A thought experiment: Does the multiverse theory disprove the existence of God?

With a single universe, Intelligent Design is all but a certainty. With multiple universes, a different tale arises.



A man silhouetted in front of space — photo courtesy of Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

In articles past, we’ve explored possible relationships between Mathematics and the divine, such as showing through Math that the afterlife might exist, and attempting to prove through Math that God does exist.

But a different perspective from Alan Lightman, and his book The Accidental Universe brings a different concept into the equation―the prospect of the multiverse.

The Accidental Universe by Alan Lightman — image from Penguin Random House website — https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/226493/the-accidental-universe-by-alan-lightman/
The Accidental Universe by Alan Lightman

The multiverse theory, which suggests that as big as our universe is―it is but one of countless universes, throws a curveball into a lot of theories, including theories of the divine.

In fact, it might disprove Intelligent Design, and even the very existence of God.

Let’s explore it though, as a thought experiment.

This article will have four parts:

  • Part 1 — We make the assumption that the multiverse theory is false, and that this is the only universe there is. And then we see how this suggests Intelligent Design is all but a certainty.
  • Part 2 — We make the assumption that the multiverse theory is true, and come to a very different set of conclusions.
  • Part 3 — We put the concept of God side to side with the notion of the multiverse, and see what happens.
  • Part 4 — We suggest an overall conclusion to the thought experiment.

All right, let’s begin.

Alan Lightman — image courtesy of Public Domain and Wikimedia Commons
Alan Lightman — image courtesy of Public Domain and Wikimedia Commons

Part 1 — If this is the only universe there is, Intelligent Design is most likely real

Let’s assume that we somehow figured out that this universe, as impossibly big as it is, is our only one.

The multiverse is not real, and once you get to the edge of everything―that’s all there is.

If that is the case, Intelligent Design looks to be a near certainty.

An image of a beam of light peeking through the clouds onto a lake — image courtesy of David Cantelli on Unsplash
Photo by Davide Cantelli on Unsplash

Now to be clear, we mean Intelligent Design in the broadest possible sense of the term―we are not suggesting an Abrahamic God, or any one deity. The Intelligent Design of a single universe could be a group of beings, a sentient force, or we could be living in a computer simulation, or could involve any other intentional construction of this universe.

Regardless, it’s still a pretty big claim that One Universe = Intelligent Design.

But there is a real argument to be had when conceiving of existence this way, and to come to our conclusion, we must start with the universal forces and laws that govern us.

It starts with universal forces and laws

An image of a nebula in space — image courtesy of NASA and Unsplash

When this universe began some 13.8 billion years ago, it was seemingly given forces and laws, and those forces and laws were assigned numbers.

Those forces and laws are the same anywhere in the universe. The speed of light is 299,792 kilometers per second near earth, and if we traveled to a distant edge of the universe, the speed of light would still be 299,792 kilometers per second.

The same goes for forces. If an astronomer learned the mass of a distant planet, we could predict its gravity with accuracy.

If we found that the planet had Carbon atoms on it, the nuclei of those Carbon atoms would behave quite similarly to the nuclei of Carbon atoms found on earth.

Oil on canvas made to resemble a strange planet — Photo by Daniel Olah and Unsplash
If scientists got the mass and elemental makeup of a distant planet, they could probably figure out quite a bit — because universal forces and laws apply to the distant planet as well. Photo by Daniel Olah on Unsplash

There are universal forces and laws in this universe, and they are the same at every point in this universe.

Now there is a fundamental question beneath them: Why are they the way they are?

Why is the speed of light 299,792 kilometers per second, instead of twice as fast, or three times as slow?

That question of why―which some might consider to be the ultimate question―is not currently answerable by us.

But there is one set of data points that we do know:

The universal laws and forces just so happen to be attuned for life.

And that attunement is no small task―in fact, when you inspect it closely, this attunement is nothing short of a miracle.

The forces and laws of our universe allow life―and if they were slightly different, they would not

To quote Alan Lightman:

If the values of some of the fundamental parameters of our universe were a little larger or a little smaller, life could not have arisen. For example, if the nuclear force were a few percent stronger than it actually is, then all of the hydrogen atoms in the infant universe would have fused with other hydrogen atoms to make helium, and there would have been no hydrogen left. No hydrogen means no water.

Most scientists believe that water is a necessary component for life to arise.

And if the universal nuclear force was just a bit stronger, we’d have no water, and perhaps planets with Helium atmospheres.

Helium is a famously inert gas, and though it’s great for making balloons and helping out MRI machines, a planet with a Helium atmosphere might be rather inert itself.

A helium heart-shaped balloon — photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash
A helium balloon is great, but a helium universe might not be conducive to life — Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash

And a dry, inert universe might be devoid of life, and this emptiness might be due to the assignation of single number that was just a little higher than it should have been.

