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Regis Nicoll Christian Blog and Commentary

The multiverse: a theory in trouble

“How do you know they're black holes?” (Physicist Lawrence Krauss, after being told that the universe is full of black holes)

It appears that those cosmic gluttons called “black holes” may be a figment of physicists’ imagination.

For years it has been thought that Einstein’s theory of gravity (general relativity) required a fatal attraction around super-massive objects, causing the creation of black holes—dreadful objects where nothing, not even light, can escape their greedy grasp. The idea that physics predicts stellar objects that gobble up everything in their gravitational web has spawned a spate of sci-fi speculations about spacetime rips, time-tunneling, and multiple universes.

Although alternate solutions to Einstein’s equations have been around for some time, they have been largely ignored by the gate-holders of physics orthodoxy. But that could soon change.

Recent calculations by physicist Lawrence Krauss and his colleagues indicate that gravitational collapse will not lead to black hole formation. Rather, the new calculations show that a black hole will evaporate before it is formed, much like a gourmand with chronic dysentery. One thing is for sure—Krauss’s calculations threaten to deflate the black hole “economy.” And that is bad news for naturalism.

General relativity is one of the twin pillars upon which all physics rests (the other is quantum mechanics). Since black holes are thought a necessary consequence of relativity, part of their “cash value” comes from their confirmation of this highly celebrated theory. In the minds of theorists, black holes and general relativity are inextricably linked. To question either is tantamount to a Christian questioning the bodily resurrection of Christ.

The rest of their “cash value”—and, perhaps, the most important part—derives more from metaphysics than physics.

The existence of black holes harmonizes with the naturalistic belief that we live in a violently indifferent universe—one bereft of any benevolent design or Designer. The related phenomena of wormholes and time-tunneling are seen as portals to exploration and understanding, giving us reason to hope that we can discover the meaning of our own existence and overcome the dangers of our cosmic environment.

Consequently, the ultimate cash value of black holes is not in their validation of Einstein’s theory, but of Darwin’s. Let me explain.

Despite their commitment to evolutionary science, most Darwinists acknowledge that our cosmic home is an “against all odds” universe. Physicist and evolutionary scientist, Lee Smolin writes, “Were the neutron heavier by only one percent, the proton light by the same amount, the electron twice as massive, its electronic charge twenty percent stronger, the neutrino as massive as the electron etc. there . . . would be no stars, no chemistry.”

Added to these delicate balances, astrophysicist Hugh Ross has identified over two dozen physical parameters which, if varied by more than the slightest amount, would have made the emergence of life as we know it impossible. As we straddle the razor’s edge between existence and non-existence, it’s hard not to imagine that the deck has been “stacked.”

Realizing that evolutionary mechanisms, alone, are insufficient to account for our “Goldilocks” universe, secular thinkers have scrambled for some theory, any theory; no matter how overreaching, to avoid the obvious and most simple explanation: “It has been stacked!”

“Since Nature is all there is, and we’re here,” they reason, “something must have ensured Nature’s success.” That something is the “multiverse”—a supercosmos containing an infinite number of universes such that the intricate network of coincidences found in ours will be actualized in one of them. It will be noted that the world’s most vocal and published atheist, Richard Dawkins, stakes his faith in the multiverse, as revealed during a recent debate with John Lennox.

For its champions, the multiverse seals the hull in the Darwinian vessel by ensuring that anything imaginable (and even unimaginable!) will evolve somewhere. Yet, unbeknownst to them, their craft has been taking on water ever since its maiden voyage.

In 1957, Hugh Everett was a young Princeton physicist who proposed a speculative interpretation of quantum behavior that came to be called, “many-worlds.” According to many-worlds, every speck of space is continuously splitting off into separate “realities” corresponding to each of its quantum states.

It has been argued that this extends to human free will, as well. Proponents claim that every personal decision results in the birth of a new universe that runs parallel to the manifold worlds created by all of the choices available at every moment of time. It’s creation ex nihilo with a vengeance!

Many-worlds is the thematic thread in films like Johnny Darko, Run Lola Run and What the Bleep Do We Know? Much of its appeal can be attributed to the growing influence of Eastern mysticism combined with the popular notion that science will save us. Nevertheless, most mainline physicists have dismissed the theory as transcendental science.

Over two decades later, a competing theory emerged in the form of “chaotic inflation,” courtesy of cosmologist André Linde. Linde reasoned that if a quantum-sized “nugget” of space erupted violently, it could become a “bubble” of energy ballooning into a whole universe. Then, if the initial “bubble” quickly disintegrated into a constellation of bubbles, much like the foam created after opening a bottle of soda, it could spawn multiple universes. And, if inflation is a continuing process, then the increasing number of universes would guarantee the existence of ours.

It will be noted that chaotic inflation is not the result of observation and experimental verification, but of a fanciful idea buoyed by abstract mathematical gymnastics. In fact, all of Linde’s “ifs” and “coulds” signal that chaotic inflation is more a product of desperate faith than of reasoned thinking. Lee Smolin agrees, stating, “eternal inflation can be considered an interesting speculation, but it is supported neither by observation nor by firm mathematical results . . . ” Thus, for investigators who value testability and falsifiability, chaotic inflation is—one might say—highly inflated.

That shifts the burden of multiverse creation to black holes.

Arguably, the most sophisticated multiverse theory belongs to Smolin. Lee Smolin is a physicist who has a deep admiration for Darwin’s theory of natural selection. So deep that he is convinced that evolutionary processes, which (in his view) have been so successful in accounting for biological life, must also be at work at the cosmological scale.

In the estimation of Smolin, it all began when a runaway excursion in the quantum vacuum led to the creation of a universe that was sufficiently “fit” to spawn at least one black hole.

The idea that black holes are birthing centers of other worlds had already been popularized Stephen Hawking. According to Hawking all of the matter and energy digested by these voracious objects exited our universe to become the seeds new ones. In the Hawking multiverse every “baby-verse” is unrelated to every other.

In contrast, Smolin’s supercosmos is a product of common descent from a primordial granddaddy. By some yet-to-be defined process of natural selection, increased “fitness” over each generation of universes resulted in a very long family tree of descendents. Here, “fitness” is assigned by the number of black holes a universe produces.

Clearly, Smolin’s energetic effort to keep naturalism afloat rises or falls on the validity of black holes. However recent developments indicate that it is a mere shifting of deck chairs on the Titanic.

After wrestling for decades with the energy conservation requirements of black holes, Stephen Hawking shocked his colleagues by reversing his 30-year position. In a 2004 conference in Ireland, Dr. Hawking presented the results of his latest calculations before concluding: “I’m sorry to disappoint science fiction fans, but if [mass and energy] is preserved [as required by the laws of physics] there is no possibility of using black holes to travel to other universes.''

Flash! The most celebrated scientist of our day ceded that black holes are not portals to other worlds. That was bad news enough. Now the findings of Krauss and Co. indicate that even the theoretical basis for black holes is flawed.

On top of that, many investigators have come to the uncomfortable realization there are no confirmed black holes—only objects identified as “black hole candidates.” This has caused a growing number of scientists to reconsider the viability of many-worlds, despite its outrageous extravagance and its logical extensions into mysticism.

To be sure, these are desperate times for the philosophical naturalist. We can pray that as he watches the Darwinian vessel plunge to its watery grave, he will turn his eyes beyond Nature for solid answers to his philosophical quest.

What are your thoughts about the multiverse? Post them here.