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Flying Cocaine and Multiverse Madness

A couple of weeks ago, Florida police pulled over a car in a routine search, and, after detecting a smell of marijuana, discovered a bag of cocaine in the purse of passenger Kennecia Posey. When she was asked how it got there, Posey suggested that it was a windy day and that “It must have flown through the window and into my purse.”

This did not satisfy the police and Ms Posey was charged and released on bond. Yet her answer did provide sufficient amusement to earn her a flicker of attention in the media. The idea that someone would try to account for the existence of an awkward situation with such a bizarre explanation is both funny and ridiculous.

But in one context her proposal also raises some serious questions. Let me crossfade for a moment and give some background.

The Problem of Life

One of the biggest problems for scientific atheism these days is accounting for the existence of living organisms. As science has gained a greater understanding of the building-blocks of life, it has become very clear that even the most basic self-replicating molecule imaginable—let alone something we would recognise as a “cell”—needs to be far more complex than anything that might form by chance. So how did it come about?

Christians, of course, say that it didn’t happen by chance; God did it—even if he used some physical process to make it happen. If it seems impossible—or improbable to the point of impossibility—we aren’t bothered. The whole shebang is a miracle anyway. We believe in a God who made decisions about what kind of universe he would create and what would happen in it.

If the existence of life seems impossible—or improbable to the point of impossibility—we aren’t bothered. The whole shebang is a miracle anyway.

Obviously that option isn’t on the table for atheists. They need something to make the extremely implausible a little more believable; and the most popular theory to achieve that today is the multiverse.

The Lure of the Multiverse

Multiverse theory, first thought up by a Princeton postgraduate after an evening of sherry-drinking in 1954, attempts to solve the basic problem of contingence—why did this thing happen rather than that or nothing?—by saying that everything happens. Every choice, every possibility that might occur, will occur somewhere in an infinite or near-infinite (things are a little vague here)[1] set of universes that branch or bubble off each other.

The great advantage of this for atheism is that it gives us many more goes at rolling the dice. Is it too hard to believe that our universe just fluked the perfect set of physical laws to produce life or that molecules just happened to jiggle themselves into a structure that would allow self-replication? No problem. With enough universes, it’s inevitable that everything happens. We don’t need to believe in a Creator, we just need to believe in lots and lots of chance. Anything that seems super-unlikely—like the spontaneous appearance of life—is simply a product of the fact that we happen to be on one of those worlds where it happened.

When Everything Happens, Nothing is Crazy

Which takes us back to Kennecia Posey. Ms Posey’s suggestion that the wind might have blown the cocaine into her purse seems ridiculous. But if there’s an infinite multiverse then there is literally an infinite chance that this is exactly what happened.[2]

The problem is that the multiverse is a universal acid. We might use it to avoid the awkward conclusion that God created life—but it will attack everything. It destroys likelihood and thus common sense.

The multiverse is a universal acid. We might use it to avoid the awkward conclusion that God created life—but it will attack everything. It destroys likelihood and thus common sense.

For the same reason, it would destroy the scientific method. If there’s an infinite chance of everything happening then scientific reasoning is dead. For example, there would be no way to know whether that trial cancer drug really did anything, or whether we just happen to live in one of the universes where all those who received went into natural remission by coincidence. Inductive reasoning relies on us being able to rule out improbable contingencies, but the multiverse invites us to believe that contingence itself is an illusion.[3] 

Of course nobody really wants to use multiverse theory in everyday situations like this. Kennecia Posey would be laughed out of court if she tried it—just as she was mocked in the press. But this just shows us how suspect the theory really is. Why is it that the only time the theory is applied practically is to avoid arguments in favour of God? You know the answer—read Romans 1:20-32 if you’re stumped.

Multiple Universes: The Possible and The Silly

Please note what I’m not saying here.

First, I’m not saying that Christians must absolutely reject the idea of multiple universes. For all we know, God might have built other theatres for his glory, or even other worlds that might need to find out about Christ’s work in ours.[4]

Second, I’m not saying that scientists might not yet discover a naturalistic mechanism for the development of life. Clearly the Bible testifies that God is at work through both miracles and through those processes that we see as more normal (see Psalm 104 for example).

What I am saying, however, is that multiverse theory is unreasonable insofar as it is an attempt to avoid God. Believing in an infinity of unseen creatures is no more reasonable than believing in the activity of single infinite decision-making God: especially when (to compress some important points to bullets):

  • the multiverse itself and the principles that run it would still need to be explained (i.e. we’ve just pushed the problem back a step and added a kerjillion other entities in the process).
  • the existence of God provides a much better explanation for spiritual realities such as beauty love and morality;
  • God has actually given concrete evidence of himself in the character and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ (of course this is the most important point).

Jesus and the Multiverse

Modern multiverse theory reminds us just how far humans will go to avoid God. Our desire to avoid him is so strong that we will retreat into all kinds of folly. But, like Kennecia Posey, what we really need aren’t flimsy excuses but some good legal help. Jesus is the one we really need for that.


† Author’s Postscript: A couple of commenters have understood me to be saying here that just any old thing might happen in our universe, or that the laws of physics aren’t fixed. Actually, what I’m trying to point out is that, in an infinite multiverse, the most extremely unlikely events will happen in infinite instances and you have no way to know whether you’re in one of them. Thus, our existing laws of nature allow an infintesimal chance that a bag of cocaine might be caught in a gust of wind and quantum-tunnel (look it up) its way into a moving car. We would would normally (and sensibly) discount that as a real-world explanation. But if we’re in a multiverse where there are infinite versions of our universe, that unlikely event must happen infinite times. How, in that case, can we say what’s implausible? 


Image: Paul Goetz, flickr

[1] String-theory based models have proposed possible ranges for different universes that vary from 10500 to 10 to the power 10 to the power 10,000,000 (that is a number that would be written as 1 with ten million zeroes after it).

[2] Of course there’s also an infinite chance it didn’t, but that’s just part of the fun.

[3] See John Horgan’s recent inclusion of multiverse theory in his list of signs of scientific decadence John Horgan https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/is-science-hitting-a-wall/.

[4] Looking at you, Perelandra, chapter 17

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