“Fine-tuning”: is the multiverse a Hail Mary pass by godless physicists?

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.

114 Comments

  1. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    … eventually garnering the lucrative Templeton Prize in 1995

    Which explains most of what you need to know about Davies.

  2. Posted March 18, 2013 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Another independent source of evidence for a multiverse comes from quantum mechanics. The many-worlds hypothesis avoids some of the problems of the Copenhagen interpretation: the latter, for example, seems to require a fundamental natural differences between observers and non-observers, which is weird. It also seems to require saying that at a certain point, the equations of quantum mechanics just stop working for some reason. In contrast, many-worlds says the equations of quantum mechanics describe everything.

    • sthelensoregon
      Posted March 18, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      What do you mean, “at a certain point, the equations of quantum mechanics just stop working.” At what point?

      • Austerity
        Posted March 18, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

        At the point of “wave function collapse,” which is a very ill-defined notion. After collapse things are suddenly described by classical states. No one knows exactly when this supposed collapse occurs and creating superpositions with ever larger objects strongly suggests there is no such point.

        • Posted March 18, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

          Yep, it’s the equivalent of “and then a miracle happens” on the blackboard in that famous cartoon.

          /@

    • Posted March 18, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      This is a different class of multiverse; same laws (same “fine tuning”), different states (dead cat rather than live cat).

      /@

    • BillyJoe
      Posted March 19, 2013 at 4:00 am | Permalink

      Tom, you are confused.

      The many worlds interprettion of quantum mechanics has nothing to do with the multiverse prediction of cosmological theories and string theory.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted March 19, 2013 at 9:38 am | Permalink

        It is “a” multiverse. Physicist Tegmark includes it in his classification of multiverses, see his webpage for refs. (Some may say he is confused here, admittedly.)

  3. Posted March 18, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    To me the obvious retort to the idea that multiuniverses or any other rational theory has been floated by atheists to “keep the idea of God at bay” is to calmly observe that God has been floated to keep at bay the fact that there is no alternative to objective reality. The universe (regardless of how many facets) simply is.

    The thought that there can is no outside to everything is deeply disturbing to most people. God is their soma.

    • Posted March 18, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      that last sentence should read:

      The thought that there is no outside to everything is deeply disturbing to most people. God is their soma.

    • gluonspring
      Posted March 18, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. I have never felt the need to explain why the universe has laws and constants that allow life. It seems obvious that at some point our causal explanations must fail us, whether theist or not, and we will confront a level of reality for which we can only shrug and say, “I don’t know why it is that way, it just is.” This is, indeed, deeply disturbing. Already, as a child of 7, I was deeply disturbed by the existence of God as a prior. I can recall clearly asking my grandmother where God came from and she insisted that he simply was and always had been and always would be. The answer profoundly failed to satisfy me and no answer about the ground of existence ever has or ever will. Some multiverse theory pushes the mystery back one level, but that is all. You are still left with the essential mystery of why there is something instead of nothing and why that something should have any coherent form.

      • BillyJoe
        Posted March 19, 2013 at 4:07 am | Permalink

        Why there is something rather than nothing is explained by theories – used to explain observable aspects of our univere – that predict that nothing can, almost certainly does give rise to something.

        • gluonspring
          Posted March 19, 2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink

          Yes, but that also only pushes back the explanatory chain. Why is the universe such that a vacuum state produces stuff? It just is.

        • gluonspring
          Posted March 19, 2013 at 7:58 am | Permalink

          To be clear, I’m not arguing for theism. Sagan has it right, why not save a step? Theism just adds an unjustified step into the process and doesn’t buy you anything. The explanation “God just is” isn’t any more satisfying than the explanation “the universe just is”, and we have no evidence for God, so why bother? But I do think that many imagine that the multiverse or the quantum vacuum fluctuations somehow solve the problem of brute existence. It is probably correct, and our imagined idea of “nothing” is probably false and incoherent so that the only “nothing” that exists or could exist is some vacuum state. But in terms of psychological satisfaction, one is still left with no explanation for why these physical laws, why quantum mechanics, for example, and not something else. Causal explanations must, of course, either stop or be part of a nested hierarchy, and neither possibility satisfies us psychologically I don’t think.

          • Diane G.
            Posted March 19, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

            Very well said. That’s how I see it too, but I could never have expressed it so well.

  4. neil
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Paul Davies is an accommodationist and he promotes the pernicious idea that science is based on a sort of faith–faith in the universality of natural laws–but TTBOMK he is not religious. He is a professed agnostic, at least he was when I heard him speak a few years ago.

    • Posted March 18, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      I agree, he isn’t religious, but he certainly does need to clarify further exactly what he means by “faith in the laws of physics” as expressed in his final reply in the “Taking Science On Faith” debate here: http://www.edge.org/discourse/science_faith.html

      What does this mean, for instance: “the conceptual framework I am developing can accommodate a universe with something like “purpose,” albeit one that is inherent in, and emergent with, the universe, rather than imposed upon it from without.”

      • Sastra
        Posted March 18, 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

        Roq Marish wrote:

        What does this mean, for instance: “the conceptual framework I am developing can accommodate a universe with something like “purpose,” albeit one that is inherent in, and emergent with, the universe, rather than imposed upon it from without.”

        It means “if you make God trivial enough I think I can figure out a way you can wedge it directly into cosmology without screwing everything up.”

        He’s being helpful.

