In his recent article in Scientific American on the multiverse, cosmologist Max Tegmark appeared unfazed by the fact that “if you tweaked many of our constants of nature by just a tiny amount, life as we know it would be impossible,” arguing that “[i]f there’s a … multiverse where these ‘constants’ take all possible values, it’s not surprising that we find ourselves in one of the rare universes that are inhabitable, just like it’s not surprising that we find ourselves living on Earth rather than Mercury or Neptune.” However, Tegmark’s argument fails to account for another surprising feature of the laws of nature: their beauty.
Several years ago, Dr. Robin Collins put forward a lucid explanation of why the multiverse hypothesis is unable to account for the beauty of the laws of nature in section 6 of a lecture he gave at Stanford University entitled, Universe or Multiverse? A Theistic Perspective. Collins argued that neither the unrestricted multiverse hypothesized by Dr. Tegmark nor a more restricted multiverse which generates universes with different constants of nature is able to account for the beauty of the cosmos.
First of all, we need to define what we mean by “beauty” when talking about the laws of nature. Some people would regard beauty as a wholly subjective property. However, it turns out that beauty can be given a clear and non-arbitrary definition. In his argument, Collins uses the definition proposed by the 18th century English painter William Hogarth, pictured above:
[T]he idea that the laws of nature are beautiful and elegant is a commonplace in physics, with entire books devoted to the topic. Indeed, Steven Weinberg – who is no friend of theism – devotes an entire chapter of his book Dreams of a Final Theory to beauty as a guiding principle in physics. To develop our argument, however, we need first to address what is meant by beauty. As Weinberg notes, the sort of beauty exemplified by physics is that akin to classical Greek architecture. The highpoint of the definition of this classical conception of beauty could be thought of as that of William Hogarth in his 1753 classic The Analysis of Beauty. According to Hogarth, simplicity with variety is the defining feature of beauty or elegance, as illustrated by a line drawn around a cone. Hogarth claimed that simplicity apart from variety, as illustrated by a straight line, is boring, not elegant or beautiful….
The laws of nature seem to manifest just this sort of simplicity with variety: we inhabit a world that could be characterized as a world of fundamental simplicity that gives rise to the enormous complexity needed for intelligent life….
For example, although the observable phenomena have an incredible variety and much seeming chaos, they can be organized via a relatively few simple laws governing postulated unobservable processes and entities. What is more amazing, however, is that these simple laws can in turn be organized under a few higher-level principles … and form part of a simple and elegant mathematical framework…
The beauty of the cosmos suggests a fine-tuning argument. The key intuition here is that even if we put aside those possible universes that cannot support life and limit ourselves to those that can support life, the vast majority of these universes will have laws that are far less beautiful than our own.
One way of thinking about the way in which the laws fall under these higher-level principles is as a sort of fine-tuning. If one imagines a space of all possible laws,… the vast majority of variations of these laws end up causing a violation of one of these higher-level principles… Further, for those who are aware of the relevant physics, it is easy to see that in the vast majority of such cases, such variations do not result in new, equally simple higher-level principles being satisfied. It follows, therefore, that these variations almost universally lead to a less elegant and simple set of higher-level physical principles being met. Thus, in terms of the simplicity and elegance of the higher-level principles that are satisfied, the laws of nature we have appear to be a tiny island surrounded by a vast sea of possible law structures that would produce a far less elegant and simple physics…
Collins argues that only theism offers a ready explanation of the underlying beauty of the laws of nature. For atheism, this beauty is a surprising and wholly mysterious fact, and as Collins argues, no version of the multiverse is able to render this beauty unsurprising:
Further, this “fine-tuning” for simplicity and elegance cannot be explained either by the universe-generator multiverse hypothesis or the metaphysical multiverse hypothesis, since there is no reason to think that intelligent life could only arise in a universe with simple, elegant underlying physical principles. Certainly a somewhat orderly macroscopic world is necessary for intelligent life, but there is no reason to think this requires a simple and elegant underlying set of physical principles.
One way of putting the argument is in terms of the “surprise principle” we invoked in the argument for the fine-tuning of the constants of intelligent life. Specifically, as applied to this case, one could argue that the fact that the phenomena and laws of physics are fine-tuned for simplicity with variety is highly surprising under the non-design hypothesis, but not highly surprising under theism. Thus, the existence of such fine-tuned laws provides significant evidence for theism over the non-design hypothesis. Another way one could explicate this argument is as follows. Atheism seems to offer no explanation for the apparent fine-tuning of the laws of nature for beauty and elegance (or simplicity with variety). Theism, on the other hand, seems to offer such a natural explanation: for example, given the classical theistic conception of God as the greatest possible being, and hence a being with a perfect aesthetic sensibility, it is not surprising that such a God would create a world of great subtlety and beauty at the fundamental level. Given the rule of inference that, everything else being equal, a natural non-ad hoc explanation of a phenomenon x is always better than no explanation at all, it follows that everything else being equal, we should prefer the theistic explanation to the claim that the elegance and beauty of the laws of nature is just a brute fact.
Multiverse advocates have failed to address the beauty of the laws of nature. In the meantime, theists certainly have nothing to fear from any future scientific discovery showing that our cosmos may be embedded within some larger structure. The beauty of the laws of nature offers eloquent testimony to the existence of a Designer of nature.