extracted from the surroundings combined with deep local drops in entropyiii, multiple and diverse interacting components operating as one integrated whole, and an environment which is sufficiently stable to permit time for growth or development but sufficiently “flexible” or non-constrained to allow non-repetitive, non-uniform arrangements of matter to exist. We need an interplay of stability with spatio-temporal complexity, of overarching order with potential for great variability. Complex instability or simple stabilityiv are easier to achieve and thus the natural expectations a priori. For example, small variations from the constantsv that determine our Universe's properties would have meant nothing existed but a fairly uniform bath of radiation without matter or no elements except Hydrogen and Helium, or even a short-lived universe that only had time to “explode” and soon after collapse gravitationally.
Given that such “fine-tuning” is present, there are different inferences which can be made from this evidence. One is obviously the theist one which posits a supernatural and intelligent cause, God, who deliberately created Nature to be biophilic and, in particular, capable of producing &/or supporting intelligent life such as our own by “rigging” its laws and their constants. Then the suitability of the Universe for life is seen as due to the intention of God to create life and intelligence outside Himself, in the same way as the general and elegant mathematical ordering of the Universe is seen as due to the intention of God to create beauty and harmony outside Himself. The extraordinarily low probability of the biophilicity of Nature due to mere chance is also seen as evidence for the existence of such a God.
A second possible inference is that we are just extremely lucky and this biophilicity is a fluke, there being no need for a supernatural cause. However, given that calculations of the odds of biophilicity produce unimaginably small numbers, sometimes even when limiting consideration only to one “perfect” parameter at a time — numbers that are less than one in x, where x is much larger than the number of subatomic particles in the known universe (!) — atheists are becoming less inclined to pick this option. Instead, another two options are put forward, sometimes separately, sometimes together.
A third reaction notes that since we have not yet discovered the TOE (Theory of Everything), it may be that when we do so, the TOE actually sets the various constants or boundary conditions of nature at particular levels or within tightly constrained ranges. In this case, it is argued, the assumption that they could have taken on a much larger range of non-biophilic values is falsified and the previously calculated low probabilities become worthless. The problem with this is that even if it is true, it only moves the problem up one level, posing the question now as to why the TOE is so constructed that it automatically generates just the right numbers for life. Indeed, this whole escape route ignores the fact that it is the fundamental laws themselves that are already mysteriously biophilic, quite independently of the constants. Sometimes it is then argued that the TOE will be a mathematically “necessary” theory, as if a priori scientific or theoretical considerations can somehow rule out all or most other mathematically self-consistent alternatives. But this is clearly nonsense, since there are no mathematical reasons to exclude any self-consistent mathematical model, of which there are an infinite number, and there can be no empirical reasons either, since these are by definition a posteriori and thus irrelevant to any comparison with possible alternative universes. Given that on normal atheistic assumptions only mathematical and empirical propositions have any validity (following Hume and the later “logical positivists”), this leaves no room for justifying the “necessity” of a biophilic TOE.
The fourth possible inference, and a more apparently reasonable escape route from a theistic explanation, is to note that a number of plausible TOEs (albeit incomplete ones, as all are) are most naturally interpreted as predicting multiple universes, each varying somewhat from the others, and normally an infinite number. In the latter case the smallness of odds with regard to particular biophilic combinations of constants and boundary conditions is irrelevant, since no matter how unlikely these combinations, as long as they are not strictly impossible they are certain to occur and occur infinitely often. Given that, in such a situation, only biophilic universes (which are then inevitable) could possess rational living beings asking why their particular universe was biophilic, “observer selection” is said to answer their question: in other words, the reason our universe is biophilic is that it is a lucky exception to the norm made 100% probable by infinite “trials”, and we wouldn't exist to ask the question unless we were in such a universe. The attentive reader will perhaps have noticed already that such a response to the evidence still does not deal with why the fundamental mathematical “shape” of the TOE allows for any biophilic universes within its ensemble and then makes them inevitable by intrinsically infinite fecundity. Neither quality is by any means a necessary consequence of every possible TOE. Although the number of theoretically possible mathematical equations that could describe a TOE is incalculably or indefinably infinite, as is the number within that set that would be biophilic, such that normal probability measures are useless, the extreme sensitivity of biophilicity to small (structural or numerical) variations from our actually operative TOE along with the requirements considered in the first paragraph above are sufficient to indicate that no scientific “multiverse” theory can make biophilicity a priori anything but highly improbable. In other words, one aspect of the “unlikelyhood” of biophilicity has been dealt with, but the most fundamental aspect has been ignored, leaving the evidence for design intact.vi
Unfortunately, not only have atheists incorrectly seen multiverse models as a way of undermining evidence for the biophilic design of Nature, but a number of Christians have agreed with them and reacted in a knee-jerk and dogmatically negative fashion to multiverse theories. So have some non-religious scientists and philosophers for various reasons. What I aim to do in this essay is to examine the objections and show that none of them shows multiverse theories are either irrational and unscientific or theologically “threatening” and inadmissable. However, this is far from showing they are true. As yet there is no clear empirical evidence for or against any multiverse theory.
