Friday, April 2, 2010

The resurrection of Christ and the multiverse

Todd Buras has shared the following thought with me. Suppose one thinks both (a) that the multiverse should be invoked in order to explain the origins of life, because the probabilities in one universe are too low (or, presumably, to explain fine-tuning of constants) and (b) the resurrection of Christ is too weird to believe. Well, in an infinite (naturalistic, I suppose) multiverse, someone very much like Christ does in fact get resurrected—it is very unlikely that the particles should move in such a way as to reverse death, but in an infinite multiverse even such unlikely things will happen. Isn't that an interesting thought? (It reminds one of David Lewis's observation that on his view the Greek gods exist, though he thought—I don't know with what justification—that they didn't exist in our world.)

And, I add, such a thing will happen in infinitely many universes, given an infinite naturalistic multiverse: In infinitely many universes, a monotheistic religious leader named "Jesus" is crucified and rises again on the third day, with all the details being as Christians claim. In our universe, it is claimed by otherwise credible witnesses that this happened—and these witnesses are not contradicted by other alleged eye-witnesses. Why not take their claim at face value, and say that we just are in one of the infinitely many universes where it happens?

Of course, in a naturalistic multiverse, there will also be infinitely many universes where a resurrection is claimed and one didn't happen. But that's not a bigger infinity than the infinity of universes where it's claimed and did happen. Now, one might say: When in infinitely many universes, some set of testimonies not contradicted by any witnesses is true, and in infinitely many universes, the equivalent set of testimonies not contradicted by any witnesses is false, we should suspend judgment. But then I should suspend judgment over the existence of China if a multiverse obtains. For I only know of China on testimony, and in infinitely many universes the testimony is true, and in infinitely many it's false.

So, given a multiverse, it is just as reasonable to assert the resurrection of Jesus as it is to assert the existence of China.

I do not offer this as a serious argument for the resurrection, because the argument can probably be used to show too much. Rather, I think, this highlights the serious problems that multiversists have with probabilistic reasoning.

22 comments:

John Farrell said...

Well, serious or not, it is a happy thought today of all days, and one worth pondering.

James Bejon said...

Rather, I think, this highlights the serious problems that multiversists have with probabilistic reasoning.

I agree. Though it seems to me that the root problem (?) underlying these infinite-verse-related problems is the absurdities entailed in the existence of an actual infinite. That is, the former absurdities seem to me to be a corollary of the latter. Though I suspect, bearing in mind some of your other posts, that you disagree?

todd said...

I add only one thought--one I think I have never duly appreciated, though it is probably very obvious to others. If the laws of our universe are such that they assign some probability to events as unlikely as the resurrection, then there is nothing about our best understanding of the physical universe that precludes a resurrection. We are precisely in the position St. Thomas describes: the claims of faith go beyond reason, but not against it.

Mike Almeida said...

These are some nice and very important observations. I've long doubted multiverse hypotheses for other reasons (reasons I thought conclusive), but I'd never thought of these. I'm convinced. Nice Todd/Alex.

Alexander R Pruss said...

JB:

Probabilistic absurdities like the ones that my argument turns on are my main reason to think an actual infinite absurd. A bit of reason is also provided by the Grim Reaper paradox. I am completely unmoved by Hilbert's Hotel, etc.--I don't even find it strange.

Alexander R Pruss said...

On reflection, I don't think my argument yields the "just as reasonable" claim. It yields the conditional: "If it is reasonable to believe in the existence of China, it is reasonable to believe in the resurrection of Christ."

Landon Hedrick said...

Well, this theory certainly explains the contradictory accounts of Jesus' resurrection. The stories were written in different universes where different events transpired!

Alexander R Pruss said...

Happy Easter!

Seriously, I don't think the accounts are contradictory, but that's a long story, also having to do with the nature of assertion and Donnellan.

Unseriously, I say: It also explains the contradictory accounts of China--the Chinese government claims it's a free country, but dissidents claim otherwise. They are speaking of different Chinas. :-)

Huume said...

Happy resurrection day Mr. Pruss and I hope you never stop writing blogs. Gosh.

Huume said...

Happy resurrection day Mr. Pruss and I hope you never stop writing blogs. Gosh.

James Bejon said...

