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Considering Buying Into the Multiverse? Caveat Emptor: Multiverse Proponents Hide Their Philosophical Motives to Avoid the Cosmic Design Inference

Casey Luskin

Last year I blogged about how Newsweek science columnist Sharon Begley had promoted the multiverse hypothesis as if it were a reasonable scientific proposition, avoiding mentioning to readers that this speculative idea was invented for the purpose of avoiding the conclusion that the cosmos was intelligently designed. As I wrote, “Begley tries to steer the reader into believing the wildly speculative multiverse hypothesis–a pet philosophical favorite of materialists–while barely even hinting that the alternative, and much more elegant explanation, is intelligent design of the cosmos. For those who are informed on this subject, her article comes off as if she is trying to hide the design inference from the reader as a reasonable conclusion to explain the incredible fine-tuning of the universe.” Now it seems that CalTech physicist Sean M. Carroll, in a June 2008 interview in the Los Angeles Times titled “Mysteries of time, and the multiverse,” is doing precisely the same thing.

Trust the “Deep Thinker”
In the interview, Carroll promotes the “multiverse” hypothesis, but fails to mention to readers that the hypothesis was constructed in order to explain away the improbability of our universe’s physical laws, which are finely-tuned to permit the existence of advanced life. The print edition of the Long Beach Press Telegram reprinted Carroll’s interview, praising him as a “Deep Thinker,” but Carroll actually banks on the fact that average reader — who probably doesn’t closely follow debates about the origin of the cosmos — won’t think too deeply and won’t realize what he’s doing. The informed reader will quickly see exactly what Carroll is doing: he’s carefully avoiding mention of the alternative to the multiverse hypothesis in order to hide the reasonable alternative of cosmic design from the reader, and he’s trying to explain away the origin of cosmic fine-tuning by pushing it back into other universes, realms that might spawn many other universes–the “multiverse”:

The reason why you are not surprised when you open a deck of cards and it’s in perfect order is not because it’s just easy and natural to find it in perfect order, it’s because the deck of cards is not a closed system. It came from a bigger system in which there is a card factory somewhere that arranged it. So I think that there is a previous universe somewhere that made us and we came out. We’re part of a bigger structure.

(Sean M. Carroll quoted inMysteries of time, and the multiverse,” by John Johnson Jr., Los Angeles Times, June 28, 2008.)

In Carroll’s analogy, the perfectly ordered deck of cards is analogous to the observation that the physical laws and constants of our universe had to be finely-tuned to an incredible degree in order for our universe to be hospitable to advanced forms of life, like you and me. But Carroll never even hints at the fine-tuning; he just speaks to the public using vague analogies about decks of cards with “perfect order.” Carroll gives the average reader no inkling that lurking behind his “multiverse” hypothesis is the fact that our universe exhibits a highly improbable configuration of physical laws that allow for the existence of advanced life, and that he is, in fact, taking great pains (i.e. postulating near-infinite numbers of universes) to avoid that conclusion.

Carroll extends the analogy where the “card factory” is like the “multiverse”–a universe factory that (for no apparent reason) generates infinite numbers of universes, occasionally spitting out a universe that has the unlikely “just right” parameters to allow for the existence of advanced life. But his analogy fails on multiple levels.

First, “card factories” aren’t what ultimately arrange cards in a “perfect order.” Card factories are machines that are intelligently designed, and the intelligent agents who built the card factory are truly responsible for the unlikely “perfect order” of cards in a new deck. Since a card factory is intelligently designed, when properly understood his analogy does not imply a multiverse is what produces “perfect order,” but rather the analogy implies that intelligence is necessary to create such order.

Second, creating a “bigger system” (i.e. the “multiverse”) doesn’t actually explain away the existence of cosmic fine-tuning; it just pushes the question back. And that’s exactly what Carroll is trying to do–he’s trying to explain away the existence of cosmic fine-tuning by pushing it back into a “multiverse.” While Carroll is right that the deck of cards is not a “closed system,” the core question is, what exists at the deeper levels of this system? At the bottom of the “perfect order,” is there an intelligent agent, or are there blind material causes (like the “multiverse”) all the way down?