I have so far ignored the most outlandish multiverse alternatives to the theistic explanation for fine tuning. I will deal with them briefly here.
One is the Everett “many-worlds” interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (QM), which relates closely to the “environmental decoherence” interpretation at its most persuasive. It “solves” the mystery of why the infinite and continuous set of possible solutions to QM wave equations governing matter collapse to discrete and particular actual observed events by claiming that every possible solution is in fact made actual in a distinct version of our Universe. This theory has a number of problems, including the fact that it would seem, contrary to claims commonly made on its behalf, it cannot explain without begging the question why we are never conscious of weird superpositions of what we know from experience to be mutually incompatible events. For example, there is nothing in its mathematics that prevents us from seeing the famous Schrodinger's Cat as a mixture of the Dead and Alive state!
Another multiverse theory, that of Lee Smolin, posits that each black hole can create a new universe with somewhat different physical parameters from its source universe. Thus, since universes which encourage black hole formation will “reproduce” more, and do so with (limited) random variation in their laws and constants from generation to generation, a process analogous to biological evolution will ensure an infinite number of universes rather like ours will exist with every combination of physical parameters, and so biophilic universes become inevitable. However, this theory still needs an overarching TOE that is biophilic, and so does not really solve the problem. Also, there is no evidence that black holes can produce new universes at all, let alone of the right type, and entropy considerations would imply that anything they did produce would have very different and biophilically inferior initial configurations to our own universe.
Finally, there are the astonishing theories of Tegmark and Lewis, which can be placed in the category of “modal realism”. The former, a scientist, suggests that all possible mathematical structures for the TOE are instantiated in some universe or multiverse. The latter, a philosopher, goes broader still and says all possible universes exist, without requiring a mathematical underpinning. Such propositions are a “solution” to the fundamental problem of necessity and contingency: why does this “state of affairs” obtain and not another one just as possible on a priori principles? Their answer is that no answer to this question is possible, so the question must have a false assumption: that is, it falsely assumes all the other contingencies do not in fact exist in reality. By thus collapsing the contingent and the necessary into one infinite category where all that is possible, is, they have taken the opposite path to Leibniz, who solved the aforementioned problem by saying that this Universe must be the best of all possible Universes, so God “had” to choose to create this one if He created at all, in order to be consistent with His perfect nature. Ironically, such modal realists appeal to Occam's Razor, the principle that the explanation that multiplies causal entities the most is the least likely to be true! They do this by arguing that, although their theories infer the existence of infinitely many unobservable Universes (or Multiverses), they rely on a singularly simple ontological premise, “all that could possibly exist does exist” and do not then need to complicate things by adding further premises or reasons which would limit reality to a very particular configuration with very particular properties and laws. The problems with this scenario, apart from offending against common-sense, are as follows. First, it completely ignores the ontologically and logically prior problem of why anything exists at all rather than nothing. So, its appearance of explaining why things exist in particular ways is an illusion, as it explains the existence per se of nothing whatever, instead asking us to accept multifarious, complex existence as a brute fact and then taking the easy route to explain why existent entities have certain essences or natures: they are this way because it is possible to be this way, and every way it is possible to exist does in fact exist. Second, without a supervening and particular law of reality, there is no way of determining what is “possible” and what is not, so we still end up with some separate, singular and contingent TOE-like principle which requires explanation of both its existence and its “potency”, that is, the reason it necessitates the existence of other things. In other words, extreme modal realism doesn't really solve the problem of contingency at all. Third, such ontological promiscuity includes an infinite number of universes almost exactly like our own except that their physical behaviour must diverge radically from ours at some point in time. This could be due to a constant that obeys something like a weird and extreme (but mathematically possible) function, such as x = x0 + e1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000(t-t0), where x0 is the “normal” value and t0 is the time at which it “takes off” absurdly. Or, if non-mathematically consistent possibilities are allowed, it could be due to pixies with a weird sense of humour making the Universe appear to follow mathematical laws until they decide to pull the rug from under our comfortable scientific sensibilities. After all, what is logically impossible about the latter? However, what this means is that our appeal to inductive reasoning, which generalises laws from consistent observations over time and is essential to science, would be seemingly unjustifiable rationally, since we would have no reason to think we do not inhabit one of these many “crazy” universes. And yet, inductive scientific reasoning works. Therefore, I think we can safely ignore these kinds of multiverse theories too.
Instead, I am here addressing Multiverse theories that are genuinely plausible and based on a single, overarching mathematical TOE as yet to be determined, in order to show they are compatible with Christian theism. It is not my intent to describe or analyse their specific physics, but to look at their significance metaphysically and theologically.
