Multiverses

The current issue of Scientific American has an article, by George F. R. Ellis, expressing some skepticism about the multiverse. Sadly, it seems that only the beginning of the article is freely available online. However, replies to the article by Alexander Vilenkin and Max Tegmark are available online. And since Tegmark so perfectly summarizes my own views about multiverses, I’d like to take a look at his remarks.

After a brief introduction Tegmark gets down to business:

By our universe, I mean the spherical region of space from which light has had time to reach us during the 13.7 billion years since our big bang. When talking about parallel universes, I find it useful to distinguish between four different levels: Level I (other such regions far away in space where the apparent laws of physics are the same, but where history played out differently because things started out differently), Level II (regions of space where even the apparent laws of physics are different), Level III (parallel worlds elsewhere in the so-called Hilbert space where quantum reality plays out), and Level IV (totally disconnected realities governed by different mathematical equations).

In his critique, George classifies many of the arguments in favor of these multiverse levels and argues that they all have problems. Here’s my summary of his main anti-multiverse arguments:

  1. Inflation may be wrong (or not eternal)
  2. Quantum mechanics may be wrong (or not unitary)
  3. String theory may be wrong (or lack multiple solutions)
  4. Multiverses may be unfalsifiable
  5. Some claimed multiverse evidence is dubious
  6. Fine-tuning arguments may assume too much
  7. It’s a slippery slope to even bigger multiverses

(George didn’t actually mention (2) in the article, but I’m adding it here because I think he would have if the editor had allowed him more than six pages.)

Assuming that’s an accurate summary of Ellis’s argument, what strikes me is that none of those seven points is a reason for actively doubting the multiverse. They are merely arguments for showing that we lack strong reasons for accepting the multiverse, a far different thing. Tegmark now writes:

What’s my take on this critique? Interestingly, I agree with all of these seven statements and nonetheless, I’ll still happily bet my life savings on the existence of a multiverse!

I don’t know if I’d bet my life savings on it, but I think we do have a basis for thinking that a multiverse is pretty likely. Skipping ahead a bit we come to this:

Remember: Parallel universes are not a theory–they are predictions of certain theories.

To me, the key point is that if theories are scientific, then it’s legitimate science to work out and discuss all their consequences even if they involve unobservable entities. For a theory to be falsifiable, we need not be able to observe and test all its predictions, merely at least one of them. My answer to (4) is therefore that what’s scientifically testable are our mathematical theories, not necessarily their implications, and that this is quite OK. For example, because Einstein’s theory of general relativity has successfully predicted many things that we can observe, we also take seriously its predictions for things we cannot observe, e.g., what happens inside black holes.

Likewise, if we’re impressed by the successful predictions of inflation or quantum mechanics so far, then we need to take seriously also their other predictions, including the Level I and Level III multiverse. George even mentions the possibility that eternal inflation may one day be ruled out–to me, this is simply an argument that eternal inflation is a scientific theory.

This seems exactly right to me. Multiverse speculation arises naturally, even inevitably, from other prominent theories in physics. If we have strong reasons for accepting, say, eternal inflation or quantum mechanics (string theory is, admittedly, on shakier ground), and it seems that we do, then we also have strong reasons for accepting the multiverse.

Tegmark says quite a bit more, so I encourage you to go have a look.

Of course, my main interest in this topic arises from its relevance to certain theological questions. It has become very common not just for creationists, but even for high-brow theologians to argue that cosmological “fine-tuning” is strong evidence for God. The multiverse would put paid to that idea. If ours were just one universe among a very large, possibly infinite, ensemble, then fine-tuning would be no more noteworthy than the existence of one winning lottery ticket out of millions sold. That helps explain why theologians are often snidely dismissive of the idea.

For example, in his book God After Darwin theologian John Haught writes,

Of course, if you are truly addicted to the idea that our life-bearing universe is a purely random, undirected, and unintelligible occurrence, and that life with it must in no sense be the product of divine intelligence and wisdom, you may then imaginatively conjure up an endless series or proliferation of other “universes,” so as to increase the probability that randomness rules.

Physicist turned theologian John Polkinghorne is even more blunt:

The multiverse theory in its more extreme forms is the idea that there are these vast portfolios of different universes, disconnected from ours, unobservable by us. It’s a metaphysical guess. It has mostly been popular and mostly been invented in order to explain away the fine tuning of our particular universe.

This is precisely the sort of silly obscurantism that justifies a healthy contempt for theology. As we have seen, multiverse speculation is all but unavoidable once you have understood the major theories of modern physics. It may be wrong, but it has a solid basis and has a history that long predates the use of “fine-tuning” as a tool for Christian apologetics.

And let us not forget that the God hypothesis, which is, after all, the preferred alternative of Haught and Polkinghorne, also puts forth a speculative, unobservable entity without a trace of experimental support. The multiverse hypothesis at least arises as a natural consequence of certain theories that have a sound, evidential basis. The God hypothesis is just invented from whole cloth, and is supported solely by philosophical gobbledygook like the cosmological argument.

Another dubious theological attempt to dismiss the multiverse comes from Keith Ward. In his book Why There Almost Certainly is a God he writes:

It has to be admitted, however, that this is a very extravagant theory. It completely contradicts the principle of Occam’s Razor, which says that you should not multiply entities unnecessarily. … The hypothesis that every possible universe exists is the most extravagant hypothesis anyone could think of, an it breaks Occam’s rule of simplicity with a resounding smash. If the simple is good, then the fewer universes there are the better.

But this is just absurd. The entities we are to minimize, according to Occam, are not physical objects, but assumptions. Given two theories with equal explanatory power, we should prefer the one with fewer assumptions. (Prefer, incidentally, because the simpler theory is more likely to be useful, not because it is more likely to be correct.) Bertrand Russell formulated a version of Occam’s Razor which captures the spirit of Occam’s intent and is perfectly suited to our present discussion: “Whenever possible, substitute constructions out of known entities for inferences to unknown entities.”

The multiverse hypothesis basically just looks at our universe and says there’s lots more of the same. It is the God hypothesis that draws an inference to an unknown entity, indeed, one that has not the slightest analog to anything with which we have actual experience. Occam is clearly on the side of “more of the same” over “an awesomely powerful supernatural being for whose existence we have no direct evidence.”

Moving on, there’s an interesting flipside to this general theological pooh-poohing of the multiverse hypothesis. Michael Ruse has recently argued that the multiverse can actually salvage Christian theology from a serious problem posed to it by evolution:

The point I am making is that, as things stand at the moment, there is a flat-out contradiction between the claims of modern biological science and the theology of the Roman Catholic Church.

The contradiction is that the Cathollic Church (and Christianity generally) insists that humanity plays a central role in creation, while evolution says we are just an incidental byproduct of a chance, natural process. After dismissing certain popular theistic replies to this problem, Ruse provides his own solution:

My own thinking is that if you are going to get anywhere then you need to work on the theology. I have suggested that, since we have appeared, we could appear. Hence, God (being outside time and space) could simply go on creating universes until humans did appear. A bit of a waste admittedly but we have that already in our universe.

I think there are purely theological arguments against Ruse’s suggestion. Mostly, though, I find it amusing that after the theologians have snidely dismissed the multiverse, Ruse comes along to suggest they might need it after all.