  5. Paul S
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    A breakdown of Haught:
    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. (we don’t do science)
    There’s going to be something fuzzy and elusive about them. (We don’t deal with specifics)
    The only way we can talk about them is through symbolic and metaphoric language—in other words, the language of religion. (We don’t understand science)
    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. (We know we don’t understand science, but we want people to think we’re smart)
    So we can never get our minds around it. (We give up, god did it)

    • Posted March 18, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      +1

    • Austerity
      Posted March 18, 2013 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      Ha! +1
      Alternative version:

      There’s going to be something fuzzy and elusive about them. (If you force us to speak with clarity and rigor it will be too obvious we are full of crap)

  6. TJR
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Similarly, in football a long-range pass with low probability of success is sometimes called a Hollywood Pass, though this has connotations more of showing off rather than desperation. Steven Gerrard is notoriously prone to them.

    Not to be confused with a Hospital Pass of course.

  7. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Paul Davies wrote an article about the efforts to understand the beginning of life in the UK Guardian recently.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/13/secret-life-unveiled-chemistry-lab

    He appears to be someone who wants to believe that there is more to life than molecules.

    Our work suggests that the answer will come from taking information seriously as a physical agency, with its own dynamics and causal relationships existing alongside those of the matter that embodies it…

    A sort of Godless woo perhaps?

    • Posted March 18, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      He flies a lot of kites, without taking on the responsibility of actually proposing any mechanism. It’s fine to speculate that “information” might be involved in the origin of life or that the universe might unwind according to some Spinozistic process. But, I’m sure both of those have occurred to many already and without some further insight on what the actual mechanisms are there isn’t really anything to write home about.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 18, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Godless woo is pretty much indistinguishable from a ‘nontraditional’ or ‘sophisticated’ version of God.

  8. Posted March 18, 2013 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    I accept fine-tuning arguments when the recognized and intended beneficiaries of such serendipitous parameters involve roaches, roundworms, and brown dog ticks. Furthermore, there should be no embarrassment discussing this matter.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 18, 2013 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      Stars. The universe has lots of stars. Obviously, we should pick them as the fine-tuned object — and then contemplate that no, theism would not predict stars and stars would not suggest theism.

      • Darth Dog
        Posted March 18, 2013 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        Actually the universe seems to exist to make black holes.

        • Posted March 18, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

          The universe exists to make hydrogen. After that, stuff just happens.

          /@

          • Tulse
            Posted March 18, 2013 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

            The universe exists to make very cold empty space. All else is rounding error.

            • Posted March 18, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

              The cold empty space is just somewhere for hydrogen to play! ;-)

              /@

              • gluonspring
                Posted March 18, 2013 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

                Not for long!

  9. Posted March 18, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    The other reason why the multiverse is not a Hail Mary by desperate physicists is that they are already about 70-to-0 ahead deep into the 4th quarter.

    The fine-tuning argument serves as a straightforward intelligence test, with the dim and the ideologically biased being unable to see that a fine-tuned universe (aka a good fit between the environment and its constituents) actually argues for atheism.

    Just ask yourself which of the following argues for deliberate, intelligent intervention:

    (1) A puddle where the shape of the water is exquisitely fine tuned to the shape of the hole (to use Douglas Adams’s example).

    (2) A caged lion in a zoo, where the inmate is clearly *not* appropriate for the environment, which is clearly *not* tuned to have produced that lion.

    • Paul S
      Posted March 18, 2013 at 8:35 am | Permalink

      Sort of like a dog being fine tuned for a flea?

    • Sastra
      Posted March 18, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      +1.

      They want it both ways. Nature needs God to explain it — and we can know that God exists when we see a miracle. It can’t all be a miracle or the concept means nothing.

  10. hazur_99
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    I wonder how Davies measures the ‘biofriendliness’ of the universe.

    • Tulse
      Posted March 18, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      Very generously, given that to any reasonable approximation the universe is a vacuum at 2.7C.

    • Marella
      Posted March 18, 2013 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, this must be some new definition of the word “friendly” which we were not previously aware of. One which incorporates the concept “completely incompatible with, over 99.99999999% of its volume”. As far as we can tell, life manages to cling to one tiny rock in billions of galaxies, and we know for certain that it will not endure here after the sun explodes in about 4 billion years. With friends like that …

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 18, 2013 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

        Like. :-)

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted March 21, 2013 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

        Since a correction from 3°C to 3°K was made just above, I feel fully justified in slipping into pedant mode. The sun will not explode, as it is not massive enough. It will, however, swell up as a red giant, large enough to swallow up the earth. Which does not affect your point at all, but I *like* being a pedant ;-)

  11. sthelensoregon
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    The anthropic principle(s) are also controversial, and it’s not clear that “fine tuning” means anything at all.

    If this fine-tuning didn’t exist — viz. if the fundamental constants weren’t at the values we measure them to be — we wouldn’t be here. Life (as we know it) wouldn’t exist. So it’s no surprise the constants are at the values necessary for our life — it’s a logical necessity.

    A good look at all this is “The Constants of Nature” by John D. Barrow.

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted March 18, 2013 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      “If this fine-tuning didn’t exist — viz. if the fundamental constants weren’t at the values we measure them to be — we wouldn’t be here.”

      Exactly right, and since intelligent life (i.e., humans, at least for the time being) is the way the universe contemplates itself, the only way even the concept of a universe NOT fine-tuned for intelligent life could exist is if a universe tuned for life exists a priori.

      Maybe a multiverse exists right now. Maybe many universes with different fundamental constants existed in a serial manner in the past. Maybe our particular set of fundamental constants is in fact the only one possible. Each idea is interesting. NONE of them require a god.

