“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Did you ever watch episodes of the old Star Trek series? No, not that one. Nope, not that one either. I’m talking about the one with William Shatner. That was a fun series. Gene Rodenberry was a visionary of the highest order. Do you remember some of the technological wonders he imagined we would have in the 23rd Century? At least, many of those things seemed like distantly future wonders in 1966 when the series premiered. Now? Well, many of them still seemed pretty far-fetched, but not as many as did then. Things like traveling through space and wireless communicators and even some of the medical treatment and diagnostic tools they had are practically matters of course nowadays. And this isn’t the only time science fiction writers of the past correctly predicted technologies of the present. Some concepts that started as the fanciful imaginings of guys who were always just a little bit…different from everyone else are being brought into reality revealing those guys as a whole lot more forward thinking than anyone really expected. Then again, some science fiction ideas are just that in spite of our best efforts to the contrary. This morning I want to talk with you about science fiction, reality, and how everything got here.
If you run around in Geek culture circles at all, you are very well aware that the buzz word of the season is “multiverse.” In the science fiction subgenre of comic books, the multiverse has been a regular feature of the most popular story lines for more than a generation. If you’re unfamiliar with this particular world of interest, let me break it down for you. The multiverse is the idea that there are multiple different universes that make up what we know as reality. We are familiar with ours, yes, but ours is far from the only one. Each different universe exists independently of all the rest and the vast majority of its inhabitants are blissfully unaware that theirs isn’t the only one. The differences among the universes range from slight to dramatic. It could be that in one universe, you write with the opposite hand as you do in this one. You might have a different hair color. You might be exactly the same, but your sister is a brother or the other way around. It could be, though, that in one universe the dinosaurs never died out and instead the world evolved along the lines of the Disney movie The Good Dinosaur from a few years ago. Essentially, at every single point where something could be other than it is in this universe, there is a universe where that is the case.
Now, step from the pages of comic books with me onto the modern cinema screen. Marvel Studios (with DC trying desperately to play catch up, but so far limited to their collection of TV series on the CW Network), has been churning out terrific content on first the big screen and now the small screen as well for more than a dozen years. I believe the film count for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is up to something like 25 now. And up until June of this year, the entire story took place in this universe. There were rumors about the multiverse existing among the fans, but nothing in the films ever confirmed it. Our favorite heroes were doing their thing in the only universe we’ve ever known and everything has been fine.
Then came the Disney+ series, Loki, and now the multiverse has been blown wide open. The currently running animated (but nonetheless canon) series, What If? has played specifically on the idea of the multiverse. What if this one thing had happened instead of what actually happened? Let’s explore that universe. The season finale coming this Wednesday will feature a multiversal Avengers-style team up to stop the villainous Ultron. I don’t know that any of this series will impact the live action movies, but they may. By declaring the series canon, the writers have certainly left open several doors to play with characters in a whole new way (which, of course, allows them to continue making hundreds of millions of dollars off of their most popular characters who would otherwise have to be written out of the story).
We already know that the next Spider-Man movie coming in December will directly feature the multiverse (which will conveniently allow Marvel and Sony to start working more closely together in the future). The Venom sequel coming out today has promised to “expand the universe.” The Doctor Strange sequel coming next year is titled “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.” The multiverse is where the MCU…or rather the MCM – Marvel Cinematic Multiverse…is heading. They’ll have to be careful not to run too far off the rails and go full blown comic book with their storytelling, but so far they’ve done a pretty good job keeping things as realistic as they can minus all the wildly impossible elements.
All of this is to say, the idea of a multiverse is a wildly popular one in the realm of science fiction. It makes for terribly fun storytelling. It allows for an endless series of possibilities that a single universe simply doesn’t. Here, when something happens, that’s it. Whether or not it could have happened in a different way and what might have been the outcome of that difference is fun to imagine, but totally irrelevant to reality. In fact, getting all caught up in such wonderings can be dangerous. But if all of those limitless outcomes really existed and you could somehow interact with them, all bets are officially off. But again, this is all science fiction. Right?
Yes, that is right. But there are an increasing number of folks who are committed to a materialistic worldview of some form or fashion who wish it wasn’t. For scientists and philosophers (both of the official and the armchair variety) who are committed to a belief in a God-less world, the notion of the multiverse is becoming a more and more potent explanatory temptation. The reason for this is that in spite of tens of thousands of hours of research of every shape and size, there is yet to be proposed a theory of how everything got here that doesn’t involve God that makes any sense. And before you go throwing up examples of ideas you have heard that sound enormously plausible, let’s just lay things on the line: materialists do not have a cogent explanation for the origin of anything. Whether we’re talking about the universe as a whole or life on this planet, they simply do not know how it happened. And the more research they do, the more glaring this lack is becoming.
Oh, they once thought they knew. In fact, the confidence of materialists throughout most of the 20th Century was enormous. Their explanations were more than sufficient and it was the idiot religious nut jobs who didn’t know what they were talking about. They were using God as a crutch to hide how utterly clueless they really were. But the materialists? They had it all figured out. Except that each time they trumpeted an obviously correct theory, a bit more research revealed that it just didn’t work quite as well as they had originally convinced themselves it did. Discoveries like the Big Bang, the structure of DNA, and the nature of the information contained within the DNA molecule as well as in other places in the cell have all poured bucket after bucket of cold water on the flames of materialistic hopes for a world that can be explained perfectly well without any reference to any sort of divine presence or power.
Enter the multiverse. Now, sometimes modern science reaching into comic books for ideas can produced some pretty fun results. Comic books envision a future of entirely renewably powered cities. A friend of mine from high school who was always just a bit more visionary than the rest of us invented a wafer thin solar cell that can be put on the surface of just about anything and is almost completely translucent. You could conceivably cover the windows of a skyscraper with these cells and turn the entire building into one giant solar panel that could power not only itself, but other buildings around it. Now, we’re still a good ways out from that, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility any longer.
But with the multiverse materialists are grasping at straws to sustain their worldview in a way different only in detail from what they have been accusing theists, and specifically Christians, of doing for more than 100 years. We’ve been accused of being so committed to a world with God in it that we’ve been willing to embrace crank theories and ignore otherwise obvious scientific discoveries so that we don’t have to let go of our religious predisposition for the sake of following the science wherever it leads. Yet as more and of the most recent scientific pathways are leading in a direction away from the reasonableness of materialism as an explanation of reality, folks who are nonetheless committed to their materialistic worldview have reached into comic books, pulled out the multiverse, and declared, “There’s your explanation!”
The trouble is, there’s not even the remotest shred of evidence that such a thing actually exists. Instead, what they are evincing is a deep faith in their materialistic worldview and they are searching for an explanation – any explanation – that will justify it. In other words, many of these folks are more committed to a belief that there is no God than they are to following the science they have long claimed as their chief doctrine.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there has not been a scientific discovery that has proven the existence of God. Nor will there likely ever be. But as we continue to discover more and more about the utter complexity of reality and life and the sheer volume and specificity of the information necessary for it all to exist, the idea that things just happened somehow all on their own is losing credibility by the day. Oh, they still make arguments that sound enormously convincing to folks who don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes in the scientific arena, but the substance behind those arguments is getting thinner and thinner all the time. Meanwhile, the notion that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” doesn’t seem nearly so far-fetched as it did not all that long ago.
Okay, but what’s the devotional thought out of all of this? Just this: If you believe God is the reason things are the way they are, but you’ve been feeling like that belief is under attack and you’re not sure how much longer you can hold it in good conscience, stand a bit taller this morning. Sit up a bit straighter. You are standing on entirely more solid ground than perhaps you’ve been made to believe.