This is a guest blog post by JT Turner. JT holds an M.A. in Religious Studies (Philosophy of Religion) and is working on a Master of Theology (Historical Theology). He is also an adjunct professor of philosophy with Liberty University Online.
Disclaimer: I am not well-studied on the science behind the multiverse, nor have I done much research on the subject. I am simply putting forward what seem to be, at least prima facie, some possible difficulties with the prospect of a multiversed cosmos.
To begin, I suppose it’s only fair to say that this title needs a little tweaking. First, it seems obvious to me that, if by ‘multiverse’ we only mean additional closed cosmic systems like the one in which we find ourselves, a multiverse doesn’t appear problematic for Christology, in particular, or Christianity in general. That is, if we are still housing these additional closed-systems under the heading of the one Creation (proper noun), then there isn’t, so far as my limited knowledge of the subject goes, any particular reason why a Christian ought to reject a reality that contains a multiverse. I don’t see how a multiversed χοσμος negates anything in the creation account of Scripture, any prophecies concerning the eschaton or any other scriptural attestations. This, however, is contingent upon these additional closed-systems not containing any moral beings. If they do, it seems there could be acute christological and soteriological problems. Allow me to offer some explanations.
Christian theism takes it as a given that moral agents (i.e. creatures that can exercise a will for right and wrong actions) who perform wrong actions break their relationship with a perfectly holy and righteous God. The God of Christian theism requires atonement for the breaking of His moral code (sin) in particular ways. In this universe, at least, he requires blood atonement. Without going too far afield, suffice it to say that God instituted the blood sacrifice (that is, the very life) of animals under an old covenant with His people as a type of coming archetype. That archetype finds its fulfillment in the new covenant poured out through the blood of an individual, namely God the Son, Jesus Christ. So, God the Father killed Jesus, His Son, on the behalf of morally debased human beings (moral agents) to bring humans back into His fellowship. Christians take it that atonement is thus required to cover the sins of any wayward moral agent in order that she be brought back into the fold of God’s people. I suppose the multiverse option raises this question: what do we say if moral agents exist in some other universe? Moral agency does not necessarily imply the existence of human beings; perhaps it is the case that some other alien life outside of our universe-system exercises a will and mind in a fashion morally equivalent to ours. That is to say, what if there are other creatures beyond our closed system that can do right and wrong actions, actions that a morally perfect and holy God finds either good or evil? How might God provide atonement, if, in fact, He does require it from them?
I think there may be a few answers to the last question that might provide answers for the former ones (answers that give us a reason to believe that there probably do not exist any moral agents outside of our universe). The first answer might be something like “he doesn’t require atonement for their sins.” But this causes a weird set of theological problems. The most important of which, it seems to me, is that God behaves a lot differently in Universe 2 than Universe 1 (Universe 1 is our universe). If God behaves differently in Universe 2 than Universe 1, it follows that our beliefs about God’s nature (e.g. that He requires atonement for sin) in this universe are contingent aspects of God, at best, or false, at worst. God, in other words, isn’t necessarily opposed to living in fellowship with sinful moral agents for which no atonement has been provided. But if that’s the case, then we don’t know much about God’s justice either. After all, most Christians believe that God is going to assign some unrepentant unatoned for sinners to the confines of an eternal Hell (in whatever form that takes). Why throw unatoned for sinners from Universe 1 into an eternal Hell and not any of the ones in Universe 2? How does that demonstrate a recognizable form of justice? If this first answer is how God interacts with the multiverse, then maybe Occam is right. Eww…
The first option seems silly. I think a stronger option, one that keeps God the same in all of Creation, is that God is still going to require atonement for sin in Universe 2. God, necessarily, requires atonement for sin. There are, as I see it, two possibilities for sinful creatures in Universe 2. Either God requires atonement and doesn’t provide it, or God requires atonement and does provide it, just as he does in Universe 1. The first possibility runs us into at least one aspect of the problem of evil. If God can save at least some of these moral creatures in Universe 2, why doesn’t He? I’m a Calvinist, so I think this objection really sides up next to the more common “if God can determine to save all people, why doesn’t He?” question to which I can respond “God will do what God will do” and the like. However, while I can at least point to the eschaton and cry “O Felix Culpa!” in this universe, it strikes against my moral intuitions to posit another universe where God simply creates moral beings in order to throw all of them into Hell. I might be wrong about this, and forgive me if I am, but I’m not sure how a God that does that demonstrates any recognizable good to his “other” creation (little ‘c’ here). I say this knowing full well that my compatibilist Calvinistic theology does run me against similar questions in this universe. So, I’m going to move on to the next possibility. God does, in fact, provide atonement for his sinful creatures in Universe 2.