Now, there is another angle to this that I find interesting. Return to the lottery analogy. If we know that millions of tickets were sold then we are not surprised when someone wins. But if all we know is that John down the street just won the lottery, can we reasonably assume that millions of tickets must have been sold? That doesn’t seem right. In a paper published in the late eighties, philosopher Ian Hacking dubbed this sort of thinking the inverse gambler’s fallacy. The gambler’s fallacy is when you are playing roulette, say, and decide that since the number ten has not come up for quite a while it is more likely to come up on the next turn of the wheel. The inverse gambler’s fallacy occurs when you see ten come up, and conclude that the wheel must have been spun many times before.

Hacking was specifically directing his attention to people who argue that the fine-tuning of the universe is actual evidence for the multiverse. Such people are arguing fallaciously, he argued. But his paper was strongly challenged by other philosophers, most notably John Leslie, who argued that his analogy was flawed and that the inference from fine-tuning to the multiverse does not commit the fallacy. Many more papers have appeared since then.

So, there you go. Multiverses may be speculative, and they may not be useful for generating testable hypotheses in cosmology (though see Vilenkin’s essay, linked above, for possible counterpoints), but they have a strong basis in modern physics and lead to many fascinating questions. All you need to find them plausible is to believe that whatever it was that created our universe, whether an omnipotent being or a purely natural process, also created other universes. And when you put it that way, what exactly is the reason for thinking that ours is the only universe there is.

Comments

  1. #1 Mark Erickson
    July 19, 2011

    So, you’re an expert in math, a good chess player, and very knowledgeable in theology, creationism, evolution, cosmology and philosophy. What can’t you do?

  2. #2 eric
    July 19, 2011

    My answer to (4) is therefore that what’s scientifically testable are our mathematical theories, not necessarily their implications, and that this is quite OK. For example, because Einstein’s theory of general relativity has successfully predicted many things that we can observe, we also take seriously its predictions for things we cannot observe, e.g., what happens inside black holes.

    This.

    Science is well beyond the simple empiricism of “just because I can’t flap my wings and fly here, doesn’t mean I can’t flap my wings and fly in India.” One would hope theology had got beyond it too. As you say, if a scientific hypothesis predicts A, B, C, and D, and A, B, and C turn out to be accurate predictions, you have some reason to believe D will be too, even if it’s (currently) untestable.

    Quantum mechanics is probably the most strictly/highly tested theory science has ever had. If you don’t believe what it implies about unobservables, you might as well believe you can go to India, flap your arms, and fly. The latter is more likely to be right because its been tested less strongly.

  3. #3 Charris
    July 19, 2011

    Just a side note: Vilenkin showed that eternal inflation isn’t actually internal into the past, only the future.

  4. #4 bill
    July 19, 2011

    Ruse, “suggested that, since we have appeared, we could appear”

    Really, is that suggestion supposed to add anything?

  5. #5 Divalent
    July 19, 2011

    “Sadly, it seems that only the beginning of the article is freely available online.”

    Hmm, it was 5 pages for me (and I’m not a SA subscriber) and I’m pretty sure I read a complete thesis. Maybe they fixed it since you posted?

  6. #6 Russell
    July 19, 2011

    The most appealing thing about the MWI of QM is that it seems about the only alternative left when there isn’t a coherent wave-collapse theory. And wave-collapse theories seem to, um, decohere. ;-)

  7. #7 dwayne
    July 19, 2011

    I don’t know if I’d bet my life savings on it, but I think we do have a basis for thinking that a multiverse is pretty likely.

    Yes, but consider that a different universe might include a “you” with much more life savings …

  8. #8 Mario Enrique La Riva Málaga
    July 19, 2011

    Multiverse? ok it means that time machines are not needed, are they?

  9. #9 Divalent
    July 19, 2011

    I don’t agree that Tegmark accurately summarizes Ellis’ argument. I think his overall point is that no Multiverse theory is (or every will be) testable. He does concede that perhaps the best we can do is accept a theory that does accurately explain our own universe (we have no such theory right now), if at the same time that theory also requires/predicts multiverses (as long as it’s not a trivial theory like “an infinite number of universes are possible, with an infinite variety of characteristics, and we are merely *this* one).

    Regarding Ruse’s proposal to adopt multiverses to salvage theology: I mean, come on! If God is so powerful that he can create universes, then it would be a trivial matter to create life as it exists on this earth in the first universe he created, rather then tinker around with various constants in successive iterations until He got it right. (Could God ever be wrong?) And doubtless that is going to be the response of the theists to his proposal.

  10. #10 Owlmirror
    July 19, 2011

    If God is so powerful that he can create universes, then it would be a trivial matter to create life as it exists on this earth in the first universe he created, rather then tinker around with various constants in successive iterations until He got it right.

    Yes, but if God existed, and were all that powerful, then it would have been equally trivial to create the universe, and life, no more than ~6000 years ago, in a universe no more larger than the orbit of Pluto (say), by an act of special creation, rather than ~13.7 billion years ago, in a universe that has expanded to 92 billion ly in diameter, and only produced human life after a several billions of years of evolution.

  11. #11 Alec
    July 20, 2011

    I have heard you (and others) say that Occam’s Razor is about minimizing assumptions, and not about minimizing entities. But there could be two theories of the same “strength”, making the same testable predictions, except that one has more assumptions and the other has more objects. Isn’t it possible to artificially “simplify” any theory by trading assumptions for unobservable objects? Isn’t the Every Possible Universe Exists theory “simple” in this sense?

  12. #12 Marshall
    July 20, 2011

    … what strikes me is that none of those seven points is a reason for actively doubting the multiverse. They are merely arguments for showing that we lack strong reasons for accepting the multiverse, a far different thing.

    What you said is “there’s no evidence for it”, not so?

  13. #13 miller
    July 20, 2011

    I like the level distinction Tegmark made. Interestingly, the Fine-tuning argument and cosmology argue for different levels of multiverses. Fine-tuning argues most strongly for Level IV, then II, then I, (I am not sure it argues for III at all) and cosmology argues most strongly for I and III, and possibly for II.

    I find the fine-tuning arguments very unconvincing (for both gods and multiverses), so I only think Level I, II, and III are likely. The theologians all seem to be talking about Level IV, because that’s the easiest to ridicule.

  14. #14 Bee
    July 20, 2011

    Right, the multiverse idea is pretty much unavoidable if you are just consequent enough interpreting modern physics. That’s because in the end there’s always a question for which mathematics has no answer and if you don’t want to swallow a ‘final answer’ (call it god or toe) you have to accept that everything that can exist does exist in the same way – there’s your multiverse.

    You don’t even need to talk about string theory or quantum mechanics to see this, but anyway the problem is always the same. You have a mathematical basis that is ‘too large’ and no fundamental principle that singles out exactly what we experience as ‘reality.’ Lacking such a principle, you have to believe in a larger notion of ‘reality.’

    Thus, you are stuck with the multiverse as long as mathematical consistency is the only principle physics can rely on. If you don’t want to be stuck with the multiverse you can alternatively believe that mathematics is not sufficient to describe reality.

  15. #15 Neil Craig
    July 20, 2011

    This recent experiment result seems to be inexplicable if we are not seeing a quantum multivers. http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100317/full/news.2010.130.html

    Even the 2 slit experiment fits a multiverse far better.

    Also the laws of physics, mass and expansion of this universe is so supportive of complexity (formation of stars, planets and ultimately life) that either it is one of an infinite number of potentials or else we are seeing intelligent design. A uni-verse as comples as ours without a creator is a statistical impossibility. God or a multiverse are the choices.