There are two main philosophical objections to Multiverse theories. Neither is sufficient to dismiss them out of hand.
First, it is claimed that they offend against Occam's Razor, since they posit a multitude of unobservable universes in order to explain the special properties of this one, thus multiplying entities in an explanation, rather than choosing the explanation with the fewest causes or elements. Further, many theists say, one universe fine-tuned by One God is manifestly simpler and thus to be preferred. However, there are different aspects of “simplicity”. Many TOEs naturally imply a multiverse, and could only be restricted to predicting one universe by a combination of fine-tuning a number of parameters and making extra mathematical assumptions. In other words, a multiverse's TOE would tend to require fewer specifics and additional assumptions than a single-universe TOE. Therefore, the universe is “simpler” in one way (number of physical entities), the multiverse in another (number of mathematical specifications).vii Also, the fine-tuning or “rigging” of the TOE's Meta-Law to lead inexorably to life and rational sentients such as ourselves (in one or more universes), along with the actual existence of a material reality described by this TOE, still point to a supernatural cause, since there can be no scientific explanation of “why this TOE?” or “why anything at all?”viii
Second, it is claimed that these theories are intrinsically unscientific because they are empirically unverifiable/untestable (since the other universes cannot generally be observed even in principle) and non-falsifiable. But this claim has two problems. One, empirical evidence for a certain kind of TOE (e.g., M-brane theory) would provide implicit evidence for a multiverse. Two, it is not unreasonable for considerations of mathematical elegance to be considered somewhat dispositive. They can be compelling even without direct evidence at first, at least as held tentatively, if the associated theories unify many of Nature's Laws and do not contradict what is empirically known. For example, General Relativity waited decades for really convincing and definitive confirmation (and in fact an incredibly complex and well-engineered satellite experiment was recently completed to try to finish this offix), but in the meantime explained much of the “big picture” and was fruitful in leading to the Big Bang cosmology.
There are three main theological and biblical objections to Multiverse theories. First, that they are no more than a sinfully motivated attempt to undermine the evidence for design, and would in fact do so if true, so cannot be true. I hope enough has been said above to lay this one to rest. Second, they would make God an unskillful, profligate, inefficient, “trial-and error” designer, and so must be false. Third, they are unbiblical, that is, either opposed to or not even hinted at by the Scriptures, and so must be false. I contend that the two last objections, like the first, are based on false premises and misreading of the evidence. I will now expand upon this in a Q & A format.
Wouldn't a created Multiverse reveal an incompetent and wasteful Creator, when most of the Cosmos would be devoid of life, and perhaps much more (as a proportion) devoid of intelligent life? But how much of the Cosmos being non-biophilic is “too much”? Even in our single known Universe we have to deal with this problem. Most making this argument against the Multiverse believe we are the only biological species of persons. Which means they already accept unimaginably vast tracts of space with countless galaxies of stars and planets and nebulae and dark matter, all of it but our home lifeless, if they are right. So, the problem of “waste” is there already. But what is waste in this context? Anything not alive? Hardly, according to Scripture, which affirms the goodness of inanimate matter from God's perspective and praises God for the beauty of all Creation (Genesis 1:4a, 10b, 18b, Psalm 19). Anything not aesthetically pleasing to us or invisible to us? Definitely not. God saw the light and the heavens and enjoyed them as good before we were here, according to the verses from Genesis 1 just cited. The seas too, with their dark abyssal mysteries, have always been mostly hidden from us (cp. Job 38:16). The angels also enjoy the physical Creation, quite apart from us (Job 38:7). God's value system is clearly not utilitarian, nor his appreciation of beauty merely human. Is this really surprising? God creates nothing because he needs to, as the Church has always taught, so there can be no question of utility at all from his perspective. Yet he has created for himself (Colossians 1:16). Creation is Theocentric and, particularly, Christocentric in purpose, not simply anthropocentric. What is waste from our limited, flawed perspective is not necessarily waste at all. Also, don't forget that while a multiverse seems inefficient to us from one perspective, it looks more efficient from another (by requiring less “rigging” of constants and thus a more elegant nomicx structure). Which looks “better” to God? Is there even a sensible answer to that? We are, I think, unwise to presume we know which option God would choose.
