Why Most Atheists Believe in Pink Unicorns
Provocative statement? Sure. But let me prove to you that it is necessarily true.
I’ve followed astronomy and cosmology for four decades. In that time I’ve seen many discussions on the origin of the universe and its remarkable design. One of the things that has been increasingly revealed and noticed is that the universe appears to be fine-tuned for the existence of life. Not just “life as we know it,” but any life. In fact, fine-tuned for any complex molecules or objects at all. It has been noted that if any of the forces or constants of physics were tweaked up or down (often in even fractional ways) it would have a dramatic impact on the entire universe. We could get a universe that has no light elements, or one with no heavy elements. We could get one infested with black holes, or one with few stars. We could get one that is filled with nothing but diffuse hydrogen gas, or one that collapsed back upon itself before anything interesting happens.
As you might imagine, there has been quite a bit of reaction to these “anthropic coincidences,” some in book-length treatments(1). What is most interesting is to see what atheists do with this information after admitting it(2). What does one do with the thought that they live in a universe that is so providential? While some choose to offer flippant non-answers, like, “well you wouldn’t be here to observe it if it hadn’t happened,” many others have offered more creative solutions.
By the time I entered the world of astronomy, through books and college classes, the idea of the Steady State theory had already been left behind by the growing empirical support for Big Bang theory. According to the old theory (Steady State), the universe was an infinite thing, perhaps even infinitely creating new matter from some locus to keep things fresh and expanding. This, however, did not explain why the universe was so fortuitously designed. But then again, the anthropic principle was not yet fully in play. Steady State theory was more of an explanation for why the universe did not need a beginning — the idea of a beginning being most unsettling for atheists(3).
With the increasing prominence of Big Bang cosmology and anthropic observations, the question then to be answered was how the resulting universe had gotten such a lucky roll of the dice. At this point, the fate of the universe was as yet unknown. How much mass did it have? Would it expand forever? Would gravity slow it down and finally win the battle, bringing it all back together from whence it came? The thought was that there may be a “Big Crunch” to go along with the Big Bang. But the idea that our universe was nothing but one glorious flash in the pan did nothing to explain the mystery of fine-tuning.
Some suggested that if the universe could do it once, why not a second time. Perhaps it would be more like a “bounce” than a crunch, with each collapse rebounding in yet another Big Bang. Perhaps this could even be an infinite process, with no beginning and no end. Perhaps, even, each “oscillation” could consist of different laws of physics. In spite of various noteworthy flaws in this oscillating universe theory(4) it still surfaced regularly, in my experience, when the deep mysteries of the universe were called into question.
This theory had the advantage of both explaining away an “origin” event(5) and offering a means by which randomized physical laws and constants might be produced. In this model, we could simply be in one of the “lucky” universe bounces. After all, no matter how astronomically improbable the conditions of our universe might be, they are guaranteed to obtain at some point when you have an infinite number of times to roll the dice. Unfortunately, it did not appear that the universe had the necessary mass to stop the eternal expansion. It looked like we were a one-hit wonder.
Physicists and astronomers busied themselves looking for possible sources of additional mass that might factor in to our cosmological future. I remember well the 1998 discovery that neutrinos actually have mass(6), and the implications of that revelation. The excitement was short-lived, because, in another demonstration of God’s sense of humor, that very same year we discovered something quite unexpected — something that implied an as yet unknown natural force. The universe is not only expanding, but it is accelerating in that expansion(7). It is flying ever faster apart, and one day, in the far distant future, the galaxies will be so far apart that we will no longer be able to see them.
The situation hasn’t changed much since then. A few other origin theories have been kicked around, but Big Bang cosmology continues to have its predictions confirmed(8). We are left, then, with three apparent facts of cosmology:
- The universe had a beginning.
- It will have no end (but will grow cold and lifeless).
- The laws and constants of the universe are filled with anthropic coincidences.
I once asked an atheist friend what he does with these facts. His response was to appeal to the possibility that there are an infinite number of such universes. As with the oscillating universe theory, we just happen to be in one of the lucky jackpot universes. If you are the only one playing the lottery, then it’s incredible if you win. But if there are 10 million people playing, then somebody’s going to win. We just think it’s special because we are that “somebody.”
