Saturday, April 11, 2009

Multiverse theory: Leave it to science

There is a persistent tendency to derive evidence for God from modern science. There appears to be a need to fill a validation gap. The services of cosmology are often employed to fill this gap. Nathan Schneider has a recent article that addresses how many Christians view the Multiverse theory, including some ID-friendly folks such as Cardinal Schonborn and the Canadian nutjob Denyse O'Leary (c'mon - an ad hominem attack?). For some, the Multiverse theory was concocted by scientists to avoid the fine-tuning problem:
In a 2005 New York Times op-ed, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, accused scientists of concocting the idea of a multiverse specifically “to avoid the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science.” Since then, a handful of other prominent Christian thinkers have also argued that multiverse theory is motivated by a refusal to accept evidence of god’s handiwork in the cosmos. Evangelical philosopher and Discovery Institute fellow William Lane Craig has called the idea an act of “desperation” on the part of atheist scientists. And Canadian journalist Denyse O’Leary, an ally of the intelligent design movement who is writing a book about cosmology, also asserts that “religious or anti-religious motives dominate the discussion” among scientists developing multiverse models.
Yes. Now I remember why we had to pledge allegiance to the devil in every cosmology course in grad school. Fortunately, the article includes some reasonable views on the matter:
Don Page, an evangelical and theoretical physicist at the University of Alberta, gave a presentation entitled “Does God Love the Multiverse?” (mp3 | PDF), explaining to a mostly religious audience how multiverse models arose out of key questions in particle physics, string theory, and cosmic inflation — not in order to avoid evidence of design in the cosmos. Page insists that undercutting one argument for god does not defeat the whole case for divine creation. “The multiverse is not an alternative to design by god,” he says. “God could have designed the whole thing.”
Don Page's presentation and his last point seems quite reasonable - even though the title of his talk is quite unfortunate. I know Page was not making this point, but I certainly started thinking, what about God's love for thermodynamics? Plate tectonics? Formation of the Moon by an impact from a Mars-sized body? Electronic Degeneracy in white dwarfs? The spin-flip transition in hydrogen (oh God gotta love that)? Aether (oh - wait. God loved it only for a limited period of time)? The point is that these are scientific questions decided by science. And it is not just a matter of scale and importance. After all, the debate over Big Bang model and Steady State cosmology was more or less settled by observational evidence (cosmic microwave background radiation) - not from any religious input.

In fact, if we look back to mid-twentieth century, perhaps, the best perspective on this issues is provided by the Belgian Catholic priest and cosmologist Georges Lemaitre (1894-1966) - also one of the founders of the idea of the Big Bang cosmology. Here is a bit from American Museum of Natural History:

A year later, Lemaître explored the logical consequences of an expanding universe and boldly proposed that it must have originated at a finite point in time. If the universe is expanding, he reasoned, it was smaller in the past, and extrapolation back in time should lead to an epoch when all the matter in the universe was packed together in an extremely dense state. Appealing to the new quantum theory of matter, Lemaître argued that the physical universe was initially a single particle—the “primeval atom” as he called it—which disintegrated in an explosion, giving rise to space and time and the expansion of the universe that continues to this day. This idea marked the birth of what we now know as Big Bang cosmology.

It is tempting to think that Lemaître’s deeply-held religious beliefs might have led him to the notion of a beginning of time. After all, the Judeo-Christian tradition had propagated a similar idea for millennia. Yet Lemaître clearly insisted that there was neither a connection nor a conflict between his religion and his science. Rather he kept them entirely separate, treating them as different, parallel interpretations of the world, both of which he believed with personal conviction. Indeed, when Pope Pius XII referred to the new theory of the origin of the universe as a scientific validation of the Catholic faith, Lemaître was rather alarmed. Delicately, for that was his way, he tried to separate the two:

“As far as I can see, such a theory remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question. It leaves the materialist free to deny any transcendental Being… For the believer, it removes any attempt at familiarity with God… It is consonant with Isaiah speaking of the hidden God, hidden even in the beginning of the universe.”

The same is now true for the Multiverse theory. Some (justifiably) point to its highly speculative nature. But this is precisely why it is not yet considered an accepted idea of science, unlike the Big Bang cosmology, formation of the solar system, etc. By the way, there is no shortage of highly speculative ideas. For example, Variable Speed of Light (VSL) theory, the Brane cosmology, Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND) - just to name a few in cosmology. But acceptance or rejection of these ideas will only come from science. What about Multiverse theory being untestable? Well...that is one of the major reasons it is not completely accepted and cosmologists are trying to come up with testable predictions.

As far as the fine-tuning argument goes, at present we don't as yet have an accepted theory that explains the constants, etc. But that does not leave God as the default answer. In fact, "God did it" only stifles inquiry. We must not underestimate the power of the phrase "We don't know" in the progress of science. (For your amusement, please also see The thing that made the things for which there is no known maker)

Read the full article by Nathan Schneider here.

9 comments:

Asad said...

"God did it" only stifles inquiry. We must not underestimate the power of the phrase "We don't know" in the progress of science.

You mean to say that the question can be formulated as "God did it but we dont how so we need to find out".

Good piece btw.

ungtss said...