  16. #16 SLC
    July 20, 2011

    1. OK. For example, because Einstein’s theory of general relativity has successfully predicted many things that we can observe, we also take seriously its predictions for things we cannot observe, e.g., what happens inside black holes.

    As I understand it, General Relativity predicts that, after collapse into a black hole, the collapse will continue until the collapsed matter collapses into a mathematical point. This may or may not be true but it is incompatible with quantum mechanics, e.g. the Pauli Exclusion Principal. IMHO, it will not be possible to understand what happens to the matter interior to the event horizon until there is a theory of quantum gravity.

    2. It should be noted that the proposition of the multiverse and the proposition of parallel universes are not the same thing. The multiverse proposition is proposed as a response to the issues raised by claims of the anthropic principals. The parallel universe proposition is proposed as a response to certain apparent paradoxes in quantum mechanics, e.g. the two slit problem and quantum entanglement.

  17. #17 eric
    July 20, 2011

    Bee: Right, the multiverse idea is pretty much unavoidable if you are just consequent enough interpreting modern physics. That’s because in the end there’s always a question for which mathematics has no answer…

    That’s not right. Level I’s arise out of our understanding of special relativity and inflation, not some question math can’t answer. They are a logical consequence of what we DO know, not some god-of-the-gaps explanation for what we don’t.

    I think the same is true for level IIIs too, only substitute “hilbert spaces” for relativity and inflation. But I could be wrong about that.

  18. #18 SLC
    July 20, 2011

    Inflation may be wrong (or not eternal)

    The difficulty with that proposal is that current observations indicate that the rate of expansion is accelerating, due to dark energy constituting 75% of the gravitating matter in the universe. In order for the expansion to end, one would have to posit that the rate of attenuation of the repulsive forces of dark energy is greater then the rate of attenuation of the attractive forces of visible mass and dark matter.

  19. #19 eric
    July 20, 2011

    @15: Also the laws of physics, mass and expansion of this universe is so supportive of complexity (formation of stars, planets and ultimately life) that either it is one of an infinite number of potentials or else we are seeing intelligent design.

    How do you figure? Just as a rough calculation, if we take the solar system to extend out to Pluto’s furthest point (an extremely conservative estimate), and assume life can exist in a “rind” extending +/- 10 miles from the surface of the earth, the % of our solar system which is supportive of life is on the order of 0.000000000000000000000000001%. You can make that number perhaps a few orders of magnitude bigger by assuming life can exist deeper in the earth and maybe on a few of saturn’s moons, but really, by any objective measure no one could reasonably say the solar system is supportive of life. And if you consider that there is more empty space between solar systems than there are solar systems, the problem gets many orders of magnitude worse.

    A much more accurate description of the known universe is to say that it is overwhelmingly hostile to life, but it also happens to be so big that we would naturally expect there would be a few spots that aren’t. Its the lottery example again: the odds of winning (an area supporting life) are extremely low, but there are many players (many locations), so its no surprise there’s an occasional winner.

    If the universe were designed, by contrast, we would not expect the odds of winning to be low. There would be no point in that. If you want to give someone $1,000,000, you don’t hold a lottery and hope they win. You just give it to them.

  20. #20 Russell
    July 20, 2011

    Bee:

    Right, the multiverse idea is pretty much unavoidable if you are just consequent enough interpreting modern physics. That’s because in the end there’s always a question for which mathematics has no answer and if you don’t want to swallow a ‘final answer’ (call it god or toe) you have to accept that everything that can exist does exist in the same way…

    It seems to me a universe described entirely by Newtonian mechanics and Maxwell’s equations would be singular, stretching out infinitely in time in both directions. The modern cosmological views of the universe are relatively recent.

  21. #21 Skeptico
    July 20, 2011

    If fine tuners are claiming that the odds of getting a universe suitable for life are extremely low, then it’s up to them to show that this is the only universe that exists or has ever existed.  Their calculations that show the incredibly low probabilities of a universe suitable for life, assume there is and has only ever been one universe: to get the probability of getting any universe tuned for life, they have to multiply their probability of getting one universe tuned for life by the total number of universes.  They are implicitly multiplying by one universe.  So, before we accept their claim, they first have to demonstrate that there really is only one universe.  It’s their claim, they have to justify all parts of it, not just the bits they like.   So as part of their own calculation, they must demonstrate that there is only one universe.

  22. #22 IW
    July 20, 2011

    And all the creationists have to offer is Bible verses. it doesn’t really compare, does it?!

  23. #23 SLC
    July 20, 2011

    Re eric @ #19

    Actually, the best candidate for extra terrestrial life in the Solar System is probably Jupiters’ moon Europa, which seems to have a liquid water ocean underneath a solid layer of water ice.

  24. #24 Beth
    July 20, 2011

    “what strikes me is that none of those seven points is a reason for actively doubting the multiverse. They are merely arguments for showing that we lack strong reasons for accepting the multiverse, a far different thing.”

    Isn’t this basically the same aragument as the theist’s response to the atheist’s argument for not believing in a deity?

  25. #25 healthphysicist
    July 20, 2011

    @24 Beth:

    I think you are correct.

    Note, too, that Occam was a theist, a friar in fact. His razor never applied to God. It is funny when gnu atheists quote him.

  26. #26 eric
    July 20, 2011

    Skeptico: Their calculations that show the incredibly low probabilities of a universe suitable for life, assume there is and has only ever been one universe

    Well, that is what the entire post is about. As an aside, I’ve also heard that most of the fine tuning arguments get low probabilities it part because they ask whether changes to one fundamental constant at a time would lead to viable universes. They do not typically look at whether changing several of them at once would lead to viable universes. Thus, what they are actually trying to calculate is a lower limit on the probability of a universe allowing for life.

    Beth: Isn’t this basically the same aragument as the theist’s response to the atheist’s argument for not believing in a deity?

    I have never heard a serious Christian claim that he/she believes in God because the arguments for atheism “merely” show that there are no strong reasons for accepting God.

    But I’m willing to be surprised. Any believer want to tell me that they think atheist arguments do in fact show that there’s no strong reason for believing in God? Or (contra Beth), do you believe in part because you think atheist arguments don’t actually show that?

  27. #27 josh
    July 20, 2011

    @25 healthphysicist

    It’s funnier when theists don’t understand him.

    On the topic at hand, it seems to me that if you understand quantum mechanics as standardly used and interpreted, you have to go out of your way to not posit a multiverse scenario. Basically you have to assume that what applies to photons and electrons in an experiment does not apply to those same particles in your brain, and that an entirely new phenomenon called wave collapse happens at an arbitrary point euphemised as ‘measurement’.

  28. #28 sldkfsdkl
    July 20, 2011

    You can’t assume there are multiple universes out there. You actually have to be there to see them. Since the multi-universe theory cannot be imperically tested, it remains nothing but wishful thinking, which is nothing more than a religious belief.

    Can, at least, atheist scientists be a little bit more sane on this planet?

  29. #29 Deen
    July 20, 2011

    While Ruse’s arguments that accepting the multiverse can help rpeserve humanity’s central position in the universe, I have no doubt that as the scientific case for the multiverse gets stronger, it will be absorbed into theology. Suddenly, it will no longer be dismissed as an atheist excuse for fine-tuning, but promoted as the only logical way for God to create everything. By that time they’ll likely argue that even the multiverse needs a creator. And isn’t a god that creates all possible universes greater than a god that only created one?

