Recent successful series such as Stephen Lawhead’s Bright Empires Series (The Skin Map, The Bone House, The Spirit Well, The Shadow Lamp) utilize one of the most common staples of Christian speculative fiction: parallel worlds. The idea of such parallel worlds is not a new one. George MacDonald in Phantastes used such a device. His writing influenced C. S. Lewis to develop his stories of a land called Narnia, accessible through a wardrobe. MacDonald’s writing also influenced Tolkien, Chesterton, and Mark Twain.
The current works of Christian speculative fiction (CSF) authors are rich with this idea. I asked myself why. Why has the parallel universe/world literary device become so popular in CSF? And, the possibility of such universes/worlds raises even more significant questions for CSF authors and readers. If such universes exist, what is God’s role in those universes? Does God have a different plan for His creation in other universes? Does sin exist there? If so, how would God handle the atonement issue in another universe? More importantly, for any well-informed Christian, is this central question: Does the presence of a multiverse do away with the necessity of a Creator God? After all, with an infinite number of universes, ours just might be the one universe in which, purely by chance, life has developed and we really don’t need a God to bring it all into existence!
Don’t underestimate that last concept. The multiverse is the latest attempt by naturalists (scientists and philosophers who base their worldview on Darwinism and materialism) to kill God. Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss have both written books in recent years that show how our universe came into existence purely by chance, and there is no need for an Uncaused Cause! Why would they spend so much time and effort to disprove God if God doesn’t exist?
Wait a minute, Bruce. You are talking some mumbo jumbo here. This is a post for CSF authors and readers. You are veering into the territory of hard science and philosophy and apologetics. What does that have to do with fiction?
Our own Rebecca Luella Miller had this to say about CSF (emphasis mine):
Christian speculative fiction is written by a Christian, but not everything written by Christians qualifies as ‘Christian.’ Rather some element of the story needs to be distinctly connected with what it means to be Christian. Perhaps the characters are predominantly Christian. The plot might revolve around something distinctly Christian. Or the themes may relate in a specific way to the Christian faith.
And here is the point that separates Christian fiction, I believe, from all other fiction. Christian fiction speaks the truth about God. Other fiction can speak the truth about morals or the way the world works or what makes a person love or hate or live on the edge. Other fiction might be silent about God. Other fiction might speak a lie (though undoubtedly the author believes that what he’s written is true) about any of these things. Only Christian fiction speaks the truth about God.
Ah, there is that pesky word, truth. Wait a minute, more than that–Truth with a capital T. And, to speak to the existence of a transcendent Truth in today’s postmodern, relativistic society is very dangerous for the speaker. But, isn’t that our mission as Christian storytellers? Aren’t we supposed to convey the Truth through our story? And shouldn’t our story be part of the big Story God is unfolding around us (also known as the meta-narrative)? Otherwise, what makes us any different from Stephen King or George R. R. Martin (Game of Thrones) or any current science fiction writer? I’ll tell you. We, alone, have Hope, Purpose, and Destiny on our side and our stories MUST convey the Truth contained in the Christian worldview. Can we do that by using the foundational concept of the multiverse and not betray our God?
My suggestion is a radical idea. The possible existence of a multiverse does NOT rule out the existence of God. In fact, the multiverse is a very powerful evidence FOR the God of the Bible. Now, understand that the existence and nature of the multiverse is purely theoretical since we can never, according to science, prove the existence of a multiverse. But we have to understand what kind of creature a multiverse is. Let’s define the different types of multiverses that are proposed by physicists.
According to Jeff Zweerink of the organization Reasons to Believe, (from his booklet, “Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse?”) there are four accepted types of multiverses that MIGHT exist:
Level I: There exist regions, beyond our observable universe but similar in size, which exhibit the same laws of physics but start with different initial conditions. Basically, this affirms that the universe does not end just beyond the most distant regions we can observe. The only controversial issue at this level pertains to the size of the region beyond our observable universe. If the universe is closed, the geometry of the observable universe (very close to flat) provides a minimum size for the whole universe of a few thousand times our observable universe. However, if the current formulations of how inflation works contain any truth, these models generically predict that the spatial extent of the universe is infinite.
Level II: There exist other bubble universes that obey the same equations of physics but with different fundamental constants, particles, and dimensionality. This level differs from Level I in that many universes (not just the one where we reside) actually exist inside their own inflating bubbles. Whereas all the regions outside our observable universe in Level I obey the same laws of physics with the same fundamental constants, each Level II bubble universe obeys the same laws of physics but the fundamental constants assume different values than those from our universe.