Isn't it unfitting for God to use “stochastic” processes to achieve goals, such as making life inevitable by a combination of vastness and chance (albeit within a designed framework)? The biblical answer is a clear “No”. The mandated uses of the Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28:30, 1 Samuel 14:41) and of the casting of lots (Numbers 26:55) are sufficient proof that God can and does use stochastic processesxi to achieve his ends. While these elements in the unfolding of the Cosmos will, from the side of Creation, be random and only predictable when considered as a statistical ensemble, this will not be the case for the Creator. As Proverbs 16:33 puts it, “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD.” The same teaching is implied in Ecclesiastes, where “time and chance” are said to happen to all in 9:11, but where the same variety of experience is ascribed to God in 7:13-15. Does this mean that God is forever nudging coin-tosses or directly and repeatedly rigging the outcomes of sub-atomic collisions, including those leading to biological mutations? Not necessarily. It needs to be remembered that God's creative and providential acts are in fact only plural from our perspective. From His perspective they all result from one Creative act of will. It is sometimes argued among physicists whether the most fundamentally insightful approach to understanding the Universe is to take time's flow as definitive, treating the future as non-existent in the present and taking a dynamic approach, or whether to instead consider the Universe's entire existence past, present and future as a “statics” problem, with time an artefact of our observational limitations. The latter is called a “block-universe” approach. Whatever is the best physics, it is certain from the point of view of orthodox Christian theology that God's eternal perspective, standing outside time, is more like the block-universe approach. Therefore it is appropriate, when trying to visualise God's use of stochastic processes, to see this aspect of his normal Creative act not as a series of interferences with natural processes, but as the choosing, the bringing into being or making actual of one of the possible block universes.xii
Wouldn't an infinity of life-containing worlds take away our specialness, which is revealed in Scripture (Psalm 8:6)? Certainly not. The loving care of an infinite God is obviously not divisible, no matter how many objects it is directed towards. We do not have to “share” God. Rather, every personal object of his love receives Him undiluted, so to speak. C. S. Lewis did a superb and imaginative job of illustrating this principle in the second novel of his science-fiction trilogy, Perelandra. Near the end, the protagonist of the story, Dr Ransom, has a vision of some of the complex dance and fabric that is Creation. He discovers, or “sees”, that no one strand of the Cosmic Creation-Redemption-Transformation story can claim centrality to the exclusion or belittling of any other strand.xiii
Doesn't everything in Scripture assume our Universe is the only one? Even if it did appear to “assume” this, this would prove nothing, since there is nothing in Scripture that explicitly denies the existence of other “Creations” or affirms that ours is the only one. Given that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, and that the Scriptures were manifestly not written to answer such questions but to reveal the Creator Himself to us, we have no justification for being dogmatic on Biblical grounds in this matter, it seems. However, the OT does contain the interesting, pregnant phrase “heaven of heavens” (Deuteronomy 10:14, 1 Kings 8:27, 2 Chronicles 2:6 “the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain [God] ”, etc.), so we cannot even be sure there is no hint of the multiverse in the sensus pleniorxiv of Scripture.
Doesn't the Bible teach us clearly that God recently, miraculously and instantaneously created each living “kind”, making all this biological-evolution-assuming debate irrelevant, and condemning much of both the fine-tuning and multiverse arguments as unbelief? Origen, St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas were open to interpreting various parts of the Genesis creation-account in a non-literalistic way long before Darwin existed, and they were not alone.xv But these men are probably the three most influential scholars in the Church's history! St Basil and St Augustine both taught that when Genesis speaks of the earth bringing forth creatures, this was because God had given the earth the inherent potentiality to do so.xvi Now, none of the Fathers interpreted Genesis to mean something identical to modern theories of cosmology or biological evolution. But that is not the point. The point is that they varied in interpretation and some accepted that at least parts were not straightforwardly literal. In other words, long before the theory of evolution the Church had allowed speculative freedom and allegorical exegesis of Genesis.xvii But why did they? Since, on any analysis, the non-literal interpretations were in the minority, we might be tempted to dismiss them and appeal to the majority opinion and the “clear” meaning of Scripture. However, these respected authors had reasons to think aspects of the Biblical account were symbolic rather than straightforward in meaning. What is the genre of the Genesis account of primordial history? For a start, temporal order presents difficulties if the account is taken literally. Quite apart from the light and source of light issue between days 1 and 4, we have Genesis 1:1 proclaiming the heavens created ab initio, but their formation described on the second day (v. 8). We have two main characters whose names in English idiom would be reasonably translated as "Mankind" (Adam) and "Life" (Eve). And we have another main character who all sensible exegetes, including fundamentalists, agree is a powerful spiritual being and the first fallen evil one in Creation, Satan. Yet, within that story (taken literally), he is presented as a uniquely clever talking snake, whose punishment is to lose his legs and eat dust, and to bite and be trampled by people. He is cursed more than any other animal. Does this sound like Satan, if interpreted literally? Or are all species of present snakes necessarily legless as punishment because one of their ancestors was possessed by Satan? Maybe, but one can doubt such "literal" interpretations without disrespecting Scripture.
So, the “fine-tuning” argument is of limited value if it is too simplistic or narrow, dogmatically excluding multiverse theories. On the other hand, the idea that multiverse theories obviate the need for a Creator/Designer is false. And the Young Earth Creation-Science viewpoint appears a blind alley.
