Intelligent Design v. The Multiverse Hypothesis: Astronomer John Gribbin Cleverly Splits the Difference Between Them

At the UK’s Telegraph, astronomer John Gribbin puts an intelligent design twist on the multiverse hypothesis: he writes that it’s possible—indeed, plausible—that “a very advanced civilisation”, knowing how to birth new universes via the creation of black holes, designed our universe with life-friendly physical constants and set it loose:

An analogy would be with designer babies – instead of tinkering with DNA to get a perfect child, scientists might tinker with the laws of physics to get a perfect universe. Crucially, though, it would not be possible in any of these cases – even at the most advanced level – for the designers to interfere with the baby universes once they had formed. From the moment of its own Big Bang, each universe would be on its own. This might sound far-fetched, but the startling thing about this theory is how likely it is to happen – and to have happened already. All that is required is that evolution occurs naturally in the multiverse until, in at least one universe, intelligence reaches roughly our level. From that seed point, intelligent designers create enough universes suitable for evolution, which bud off their own universes, that universes like our own (in other words, suitable for intelligent life) proliferate rapidly, with “unintelligent” universes coming to represent a tiny fraction of the whole multiverse. It therefore becomes overwhelmingly likely that any given universe, our own included, would be designed rather than “natural”.

In other words, once the multiverse, by chance, spawned naturally just one highly advanced civilization, then many—perhaps most—future universes would be designer universes generated by scientific tinkering with the physics of black holes. These designer universes would tend to have physical parameters skewed in life-friendly directions. It’s certainly a clever way to bring a Darwinian mechanism (artificial selection) into universe creation—and reduce the plausibility that we are the production of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (or any other god, for that matter).

Here’s how John Gribbin concludes his essay:

The great British astronomer Fred Hoyle suggested that the laws of physics were so uniquely conducive to human existence that the universe must be “a put-up job”. I believe he was right: the universe was indeed set up to provide a home for life, even if it evolved through a process of natural selection, with no need for outside interference. It isn’t that man was created in God’s image – rather that our universe was created, more or less, in the image of its designers.

John Gribbin’s solution answers numerous existential questions elegantly. Here are three:

  1. Why do the universe’s physical constants appear fine-tuned for the production of carbon-based life forms? Because they are.
  2. Why would a designer not make complex life forms straight off? Because no combination of physical constants gets you instant organic complexity: natural selection takes time.
  3. Why is there suffering in the world? Because intelligent designers can only set the parameters of a universe’s physical constants; they cannot control the specific movements of matter and energy within a system, nor can they control the messiness that accompanies natural selection. Intelligent designers are forever separated from their creations by black holes. They are akin to the transcendent God of Deists: they set a universe in motion, but don’t interfere in its subsequent operations (because they can’t).  

Here’s John Polkinghorn talking about the universe as a put-up job:

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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3 Responses to Intelligent Design v. The Multiverse Hypothesis: Astronomer John Gribbin Cleverly Splits the Difference Between Them

  1. Aren’t the “creators” in this scenario, near if not fact god?

    • santitafarella says:

      Bruce:

      I think Gribbin’s suggestion is that human beings, in their particle accelerators, are already starting to make miniature, brief living black holes, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that scientists, a thousand years from now, will be generating them in a more controlled fashion (presumably without getting eaten by them in the process).

      It’s why Gribbin is not likening the aliens to gods—just creatures like us further along technologically.

      —Santi

  2. I think Arthur C. Clark the science fiction author said that technology would appear to be “magic”.

    I think I’m saying if the aliens you hypothesize exist, most people would call them “Gods” from our point of view.

    What is God?

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