Mind, matter and the multiverse

a couple in 1950s clothing walking through the universe, pointing at stars

Our universe – a universe that is able to generate life – is profoundly improbable.

The picture that has been emerging from modern physics and cosmology shows that we have a universe whose fundamental forces are delicately balanced, or “fine-tuned”, in the way that it is needed to enable life. Many of the fundamental constants of nature, from the energy levels in the carbon atom to the rate at which the universe is expanding, have just the right values for life to exist. Change any of them by a tiny amount, and it would be impossible for us to be here.

It gives the impression that the universe was perfectly designed for life.

However, the general response from advocates for atheism has been to suggest that our universe is just one among an infinite number of parallel universes – that ours is one in a larger multiverse. This idea allows us to say that, since there are an infinite number of worlds, you can vary the charge on the electron from one world to the next, same with the mass of the proton and so on, and eventually you’re going to get a world with life because of the probabilities. And it's not surprising that we’re in that world, because if we weren’t in that world… We’d be dead and we wouldn’t be talking about it!

So, does the concept of a multiverse challenge the necessity of a Creator God?

Across the multiverse

Let’s look at what the multiverse is first. A number of hypothetical models suggest the possibility of multiple universes, the strongest being the model of eternal inflation. Eternal inflation, which is an extension of the big bang theory, looks back to very early on in the history of the universe and suggests that there was an initial period of exponential expansion, with certain regions in space slowing down to form “bubble universes”, our universe being one of these. According to eternal inflation, the inflationary phase of the universe’s expansion lasts forever, and this produces a hypothetical infinite multiverse.

There is no direct evidence for a multiverse. We can’t see beyond the horizon of our own universe. All we can do is observe the electromagnetic radiation such as the light that travels from stars, or cosmic background radiation from the big bang, and then speculate on the rest. Regardless of how much technology evolves, we will never be able to see beyond this universe. This is why Professor George Ellis, one of the greatest astrophysicists of our day, says, “None of the claims made by multiverse enthusiasts can be directly substantiated.” 

Believing in the multiverse is really a faith decision. Some people would rather put their faith in the existence of a multiverse than the existence of God – like Sir Martin Reece, Astronomer Royal, who said outright, “I prefer to believe in a multiverse.”

So, it’s a faith decision based on preference rather than evidence.

But is it a matter of choosing between God and the multiverse, as those like Sir Martin Reece announce, or is there room for both?

In the beginnings

Even if there is such a thing as a multiverse, it is unlikely to be eternal.

Some of the physicists involved in developing the model of eternal inflation, namely Guth and Vilenkin, undertook some further work to explore the nature of expansion. This resulted in a mathematical theorem called the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem which shows that the universe cannot be infinite in the past but must have some spacetime boundary.

Vilenkin, who initially advocated for an eternal universe, came to a new realisation through this theorem and further work: the universe had an absolute beginning in the finite past. 

“All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning,” he said.

The power of this statement should not be underestimated. Like many other cosmologists, Vilenkin was not satisfied to conclude that the standard model – the big bang – was the end of the story. He wanted the universe to be eternal, and yet based on the evidence, he was willing to admit that an eternal universe does not appear to be a physical possibility. 

In other words, even if our universe is part of a greater multiverse, the multiverse would almost certainly have had a beginning. 

And if there is a beginning, then the question of what caused the universe or multiverse to come into being needs to be answered.

Cause and cosmology

Let me introduce you to the Kalam Cosmological Argument. It dates back to the 12th century and is commended by thinkers, like philosopher William Lane Craig, who find it just as relevant today.

It’s a brilliant argument developed by a Muslim theologian called al-Ghalzali for dealing with the influence of Greek philosophy which denied the creation of the universe by God. He argues that the universe must have had a beginning, and since nothing comes into being without a cause, there must be a transcendent creator of the universe.

We can summarise al-Ghazali’s argument by means of three simple steps:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

This little argument is so marvellously simple that anybody can memorise it and share it with another person. 

It just consists of those three short steps, but it’s a logically airtight argument. If the two premises are true, then the conclusion follows necessarily. Anybody who wants to deny the conclusion that the universe has a cause of its beginning has to deny one of the two premises. He or she has to say that either premise 1 or premise 2 is false, and so the whole question comes down to that – are these premises more plausibly true than false?

Premise 1: whatever begins to exist has a cause

There are two worlds in physics: the classical world and the quantum world. The classical world deals with stuff on a larger scale – basically matter that is bigger than an atom – whereas quantum physics deals tiny stuff like atoms and subatomic particles.