Third, the card factory is a bad analogy because card factories (if working properly) always produce perfectly ordered and identical decks of cards. In contrast, Carroll’s “multiverse” is a hypothetical idea that is supposed to produce many different universes. Here’s how it is supposed to work:

If tomorrow you buy a lottery ticket and are the only winner, you will not suspect intelligent design because for every winner, there are thousands if not millions of non-winners. Somebody has to win, and if you won, then lucky you–but there’s nothing about your winning ticket that cannot be explained by the laws of statistics. All other factors aside, there’s no reason to infer design.

As noted, our universe has an exceedingly unlikely configuration of physical laws and constants that happen to be “just right” to allow for the existence of advanced forms of life. If there were slight deviations from our universe’s cosmic architecture, life could not exist. The multiverse hypothesis is an attempt to avoid the cosmic design inference by turning the unlikely configuration of our universe’s physical laws into a situation analogous to winning a lottery.

According to the multiverse hypothesis, somewhere out there are infinite or near-infinite numbers of universes, all with different configurations of their physical laws and constants. Because life can only survive in universes with an exceedingly rare set of physical laws, most universes produced by the “multiverse” are hostile towards life (in fact many universes are hostile towards the existence of matter!). But very rarely the multiverse spits out a universe that wins this cosmic lottery and has right conditions that are hospitable to life. By inventing the notion of a cosmic lottery taking place, multiverse advocates can make the origin of our universe’s highly unlikely life-friendly physical laws seem less unlikely, and thus keep the design inference at bay.

But Carroll never tells the reader any of this. He never mentions cosmic fine-tuning. He never mentions the fact that the alternative to the multiverse hypothesis is intelligent design. He simply advocates the multiverse hypothesis, and only at the end of the interview does he hint that there are greater philosophical and scientific issues at stake here.

Is the “Multiverse” Science or Materialist Philosophy?
In 2006, leading cosmologists quoted in the scientific journal Nature acknowledged that “we can’t falsify the idea” of the multiverse, meaning it “isn’t science.” (See Geoff Brumfiel, “Outrageous Fortune,” Nature, Vol. 439:10-12 (January 5, 2006).) Carroll carefully never mentions to the reader that his entire scheme of multiverses is simply a philosophical idea concocted to avoid the much simpler conclusion that the universe was in fact designed to house life.

In the end, Carroll lets his materialist bias show through when asked about God’s role in the multiverse. Consider this excerpt from the very end of the interview:

Does God exist in a multiverse?

[Carroll:] I don’t want to give advice to people about their religious beliefs, but I do think that it’s not smart to bet against the power of science to figure out the natural world. It used to be, a thousand years ago, that if you wanted to explain why the moon moved through the sky, you needed to invoke God. And then Galileo and Newton came along and realized that there was conservation of momentum, so things tend to keep moving. Nowadays people say, “Well, you certainly can’t explain the creation of the universe without invoking God,” and I want to say, “Don’t bet against it.”

(Sean M. Carroll quoted inMysteries of time, and the multiverse,” by John Johnson Jr., Los Angeles Times, June 28, 2008.)

Ignoring the fact that Carroll DOES give advice to people about their religious beliefs, I will close with the following points:

I don’t bet on people who refuse to openly disclose to the public that the main reason they construct their theories is a philosophical distaste for the simple observation that the physical laws and constants of the universe have an exceedingly unlikely and finely-tuned life-friendly configuration that implies cosmic design. Therefore, for the average reader who may not follow these debates closely but finds the “multiverse” hypothesis interesting, I have one piece of advice: Caveat emptor: It wasn’t the “power of science” that inspired the multiverse hypothesis. It was materialist philosophy.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.