The chance of all these properties coming together in the “just-right” proportions for our arrival is, objectively speaking, against all odds. As physicist Steven Weinberg puts it, “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.”
Indeed, it could lead the rationally inclined person to reasonably conclude that the whole thing is staged, something of a set-up job. But not so fast.
Making the improbable, inevitable
Turning rationality on its head, the philosophical naturalist starts with a bit of Sherlockian logic: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Then, after defining the “impossible” as anything supra-natural, he concludes that life is not improbable, it’s inevitable—our existence is Exhibit “A.” Clever.
His favored explanation as to how is the “multiverse,” a supercosmos consisting of an infinite number of universes where anything can and does happen, somewhere. As he spins it:
Out of the pre-cosmic nothingness, a blast of energy suddenly appeared, setting off an explosion of cosmic “bubbles” (think what happens when you pop the top on a dropped bottle of soda). By a singular event called “inflation” (think anti-gravity), each bubble ballooned at a rate faster than the speed of light into a separate universe with its own unique physics.
In short, our Big Bang was one of many “bangs” produced from nothing by nothing, resulting in a multiplication of universes guaranteeing the actualization of every imaginable and unimaginable outcome, including the appearance of beings who can dream all this stuff up.
The tale has undeniable flair, but with problems aplenty, not the least of which is an air of contrivance that oozes desperation.
Technically speaking, the theory includes exceptions to thermodynamics (mass-energy conservation) and special relativity (the inviolability of light speed); phenomena (inflation and other universes) that have never been observed or replicated; and untestability, such that if another world did exist with its own unique set of physical parameters, it would be undetectable with instruments constrained by the distinctive parameters of our universe.
Collectively, these novel devices and exceptions violate Occam’s Razor, a cardinal principle of science that holds that when various solutions are offered to a problem, the simplest is the preferred. What’s more, for a scientific theory, the multiverse makes no predictions, has no technological cash value, and holds no promise for the betterment of man or the planet.
But what should raise even the least skeptical eyebrow is that the multiverse is not derived from evidence or data but, rather, on the necessity of its story-tellers to avoid considering the Impossible. As cosmologist Bernard Carr warned his colleagues, “If there is only one universe you might have to have a fine-tuner.” And, just in case they missed his point, Carr added, “If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.” Check.
Carr tipped the hand on the “dirty little secret” of cosmology: The object is not to follow the evidence wherever it leads, but to follow our wishes and boldly go, hoping they’re so. And this, promoted by folks who are proud to say that, unlike believers in the Impossible, their beliefs are not based on faith or wish-fulfillment, but hard evidence.
Sci-fact or sci-fi
Those of more sober mind will sense there is more of metaphysics than physics going on here. Indeed, the notion that nothing became everything, instantly, is magic, not science; that it happened (or is happening) ad infinitum is more befitting sci-fi than sci-fact.
Science writer and journalist John Horgan agrees. “Multiverse theories aren’t theories,” Horgan writes, “they’re science fictions, theologies, works of the imagination unconstrained by evidence.”
David Gross, Harvard particle physicist and multiverse skeptic, urges his colleagues to not quit on fundamental science by settling for theories that can explain anything. As he well knows, a theory in which anything is possible, is a theory that includes the possibility that some of those unsettling philosophical and theological conclusions might also be true.
Then there’s Steven Weinberg again, who in a theoretical physics conference at Stanford learned that British cosmologist Martin Rees was so confident in the multiverse that he would he bet his dog’s life on the theory and that inflationary theorist Andrei Linde would bet his own life on it. To which, Weinberg quipped, “As for me, I have just enough confidence about the multiverse to bet the lives of both Andrei Linde and Martin Rees’s dog.”
But perhaps the harshest critic of inflation and the multiverse is Paul Steinhardt. Since receiving the 2002 Dirac Medal in theoretical physics for his work on inflationary theory, Steinhardt has turned on the theories.
Steinhardt explained, “For the last 400 years, most people would say the key thing that distinguishes science from non-science is that scientific ideas have to be subject to tests. Some people are nowadays thinking, no, that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. That’s a mega-issue [for me].” He went on to say that these theories are unfalsifiable and can be made to fit any possible set of experimental observations. And that’s a “deal-breaker.”
Last best hope
For most theorists, however, the multiverse is the last best hope to keep the flames of the Enlightenment burning. The very notion that the Impossible could be true is an existential threat to science that could end discovery and technological progress, hurling civilization back into a new Dark Age of superstition, ignorance, and fear. Serious stuff.
But the whole question of why we’re here is not a scientific question; it’s a theological one. Whether the explanation is God, the multiverse, or some yet to be discovered mechanism of cosmic Darwinism, it will always be tentative and unprovable, because no matter how reasonable and robust the theory, there is no way of knowing that it’s in fact the way it happened. Thus, our favored explanation will always be a matter of faith, faith in our presuppositions of how the world is.
At the same time, the answer has no effect on the scientific enterprise or our ability to study and harness nature for the good of nature and man.
To the contrary, our ability to detect, measure, and analyze the light spectra from a distant quasar is independent of whether the star was produced from the Big Bang or the command of God. The study of the human genome—its functions and similarity with other species—is independent of whether it is a product of common descent or common design. Advances in medical science do not depend on whether microevolution is a phenomenon of mud-to-man Darwinism or was front-loaded by an intelligent Designer. The recent confirmation of the Higgs boson (the “God Particle”) didn’t hang on whether the Higgs was produced by a random fluctuation of the quantum field or from a Divine pronouncement. No, all of these things and more are there to be discovered and studied irrespective of their ultimate origin.
But while the question of origins has no bearing on how we conduct our science, it does have an implication on how we should conduct our lives.
In a world created by matter and motion, there is no right and wrong, no duty, no oughts, only existence; every person is free to pursue his notion of the good life in a way that seems right to him. But if we are here by Divine intention and action, we are not morally autonomous happenstances; we’re creations, beings whose very design implies purpose and who, one day, will stand before the Impossible, and shudder.
Therein lies the rub.
Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute via NPR.
Regis Nicoll is a freelance writer and a BreakPoint Centurion. Serving as a men’s ministry leader and worldview teacher in his community, Regis publishes a free weekly commentary to stimulate thought on current issues from a Christian perspective. To be placed on this free e-mail distribution list, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.