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The Case for a Creator, Chapter 6

For those who accept the premises of the cosmological fine-tuning argument – that the physical laws of the universe could have been different, and that there’s only a small prior probability they would have taken on the values to produce intelligent beings – there are two possible explanations. One is that these values were chosen by a god or other creative power. Another one, which has found favor with some cosmologists in recent years, is that there are a vast number of parallel universes which instantiate all the possible values, and we naturally find ourselves in one of the universes conducive to beings like ourselves.

In chapter 6, Lee Strobel pours scorn on this second possibility. He calls it a “metaphysical escape hatch to avoid the fine-tuning evidence for a designer” [p.139], and quotes some of his ID fellow-travelers who say that this explanation “does seem to betray a metaphysical desperation” [p.140]. He also quotes William Lane Craig, who describes this as an “outlandish theory” invented because “some people will hypothesize anything to avoid” [p.140] the ID explanation.

Something I’ve occasionally observed is that religious apologists will crank up the intensity of their polemic when logic alone doesn’t get them the answers they want, and that seems to be what’s going on here. There is no solid proof that parallel universes exist, but neither is there any way to disprove them; of course, both these points are also true of the intelligent-designer hypothesis. Since these explanations both account for the observations equally well, there is no obvious way to choose between them, and the ID explanation does not stand out as a clear winner. The sudden sharp increase in the hostility of Strobel’s language is probably deliberate, a smokescreen deployed to obscure that rhetorically inconvenient fact. (And didn’t he say in an earlier interview that “motive-mongering” is an irrelevant tactic and that every explanation should stand or fall on its own merits? Evidently, this has been forgotten.)

Note also the careful framing, in which Strobel’s wording is chosen to imply that a supernatural designer should be the default explanation. This may sound good to Christian readers, but it’s not how science works. Every hypothesis has to prove itself superior to its competitors by making verified predictions and producing supporting evidence. No explanation wins just by casting aspersions on its rivals. If Strobel and his ID compatriots want to win this fight, they would be well advised to figure out some concrete predictions that ID makes that differ from those made by multiverse hypotheses (many of which do make testable predictions, even if some of the tests are presently beyond our ability to carry out).

For whatever reason, after spending several pages sneering at multiverse hypotheses, Strobel next resorts to a fallback explanation: even if there were parallel universes, that would still indicate design! As Robin Collins says:

“My wife and I have a bread-making machine… To make edible bread, we first needed this well-designed machine that had the right circuitry, the right heating element, the right timer, and so forth. Then we had to put in the right ingredients in the right proportions and the right order – water, milk, flour, shortening, salt, sugar, yeast…”

“Now, let’s face it: a universe is far more complex than a loaf of bread. My point is that if a bread machine requires certain specific parameters to be set in order to create bread, then there has to be a highly designed mechanism or process to produce functional universes. In other words, regardless of which multiple-universe theory you use, in every case you’d need a ‘many-universes generator’…” [p.142]

No matter how cleverly worded they are or how many intervening steps they contain, cosmological arguments for theism always reach a point where they lapse into special pleading. The above paragraph is the point where Robin Collins does it. Do we need a “many-universes generator”? Then why don’t we also need a “god generator”, to produce the sort of intelligent designer that is capable of producing universes? Why does one need a further explanation while the other does not?

Any explanation for the origin of the universe is susceptible to such recursive questioning. Either the causal chain regresses forever, or we find a place where we have to stop and declare “that’s just the way it is”. The point is that creationists have no rational warrant for stopping the regression at the place most convenient for them. They have no justification for declaring that this step absolutely requires a further explanation, but that step is the one for which no further explanation is necessary. In the absence of evidence, that line can always be moved one step forward or one step backward.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that one day we will discover the scientifically supported explanation for the ultimate cause of all things. But that day hasn’t come yet; we probably don’t even know the right questions to ask. There’s ample reason for all of us to be patient and humble when it comes to the question of ultimate origins. We still have much to learn, and in the meantime, creationists should cease polluting the discussion with empty buzzwords like “metaphysically necessary”, or claiming that there “has to be” a supernatural explanation. These are not arguments, they’re just professions of faith.

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DAYLIGHT ATHEISM Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...