    • Posted March 18, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      I always like to say: it’s not remarkable that the universe is the way it is. If it wasn’t like this, it would be like something else.

      Further, why does the kind of life we find in the universe imply *fine* tuning? I can certainly imagine a universe with different constants resulting in a better kind of life (no predation, say) or simply a more hospitable universe.

      Adams’ puddle story is the perfect way to dispatch this fine-tuning baloney.

      • David Appell
        Posted March 18, 2013 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        Fine-tuning refers to numbers like the energy density of the Universe, which is very close to the critical density so that the Universe is neither collapsing back in on itself or rushing away so the distance between ever particle is huge. (So in neither case would we be here.) In order for this to happen the energy density of the early universe must have differed from the critical density by a tiny amount (10^-62).

        Fred Hoyle (may have) used the anthropic principle to predict a certain property of carbon-12 nuclei, which experimentalists went and looked for, and found:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropic_principle#The_nucleosynthesis_of_carbon-12

        • Posted March 18, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

          Perhaps I should’ve left “different constants” out (not a physicist). The point would still stand.

          It’s trivial to come up with improvements on the kind life and the universe we actually observe. What on earth causes “fine-tunists” to go all Leibniz/Goldilocks and say we really lucked out and hit the sweet spot?

          Couldn’t we, given different initial conditions and chaos theory, have hit an even sweeter spot?

          • moarscienceplz
            Posted March 18, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

            Well, the fundamental constants, like the gravitational constant and the mass of the electron, etc., control very basic things like whether galaxies can form and atoms can make giant molecules like proteins. Even a “Garden of Eden” type of biosphere would require those to be pretty much exactly as they are now.

            As for life evolving without nasty things like predation, I don’t think a non-intelligently controlled evolution could ever do that. In evolution, like particle physics, any development that isn’t forbidden is possible, and stealing energy from other species is too appealing (in a thermodynamic sense) to be passed up. So, I think not only predation, but parasitism is pretty much inevitable in any sort of naturally evolved biosphere.

  12. Max
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    If “God did it,” the universe wouldn’t have to be fine tuned. He could make it all work without that.

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted March 18, 2013 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Yeah, but then he’d be giving the game away by providing irrefutable proof of his existence. We can’t have that, it’d put too many theologians out of business. ;-)

      • Marella
        Posted March 18, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        They’d have no choice but to go into “Postmodern philosophy”!

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted March 21, 2013 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

        From Douglas Adams:

        Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful (the reference is to the Babel fish) could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the NON-existence of God.
        The argument goes like this:
        ‘I refuse to prove that I exist,’ says God, ‘for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.’
        ‘But,’ says Man, ‘The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.’
        ‘Oh dear,’ says God, ‘I hadn’t thought of that,’ and promptly disappears in a puff of logic.

    • Posted March 18, 2013 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      It’s the way god chose to do it, just like he chose to “create” humans via evolution (according to “progressive” theists).

      Sort-of OT here, but I’ve never understood this assertion: god chose these indirect methods for creating the universe/humanity because these processes inject freedom, which is A Good Thing. The real reason is that the progressive theists are ceding ground to science, but they invent this rationalization that evolution is just what you’d expect a freedom-loving god to use to bring about humanity. Just poofing humans into existence would be silly for some reason.

      But I don’t see where the freedom comes from. Even having chosen to use evolution, god still knew how it would all play out, it still led to the initial goal – there was really no other course but for humans to emerge. For real freedom to have existed in that process, there would’ve had to have been a (very large) chance that god’s goal – humans – wouldn’t have resulted.

      • moarscienceplz
        Posted March 18, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        “Even having chosen to use evolution, god still knew how it would all play out, it still led to the initial goal – there was really no other course but for humans to emerge.”

        Only if god has some magical ability to avoid Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. In reality, if the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA) had been transplanted to a million other Earth-like planets, probably none of them would have also produced humans.

        • Posted March 18, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

          Well, I think it’s moot anyway. Why worry about god and Heisenberg when there really isn’t a god?

          But do you think a theist like Haught would grant that (an alleged) god was taking a big chance of not getting humans when he (allegedly) chose evolution as the process for creating them? They’re contradicting themselves when they say god wanted the process to be free.

    • ivy privy
      Posted March 18, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Right, a “banjo universe” – it plays just fine even though it’s out of tune most of the time.

  13. HI
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Oh, this is the same Paul Davies who brought us the “arsenic bacteria” and named it GFAJ-1 for “Give Felisa a Job.”

  14. jayp
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Funny that the term hail Mary suggests turning to prayer only after all practical alternatives have been exhausted.

    • gluonspring
      Posted March 18, 2013 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

      There are a number of prayer related idioms that concede the uselessness of prayer. “You don’t have a prayer”, for example. You are SOL indeed if you don’t even have that, the most useless, form of aid. Or, “On a wing and a prayer”, also conceding that a prayer isn’t much use. The uselessness of prayer is as known as the perpetual absence of God. But that doesn’t deter anyone.

  15. Albert
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Did Sean actually answer the main question raised by Pauls’s statement; aren’t Physicists still looking outside the universe for an answer to its origin?

    Also, absent a controlled survey of physicists on why they like the multiverse theory, both Sean and Paul are giving opinions based on their own experiences as to what their colleagues were thinking. I would suspect that both opinions contain a kernel of accuracy within a fog of selection bias, though it would seem to me that Paul’s longer exposure to the physics community would give him a better sense of how ideas percolated back in the 80′s.

    • Posted March 18, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      That depends what you mean by “universe”.

