Denyse O’Leary and the Multiverse

We have a treat for you today, dear reader — a post at Discovery Institute’s creationist blog by Denyse O’Leary. The Discoveroids have a page of biographical information about Denyse (we haven’t given her a nickname yet), which also has a charming photo of her — you can see it here. We’re told: “She received her degree in honors English language and literature.”

Her post is titled Question for Multiverse Theorists: To What Can Science Appeal if Not Evidence?

We could refer Denyse to The Magic of Design Intuition, in which we discussed Discoveroid Doug Axe’s concept of a “design intuition” we supposedly all share, and which — in the case of their “theory” of intelligent design — Axe says is “valid and confirmed by science.”

Anyway, let’s see what Denyse does with the question present by her post’s title. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

Philosopher of religion Mary-Jane Rubenstein asks at Nautilus, “Why is the universe so well suited to our existence?” She answers herself:

[Alleged quote:] The weakest answer is that it’s just a brute fact. If the constants of nature were any different, then we wouldn’t be here to ask why we’re here. The strongest answer verges on theism: The cosmological constant is so improbably small that a godlike fine-tuner must have fashioned it into existence.

She doesn’t like that “strongest answer” at all. She suggests cosmic pantheism intertwined with the multiverse instead.

We have a couple of problems with this. First, Denyse is criticizing the idea of the multiverse, which is very easy to do. We don’t think much of it either. Of course, her unstated purpose to use that as a wedge for criticizing all of science — especially evolution — so we know where she’s going. The second problem is that she quotes at least a dozen different people. It’s way too much work to verify those quotes and then respond to her remarks. We’re not even going to try. Instead we’ll just skip along and pluck out any “points” she tries to make. She says:

When evidence points people away from what they want to believe, they often respond by undermining the evidence. That strategy is particularly difficult in science. [Hee hee!] Readers may remember the slogan popularized nearly half a century ago by Carl Sagan, to discredit miracles: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” But that won’t work here. As David Deming writes at Philosophia, “Extraordinary evidence is not a separate category or type of evidence — it is an extraordinarily large number of observations.” Fine-tuning of our universe for life easily meets that standard.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! We discussed the subject in The Multiverse or God-Did-It?, and we decided it was a false dichotomy. Okay, back to Denyse. She tells us:

Twelve hallmarks of good science theories, noted in Michael Keas’s recent summation at Synthese [link omitted], are “evidential accuracy, causal adequacy, explanatory depth, internal consistency, internal coherence, universal coherence, beauty, simplicity, unification, durability, fruitfulness, and applicability… ”

The multiverse meets causal adequacy only by sacrificing evidential accuracy (voiding the significance of evidence altogether). It offers explanatory depth by voiding the value of consistency or coherence. It offers unification by voiding the meaning of applicability (the entities to which the concepts are to be applied may or may not exist and it does not matter whether they do). Multiverse theory is perhaps best seen as a bid for an alternative science. Its theories display quite different hallmarks from those of traditional good theories and it can only succeed by undermining those hallmarks.

We’re not going to defend the multiverse. It’s an easy target. So is intelligent design, for the same reasons, but Denyse never goes near that subject. She continues:

The multiverse advocates’ project is not to undermine the evidence base as such. There just isn’t any evidence for a multiverse. Their project is rather to undermine the idea that evidence, as used in normal science, should matter in cosmology. … It bears repeating: Advocates do not merely propose that we accept faulty evidence. They want us to abandon evidence as a key criterion for acceptance of their theory.

That’s also true of intelligent design “theory” — but the subject never comes up. Instead, Denyse drones on and on — and she never quite lets us know what her point is. Here’s one last excerpt:

Post-modern science is not a blip. It’s part of a general trend toward de-emphasizing fact, evidence, and truth in favor of narrative, spin, and talking points. Plus, proponents have a weapon that defeats all objections: Human beings did not evolve so as to perceive reality correctly anyway.

That’s enough. We can’t figure out what she’s trying to say — other than the Discoveroids’ basic claim that scientists can’t be trusted. Go ahead, read her whole essay. We’d like to know what you make of it.

Copyright © 2017. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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23 responses to “Denyse O’Leary and the Multiverse

  1. Groan. The “fine-tuning” argument again.

    Creationists always get this backward. We are here because the universe is as it is; the universe doesn’t have to have been made with us in mind, and could go right on if we weren’t here.

    As for the multiverse, yes, it’s invoked to account for the fact that our universe’s particular forces and constants have the values they do–but it originated with Hugh Everett III in 1957 as an alternative to the so-called “Copenhagen school” of physics, which asserted that events didn’t have outcomes until they were observed, at which point their “wave function” would collapse to a single result. Einstein didn’t like that idea, and spent decades trying to devise a better one; Everett suggested a possibility.

