Two Contending Leaps of Faith Concerning Our Universe’s Origin: God Did It; the Multiverse Did It

My own best-guess of what we’re embedded in is by way of an analogy that Alan Watts once proffered: the universe is akin to an apple or cherry tree. Just as a cherry tree “branches” and “leaves” and “cherry blossoms” and “cherries” and “seeds,” the universe bears its fruits as well (it “stars” and “planets” and “organisms” and, ultimately, “minds”).

Alan Watts was making a point about spontaneity, but I think the analogy runs deeper, to an actual design constraint on spontaneity: we should no more treat the universe as a random phenomenon that just happens to have spontaneously produced stars, planets, life, and minds as we should treat a cherry tree as a random phenomenon that just happened to have spontaneously produced branches, leaves, cherry blossoms, cherries, and seeds.

Something very far from entropy is going on in both the cherry tree and the universe as a whole. A program is running. A cherry tree cherries; the universe minds. There are very specific things being selected for.

That is not to say that nothing random is in play in the universe. Like each cherry tree, this universe almost certainly has its contingent peculiarities. Unless there is some principle of strict determinism underlying the universe, if you played its program again—that is, played out the constraints of its physical constants in a fresh big bang—you would no doubt get interesting and significant variations.

But underlying our highly improbable universal cherry tree is some sort of “genetic” blueprint—some sort of apparent fine-tuning of its physical constants—that is, in at least general terms, playing itself out.

And who (or what) is behind it?

I suspect that a non-material mind—not just the blind rustling of atoms in void—undergirds the universe in some fashion.

Yes, I’m talking about God.

The only reasonable alternative to this is to give the universe a history prior to the big bang—a vast multiverse history powered by the random variation of cosmological constants and a mechanism for universes to reproduce themselves. If you do this, then you’re positing a natural history for our universe akin to the natural history that gave us the cherry tree (that is, a process of natural, as opposed to mental, selection).

Absent this, you’ve just got a universal “cherry tree”—arrived at via a singular big bang from nothing—with a genetic-like blueprint running, but lacking any prior natural history to account for its existence.

The great contemporary leap of faith, in my view, is whether you will come down on the side of belief in the multiverse or God.

Which will you choose?

Who will cut down the cherry tree?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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7 Responses to Two Contending Leaps of Faith Concerning Our Universe’s Origin: God Did It; the Multiverse Did It

  1. Two contending leaps of faith, one false dichotomy.

    • santitafarella says:

      Well, that’s clever, but what is your (plausible) third way, Obi Wan? Do you mean to suggest that the universe’s cosmological constants should simply be treated as brute facts not in need of further explanation?

      Or do you have something else in mind?

      —Santi

      • I just find it incredibly simplistic to try and say that ‘either it’s God or the multiverse, nothing else!’

        It doesn’t particularly matter if I come up with another third way or not.

      • santitafarella says:

        In other words, you can’t come up with a plausible third alternative, can you?

        —Santi

  2. Just haven’t bothered to think of one. Don’t much care, as you’ve only presented a false dichotomy.

    • santitafarella says:

      I agree with you that false dichotomies are bad, and I certainly try to avoid them in my own reasoning, but I genuinely don’t see any plausible alternatives to the two that I’ve offered. I’m happy to hear your solution (if you can think of one).

      How, after all, can anyone ever know that a dichotomy is false before they’ve thought of a plausible alternative to it?

      I assume, for example, you agree with Aristotle that A cannot be non-A at the same time. A woman, for instance, cannot be pregnant and not pregnant at the same place and time, and there are simply no other possibilities. There’s no being a little bit pregnant. Any woman you encounter either is or is not pregnant.

      Some dichotomies, in other words, are true and, therefore, helpful to clear thinking.

      As to my dichotomy, I can think of a hybrid to it. But it’s the best I can do: an advanced alien intelligence, tinkering in its lab, made our universe, setting it’s parameters. But, really, this solution is not a third solution at all, for it actually belongs to the multiverse hypothesis (that there are more universes than the one that we know, and something that happened in one of those universes triggered our big bang).

      —Santi

  3. It’s all very well to say “this is a false dichotomy”, but if an actual alternative isn’t offered it sounds a bit like a child teasing, “I know you are, but what are you?”.

    It is always possible in any argument to say “there is another alternative”. Perhaps George Washington didn’t cut down the cherry tree, perhaps aliens did it. Or time travellers. Or a random failure at the subatomic level. But I don’t think adding an endless stream of speculative possibilities is helpful unless they are serious alternatives.

    I think what Santi is trying to get at with his analogy is the fundamental philosophical question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” I wouldn’t put all my eggs in the multiverse basket, (based, as it happens on a post of Santi’s a while back https://santitafarella.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/dead-parrot-watch-the-multiverse-appears-to-be-in-trouble-does-that-mean-atheism-is-in-trouble-too/ ).

    However, leaving the explicit question of the multiverse out, I think Santi is asking “Did something like a mind cause what now exists (including a multiverse, if it exists), or did it just come into being by “natural” (ie non-mind-caused) causes? So far, we have no understanding of initiating causes that are not the result of a mind working. That is, we can see that the axe caused the cherry tree to fall down. However, what initiated or set the entire chain of causes going was the decision of a mind to use the axe.

    Another possible response I think is to remain agnostic (as I am). However, there are various kinds of agnostic. Some say, “we don’t know and we can NEVER know.” I don’t agree. I call myself an open agnostic (called ‘weak agnostic’ by some). In other words, I think it is possible we could know one day. At times I find the argument for no-g0d persuasive. At other times I find the argument for a g0d persuasive. This is one of those times when I find the argument for a cosmic mind persuasive.

    Jonathan from Spritzophrenia

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