      And theoretical grounds for hypothesising some kind of fabric of the cosmos underlying our observable universe (and others) is in quite a different class from appealing to a potent, intelligent agent (because you can think only in fuzzy metaphors).

      /@

      • Albert
        Posted March 19, 2013 at 6:27 am | Permalink

        I mean what we can observe and test.

        Hypothesesnabout what lies beyond our observations are only different from religion if they are testable. Math does not make it so.

        Hypothetically, a loving creator is as good as universi all the way down if you can’t find them. To me, the real question is which helps more people to get through their day. If humans need both to satisfy its species diversity, is that a problem?

        • gbjames
          Posted March 19, 2013 at 6:41 am | Permalink

          What does “to satisfy its species diversity” mean?

        • Posted March 19, 2013 at 6:43 am | Permalink

          Still, some hypotheses about “precursor” physics can (in principle) have testable consequences, so we can (in principle) make inferences about the larger universe based on observations of our, um, observable universe.

          Just as the notion of a theistic God has testable consequences in the natural world.

          /@

        • Posted March 19, 2013 at 6:46 am | Permalink

          Oh, and, really? “To me, the real question is which helps more people to get through their day.” You prefer a comfortable lie over an uncomfortable truth?!

          Russell: “It seems to me a fundamental dishonesty and a fundamental treachery to intellectual integrity to hold a belief because you think it’s useful, and not because you think it’s true.” (TV interview, 1959)

          So, yes, it is a problem!

          /@

          • Albert
            Posted March 19, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

            @gb – I meant Specie’s diversity (the apostrophe was left out of the earlier post) Do all humans behave alike? Is empiric knowledge the only way that they operate? People who lived productive and happy lives for 90 years while believing in God could not have been better served by atheism than they were by their religion. Atheists who did the same had the same benefit from their atheism, and could not have been better served by religion. Does it matter which one was “correct”?

            @ant Russell alludes to cognitive dissonance as if it had no biological or psychological importance. What may seem to him as fundamental dishonesty saves many people’s lives or sanity. It seems to me fundamentally dishonest to say that we can know what lies beyond the horizon of our collective experience. We can only imagine.

            • gbjames
              Posted March 19, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

              Well, first off…. “Specie” refers to money and has nothing to do with biology or religion. Except, I suppose, that we put words about trusting gods on our coins.

              That aside, you seem to be arguing that if a person lives a long life in willful ignorance we should shrug as long as they were “happy”. Well, perhaps. The same could be said for drug-induced “happiness”.

              But I’m more optimistic about human potential and think that living without delusions is preferable to living in self imposed ignorance. So yes, it does matter which is correct. A life free of delusion will contribute to a happier world for all concerned, not just this old fellow we’re imagining. The deluded guy will have made the world worse for a whole lot of other people along the way.

            • Posted March 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

              I’ve not much to add to gb’s comment. (You beat me to the coinage quip. You’re on your mettle!)

              “What may seem to him as fundamental dishonesty saves many people’s lives or sanity.” That smacks of a “little people” argument. Citation please.

              /@

              • Albert
                Posted March 20, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

                @gb – aside from the word games that merely distract from your arguments, please explain how atheism is less of a delusion than religion in your example. Neither has a disprovable empiric basis. A delusion is a strongly held belief despite empiric evidence that refutes it, and that is associated with pathological behavior. Do you have empiric evidence that ALL religious believers behave pathologically, and NO atheists do? Did the man in my example actually make the world worse for a whole lot of people along the way? What if he respected the freedom of atheists to not believe in God, and resolved the political disputes that arose from their belief differences in constructive ways? Is that not possible?

                @Ant, not a little people argument. See Festimger L ‘when prophecy fails’, 1956. Son Hing J exp soc psychology 38: 71-78.

                Example of cognitive dissonance in everyday life: “…we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…”. Clearly all men are not equal, yet we hold in high esteem the truth that in essence they are “created equal”.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 20, 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

                Albert: My comment was not in the nature of a word game. It points to an apparent profound ignorance about evolutionary biology. Confusing a word for coinage with the word “species” is a very common indicator that the speaker is missing a basic understanding of biological science. Sorry to be blunt, but that’s the way it is.

                I did not claim, nor would I claim, that atheists never behave pathologically. However, belief in deities IS delusional. They don’t exist any more than fairies or unicorns exist.

                Did the man in your example make the world a worse place? Yes, assuming he raised children to believe that praying to spirits will help them in some way, assuming he “lived out” his belief empowering other delusional people to justify antisocial behavior on the basis of what his imaginary friend wants. In other words, assuming he lived his religious beliefs in ways that spread ignorance about the universe, absolutely. He definitely made the world worse than he might have if he had not been deluded.

              • Albert
                Posted March 20, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

                Sorry GB, your comments do not further any reasonable argument, but rather presume a lack of understanding for which you have prescious little evidence, and assume that the facts from which you argue have been empirically proven, which they are not. My questions remain unaddressed.

              • Posted March 20, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

                Unhelpful for someone without access to a university library. Can you at least quote the abstract?

                /@

                PS. GB is spot on about species/specie indicating a lamentable ignorance of biology, let alone evolution.

                PPS. Of course atheists can behave pathologically, but atheism itself isn’t a pathological behaviour (just a perfectly rational conclusion given the utter lack of evidence for God).

              • Albert
                Posted March 21, 2013 at 7:23 am | Permalink

                Those citations are available through any library system or science database. Abstracts are free.