At this point it is quite possible that a “skeptic” or atheist reader has become quite enraged. One core objection might be summarised in this response: “It's 'heads I win, tails you lose' with you lot! Every alternative scenario is pretended to match your faith-commitment, to support theism. But if your belief is non-falsifiable, it is clearly too flexible to explain anything and thus intellectually worthless!” However, this objection ignores the fact that 4 characteristics of the Universe are sufficient to support classical theistic arguments: Contingent existence, Order, Life, and Rational Thought (including Moral Awareness). These point back to an Absolutely Existing Cause of infinite wisdom and power, a being who is “at least” personal (i.e., more like a thinking person than a mindless rock, though necessarily transcending normal conceptions of personality). The precise path from this Cause to the effect, the Creative Method, cannot change this.xviii It can not change the fact that we need a Cause proportionate to or sufficient for accounting for the effect considered in toto, nor the fact that, unlike the effect, this Cause cannot be contingent, qualified, finite, dependent, or specified by circumstance, or else it would need explanation itself. Now, this means that theism is theoretically quite falsifiable. All one needs to do is show that the Cosmos is not in fact contingent, orderly, or productive of life and intelligence. A Cosmos that was entirely chaotic and void of purpose, entirely inert or lifeless, or that existed in its actual form absolutely necessarily, would falsify theism. So, all atheists need to do, theoretically, is show this is the case. For obvious reasons, I think they would be wasting their time to try, as they would first have to prove either their own non-existence or the absolute inevitability of their own existence.
Therefore, in conclusion, Christian theology cannot a priori determine the mix of Primary Supernatural Cause and Secondary Natural Cause, all it can do is pronounce that both are Revealed as necessary and operative. In other words, we cannot pronounce dogmatically whether God simply brought Nature with its Laws into being and then basically let its own material potentialities flourish, or whether he did this and also fine-tuned its constants, or whether he did all this and also intervened to some extent to facilitate the origin or evolution of life. But the philosophical and scientific perspective also indicate that both Primary and Secondary Causes are real, so the precise mix is beside the point here too. The point is that Creation's contingency, coherence, elegance, order and fruitfulness cry out for a self-existent, omnipotent and omniscient Creator to adequately explain them, and so the precise path from one to the other is merely an ancillary detail.
iiIn this essay I will use the word “Universe” to refer to our own observable universe and whatever is in spatiotemporal and material continuity with it. On the other hand “universe” uncapitalised will refer both to it and to other possible integral realities, whether material or not, that might exist in a mulitverse. Thus the word “multiverse” will refer to the complete set of such universes, whether or not they all derive from a unifying fundamental physical law. The word Cosmos will also refer to the complete set of universes, however, unlike “multiverse” it will refer to this set regardless of whether the set in fact contains only one member (our Universe) or many, as in a multiverse.
iiiOf course, while such lower entropies are necessary to life, the Second Law of Thermodynamics means that there occurrence will always be at the expense of greater increases in entropy in the surrounding environment and thus the universe as a whole.
ivIt might be thought that “chaos” mathematics provides a counter-example, where simplicity in a system leads to instability, but deep and persistent order at the same time. In other words, we seem to have simple instability leading quite naturally and inevitably to a complex stability, which life requires. But the order within chaos theory is unremittingly recursive and thus repetitive (cf. the Mandelbrot Set), rather than information-rich like life.
vThese constants are basically numbers or ratios of quantities.
viProfessor Paul Davies, one of the world's foremost scientific thinkers on cosmology and the Anthropic Principle, says something similar in his paper, Multiverse Cosmological Models: “If there is a “law of laws” or meta-law describing how parameter values are assigned from one universe to the next, then we have only shifted the problem of cosmic biophilicity up one level, because we need to explain where the meta-law comes from. Moreover, the set of such meta-laws is infinite, so we have merely replaced the problem of “why this universe?” with that of “why this meta-law?” ... now we encounter a further problem. Each meta-law specifies a different multiverse, and not all multiverses are bound to contain at least one biophilic universe. In fact, on the face of it, most multiverses would not contain even one component universe in which all the parameter values were suitable for life. To see this, note that each parameter will have a small range of values – envisage it as a highlighted segment on a line in a multi-dimensional parameter space – consistent with biology. Only in universes where all the relevant highlighted segments intersect in a single patch (i.e. all biophilic values are instantiated simultaneously) will biology be possible. If the several parameters vary independently between universes, each according to some rule, then for most sets of rules the highlighted segments will not concur. So we must not only explain why there is any meta-law; we must also explain why the actual meta-law (i.e. the actual multiverse) happens to be one that intersects the requisite patch of parameter space that permits life. And if the parameters do not vary independently, but are linked by an underlying unified physical theory, then each underlying theory will represent a different track in parameter space. Only in some unification theories would this track intersect the biophilic region. So one is now confronted with explaining why this particular underlying unified theory, with its felicitous biophilic confluence of parameter values, is the one that has “fire breathed into it,” to paraphrase Hawking. ”
viiSee "Parallel universes. Not just a staple of science fiction, other universes are a direct implication of cosmological observations.", Tegmark M., Sci Am. 2003 May;288(5):40-51. This article is quoted at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiverse .
