His title is a bit misleading, because the column isn’t aimed in that direction. It presents the familiar alternatives, which are: (1) God created everything in this improbable and apparently finely-tuned universe; or (2) the essential and seemingly arbitrary physical constants upon which our existence depends have no theological significance whatsoever, because they’re an accidentally local setting which is inevitable in a multiverse where all combinations of constants are possible.
He gives the opinion of Richard Dawkins on the matter:
Dawkins argues, however, that a god capable of calculating the exact values for these numbers “would have to be at least as improbable as the finely tuned combination of numbers itself, and that’s very improbable indeed”.
Right, and the traditional alternative to those two improbabilities (an improbable deity or an improbably fine-tuned universe) is the multiverse, in which our little universe becomes inevitable. But that sounds crazy too, so how does one decide between a deity and a multiverse? It’s not an obvious choice, because:
Some argue this account [the multiverse] is as extravagant and unsatisfactory as saying “God did it”.
Then we’re given Dawkins’ view of how to resolve the dilemma:
Dawkins writes: “The key difference between the genuinely extravagant God hypothesis and the apparently extravagant multiverse hypothesis is one of statistical improbability. The multiverse, for all that it is extravagant, is simple. God, or any intelligent, decision-taking, calculating agent, would have to be highly improbable in the very same statistical sense as the entities he is supposed to explain.
That’s all very nice, but are those the only alternatives — god-did-it or the multiverse? It sounds like we’re being given a false dichotomy, with creationists (and stealth creationists) on the god-did-it side, and science people on the multiverse side.
We’ve discussed the multiverse a time or two around here — as far back as five years ago — in Creationism and the Multiverse Hypothesis. There we suggested another way to look at things:
Your Curmudgeon’s admittedly un-evidenced opinion is that the whole “fine tuning” problem is bunkum, and one day we’ll learn an elegant and verifiable reason why the physical laws of nature couldn’t possibly be anything other than what they are.
We still don’t have the answer, and we probably never will. Our hypothetical Deep Organizing Principle (the elusive “DOP”) may never be discovered even if it does exist. But our DOP doesn’t seem as unlikely or as wildly extravagant as the usual suspects — Yahweh and the multiverse. No, that’s a subjective argument. Improbability and extravagance can’t be quantified here. The best we can do is suggest that the DOP is just as qualified as the other contenders.
Our ignorance isn’t all that troubling, because we’re fairly certain that nobody else has the answer either. We’ll never get there until we start asking the right questions, and we don’t think the debate has advanced to that stage yet. No problem. There are still a few billion years to figure it all out.
[Afterthought, elaborating on a comment we made downthread:] What we’re calling our Deep Organizing Principle (DOP) is pretty much the goal of a theory of everything, but we have no theory. Every now and then some progress is made. Isaac Newton unified gravity on Earth with the motion of the planets. Then there was James Clerk Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism. And Steven Weinberg’s electroweak force.
Nature is an elusive wench. She teases us as we pursue her, yielding a little bit of her charms every now and then to those she deems worthy, but she never yields completely. We keep chasing her because we have no choice. She won’t come knocking at your door. She plays hard to get, but so what? She’s the only girl in town.
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