    I’m not sure though how they are going to embrace the multiverse and still somehow avoid having to embrace the multigod.

  30. #30 Nick (Matzke)
    July 20, 2011

    Thanks for an interesting post Jason.

    A commenter writes:

    “what strikes me is that none of those seven points is a reason for actively doubting the multiverse. They are merely arguments for showing that we lack strong reasons for accepting the multiverse, a far different thing.”

    Isn’t this basically the same aragument as the theist’s response to the atheist’s argument for not believing in a deity?

    I think so. This stuff, fundamentally, is why I am an agnostic and not an atheist — and also why I think that the default intense hostility that some atheists have toward any theist whatsoever is not warranted. When it comes to the Ultimate Nature of Reality, really we’re all in the same boat and just guessing, and probably always will be.

    Jason writes:

    So, there you go. Multiverses may be speculative, and they may not be useful for generating testable hypotheses in cosmology (though see Vilenkin’s essay, linked above, for possible counterpoints), but they have a strong basis in modern physics and lead to many fascinating questions. All you need to find them plausible is to believe that whatever it was that created our universe, whether an omnipotent being or a purely natural process, also created other universes. And when you put it that way, what exactly is the reason for thinking that ours is the only universe there is.

    Even if it’s true that multiverses don’t violate the principle of parsimony (and I still doubt that point — it seems to be that absolutely any imaginable observation or event, say, the sudden replacement of the Moon by a tuna sandwich, or the sudden or gradual rearrangement of stars to read “Hey dude, whassup?”, could be easily “explained” by “well, it’s just a quantum fluke in infinite universes”), it is still one hell of an extrapolation to make with such thin observational grounds. Why isn’t the true scientific position skepticism and doubt and shrugging “who knows” about anything like this (either multiverses or fine-tuning or whatever)?

    Another commenter writes:

    A much more accurate description of the known universe is to say that it is overwhelmingly hostile to life, but it also happens to be so big that we would naturally expect there would be a few spots that aren’t. Its the lottery example again: the odds of winning (an area supporting life) are extremely low, but there are many players (many locations), so its no surprise there’s an occasional winner.

    If the universe were designed, by contrast, we would not expect the odds of winning to be low. There would be no point in that. If you want to give someone $1,000,000, you don’t hold a lottery and hope they win. You just give it to them.

    Posted by: eric | July 20, 2011 8:45 AM

    This is a much more compelling argument against the fine-tuning and “Universe designed for humans” view, IMHO.

    Although also IMHO the idea that “humans are the point of the Universe” is a debatable assumption even within Christian theology — Christianity does include a lot of assumed human exclusivism in its history, but there is also a strong humility tradition, even in the Bible, suggesting that humans are completely insignificant and wretched but God loves them anyway. I’m not saying I’m buying any of this, but the tradition isn’t univocal.

    Anyhow, humility is called for in some situations, and I think The Ultimate Nature of Reality is one of them. It is interesting to discuss the possibilities but I don’t see how one can say it is scientific to reach a firm conclusion, when any conclusion is absolutely mind-boggling and perhaps technically beyond the ability of the human mind to really comprehend. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton, as Darwin said…

  31. #31 healthphysicist
    July 20, 2011

    @30 Nick

    Note, too, that Newton encoded Occam’s razor in his Principia. Newton was a mathematical and physics genius.

    He was also a theist.

  32. #32 Owlmirror
    July 20, 2011

    Note, too, that Occam was a theist, a friar in fact. His razor never applied to God.

    Either Occam was aware that he was being inconsistent in not applying his razor to God, or he wasn’t.

    If he was aware, then he was at least partially hypocritical in committing the logical fallacy of special pleading.

    If he was not aware, then he was blind to his own hypocrisy.

    Wikipedia, at least, suggests that he was aware that he was being inconsistent. Inasmuch as he lived in a time when people could be killed for offering theological dissent, I cannot really blame him for refraining from explicitly expressing the logical conclusion of the application of the principle of parsimony to the concept of God.

    Regardless of Occam’s reasons for not applying the razor to God, the principle of parsimony stands as being ontologically useful regardless of Occam’s inconsistency. Occam is credited with expressing the principle formally, but the principle would exist regardless of whether he had ever expressed it.

  33. #33 healthphysicist
    July 20, 2011

    @32 Owlmirror

    Occam is credited with the razor and was a theist, but other theists before him said much the same (Scotus, Maimonides, etc.)

    Similarly, Newton said much the same thing and was a theist.

    It wasn’t an inconsistency from most persons’ points of view. Only that to understand Nature (God’s creation), one could learn more from Nature, than from Scripture.

    Naturalism beat Scripturalism.

    But back to the topic….”fine tuning” is a canard, since most of the Universe is Dark Energy & Matter, and little of Baryonic matter is known to support human life. “Tuning”, maybe….but not “fine” in any sense.

  34. #34 Tim Martin
    July 20, 2011

    I’m confused – isn’t the fine tuning argument BS to begin with? Isn’t the correct response that, even if our universe is “fine tuned” to allow life, we are a biased sample because we would have to be alive in order to ask this question? And furthermore isn’t this argument a misunderstanding of the fact that improbable things happen all the time?

  35. #35 Owlmirror
    July 20, 2011

    Occam is credited with the razor and was a theist, but other theists before him said much the same (Scotus, Maimonides, etc.)
    Similarly, Newton said much the same thing and was a theist.

    So?

    It wasn’t an inconsistency from most persons’ points of view.

    “Most persons” not being aware that they were committing the logical fallacy of special pleading?

  36. #36 AL
    July 20, 2011

    Note, too, that Occam was a theist, a friar in fact. His razor never applied to God. It is funny when gnu atheists quote him.

    Parsimony is still a good principle even if the proponent of its earliest known formulation had to resort to a fallacious special plead exemption for some of his pet beliefs. Nothing wrong with gnu atheists defending a version of it…especially without the special pleading.

  37. #37 eric
    July 20, 2011

    @28: You can’t assume there are multiple universes out there. You actually have to be there to see them.

    Ah, the old Ken Ham “were you there” argument. I guess I was wrong in @2 in thinking theology had got beyond it.

    A question to the poster, sldkfsdkl: do you apply the same logic to religious belief? Because there’s a couple billion people right now walking around believing Jesus worked miracles without having seen him do them.

  38. #38 M
    July 20, 2011

    I haven’t read all of the comments; yet. But I am going to put forth one thought that always occurs to me when we get to the fine tuning argument. My statement: The universe is not fine tuned.

    I am not an evolutionary biologist, but I am going to make a claim. Fish don’t live in water because water is fine-tuned to be hospitable for fish. Fish live in water because they evolved to live in water.
    All life in the universe has evolved to live in this universe. Change a fundamental constant of nature and will life in this universe cease to exist? The response would be “life as we know it.” Certainly, but that doesn’t preclude some other type of life cropping up.
    People tend to forget that all of chemistry, physics, biology, psychology, geology, cosmology, theology, and any other ology is based on measurements of our interaction with the universe we live in.
    Sure the universe “looks” fine-tuned for us. Why wouldn’t it, we live here.
    If the universe was different, the life that lived in that universe would think that universe is fine-tuned for them.
    So fine-tuning should not come into any conversation about the multiverse.
    Most of physics and cosmology don’t strongly preclude the multiverse, but they don’t really strongly predict a multiverse either.
    I like to think that our universe is one of many, but I like to think of it as bubbles. The inflation that led to our big bang was one of many quantum states possible. Each possible quantum state could have led to its own inflation and its own big bang. I don’t think that we will ever be able to measure the existence of these universes, so I choose to remain agnostic* about their existence or what kind of physics might control them.