Why is the speculation "God did it" epistemologically inferior to the speculation "It's all about the multiverses." Both are unfalsifiable. Both could conceivably by true. Why is one proto-scientific speculation, and the other irrepairably unscientific?

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Salman Hameed said...

Asad,

You mean to say that the question can be formulated as "God did it but we dont how so we need to find out".
Yes - that would work totally fine. I was more referring to "God of the gaps" arguments (see below).

ungtss:
Why is the speculation "God did it" epistemologically inferior to the speculation "It's all about the multiverses." Both are unfalsifiable.
First - I am specifically talking about placing God as an explanation. Lets look at the fine-tuning example. The assumption is that the constants are the way they are because God tuned them to make the universe hospitable for life. Unless, one decides to include God in a naturalistic universe, the explanation for values of constants pretty much ends there.

However, I see the value of constants as an intriguing unsolved problem. Multiverse may help solve it. But we don't know. It will require testable predictions to be accepted by the scientific community. There is also a possibility that we do not have a comprehensive theory of our universe (the problem of micro and macro level laws) - perhaps these values of constants pop out of it naturally in a unified theory. But, also note that all of these propositions are the beginning of the inquiry. If the Multiverse theory turns out to be correct - we will have to understand the properties and origins of the multiverses and so and so forth.

Which naturalistic model is going to be correct? We don't know. But seeking naturalistic explanations open up far more possibilities than invoking a God (unless - one defines God in a naturalistic term - for example, as an advanced alien life form. That can take a testable direction and opens up a series of other questions about the alien race, its planetary system, its origins, etc).

Will Multiverse theory ever be testable? We don't know. But people are working to make it testable. It may take a decade or a century. But history of science is replete with such examples. At one point origin of the Earth was considered a question beyond science. Up until the late 1920s, we thought our Galaxy was the whole universe (less than a 100 years ago!!). Now we not only know that there are at least a 100 billion galaxies like our own - but can study their properties and ask questions about their formation and transformation. So I won't bet against some major breakthroughs in science that may lead to a natural explanation of some of these universal constants.

All of this does not exclude God. One can still argue that God set all (ALL) of the natural laws in motion in the beginning. But there is no way of knowing when/where that beginning lies - hence its better to seek naturalistic explanations when it comes to the universe.

SergeyHudiev said...

In fact, "God did it" is another type of explanation. We can ask "Why car is moving?" and give to answers:
1."Scientific": such and such chemical reactions occurs in the engine.
2."Religious": driver wants to reach such and such place.
These answers are not mutually exclusive; they address to different types of "why".
Of course, God did fine tune. Scientific question is "how it was done".

Salman Hameed said...

1."Scientific": such and such chemical reactions occurs in the engine.
2."Religious": driver wants to reach such and such place.
These answers are not mutually exclusive; they address to different types of "why".
Of course, God did fine tune. Scientific question is "how it was done".
I agree with you on the first part. You can also think of it in terms of "primary" and "secondary" causes. God used "secondary" cause to make the universe (or multiverse) - and the explanation for the secondary cause is provided by science.

However, I disagree with your last statement. "Fine-tuning" particularly claims that the universe is designed for life - and reaches that conclusion (in most versions) after being befuddled by a lack of scientific explanations for the specific value of these constants. But there is a possibility that there is no fine-tuning at all (either through multivrese or through some more fundamental laws). Then we are asking the wrong question: "how fine-tuning was done?" - as there was no fine-tuning to begin with.

Perhaps what you are getting at is that theoretically there is an ultimate "first cause" that provide explanation for "why" (but not "how"). In the physical universe, it is pointless to place this "first cause" at any place - be it at the Big Bang or the beginning of the multiverse or the beginning of the uber-multiverse. Science will always be asking "what was before that". But one can always say from "faith" (not science) that there was a theoretical "first cause" that started it (whatever "it" is) all - and that explanation of "why" would work just fine.

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H.S.Pal said...

Part A. Some Reflections on God and Science
1.
“Tegmark's Ensembles
Tegmark has recently proposed what he calls "the ultimate ensemble theory" in which all universes that mathematically exist also physically exist (Tegmark 1997). By "mathematical existence," Tegmark means "freedom from contradiction." So, universes cannot contain square circles, but anything that does not break a rule of logic exists in some universe.”
(From: The Anthropic Coincidences:
A Natural Explanation
Published in The Skeptical Intelligencer, 3(3, July 1999): pp. 2-17.
By Victor J. Stenger)

So here we see that as per Tegmark mathematical existence implies physical existence. From the following equation of special theory of relativity
t1 = t (1-v2/c2)1/2
one can see that if one can move with the speed of light, then he will be immortal. Because when v = c, then for any value of t, value of t1 will always be zero. Even if value of t is an eternity, till then value of t1 will be zero. So in one frame of reference whole of eternity may pass, but in another frame of reference not a single moment will elapse. Whoever will be in this second reference frame, will be immortal. Because even in the whole time span of an eternity he will not be older by a single second. So from this equation we see that immortality has got mathematical existence. But as per Tegmark mathematical existence implies physical existence. Therefore we can conclude that immortality has got physical existence also. This means that there is an immortal being in this universe.
H.S.Pal