The multiverse and an atheistic ontology

Ontology is a branch of metaphysics relating to existence. Metaphysics is, literally, after the physical, and so anything that can be known epistemically, such as a rock, atom or synaptic discharge is ontologically irrelevant: Ontology only deals with the transcendental - that which is solely “intuitive”.

As I’m sure many of us are aware, there are some interesting proofs in ontology, particularly in some specific modes of logic such as S5. Various formulations of the Modal Ontological Argument for the Proof of God’s Existence are often discussed here. Ontologically, this assumes equivalence between Necessary Existence and Supreme Being (note that “Supreme Being” merely having the propoerty of omnipresence, and “the supreme being” further characterised by omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence and intelligence ie. “om3i”, are two entirely different entities). Supreme Being is ontologically greatest. And, since ontology deals with existence, this “greatest-ness” is manifested by Necessary Existence; ie. the ontologically greatest exists in all possible worlds.

Now, Supreme Being has traditionally meant “God” (although which God is outwith the scope of ontology - its existence, rather than His nature, is all we are concerned with). But could there be an atheistic formulation of Supreme Being, ontologically speaking? Which entity would take the form of “God” in such a formulation?

An obvious choice is Universe. Literally “Combined Whole”. The Whole is everything which exists and so Combined Whole is, clearly, as good a synonym of Necessary Existence as Supreme Being. Unfortunately, we hit a snag. Ontology deals with metaphysical claims, and the universe is very definitely physical since we can know it by experience (yea, our very senses are part of it). In order for the Combined Whole to be ontologically relevant we must follow a metaphysical modality rather than an epistemic one. When we ask ourselves whether the Combined Whole exists in all possible worlds, we must not answer “for all I know, it does, I simply haven’t been there”; rather we must consider whether it is logically possible for the Combined Whole to exist in all possible worlds.

And so we come to obvious parallels with some popular ideas in modern physics, most notably that of a multiverse (NB: large PDF) as proposed by eg. Andre Linde, wherein “our” universe of one temporal and three spatial dimensions, having a fine balance between the forces of gravity and electromagnetism, is merely one of many (infinite? *higher-order * infinite??) similar universes making up a “multiverse”. (In this case, the word “universe” must retain its meaning by changing slightly. There is still only one universe; “this universe” is merely a part or region of that Combined Whole, rather than a universe itself.)

What of the philosophical consequences of such an idea? It strikes me that there are two outcomes, dependent on the answer to this question: Are these “other universes” (strictly, other regions of the universe) observable (ie. knowable by experience)?

I consider the consequences of the answers to be so:[ul][li]Yes. This is effectively equivalent to modal realism as proposed by the late David Lewis: Each possible world is as real as our own and can be known epistemically - we just don’t happen to know what they are like, but could look any time. Hence we still do not speak metaphysically, and the Combined Whole is still ontologically irrelevant.[/li]
[li]No. If these other regions of the universe cannot be observed, but are only known to exist intuitively (“by faith and maths alone”, let us say) then we can safely be assured that we are still within the ambit of ontology. And what could be ontologically more great than that which exists in every possible world? The universe. The Combined Whole. Necessary Existence.[/ul][/li]
In either case, physically or metaphysically, it appears that the Combined Whole can be proven to exist in actuality; in the second case, by the same argument as that for Supreme Being. Could this, therefore, be said to constitute an atheistic Modal Ontological Proof of God?

If so, so what? From another thread, friend Libertarian says:

Now, I happen to think that determinism is entirely the most, indeed the only, tenable materialist worldview: that free will is an illusion and does not exist in actuality. However, this is not the point at hand.

I contend that it is entirely reasonable to propose that the universe cannot not have existed either epistemically or metaphysically. For the purpose of ontological debate, we restrict ourselves to the latter.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the universe (or multiverse or manifold-omni-transcendent-more-than-anyone-can-imagine-verse or whatever) exists necessarily and is deterministic. I have two questions. Which branch of physics deals with goodness (defined as that which morally edifies)? And what is the causal event that precedes a quantum fluctuation?

Lib, if I may deal with your questions in reverse order,

The word “precedes” assumes a dimension of time, as does the word “cause” to a certain extent. This region of the universe is characterised by time. Other regions might not be so characterised. Thus, “fluctuations” (and I feel that this is a rather vague term if we are speaking in a quantum mechanical context - perhaps you could clarify a little?) need not be “caused”, nor do they “become”. They simply exist.