    *essentially from Huxley’s first definition, or that these things are probably not and cannot be known – evidence will be impossible to gather. Remember scientia is Latin for knowledge.

  39. #39 Ryan
    July 20, 2011

    Concerning the fine-tuning argument, it has been shown that even if we remain agnostic about a multiverse and even if we allow that it is dramatically improbable that chance would produce a life-bearing universe, the inference to design still does not follow at all. There’s a new book out called “The End of Christianity” in which Richard Carrier argues this, drawing on the philosophical work of Sober, Ikeda, and Jeffreys.

  40. #40 healthphysicist
    July 20, 2011

    To those arguing special pleading in the case of God for Occam’s razor, should realize that using Occam’s razor itself is special pleading, there are plenty of anti-razors. Also, from a theist viewpoint, “God” is the most parsimonious explanation.

    Anyway, these are tired, old atheism/theism arguments which gnu atheists seem to think are gnu.

    @39 “dramatically improbable that chance would produce a life-bearing universe”

    How does one assess how improbable it is? It’s extremely probable if this is the only Universe. And no one knows the properties of the other Universes, if they exist. To properly form probabilities you have to know the a priori state (ie, that a dice has six sides).

  41. #41 Dan L.
    July 20, 2011

    Also the laws of physics, mass and expansion of this universe is so supportive of complexity (formation of stars, planets and ultimately life) that either it is one of an infinite number of potentials or else we are seeing intelligent design. A uni-verse as comples as ours without a creator is a statistical impossibility. God or a multiverse are the choices.

    You can’t determine the probability of an event with only one occurrence, by definition of “probability.” You only get here by making strong, unjustifiable assumptions about the probability distribution of possible universes. We don’t actually know anything about the probability distribution of possible universes.

  42. #42 eric
    July 20, 2011

    Healthphysicist: Also, from a theist viewpoint, “God” is the most parsimonious explanation.

    For what phenomena? Forget parsimony, how is “God” an explanation at all? Does it give you any greater understanding of how the phenomena arose than what you had before?

  43. #43 Dan L.
    July 20, 2011

    healthphysicist@40:

    Anyway, these are tired, old atheism/theism arguments which gnu atheists seem to think are gnu.

    No one thinks they’re new. That’s why “new atheists” jokingly relabeled themselves “gnu atheists.” Because we’re recycling the arguments of old atheists the way open source advocates recycle e.g. UNIX programs and features. (So in fact, they are “GNU” arguments, you just didn’t understand what that means.)

    The reason the arguments are still being made is that they haven’t been successfully rebutted in such a way that everybody agrees that they’ve been rebutted.

    We feel the same way about arguments for theism; they’re old, unconvincing, require a bunch of dubious metaphysical baggage, and people KEEP MAKING THEM. And yet there’s a lot of people who maintain they have not successfully been rebutted.

  44. #44 healthphysicist
    July 20, 2011

    @42 eric

    If by “you”, you mean me specifically, the answer is no. But I’m not a theist.

    If by “you”, you mean a general “someone who is a theist”, the answer is yes.

    “God” gives them a better explantion than “that’s just the way it is” or “I don’t know”….which is what an atheist says when he/she runs out of explanatory power. Those answers don’t provide a greater understanding of phenomena either.

  45. #45 healthphysicist
    July 20, 2011

    @43 Dan L.

    Actually, I have interacted with many atheists, who don’t realize how old the arguments are. Nonetheless, it’s like arguing whether a particular work of art, is a work of art or not. You either believe it is or not…there is nothing in science or logic to dip from, though many atheists seem to think science/logic support their position (and there are many theists thinking that science/logic supports their position).

  46. #46 Dan L.
    July 20, 2011

    healthphysicist@45:

    “Atheist” can mean different things to different people. I am an atheist because all of my experiences with the world lead me to believe that it does not have agency or a personality. It’s the result of applying logical inference and a few philosophical principles to the facts of my life (including what I know about science).

    That is, there ARE logical arguments and scientific evidence that support the atheist position. They might not be correct, but I personally have found them more compelling than the alternatives.

    Your example of arguing whether or not something is art is an interesting example. The reason for those arguments is that there’s no accepted set of necessary and sufficient conditions for something to qualify as “art.” In other words, “art” means different things to different people. (From my perspective, if an object or performance precipitates an argument about whether or not it is art then it is definitely art because it has inspired people to think critically about what constitutes “art.”)

    Likewise, “God” means different things to different people. I interpret the phrase “God exists” to mean something like “the universe has agency and/or a personality.” And I think there ARE good scientific and logical reasons to believe that this is not the case.

  47. #47 cwfong
    July 20, 2011

    All universes that have the capacity for tuning must in the end fine tune themselves.

  48. #48 healthphysicist
    July 20, 2011

    @46 Dan

    I fully understand. I also fully know that many theists make a similar argument (that there are good scientific and logical reasons for their viewpoint). And they personally find them more compelling.

    That is my point.

    (P.S. If I were a theist, rather than use something like Intelligent Design, which promotes the idea of an engineer-God, I’d be promoting something like Masterful Art, which promotes the idea of an artist-God. I think this is what most of them really mean.)

  49. #49 Owlmirror
    July 20, 2011

    To those arguing special pleading in the case of God for Occam’s razor, should realize that using Occam’s razor itself is special pleading

    Only to those who don’t understand what either parsimony or special pleading are.

    there are plenty of anti-razors.

    ???

    Also, from a theist viewpoint, “God” is the most parsimonious explanation.

    Well, it’s unsurprising that theists would not understand parsimony either.

    I have seen a YEC arguing that a recent creation and recent global flood were more “parsimonious” than the actual science of geology.

    Clearly, he was either correct, and all of geology (and all other science as well) needs to be thrown out, or he was a complete moron who had no idea what the principle of parsimony was, despite citing it before making that breathtakingly stupid assertion.

    Which do you think is the case?

    “God” gives them a better explantion than “that’s just the way it is” or “I don’t know”….which is what an atheist says when he/she runs out of explanatory power. Those answers don’t provide a greater understanding of phenomena either.

    The actual principle of parsimony is exactly what says to throw out the “God” explanation if it is no better than “That’s the way it is”.

  50. #50 healthphysicist
    July 20, 2011

    @49 Owlmirror

    I am not going to continue the tired old arguments. I can counter each of your arguments from a theistic view point. And then you would counter, and then I could counter back.

    It is pointless.

    However, since you seem genuinely uninformed on anti-razors, I will give you Chatton’s which was proposed contemporaneously with Occam’s. There have been many more since:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/walter-chatton/

  51. #51 eric
    July 20, 2011

    @44: “God” gives them a better explantion than “that’s just the way it is” or “I don’t know”….which is what an atheist says when he/she runs out of explanatory power. Those answers don’t provide a greater understanding of phenomena either.

    One – that’s a tu quoque response. I didn’t ask if there were other non-explanatory answers given, I asked how “God” was explanatory.

    Second – the response “I don’t know” is not intended to be an explanation of a phenomena. You specifically said in @40 that “God” is. So the two are not analogous, and the fact that the former is not an explanation has no bearing on whether the latter claims to be an explanation but isn’t.

