Intelligent Design

Anybody can create the universe, as long as it isn’t, like, God?

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In “Why it isn’t as simple as God vs. the multiverse”, Amanda Gefter (December 4, 2008) who seems determined to turn Britain’s New Scientist into the “National Enquirer” of pop science mags, advises that

Pitting the multiverse against religion presents a false dichotomy. Science never boils down to a choice between two alternative explanations. It is always plausible that both are wrong and a third or fourth or fifth will turn out to be correct.

What might a third option look like here? Physicist John Wheeler once offered a suggestion: maybe we should approach cosmic fine-tuning not as a problem but as a clue. Perhaps it is evidence that we somehow endow the universe with certain features by the mere act of observation. It’s an idea that Stephen Hawking has been thinking about, too. Hawking advocates what he calls top-down cosmology, in which observers are creating the universe and its entire history right now. If we in some sense create the universe, it is not surprising that the universe is well suited to us.

Well, that’s a pretty remarkable idea: We create the universe?

Okay. Let’s take a deep breath and think about what this means:

1. The mind is real, and it causes things to happen? So, let me get this straight: The mind is not an illusion created by the buzz of neurons in the brain. Not only is the mind not an illusion, but it actually creates the universe. Wowza! Has anyone told the folk at The Edge this?

Or more to the point, has anyone told their literary agents? Is there some way of getting back huge advances offered for hard line materialist works? Naw, I thought not.

2. The obvious reason that we do not, in isolation, create the universe is this: Many of our fellow humans would not intentionally create the circumstances they endure. As co-author of The Spiritual Brain, I would be the last person to deny the causal powers of the human mind. But clearly, other factors are in play with respect to how the universe works out.

It is becoming harder and harder to deny design in the universe.

Also at Colliding Universes (my blog about theories of the universe):

So Stephen Hawking IS coming to Canada … sort of …

What happens when 9-11 truthers get hold of Mars …

And, by the way, yes I do recall Amanda Gefter from another story.

Note: If you are not a tenured English prof, do not bother writing about my use of the word “like”. If you are a tenured English prof, don’t anyway.  Get a grant and study the many uses of “like” in modern urban English. As Oriana Fallaci elegantly put it (more or less), I say what I <a href=”http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200612/steyn-fallaci” target=”another”>want</a>  (from Mark Steyn’s lyrical obit for Fallaci in Atlantic Monthly).

10 Replies to “Anybody can create the universe, as long as it isn’t, like, God?

  1. 1
    Sotto Voce says:

    Wheeler does not claim that humans intentionally create the entire universe. He is basing his claims on a particular interpretation of quantum mechanics, according to which observation causes the wave function to collapse. He thinks that the delayed choice experiment shows that observations (and our choices about which observations to make) allow us, in a certain sense, to change the past. But we can’t intentionally choose the state to which the wavefunction collapses; it’s a completely stochastic process. so we don’t intentionally create the past.

    I think Wheeler’s idea is suspect for a number of reasons, but your criticism completely misses the mark.

  2. 2
    Sotto Voce says:

    The “delayed choice experiment” link should have pointed here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W.....experiment

  3. 3
    tragicmishap says:

    Isn’t Hawking the guy trying to convince everyone that matter came from nothing? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

  4. 4
    nullasalus says:

    I’m confused. Is O’Leary’s criticism completely missing the mark, or is Gefter’s? Gefter is the one talking about how observers apparently ‘create the universe and its entire history’ and such.

  5. 5
    PhilipBaxter says:

    O’Leary

    As Oriana Fallaci elegantly put it (more or less), I say what I want (from Mark Steyn’s lyrical obit for Fallaci in Atlantic Monthly).

    If I may, could I make a design inference here? That your apparent failure to correctly construct your link in the blog post you have no doubt been staring at already for several hours while carefully constructing it is in fact a deliberate act, a meta-commentary on the state of human communication and rather then communicate in the “legacy” media’s standard norms you chose to break those boundaries and make the reader have to work to extract the meaning, or in this case the link and label? That in order to communicate your message more forcefully you have lead the reader to the end of the paragraph and then whipped away their expected norm of a standard sentence structure? And replaced it with unexpected interaction?

    Bravo!

  6. 6
    PhilipBaxter says:

    Obviously the quoted text above should have looked like this

    As Oriana Fallaci elegantly put it (more or less), I say what I
    ahref = ”http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200612/steyn-fallaci” target=”another”>want (from Mark Steyn’s lyrical obit for Fallaci in Atlantic Monthly).

    but the system fixed it!

