The Multiverse or God-Did-It?

The Brisbane Times, an online newspaper from the underside of the Earth, has a thought-provoking column by Sam de Brito, an Australian author and blogger. It’s titled: God created the universe.

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.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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12 responses to “The Multiverse or God-Did-It?

  1. Dawkins is wrong.
    “The key difference between the genuinely extravagant God hypothesis and the apparently extravagant multiverse hypothesis”
    is that the latter results from a theory of physics that covers a large set of empirical data.
    You’re correct that the article presents a false dichotomy. There are other options (you present one), but the provisional conclusion is the same: nothing has been conclusively settled yet.

    “we probably never will”
    Such a lack of confidence. Science as we know it has only be around for 200 years or so. I sincerely hope it will keep on making progress for a much longer time.

    “There are still a few billion years to figure it all out.”
    Oh wait – a misunderstanding. No, I don’t think you and I will live long enough to get a good answer.

  2. “God did it”, whether that is true or not, cannot serve the role of telling us “why such-and-such rather than something else”, unless we are willing to put some limitations on what God is willing or able to do.

    As long as we don’t put limitations on God, then we have to recognize that God could just as easily have made life from helium, neutrinos, and plutonium as from hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen; that God could have made the Earth round, or flat, or shaped like a pretzel; and that God could have made the Earth last Thursday with all the appearances (including our memories of earlier events and all of our documentary evidence) of being much older.

    Whatever the probability is, no matter how small, that life could have appeared “by pure chance” (I don’t know many people who say that, but let’s allow this as one extreme), but within the limits set by natural laws, it is far less likely that life would have appeared by some cause which does not have to follow any rules, not even the limits set by natural laws. One can only decrease the probability if one removes constraints.

  3. Hello? We evolved to be in harmony with this universe. Those that were not didn’t live to pass on their genes. And if the fundamental constants to support life as we know weren’t the way they are, then we wouldn’t be here to ask the question. End of story.

  4. Our Curmudgeon references

    The Brisbane Times, an online newspaper from the underside of the Earth–

    Not so fast: “underside of the Earth”?

    You need to cut down on the number of Flat Earth articles you’ve been reading…

  5. Alex Shuffell

    The multiverse ideas at the moment are much more useful than the god excuse. We can at least start work on the multiverse, make predictions and test them. But so far the multiverse predictions of the “bubbles” or “bruises” in the cosmic microwave background radiation still imply the other universes that collided with ours have the same physical constraints this verse does. So it doesn’t move us any where in answering the fine-tuning question.
    The god idea is more useless for this question. There is no where to start, no where to go, it can’t make any useful predictions about the past or the future to be tested. Given the scale of the known universe and how long it took for us to evolve it doesn’t make any sense for us to be the reason it exists. The ego required to believe that is quite unnerving. But the feelings of me or those proposing this idea are irrelevant to understanding. It made more sense when we thought the Earth was at the centre of a very small universe, smaller than our known solar system and very young. But you would have to ignore the majority of what we know about how nature works to believe that, making their opinion irrelevant.

    I like Lee Smolin’s idea of cosmic natural selection. Mostly for fun because I know it will wind up creationists more than the multiverse. The only one I take seriously is what you call the DOP model.

  6. Alex Shuffell says: “The only one I take seriously is what you call the DOP model.”

    It’s pretty much a theory of everything, but without the 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, but never completely. We keep after her because we have no choice. She’s the only girl in town.

  7. I just elaborated on that comment and added it as an afterthought at the end of the original post.

  8. The multiverse isn’t some idea postulated to explain the apparent finely tuned universe. It is a consequence of our understanding of quantum mechanics and our best idea of how the universe started. The math leads us to a multiverse. The sort of parallel universe theories are linked to string theory, and are of course more speculative.

    The best layman-level explanation I know of is here: http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2011/10/28/why-we-think-theres-a-multiver/

  9. Ed says: “The multiverse isn’t some idea postulated to explain the apparent finely tuned universe.”

    I know. But the creationists present it that way, which is pretty much the only reason I bother with it. See my erroneously titled David Klinghoffer and the Multiverse.

  10. Off topic for this thread but over at WND I was involved in a discussion with a Creationist regarding Rives’ ‘ToE is faith’ nonsense you blogged about a few days ago. Today someone came through and deleted at least five of my civil, on-topic comments including some that had been approved and visible for over two days.

    Pardon my language but Creationist who need such censorship are disgustingly dishonest pieces of ****.

  11. Ceteris Paribus

    Thorton says: “Today someone [at WND] came through and deleted at least five of my civil, on-topic comments including some that had been approved and visible for over two days.”

    Don’t despair, it’s not your fault. You can either work out a theory that ascribes the disappearance to a random quantum interference field from a passing mulitverse, or just take the easy route and say “goddidit”.

  12. I give my thumbs up to the M-theory…

    A multiverse of a somewhat different kind has been envisaged within string theory and its higher-dimensional extension, M-theory. These theories require the presence of 10 or 11 spacetime dimensions respectively. The extra 6 or 7 dimensions may either be compactified on a very small scale, or our universe may simply be localized on a dynamical (3+1)-dimensional object, a D-brane. This opens up the possibility that there are other branes which could support “other universes”. This is unlike the universes in the “quantum multiverse”, but both concepts can operate at the same time.[citation needed]

    Some scenarios postulate that our big bang was created, along with our universe, by the collision of two branes.