God and the Multiverse
Science writer Steuart Campbell reviews God and the Multiverse: Humanity’s Expanding View of the Cosmos by Victor J Stenger.
Dr Stenger, who died at the end of August this year, was a retired elementary particle physicist, emeritus professor of physics at the University of Hawaii and adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado.
But his books about God (God the Failed Hypothesis; God and the Atom; God and the Folly of Faith and now this one) remind me of the trilogy: Where God Went Wrong; Some More of God’s Greatest Mistakes and Who is this God Person Anyway?, all attributed to the fictional writer Oolon Colluphid in Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
One has to wonder why a retired physicist has been so exercised about God. Perhaps his Catholic background has something to do with it. Or perhaps his publishers think that the public is unable to digest hard science without a catchy theological connection.
Whatever, this book is not about God and not about the Multiverse until page 328! Don’t read it unless you are prepared for a graduate course in particle physics and cosmology – it’s hard going. Nevertheless one learns some important facts about the multiverse, eg that it had no beginning and will have no end.
Stenger points out that all major religious traditions are likely to have great difficulty reconciling their concept of a creator god with a multiverse that is eternal and uncreated. He also claims that theists are mistaken in believing that the concept of a multiverse was invented to undermine theology (it emerged naturally from developing cosmology).
He also points out that the multiverse explanation is adequate to refute the idea of fine-tuning (the idea that God or someone tuned the basic parameters of the universe so that we could exist), for which he says there is no evidence anyway.
Stenger says that our universe emerged from a tiny Planck sphere (about 10-35 m in size) “fundamentally indistinguishable from nothing” with a mirror universe emerging at the same time with reversed time (he calls this “the biverse”). But this was not the beginning of everything; just that of our universe which will have no end – continuing to expand forever as the rest of the universe vanishes from sight. He comments:
So even if there were a creation, divine of natural, our universe possesses no memory of it. Not only is the god of most religions ruled out, so is the Enlightenment deist creator god.
In his chapter on Life and God, Stenger deals with interesting questions like: “How can something come from nothing?”; “Where do the laws of physics come from?” and “Why is there something rather than nothing?”
Presumably to undermine claims that God created the world, Stenger quotes an Old Testament scholar as claiming that the word for creating in Genesis (bara) actually means “separating” (heaven from earth), but surely this is desperation. There are more ways of deconstructing Genesis.
On page 371 we get to “The God Hypothesis”, where Stenger could have quoted Laplace who, when asked by Napoleon why his book about celestial mechanics contained no reference to God, replied: “I had no need of that hypothesis”.
Nevertheless Stenger’s answer is similar: “God is an additional hypothesis not required by the data … we know of no observed fact that requires the existence of God. Indeed, many observed facts that are inconsistent with the God hypothesis serve to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a God who plays an active role in the universe and in human lives does not exist”.
Up to page 35, before the hard science starts, there are many interesting comments on the religious views of scientists through the ages.
It is not clear to me who this book is aimed at. As a science book, it is spoiled by repeated references to God and religious views of the universe which could irritate science students. As a book showing how God is unnecessary, it is spoiled by the hard science. That makes it difficult for me to recommend it to the Freethinker.