I’ve finished the book Atoms and Eden, a series of interviews by Steve Paulson of luminaries in the science-and-religion debates. The book includes interviews with people on all sides, including Karen Armstrong, John Haught, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, Jane Goodall, and so on. Judging by Amazon, the book hasn’t garnered much interest, but I’d recommend it. Paulson asks some hard questions to both pro- and anti-religious people, and their answers are often revealing, showing a side of the person that might surprise you.
For example, here’s a question-and-answer involving Paul Davies, a well known British physicist, now a professor at Arizona State University and director of BEYOND, the Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science. He’s also religious, and has published tons of accommodationist material, eventually garnering the lucrative Templeton Prize in 1995. Here’s the Q&A on p. 256:
Q: Do you think one reason the multiverse theory has become so popular in recent years is to keep the whole idea of God at bay?
A [Davies]: Yes.
Davies goes on to say this in response to a followup question(p. 257):
“There’s no doubt that the popularity of the multiverse is due to the fact that it superficially gives a ready explanation for why the universe is bio-friendly. Twenty years ago, people didn’t want to talk about this fine-tuning because they were embarrassed. It looked like the hand of a creator. Then along came the possibility of a multiverse, and suddenly they’re happy to tal about it because it looks like there’s a ready explanation. . . Even the scientific explanations for the universe are rooted in a particular type of theological thinking. They’re trying to explain the world by appealing to something outside of it.”
Now this struck me as bizarre. I’d written about multiverses before, in my New Republic piece on the incompatibility of science and faith, and I remembered that multiverse theory was not a face-saving device confected by physicists to get rid of the annoying God problem. And I also knew it was a prediction from some well-regarded theories of astrophysics, not a Hail Mary pass* by god-hating scientists. But, to be sure, I sent Davies’s answer to the Official Website Physicist™, Sean Carroll, asking him, “What Davies said isn’t right, is it?” Sean wrote me back, agreeing, and I reproduce his email with permission:
That’s not right at all. As I explain in my Discover magazine piece, “Welcome to the multiverse“: The multiverse idea isn’t a “theory” at all; it’s a prediction made by other theories, which became popular for other reasons. The modern cosmological version of the multiverse theory took off in the 1980′s, when physicists took seriously the fact that inflationary cosmology (invented to help explain the flatness and smoothness of the early universe, nothing to do with God) often leads to the creation of a multiverse (see here for a summary). It gained in popularity starting around the year 2000, when string theorists realized that their theory naturally predicts a very large number of possible vacuum states (see e.g. http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0302219). All along, cosmologists have been trying to take the predictions of their models seriously, like good scientists, not trying to keep God at bay. (As far as most cosmologists are concerned, God has been at bay for a long time now; the idea that current physics research is being affected in any noticeable way by the idea of God is way off base.)
There is only one connection between the multiverse and God, which is that some physicists have said that anthropic selection effects within the multiverse could lead to the kind of fine-tuning one would otherwise expect from an intelligent designer (see e.g. the subtitle of Leonard Susskind’s book “String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design.”) But the connection was never a popular one, and the idea of God is essentially never mentioned in serious cosmological discussions.
Do read Sean’s two-page piece, which is the best concise explanation of the origins of multiverse theory I’ve seen.
When Sean confirmed my take on Davies’s statement, I became quite flummoxed, for Davies is a reputable physicist, and the interview was published in 2010. He should know better than to make an erroneous statement like this, which will immediately make believers see multiverses as motivated by atheism, not science. But that’s not right.
The fact is that Davies himself appears motivated by his faith and his accommodationism, for there’s no other explanation for why a smart astrophysicist could say something so misleading.
And, as comic relief, I offer you another LOLzy statement by an interviewee: John Haught, theologian at Georgetown University and erstwhile debate opponent. On pp 89-90, explaining why God is hidden, he emits this gobbledygook:
“The traditions and religion and philosophy have always maintained that the most important dimensions of reality are going to be the least accessible to scientific control. There’s going to be something fuzzy and elusive about them. The only way we can talk about them is through symbolic and metaphoric language—in other words, the language of religion. Traditionally, we never apologized for the fact that we used fuzzy language to refer to the real, because the deepest aspect of reality grasps us more than we grasp it. So we can never get our minds around it.”
That is a masterpiece of equivocation. Sophisticated Theology™ doesn’t get any funnier than that.
And, as a purgative for Haught, I offer you the words of Richard Dawkins on p. 103
Q: Yet most moderate religious people are appalled by the apocalyptic thinking of religious extremists.
A: [Dawkins] Of course they’re appalled. They’re decent, nice people. But they have no right to be appalled because, in a sense, they brought it on the world by teaching people, especially children, the virtues of unquestioned faith.
For those unfamiliar with American football, Wikipedia explains this term:
“Hail Mary pass or Hail Mary route in American football refers to any very long forward pass made in desperation with only a small chance of success, especially at or near the end of a half. The expression goes back at least to the 1930s, being used publicly in that decade by two former members of Notre Dame’s Four Horsemen, Elmer Layden and Jim Crowley. Originally meaning any sort of desperation play, a “Hail Mary” gradually came to denote a long, low-probability pass you tell your receivers to go for a Hail Mary to try to score a touchdown in the desperate times of a game.
Here’s a famous Hail Mary pass thrown by Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie in 1984, giving his team a 2-point win over Miami.