Naturalists Faith in Multiverses

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“If nature so ‘clever’ as to exploit mechanisms that amaze us with their ingenuity, is that not persuasive evidence for the existence of intelligent design behind the universe?” asked a theoretical physicist Paul Davies, “If the world’s finest mind can unravel only with difficulty the deeper workings of nature, how could it be supposed that those workings are merely a mindless accident, a product of blind chance?”1 (Davies 1984: 235-6)

Stunning evidences on how complex and delicately fine tuned is the electrical to gravitational force ratio (N = 10 36), strength of nuclear binding (E = 0.007), normalized amount of matter in universe (Ω = 0. 3), normalized cosmological constant (Λ = 0.7), seeds for cosmic structure (Q = 1/100,000), number of spatial dimensions (D = 3)2 et cetera required for intelligent life permitting universe are piling up in the scientific community.

Our universe, as theoretical physicist Brandon Carter judged, according to Davies, is just right for life. “It looked like a fix – a big fix”(Davies 2007: x). This raises a further question. What is the most plausible explanation for the seemed big fixed values? Martin Rees gave three alternatives,

If our existence depends on a seemingly special cosmic recipe, how should we react to the apparent fine-tuning? There appears to be a choice between three options: we can dismiss it as happenstance [or coincidence]; we can acclaim it as the workings of providence; or (my preference) we can conjecture that our universe is a specially favored domain in a still vaster multiverse.(Rees 2005:  211)

For atheist scientists and philosophers, work of providence would be surrendering their entire worldview to theism, which view these increasingly modern scientific findings as resurging the argument from design.

Few are prepared to take the route that led a notorious atheist philosopher, late Antony Flew, to migrate from atheism to deism. Following where he thought the evidence led him, given the pilling evidences, Flew admitted that, “multiverse or not, we still have to come to terms with the origin of the laws of nature. And the only viable explanation here is the divine Mind.”(Flew 2007 120-1)

Philosopher Bradley Monton, who is less certain of his atheism after investigating arguments from design,  “think that there is some evidence for an intelligent designer, and in fact, [he] think that there is some evidence that that intelligent designer is God” (Monton 2009: 39) Unlike Flew, Monton does not think that the evidence is enough to make him stop being an atheist.

Rees on the other hand holds an agnostic position that “[w]e do not know whether there are other universes. Perhaps we never shall”(Rees 2005: 210). He would disagree with Flew’s conclusion. Rees supposes that multiverse can still be postulated as a genuine scientific explanation for the fine-turning of our universe. It is still likely that in the distant future, cosmologists would probably have a convincing theory that show whether a multiverse exists contended Rees. He went further,

But while we are waiting for that theory—and it could be a long wait—the “off the shelf” clothes shop analogy can already be checked. It could even be refuted: this would happen if our universe turned out to be even more specially tuned than our presence requires. (Rees 2005: 218)

George E. R. Ellis informed us that the idea of a multiverses, is increasingly receiving attention in the field of cosmology. Vilenkin, Lind, Guth, Smolin, Deutsch, Susskind, Sciama, Tegmark, and Rees are among proponents of different models of multiverses.

Ellis considered that “[t]he very nature of the scientific enterprise is at stake in the multiverse debate: the multiverse proponents are proposing weakening the nature of scientific proof in order to claim that multiverses provide a scientific explanation. This is a dangerous tactic.”(Ellis 2007) He contended,

The extreme case is multiverse proposals, where no direct observational tests of the hypothesis are possible, as the supposed other universes cannot be seen by any observations whatever, and the assumed underlying physics is also untested and indeed probably untestable.(ibid)

Exploring the evidences offered for existence of actual multiverses, Ellis concluded that these “proposals are good empirically – based philosophical proposals for the nature of what exists, but are not strictly within the domain of science because they are not testable”.  He finds multiverses theory not testable because it is so flexible and that it can accommodate almost any observation. “The multiverse theory can’t make any predications because it can explain anything at all.”(ibid)

Ellis concluded that both design and multiverse lack conclusive evidence thus both require an equal degree faith to be believed. “Despite scientific appearances, belief in multiverse is an exercise in faith”(ibid)

Martin Gardner shares Ellis’ position. He wrote,

The stark truth is that there is not the slightest shred of reliable evidence that there is any universe other than the one we are in. No multiverse theory has so far provided a prediction that can be tested. In my layman’s opinion they are all frivolous fantasies. As far as we can tell, universes are not as plentiful as even two blackberries. Surely the conjecture that there is just one universe and its Creator is infinitely simpler and easier to believe than that there are countless billions upon billions of worlds, constantly increasing in number and created by nobody. I can only marvel at the low state to which today’s philosophy of science has fallen. (Garder 2001: n.p)

Does multiverse actually exists? Maybe it does, maybe it does not. I would end by concurring with Ellis’ conclusion that “[t]he claim they exist is a belief rather than an established scientific fact. It is a reasonable faith with strong explanatory nature, but a belief none the less.”

Question: Does the multiverses explain the fine-tuning of our universe?

