Reasons to Believe

Does Hawking Believe in Multiple Universes?

Multiverse is in the news again. No, we're not talking about a type of poetry or a Bible memory verse program. A multiverse is a set of many universes. The multiple universe idea stems from some scientists' attempt to avoid the consequences of a singular beginning to the universe and what's known as the anthropic principle.

Unrelenting scientific evidence attests overwhelmingly to a singular cosmic beginning of all matter, energy, space, and timeconsistent with the Bible's description of the universe's creation. This evidence also demonstrates exquisite cosmic fine-tuning so humans can live on Earth. Scientists recognize this design feature and have termed it the anthropic principle (from the Greek anthropos, human being).

Reluctant to affirm a model that comes from Scripture, some skeptics suggest that perhaps our universe is one of multiple, even an infinity, of universes that sprang into existence during an extremely brief period of time at the universe's apparent beginning.

While the multiverse hypothesis has been around for a couple of decades, only in recent years has the mainstream media popularized the notion. And when a name like Stephen Hawking pops up in connection with this idea, eyes open wider and ears perk up.

Hawking and colleague Thomas Hertog propose in the June 23, 2006, edition of Physical Review D (see abstract): a "top-down" approach to cosmic history, where the observer starts with the present and works backward to find a pathway to the universe's history. (Most observational cosmologists adopt a "bottom-up" approach, looking back to the beginning and constructing a history from there.) It gets technical for a layperson, but essentially the top downers find a window of opportunity (really, a window of the unknown) in the ever-so-brief period between zero and a millionth of a trillionth of a second after the universe began. Here a particular interpretation of quantum mechanics allows that many histories of the universe converged. In other words, many universes existed, each with their own histories, and they somehow contributed to the beginning of this universe. Therefore the universe resulted from no unique beginning. The universe is here and we are here because these histories worked out just right. We're lucky.

The multiverse idea rests on several questionable assumptions. One is that its appeal to a particular interpretation:  the "many worlds interpretation" of quantum mechanics is correct. This interpretation holds that the reality behind the uncertainty in quantum effects means that multiple histories do indeed exist. (Again, those of us who aren't physicists might look like we just bit into a lemon here.) Before we charge the brilliant Hawking with wild speculation, however, it is important to note that Hawking and Hertog's variation on multiverse theory represents a proposal, not a model. They offer caveats to that effect, admitting that the idea is not yet testable.

Will the proposal become sufficiently detailed to qualify as a model that can be put to the test? Let's hope so, for then we'll have one more tool besides the ones we already possess for falsifying the multiverse idea.

Listen to the June 27, 2006, archive of Creation Update
for greater detail and analysis of the Hawking/Hertog paper.

Read astronomer Jeff Zweerink's recent articles explaining and critiquing multiverse theory here and here.

See a few more RTB resources on multiple universes and quantum mechanics:

Subjects: Multiverse