This “multiverse” theory turns out to be the view of most every atheist with which I have debated(9). Science fiction lent us this option originally, but it is encouraged by the theories of modern cosmology. Whether such theories were developed primarily in order to make a place for a multiverse or as byproducts of theories based upon observational science may be hotly debated. The point is that the multiverse, being merely conjecture, is the explanation de jour of atheism(10), which has proved to have an appetite for the infinite.
So now we finally get to the heart of my point. The next step is to take a look at what it would mean if there were indeed an infinite number of universes.
Infinity is an interesting animal. You can make infinity do all sorts of astonishing mathematical tricks. For instance, if you had an infinite number of M&Ms and you then removed half of them, you would still have an infinite number left! Infinity can also eat astronomically improbable events for lunch. How long do you suppose it would take to roll all sixes on 100 dice? The probability works out to be 1 chance in 6.5 to the 77th power. Seem like a long shot? Well, not when you’ve got an infinite amount of time to do it. In fact, in the world of infinities you are guaranteed to do this many times — even many times in a row. For that matter, you will do it an infinite number of times in a row! Remember, if you subtract all the times you fail to roll all sixes from infinity you will still have infinity: enough time to roll your 100 sixes infinitely in a row. As they say, “Mind = Blown.”
Given an infinite amount of time, anything that is logically possible(11) will eventually happen. So, given an infinite number of universes being created in (presumably) an infinite amount of time, you are not only guaranteed to get your universe, but every other possible universe. This means that every conceivable universe exists, from ones that consist of nothing but a giant black hole, to ones that are just like ours and where someone just like you is reading an article just like this, except it’s titled: “Why most atheists believe in blue unicorns.”
By now I’m sure you know where I’m going with this, but I’ll say it anyway. Since we know that horses are possible, and that pink animals are possible, and that horned animals are possible, then there is no logical reason why pink unicorns are not possible entities. Ergo, if infinite universes exist, then pink unicorns must necessarily exist. For an atheist to appeal to multiverse theory to deny the need of a designer infers that he believes in that theory more than a theistically suggestive single universe. And to believe in the multiverse means that one is saddled with everything that goes with it, like pink unicorns. In fact, they not only believe in pink unicorns, but that someone just like them is riding on one at this very moment, and who believes that elephants, giraffes, and zebra are merely childish fairytales.
While it may be amusing to imagine atheists riding pink unicorns, it should be noted that the belief in them does not logically invalidate atheism. There theoretically could be multiple universes and there theoretically could be pink unicorns. However, there is a more substantial problem for the atheist if he wants to believe in them and he wants to remain an atheist. Since, as I said, anything can happen in the realm of infinities, one of those possibilities is the production of a being of vast intelligence and power. Such a being would be as a god to those like us, and could perhaps breach the boundaries of the multiverse to, in fact, be a “god” to this universe. This being might even have the means to create its own universe and embody the very description of the God of Christianity (or any other religion that the atheist otherwise rejects). It seems the atheist, in affirming the multiverse in order to avoid the problem of fine-tuning, finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. The further irony is that somewhere, in the great wide world of infinities, the atheist’s doppelgänger is going to war against an army of theists riding on the horns of a great pink beast known to his tribesman as “The Saddlehorn Dilemma.”
- It is not my objective here to make that case. Given that even many atheist scientists have made the observation I don’t feel the need to. (e.g., Barrow, Tipler, Martin Rees, Paul Davies)
- There should be an energy loss with each “bounce,” which would cause the whole system to wind down. Additionally, if each bounce yielded different laws of physics, then one could consist of a universe with weak enough gravity to allows the whole thing to continue expanding without end.
- It explained away, at least, our immediate Big Bang. One still may wonder from whence the eternal yo yo came and why it should produce novel physics on each bounce.
- A recent discovery seems to confirm the “Inflationary” Big Bang model, which predicted that we should find polarized gravitational waves in the cosmic background radiation, whereas a competing theory (Brane Theory) would not. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-26605974
- Some atheists I’ve debated seem disinclined to appeal to multiverse theory. The most common alternative is to claim that there may be some metaphysical necessity for the laws of physics to be set as they are, i.e., there’s no other way that the could have been. This only begs the question as to why the universe turns out to be a thing that necessarily has laws that are fine-tuned for life.
- “If there is only one universe you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.” (British cosmologist Bernard Carr, Discover, December 2008)
- For instance, even an infinite number of craftsmen could not come up with a one-ended stick or a square circle.