November 05, 2009

Universe's Fine-Tuning vs. Multiple Universe Theory

By Hendrik van der Breggen
(The Carillon, November 5, 2009)

Universe’s Fine-tuning vs. Multiple Universe Theory

Contemporary science tells us that the initial conditions of the universe’s coming into being are exquisitely fine-tuned for life, so much so that many thoughtful people conclude that this fine-tuning is evidence of a supernatural intelligent designer.

The idea is this: Because there are an astronomical number of conditions that have to be “just right” for life to exist, and because life has intrinsic moral worth, it very much seems that there is a delicate orchestration of factors (instead of just a huge number of mere coincidences) aimed to bring about an end or value—and this smacks of intelligent design.

Thus, the universe’s fine-tuning for life provides one more sub-argument for a cumulative case argument for God’s existence.

Some critics, however, dismiss the above argument by making an appeal to what is called Multiverse or Multiple Universe Theory (MUT).

The idea is that our universe is but one of trillions or an infinite number of universes and so it is reasonable to think that the occurrence of the fine-tuning of our universe happened by undirected chance. Because trillions or an infinite number of arrows were shot, it is reasonable to think that no archery skill—that is, no direction by an intelligent agent—is required for an arrow to hit the bull’s-eye.

MUTs, however, are seriously problematic explanations, for (at least) five reasons, which have a cumulative force.

First, MUTs lack strong positive evidence. Scientist-theologian John Polkinghorne writes: "Science speaks only of one universe of our own experience. People try to trick out a 'many universe' account in sort of pseudo-scientific terms, but that is pseudo-science. It is a metaphysical guess that there might be many universes with different laws and circumstances."

In fact, as philosopher John Leslie points out, "all multiple universe theories are highly speculative and some may verge on the fantastic."

Moreover, even theoretical physicist Lee Smolin describes his own multiverse model as “frank speculation” and “fantasy.”

Second, MUTs require a "generator" to bring about the various different universes (to shoot the various arrows), but such a mechanism would have to be randomizing to ensure the eventual actualization of the very remote possibility of our universe (the bull's-eye), which seems unlikely to be the case. Indeed, as philosopher Robin Collins points out, for such a generator to ensure randomness would require fine-tuning—i.e., a "conspiracy of factors"—and, hence, would suggest a designer of the generator.

Third, MUTs seem less simple than design theory. An appeal to one very powerful and transcendent designing mind (or even a few thousand of such minds) seems more elegant than an appeal to gazillions of different universes (which probably would contain all sorts and multitudes of minds).

According to philosopher Richard Swinburne, "To postulate a trillion trillion other universes, rather than one God in order to explain the orderliness of our universe, seems the height of irrationality." In other words, MUTs seem very much to violate Ockham's Razor (the principle that in explaining X, entities are not to be multiplied beyond what is needed to explain X).

Fourth, the appeal to an MUT is not a natural extrapolation from our common experience.

As Collins observes, “In the case of fine-tuning, we already know that minds often produce fine-tuned devices, such as Swiss watches. Postulating God—a supermind—as the explanation of the [universe's] fine-tuning, therefore, is a natural extrapolation from what we already observe minds to do. In contrast, it is difficult to see how the atheistic many-universes hypothesis could be considered a natural extrapolation from what we observe.”

Fifth, the appeal to MUTs commits what philosopher William Dembski calls the inflationary fallacy, the mistake of "bolster[ing] an otherwise failing chance hypothesis by artificially inflating its probabilistic resources (i.e., the number of opportunities for the event)."

This fallacy is well illustrated by the following hypothetical example from philosopher William Lane Craig: “[A] card player who gets four aces every time he deals could explain this away by saying, ‘there are an infinite number of universes with poker games going on in them, and therefore, in some of them someone always by chance gets four aces every time he deals, and—lucky me!—I just happen to be in one of those universes.’"

In other words, making an appeal to the existence of a multitude of other universes to avoid the design inference seems very much to be a move that is philosophically dubious.

Thus, the universe’s initial conditions, which are exquisitely fine-tuned for life, continue to point to an intelligent designer.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is assistant professor of philosophy at Providence College, Otterburne, ManitobaThe views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)


Anonymous said...

Hey Hendrik,

I got a flu that got me to bed a few weeks ago. So, I hope you are better now too.

Anyway, I agree that the multiverse thing might be highly speculative, mostly because, given my ignorance of physics, I could not tell how they would come to conclusions about things we do not see.

However, I put the "fine-tuned constants" at the very same level. To me, if they are constants, well, then why should we assume they could have been different? I think it is as speculative to think that the constants are not constants but variable, as to think that there are multiverses.

Anyway, I was told, and again, how could I know if this is correct? That some physicist calculated several combination of constants, and that the number that would allow chemistry that would allow some forms of life was about 25%.

So, some physicists think constants are variable, some think that the variability still has a good probability of producing some form of life. Some think that there might be multiverses. I think this leaves us able mostly to discuss more locally.

As I said before, the Universe seems obviously not fine-tuned. Why? As it is, it is mostly incompatible for life as ours. Otherwise life would be abundant all over the solar system, and all over the Universe, which we do not see (I know I am repeating). Being permissive enough that among billions and billions of possible planets one or a few would bear life as ours is not something I would call "fine-tuned for life like ours."

As for my theological argument, maybe I am not clear enough. If God is omnipotent, he could have created any kind of universes, with any kinds of realities, with any kinds of properties. He could have created any kind of life suitable for any kind of universal constants. Even universes with laws that had nothing to do with the laws we have.

So, saying that the Universe is fine-tuned for life like ours immediately restricts this God to making his creation following only certain rules, with only certain characteristics. In other words, matter and energy (or whatever else string theory now states) would be the only option. So, the rules of the matter/energy reality come before God, not after God. Thus, God is not omnipotent.