What would happen if nuclear forces went the other way?

To quote Alan Lightman again:

On the other hand, if the nuclear force were substantially weaker than what it actually is, then the complex atoms needed for biology could not hold together.

Push nuclear forces one way, we get no biology. Push them another way, we get no biology.

There are other forces and other laws that could have been pulled or pushed―and pulled or pushed only slightly―and any of those alterations would have ended up with a universe devoid of life.

But that didn’t happen, and here we are.

Once more, Alan Lightman:

In sum, the strengths of the basic forces and certain other fundamental parameters in our universe appear to be fine-tuned to allow the existence of life.

If there is one universe, and one universe only, this fine-tuning suggests Intelligent Design

Again, we are not necessarily talking about an Abrahamic God per se―we’re talking about something behind it all. It could be an entity, or a deliberate force, or the makers of a ridiculously-detailed computer simulation―it could be anything.

But if this is the only universe in existence, the chances of the universal forces allowing life are too small to attribute to chance.

Something must have fine-tuned it all at the beginning. Something must have made all the universal forces just so to abet life―and perhaps other things as well.

Our Mathematical Universe — book cover by Max Tegmark

Some, like physicist Max Tegmark, believe that even Math is malleable―and that our universe’s Math is not a fundamental truth per se―but was set at the beginning of our universe.

Would a universe where 3 + 3 ≠ 6 allow life to exist?

A photo of a snowy landscape that looks like an alien landscape — photo courtesy of Marc Grove on Unsplash
There are certainly some bizarre-looking landscapes in this universe, but they would be even more bizarre if they lived in a universe where 3 + 3 ≠ 6 — Photo by Marc Grove on Unsplash

Whatever the case, this universe has universal forces perfectly attuned for life, and has Math where 3 + 3 = 6.

The chances of these forces and laws―and perhaps Math―being so aligned with biology are quite small.

In fact, they are so small that the prospect of Intelligent Design deliberately bringing this forces and laws into being is a near certainty.

But of course, this thought experiment is not about a single universe.

And our conclusion changes drastically when we bring the concept of the multiverse into the equation.

Part 2 — If this universe is part of a multiverse, that changes things

The multiverse theory throws a curveball into most everything, in fact.

Let’s say you’re a theoretical physicist, and you have spent your entire life trying to figure out why the speed of light is what it is, or why the force of gravity is the mass of two objects multiplied by each other, divided by the distance between the centers of their masses, and then multiplied by the Gravitational constant.

With one universe, that search makes sense.

In one universe, there is one Gravitational constant. Figure out why that number is what it is, and you’ve unlocked a secret beneath all existence.

In the multiverse, that search takes on a different meaning―or perhaps no meaning at all

In the multiverse, to quote Alan Lightman, zillions of different universes with different properties are in existence.

A swirling image of stars from a long exposure lens — photo courtesy of Mark Piwnicki on Unsplash
Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash

Thus, the Gravitational Constant in this universe―6.6743 × 10–11 m3 kg-1 s-2―may have been assigned at random.

Other universes might have a Gravitational Constant lower, or higher―or according to Max Tegmark’s view of multiple universes―some universes might have a Gravitational Constant that obeys a different set of mathematical rules altogether.

If the multiverse theory is real, it suggests that there is no meaning beneath our universe’s rules, other than random chance―

A random chance that is not that random―because with so many universes brought into being―zillions, in fact―in at least one of them, the Gravitational Constant will be 6.6743 × 10–11 m3 kg-1 s-2, and 3 + 3 will = 6, and the nuclear forces will be attuned to the point where life can occur.

In the multiverse theory, some universes will be devoid of life, but some universes will indeed have life

When zillions of universes are made, with zillions of fundamental rules to them―some will have that rare set of rules that have the attunement to allow life.

Photo of a jellyfish — photo courtesy of Sangga Rima Roman Selia on Unsplash
If there are zillions of universes with zillions of forces and laws — probability dictates that some of them will hold the conditions for life — Photo by Sangga Rima Roman Selia on Unsplash

Yes, our universe has fortuitous nuclear forces that allow life, but another universe might have stronger nuclear forces that fill it with Helium and takes away all the water, and another universe with weaker nuclear forces might have no biology, and far less chemistry.

Some universes might have 3 + 3 ≠ 6, which would in turn yield whatever that would yield.

Some universes might have the conditions to allow something beyond life―but that is another thought entirely.

Alan Lightman sums it up like this:

Intelligent Design is an answer to fine-tuning that does not appeal to most scientists. The multiverse offers another explanation. If there are zillions of different universes with different properties — for example, some with nuclear forces much stronger than in our universe and some with nuclear forces much weaker — then some of those universes will allow the emergence of life and some will not. Some of those universes will be dead, lifeless hulks of matter and energy, and some will permit the emergence of cells, plants and animals, minds.