I thought we were talking of metaphysics? In any case, omnibenevolence (or, indeed, its opposite omnimalignance) is surely outside the ambit of ontology (which deals solely with existence), and is an unjustified conflation of omnipresent Supreme Being with an om3i supreme being?

Whenever I see discussion of this type I (forgive me) can’t help getting frustrated by all the philosophical mumbo-jumbo that boils down to “let’s call the Universe God!” or “let’s call Energy God!” or whatever.

Look, saying “let’s not discuss the nature, but only the existence of God, and let’s assume the multiverse, which begat our universe, is GOD…”. I mean, that just leaves the definition of “God” so wide open I can’t see any use in discussion. So God doesn’t need to have a plan? God doesn’t need to be what we would call a conscious entity? God isn’t necessarily “concerned”? God isn’t necessarily something/someone which/whom (as Steven Weinberg put it so eloquently) is “worthy of prayer”? God may or may not act deterministically at some point in history, because that isn’t necessarily part of the argument? Teleological questions need not apply?

Fine, what if God was in the heart of the Sun? What if I am God, and I created all of you by observing you, a la Wheeler’s universal delayed-choice experiment? What if we are all God, in that respect, a la Smolin’s “not many universes, but many observers”? Fine, after we’ve stripped the word “God” of any real meaning, we can call It whatever the hell we want, and go off on any wild discussion we like, because there are no real semantic rules, besides the philo-jargon.

I don’t think it is. I don’t consider entities to have existence beyond one possible world. The only exception would be worlds related to other worlds through an as-yet-unresolved quantum decision, but your post implies that you would not consider this ontological.

Well, to use your criteria for ontology, if an entity actually exists in multiple universes of the multiverse, then information can be exchanged between them, and we must treat them as one ontological whole. In other words, they are not possible worlds w/r/t the MOP.


So does the word “determinism”. Admittedly, you said it was not your central point, but you did take the time to express that, in direct opposition to my view, deterministic materialism is reasonable. Nothing is more materialistic than the emission of a photon via quantum fluctuation. If that emission was determined, then whatever determined it preceded it.

That makes no sense in materialist terms. What does it mean to exist without time? Moreover, the entire notion of other universes is not falsifiable and is not supported by any emprical evidence. It is an analytic conjecture that predicts nothing.

I just clarified what I mean by fluctuation, so that’s out of the way. And yes, they exist. But they are not determined.

Me too. And so I raised an example of something that exists metaphysically: goodness. Clearly, there is nothing either good or evil about the universe or any part of it. There are no “morality particles”. Materialistically speaking, morality is ontologically vague.

If a being is to be supreme, then it must be morally perfect since there can be no morality without it. But the universe is prima facie disqualified from such a status inasmuch as it is amoral.

  1. The modal proof is too general to be useful, other than to suggest that necessary things exist necessarily. The argument has questionable assumptions WRT the content. Syntactically there is little to say.

  2. The problems I have with determinism relate specifically to the content of such proofs, among other things. If it is reasonable for me to suggest that my free will is an illusion (which remains, to me, a very tortured sentence but I won’t bring that up here), then the word “choice” as derived from the infinitive “to choose” fails to mean what I apparently think it does. Whenever I use the word, it is not because of the sense of the symbol, the content, but rather because I was compelled to by causal laws exclusively. We may carry this reasoning out for every word and find ourselves in the strange position of asserting, with words’s content, that we have no free will, yet simultaneously denying the viability of such content, unless…

  3. we retreat to epiphenomenalism, which itself posits the existence of consciousness as an unfalsifiable entity, and I should think is not very satisfying to materialists for other reasons since, absent a physical theory of epiphenomenalism, it is a dualism and not a monism.

  4. Logicism is another escape, but this has the small problem of being unable to support metaphysics in the first place, the very thing ontology lives in, in which case determinism, while an acceptable physical theory within the epistemology of science, has no claim to metaphysical grounds and so, even if we wanted to, we couldn’t say for two reasons that “The Universe is Deterministic.” Furthermore, under logicism our modal proof would fail to obtain as well since, again, metaphysics are out of the question.

  5. Finally, physicalism seems popular, but requires a rather tortured elimination or qualification of qualia and, I’m afraid, I just don’t buy it. Qualia, while peculiar, exist and that’s that. :stuck_out_tongue:

Can you elaborate this or point to a link that does?