    And just to keep us on track here, parsimony is supposed to be a means for deciding between explanations. If “God” isn’t even an explanation, it ought to be knocked out of conisderation before parsimony even becomes an issue.

  52. #52 Dan L.
    July 20, 2011

    healthphysicist@48:

    You apparently do not fully understand.

    I also fully know that many theists make a similar argument (that there are good scientific and logical reasons for their viewpoint). And they personally find them more compelling.

    My impression, on having read some of these arguments, is that they’re usually motivated by MISUNDERSTANDINGS of science, and especially misunderstandings of what exactly logic is.

    It doesn’t just come down to opinions. There are facts about the world and we can determine some of those facts and reason from there. When someone maintains that there are scientific and logical reasons to believe in God, I can interrogate that person with respect to the person’s knowledge of science and ability to rigorously apply logic and determine whether that person actually understand what the hell they’re talking about.

  53. #53 josh
    July 20, 2011

    Why do I suspect that evidence of healthphysicist’s “many” atheists at 45 who contend that their arguments are completely original will be exactly as forthcoming as his/her successful counter-arguments in 50.

    And really, there’s a reason few people have heard of the ‘anti-razors’, they don’t undermine the principle of parsimony. Half of them even restate principles already included in Occam’s razor.

    Your argument at this point seems to be, “I (or a stand-in theist) can always stick my fingers in my ears and shake my head until you go away.” Which is true, but you can’t force us to take you seriously while you do it.

  54. #54 healthphysicist
    July 20, 2011

    @44 eric

    God is an explanation in that in the mind of a theist, it explains a fact. Why is the mass of an electron what it is? God’s agency. That is an explanation for theists….it isn’t for me, and probably isn’t for you.

    @52 Dan

    I do understand. Many unsophisticated theists don’t understand science or logic. They believe in God for bad reasons. However, there are sophisticated theists who do understand science and logic (Collins, Polkinghorne, etc.) and believe in God. Similarly, there are atheists who don’t believe in God for bad reasons.

    @53 josh

    Anyone can read my posts…I don’t have my fingers in my ears, I fully understand both sides. You can’t.

  55. #55 Wowbagger
    July 20, 2011

    healthphysicist wrote:

    Similarly, there are atheists who don’t believe in God for bad reasons.

    What’s a ‘bad reason’ to believe in something that doesn’t exist? Can you give some examples?

  56. #56 Jason Rosenhouse
    July 20, 2011

    Hi Nick.

    Thanks for an interesting post Jason.

    You’re welcome!

    A commenter writes:

    ldquo;what strikes me is that none of those seven points is a reason for actively doubting the multiverse. They are merely arguments for showing that we lack strong reasons for accepting the multiverse, a far different thing.”

    Isn’t this basically the same argument as the theist’s response to the atheist’s argument for not believing in a deity?

    I think so. This stuff, fundamentally, is why I am an agnostic and not an atheist — and also why I think that the default intense hostility that some atheists have toward any theist whatsoever is not warranted. When it comes to the Ultimate Nature of Reality, really we’re all in the same boat and just guessing, and probably always will be.

    My observation that there is no good reason for doubting the multiverse was not intended as an argument at all. Nor was I taunting people who are skeptical of the multiverse. It was merely a statement of fact. As it happens, there is no principle of physics to suggest that ours is the only universe there is. Indeed, as Tegmark notes, the drift has been entirely in the other direction.

    The distinction between atheist and agnostic is not something I generally get worked up about. But I do think that if we’re talking about the Christian conception of God then it’s not appropriate just to throw up our arms and make ecumenical noises about how we’re all in the same boat. We have strong grounds for thinking the boat of Christian theism is taking on water. Even most theologians will acknowledge that the problem of evil, or the challenges posed by evolution, are genuine problems requiring great effort to defuse. With respect to that conception of God I don’t think agnosticism is a reasonable position to hold. (And just in case Edward Feser is reading this, yes, thank you, I know that theologians have produced a vast literature responding to these problems. I just don’t think they’ve come up with any decent arguments to make the problems go away.)

    Even if it’s true that multiverses don’t violate the principle of parsimony (and I still doubt that point — it seems to be that absolutely any imaginable observation or event, say, the sudden replacement of the Moon by a tuna sandwich, or the sudden or gradual rearrangement of stars to read “Hey dude, whassup?”, could be easily “explained” by “well, it’s just a quantum fluke in infinite universes”), it is still one hell of an extrapolation to make with such thin observational grounds. Why isn’t the true scientific position skepticism and doubt and shrugging “who knows” about anything like this (either multiverses or fine-tuning or whatever)?

    The principle of parsimony is a device for deciding between rival theories. So I don’t know what it means to say that multiverses by themselves violate the principle. In the post I was contrasting multiverse ideas with rival explanations based on Christian theism, and I stand by my judgment that on parsimony grounds multiverses win hands down.

    I would say that the “true scientific position” (whatever that means) is that various sorts of multiverses are implied by certain physical theories. As Tegmark notes, the multiverse is not a theory by itself, it is a prediction of other theories. If we have confidence in those other theories (perhaps we shouldn’t) then we should think the multiverse is likely. Being able to say, “The multiverse is implied by other physical theories which are themselves supported by strong evidence,” is a lot better than just shrugging and saying “who knows?”

    Skepticism is fine, it’s the outright hostility to multiverse thinking that I don’t understand. For example, in this post Peter Woit refers to the multiverse as “pseudoscience”, and one of his commenters describes it as emblematic of a new dark age in physics. Doesn’t that seem a bit overwrought to you?

    Anyhow, humility is called for in some situations, and I think The Ultimate Nature of Reality is one of them. It is interesting to discuss the possibilities but I don’t see how one can say it is scientific to reach a firm conclusion, when any conclusion is absolutely mind-boggling and perhaps technically beyond the ability of the human mind to really comprehend. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton, as Darwin said…

    Well, I guess it’s a matter of taste, but I don’t find the multiverse mind-boggling at all. At least, it’s no more mind-boggling than the existence of our universe all by itself. That was the point I was making at the end of the post. The multiverse just says, “More of the same.” It is Christian theism that invents from whole cloth an entity for whom we have no direct evidence, and which bring with it a raft of conceptual problems far more difficult than anything conjured up by physicists.

  57. #57 eric
    July 20, 2011

    Healthphysicist: God is an explanation in that in the mind of a theist, it explains a fact.

    While an individual could have their own definition of parsimony, appealing to such internal definitions pretty much ends the discussion. There’s simply no point and no way to decide whether X is a better explanation than Y if we’re going to appeal to purely internal concepts of “better.” And you certainly didn’t appeal to some internal definition of “parsimony,” so why should you appeal to some internal definition of “explanation?”

    So, while I agree that what you say may be true for some people, anyone who wants to claim that “God” is an explanation is going to have to defend that claim by appealing to some generally agreed-upon or community definition of ‘explanation,’ not their own internal definition of what qualifies.

    So, for the third unanswered time, can you tell me in what way “God” qualifies as an explanation for any phenomenon?

  58. #58 Russell
    July 20, 2011

    healthphysicist:

    God is an explanation in that in the mind of a theist, it explains a fact.

    What a wonderful sentence! Reading with the principle of showing the author the greatest benevolence, I will take it as healthphysicist explaining how many theists are confused about the very notion of explanation.

  59. #59 JimV
    July 20, 2011

    I’d like to complain that although the quality of posts here is great, that makes the lack of quantity disappointing – but I’m still grateful for what I can get.