Bibliography:

Davies, Paul (1984) Superforce: The Search for a Grand Unified Theory of Nature. New York: Simon and Schuster.

_________ (2007) The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is The Universe Just Right For Life?. Penguin Books

Ellis, George E. R. (2007) The multiverse, ultimate causation and God. Talk at Emmanuel College 6th November 2007.

Flew, Antony (2007) There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. HarperOne

Gardner, Martin (2001) Multiverses and Blackberries: Notes of a Fringe-Watcher Vol. 25.5 , September / October 2001

Monton, Bradley (2009) Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends intelligent Design. Broadview Press.

Rees, Martin (2005) Other Universes: A Scientific Perspective in Ed. Neil A. Manson’s God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science.  Routledge.

 


[1] Davies rejects both multiverse and design as appealing to something beyond our universe. He holds to a kind of a self-designed universe.

[2] Martin Rees’ Just Six Numbers

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About Prayson Daniel

Prayson Daniel is a Tanzanian, married to Lea and a father to Eloise. Reformed theology, philosophy of religion, apologetics and church history are areas he enjoy reading, pondering and sharing with a motto "when love comes first, disagreement follows at its right and proper place".

12 comments

  1. physics

    Why not question the very assertion that the universe is fine tuned? Fine tuned for what? Why suppose that constants are not constants? Why just believe that because you can change equations therefore reality is exactly as changeable? Et cetera.

  2. Cosmological fine tuning looks suspiciously like observer bias. It is an interesting idea, but without a comparison group or real knowledge of the initial conditions, that is all it is, the probabilities being speculative at base.

    • Peter B.

      The appeal to observer bias reminds me of the firing squad analogy:
      A man is sentenced to death by firing squad, and once the sentence is carried out, the guns fire, and the smoke clears, the condemned man remains standing, alive and untouched.
      Claiming observer bias and shrugging off the need for explaining the fine-tuning would be akin to the condemned man saying, “Well then! I shouldn’t be surprised to be alive, after all, if I was killed, I wouldn’t be here to ponder the fact that I am here!”
      Observer bias just isn’t a valid objection.

    • Not at all. I should clarify. I’m referring to observer bias as it occurs in my world. Let’s say I am doing a study on the contagiousness of TB at my tertiary care, TB referral center. I survey all my patients and their family members and then create a model based on the data to help me understand how contagious TB really is and therefore how it must spread. I will find that many family members are affected and so conclude that TB is quite contagious and must spread by droplets or from surfaces. As I continue to collect data from within my patient population, it will validate my model. However, I must recognize that no matter how iron-clad my model appears, two possible explanations for my results still exist: 1) I have it right and were I to venture into the wider world, I would find the incidence of TB that my model predicts 2) my results are based on a set of data that is biased by what I am able to observe at my specialized center. Unless I am able to go out and survey the population as a whole, I can’t even really say which one of those possibilities is more likely.
      The trouble in cosmology is that there is no “out” to go to, and so I think this stuff will remain speculative in perpetuity. Things like a multiverse or the Bohm interpretation of quantum mechanics, are simply those other possibilities which we must acknowledge, and are based on potentially valid interpretations of the models, not some bizarre atheist apologetic. Reading about these things, one of the recurrent dis-satisfactions among physicists is the ultimate impossibility of testing the “other possibilities”, and so I would think, also the ultimate impossibility of validating ideas about fine tuning.

      • Peter B.

        Fair enough. That’s much more clear.
        I guess it makes sense to think that a small sample size (1) could lead to uncertainty regarding the other possibilities – at least for some of the constants of the universe. I think some of which can be tested and observed within our universe (i.e. proton size changing leading to the collapse of chemistry) are still valid points to bring up.

        And I also wouldn’t argue that the multiverse is some sort of atheist apologetic. I understand its origins and roots enough to know they’re in physics, and not atheistic philosophy. However, I think it’s odd that atheists like to jump on the bandwagon and use a multiverse AS an apologetic (knowing full well its scientific origin) given that it commits the very same objection they bring to the God hypothesis: testability.

        I personally remain agnostic on the existence of a multiverse. I don’t think if it were proven it would do either side of the debate any good (Theism vs. Atheism), but I see the potential in a purely scientific debate.

    • I agree with you, Peter. It is apparently very tempting for people to try to incorporate data into their philosophy or theology. You would think that folks would have learned from the Catholic Church’s experience with Geo-centrism. I find this a problem for multiverse theories and atheists, and for cosmological arguments and theists. “Hard evidence” always turns out to be much more squishy than it first appears, typically infinitely so, in terms of its philosophical utility.

  3. Nice summary of the fine tuning data. However, when we talk about ‘multiverse theories’, we’re speaking rather loosely. According to Sean Carroll (see here:http://preposterousuniverse.com/writings/dtung/):

    “The multiverse is not a theory; it is a prediction of a theory, namely the combination of inflationary cosmology and a landscape of vacuum states. Both of these ideas came about for other reasons, having nothing to do with the multiverse. If they are right, they predict the existence of a multiverse in a wide variety of circumstances. It’s our job to take the predictions of our theories seriously, not to discount them because we end up with an uncomfortably large number of universes.”