Thus, a perception of fine-tuning, however right or wrong, does not help the God case.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Hello Hendrik,

I am also quite interested in properly understanding the anthropic principle, and I guess I am getting it now. Let me continue with Craig's example. He finishes (astutely):

The fact that you are making the observation is not surprising given that they missed. But the 'coincidence' of missing needs explanation!

However, here is what the anthropic principle really is about:

You wake up one day, and then you start imagining that you might have been put in front of a firing squad while sleeping. Yet the mere fact that you are making the observation means that if you were, they missed. All you really know is that you truly are alive. Thus, you conclude that firing squads have been missing you. You conclude that God did it, despite you truly have no way of knowing if, every time you go to sleep, you are put in front of a firing squad or not, nor about whether the probability that you will be put in front of any firing squad is high or small. All you know is that, were you put there, you should be dead.

I think the point of the anthropic principle is that we have too little information about what is possible or not, and thus, concluding from such a small sample as ourselves that life is only possible as we know it, and that such life is the only one that can lead to intelligence as we know it, and that such intelligence is the only kind possible, and a long string or et ceteras, is unwarranted.

Do you think this is what the anthropic principle/bias is about? (Whether you agree or not, is another story. Yet, the principle would be another form of a warning about sampling biases in statistics.)


Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Hi G.E.,

Sorry about you getting the flu. I hope you’re back to good health. Things are okay here, but I have a cough that just doesn’t seem to want to go away.

Back to the blog topics at hand: I haven’t got time to make a thorough reply to your comments, so I’ll be brief.

Concerning your questions about the universe’s fine-tuning, I’ll just recommend some readings on the evidence for fine-tuning. Take a look at pages 238-241 of my PhD dissertation. Also, take a look at a list put together by Hugh Ross (scroll down to Table 14.1 plus see subsequent quotes from various astronomers, etc.). Also, take a look at Robin Collins’ papers “God, Design, and Fine-tuning” and “The Evidence of Fine-tuning”. (Collins’ work is probably the best.)

You argue that fine-tuning for life restricts God to the rules of the creation, rendering God not omnipotent. My reply is that fine-tuning for life is a case of restricting the created stuff, not the Creator. Choosing to create a chessboard and chess pieces along with the rules for playing chess doesn’t mean the rules of chess come before the creator of the chessboard and chess pieces. (The analogy explained: chessboard and pieces and chess rules are like the physical stuff of universe and its properties, so just as creating the former doesn't presuppose prior restrictions on the creator so too in the case of the latter.) Moreover, it doesn’t mean that the creator must always choose to follow the chess rules (i.e., the creator can intervene if the creator has a good reason to do so). Nor does it mean that the creator couldn't have made a backgammon game, or a crokinole board, or a card game. Significantly, it remains that the board and pieces and rules are finely-tuned and smack of intelligent design. Significantly, too, none of this impinges negatively on omnipotence.

About your new rendition of the Anthropic Principle: Are you aware that the medical use of marijuana is prescribed (if at all) only for those who have cancer, not flu? :-)

Best regards only,

Anonymous said...

Hi Hendrik,

Well, again, nice words, but they fail.

Let me put it this way: The fine-tuning argument is about it being impossible for life-like-ours to arise if any of the constants was "wrong." That means that the creator was limited. No way around. Now, let us go a bit by your example that the creator decided for its creation to have these rules, then why would we call it fine-tuned? If the creator is all powerful there is no reason to think the Universe SHOULD be fine-tuned. There is no need to fine-tune anything.

But the argument is about fine-tuning, and that such "spectacularly precise" fine-tuning cannot come by itself. Thus again, calling for a creator to fix the problem. Thus the problem is BEFORE the creator. If you then claim that the creator created the problem too, then I would argue that it is nonsensical that an all powerful creator would want us to think it was limited.

As of your proofs of fine-tuning. It is all creationist stuff. I cannot buy into such speculation. But if I were to do that, then I would also go for accepting multiverse theory, and those calculations that 25% of universes with different constants would hold chemistries that could lead to life. Whether that life would be like ours or not should not be a problem either. That this is all we know does not mean this is the only way. I do not enjoy those arguments that depend on accepting some number of speculations, yet deny those against their claims.

So, I think we are going to have to agree to disagree, because I do not see any way around. But you are left nowhere again Hendrik. I truly think believing in any gods is all about faith. Then you surrender reason to your belief rather than the other way around. Of course creationists are true artists at disguising their beliefs as reason. Yet, if you were able to take a truly unbiased stance, you would see these arguments for what they are. (That is actually how I came to disbelief. Just noticing one problem one day, then re-examining other arguments ...)

Best anyway, and sorry if I bother you too much.


Hendrik van der Breggen said...

G.E. wrote: “As of your proofs of fine-tuning. It is all creationist stuff. I cannot buy into such speculation.” Okay, sure, you can dismiss what I’ve written and the references I’ve pointed you to as “creationist stuff”—or as whatever. You can dismiss whatever you want. For the record, though, I disagree that what I’ve written is “speculation”. It’s not. It’s careful philosophical argument based on scientific findings.

Regarding your claim that “believing in any gods is all about faith”: I’m pretty sure that I covered this quite thoroughly in a conversation we had about eight months ago. For starters, see my March 12 2009 column and comments “Does God Exist?”. See too my columns categorized under God’s Existence.

Regarding your assertion that I “surrender reason to [my] belief rather than the other way round”: I disagree, on the basis of the reasons that I’ve provided.

Best wishes,

P.S. In case anyone is interested in the question of the scientific viability of Intelligent Design, I encourage you to listen to a fine debate between the philosopher William Lane Craig (pro-ID) and scientist Francisco Ayala (anti-ID) which can be found here.