Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Some thoughts on the argument from apparent design

I thought I would mention an argument for believing in God which I find quite convincing, an argument for the design of the laws of physics. General arguments for God are important because if God exists, then it's not a big step to Christianity out of other religions, especially with arguments like the one that uses historical evidence to support Jesus' resurrection.

I'll quote part of an article which is quite good on this subject, available here.

...The world is conditioned principally by the values of the fundamental constants A (the fine structure constant, or electromagnetic interaction), mn/me (proton to electron mass ratio), aG (gravitation), aW (the weak force), and aS (the strong force)...

For example, if aS were increased as much as 1%, nuclear resonance levels would be so altered that almost all carbon would be burned into oxygen; an increase of 2% would preclude formation of protons out of quarks, preventing the existence of atoms. Furthermore, weakening aS by as much as 5% would unbind deuteron, which is essential to stellar nucleosynthesis, leading to a universe composed only of hydrogen. It has been estimated that aS must be within 0.8 and 1.2 its actual strength or all elements of atomic weight greater than four would not have formed. Or again, if aW had been appreciably stronger, then the Big Bang's nuclear burning would have proceeded past helium to iron, making fusion-powered stars impossible. But if it had been much weaker, then we should have had a universe entirely of helium. Or again, if aG had been a little greater, all stars would have been red dwarfs, which are too cold to support life-bearing planets. If it had been a little smaller, the universe would have been composed exclusively of blue giants which burn too briefly for life to develop. According to Davies, changes in either aG or electromagnetism by only one part in 10^40 would have spelled disaster for stars like the sun.


But what about the idea that there are an infinite number of universes? If there are an infinite number of universes, then our laws of physics are nothing special, because they must happen somewhere.

I think there's a really good article, from Discover Magazine, on the idea of the multiverse from the point of view of modern physics, here.

Here's some key quotes about the issue:

...Call it a fluke, a mystery, a miracle. Or call it the biggest problem in physics. Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation: Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multiverse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life...

...Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, a physicist at the University of Texas, agrees. “This is the one fine-tuning that seems to be extreme, far beyond what you could imagine just having to accept as a mere accident,” he says.

Dark energy makes it impossible to ignore the multiverse theory. Another branch of physics—string theory—lends support as well. Although experimental evidence for string theory is still lacking, many physicists believe it to be their best candidate for a theory of everything, a comprehensive description of the universe, from quarks to quasars...

...Linde’s ideas may make the notion of a multiverse more plausible, but they do not prove that other universes are really out there. The staggering challenge is to think of a way to confirm the existence of other universes when every conceivable experiment or observation must be confined to our own. Does it make sense to talk about other universes if they can never be detected?...

...Rees, an early supporter of Linde’s ideas, agrees that it may never be possible to observe other universes directly, but he argues that scientists may still be able to make a convincing case for their existence. To do that, he says, physicists will need a theory of the multiverse that makes new but testable predictions about properties of our own universe. If experiments confirmed such a theory’s predictions about the universe we can see, Rees believes, they would also make a strong case for the reality of those we cannot...

So basically the multiverse makes sense as a theoretical idea but it has no real evidence for it in an empirical sense.

So where does one go from there?

I guess to some extent it could be a matter of personal taste, God or multiverse. But I have one more thought on the issue.

One of the traditional problems with asserting the existence of God is that it can easily fall afoul of Occam's razor. Occam's razor is the famous scientific principle that says you should not multiply entities unnecessarily.

A practical example of Occam's razor is the belief, 'My friend keeps ordering hamburgers because they like hamburgers', is more parsimonious than, 'My friend keeps ordering hamburgers because they made a bet with someone to eat 500 hamburgers before the end of the year', because the second one has more (and more complicated) entities in it as an explanation.

If you can explain everything with only one universe, then God has problems with Occam's razor. But if the only alternative to God is literally an infinity of other universes, then it's not clear God will be badly affected by Occam's razor. Because 'infinitely many universes' is a pretty big entity to assert, as big as an infinite God perhaps.

So, I would imagine, if you believe that there's a multiverse, then atheism no longer gets to use Occam's razor.

Normally atheism gets an inherent advantage over theism as the default position from Occam's razor. But with the multiverse that inherent advantage is lost, and neither position gets any inherent advantage over the other.

So the atheism-theism debate is then like thinking it will come up heads on a coin toss rather than tails, in terms of overall plausibility.



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