One very important point which must be made here is that this way of approaching Occam's Razor has devastating implications for traditional atheist arguments based on the same principle. This is because the evidence has forced us to choose between two alternatives. Either we have a universe that is astonishingly fine-tuned for life, including intelligent life, or we have a multiverse which requires appeal to minimisation of number of specifications rather than number of components as the more fundamental aspect of Occam's Razor. In the former case, the nature of our universe obviously points to design by an intelligent Creator as the best explanation. In the latter case, the old objection to theism based on Occam's Razor is no longer accessible without manifest inconsistency. That objection was that adding God at the beginning of the causal chain of “life, the universe and everything” gains us nothing, because all we have done is add an extra entity, but still ended up with an inexplicable beginning, since we have not explained where God came from. Worse still, it was said, by adding a transcendent God at the beginning of the chain we have added an entity which all admit is not directly observable, and is itself of even greater complexity than everything else put together, since God is posited to know not only all that is but all that could be (all possible universes). Thus, it was claimed, if we are going to have to put up with a fundamental level of reality which “just is”, and for which we cannot expect and should not search for explanation, we might as well pick something we can observe or scientifically infer and minimise complexity by doing away with the God-hypothesis.
Why is this objection no longer available in the more philosophically sophisticated and multiverse-compatible version of Occam's Razor? Because God, no matter how complex the reality he knows or wills, is the least specified entity conceivable. Indeed, theists give him names such as He Who Is (which is the meaning of his OT name, Yahweh), Existence Itself, and Infinite Being. These names represent the “unqualified” or “unlimited” character of his Existence and Essence. Everything He knows and does relies on this unqualified, unlimited nature. So, whether one argues from the Aristotelian-Thomistic Theism (in the Western tradition of natural theology)) that makes God absolutely simple (without hint of any real components) or the more Platonist “Palamite” Theism (common in the Eastern Church) that accepts a “core” simple divine essence but (?infinitely) complex divine energies flowing from it, the ultimate cause, the Divine Essence, is minimally specified. Far more minimally specified than one particularly elegant but inexplicably reified equation, one TOE. Thus we discover that Occam's Razor is better satisfied by positing “just-is-ness” (aseity) at the divine level than at the level of either the Multiverse/Cosmos as a whole or the TOE describing it. To put it more simply, if inferring an infinite number of unobservable universes is reasonable based on minimising fundamental mathematical specifications, inferring one not-directly-observable-but-self-revealing-God is even more reasonable based on eliminating all specification. To put it even more bluntly, it is more coherent and simpler to say He Who Is “just is”, than to say this very specific mathematical/material complex “just is”. If the atheist sees the Multiverse as his “saviour” from the anthropic principle's implicit theism, he is very much mistaken, since he is merely making the much older, classical arguments for God's existence more convincing.
xNomic, from the Greek word nomos, for law. Here the reference is, of course, to the scientific laws within the TOE.
xiThese are processes that have an effectively random element from a natural perspective. This randomness can be either at the epistemological level, due to our practical inability to know enough of the initial and later conditions to predict the outcome and due to the sensitivity of the outcome to those conditions, or at the ontological level, where identical conditions can really lead to different outcomes, the actual outcome thus being in principle unpredictable. The former stochastic process is seen in tossing a fair coin, the latter in Quantum Mechanical interactions.
xiiI should note here that I do not believe that the Cosmos is actualised purely or merely by God's will directly, but that he has chosen to create other “choosers” and, in perfect knowledge of those intelligent beings and their choices, has organised Creation partly through and in respect for those choices. Indeed, I would not rule out the idea that he has delegated to angelic and human beings a part of the organisation of the material Universe, albeit still under his Providence, through a “mechanism” not unlike that spoken of in the main text, involving no necessary “counterflow” to or intereference with nature, but rather taking advantage of the non-deterministic aspects of Quantum Mechanics. The interaction between spirit and matter is fundamentally mysterious and probably opaque to scientific modelling, which always falls back on analogies accessible to the senses, using “phantasms” as they are known in Thomist psychology. This opacity is due to the immaterial and non-quantitative nature of pure spirit. So, this interaction need not be pictured as involving extrinsic, localised, non-physically sourced forces nudging matter. See my paper here for related discussion.