How does he provide atonement in Universe 2? This is, I think, an important question. Is it possible that God, instead of sending His Son, atones for sins by means of the offering of burnt grasses? I suppose it’s possible in a broadly logical sense, but does it make sense given the extreme price God requires in Universe 1? Perhaps this isn’t similar enough of a paradigm. After all, when I say “the offering of burnt grasses” I might mean a continuous offering or a numerous offering or the like. God, in Universe 1, provides a once and for all offering. I think something like this is also possible in Universe 2. Suppose that, like the old covenant in Universe 1, Universe 2 foreshadows the coming of their “Christ” by offering their many grass sacrifices. The archetype to this type is Messiah Plant, a very large and very green (does it matter?) plant that God has grown for the once and for all atonement of sin in Universe 2. Its sole purpose is to grow and be burned. This plant, just like a plant in Universe 1, does not feel pain, isn’t sentient, and is completely physical (i.e. lacks any metaphysical component, including a mind). To provide for atonement, it is burned as a final offering to God and appeases God’s wrath. This, as I say, is broadly logically possible (as far as I know, anyway. Perhaps there is something intrinsic to God’s character that says that the blood of sentient beings is necessary). But doesn’t this raise some interesting questions? For example, why doesn’t God require an extremely painful sacrifice in Universe 2? Doesn’t it seem that God is going the extra mile in Universe 1 to provide atonement? I mean, after all, God does sacrifice His own Son in this universe. It seems, at least from my perspective, that the consequence of sin in Universe 2 isn’t all that severe. Is there something about Universe 2 and the types of sin possible in Universe 2 that make God less angry with them? I’m with Augustine on this; the root of sin is undo exaltation—that is to say, idolatry. So, if idolatry is an essential component of sin, then there isn’t a possible world (modally, physically, or metaphysically) that includes idolatryless-sin. God seems to hate idolatry. His hate sure looks a lot different in Universe 1 than in 2 in this picture.
For sake of space, let’s skip ahead. Let’s suppose that God does, just like in Universe 1, require the death of a living sentient creature to atone for sin. So, God requires that blood (or whatever the life force of a sentient creature is in Universe 2) be shed to atone for the sins of his moral agents. Further, let’s suppose that He provides another Messiah such that, in one heroic act, God saves His people. Just here are the Christological implications. Again, let’s suppose that in order to save His people, God must provide a moral agent who lives perfectly and is of such a magnitude that His death will cover all sin. I take it that not just any perfect creature will do; God must again humble Himself and take on the form of His creation in order to die on their behalf (I’m supposing, for brevity’s sake, that it is impossible for an ordinary moral agent in Universe 2 to live a perfect life, just as in our universe).
This is where it gets really sticky in a multiverse with moral agents outside of our system. Just who is their Messiah? If it is God, Himself, and it seems that it must be, then the Messiah must be, again, God the Son. Unless we’ve totally erred in our theological understanding of the Trinity, the self-revelation of the Father is the Son—He is the Word, the Λογος and all that it represents. So, it isn’t possible for God the Father to incarnate; that is only possible for the person of the Son. So, this means that the person of the Trinity that is, yet again, humbling himself to the stature of His creation is God the Son, who is Jesus Christ. Do you begin to see how this is getting muddy? It was hard enough for the Cappidocian Fathers to figure out how it is metaphysically possible for God the Son to unite with a human nature, it would be something else entirely to figure out how he would unite with two creaturely natures. Heck, if two is possible, why not three, or four, or five, ad infinitum? Let’s try a thought experiment. Since, on the multiverse view, it might be possible for God the Son to be united to more than one creaturely nature (one in Universe 1 and so on), let’s suppose that, in Universe 2, God the Son is united to three creature-natures (I say ‘creature-nature’ in the event that the moral agents in Universe 2 aren’t human). Let’s call these three creatures Jebus, Jefus, and Jenus. God the Son is, of course, also Jesus in Universe 1 provided that Christianity is truthful in its claim that Jesus rose from the dead and is now, in human form, residing in Heaven (where might this be? Hmm… :) ). Let’s suppose that Peper and Mohn are disciples of Jebus, Jefus, and Jenus and they have come to believe that Jebus, Jefus, and Jenus are the Son of God. Further, let’s suppose that Peper and Mohn are reclining at some version of a table eating (or whatever they do for sustenance in Universe 2) with Jebus, but Jefus and Jenus are off working miracles. Doesn’t it follow that Peper and Mohn can, in a meaningful way, say: “God the Son is both here and not here”? Doesn’t that violate the law of non-contradiction? How can a person both be in location L and not be in a location L at the same time?
A further problem is God the Son’s conquering death in Universe 1. If it is true that these moral agents in Universe 2 can both live and die, then their death is probably an identical thing to ours. That is to say, their death is the end of their life such that they are no longer alive in Universe 2 when they die. So, closed system or not, I take it that when we say that a sentient being must be killed to atone for the sins of moral creatures in Universe 2 that ‘death’ has the same meaning there as it does here. But, doesn’t Scripture indicate that Jesus conquered death never to die again? If Jesus is identical with God the Son, then it follows that God the Son, no matter what other nature He might add to Himself, can no longer die. I suppose it’s possible that they might have experienced simultaneous deaths and simultaneous resurrections, but then we would have to suppose that their space-time continuum is exactly like ours. I don’t know the science behind the multiverse, but that seems problematic if we’re going to insist that this universe is a “closed system.”
There are a host of other problems here, problems that would take a mountain of additional prose to explicate. The foremost of these problems is trying to unite two (or more) creaturely natures to the one divine nature in one hypostasis and still call the combination “one person.” Physically speaking, it seems to stretch credulity to think that Jebus, Jenus, Jefus, and Jesus aren’t different people. If they are, then God the Son isn’t one person, but four (or more). Here is where Occam is correct: let’s let the simplest hypothesis win the day. But, I digress…