We know that in the classical word everything that exists has a cause. This is supported by the law of conservation of energy: Energy cannot be created or destroyed but can only be transferred or transformed. The idea of everything having a cause is pretty intuitive. We don’t see objects just popping into existence. The things we can see and touch have a cause. To suggest that a rabbit, for instance, just popped into existence is worse than magic. 

When a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat, at least you’ve got the magician – as well as the hat! 

But if you deny premise 1, you have to say that the whole universe just appeared at some moment in the finite past for no reason whatsoever. This doesn’t make sense. Rabbits, rocks, plumbers and planets don’t just pop in and out of existence.

However, in quantum physics, we can talk about virtual particles: particular subatomic particles popping into and out of existence. And, therefore, in subatomic physics, you do get something from nothing. Certain theories on the origin of the universe are sometimes described in popular magazines as becoming something from nothing.

The problem with this is that when scientists or media talk about such things, they are referring to a quantum vacuum. It’s not the word “vacuum” in the way that most people understand it. In physics, the vacuum is a sea of fluctuating energy and violent activity, having a physical structure and governed by physical laws. When physicists refer to the vacuum, they don’t mean nothing. The vacuum is definitely something – this fluctuating energy. And even if you can go back further and explain the origin of a quantum vacuum from nothing, which some have attempted mathematically, you are still left with complete reliance on the laws of quantum mechanics and general relativity. No science can explain where those laws came from.

So no matter which way you approach it, the first premise is reasonably true – that whatever begins to exist has a cause.

Premise 2: the universe began to exist

This one is easy. The big bang theory, the standard model, shows that the universe came into existence at a single point in a finite past. And as I’ve already noted, there is no multiverse theory that bears evidence of an eternal past, and in fact the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem shows that the universe cannot be infinite in the past, but must have an absolute beginning.

“With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind a past-eternal universe,” Vilenkin says. “There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.”1

It’s interesting that Vilenkin speaks of having to face the problem of a cosmic beginning. It’s only a problem if you are not willing to concede the necessary conclusion.

Conclusion: the universe has a cause

And since the universe can’t cause itself, the cause must be beyond the universe. We can say that the cause must be:

  • Spaceless 
  • Timeless 
  • Immaterial 
  • Uncaused
  • Unimaginably powerful

This description sounds very much like… God.

While we cannot prove the existence of God, there’s tremendous evidence in both nature and Scripture affirming God’s existence. It begs the question, why do brilliant people like Sir Martin Reece still “prefer to believe in a multiverse” as a supposed alternative to believing in God? Why choose atheism?

Background beliefs

I don’t think it’s as much about the evidence as it is about particular underlying assumptions that cause people to dismiss God from the outset. These assumptions might be that suffering implies there is no God – or no good God. Or that bad things done in the name of religion implies religion is bad. Or, as we’ve talked about before, that the progression of science implies everything will ultimately be explained through science.

Our background beliefs affect the way we look at the evidence for God. Everybody has background beliefs. They affect the way we think, the way we make decisions, and the way we accept information.

For example, it’s common to believe that all the suffering in the world shows that there cannot be a God. It’s interesting, because before the 16th century people suffered far more than we suffer today, but nobody said that it meant there couldn’t be a God. Yet today one of the chief arguments against the existence of God is suffering. Many people believe that a good and all powerful God would not allow evil and suffering in the world. 

Why was that argument so unconvincing in the past, yet very convincing to many people now?

The reason is background beliefs that people are barely aware of. Ancient people had the background belief that if there was a God, of course they wouldn’t understand him. They thought it obvious that human reason would be incapable of plumbing the depths of God. But modern people are extremely confident that human reason can figure out the universe. Therefore, modern people say that if we can’t think of a good reason God would allow evil and suffering, there can’t possibly be a good reason. Our background beliefs direct our thinking and reasoning without our awareness!

This is why it is so important for Christian communities to provide safe spaces for people to examine ideas, attitudes and underlying beliefs, and to be able to ask questions and wrestle with their worldview.

When you boil it down, there are only two ultimate worldviews today. Either matter gave rise to mind, or mind gave rise to matter.

The evidence suggests that matter is not eternal. Matter had a beginning. Mind is the first cause. In other words:

“In the beginning was the Word (the logos, the mind, the reason) and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All things came into being through him.” 

John 1: 1-3

Check out other articles in the

series below.

More articles in the

series are to come.

1Alexander Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006), 176.

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We have invited these writers to share their experiences, ideas and opinions in the hope that these will provoke thought, challenge you to go deeper and inspire you to put your faith into action. These articles should not be taken as the official view of the Nelson Diocese on any particular matter.