    He pointed out that the collapse of the wave function doesn’t follow from quantum theory’s equations but rather is an assumption meant to square Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle with ordinary experience. He then asked what it would mean if the wave function doesn’t collapse, and arrived at the conclusion that every possible outcome of every event would occur–which would mean that there must be a constantly branching tree of alternative universes. Since this process would have started at the birth of the universe, there could be a huge number of universes whose physical conditions are different from ours, in the overwhelming majority of which life would be impossible.

    For creationists, of course, this is unthinkable: as they see it, the universe must have been created so that beings could be created within it who could look at that creation and marvel at the glory of the Lord. For them, the idea of the multiverse not only isn’t true but mustn’t be true.

  2. A Man Said to the Universe
    By Stephen Crane

    A man said to the universe:
    “Sir, I exist!”
    “However,” replied the universe,
    “The fact has not created in me
    A sense of obligation.”

  3. Charles Deetz ;)

    Denyse is Kellyanne Conway of creationism. Why use one bucket of BS, when two is so much BSier.

  4. Haven’t given her a nickname? What’s wrong with my old suggestion of “Dense”? Simple, easy to remember and it fits.

  5. Michael Fugate

    How about “Dinty” – as in Dinty Moore – a comic strip character. Also a sandwich – a triple-decker, corned beef layered with lettuce, tomato and Russian dressing. She is comic and full of corny beef and it is mostly a stew of nonsense.

  6. According to the most popular creationist/intelligent-design arguments against naturalism/evolution the world is not fine-tuned for life.
    Rather, there are principles (according to anti-evolutionists) that make life impossible (at least, so vastly improbable, 10^-100 or less, invoking Borel’s principle, to make it practically impossible).
    We are told that there is a principle of nature, The Conservation of Complex Specified Information, which makes it impossible for even the simplest of life to form.
    We are told that the Earth is a Privileged Planet, so that even among the trillions of planets, it takes supernatural intervention just to designate one place with even the right temperature etc. for life to hang on.
    We are told that a 747 has a better chance of being formed by a tornado, then there being life.
    The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics – is not “fine-tuned” for life, we are told.
    The Young Earth Creationists tell us that we have no way of knowing about how the parameters of the natural world vary when we are not there to measure them – rather, according to their reading of the Bible, they must have varied by many orders of magnitude, factors of a million away from being “fine-tuned”.

    And “fine-tuning” is supposed to be a property of “intelligent design”?!

  7. To me her name needs to mix in the O’ Leary aspect. I was thinking O’Densely or O’Dense Learer.

  8. Denyse: Advocates do not merely propose that we accept faulty evidence. They want us to abandon evidence as a key criterion for acceptance of their theory.

    So do adherents of the multiverse hypothesis try to push their preliminary meanderings into the high school curriculum as if it was accepted science? Or try to lobby politicians to put language into bills that suggest it should be discussed in school? And when that fails, start a blog inviting every whacko out there in the flying saucer/conspiracy/homeopathy world who has something nice to say about Multiverse Theory to write guest columns?

  9. “Multiverse theory” is a misnomer: the existence of a multiverse is a prediction of the inflation hypothesis of Alan Guth and Andrei Linde. That hypothesis grew out of the need to avoid magnetic monopoles in the early universe, and as a by-product it accounts very neatly for several other properties of the universe that we can observe today, which is why many physicists accept that something like it is probably correct. The original proposal was that inflation would end slightly non-uniformly in a series of bubbles that would then merge to form our universe. Unfortunately, Linde then showed that the bubbles would not merge, but would remain as separate universes.

    The multiverse, then did not originate as a way out of the claimed fine tuning problem, as creationists falsely claim. To my mind it is unsatisfactory in this regard, not because it is implausible, but because it begs the question of whether there is a real fine tuning problem. It is trivially true that the slightest deviation of numerous parameters from what we observe would result in a different universe from ours, but the interesting question is rather what range of these parameters would allow some sort of potentially intelligent life. Creationists have painted themselves into a corner by their dogma that life must be exactly as we see it. Fine tuning is their problem, not necessarily ours.

    Incidentally, that the cosmological constant is 120 orders of magnitude or so smaller than theory suggests is not an example of fine tuning. As Richard Feynman always used to point out so forcefully, it does not matter how beautiful a theory is, nor the authority of its proposer, if it does not agree with observation, it is wrong.

  10. Mary L says:

    Haven’t given her a nickname? What’s wrong with my old suggestion of “Dense”?

    I’m very old-fashioned, and it bothers me to use such a name for a woman.

  11. Funny how creos close their eyes (I nearly said brain) to all the critters and other living species that make our life a torment. Parasites, predators, poisons all lining up to attack mankind. Guess the creator had an off day.

  12. Our Curmudgeon, eschewing insulting sobriquets for O’Leary, confesses:

    I’m very old-fashioned

    Olivia can attest that this is so–at least, if one grants that a club counts as an ‘old-fashioned’ device for a swain who would a-wooing go.