  7. 7
    toc says:

    “…Pitting the multiverse against religion presents a false dichotomy. Science never boils down to a choice between two alternative explanations. It is always plausible that both are wrong and a third or fourth or fifth will turn out to be correct.”

    Plotting Science against religion is seems like a category error. The existence of God (no matter what you call him), is not a multiple choice question. Either He exists or he doesn’t. If the uni/multiverse is itself eternal, or in perpetual motion, or in a state other than the effect of another cause, if falls into the problem of infinite regress. The “Who Created God” question is a way to shove him out of the way, although it is true that all effects are caused it doesn’t follow that all things are effects.

    What does Gefter mean by “correct”? As for her comments about Hawking’s speculations, didn’t Feuerbach throw this one up 150 years ago?

  8. 8
    lars says:

    OK, the “delayed choice experiment” gives pretty counterintuitive results, but don’t we have a more fundamental problem: If we are material beings, we are entirely contingent on the universe; yet if we “endow the universe with certain features by the mere act of observation” so that “the universe is well suited to us”, how did we as observers arise? It’s a chicken-and-egg problem… If the universe is well suited to us because we made it that way, then we must have come into being before the universe was well suited to us.

    But, you say, this objection is based on the assumption that you can’t affect the past – cause must precede effect – an assumption that is apparently wrong, based on the delayed choice experiment.
    To which I would answer, I don’t think the “past” component (time) is the critical issue here, although it’s certainly hard to believe intuitively that we can influence the past. Rather, the chicken-and-egg objection is based on the assumption that an event cannot cause itself, directly or indirectly. The delayed choice experiment does not claim to challenge that assumption, AFAIK.

    On the other hand, I’ve read that Hawking has done some mathematical speculation about self-caused events at the beginning of the universe… but he doesn’t claim that these models correspond to anything that could actually exist.

    In any case, the we-tuned-the-universe hypothesis hardly sounds like a scientific exit from the God-vs-multiverse dilemma. So far, at least, it looks like hairy epicycles that would be lopped off by application of Occam’s razor.

    Gefter is right about one thing though: “maybe we should approach cosmic fine-tuning not as a problem but as a clue”! The question is, are we open to considering where the clue leads us?

  9. 9
    DonaldM says:

    Quote from the Gefter article:

    What might a third option look like here? Physicist John Wheeler once offered a suggestion: maybe we should approach cosmic fine-tuning not as a problem but as a clue. Perhaps it is evidence that we somehow endow the universe with certain features by the mere act of observation. It’s an idea that Stephen Hawking has been thinking about, too. Hawking advocates what he calls top-down cosmology, in which observers are creating the universe and its entire history right now. If we in some sense create the universe, it is not surprising that the universe is well suited to us.

    What’s even more interesting is the next sentence Geftner wrote:”That’s speculative, but at least it’s science.”

    Right! So speculating that we fallible humans somehow “create” the universe by the mere act of observing it (whatever that’s even supposed to mean) is completely scientific but inferring that certain features of the universe are such that they indicate the need for a superintelligent designer is NOT science. Right, far better to attribute the universe to gazing by starry eyes humans than a creative Mind! Excuse me while I roll on the floor laughing!!

  10. 10
    QuadFather says:

    Hahahaha, can you say “infinite regress”? Wow, there are so many things wrong with this …

    Somebody, please take this idea to the cutting board of Occam’s razor where it belongs.

    Fine-tuning as a clue, NOT as a problem? Finally catching up to ID … Bravo!

    There *is* such a thing as mutual exclusivity. Something either IS or is NOT designed (when constituent parts are considered individually).

    Nobody is saying that you can’t have both a multiverse AND religion, so I’m not sure that anybody is talking about a “dichotomy”. The *issue* is that a multiverse is rendered omnipotent by virtue of its infinity (ostensibly), thus stripping us of the intellectual need for an intelligent deity.

    Of course, intelligence remains the best explanation until it is proven that unintelligent forces can produce the same feats. *BUT* since it is largely assumed that all things are inevitable when given sufficient probabilistic resources, all one needs to demonstrate is that these resources exist. And presto: God becomes obsolete. Continue believing if you like – but know that your belief is obsolete.

    So, just because there is no dichotomy between religion and multiverse does not mean that multiverse is not a legitimate threat to religion.

    The same goes for common descent.

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