Friday, January 04, 2019

Damnation in the multiverse

1. An issue in Christian theodicy is whether a majority of the human race will be damned. An argument for that proposition combines inclusivism with the demographics of church history up to the present. Perhaps future church history demographics will offset the current tally.

2. A more specific issue concerns the ethnic demographics of salvation. As of now, some people-groups are overrepresented while other people-groups are underrepresented. Put another way, salvation is overrepresented in the northern hemisphere compared to the southern hemisphere. Or overrepresented in the west compared to the east. Is geography destiny?

Many Christians believe that some or all who die before the age of reason are saved. But even if that's the case, is it enough to offset the ethnic disparity? 

But perhaps that's just the way it is. There's a sense in which grace is arbitrary, since no one deserves it. 

3. Suppose, for argument's sake (which may in fact be true), that most folks on planet earth will be damned. Does that mean a majority of the human race will be damned? And does that mean more Caucasians are saved than other ethnic groups? Not necessarily. An unspoken assumption behind that inference is that humans only exist on planet earth, in our universe. But is that a secure assumption? What if there's a multiverse? Before addressing that question directly, I need to lay some groundwork.

4. Let's turn to modal metaphysics. There are at least two reasons to believe in possible worlds:

i) A capacity for hypothetical reasoning is a feature of human intelligence. That's one of the things which sets us apart from animals. A lot of our decision-making involves hypothetical reasoning. We mentally compare and contrast alternate courses of action. If I do this, what are the likely consequences? If, instead, I do that, what are the likely consequences?

In addition, many counterfactual scenarios seem to be undeniably true. It's just unavoidable. For instance: If JFK hadn't been assassinated on November 22, 1963, LBJ would not have assumed the presidency on the same day. How can that be reasonably disputed? 

ii) Furthermore, the Bible contains many hypothetical or counterfactual statements. So the Bible appeals to that human faculty. 

But what makes counterfactuals true? They don't correspond to what happens in our world. So counterfactuals are standardly cashed out in terms of possible worlds. Borrowing from time-travel scenarios, we could also recast the idea in terms of alternate timelines. 

5. But that pushes the question back a step: what are possible worlds? What's the ontology of possible worlds? There are different paradigms. David Lewis had a position similar to the multiverse. A different paradigm views possible worlds as abstract objects.

However, I view possible worlds as alternate plots in God's imagination. Like a screenwriter or novelist, God is able to imagine infinitely many different world histories. 

6. So I think Christians have good reason to believe in a plurality of possible worlds. But that raises another question: what's the relationship between possible worlds and actual worlds? Out of all the possible worlds at God's disposal, does he pick just one to instantiate? Or did God create a multiverse? 

i) I can't think of any reason why God is unable to create a multiverse. I don't know of any metaphysical impediment that prevents him from instantiating multiple alternate timelines. Of course it's incompossible for one and the same timeline to combine or contain two or more alternate timelines, but if these are separated, I don't see that it's impossible for them to coexist. 

ii) Assuming that God is unable to create a multiverse, is God unwilling to create a multiverse? We can't say for sure. However, it seems arbitrary to suppose God only instantiates one world history. There are so many interesting plotlines in the divine imagination. So many rich alternatives. World histories just as worthwhile as our own. So I incline to the view that God probably made a multiverse rather than a universe. 

7. Here I need to draw a distinction. As I recall, I once read a distinction (which I can't locate) between a physical multiverse and a metaphysical multiverse. The point of contrast is not that one is material while the other is immaterial. Rather, "physical" in this context means a multiverse based on physics. There are competing interpretations of quantum mechanics. One solution to superposition is the many-worlds interpretation. On that view, Schrödinger's cat is both dead and alive. Each outcome is represented in a parallel universe. In the multiverse, Schrödinger's cat has nine lives! And there are Christian physicists like Don Page and Jeff Zweerink who endorse a physical multiverse.

However, I'm dubious about a physical multiverse. For one thing, but there are competing interpretations, and we don't have enough evidence to verify or falsify the many-worlds interpretation.