But what does the multiverse say about God?

Alan Lightman continues in this regard, by quoting Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg.

The multiverse idea offers an explanation to the fine-tuning conundrum that does not require the presence of a Designer. As Weinberg says: “Over many centuries science has weakened the hold of religion, not by disproving the existence of God, but by invalidating arguments for God based on what we observe in the natural world. The multiverse idea offers an explanation of why we find ourselves in a universe favorable to life that does not rely on the benevolence of a creator, and so if correct will leave still less support for religion.”

In short, the multiverse brings a lot of answers―perhaps less-than-satisfying answers―but answers nonetheless.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into this however, and cut through the noise of this abstraction by comparing the notion of the multiverse with the concept of God.

Let’s put them side by side and see what arises.

Part 3 — Let’s compare the concept of God and the Multiverse side to side

Sometimes you just have to put things in a spreadsheet and see how they compare. So let’s put them next to each other, first comparing God to the Multiverse, at a high level.

A chart comparing aspects of God with the Multiverse

One yes, one maybe, and one soft, soft maybe. Not bad.

Let’s take it a bit deeper, and explore a few types of Gods with the multiverse:

A chart showing types of God next to attributes of the multiverse

One no, one tbd, and one yes.

It is getting a bit dicey now―assumptions are being made, generalizations are happening.

So instead of going deeper with this thought experiment, let’s go back.

Let’s get to a question behind it all, one that even the multiverse can’t account for:

Who or what made the multiverse?

Kicking the can down the road

Even if we prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the multiverse is real, and that randomness not only made all the rules but made us―it still does not answer the question:

Who or what made the multiverse?

Cover of Dan Brown’s book Origin — https://danbrown.com/origin/

The ever-popular Dan Brown, through his inimitable character Robert Langdon, brings up the notion of kicking the can down the road, in an adjacent quandary about the origins of life.

During a passage from Dan Brown’s book Origin, Langdon’s Artificially Intelligent companion Winston brings up an answer for life on earth, which Langdon does not quite see as a full answer.

“How about Panspermia?” Winston asked. “The notion that life on earth was seeded from another planet by a meteor or cosmic dust? Panspermia is considered a scientifically valid possibility to explain the existence of life on earth.” “Even if it’s true,” Langdon offered, “it doesn’t answer how life first began in the universe. We’re just kicking the can down the road, ignoring the origin of the bouncing ball and postponing the big question: Where does life come from?”

Though even the quandary of Where did life on earth come from? is small compared to notions of the multiverse, there is a similar feel here.

Answers, even punchy answers, can kick the can down the road.

And even the multiverse theory can kick its own can down the road―albeit a very, very big can.

Thought experiment within the thought experiment: Let’s assume the multiverse theory, and its most anti-deity conclusions are correct

Let’s assume there are zillions of universes, and let’s assume that resultant probability alone drove this universe to make life―

To make us.

Well, that’s one big question answered―and a bigger question made.

What made the universe? is one question, and What made the multiverse? is another one entirely.

Oil on canvas meant to resemble a brilliantly colored planet — photo courtesy of Daniel Olah and Unsplash.
Photo by Daniel Olah on Unsplash

And of course, we can’t quite assume the multiverse theory―let alone its most anti-deity conclusions―are correct.

But we may be able to find some conclusions.

Part 4 — Conclusion: Where does this thought experiment lead us?

A photo of clouds that looks like heaven — photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash
Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

First of all, it led us through Part 1, which suggested that if this is our only universe, Intelligent Design may be very, very real.

That’s huge.

Many scientists believe that this not the only universe, but if it is―that changes things.

And there is a real conclusion there.

But if the multiverse theory is real? We could conclude three things:

  1. Our universe might be the way it is because of the power of sheer probability. Though not entirely satisfying, this might be an answer.
  2. The question of God is explained on some level, though not entirely. Looking at the previous charts―there are a few green yeses, but more yellows and a red no.
  3. The question of God gets even bigger than it already is―because who, or what made the multiverse?

Again―it’s a thought experiment, and that’s where these things go.

And to answer the question in the title―does the multiverse theory disprove the existence of God?

No, it does not.

It may explain some things, but ultimately―it makes any question of the divine even bigger than it already is.

This article was informed by the great books The Accidental Universe by Alan Lightman, and Our Mathematical Universe by Max Tegmark. Though neither of those thinkers necessarily endorse the previous views, Jonathan Maas endorses them and suggests you read the aforementioned books or any of their other ones immediately.

Jonathan Maas is a Writer and Data Analyst, and his latest book is Klareana: The Human Child. You can find his other books, and his book reviews at Goodreads.com/JMaas.

He has also directed one feature film starring Shawn Christian and Eric Roberts―you can see Spanners here for free on YouTube.




I read a lot and occasionally write ;) See more of me at Goodreads.com/JMaas