The Anthropic Principle holds that fundamental constants of the universe are finely-tuned for living observers. It’s as if someone built a television, then built a recliner ten feet away from it with a remote control on the arm of that chair. Add your favorite snack and drink on a coffee table beside the chair, and the coincidence is uncanny. Such a setup was apparently designed for a human being to be able to watch television programming.* This principle presents a problem for atheists, since it supports the teleological argument, the notion of God’s design evident in the universe.
In order to counter this idea of a specially-designed privilege, some have proposed the idea of a multiverse. At first glance, the multiverse seems to solve the problem. We are not in a specially-designed universe that is arranged just for us. Rather, we happen to have evolved in one of the many variant universes, all with varying constants. Some universes are hostile to life, while others are inhabitable but not necessarily inhabited. We just got lucky.
The teleological argument goes away, and so does any hope of an intelligent designer. Or does it? Can you diminish the Anthropic Principle and faith at the same time? Consider the results of the multiverse.
Let’s start with an infinite multiverse – a set of infinite universes. We may have to tone it down. Why, you ask? Well, let’s just say that an infinite set of universes gives us unlimited possibilities. First of all, we don’t know what happens to the universes we can’t see. What happens to universes where the constants are different from ours? Some won’t even get started. Another complication is that probability is also out the window. If there’s the slightest chance that an event can happen, then it will. That’s what infinity does to the event with even the infinitesimally small probability.
Consider a universe where rabbits have evolved differently from rabbits in our universe (assuming macroevolution). These rabbits, much like our universe’s platypus, lay eggs. Unfortunately, these hopping mammals have a predator. A species of a horned, carnivorous horse could capture the slowest of egg-laying hares. In time, natural selection gives this unicorn wings, as it did for the bat in our universe. No rabbit could hear its predator’s approach. While the unicorn had evolved into an alicorn, new generations of rabbits grew faster. Alicorns shifted their sights on the delicious orbs, the immobile rabbits’ eggs. Again, egg-laying rabbits were on the endangered list. Fortunately, the straw covering the planet could be woven into baskets, becoming the protective mechanism that evolution offered rabbits for their eggs. There you have it- a planet torn between Easter bunnies and winged unicorns. As ridiculous as this may sound, remember that there is a slight probability of this happening, given enough universes and enough time. The more amazing revelation is that infinite universes demand that it will happen, if it has not already.** The smallest of probabilities are inevitable in an infinite set of universes.
Mathematicians have already considered some of the possibilities of an untamed number of universes. Another inevitability is that your doppelganger exists somewhere out in a parallel universe, living a life identical to yours, even reading this very article in English. So let’s consider another improbable event within this multiverse. Instead of an exact replica of a slice of our history, let’s allow variance to taint the story. Somewhere on a planet much like Earth, a man named Rertrand Bussell is bothered by his contemporaries’ ideas of theism. The main argument posed by theists in that universe is the overwhelming presence of teapot-shaped meteorites. Before the invention of the telescope, teapots were only known by human design. It wasn’t until after a telescope was able to zoom in on the asteroid belt within their own star system, that observers were able to spot the meteorites. One after another, after another, large and small, the meteorites were either shaped exactly like teapots or else were shaped like broken teapots. Observers found more and more teapots in every direction in space. Scientists and philosophers wondered whether there was some universal law that forced every meteorite into the same uncanny shape, or if God simply loved teapots. It could be probable if there was just one meteorite that slightly resembled a teapot, but for every meteorite to be in this shape was just too much of a coincidence. It was during this period of deep thought that Rertrand Bussell seized the moment. “Imagine there is an unseen universe, parallel to ours, with one exception. In that universe, there is not a single teapot in space.” His contemporaries scoffed at the idea. He smugly replied, “Then prove that this teapotless universe doesn’t exist. That’s the problem with your God. He’s not falsifiable, but that’s because you can’t see Him. Indeed, the existence of God is as ridiculous as the existence of a universe without teapots floating in space.”
That piece of alternate history makes Bertrand Russell’s argument a moot point. In an infinite multiverse, there’s an inevitable event of a universe filled with teapot-shaped meteorites. (So Rertrand Bussell’s argument, inevitable though it may be, is also a moot point.)
If you think these examples of alternate universes are ridiculous, there is still hope. Perhaps the multiverse is not infinite. Rather than there being infinite universes, suppose there are instead a large number of alternate universes. Considering this scenario, our seemingly designed universe is just one of many. However, we still wonder if there is a possibility of one of our ridiculous universes rearing their ugly heads. What is the probability of an alicorn-Easter bunny universe, and how small should our count be in order to exclude it? Just assume the probability is 1 out of 10 to power of 1000, or 1:10^1000, then we need to make sure our universe count is less than that, actually, much less than that. Even if we have 5 x 10^999 universes (1/2 of 10^1000), there is a 50% chance of the alicorn-Easter bunny universe arising. And then add to that every other ridiculous scenario, every childish imagination, and you’ve got to lower your count in order to extinguish every preposterous universe. But wait a minute – I thought we were doing all this in order to escape the idea of a God who fine-tunes our universe. Instead, we find ourselves fine-tuning a set of universes until it fits perfectly into our acceptable logic.
So, although the multiverse seems to offer an escape from design, it creates philosophical problems that challenge atheism itself. The atheist who believes in infinite universes cannot mock the theist for believing in something akin to Easter bunnies and alicorns. Besides the consideration of the inevitable probabilities, there is the glaring problem of unseen universes. Even with finite universes, there’s a very large amount of stuff we can’t see. So why is a belief in something invisible and larger than our universe different than a belief in God? It goes against the standard operating procedures of science.*** If you can’t observe it, how do you prove its existence? Through a long chain of mathematical logic, or through a long chain of philosophical logic, or through a combination of mental processes, you could come to one or the other conclusion. Remember how I asked if we could diminish the Anthropic Principle and faith at the same time? I would have to say the answer is no. You may exclude the Anthropic Principle by means of a multiverse, but you’re going to believe in something else – ridiculous or unseen.
*Actually, the armchair-television scenario is a huge understatement. There’s just not enough room in this blog to describe the providence portrayed in the Anthropic Principle.
**”If it has not already…” This phrase becomes meaningless unless the multiverse had atleast one origin. How do you consider history if there is no beginning? Perhaps every possibility has already happened!
***Many scientists exclude the proposal of controversial Intelligent Design for the same reasons many scientists also exclude the multiverse. Although math and thought experiments support these theories, human rules oppose any considerations.
For furher reading on the multiverse, including views for and against, visit http://www.space.com/31465-is-our-universe-just-one-of-many-in-a-multiverse.html