    I would also like to associate myself with the comments above regarding the lack of explanatory power of the God Hypothesis, and the idea that it makes more sense to consider that we developed naturally due to the properties of this universe and are thus well-adapted to local conditions than that the universe was designed with us in mind. I have made similar comments but maybe not as well-expressed, e.g., I can imagine a universe in which life exists everywhere, right down to the atomic level. (Easy if you assume dualism, which I don’t but can imagine.)

    Long live the multiverse!

  60. #60 Skeptico
    July 20, 2011

    To those arguing special pleading in the case of God for Occam’s razor, should realize that using Occam’s razor itself is special pleading….

    Nonsense. Special pleading is where you apply certain principles and rules to one side of the argument while applying different principles and rules to the other side of the argument. Occam’s razor is applied to all sides of an argument.

    Also, from a theist viewpoint, “God” is the most parsimonious explanation.

    Well if you start from the assumption that god exists (theist) then of course “god” is parsimonious to you. But if you are trying to decide if god exists, you can’t start from the assumption that god exists (theist) – that’s circular reasoning.

    It’s extremely probable if this is the only Universe.

    Why? We know universes exists because we are in one. What rule are you invoking to insist it is improbable that there are any others? Please show your work.

  61. #61 Owlmirror
    July 21, 2011

    I can counter each of your arguments from a theistic view point.

    What’s the difference between a “theistic view point”, and committing logical fallacies?

    It is pointless.

    Well, if it is indeed just a collection of logical fallacies, I would agree. But perhaps you could convince me that there’s something in the “theistic view point” that is not fallacious?

    However, since you seem genuinely uninformed on anti-razors, I will give you Chatton’s which was proposed contemporaneously with Occam’s.

    Well, OK, that’s what the term refers to. But I don’t quite understand the point. It looks like it might be that he’s saying that if you’re trying to prove something you want to be true, make stuff up in support of it.

    Or maybe he’s just saying to find as many logical priors to a conclusion as are sufficient to support the conclusion being entailed — in which case, I fail to see the difference from the principle of parsimony.

    =====

    I don’t have my fingers in my ears, I fully understand both sides.

    I’d like to see more evidence in support of this assertion. (Am I applying the “anti-razor” correctly, here?)

  62. #62 josh
    July 21, 2011

    healthphysicist @54

    “… I fully understand both sides.”

    That’s not the most parsimonious explanation I can find.

    It’s not that atheists don’t understand the theistic arguments or the psychological appeal of religion, it’s that we understand where they go wrong. “Sophisticated” and “unsophisticated” theist both believe in god for bad reasons, usually very similar bad reasons.

  63. #63 Beth
    July 21, 2011

    My observation that there is no good reason for doubting the multiverse was not intended as an argument at all. Nor was I taunting people who are skeptical of the multiverse. It was merely a statement of fact. As it happens, there is no principle of physics to suggest that ours is the only universe there is. Indeed, as Tegmark notes, the drift has been entirely in the other direction.

    You may not have meant it as an argument, but it is remarkably similar to a common defense theists use when debating an atheist who demands evidence prior to belief and scorns those who believe in something without evidence. Perhaps they don’t mean it as an argument either, but it is usually taken that way by the atheist.


    But I do think that if we’re talking about the Christian conception of God then it’s not appropriate just to throw up our arms and make ecumenical noises about how we’re all in the same boat.I wasn’t necessarily referring to the Christian god. Further, depending on which branch of Christianity you are referring to, it may or may not be the case that we’re all in the same boat.

    I agree with you regarding literalist interpretations of the Christian bible although even that cannot be refuted anymore than solipsism or last thursdayism can be refuted. But for liberal or progressive Christianity, they are generally okay with taking any parts of the bible that contradict established scientific facts as metaphorical/mythical stories rather than factual.

  64. #64 Linda Jean
    July 21, 2011

    You write: “.. whatever it was that created our universe, whether an omnipotent being or a purely natural process, also created other universes…” I find it odd, at least, the way you use the verb “create”. In our thermodynamic universe matter and energy are transformed; one or the other are there first, energy according to present knowledge. Creation implies a magic act of becoming, but no natural process ‘creates” anything. I find that this argumentative flaw trumps very often these questions.

  65. #65 Owlmirror
    July 21, 2011

    Creation implies a magic act of becoming, but no natural process ‘creates” anything.

    This equivocates on the definition of “creation” in the sense of “ex nihilo“, and other senses of the term.

  66. #66 eric
    July 21, 2011

    [Linda Jean] Creation implies a magic act of becoming, but no natural process ‘creates” anything.

    [Owlmirror] This equivocates on the definition of “creation” in the sense of “ex nihilo”, and other senses of the term.

    Its also wrong. QM allows nature to create stuff…as long as it’s equal and opposite stuff on a microscopic scale. :)

    In fact “nothing” and “equal and opposite stuff” are basically just two equally valid solutions to a single equation. Two sides of the same coin. For nothing not to turn into something on a quantum scale, perfectly naturally, would be extraordinary, as it would be like constantly flipping a fair coin and only getting heads.

  67. #67 ildi
    July 21, 2011

    That’s why “new atheists” jokingly relabeled themselves “gnu atheists.” Because we’re recycling the arguments of old atheists the way open source advocates recycle e.g. UNIX programs and features. (So in fact, they are “GNU” arguments, you just didn’t understand what that means.)

    So THAT’S where it come from! I always wondered (not knowing much about software I didn’t get the clever allusion).

  68. #68 Neil Craig
    July 22, 2011

    Eric 19 my point was not about planets but more basic. That if , for example, gravity was a few percent more little if anything would escape nava explosions, if it was a little less we would be unlikely to get hot starts forming. And so on with all the 5 forces, expansion of the universe and other basic constants. At the chemical level look at how useful water and carbon are and how unlikely their properties (if ice didn’t float Earth the oceans would be solid ice).

    Now estimates of the probability of these variables must currently be imprecise but however you cut it the odds against them all must contain a fair number of zeros. I suspect a very large number of them Those are the odds against a unitary universe coming about accidentally. But if you posit an Everitt Wheeler multiverse it becomes a certainty.

  69. #69 eric
    July 22, 2011

    Neil Craig: That if , for example, gravity was a few percent more little if anything would escape nava explosions, if it was a little less we would be unlikely to get hot starts forming. And so on with all the 5 forces

    I answered that in @26 (albeit I didn’t refer back to your post). Those fine tuning calculations only look at one constant at a time, so they are determining nothing more than a lower limit on the probability of the universe.

    Now estimates of the probability of these variables must currently be imprecise but however you cut it the odds against them all must contain a fair number of zeros.

    Our estimates aren’t imprecise, they are totally without foundation. To show that, lets look at G in standard units as an example. For reference: 6.67384E-11 N(m/kg)^2.

    The first question we ask is, what is the range of values it could take in other universes? From 1 to 1E-20? From 1E100 to 1E-100? From 7E-11 to 6E-11? From 6.673840E-11 to 6.673850E-11? We don’t know. We don’t have a clue. And yet the probability of it being 6.67E-11 is heavily dependent on what the range is. Right? The fine tuners assume that it can have any value. While we have to make some assumption about it, I think you will agree with me that that assumption leads to the smallest possible estimate of probability. So just considering this one constant, and one fact about it (range), we’ve already got a circularity problem going with our fine tuning argument: a low probability is not just a result, its also a premise! Its built into the assumptions on which the fine tuners build their argument.

