Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Unknowing: Naturalism, Supernaturalism, and the Multiverse

Where did the Universe come from?
Whereas in the past many believed that she was eternal, recent advances in cosmology suggest that the Universe expanded from a singularity, a point at which matter was infinitely compressed to an infinitesimal volume. This shift in understanding seems to have rendered previous views regarding the Universe's eternality implausible. Theists have capitalized on this shift by pointing to the necessity of a cause outside of the Universe (as they believe it is nonsensical to think she could be causeless without being eternal). Further, they have argued that God is the most reasonable explanation for her origination and that only a creative mind which transcends both space and time can adequately account for her complexity, order, and evolution.

Against this perspective is the mainstream secular justification for the apparent finiteness of the Universe. Eminent scholars, like Stephen Hawking and Michio Kaku, espouse what some have termed Multiverse Theory which asserts there is not one but rather numerous (possibly infinite) Universes. The explanation of the Universe's origins is therefore attributed to other Universes, the existence of which is potentially eternal. Naturalistic conceptualizations of the Universe are thus legitimized through this account of her origination and the problem of finiteness is deconstructed. 

But in considering both perspectives it seems to me that no matter how eloquent, interesting, and complex these conceptions of the Universe are, both require a great deal of faith. (While some would argue otherwise, neither explanation of the Universe can (yet) be verified scientifically.) And while my own understanding is theistic (while seeing no contradiction between Multiverse Theory and my faith) I recognize the need to distinguish between knowing and believing. Moreover, it is a mistake, I think, to equate the admission of the unknown with weakness. In reality admitting a deficit of knowledge is not a shortcoming but rather a strength as it both humbles and humanizes us; a practice which has the undeniable ability to promote empathy, peace, and (foremost) love between those of starkly contrasting ideologies.

I have watched and listened to many debates between atheists, agnostics, and theists in the past few years. Many atheists  have, with virulent fervor, attacked the "implausibility" of theism while those of religious inclinations have become equally impassioned in defending their beliefs. Too often, however, the debate has become a match of disparagement in which combatants depreciate each other's intelligence and intellectual credibility. Such insults are unnecessary and promote factionalism rather than transparent discussion. Further, while these debates are important I say let love, the one thing which makes the Universe meaningful, be preeminent. An honest admission of the limitations of human knowledge and an effort to empathize with one's ideological adversaries will do no one any harm.