I also have a theological objection: A physical multiverse is rather mechanical. All physically feasible alternatives must be realized. That doesn't give God any discretion. And it generates a theodical problem since some possible worlds are irremediably evil. That's unworthy of God's wisdom and benevolence. 

Instead of that, I'm partial to a metaphysical multiverse. That's independent of physics. On that model, not all possible timelines are represented. Only the better possible worlds make the cut. 

8. On that view, human history on planet earth is just one slice of human history overall. Human history isn't confined to planet earth in our universe. There's a parallel universe where Adam never fell. Likewise, there are fallen worlds where redemptive history originates in China, or Japan, or North America, or South America, &c. Some of these have a plot similar to Bible history, but with different geographical points of origin. Where Eden exists in a different part of the world. Where there's a counterpart to Abraham in a different part of the world. Where the Son became Incarnate as a Chinese, Vietnamese, Aztec, East Indian, or Iroquois male, &c. The human race is scattered across the multiverse, where alternate timelines play out. 

Even assuming most humans on our planet are hellbound, yet if you total the heavenbound humans in the multiverse, the cumulative tally for the saints might vastly outnumber the damned. Every people-group will be well-represented. To use our planetary history as the final frame of reference is a cosmically provincial basis of comparison. 

9. It might be objected that my position is too speculative. And this is certainly an exercise in philosophical theology. That said:

i) While it's speculative to postulate a multiverse, it's no less speculative to deny a multiverse. You can't avoid conjecture one way or the other.

ii) Christianity theism has metaphysical resources lacking in naturalism. And we should't hesitate to take advantage of the extra resources at our disposal. 

iii) If the universe is a tribute to God's greatness, how much more so a multiverse. 

iv) Although it's speculative, it's not sheer speculation. As I said, I think Scripture already bears witness to possible worlds. And from there it's a short step to a metaphysical multiverse. 

v) There is, moreover, the burden of proof. I don't even have to affirm it. It's enough that I can't rule it out. It's a reasonable conjecture. Even if I suspend judgment, it disables the theodical objection, for the theodical objection relies the ambitious assumption that human history is confined to our planet. To question that objection, I don't have to disprove the underlying assumption. Rather, it's up to the critic to prove his own assumption or disprove the multiverse scenario. The onus is on a critic to justify his operating assumptions. 

vi) Moreover, this isn't just an apologetic tactic on my part. I have no good reason to think God suffer from our limitations. When we come to a fork in the road, that's a binary choice between turning left or right. Yet that's because, at that stage, the fork in the road is a given. But it's not a given for God. 

10. BTW, I don't put this forward because I think the traditional position is indefensible. But the objection to the traditional position relies on a gratuitous assumption that I just don't grant or even find plausible. 


  1. ///What's the ontology of possible worlds? ... I'm dubious about a physical multiverse.///

    This brought the old quip to mind ... “you can’t have everything ... where would you put it?”

    With that said, I can think of coincidences and even ongoing situations in my life that could be well-explained by a multiverse.

    1. So long as you don't bump into your double in a wormhole and annihilate reality in one of those matter meets anti-matter cataclysms.

  2. When John says he saw a number he couldn't even count, was he referring to this universe only, or a multiverse of redeemed people?

    1. He wouldn't be in a position to tell the difference.

  3. Yes. Exactly. So it might not be that there are so many from his known universe, but rather, a multitude from a variety of "other universes". On the other hand, when John says from every nation, tribe and tongue, does this go against the theory? Or perhaps, since he is looking into the future, he wouldn't really know every nation, tribe and tongue, so therefore, a multiverse scenario fits. In any event, I find the idea fascinating, and the point is to trust God, because the knowledge we do have is enough for that.

  4. One of the musings/"objections" I would have with regards to a multiverse (and in parallel, alien life on other planets in this universe) would be the nature of the atonement. Would the atonement be salvific for people in other universes? You comment in your post musing on the Son becoming incarnate again. (Is it "again" if it's in another universe?) Isn't that contrary to the idea of a once-and-sufficient sacrifice?

    1. No, because the context for the uniqueness/unrepeatability of the Incarnation/Atonement has reference to human history on planet earth. It doesn't address a parallel universe scenario or fallen aliens one way or the other.