Loopydude, you may discuss whatever you please, but my intention was to propose an atheistic ontology; that one can be an atheist and find the Modal Ontological Argument valid by identifying Necessary Existence with Combined Whole instead of Supreme Being. Indeed, my entire point was that benevolence, intelligence and power cannot be shoehorned into the entity having Necessary Existence.

As much as I admire the writing of Wheeler and Smolin, I would suggest that they were not ontologically relevant.

Ludovic: I am proposing that information cannot be passed between certain regions of the universe. If that means that those regions do not exist in actuality, then I apologise for my erroneous syntax.

My OP set out what I, admittedly a layman, took to be the purview of ontology: that which cannot be known epistemically or by experience. The metaphysical.

I would suggest that an unresolved quantum decision (say, a particle whose spin had not yet been observed) was epistemic by nature - we just “don’t happen to know yet”. However, once it has been observed to have spin up, the possible world in which it has spin down cannot interact with our own. It is logically possible for a particle to have either spin, and yet the two worlds cannot interact.

Taking this further, we might have no reason whatsoever, save for faith and maths, to believe in the “actuality” of a possible world in which space had 12 dimensions none of which were timelike, since there was no way to exchange information between these two worlds. This, I suggest, steps outside the bounds of physics (ie. that which can be observed) and into metaphysics (that which is known intuitively).

(P.S. to those learned in philosophy: I take my seat at this table so that I might be served with knowledge and understanding I lack. Please refrain from simply pelting me with bread rolls.)


For the sake of argument, I posit a logically possible world without time. A timeless and causeless singularity (or singularity-type-obect) has long been proposed as lying at one end of the universe.

Indeed, they may not be observable, which would make them purely metaphysical.

No, we are merely finding out which possible world we live in. “Determinism” merely requires “causes external to the will”. I argue that there is no cause for photonic emission, we are merely finding out which world we live in: one where the photon has been emitted or one where it has not.

My 12-dimensional space without time exists metaphysically, as does “evil” (since “good” is merely the absence of evil), as does “plind”, a taxon my biological computer just made up to arbitrarily describe a given behaviour. I suggest that differentiating NE from om3i might be given over to another day.

This thread makes baby Aristotle cry :frowning:

WRT ourselves, it is not possible to show that a photon is emitted and travels forward in time or whether it traveled backwards in time and was absorbed.

“determined”? Surely you are familiar with the uncertainty priciple and perhaps delayed choice and quantum eraser experiments.

WRT a photon, time does not exist.

Lol @ RexDart.

I think that an atheistic ontology would be just as valid as a theistic one although they would not differ in meaning.

Its just a language difference - God, the Universe what difference would it make?

The only problem would be assigning your “omni3” (kind of sounds like a good name for a nightclub) to the Universe, however with a bit of logical wrangling i’m sure this would be possible.

The only real problem would be with omniscience, for which you would need to say how the universe does this…

M-G, my point was that om3i is not relevant here. Ontology deals only with existence. The ontologically greatest is characterised by Necessary Existence. It is perhaps justified to use Supreme Being as a synonym for Necessary Existence, but certainly not justified to leap to a supreme being ie. an intelligent all-knowing personality.

Similarly, I may argue that Combined Whole is just as good a synonym as Supreme Being. However, if I then made a leap to a different metaphysical characteristic, eg. 12-dimensionality, and claimed that Supreme Being was not a good synonym because, unlike the universe, the supreme being has no 12-dimensionality, I would expect to be reminded that aribitrary metaphysical qualities were of dubious relevance (especially if they had an opposite for which the same argument might apply, eg. omnibenevolence vs. omnimalignance).

Is the universe moral or immoral?

Is God 12-dimensional or not? We can conceive of any old metaphysical quality.


I see what my problem is with your argument: you’re making the assumption that God has a transcendent element that the Universe doesn’t have. Am I right?

This element is defined as the collection of metaphysical characteristics of God. My problem with this is that the word “physical” is simply too loose making any argument based on it too specious, and any based on anything “metaphysical” doubly so.

The result of this wooliness is that you run into a linguistic problem; that the Universe cannot possess metaphysical qualities because it is purely physical. Which is the flip side to your assumption. In actual fact since the Universe is the combined whole, there is nothing it can’t contain - the physical as well as the meta-physical. There is nothing in the dictionary that confines “Universe” to the physical (whatever that may be) as far as I can see.