The hints in Scripture (e.g., Revelation 7:1-3, 14:18) and Tradition that angelic beings have some kind of responsibility for animate and inanimate Creation would also help explain the existence of what I consider the only truly problematic aspect of “natural evil”, animal pain, long before the Fall of Man. After all, the Angelic Fall obviously pre-dates the Human Fall by some indeterminate period. So, if the angels do have roles in the general operation and unfolding of Creation, the ancient existence of fallen angels could help explain aspects of biological evolution, which may never have been Designed to be quite as it was. If such is the case, the flawed evolutionary paths could have been related either to “maladministration” or “abandoning the post”, so to speak. One might call this the “Inklings theodicy”. It has a strong similarity to the explanation of natural evil employed by J. R. R. Tolkien in his creation myth of Middle Earth, Ainulindalë, found in The Silmarillion. Melkor is the Satan-figure in this story whose disharmonies attempt to spoil the singing into being of Creation by Ilúvatar (God). C. S. Lewis appears to have a similar idea underlying the mythology of his science-fiction trilogy, as it applies to Earth. E. L. Mascall discusses this possibility in Christian Theology and Natural Science (Longmans, Green and Co., 1956, pp. 301-303). So, in the same way that mankind was never meant to be function purely “naturally” in the scientific sense, but was meant to do so with sanctifying grace, perhaps the whole of Creation was not intrinsically designed to operate purely naturally. Thus, as the loss of sanctifying grace led to a disintegration of human nature that affected every part of it, the partial loss and/or distortion of angelic oversight of matter through a rebellion of some angels may have led to natural evil. (That evil entered the natural realm before the human Fall due to the Angelic Fall may be one of the meanings of the Serpent being the enemy in the Garden of Eden.) It is only fair to note that the more such an effect was due to omission rather than commission, the less verifiable or falsifiable it would be. And, given that Revelation does not appear to be clear on this matter, such a situation would only allow speculation.
xiiiReaders may well be given pause by Lewis' speculation that other or even more humiliating and profound Incarnation/Sacrifice saving acts than “Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2) might occur in the wider Cosmos, if other rational sentients needed salvation. However, he also noted elsewhere (in an essay on the possibility of alien life, “The Seeing Eye”, in the book Christian Reflections) that instead it might be that other species with such a need would have it met by our preaching the Gospel to them. After all, the “Word become flesh” may well be a Divine Incarnation relevant to all embodied persons. And, of course, like us, Lewis was confessedly only engaged in speculation on these matters, since neither he nor we know that there are any other creatures like ourselves.
xivThis is the full sense, which may be greater in scope than the historico-grammatical sense of the original human author, since the Divine author is obviously capable of inspiring the writings of men in such a way that the text contains more than was in their finite comprehension and intention when writing Scripture. That such a sense, transcending the human sensus literalis, exists is manifest in the exegesis by the New Testamental authors of the Old Testament. See especially the exegesis of Psalm 8 in Hebrews 2.
xvSt Clement of Alexandria: “For the expression ‘when they were created’ intimates an indefinite and dateless production.” (Miscellanies 6:16 [A.D. 208]) Origen: "For who that has understanding will suppose that the first and second and third day existed without a sun and moon and stars and that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? . . . I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance and not literally" (The Fundamental Doctrines 4:1:16 [A.D. 225]). St Augustine: “What kind of days these were it is extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible for us to conceive, and how much more to say!” (City of God 11:6 [AD 419]). Aquinas: See Summa Theologica (PI)(Q74)(A2). The old Catholic Encyclopedia, in its articles “Biblical Chronology” and “Hexaemeron” also cites St Athanasius, St Cyril, Procopius, Isidore and Alcuin as interpreting Genesis 1 according to “idealism” rather than literalism and asserting simultaneous creation.
It is only fair to note that most or all of the Fathers abovementioned nevertheless accepted a recent date for the creation of the earth (or at least for humanity) because they were of the opinion that that the six days allegorically represented an instantaneous creation, the step-wise progression being in the mind of God or the vision of the angels. However, given that they also noted more than once the mysterious, difficult-to-interpret nature of the days of Genesis 1 and the speculative and tentative nature of their own exegesis (e.g., St Augustine's Confessions, XII.25 ), it cannot be claimed that their teaching simply excluded an interpretation favouring long ages or an indeterminate time. Indeed, when St Augustine was allowing for the possibility of a more literal interpretation of the days, he still noted that the first three, when the sun and moon did not exist, did not need to be the same as subsequent days in length (Against the Manichees, Book 1, Chapter 14).
It is also worth noting that even Fathers who followed a more literal approach to Genesis speculated that the “invisible” or spiritual part of Creation was vastly more ancient (e.g., St Jerome, St Basil, St Gregory Nazianzen, St John Chrysostom, as quoted and cited in E.B. Pusey's Daniel the Prophet, “Preface”, p. xii, Funk & Wagnalls, 1885; St Ambrose in his Hexaemeron, 1.5). Given that they considered this Creation to include invisible “Powers”, it is by no means certain they would not have recognised the Laws of Physics and the early, non-illuminated post-”Big Bang”, pre-stellar Universe as an expression of these, had they known about them. What we call material in the scientific age and what the Fathers would have called material may not be identical.