                I find your allusions to my ignorance of biology and evolution based on typographical/spelling errors both offensive and arrogant. You feel that you can create too large of a story about someone from the tiny amount of data that you know about them. Your comments indicate that you have no interest in the truth of the matter. You are using the spelling error as a way to belittle someone’s intelligence, rather than reading the post as a whole and answering the questions posed by it.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 21, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

                A) Pointing out ignorance is not belittling intelligence, Albert. I doubt it was a spelling error and suspect it was a “not know the difference” error.

                B) I answered the questions.

              • Posted March 21, 2013 at 8:34 am | Permalink

                Nonetheless, I failed to find one for the paper you cited. Not all of us are familiar with online library systems or science databases. As you cited the paper, I’d assume that you’d have had the abstract to hand and could simply paste it here. But it seems not.

                Well, it’s not just a simple spelling error. It’s an egregious error in this context: Anyone familiar with biology would know the correct form. I wouldn’t expect you to not to ridicule me if, say, I insisted that hadrons were composed of quirks. It’s not belittling your intelligence, just calling out your ignorance in a discipline central to this website.

                And I think I have answered the questions you raised: There’s no delusion in atheism. As I’d already said, atheism is a perfectly rational conclusion given the utter lack of evidence for God. All the evidence we have shows us that we have no need for the “God” hypothesis. (Which in any case has no true explanatory power, makes no testable predictions, &c., &c.)

                To quote Dara Ó Briain (yet again!): Science knows it doesn’t know everything, otherwise it’d stop. … Just ’cos science doesn’t know everything doesn’t mean you can fill in the gaps with whatever fairy-tale most appeals to you!

                /@

              • Albert
                Posted March 21, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

                GB – your doubts and suspicions are neither rational nor empiric, they are hypothetical taunts.

                Ant – I believe the statement, “all men are created equal” is as much a delusion as the statement that “all men are created by a loving God”. They are both cognitive operations that enable personal and social behaviors based not on scientific facts, but on created beliefs.

                As to the rest of your thoughts about hadrons and quirks, yes, if you insisted that a quark was a quirk I would suspect your familiarity with physics, but if you made an accurate statement about quarks while calling them quirks in the context of a discussion, I would not. And so, how does a diveristy of human thought not help to satisfy the evolutionary benefit of diversity within the human species?

              • gbjames
                Posted March 21, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

                I note that you haven’t demonstrated that my suspicions are false.

              • Posted March 21, 2013 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

                So, you’re still keeping me waiting for that abstract… ?

                Let’s look at what you said earlier in full: Example of cognitive dissonance in everyday life: “…we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…”. Clearly all men are not equal, yet we hold in high esteem the truth that in essence they are “created equal”.

                Hobbes handily addresses your “Clearly all men are not equal”, if the phrase was taken to refer to equality in ability: Nature hath made men so equal in the faculties of body and mind as that, though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body or of quicker mind than another, yet when all is reckoned together the difference between man and man is not so considerable as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend as well as he.

                An alternative (or parallel) reading is not as a statement of fact, but as an affirmation of the principle of egalitarianism, that all people are equal in fundamental worth or social status, and, thus, should be treated as equals and have the same political, economic, social, and civil rights.

                Hence, it’s not delusional, but aspirational.

                As to the second question, what does it even mean for one thing to “satisfy the benefit” of another thing? How can a benefit be satisfied? A benefit is an outcome, not something in need of satisfaction. Thus, your question is incoherent. (And your analogy fails.)

                /@

              • Albert
                Posted March 22, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

                GB don’t expect me to try to satisfy them. They’re your problem not mine.

                Ant,
                I’m not keeping you waiting for anything. You are waiting of your own accord.

                As to your answers to my questions,
                1) Hobbes is making a judgement not an empiric statement. He even uses the words reckoned, considerable and pretend.
                2) I agree with your analysis of the statement as aspirational, however, so are many religious statements of belief that ask one to strive to conduct one’s life in a manner that would reflect the goodness of a loving creator.
                3) I posit that diversity of human thought “conforms to the requirements of” the evolutionary benefit contained in the set that includes “diversity within the human species”. Agree or refute.

                sat·is·fy  (sts-f)
                v. sat·is·fied, sat·is·fy·ing, sat·is·fies
                v.tr.
                1. To gratify the need, desire, or expectation of.
                2. To fulfill (a need or desire).
                3.
                a. To free from doubt or question; assure.
                b. To get rid of (a doubt or question); dispel.
                4.
                a. To discharge (a debt or obligation, for example) in full.
                b. To discharge an obligation to (a creditor).
                5. To conform to the requirements of (a standard or rule); be sufficient to (an end).
                6. To make reparation for; redress.
                7. Mathematics To make the left and right sides of an equation equal after substituting equivalent quantities for the unknown variables in the equation.
                v.intr.
                1. To be sufficient or adequate.
                2. To give satisfaction.

            • Posted March 22, 2013 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

              0. I doubting of my own accord, too; doubting that you’ve even read the article you cited. Too bad.

              1. So… ? How does that make it delusional?

              2. Perhaps; but it is an aspiration without the unwarranted (and thus delusional) belief in an anthropic deity.

              3. Quoting a dictionary at me doesn’t make your question any less incoherent. (A benefit doesn’t have any requirements that something can conform to.) Recast it!

              /@

              • Posted March 22, 2013 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

                * Oops! I replied a level up by mistake.
                ** 0. I’m doubting…

          • Mark Joseph
            Posted March 21, 2013 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

            Why should I comfort you and then tomorrow
            be proved a liar? The truth is always best. (from Sophocles’ Antigone)

            • Albert
              Posted March 22, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

              Mark, Is Sophocles asking us to throw away all hope for fear of not attaining its desired result? Are you saying that everyone must follow his line of thinking?

