Thursday, January 5, 2012

Inflaton Fields, Multiverses, and Fine-Tuning

In the video below physicist Bruce Gordon gives a very informative 25 minute presentation on cosmic fine-tuning, inflation and the multiverse. Dr. Gordon emphasizes that the latter two theories raise more problems than they solve. It's a very helpful video despite the film quality, despite the fact that Gordon isn't an electrifying speaker, and despite the irritatingly low threshhold that humor must attain to trigger the laughter of one member of the audience.

Watch it to the end, especially if cosmology is something that interests you.

The Absurdity of Inflation, String Theory & The Multiverse - Dr. Bruce Gordon from Philip Cunningham on Vimeo.

The Logical Conclusions of Atheism

Alex Rosenberg is a philosopher of science at Duke who has written a book in which he calls upon his fellow metaphysical naturalists (i.e. atheists) to face squarely the implications of their worldview. The New Republic's Leon Wieseltier, in a somewhat choleric critique, summarizes those implications as Rosenberg presents them in his book. Here's Wiesltier:
Is there a god? No. What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is. What is the purpose of the universe? There is none. What is the meaning of life? Ditto. Why am I here? Just dumb luck. Is there a soul? Is it immortal? Are you kidding? Is there free will? Not a chance! What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no moral difference between them. Why should I be moral? Because it makes you feel better than being immoral. Is abortion, euthanasia, suicide, paying taxes, foreign aid, or anything else you don’t like forbidden, permissible, or sometimes obligatory? Anything goes. What is love, and how can I find it? Love is the solution to a strategic interaction problem. Don’t look for it; it will find you when you need it. Does history have any meaning or purpose? It’s full of sound and fury, but signifies nothing.”

I take this cutting-edge wisdom from the worst book of the year, a shallow and supercilious thing called The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions, by Alex Rosenberg, a philosopher of science at Duke University. The book is a catechism for people who believe they have emancipated themselves from catechisms. The faith that it dogmatically expounds is scientism. It is a fine example of how the religion of science can turn an intelligent man into a fool.
Rosenberg is an explicit exponent of a view called scientism, the view that science provides us with the only methodology for answering any questions that matter. According to scientism if a question can't be answered by the scientific method then it can't be answered at all. Indeed, there are no facts which are not scientific facts. Wieseltier elaborates:
Rosenberg arrives with “the correct answers to most of the persistent questions,” and “given what we know from the sciences, the answers are all pretty obvious.” (I have cited most of them above.) This is because “there is only one way to acquire knowledge, and science’s way is it.”

And: “Scientism starts with the idea that the physical facts fix all the facts, including the biological ones. These in turn have to fix the human facts—the facts about us, our psychology, and our morality.” All that remains is to choose the wine.
Wieseltier concludes with this summation:
This shabby book is riddled with other notions that typify our time. Rosenberg maintains that atheism entails materialism, as if the integrity of the non-material realms of life can be secured only by the existence of a deity. Reason does not move him, no doubt because of the threat it poses to the physicalist tyranny ....

Rosenberg is untroubled by such complications. He is untroubled by everything under the sun. The man’s peace of mind is indecent. “We know the truth,” he declares sacerdotally in his preface. “Some of the tone of much that follows may sound a little smug. I fear I have to plead guilty to this charge ...” Once upon a time science was the enemy of smugness.
Actually, Wieseltier's umbrage precludes him from giving Rosenberg the credit he deserves. In my view he's being completely consistent. If atheism is true then materialism is more likely than not. Wieseltier thinks that one can be an atheist and still rationally believe in the trustworthiness of reason, a meaning to life and the cosmos, the objectivity of moral duties, but it's hard to see how such beliefs could be warranted given atheism. It would be nice if Wieseltier would give us an argument for his rather than simply venting his spleen at Rosenberg who is simply "drawing the full conclusion from a consistently atheistic position" to quote Sartre.

Anyone who doesn't like what Rosenberg is saying can choose to reject Rosenberg's logic or reject his atheism. To embrace atheism while rejecting Rosenberg's logic is, in my opinion, to abandon reason and make an irrational leap of faith. It's to choose to live life as one wishes it to be and not as it is.

At any rate, for anyone who might be interested, I critiqued Rosenberg's views in a series of posts about a year and a half ago. Part I in the series is here. Go here for the second installment and here for the conclusion.