Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Prager on the Multiverse

Dennis Prager has a fine piece on the multiverse theory at National Review Online. It's interesting that a social commentator has written a column on an esoteric metaphysical/scientific topic in a political journal of opinion like NRO. Perhaps it's indicative of the broad relevance of this hypothesis to everyone interested in deeper matters than what Kim and Kanye named their baby.

Prager starts with this:
Last week, in Nice, France, I was privileged to participate along with 30 scholars, mostly scientists and mathematicians, in a conference on the question of whether the universe was designed, or at least fine-tuned, to make life, especially intelligent life. Participants — from Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Berkeley, and Columbia, among other American and European universities — included believers in God, agnostics, and atheists.

It was clear that the scientific consensus was that, at the very least, the universe is exquisitely fine-tuned to allow for the possibility of life. It appears that we live in a “Goldilocks universe,” in which both the arrangement of matter at the cosmic beginning and the values of various physical parameters — such as the speed of light, the strength of gravitational attraction, and the expansion rate of the universe — are just right for life. And unless one is frightened of the term, it also appears the universe is designed for biogenesis and human life.
This is indeed indisputable. Prager cites several scientists on the matter:
Michael Turner, astrophysicist at the University of Chicago and Fermilab: “The precision is as if one could throw a dart across the entire universe and hit a bullseye one millimeter in diameter on the other side.”

Paul Davies, professor of theoretical physics at Adelaide University: “The really amazing thing is not that life on Earth is balanced on a knife-edge, but that the entire universe is balanced on a knife-edge, and would be total chaos if any of the natural ‘constants’ were off even slightly.

Roger Penrose, the Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, writes that the likelihood of the universe having usable energy (low entropy) at its creation is “one part out of ten to the power of ten to the power of 123.” That is “a million billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion zeros.”

Steven Weinberg, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, and an anti-religious agnostic, notes that “the existence of life of any kind seems to require a cancellation between different contributions to the vacuum energy, accurate to about 120 decimal places.” As the website explains, “This means that if the energies of the Big Bang were, in arbitrary units, not:

But instead:

There would be no life of any sort in the entire universe.”
How do those at pains to attribute all this to serendipity account for it? Some say that one cannot posit an Architect of the universe who designed it this way intentionally because such an explanation is not scientific. This is a dodge of course. It can only be true if we equate science with metaphysical naturalism, but if science is the pursuit of truth wherever the evidence leads then it's foolish, as William James once noted, to discount some truths, if they're really there, just because we're following a rule that doesn't allow us to see those kinds of truths. Prager puts it this way:
Unless one is a closed-minded atheist (there are open-minded atheists), it is not valid on a purely scientific basis to deny that the universe is improbably fine-tuned to create life, let alone intelligent life.

Additionally, it is atheistic dogma, not science, to dismiss design as unscientific. The argument that science cannot suggest that intelligence comes from intelligence or design from an intelligent designer is simply a tautology. It is dogma masquerading as science.
So what other moves are available to the naturalist who blanches at the prospect of a finely-tuned universe?
They've put forward the notion of a multiverse — the idea that there are many, perhaps an infinite number, of other universes.
If there are an infinite number of universes and if all logically possible laws of physics are exemplified in that ensemble then every possible universe, no matter how improbable, must exist somewhere in that infinite assortment. Ours is a possible universe, of course, so, no matter how unlikely, it exists. No big deal. But, as Prager observes, there is not a shred of evidence of the existence of these other universes — nor could there be, since contact with another universe is impossible.
Therefore, only one conclusion can be drawn: The fact that atheists have resorted to the multiverse argument constitutes a tacit admission that they have lost the argument about design in this universe. The evidence in this universe for design — or, if you will, the fine-tuning that cannot be explained by chance or by “enough time” — is so compelling that the only way around it is to suggest that our universe is only one of an infinite number of universes.
There are several ironies in this. One is that scientists who demand empirical evidence for the claim that a Designer exists avoid the evidence, the fine-tuning of the cosmos, by embracing a hypothesis for which there is not only no empirical evidence but for which there couldn't be empirical evidence.

Another irony is that trying to negate astronomical improbabilities by invoking astronomical numbers of worlds pretty much destroys the ability of science to rule out anything on the basis of probability.

For example, suppose there is a one in a quadrillion chance that someone playing a roulette wheel will pick the same number ten times in a row and win all ten times. Which is more likely, that the game was rigged or that the player defied the odds? If we live in a multiverse consisting of far more than a quadrillion universes it could be that we live in a universe in which the one in a quadrillion event actually happens. We cannot conclude that the wheel was probably rigged because in the multiverse anything that is possible to happen will happen in some world, so how do we know that our world isn't the one in which this event happens?

In other words, in the multiverse, unless something is logically impossible it's inevitable that it occur somewhere. Why not here? Ironically, for the atheist who takes refuge in the multiverse in order to avoid the Fine-Tuner, miracles, the bete noire of atheists, are inevitable in some world so why think ours is not that world?

Moreover, as critics of the multiverse hypothesis have pointed out, there's no known mechanism for pumping out these universes but if something is generating them it must itself be fine-tuned. Since this universe-maker transcends the worlds it creates it must be super-natural so how is it any more fit as an object of scientific speculation than an Intelligent Designer?

If you have the time you might want to watch this lecture by Robin Collins, one of the world's foremost philosophers working on cosmic fine-tuning and the multiverse theory.