  16. derekw
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    The multiverse (Level II multiverse) theory attempts to solve the fine-tuning argument by suggestion a infinite possibilities of universes. Now holding to that…you open up to the fanciful ideas of worlds out there where Jerry’s alter ego is a televangelist, badminton is the worlds most popular sport and American Idol was never a hit reality show (thank God!) You also have to deal with other apologetic regarding the fact that inflationary spaces all have a beginning (incl multiverse) ( http://prl.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v90/i15/e151301 ) So…need for new physics (or a god as a theists would believe.)
    These guys seem to think its a Hail-mary
    “If you discovered a really impressive fine-tuning…I think you’d really be left with only two explanations: a benevolent designer or a multiverse.” Steven Weinberg Nobel laureat physics atheist
    “If there is only one universe you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.” Bernard Carr Univ London theist

    • Barbara Knox
      Posted March 18, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      I have never understood why multiverses are at all logically necessary for buttressing the anthropic explanation of “fine tuning”.

      Suppose there is only one universe, formed in a big bang which set the various physical constants. It does not matter how minuscule the a priori odds were that those constants would be hospitable to life. It so happened that we got lucky, maybe very very lucky; if it weren’t for that luck then we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

      I’ve concluded that although multiverses are not logically necessary they seem to be rhetorically useful. Some people (maybe the majority) believe that their chances are better in a lottery where someone is guaranteed to win, even if their a prior odds of winning are actually the same as a lottery where no-one might win.

      Have I seriously missed the boat here? If so, please try to enlighten me.

      • neil
        Posted March 18, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

        I still hold out hope that there may someday be an explanation for so-called fine tuning within a single universe. After all, we do not yet have a theory of everything, and string theory is in trouble with the failure to find supersymmetry at the LHC. Someday, but not in my lifetime, it may become obvious why the universe looks fine tuned and without the baggage of the multiverse.

        In the meantime, I’m not at all comfortable with the infinite multiverse. IMO, appealing to an infinite multiverse is not a great improvement, rhetorically or otherwise, over appealing to an infinite god. In both cases you are appealing to something infinite beyond the reach of evidence. I’d prefer to simply say we don’t yet know why the universe appears fine tuned. Gaps are not evidence of god.

        • Posted March 18, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

          Lewis Wolpert, in debate with WLC, @ 6:02: “And as far as fine-tuning is concerned, I’m terribly sorry, it may be a very small probability, but that’s tough luck. The fact that there is the probability at all is why we’re here. That all those constants fit with the actual functioning of the universe, that’s the way it is. Yes, it’s very improbable. Tough luck. You’ll just have to live with it. Many things in life are very improbable and you have to live with them, but you can’t say the don’t exist just because you don’t like how improbable they are.”

          /@

      • gluonspring
        Posted March 18, 2013 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

        “how minuscule the a priori odds”

        How does one assess the odds of a one-of-a-kind event? Odds are inherently about sampling collections of things. If your sample is and can only ever be one, well, it simply is what it is. There are no odds to speak of. One can only talk about the odds of the values of the constants of the universe by first imagining a process that churns out universes and stochastically sets these constants, a process of which our universe is one sample. What you imagine that process to be like will dictate the odds. If such processes are purely imaginary, though, and there is and could only ever be the one universe, it is fairly meaningless to even talk about the odds.

        Now one could talk about the algorithmic randomness of the universe or something of that sort, perhaps. Algorithmic randomness is a property of individual objects without reference to some sampling of a population of objects. Unfortunately the algorithmic information content of an object is an uncomputable number, so we are forbidden by math from ever knowing whether the universe is algorithmically random or not.

        Theists must confront the essential mystery of why God exists and is the way he supposedly is. Non-theists must confront the essential mystery of why the universe (or the multiverse) exists and is the way it is. I think neither will have the satisfaction of an answer that is any better than “it just is”.

  17. cornbread_r2
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    When answering the question: If God is perfect (self-sufficient), why did he need to create our universe?, Christians sometimes assert that the act of creating isn’t a “need” of God, it’s just part of God’s nature. In other words, it would be a logical impossibility to be God without creating stuff.

    If that’s true though, then it would seem that the idea of an infinite number of universes isn’t just some idea dreamed up by godless cosmologists; it’s perfectly compatible with the notion of a god who can’t help but create stuff. So even under the view of some Christians, it would be inevitable that God would eventually create our universe.

  18. Ryan
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Read Neal Stephenson’s “Anathem.” Come for the multiverse/ God discussion, but stay for the outstanding sci fi. (First two hundred pages are tough, but worth it).

    • TJR
      Posted March 19, 2013 at 2:59 am | Permalink

      +1

      and indeed most of Neal Stephenson’s other novels, for that matter.

      Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Trilogy are all unmissable IMHO.

  19. Nilou Ataie
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    With or without the multiverse explanation, the fine tuning argument is stupid. Life is about dissipating energy, and so is the universe, so the question breaks down to the more boring question of: why an energy dissipating universe? The fine tuning argument is ironic too because religion has been a catalyst for the rape and abuse of women and children – an insidious form of energy dissipation.

  20. Brygida Berse
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    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.

    This fine-tuning argument always strikes me as extremely anthropocentric and self-congratulatory. It tends to regard life, and especially human life, as the high point of existence, so special and so desirable, that it couldn’t have possibly come by chance, hence there must have been some magnificent and omnipotent being truly interested in making it happen.