    And I’ll defend his reticence here to use a derogatory nickname for O’Leary, which puts me in mind of Robert E. Lee’s steadfast refusal to refer to the Federal government or its military forces as the ‘enemy’, but only ever as “those people“.

    But I would still suggest that a suitable description for O’Leary’s inchoate ravings should be properly described, in culinary terms, as Word Salads Deniçoise

  13. Pardon my misspelled French: should be Salades

  14. Sigh. Once again, a creationist comments on things far outside their knowledge base.

    The multiverse is a supported hypothesis because the same math that predicted the Higgs Boson (which was found where the math said it would be) also says that a multiverse is possible. Add that to the known mechanics of inflation which creationists reject and you get a highly respected hypothesis that physicists are actively investigating.

    So the creationists attack evolution, cosmology, and abiogenesis, but they don’t bother to attack things like the germ theory of disease (which uses evolution) or gravity or basic chemistry.


  15. Thanks to @Richard Bond & @OgreMkV
    And there is ignorance of another kind at work here. Philosophers f science have come to realize how complicated the formulations of new scientific theories are.
    To take the famous case of heliocentric theory.
    It was realized for a long time that there were problems with the Ptolemy-Aristotle geocentric theory, yet it was accepted. Because there was no alternative. Copernicus went through the work – and it was hard work – of formulating a heliocentric theory. He didn’t have any new observations, and his predictions were not all that better. He kept the concept of circular motions, and epicycles, etc. Yet it attracted interest. Galileo didn’t have any observations which were inconsistent with the geocentric model. What Galileo’s observations cast doubt on the basic principle of the geocentric model that the heavens were of a different kind from stuff on Earth. Of course, there was a lot of other things that were going on.
    Michael Keas seems to be pointing out what has been realized over the last 50 years or so is the complicated ways that scientific theories are formulated.
    For example, there is “fruitfulness”. If someone comes up with a new theory with fits the evidence, but it doesn’t suggest new questions and new experiments, it’s not going to attract much interest.
    But that isn’t all. There is more that is demanded of a new theory. But
    Intelligent Design fails miserably in being barren. It isn’t only that Evolutionary Biology has succeeded brilliantly in explaining the evidence, and other criteria, it has proved very fruitful in suggesting new areas of work.
    ID doesn’t. The best that it can do is to say that whatever happens, that could be designed.
    That leads some people to say that ID is a “science stopper”.

  16. TomS,
    Yes, that’s a very good point. All the “simple” science is done. The science that could be done in someone’s backyard with a few basic instruments is pretty much all been done already. We’re currently exploring areas that require extreme equipment (LHC), time (LTEE), and specific knowledge (quantum field theory).
    People with high school algebra and a youtube channel are in no way capable of even understanding much of the current deep science (which is a serious problem).
    Further, as you mention, it’s relatively easy for charlatans to take advantage of people who lack understanding (and generally have very powerful built in beliefs and biases) in order to promote not even wrong “science” for personal profit.

  17. Michael Fugate

    Keas’ paper for what it is worth. If I were editor, I would have cut the endless quotes, but no one asked. It reads to me like an undergrad term paper.

  18. How are you holding up with the storm Curmudgeon?

    Sorry to disagree but Quantum mechanics and the multiverse kind of go hand in hand especially if you consider the possibility of future events impacting past events. As to Denyse, it’s funny that she has a problem with the multi-verse but yet is okay with a magical sky friend. That in itself speaks volumes about her analysis. She just feels it!

  19. Erik John Bertel says: “Sorry to disagree but Quantum mechanics and the multiverse kind of go hand in hand …”

    The reason I don’t think much of the multiverse is because there’s nothing to be done with it, so it doesn’t matter to me whether it exists or not — except of course in some other universe where I really do care, but this isn’t that universe.

  20. @SC: “except of course in some other universe where I really do care”
    I suspect that you are confusing the multiverse that arises from bubbles in the supraluminary inflation phase of the big bang with some esoteric interpretation of quantum indeterminism.

  21. jimroberts says: “some esoteric interpretation of quantum indeterminism.”

    Yeah, the “many worlds” interpretation.

  22. “The reason I don’t think much of the multiverse is because there’s nothing to be done with it.”
    Yet you mean, our physics and capabilities will evolve assuming we forgo our extinction event. Consider this headline:

    Large Hadron Collider Scientists Hope to Make Contact with Parallel Universe

  23. I’ve always referred to her as Denyse O’Sneery. I don’t know if she has continued her sneering lately because I’ve quit paying attention to her. But in her heyday basking in the undeserved attention Kitzmiller generated for ID, her writing consisted solely of sneering in the general direction of any science that contradicted her Christian beliefs. No arguments. No facts. Just the presumption that anything that contradicted her beliefs was absurd and deserving of nothing but sneering derision. This also includes all forms of neuroscience that doesn’t affirm the existence of the “soul.”