Unwarranted Certainty

Two Books on Physics, Metaphysics, and the 'Multiverse'

Our Mathematical Universe
My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality
Max Tegmark
Alfred A. Knopf, $30, 432 pp.

The Accidental Universe
The World You Thought You Knew
Alan Lightman
Pantheon Books, $24, 157 pp.

An increasing number of cosmologists now believe in the existence of a multiverse. Multiverse theory holds that, in addition to our Big-Bang universe and its several hundred billion galaxies, there exist countless other universes, undetectable from within our own.

It’s a thrilling prospect; but does a multiverse really exist? Though the theory is based on no actual evidence, Max Tegmark takes it to be a legitimate scientific idea. Indeed, this highly respected MIT particle physicist not only believes that a multiverse exists, but that it can tell us why the Big-Bang universe expands at the rate it does, why the force of gravity is what it is, and ultimately why life arose in our own universe. As if that were not enough, it turns out that multiverse theory—if properly elaborated—also answers the big philosophical questions thoughtful people have always asked: Is matter all there is? Are we free or determined? Do accidents really happen? Were we meant to be here? Was the universe created and does it have a purpose? What is the good life? Why get up in the morning?

To answer these questions and more, all we have to do is leap with Tegmark into the mathematical space opened up by a single grand idea, the multiverse. If we take that leap, we will find out that the physical universe is just the outward expression of an underlying, ultimately mathematical world. We will learn that life exists not through divine plan, but because the multiplicity of universes all...

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About the Author

John F. Haught, author of God after Evolution and many other books, is a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University.