Sunday, December 30, 2007

God and Parallel Universes

I want to now bring to your attention the issue of the interface between parallel universes and religion, because recently, I was introducing my idea of scientific parallel universes to a couple of acquaintances of mine who are Modern Orthodox Jewish (I myself am Modern Orthodox) and who disagree with the concept of multiple universes taking place within the same volume of space. They feel that such a concept is very much at odds with what God was planning for the world from the beginning. For example, they think that God planned only to give the Torah, to destroy the Holy Temple in Jerusalem twice, etc. - that there was a predestination to all this.

I would say that this is not quite so. True, there is only one God in Judaism for the entire cosmos, and so there cannot be multiple gods, one for each individual universe. On the other hand, though, parallel universes ARE compatible with what God has in mind for all humanity and all His other creations. The reason for the compatibility is because God knows in advance all the possible outcomes of a given action or event. As various medieval Jewish commentators like Gersonides (Levi ben Gershom) and Abraham ibn Daud (and some later Jewish ones too) explain, the only thing that God doesn't know is what choice people (or the weather) will make in their decisions. This concept of free will goes a long way in justifying the existence of non-fictional parallel universes, because God is fully aware of all the possibilities arising out of a single event where people have to choose one way or another. As the Ethics of the Fathers (3:15) says, "Everything is foreseen, yet free will is given". For many intents and purposes, this eliminates one single predestination per event, where the outcome thereof has to be decided one way or another. For more on that matter, consult the Wikipedia article on the Jewish view on free will. For more general views, and this is by no means just a Jewish concept, see the article in general.

One can very much apply all of the above to alternate history as set in parallel universes. Just to give one example, let's talk about the US presidential election in 2000, between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Gore won the popular vote, but the electoral college had a narrow majority for Bush in the end. In this case, God was fully aware of the possibilities of Gore winning and of Bush winning. What God didn't know, and what the American people decided for themselves, was who the majority voted for in each universe. In some universes, then, God left it up to the United States to ultimately choose Bush (just like in this one); in other universes, the United States chose Gore, and the rest was history in those other universes. Therefore, it's not the case that George W. Bush was predestined to win the American presidency in 2000 in every single universe. In short, God (through free will) has let the creation of parallel universes all throughout history happen.

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