Mind, matter and the multiverse

Greg Holmes

Science & Faith Ambassador

Ordained priest and student of science, Greg works as an advocate for the value of science and faith in our diocese.

Mind, matter and the multiverse

Greg Holmes

Science & Faith Ambassador

Ordained priest and student of science, Greg works as an advocate for the value of science and faith in our diocese.

Mind, matter and the multiverse

a couple in 1950s clothing walking through the universe, pointing at stars

Our universe – a universe that is able to generate life – is profoundly improbable.

The picture that has been emerging from modern physics and cosmology shows that we have a universe whose fundamental forces are delicately balanced, or “fine-tuned”, in the way that it is needed to enable life. Many of the fundamental constants of nature, from the energy levels in the carbon atom to the rate at which the universe is expanding, have just the right values for life to exist. Change any of them by a tiny amount, and it would be impossible for us to be here.

It gives the impression that the universe was perfectly designed for life.

However, the general response from advocates for atheism has been to suggest that our universe is just one among an infinite number of parallel universes – that ours is one in a larger multiverse. This idea allows us to say that, since there are an infinite number of worlds, you can vary the charge on the electron from one world to the next, same with the mass of the proton and so on, and eventually you’re going to get a world with life because of the probabilities. And it's not surprising that we’re in that world, because if we weren’t in that world… We’d be dead and we wouldn’t be talking about it!

So, does the concept of a multiverse challenge the necessity of a Creator God?

Across the multiverse

Let’s look at what the multiverse is first. A number of hypothetical models suggest the possibility of multiple universes, the strongest being the model of eternal inflation. Eternal inflation, which is an extension of the big bang theory, looks back to very early on in the history of the universe and suggests that there was an initial period of exponential expansion, with certain regions in space slowing down to form “bubble universes”, our universe being one of these. According to eternal inflation, the inflationary phase of the universe’s expansion lasts forever, and this produces a hypothetical infinite multiverse.

There is no direct evidence for a multiverse. We can’t see beyond the horizon of our own universe. All we can do is observe the electromagnetic radiation such as the light that travels from stars, or cosmic background radiation from the big bang, and then speculate on the rest. Regardless of how much technology evolves, we will never be able to see beyond this universe. This is why Professor George Ellis, one of the greatest astrophysicists of our day, says, “None of the claims made by multiverse enthusiasts can be directly substantiated.” 

Believing in the multiverse is really a faith decision. Some people would rather put their faith in the existence of a multiverse than the existence of God – like Sir Martin Reece, Astronomer Royal, who said outright, “I prefer to believe in a multiverse.”

So, it’s a faith decision based on preference rather than evidence.

But is it a matter of choosing between God and the multiverse, as those like Sir Martin Reece announce, or is there room for both?

In the beginnings

Even if there is such a thing as a multiverse, it is unlikely to be eternal.

Some of the physicists involved in developing the model of eternal inflation, namely Guth and Vilenkin, undertook some further work to explore the nature of expansion. This resulted in a mathematical theorem called the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem which shows that the universe cannot be infinite in the past but must have some spacetime boundary.

Vilenkin, who initially advocated for an eternal universe, came to a new realisation through this theorem and further work: the universe had an absolute beginning in the finite past. 

“All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning,” he said.

The power of this statement should not be underestimated. Like many other cosmologists, Vilenkin was not satisfied to conclude that the standard model – the big bang – was the end of the story. He wanted the universe to be eternal, and yet based on the evidence, he was willing to admit that an eternal universe does not appear to be a physical possibility. 

In other words, even if our universe is part of a greater multiverse, the multiverse would almost certainly have had a beginning. 

And if there is a beginning, then the question of what caused the universe or multiverse to come into being needs to be answered.

Cause and cosmology

Let me introduce you to the Kalam Cosmological Argument. It dates back to the 12th century and is commended by thinkers, like philosopher William Lane Craig, who find it just as relevant today.

It’s a brilliant argument developed by a Muslim theologian called al-Ghalzali for dealing with the influence of Greek philosophy which denied the creation of the universe by God. He argues that the universe must have had a beginning, and since nothing comes into being without a cause, there must be a transcendent creator of the universe.

We can summarise al-Ghazali’s argument by means of three simple steps:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

This little argument is so marvellously simple that anybody can memorise it and share it with another person. 

It just consists of those three short steps, but it’s a logically airtight argument. If the two premises are true, then the conclusion follows necessarily. Anybody who wants to deny the conclusion that the universe has a cause of its beginning has to deny one of the two premises. He or she has to say that either premise 1 or premise 2 is false, and so the whole question comes down to that – are these premises more plausibly true than false?