    • Bribase
      Posted March 18, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. In the same way that apologists try to falsely equate complexity with design, they do the same to equate unlikelihood with teleology.

      The closest we can get is merely that the universe permits life. To equate low probability with intentionality is a step too far. It can be exposed with a simple reductio ad absurdum: It’s unlikely that my car will overheat and explode, sometimes cars do overheat and explode; Am I to infer that cars are designed to overheat and explode?

      It’s only that we value life and avoid cars that will cook us alive in our driver’s seats that makes us infer design in one place and not the other.

  21. Mary Canada
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    “deepest aspect of reality grasps us more than we grasp it” – what does THAT mean?! That’s some sophisticated language

  22. Marella
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Paul Davies is British! What a relief, I had thought he was Australian as he was at Adelaide University when I first heard of him in the 90s. I no longer need to feel embarrassed for my country. Yay!

  23. KP
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    And, as comic relief, I offer you another LOLzy statement by an interviewee: John Haught

    I may have mentioned this before, but I started reading Haught’s God After Darwin (2nd ed., i.e., post-Dover) last summer, and there is a statement like the one Jerry quoted on nearly every page. It is insufferable and I never finished it. I couldn’t take any more Sophisticated Theology™.

  24. Sines
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    The Multiverse isn’t really an answer to the ‘real’ question though. If you can answer “Where did our universe come from?” with “The multiverse” then you then ask where that comes from, just as you can (and indeed, are basically prompted to) ask “Who designed the designer?”

    Ultimately, the multiverse and an intelligent designer (not neccesarily god, could just be a ‘higher’ universe running a simulation of a universe) both explain where our universe comes from. But you can’t stop there.

    If we have to decide between “Purely natural origins” or “Omnipotent God” (ruling out a chain of computer simulations or artificially produced by natural creatures universes), then we end up with powerful initial ‘things’, capable of creating a universe.

    However, the natural laws can only do so many things, whereas god can do a lot of other things it just didn’t feel like doing. Already, the natural laws are simpler. Even further, we have a mind that exists for no known reason (an extra entity a natural universe need not account for) that has to be fined tuned to WANT to produce life.

    While the apparent ‘fine-tuning’ of the universe is a hell of a stumper, it is one that is no better answered by a foundational god. If our universe actually was fined tuned, then a non-foundational designer (either naturally occurring or designed itself) would offer a better explanation, as it wouldn’t violate the premise of why we’d be ruling out natural origins in the first place.

    • Posted March 18, 2013 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      I think the condensed version of that is Carl Sagan’s “Why not save a step… ?”

      /@

  25. Posted March 18, 2013 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    OT, I’ve just visited Sean’s new blog, which is also on WordPress, and he has auto-previewing for comments!

    Please ask him how, Jerry, and add it here!!

    /@

  26. Posted March 18, 2013 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    “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.”

    The problem with your argument is that Davis does NOT say that the multiverse theory was a “face-saving device confected by physicists to get rid of the annoying God problem.” What is being discussed in the above quotation is clearly not the origins of the multiverse theory, but the reasons for its popularity; note the wording of the question, and Davis’ statement: “It looked like the hand of a creator. Then along came the possibility of a multiverse, and suddenly they’re happy to talk about it because it looks like there’s a ready explanation. . .” Hence, the multiverse theory came along separately, and its popularity was bolstered (in Davis’ view)by its capacity to answer the fine-tuning problem without a whiff of the theological solution, albeit without offering any more empirical evidence than the theologians. It seems unfair to criticize his answer on the basis of something which simply is not implied in it.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 18, 2013 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

      Ummm. . . have you considered that the popularity of the multiverse to which Davies (not Davis) refers might be its popularity among PHYSICISTS? After all, how many laypeople even know about multiverses or the fact that their physical laws may differ? And certainly its popularity among physicists comes not from its atheistic implications, but because it’s a fascinating possibility that might be true, is hard to test, but is a natural outgrowth of some theories of physics. It’s the same with dark energy.

      • Posted March 19, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        Well, yes, if your argument is that the popularity of the multiverse theory is by no means predicated on its atheistic implications, then you may well be right, although I think that would be impossible to establish with any certainty. But you accuse Davies of making an erroneous statement regarding the theory of the multiverse, whereas he has merely offered an opinion as to why a controversial theory with scant empirical basis as yet is so popular, and as an earlier commenter points some, at least some physicists, including a Nobel laureate, have conceived of the multiverse theory in precisely the terms that Davies suggests (ie as solving the fine-tuning problem without requiring any “monkeying around” with the laws of physics.)

        This seems to be a more common view than you allow; to add to Weinberg and Carr cited, the following from Daniel Mortlock: “One possibility is there are multiple different universes with different laws, and some are not right for life and so life doesn’t evolve, and some are right for life and so creatures evolve and make measurements and ask deep, twisty questions like this. For that reason, the theory is very appealing.”

        It seems to me that in stating that the multiverse theory is “hard to test” you are perhaps making a more demonstrably misleading claim about it than Davies ever did, since it is by no means clear yet whether the theory will prove to be testable at all.

    • Posted March 19, 2013 at 1:40 am | Permalink

      I also think that you are somewhat misrepresenting Davies’s position and the accusation that he is “religious” is almost certainly untrue as already mentioned. Much of that is his own fault, since, obviously, the Templeton foundation see him in a similar light.