In any case, what cannot be denied is the lack of a patristic consensus as to how precisely to interpret the first chapters of Genesis and the refusal of the Church as a whole to dogmatise in this area, which refusal tacitly accepted a great deal of freedom and provisional exegesis. Therefore, Holy Tradition cannot be taken to fix any particular interpretation of this part of Scripture as obligatory, except insofar as certain fundamental doctrines are concerned. These would include the doctrines that God is the sole Creator, who created the Cosmos ex nihilo, that no part of creation is itself divine or eternal in the proper sense, and that Man has been formed by God in His image to have stewardship and dominion over the Earth.
It is also interesting to note that Origen speculated as to the possibility of multiple “worlds” or universes created in succession in De Principiis (e.g., I, Preface, 7).
xviIt is true that this is because they believed in spontaneous generation, rather than gradual evolution through common descent with modification, however, it does show the degree to which they were willing to grant the fruitfulness of secondary, natural causes as a result of inbuilt nomic principles. See Howard J. Van Till's useful articles here and here. St Basil did affirm a literal interpretation of the six creation days of Genesis 1, and ridiculed those Christians who disagreed (Hexaemeron, Homily 9.1), but this just demonstrates further that Christian pluralism of approach to Genesis has always existed.
xviiNot only did the Church allow such freedom, but it preserved warnings against its overthrow by ignorance. St Augustine specifically warned against interpreting Scripture in a way that contradicted established scientific understanding and against being presumptuously dogmatic. He stated, for example: "It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation" (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1:19–20 [A.D. 408]).
xviiiIt is seldom realised by those who think neo-Darwinism is intrinsically contrary to and exclusive of a Divine causation of Life that whether or not natural biological evolution is true or not is irrelevant to the inescapable need for Life and Intelligence to be considered part of the grand design, if the evidence supports the idea of design at all. This is based on the obvious fact that whatever comes to exist actually must have existed potentially in the precursor. Therefore, if intelligent life evolved naturally, it can only be because the grand design of the Cosmos allowed it to be so and provided the parameters, conditions and processes which led to it. The consistent and widespread occurrence of evolutionary “convergence”, where strong similarities develop that are not based on common descent, indicates that, if this is due to natural processes, there is less randomness and more “constrained-ness” provided by the inherent design of Nature than is commonly realised. (This is a point made by Professor Simon Conway Morris in his writings, a respected palaeontologist at Cambridge University, as well as a Christian.)
Also, as noted above, even if stochastic processes were part of this development, the actual outcomes that obtain will have been foreknown and chosen by God out of the full range of possible outcomes/universes. Thus, if theism is true, life as we know it was in fact designed and caused by God no matter how few miracles, if any, were part of its development.
I should note here that, while I believe the evidence to be overwhelming for biological evolution, that is, for “descent with modification” as an accurate description of the development of life on Earth, I am agnostic about mechanism. The “progressive creationist” explanation for most macroevolutionary innovation (and all innovation involving purported “irreducible complexity”) appealed to by most advocates of the “Intelligent Design” (ID) movement seems to me to paint a rather awkward, “stroboscopic-intervention” picture of Divine Agency. However, my aesthetic-theological reaction may not count for much. On the scientific side, I do not find either sides' arguments regarding “irreducible complexity” in biological organisms to be very convincing. ID advocates posit irreducible complexity based on general considerations rather than proving, by laborious consideration of all plausible pathways, that no piece-wise or step-wise assembly of the relevant biochemical systems (with every step allowing a viable and naturally selectable system) is possible. On the other hand, opponents of ID defend the neo-Darwinian mechanism without genuinely demonstrating in proper detail that any such pathways do exist.
Finally, the illusion of “non-falsifiability” given to the skeptical reader by this essay will be largely due to two factors. Firstly, the maximal openness and appeal to natural processes in the essay as God's main means of guiding the development of the Cosmos as we know it. Secondly, the unquestioned assumption by many readers that Nature is instead self-sufficient or an alternative Cause to God. The former factor will make the essay's thesis look like a fallback position, and a self-refuting one in the context of the latter factor. But, in fact, the Bible points to Nature rather than miracles as the primary Divine Sign and Act. We see this in Romans 1:19-20 and in Psalms 19 and 148, for example, where this General Revelation, as it is often called, is distinguished from the Special Revelation to and Redemptive acts toward God's people, and is listed first. Nature is thus seen as supernaturally caused and enabled anyway, and necessarily so, as explained above in the essay and endnotes. Nature's awesomeness, order and fecundity show forth the living God's majestic power and wisdom.