    The second question we ask is, what’s the distribution of probabilities across values? Here the fine tuners are actually on a bit better ground: with no information on that whatsoever, it’s reasonable to assume that every value is equally likely, which is what they do. But we need to keep in mind that an assumption made because we are completely ignorant of what the ground truth is, is all this is. If the probability of any given value is not flat but follows (for example) a gaussian distribution centered near our G, then even with a many-order-of-magnitude range of allowable values, the probability of getting our G might be reasonably high.

  70. #70 Neil Craig
    July 23, 2011

    Theoretically Stephen a copmpletely different mixture of constants might produce complexity but it is not only unprovable but not the way to bet.

    If I changed 1 letter in the name Stephen I would not get a new name. If I changed them all I might get Malcolm but the odds are long against it.

    Suppose these other options cut the number of universes needed to accidentally create such complexity by an order of magnitude – that still leaves it improbable by many orders of magnitude.

  71. #71 eric
    July 23, 2011

    Theoretically Stephen a copmpletely different mixture of constants might produce complexity but it is not only unprovable but not the way to bet.

    I think both those comments (unprovable; not the way to bet) are assertions, nothing more. You’ve got no physics to back it up. So, you are no longer providing an argument for low probability, you’re simply assuming it as a premise.

  72. #72 mikmik
    July 23, 2011

    Neil #70

    Suppose these other options cut the number of universes needed to accidentally create such complexity by an order of magnitude – that still leaves it improbable by many orders of magnitude.

    How do you know? You don’t know the probability of anything outside of our universe, let alone how many orders of magnitude it has. Eric already pointed this out long ago. Unless pre-universe conditions have the same or similar properties of our universe, ie cause and effect and constancy,
    probability, as we know it, probably doesn’t even have meaning!
    All I know is that the possibility for our universe to exist had to obtain before our universe did, but that probably maybe might not be true.
    In fact, for all we know, having a beginning might be impossible and is only a skewed perspective. There is no way to tell.
    In fact, imagining that there nothing outside of our universe is several orders of mega magnitude more haunting than thinking we may be the only life in this one.

  73. #73 Neil Craig
    July 24, 2011

    If we assume no laws, not even the rules of maths cannot apply to other universes then, by definition, nothing can be said about the probability of their existing – on either side and we should all go to another thread.

    However the principles of maths do seem to control this universe everywhere & I think any reality, recognisable as existing, will have to conform to some such underlying priciples.

    I can only repeat the example I gave, of the difficulty of 7 letters chosen at random forming a name & that varying them all will not increase the odds more than varying a few. Indeed, as evopution proves, varying one or two nulls is a better way of progressing than making a totally new random selection.

  74. #74 eric
    July 24, 2011

    Neil Craig: I can only repeat the example I gave, of the difficulty of 7 letters chosen at random forming a name & that varying them all will not increase the odds more than varying a few.

    If I show you that it does, will you concede that the fine tuning argument, as expressed by the folks you quote, does not demonstrate a low probability of the universe?

  75. #75 Neil Craig
    July 25, 2011

    I would do so.

    If you can show that randomly changing say 6 letters in the word Stephen is more likely to produce something close to an English language word than just changing 1 I would be impressed.

  76. #76 Leigh
    July 25, 2011

    “To me, an unexplained coincidence can be a tell-tale sign of a gap in our scientific understanding. Dismissing it by saying “We just got lucky now stop looking for an explanation!” is not only unsatisfactory, but is also tantamount to ignoring a potentially crucial clue.”

    And suggesting, as Ellis does, that “intent or purpose” (code for God) is a viable explanation, is doing just that. “God” is code for: the world’s ultimate nature is inexplicable, we can never understand it, so let’s hope that somehow it all ultimately makes sense.

    Perhaps ultimately it all does make sense. Whether or not that is so, a multiverse certainly makes sense of the otherwise inexplicable degree of fine tuning of dark energy density. Inflationary theory is expanded to account not just for the distribution of matter but for the laws governing them. The observations and the nature of the laws of our universe allow for this.

    Hypotheses which make sense of otherwise inexplicable things are useful in so far as they can be used as guides for research. We don’t need the God hypothesis for fine tuning just yet.

  77. #77 Leigh
    July 25, 2011

    Haught and Polkinghorn, meh. But Ruse, now’s there’s a real comedian. God is outside time and space. Let me build on this theory. God as a universal wave function. Poof! Collapse into an infinity of universes with a guarantee that we will evolve in at least one. Purpose of the multiverse. Humans. Divine comedy indeed.

  78. #78 Neil Craig
    July 26, 2011

    Purpose of the multiverse – evolving an aware intellect who can some day understand and thus replicate the universe.

    Now that is a theory to satisfy multiversists, evolutionists and diests.

  79. #79 eric
    July 26, 2011

    If you can show that randomly changing say 6 letters in the word Stephen is more likely to produce something close to an English language word than just changing 1 I would be impressed.

    Here you go:

    There’s 26^7 different combinations of letters; about 8E9.

    Change the first S. Result: there are 0 other English words of the form *tephen. Likewise for S*ephen. And so on. Such a search finds zero other possible words. Odds of finding another 7-letter word this way: 0%

    Allow all of them to vary freely, and there’s about 23,000 words you can make. (I used a scrabble utility to arrive at this number. It excludes proper names, because scrabble doesn’t use them, so this is actually an underestimate. And I am intentionally excluding names from other languages because if we add those, IMO the problem is not calculable. In any event, the number itself is relatively unimportant for this argument). 23,000/8E9 = ~0.00028%.

    0.00028% > 0%.

    ***

    Now to be honest, I don’t think either one of those odds is very relevant to the fine tuning argument. One could easily come up with an English word where sequential 1-letter substitution is superior; my argument works really because of your starting point, not because its generally true. However, I do think that there is a very relevant point here, which is that asking what happens when we change one fundamental constant at a time completely misses a large number of potential universes. If, as a fine tuner, you are going to use the total available number of possibilities as your denominator (i.e. a number analogous to my 26^7, or 8E9), then single-constant substitution will always underestimate the availability of universes.

  80. #80 Neil Craig
    July 27, 2011

    2nd time out of the box I hit paydirt.

    “There is 1 person with the name “Etephen Adams” in the United States.”
    http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2011/07/multiverses.php
    God knows why he has that name but that matters not.

    I will admit that before accepting this challenge I looked up “Slephen” on Google and found it is a surname I had never heard of. So I think we may take it as far more likely that words that sound close to what the human tongue is used to will turn up far more often than pure random mixtures of letters.

    Universes are a larger example but the principle holds.

  81. #81 Neil Craig
    July 28, 2011

    Sorry link should have been http://names.whitepages.com/stephen/adamowitz

  82. #82 cambalkon
    August 10, 2011

    Should we be afraid that a morality based on our genes and our brains is somehow inferior to one handed down from above? Not at all. In fact, it’s far better, because secular morality has a flexibility and responsiveness to social change that no God-given morality could ever have.
    http://www.huzurevdeneve.com/florya-evden-eve-nakliyat.html

  83. #83 Iain Walker
    October 16, 2011

    Udaybhanu Chitrakar (#83):

    This is because total energy being zero, total mass will also be zero due to mass-energy equivalence.

    That’s incorrect. If the positive energy of mass is balanced out by the negative potential energy of gravity, then the total (i.e., net) energy of the universe is still zero. Zero energy and positive mass are quite consistent, and so the rest of your argument doesn’t follow.

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