    This also preempts the charge that the multiverse is an ad hoc theory to get around the fine tuning argument. If we are committed to certain models of the universe and physical laws, we may be committed to a multiverse.

    By the way, what is your take on theistic multiverse proponents like Don Page, Don Turner, and Klaas Kraay? A conference was recently held on this subject: http://www.ryerson.ca/~kraay/multiverse.html. In other words, it’s not just atheists or naturalists who find the idea of a multiverse plausible.

  4. Peter B.

    To answer the question, I would say no.
    I’m thankful that you concisely gave many of the details of the problems of the multiverse.
    The only thing I would add is that the only current “working” theory to account for a multiverse is through string theory, but string theory only predicts the possibility of 10^500 different possible universes. Comparing that with the low chance of life (the universe being fine-tuned to 1:10^10^123), any string theory models fail to overcome the remote odds of a life-permitting universe.
    The only other possibility that the atheist can resort to is an infinite number of universes, which is logically absurd (and physically impossible).

    • Thanks Peter B. I think you are correct.

      • Peter B.

        Don’t get me wrong. I really don’t see any philosophical or scientifically damning evidence to a multiverse. I don’t disbelieve in one, but in reality, I think it’s a non-issue with respect to the God debate. As I stated, it does very little to diminish the teleological argument, and if it does exist, we’ll never see it, never interact with it, and never get any data from it.
        So, from my perspective, in this life I will never gain anything from a multiverse. It will never lead to medical technology to save my life, it will never lead to some crazy NASA invention (like memory foam), and it won’t challenge any of my personal beliefs about God, ethics, etc. So I really don’t see the point in all the grumbling people make over it.
        I personally think that a multiverse would be great. Given that it would have to be finely-tuned, and the fact it couldn’t have no beginning (cosmological argument), it still leads to God. So in reality, the only difference it would ever make is perhaps in heaven I’ll get to shake hands with some weird looking alien thing from a different universe or something.
        Otherwise, a multiverse would be a decent explanation for some theological concepts, like the New Heaven and New Earth in Revelation. Or perhaps heaven and hell are themselves different universes. I would imagine a universe where cosmological expansion wasn’t the way it is would be very compact, hot, and miserable….
        Anyway, I’m rambling at this point, but I think the whole idea of a multiverse is interesting, but not terribly pressing on actual life, or the God debate.

    • physics

      But the reason to predict about 10^500 different kinds of possible universes is that the constants are not predicted to be as variable as in the misinformation about fine-tuning. Besides fine-tuning mixes and matches constants and whatever the author wanted to add to inflate (or deflate, whatever you call it), the math. As per the “odds” themselves, they are about a universe perfectly like ours. Somebody calculated that even allowing for huge variations about 25% of the universes would allow for chemistries and laws that might allow some form of life. But from either side, it’s just a hell of a lot of speculation.

      What surprises me the most about fine-tuning is that theists who deny evolution and other things are implicitly accepting it, since the whole thing about fine-tuning is not just that the universe would allow for life (ideal for life would be far fetched). Look at the stupid argument. A lot of the numbers have to do with what happens with the Big Bang, that means the theist is accepting already that the universe is billions of years old, then other constants are about whether hydrogen will form, again, accepting most of the milliseconds after the big bang, and the huge age of the universe, then the chemistry that would allow for chemical evolution … long et cetera. That leaving aside that then the Christians are no longer talking about an omni-potent being. They are talking about a being who is limited in the ways it can create universes by the laws of physics. Thus, this god is not above, but rather below the laws of physics. Long string of problems.

      By the way, huge misrepresentation in Davies. Atheists with a scientific bent do not think that everything came to be by blind chance. We do understand that reality has a way of working. Such a way is not just blind chance. Example, gravitation makes big chunks of matter attract each other. I would not call that “blind chance.” Why this ridiculous cartoon?

      Why not being able to understand the whole thing should mean that some intelligence was behind the whole enchilada? I will tell you: no reason other than mere theist wishful thinking and rhetoric. Things are what they are. If they are hard to understand, then they are hard to understand. If they are easy to understand then they are easy to understand. No reason to think that either (easy or hard), has to point to an intelligence behind. None whatsoever. Pure rhetoric. So much so that I have seen the very same Christian jump from how hard it is to understand, therefore higher intelligence created it, to how easy it is to understand therefore a higher intelligence created it.

      • There are many theists who accept the big bang, evolution, and other established scientific theories. None of them contradict Catholic theology, for example. If you somehow think they do, you may have misunderstanding of our conception of God. Also, you must realize that although the existence of God explains some difficult things, we do not invent God as an explanation. The religions I know of are rooted in religious experiences and revelations that lead to an understanding of a spiritual reality that brings meaning to all of life, including love, life, and death – not just physical phenomena. Finally, the fine-tuning issue is not just theist rhetoric. Many non-theists see fine-tuning as a puzzling reality that has no good natural explanation, which is why they propose a multi-verse.

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