      But, what Davies is really asking is: Can the question of why the universe is governed by particular laws be answered from within the context of the universe or is the universe a brute fact and the question “why these laws?” unanswerable (as Sean Carroll, for instance appears to think). This is tied up with the multiverse question in some interesting ways, which Davies hasn’t discussed (as far as I know) – but Lee Smolin does.

      But, none of this has anything to do with “god” except in the minds of apologists. In fact Smolin’s ideas have a strong foundation in evolution (cf Life Of the Cosmos), since, taking a leaf from biology, that’s the only known way that order arises naturally.

      Incidentally, Smolin’s new book (April): http://www.amazon.co.uk/Time-Reborn-Crisis-Physics-Universe/dp/1846142997/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1363679243&sr=8-3 looks like it will give an interesting perspective on this question.

  27. Diane G.
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    Dang, that was a great game! We were living in Boston at the time…hard not to like Flutie.

    • Roux Brownwell
      Posted March 19, 2013 at 6:43 am | Permalink

      I was watching it, & figured that Testaverde had scored the final points, so I shut it off, thereby missing the famous Hail Mary pass. O well.

  28. madscientist
    Posted March 19, 2013 at 1:41 am | Permalink

    The universe is “bio friendly”? I’m guessing Davies is no cosmologist, planetary scientist, or exobiologist. Even the earth, the only lump of rock we know of which actually sports life, isn’t particularly nice to that life. Of course Davies also fails to explain how god is supposed to explain anything at all.

  29. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 19, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    It is interesting to note how this area is fruitfully moving on by comparison with the references given:

    - Smolin’s theory is AFAIK dead in the water, since it turned out that there are no wormholes in black holes leading to “white holes” and/or “bounces” and universes budding off.

    In any case, “In a critical review of The Life of the Cosmos, the astrophysicist Joe Silk suggested that our universe falls short by about four orders of magnitude of being maximal for the production of black holes.” [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Smolin ]

    - Inflation is today tested within standard cosmology theory [WMAP 1 year data release 2004] and observed within constraints [WMAP 9 year data release 2012].

    - Susskind et al has developed a “tree level” inflation theory where the arrow of time can be predicted at the multiverse level [arxiv 1203.6440] and (as in Guth’s paper) the theory is effectively past eternal [arxiv 1205.0598]:

    ” “..in any kind of inflating cosmology the odds strongly (infinitely) favor the beginning to be so far in the past that it is effectively at minus infinity. More precisely, given any T the probability is unity that the beginning was more than T time-units ago.”

    I did not claim that the concept of an initial condition is unnecessary. I don’t know if
    it is or not.”

    So we have advanced from Guth claiming that it “appears likely … that eternally inflating universes do require a beginning” to that perhaps we “don’t know”.

    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.

    Indeed. Despite what many here claims, it is apparent from reading his books that Davies is a deist.

    But even if he was an accommodationist agnostic, it would most likely make him religious. Accommodationism is “belief in belief” and religious agnosticism is “belief in keeping ones options open” (having the cake and eat it too), most often both based on the theological ad hoc claim of NOMA.

    This is likely what has inspired this astrophysicist to argue his way into Templeton’s pockets and to study astrobiology. He has a long term interest in making life likely to arise (“shadow biosphere”, “information theory”), which lead to the “arsenic life” debacle. My take is that he, if a deist, wants to make humans out as rare and even exceptional.

    • Posted March 20, 2013 at 1:18 am | Permalink

      Some scientists feel uncomfortable with multiverse hypotheses, not because of religious implications, but because they imply that many of the problems of science won’t have lawful solutions. I.e we can explain any improbable occurrence, such as say the origin of life, with enough multiversal alternatives and anthropic reasoning.

      In some ways evolution by natural selection and multiverse ideas are two sides of the same coin, in that they can both give an illusion of design. The difference being that whereas in evolution all failed alternatives are discarded, in multiverse ideas those alternatives exist simultaneously in universes that we can (probably) never detect and we use anthropic reasoning in place of natural selection to explain the appearance of design in our particular universe, as just one ordered alternative in a sea of improbability, in a similar way to how one might explain coincidences such as rock formations having the appearance of a face (or Mitchell & Webb’s melon :)).

      It’s interesting in this respect that several areas of physics/cosmology have reached positions where multiversal solutions are appearing: In string theory, there is the string landscape, in quantum mechanics, many worlds and in cosmology inflationary multiverses etc. Will we eventually conclude that, in fact the universe overall is every which way and that we are at this location just because it’s one of the few arbitrary places where life could have arisen? Perhaps, but I think we should also still be open to other possibilities and some kind of evolutionary process might be another alternative.

  30. derekw
    Posted March 19, 2013 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Well sign up Max Tegmark for the ‘Hail-Mary’ approach. Good SA article on multiverse theory http://space.mit.edu/home/tegmark/PDF/multiverse_sciam.pdf
    “Although we cannot interact with other Level II parallel universes, cosmologists can infer their presence indirectly, because
    their existence can account for unexplained coincidences in our universe.”
    (ie the fine-tuning in our universe..whereby the faithful infer the presence of a designer indirectly.)

  31. derekw
    Posted March 21, 2013 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    ULTRA fine-tuning…stay tuned… (just announced Planck CMB findings)“Why characteristics of the CMB should relate to our solar system is not understood. … I was explicitly told not to say anything about God in this talk — which I’ve just violated,” Efstathiou said half-jokingly.http://cosmiclog.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/03/21/17397298-planck-probes-cosmic-baby-picture-revises-universes-vital-statistics?lite

  32. Posted June 24, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Honestly, I don’t quite get the resistance to Many Worlds on the part of the faithful. It really does work remarkably well for Theists.


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