Level III: This level corresponds to the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics put forth by Hugh Everett. The relevant feature of this level pertains to the physical basis for quantum events. When determining what happens at the quantum level, the best one can do is assign a probability for each of multiple different outcomes. Basically, the many-worlds interpretation says that for each quantum event, a “history” or “world” actually exists where each of the possible outcomes is realized.
Level IV: This level posits that any mathematically coherent structure defines a physical reality. Obviously, this leads to universes with completely different laws of physics. No Level V can exist because Level IV encompasses all possibilities.
Okay, so try and wrap your brains around those explanations. More than likely, we do exist in a Level I multiverse which simply means that the observable universe is smaller than the actually universe since light traveling from the beginning of time has been outrun by the expansion of the universe. However, most parallel world stories utilize a form of Level III with the basic tenet being that at some point, there is a branching of realities creating an alternate version of our universe that has diverged from our reality. And, many CSF stories utilize a Level II universe where the laws of physics are the same as ours. As to Level IV, it’s pretty far out there in concept so we won’t worry about it. Suffice it to say, most CSF alternate world stories use a Level II or Level III multiverse.
So, does the multiverse disprove the existence of God? Zweerink has this to say:
Generally, the “cosmological argument” is articulated like this:
. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
. The universe began to exist.
. Therefore, the universe had a cause.
The relatively recent discovery of the universe’s beginning surprised many scientists because they assumed the universe was eternal. In fact, the singular beginning implied by big bang cosmology readily supports the Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo.
And here is the most important question. Does the multiverse model eliminate the beginning with a capital B?
The multiverse argues that creation existed prior to the big bang. While the details are too specific to include here, all viable multiverse models still require a beginning! Although these models make the issue more complex and nuanced, the fundamental Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo still stands on firm ground. In fact, research into multiverse alternatives to a single universe has made the case for a beginning even more robust than big bang cosmology alone.
Bottom Line: Go ahead and write about those alternate worlds and universes. But, be careful. As authors of CSF conveying the Truth in our stories, we must be extremely canny with world building. To stray away from the Truth of historical Christianity’s tenets, even in a parallel world, would give credence to a universal theology. Here, we must be very, very careful. After all, a prudent study of early church heresies reveals just this type of fiction: tweaking the Truth into a version that suits our human thought processes and needs.
We can indulge in the possibilities of multiple worlds and universes, but let us be very careful with the worlds we build. C. S. Lewis’ Narnia is rich with the foundational concepts of Christian theism. And, we can do this, too. Let us remember that in writing our stories about parallel worlds and alternate universes, we are appealing to a secular audience. By imbedding the values of Christian theism in our stories, we bring Truth to their awareness. This is our calling in Christian Speculative Fiction as Becky stated above. Above all else, we must tell the Truth!
I encourage all authors and readers to develop a firm foundation in the defense of the Christian faith: apologetics. I have a list of resources on my website under the Apologetics tab for using apologetics in fiction. I list some very good starting points. In fact, I am putting together a book for Christian fiction authors of questions and answers from apologetics. I can use your help in putting it together. To help, submit those nagging questions that keep you awake at night. Or, if you are an author and you are stymied as to handle an issue of science, history, or philosophy, send me your question. But, be patient. I may not answer right away and the emphasis here is on compiling a list of the general concepts we need as authors of Christian speculative fiction. Just go to my website and the Apologetics’ tab and fill out the comment form in the Apologetics tab. Send me your questions. I’ll try my best to point you in the right direction, and who knows, I might get a Fiction Apologetics website up and running.
Just remember, the world thinks of us as ignorant, superstitious fools. Prove them wrong! Be informed. Do your research. Write the Truth! And, don’t be afraid of the multiverse!
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Bruce Hennigan grew up in Northwest Louisiana and became a physician practicing in the field of radiology. He was a church drama director for fifteen years and wrote over 150 plays. He is a certified apologist–one who defends the truthfulness of the Christian faith–and speaks on this topic on a regular basis.
Hennigan co-authored Conquering Depression: A Thirty Day Plan to Finding Happiness with Mark Sutton, published by B & H Publishing in 2001. An updated version, Hope Again: A 30 Day Plan for Conquering Depression, will be released by B&H in September, 2014. He is also the author of the supernatural thriller novels in the Chronicles of Jonathan Steel series–The 13th Demon: Altar of the Spiral Eye; The 12th Demon: Mark of the Wolf Dragon; and The 11th Demon: The Ark of Chaos.