Theres probably a point to be drawn from this somewhere, but i’ll leave it up to you to look for it :).

No, no, Nanette. Either stay within the ontological sphere or don’t. There, whatever term you use to call the Supreme Being is irrelevant. “Universe” is fine if that pleases you, so long as you make clear that you mean necessary existence. But once you get out from there and start assigning metaphysical qualities, you need to explain how there is a metaphysical possiblity for morality to exist when there are no morality particles if you intend to call the universe God.

Well, first of all, I’ve been under the impression for a long time now that everything we know as metaphysical is purely man made… It’s made because we have our consciousness and our sense of self which we can’t explain physically.
So therefore I’ve come to the conclusion that the metaphysical is purely an illusion, like free will, and that can only be experienced by the metaphysical-able being.

Since then, the metaphysical is purely a sum of deterministic materialistic parts, any type of ‘atheistic god’ is irrelevant.
Because the term Supreme Being is something we have created as well.
It’s the idea of the ultimate Man, one who knows everything and basically is everything.

I happen to think the universe is just a sum of identical parts(strings perhaps?) put together into complex patterns (a rock, or a spoon, whatever you will) and that any classification done by sentient beings arise on other levels, higher levels.
We exist on a higher level, not on the objective level. I would call the objective level the lowest possible level. You would come down to one single materialistic part that everything possible is made of, and our higher level is simply complex patterns and bigger parts contained by these identical smallest parts.

So how you want to classify these higher parts, well… that can be interesting, but it doesn’t help the fact that the Universe can only be deterministic, on its own objective level.



Oh, reflecting further upon it, you are absolutely right. I guess I was just making clear the only conditions under which I would consider existence to span worlds, if an unresolved quantum state is indeed a different world, which even to me it plainly is not.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for me in the semantics of the MOPoG is that the relationship between the worlds is hardly ever stated, other than necessary for the proof. Thus ultimately one wonders what exactly one has proved, even if one accepts the premises and S5. Indeed, you seem to have taken some steps in that direction: I would like more clarification from those who would use it what sort of other relationships they would draw between worlds.

But to me, no matter what the relationship between the worlds are, I would not consider a multiverse in which even one entity could exchange information to be different worlds at all. And that entity thus would not span different worlds.


Even if you intend to show that big-g God exists, and has Om3i, the MOPoG doesn’t do it any more than it shows that the Universe is Om3i. This is getting rather repetitive.


“Supreme Being” is also fine, as long as it is clear that it means Necessary Existence.

I intend to call Necessary Existence the universe, as others might call Necessary Existence god. Combined Whole is as good a synonym of Necessary Existence as Supreme Being, and I am arguing that we can therefore dispense with the latter altogether.

Are we starting from “Necessary Existence is true” or “The supreme being is ontologically greatest”? If the former, then the only reason the words Supreme and Being become involved is because they are synonyms for Necessary and Existence. Further positing the supreme being is simple legerdemain. The latter is as circular as Anselm’s original argument.

You say morality, I say 12-dimensionality; both are metaphysical qualities if they are not epistemic but intuitive. Materialistically, morality is ontologically vague. Theistically, 12-dimensionality is ontologically vague. If the universe is everything which exists, both physical and metaphysical, then morality and 12-dimensionality are part of the universe. If only the physical exists, then neither morality nor 12-dimensionality exist.

***The physical and the metaphysical: The Combined Whole. ***(Indeed, I do not see how God is very well “supreme” if he has no physical part, since I can conceive of an entity comprising both; self-evidently this is more supreme than an entity comprising only one of the two. However, I said all this talk of supremacy was irrelevant, and shall stick to it.)

As to the particles, the word “materialism” is itself a little old-fashioned, since the universe plainly comprises more than just material, and different arrangements of that material could be said to produce different entities in themselves. As opacis magi said, we could even contend that morality is epistemic, not metaphysical, since it is a product of a natural physical process. (Of course, such has not yet been falsifiably demonstrated.)


No. I am arguing that both have transcendent elements, both have metaphysical qualities. As I said, one could say, like opacis, that only the physical exists (the traditional meaning of “universe”), and that metaphysics and therefore ontology are a bunch of hooey, but that would make this a very short thread.