Premise 1: whatever begins to exist has a cause

There are two worlds in physics: the classical world and the quantum world. The classical world deals with stuff on a larger scale – basically matter that is bigger than an atom – whereas quantum physics deals tiny stuff like atoms and subatomic particles.

We know that in the classical word everything that exists has a cause. This is supported by the law of conservation of energy: Energy cannot be created or destroyed but can only be transferred or transformed. The idea of everything having a cause is pretty intuitive. We don’t see objects just popping into existence. The things we can see and touch have a cause. To suggest that a rabbit, for instance, just popped into existence is worse than magic. 

When a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat, at least you’ve got the magician – as well as the hat! 

But if you deny premise 1, you have to say that the whole universe just appeared at some moment in the finite past for no reason whatsoever. This doesn’t make sense. Rabbits, rocks, plumbers and planets don’t just pop in and out of existence.

However, in quantum physics, we can talk about virtual particles: particular subatomic particles popping into and out of existence. And, therefore, in subatomic physics, you do get something from nothing. Certain theories on the origin of the universe are sometimes described in popular magazines as becoming something from nothing.

The problem with this is that when scientists or media talk about such things, they are referring to a quantum vacuum. It’s not the word “vacuum” in the way that most people understand it. In physics, the vacuum is a sea of fluctuating energy and violent activity, having a physical structure and governed by physical laws. When physicists refer to the vacuum, they don’t mean nothing. The vacuum is definitely something – this fluctuating energy. And even if you can go back further and explain the origin of a quantum vacuum from nothing, which some have attempted mathematically, you are still left with complete reliance on the laws of quantum mechanics and general relativity. No science can explain where those laws came from.

So no matter which way you approach it, the first premise is reasonably true – that whatever begins to exist has a cause.

Premise 2: the universe began to exist

This one is easy. The big bang theory, the standard model, shows that the universe came into existence at a single point in a finite past. And as I’ve already noted, there is no multiverse theory that bears evidence of an eternal past, and in fact the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem shows that the universe cannot be infinite in the past, but must have an absolute beginning.

“With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind a past-eternal universe,” Vilenkin says. “There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.”1

It’s interesting that Vilenkin speaks of having to face the problem of a cosmic beginning. It’s only a problem if you are not willing to concede the necessary conclusion.

Conclusion: the universe has a cause

And since the universe can’t cause itself, the cause must be beyond the universe. We can say that the cause must be:

  • Spaceless 
  • Timeless 
  • Immaterial 
  • Uncaused
  • Unimaginably powerful

This description sounds very much like… God.

While we cannot prove the existence of God, there’s tremendous evidence in both nature and Scripture affirming God’s existence. It begs the question, why do brilliant people like Sir Martin Reece still “prefer to believe in a multiverse” as a supposed alternative to believing in God? Why choose atheism?

Background beliefs

I don’t think it’s as much about the evidence as it is about particular underlying assumptions that cause people to dismiss God from the outset. These assumptions might be that suffering implies there is no God – or no good God. Or that bad things done in the name of religion implies religion is bad. Or, as we’ve talked about before, that the progression of science implies everything will ultimately be explained through science.

Our background beliefs affect the way we look at the evidence for God. Everybody has background beliefs. They affect the way we think, the way we make decisions, and the way we accept information.

For example, it’s common to believe that all the suffering in the world shows that there cannot be a God. It’s interesting, because before the 16th century people suffered far more than we suffer today, but nobody said that it meant there couldn’t be a God. Yet today one of the chief arguments against the existence of God is suffering. Many people believe that a good and all powerful God would not allow evil and suffering in the world. 

Why was that argument so unconvincing in the past, yet very convincing to many people now?

The reason is background beliefs that people are barely aware of. Ancient people had the background belief that if there was a God, of course they wouldn’t understand him. They thought it obvious that human reason would be incapable of plumbing the depths of God. But modern people are extremely confident that human reason can figure out the universe. Therefore, modern people say that if we can’t think of a good reason God would allow evil and suffering, there can’t possibly be a good reason. Our background beliefs direct our thinking and reasoning without our awareness!

This is why it is so important for Christian communities to provide safe spaces for people to examine ideas, attitudes and underlying beliefs, and to be able to ask questions and wrestle with their worldview.

When you boil it down, there are only two ultimate worldviews today. Either matter gave rise to mind, or mind gave rise to matter.

The evidence suggests that matter is not eternal. Matter had a beginning. Mind is the first cause. In other words:

“In the beginning was the Word (the logos, the mind, the reason) and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All things came into being through him.” 

John 1: 1-3

Check out other articles in the

series below.

More articles in the

series are to come.