Ex·tra·mun·dane, adj., outside the physical world; not of this world.
Whether or not there are alien civilizations beyond our solar system, the universe itself is anything but alien. The fundamental physical parameters of the universe are all precisely calibrated to sustain life as we know it – a phenomenon that physicists refer to as the anthropic principle. It turns out you can’t fiddle with such basic attributes as the force of gravity, the mass of the proton, the cosmological constant or any of more than a dozen others without creating conditions that would have prevented life from arising at all.
So how did the universe arrive at precisely the right combination of attributes to produce creatures capable of wondering about the improbability of it all? One explanation is that the universe didn’t have to overcome long odds to hit on exactly the right combination if, in fact, there are countless other universes swirling around out there, and ours just happens to be the one that produced the right recipe for carbon-based life forms. As far-fetched as this so-called multiverse theory might seem, it is more palatable to some in the scientific community than believing the universe might have been intentionally designed to make us feel at home.
There’s a certain irony in the fact that the multiverse theory represents exactly the sort of other-worldly thinking that religious types have long been accused of. When the facts don’t point to a conclusion you can live with, you simply hypothesize another reality you like better, whether you call it the multiverse or heaven. How do you explain the anthropic principle? You don’t have to if it all boils down to a roll of the dice. How do you reconcile the reality of evil with a benevolent God? You don’t have to if you believe that everybody lives happily ever after in the hereafter.
On the other hand, how would God or science be different if we hypothesized only a single reality, which is the one we happen to be living in? In effect, we remove the escape hatch, forcing us to come to terms with all those messy facts that refuse to conform to the paradigms we are most comfortable with. If there is only one reality, the scientific community must entertain the possibility that the universe is the product of design rather than chance; and if by design, then theologians must grapple with the finality of evil.
If there is only a single reality, we must pay special heed to Jesus' words when he said, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” In Jesus’ day, as in our own, people longed for the coming of God’s kingdom, but they assumed it would be another, better world, not this one. However, that is not what Jesus said. When he announced that the kingdom of God was at hand, he meant right here and now. The better world that everyone longed for turns out to be this one, the one that God created and judged to be very good. And if it is hard to reconcile the world that God made with the world we know, we must remember who was given dominion over it. This is why we must also pay heed to what Jesus said immediately before announcing that the kingdom of God was at hand. “Repent,” he said.