Oct 27

Many Worlds and Ultimate Justice


Here is a strange progression I just went through in my car.

Suppose something like Everett’s many worlds hypothesis is correct. Under this, every possible outcome is equally real. There is a you reading this right now, a you who decided to eat a sandwich instead, and perhaps infinitely many other yous.

It struck me that this seems to make punishment for free choices unjust, since some version of you has to make that choice.

But then I considered that a theist might reply that all of these do make a choice. God simply would be rewarding all of those choices that were good and punishing those that were bad. So perhaps I would go to Hell in this world, but Heaven in another.

Finally, though, it occurred to me that there are many more ways to fail to please God than to succeed. So, an overwhelming percentage of the possible yous would go to Hell. This seems unjust since all of the possibilities would necessarily be carried out in the many worlds scenario.

And just as I write that last paragraph, I wonder if this supports Plantinga’s idea of transworld depravity and perhaps we’ve just come full circle. I have no idea what to make of quantum mechanics and the idea of God.

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  1. Martin

    “So, an overwhelming percentage of the possible yous would go to Hell.”

    That doesn’t follow. It’s possible that e.g. 90% of possible yous would be pious, and 10% of them would fail in various ways. Just because there are many options, all of them don’t have to be equally likely.

  2. Mike

    Hi Martin. Thanks for the comment. Likelihood kind of goes out the window here since all are realized. Let me try to be a bit more explicit with my reasoning.

    1. There are far more ways to not accept Jesus as your savior than to accept him. (let’s just use Christianity for the sake of simplicity)

    2. Under a many worlds interpretation, every possible state of affairs is realized.

    3. Under MW, more yous will not accept Jesus.

    4. Under MW, more yous will go to Hell.

    This seems to be a reasonable assessment to me as long as we are saying every possible state is realized.

  3. Zarathustra Ubermensch

    Quantum mechanics rules out a all knowing all powerful being though that being would be superfluous. As for Plantiga he should take some bible courses since inerrancy and calvinist theology in particular does not stand up to critical scrutiny. The gods of the bible are not all knowing and all powerful so Plantiga does not have a leg to stand on. The gods of the bible are far from good. God is hate if you take plantiga’s view anyway: relationshipwithreason.com

  4. Mike

    I’d be interested to hear how quantum mechanics rules that out. My guess is that it’s because of some property, but the theist has a bit of a gambit to play there since God is supposed to be outside of space/time/matter.

  5. zaybu

    “I have no idea what to make of quantum mechanics …”

    Everett’s MWI is based on the notion that the wavefunction represents something real. Many physicists don’t abide by this notion. They consider that the wavefunction is only a mathematical tool to allows the calculation of expectation values. Other than that, and there have been many interpretations of the wavefunction over the years, they are just speculations.

  6. Mike


    I can get behind viewing a wavefunction as a tool. Not that this is evidence against it, but I do find proposals that say all possibilities are actually realized hard to swallow. David Lewis and Robert Nozick had similar proposals on different grounds.

    Yet, there is a similar notion that’s hard for me to escape and I’ll try and explain my concern the best I can. It’s not necessarily tied to atheism, but you might have something interesting to say about it.

    It might be the case that positing any final boundary of spacetime is incoherent for the simple reason that boundaries are only coherent ideas because there is something on both sides. I think even proposals that include God have this problem. If I understand the terms correctly, then it seems like there are two solutions to this. There is a weaker claim that the universe is unbounded (I’m not sure i understand this) and a stronger claim that it’s actually infinite. As much as I can’t really conceive of infinity, I lean toward that option. It (at least prima facie) seems like spacetime must be infinite.

    Now, we’d have a similar situation to the original post if this were the case. All possibilities wouldn’t be realized by necessity, but it would become overwhelmingly likely that the possibilities are actualized somewhere. It wouldn’t be any sort of branching or parallel world, but it would be in virtue of things being infinite.

    I’m torn because I like the initial idea about incoherence, but the conclusion in many ways just seems absurd. What do you think?

  7. zaybu

    The problem of the boundary is a difficult one to explain in plain language, and most of it is handled in physics through math.

    Consider a sphere, like planet earth, and suppose it is expanding — the continents on its surface would be the galaxies. We can see that the continents(galaxies) are moving away from each other. But we can’t see up or down, that is, we can’t see inside the earth, or up above, the sky. We are in this predicament in regard to the universe expanding in all directions: there are no boundaries, just like on that sphere, we can’t see inside the expanding sphere or above it. Furthermore, unlike on earth on which if you would move in one direction, you would get to the starting point, however in the universe, you wouldn’t get back to the same point. It would be as if our expansion is “moving” us into a fourth spatial component which is invisible to us and undetectable by us.

    In the Randall-Sundrum model, it is through this fifth dimension (4 spatial plus time) that gravity seeps through, and why it is so weak compared to the other fundamental forces.

    Also, the AdS/CFT correspondence is the conjectured equivalence between a string theory and gravity defined on one space, and a quantum field theory without gravity defined on the conformal boundary of this space, whose dimension is lower by one or more. For example, the duality between Type IIB string theory on AdS5 × S5 space (a product of five dimensional AdS space with a five dimensional sphere) and a supersymmetric N = 4 Yang–Mills gauge theory (which is a conformal field theory) on the 4-dimensional boundary of AdS5.

  8. Mike

    So, if I understand correctly, then it sounds like you’re saying the boundary is one of observational ability, rather than actuality. So, we are like the creatures in 2D flatland in your analogy, right? Their imagined boundaries are really just the transition into another dimension, in some sense.

    If that is how it’s meant then I can make sense of it in a limited way. Although, I still see the infinity problem arising. This might just push the problem one level deeper.

  9. James

    First, it seems to me that Many worlds underlying motivation is an attempt to explain design without God. You’ll notice atheists jumping all over it, agnostic scientists more skeptical of it and theists laughing at the absurdities it produces.

    But most importantly..God is not using the scales of justice so often seen in other religions and movies. People dont redeem themselves. There is an immovable weight on the sin side of the scale that can only be lifted through mercy. Not a single good deed can impact the scale. The only sin that cant be forgiven is the sin of unbelief. As Paul said…if we could be saved through deeds than Christ died for nothing. God made it as easy as can be. Turn to him and ask for forgiveness through Christ and he will reveal Christ to your mind so you will know without doubt that He Is –and that you are now his child.

    But as far as hells percentages. Think about the essence of the Son of God becoming an actual man. Could he have sinned? No, God cannot sin no matter the circumstances. It may be that our essence is what it is and also cannot reject Christ’s offer no matter if we were American, dutch, or African and regardless of what era we were born in..
    We dont know how God creates our soul. It may be that we are out in the best possible circumstances not only for us to turn to him but also the combinations of our actions intermingled with others. The web of possibilities and interactions are incalculable to us but not to God. I think part of faith is understanding God does not make mistakes and no one is lost that would have turned to Christ in some other circumstance. If its not like that then God must have good reasons.

  10. Mike


    The only thing there that seems worthy of a response is your claim that MW is a hypothesis motivated by trying to avoid God. That’s incorrect. The MW hypothesis is entailed by a number of theories. If one of those theories are correct, then there is probably some sort of multiverse, whether it be parallel dimensions, an inflationary expanding multiverse, etc. MW hypotheses may be used by some today as a counter argument to some theistic claims, but it was not their motivation.

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