A quick (dumb) question. But when we're talking about multiverses, what exactly are we talking about? That is, what distinguishes multiverse A from multiverse b? A different set of physical laws? Also, is part of distinction the idea that the events of A can't causally influence the events of B?

Alexander R Pruss said...

There are many multiverse theories. They range from a single infinite spacetime with a single set of laws of nature, and clumps of matter that are relatively isolated in it, to universes giving rise to other universes with different constants in the laws in a containing de Sitter space, to universes that are entirely causally isolated.

For the purposes of fine-tuning, what you need is a very large bunch of places with differents constants in the laws. It doesn't matter if they are causally or spatially isolated.

Landon Hedrick said...

Of course, the Christian claim is that God raised Jesus from the dead. If there is no God, then "God raised Jesus from the dead" is false in every universe, even if the corpse of Jesus did emerge from the tomb.

I wonder if this invalidates any argument for the existence of the Christian God based on the resurrection of Jesus. After all, the view outlined in this post is that Jesus could have "risen from the dead" simply based on improbable quantum events. If I accept that, why would Jesus' resurrection make God's existence probable at all?

James Bejon said...

Thanks for the reply, Alex. The reason I was wondering about causal connectivity (and this may be a silly thought) was because I was wondering whether it could start to interfere with possibilities once you get an infinite number of universes. Suppose, for instance, it's possible for something to happen (in some universe w) that causes all non-w universes to, say, implode. This possibility would have to be realised, right? But once it does, we've no longer got a multiverse: in fact, every other possibility gets excluded. So, is such a thing impossible?

James Bejon said...

Landon: I think you raise an interesting point. It's hard to see on what basis one would decide to class something as supernatural given certain multiverse scenarios.

Regarding Christ's resurrection, however, I don't think the inference to the likely existence of God is completely undercut. For such arguments aren't just of the form: 'Someone happened to get resurrected; therefore, God exists' but rather 'The life of a messianic figure claiming an unparalleled relationship with the God of Israel culminated in his resurrection from the dead'. So, one would then have to start asking questions like, How likely is it for me to inhabit a universe where such a unique religious figure is revived via improbable quantum events as opposed to just any old person being revived in such a way?

Crude said...

I've actually been long considering questions related to this.

Given that every miracle I can think of could conceivably be a quantum event, does that mean no miracle needs to be supernatural to be actual?

What does 'supernatural' mean in a world where all miracles seemingly could occur 'naturally'? What does the word 'natural' mean?

Similar problems seem to pop up given the contention (sometimes related to the multiverse, sometimes not) that we could be living in a simulated universe or created world.

hatsoff said...

I don't see how this works for the Resurrection of Jesus. The hypothesis that there are an infinite number of universes does not change the fact that, from the perspective of this universe, rising from the dead is fantastically improbable. In any case, to believe in such an anomalous event is not to believe in the supernatural Resurrection of Christian tradition.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think a multiverse subverts probabilities. There are infinitely many universes where there is a resurrection and infinitely many where there isn't, assuming naturalism.


I should say something: This does assume naturalism. In fact, naturalism is false. Given dualism, quantum mechanics will not yield the possibility of a resurrection, since presumably quantum mechanics can't bring a soul back into a body. However, quantum mechanics will yield a resurrection-like event, where a body comes back to apparent life.


The question of the distinction between miracles and non-miracles is a tough one. One might make a distinction in terms of supernatural causality. Suppose you flip an indeterministic coin and it lands heads. That COULD bean event that happens solely by divine causality with no contribution from creaturely causality. But we would not be able to tell that it's so.


Catholic theologians have traditionally distinguished two kinds of miracles: the sort that require divine causality and the sort that don't. For instance, a resurrection requires divine causality--only God can affect the soul. Knowing the contingent future and knowing what people are thinking were other examples in the tradition.

hatsoff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hatsoff said...

Thanks for the response. I'm definitely skeptical of appeals to the supernatural, and indeed it seems to me that such elements are going to pose more serious problems for probability assignments than will any hypothetical multiverse. But putting that aside for a moment, I really don't see how a multiverse poses problems in the first place. Whatever other universes may exist, how should they ever inform our probability assignments for physical events within *this* universe?

Alexander R Pruss said...

For probabilities, see my Mar 16 and 17 posts.

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