Physicists don’t like Coincidences

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“Physicists don’t like coincidences. They like even less the notion that life is somehow central to the universe, and yet recent discoveries are forcing them to confront that very idea. Life, it seems, is not an incidental component of the universe, burped up out of a random chemical brew on a lonely planet to endure for a few fleeting ticks of the cosmic clock. In some strange sense, it appears that we are not adapted to the universe; the universe is adapted to us.

Call it a fluke, a mystery, a miracle. Or call it the biggest problem in physics theory. 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.”

– “Science’s Alternative to an Intelligent Creator”, Discover, November 2008 (http://discovermagazine.com/2008/dec/10-sciences-alternative-to-an-intelligent-creator)
If you haven’t thought about cosmology recently, maybe you should. Because the implications are getting really interesting for anyone interested in fundamental questions about existence. Are you aware that the prevailing view among leading physicists and mathematicians who practice in the field of cosmology is that the basic parameters of our universe are so finely tuned for life, that life would not be possible if they were different than they are? As Freeman Dyson, a renowned physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, has said (quoted in the referenced Discover article), in some strange way “the universe knew we were coming”.
There are not many ways to explain this. As per the quote above, you have the benevolent creator option, or you have the multiverse option, where we just happen to be living in the one that is finely tuned for life.
A few more quotes:
“…according to astrophysicist Aurélien Barrau of the Laboratory of Subatomic physics theory and Cosmology in Grenoble, France, the existence of many parallel universes may be the only remaining hypothesis “if one does not want to use God or rely on an unbelievable luck that led to extremely special […] conditions.”

– “Philosophy of the Multiverse”, fq(x) News, The Foundational Questions Institute, 25 Jan 2008

“For me the reality of many universes is a logical possibility. You might say, ‘Maybe this is some mysterious coincidence. Maybe God created the universe for our benefit.’ Well, I don’t know about God, but the universe itself might reproduce itself eternally in all its possible manifestations.”
– Andrei Linde, Professor of physics theory at Stanford Univesity, co-creator of inflationary cosmology and originator of the multiverse concept, quoted in Discover, November 2008
“If there is only one universe, you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.”

– Bernard Carr, Professor of Mathematics and physics theory, University of London, quoted in Discover, November 2008
Now, there are a few interesting things to consider at this point. Aside from the theory of the inflationary multiverse (first proposed by Andrei Linde in 1982), there is no explanatory solution to the challenge posed by the fine tuning of the universe for life. Except for one, and it is noted several times by the scientists quote above. Note the bolded phrases: “short of invoking a benevolent creator”, “if one does not want to use God”, “if you don’t want God”, “maybe God created the universe for our benefit. Well, I don’t know about God”. So, as emphasized by the these leading theoreticians, when it comes to explaining the huge number of finely tuned life-friendly properties that have allowed for the emergence of life in our universe, there are two explanations: 1. the multiverse, and 2. a benevolent, intelligent creator. (Note that a third explanation, that the apparent fine-tuning of the universe for life is just an accidental one-time fluke in our one-time unique universe, is now considered to be not just impossible, but inconceivable. )

There is another important point that needs to be made. Direct observational evidence of the existence of other universes is impossible; the multiverse concept can never be confirmed or proven. As Aurelien Barrau notes in the Dec 2007 issue of CERN Courier, the idea of the Multiverse ““seems to lie outside of science because it cannot be observed. How…can a theory be falsifiable if we cannot observe its predictions?”. How do multiverse proponents get around this challenge? One response is that as the Multiverse is the only theory that accounts for the data, whether it can be directly tested or not, so it must not be ruled out. Linde again: “Nothing else fits the data. We don’t have any alternative explanation for the dark energy; we don’t have any alternative explanation for the smallness of the mass of the electron; we don’t have any alternative explanation for many properties of particles.” This is not a very compelling argument, to say the least. Others suggest that actually the boundaries of scientific enquiry need to be seen more flexibly. In fact, Barrau suggests that maybe the philosophy of science can be adjusted to relax the requirements for falsifiability: “If scientists need to change the borders of their own field of research, it would be hard to justify a philosophical prescription preventing them from doing so.” Proposing to change the well-established Popperian underpinnings of the scientific endeavour to accomodate this particular hypothesis, seems too convenient by half, if not somewhat arrogant.
Thus, we have two options to explain the many strange and precise coincidences of the universe we find ourselves alive in: an inflationary multiverse hypothesis, or a divinely creative Mind / God who established the basic parameters that would allow life to emerge.

[read the review on What You Can Do About Climate Change]

Neither is conventionally testable. Both are outside the ability of science to prove definitively. According to the scientists quoted above, you must choose one or the other – there are no other viable options.
So let us ask ourselves: which one requires more “faith”? which one meets the test of Ockham’s Razor (”entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily”), a principle that is central to the scientific method? Enter Richard Swinburne, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Oxford University: “It is crazy to postulate a trillion (casually unconnected) universes to explain the features of one universe, when postulating one entity (God) will do the job.” (Flew, pg. 119) There is also the philosophical challenge that the multiverse explanation is actually no explanation at all. In his recent book There is a God, former uber-atheist Antony Flew paraphrases multiverse skeptic Paul Davies, a well-known physicist and cosmologist, as follows: “The idea of a multiverse replaces the rationally ordered real world with an infinitely complex charade and makes the whole idea of “explanation” meaningless”. And again, quoting Davies : “Like a blunderbuss, [the multiverse] explains everything and nothing” (Flew, p. 118).
So one of the most fundamental questions of existence comes down to a choice between two options: simplest explanation for the observable data – a benevolent, intelligent God, or, “if you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse” (Carr, quoted above). Neither can be proven correct. Both exceed the limits of scientific enquiry. Both require a leap of faith, and leap you must.

For me, the leap of faith required by the multiverse, if it is even a philosophically coherent concept at all, is far greater than the theological alternative, which is what I choose.
But here is the clincher: even if the multiverse hypothesis is correct, it doesn’t really matter, as it would still leave the same fundamental questions unanswered. As Martin Rees, Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics theory at Cambridge University, points out, “no matter how far you push back the properties of the universe as somehow “emergent”, their very emergence has to follow certain prior laws” (Flew, pg. 121). Flew sums up well where this leaves us: “So multiverse or not, we still have to come to terms with the origin of the laws of nature. And the only viable explanation here is the divine Mind”. So while the scientists quoted above are compelled to choose the multiverse, specifically in order to avoid having to choose God, the explanation for the multiverse still asks questions for which which God may yet be the answer. Escape from the divine implications of the universe is not quite so easy…

God. Multiverse. Choose your leap. Make your choice.
But if you choose the latter, know that it does not preclude the former…
Key references:“Science’s Alternative to an Intelligent Creator”, Discover, November 2008 (http://discovermagazine.com/2008/dec/10-sciences-alternative-to-an-intelligent-creator)
“Philosophy of the Multiverse”, fq(x) News, The Foundational Questions Institute, 25 Jan 2008
http://www.stanford.edu/~alinde/
Anthony Flew, There is A God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, Harper One, 2007
Don Page, “Does God So Love the Multiverse”, http://arxiv.org/abs/0801.0246v5

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