Monday, November 10, 2008

Science's Alternative to God

...the Multiverse Theory.

They definitely could have picked a better headline, because every time anything in science is branded as an alternative to religion *cough evolution cough*, the zealous hordes quickly descend to smear it mercilessly in imagined defense of their imagined God.
everything here, right down to the photons lighting the scene after an eight-minute jaunt from the sun, bears witness to an extraordinary fact about the universe: Its basic properties are uncannily suited for life.
Well, yeah, I suppose that's true in a trivial sort of way. I would be a tad surprised if a planet that contains life wasn't suitable for life.

But it's a bit of a stretch to say that the whole universe is "uncannily" suitable for life as we know it. As far as we know, every other planet in our solar system is utterly lifeless (or nearly lifeless, with nothing more impressive than microscopic unicellular life) in contrast to Earth. And it's a pretty safe guess that most other solar systems out there don't have nearly as favorable conditions our own does (red dwarfs tend not to be very good for life, some stars may not have rocky planets at all, etc). And of course, the enormous void of space and the tendency of the universe to bathe planets in radiation, smash asteroids into them, and overall have horrible things happen repeatedly to any planet's biosphere (we've had 5 big ones ourselves) is not the least bit conducive to life.

It's like a rabbit out on a field that's being used as a firing range (and not one of those wimpy blue state firing ranges either, I'm talking about claymores and anti-tank munitions) remarking about how suitable it is for a burrow.

Consider just two possible changes. Atoms consist of protons, neutrons, and electrons. If those protons were just 0.2 percent more massive than they actually are, they would be unstable and would decay into simpler particles. Atoms wouldn’t exist; neither would we. If gravity were slightly more powerful, the consequences would be nearly as grave. A beefed-up gravitational force would compress stars more tightly, making them smaller, hotter, and denser. Rather than surviving for billions of years, stars would burn through their fuel in a few million years, sputtering out long before life had a chance to evolve. There are many such examples of the universe’s life-friendly properties—so many, in fact, that physicists can’t dismiss them all as mere accidents.

That's the anthropic principle in a nutshell. And apologists have certainly seized on it, declaring, "Life, therefore God!" (adding, "and don't ask where God's vitality comes from!")

But what if life really is just a happy accident? What if our universe just happened to be the way that it is (it would be strange if it weren't the way that it is).
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.

The idea is controversial. Critics say it doesn’t even qualify as a scientific theory because the existence of other universes cannot be proved or disproved. Advocates argue that, like it or not, the multiverse may well be the only viable non­religious explanation for what is often called the “fine-tuning problem”—the baffling observation that the laws of the universe seem custom-tailored to favor the emergence of life.
It's a decent hypothesis, and it logically makes sense (after all science has shown us a panoply of new worlds, new solar systems, new galaxies - wouldn't new universes fit the progression?) but sans falsifiability, it doesn't seem to have much of an advantage over supernaturalism.
“If there is only one universe,” Carr says, “you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.”
False dilemma, big time. I remember it from when the IDiots tried to pull the old "God or Evolution" - any failure of evolution to explain the development of life is evidence for the "Intelligent Creator". It's disappointing to see the same thought process on the march again, with a much less well-supported multiverse hypothesis taking evolution's place.

Whether we live in a multiverse or a lone universe, it's disturbing to see people try to install their God in science.

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