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Columbia mathematician Peter Woit says the unspeakable word

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Yes, the r word.

I have a rule … not a big, important rule but a little, important one: If someone is obviously right about something, but everyone else acts like they never even heard it, watch carefully: Something big, and possibly fraudulent, is happening.

It’s the kind of thing you see when the bookkeeper quits and leaves town just before having to sign off on the books, and no one thinks that’s an interesting accident of timing and location.

I am thinking of mathematician Peter Woit’s conflict with Max “multiverses” Tegmark. Woit has said the unsayable, noting that the multiverse is a religious enterprise:

I take Tegmark’s vision as empty, so a good thing to ignore, but Rubenstein sees this as an opening for theologians to get back into the mainstream cosmology business, and the rest of the book focuses on this. With the boundaries between science and religion now gone, all sorts of possibilities open up for theologians. The final part of the book begins by invoking (just like Henrich Päs, who comes at it from the mind-altering drug rather than theological angle) Nietzsche.

Most people I hear quoting Nietzsche have some religious or political project in mind. Note: This is not a rule, big or small. Treat it as a rough guide, noting counter examples.

It seems that, unlike most authors, Rubenstein actually has got the story of multiverse mania right: it’s left conventional notions of science behind and entered into the realm of theology. We do, however, disagree about whether or not this is a good thing…

Sure, you disagree, but why is the fact that it is a thing at all not more generally recognized? Why is the pop science media, including Scientific American, sinking comfortably into this religion?

Why did the bookkeeper suddenly quit and move to the Seychelles?

My Science Fictions series of posts on cosmology sets out briefly (to spare you all having to read a book) that the multiverse was not developed because it was some sort of “only answer” to conundrums of our known universe. Quite the opposite, modest tweaks have been performing well. The big issues, like unifying gravity with the other three forces, likely await new discoveries in this universe, not more dramatic claims about putative other ones.

The multiverse was developed because cosmology in our own universe provides no evidence against theism or rationality. On the contrary, the Big Bang and fine tuning fit quite comfortably with both. But, inconveniently, large number of cosmologists are atheists.

So is Woit. But he sounds like the sort of fellow who is disinclined to simply build a universe that suits him, probably because he does believe in rationality. And to believe in the multiverse, one must get around rationality, which the new cosmologists are more than happy to try to do. As Woit knows.

Science as we have known it just isn’t giving these guys what they want. They want a universe where scientism is reasonable, and as David Berlinski helpfully explains here, this isn’t that universe. But just wait till our universe’s lone vote is drowned out by the multiverse …

No wonder Woit is now labelled a creationist and a hater. He struggles to defend himself against claims that he can’t defend himself against because they make no sense. Welcome to the multiverse, Woit, where things don’t need to make sense, and rationality is only a limitation. And religion absolutely rules. But it’s not the rational religion you grew up with, and there is no use treating it that way.

So, of course the multiverse is a religious enterprise! The critical mass is actually all the chair warmers in the middle, pretending that the multiverse has anything to do with science as we have known it.

– O’Leary for News

See also: The Science Fictions series at your fingertips (cosmology).

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6 Replies to “Columbia mathematician Peter Woit says the unspeakable word

  1. 1
    chris haynes says:

    Thank you Mrs O’Leary
    I tried thinking of something to add, but you said it all.

  2. 2
    Collin says:

    Thanks for this interesting piece Denise. I’m finding this kind of willful blindness in a lot of places on a lot of charged topics (gay marriage for example).

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    as to Professor Woit’s comment here:

    Rubenstein actually has got the story of multiverse mania right: it’s left conventional notions of science behind and entered into the realm of theology. We do, however, disagree about whether or not this is a good thing…

    Well, contrary to whatever Professor Woit may believe, ‘conventional notions’ of science, in so far as they have been artificially divorced from theological presuppositions, particularly Christian Theistic presuppositions, are a fantasy just as detestable as the multiverse he despises as ‘unscientific’. Modern science was born out of Judeo-Christian theistic presuppositions and continues to be dependent on them:,,

    Science and Theism: Concord, not Conflict* – Robert C. Koons
    IV. The Dependency of Science Upon Theism (Page 21)
    Excerpt: Far from undermining the credibility of theism, the remarkable success of science in modern times is a remarkable confirmation of the truth of theism. It was from the perspective of Judeo-Christian theism—and from the perspective alone—that it was predictable that science would have succeeded as it has. Without the faith in the rational intelligibility of the world and the divine vocation of human beings to master it, modern science would never have been possible, and, even today, the continued rationality of the enterprise of science depends on convictions that can be reasonably grounded only in theistic metaphysics.
    http://www.robkoons.net/media/.....ffd524.pdf

    Founders of Modern Science Who Believe in GOD – Tihomir Dimitrov – (pg. 222)
    http://www.academia.edu/273960.....OD_Journal

    The War against the War Between Science and Faith Revisited – July 2010
    Excerpt: …as Whitehead pointed out, it is no coincidence that science sprang, not from Ionian metaphysics, not from the Brahmin-Buddhist-Taoist East, not from the Egyptian-Mayan astrological South, but from the heart of the Christian West, that although Galileo fell out with the Church, he would hardly have taken so much trouble studying Jupiter and dropping objects from towers if the reality and value and order of things had not first been conferred by belief in the Incarnation. (Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos),,
    Jaki notes that before Christ the Jews never formed a very large community (priv. comm.). In later times, the Jews lacked the Christian notion that Jesus was the monogenes or unigenitus, the only-begotten of God. Pantheists like the Greeks tended to identify the monogenes or unigenitus with the universe itself, or with the heavens. Jaki writes:

    Herein lies the tremendous difference between Christian monotheism on the one hand and Jewish and Muslim monotheism on the other. This explains also the fact that it is almost natural for a Jewish or Muslim intellectual to become a patheist. About the former Spinoza and Einstein are well-known examples. As to the Muslims, it should be enough to think of the Averroists. With this in mind one can also hope to understand why the Muslims, who for five hundred years had studied Aristotle’s works and produced many commentaries on them failed to make a breakthrough. The latter came in medieval Christian context and just about within a hundred years from the availability of Aristotle’s works in Latin
    http://www.scifiwright.com/201.....revisited/

    “Did Christianity (and Other Religions) Promote the Rise Of Science?” – Michael Egnor October 24, 2013
    Excerpt: Neither the Greeks nor Islam produced modern theoretical science. The Greeks produced sublime philosophy and mathematics, but no theoretical science. They excelled in mathematics but never applied mathematical models to the systematic study of nature.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....78281.html

    Please note the application of mathematical to the systematic study of nature. Why should man presuppose that just by taking thought he can construct an accurate mathematical model of the universe?

    “You find it strange that I consider the comprehensibility of the world (to the extent that we are authorized to speak of such a comprehensibility) as a miracle or as an eternal mystery. Well, a priori, one should expect a chaotic world, which cannot be grasped by the mind in any way.. the kind of order created by Newton’s theory of gravitation, for example, is wholly different. Even if a man proposes the axioms of the theory, the success of such a project presupposes a high degree of ordering of the objective world, and this could not be expected a priori. That is the ‘miracle’ which is constantly reinforced as our knowledge expands.”
    Albert Einstein – Goldman – Letters to Solovine p 131.

    Clearly this presupposition is born out of the belief that the rational Mind of God created this universe and that man, being made in God’s image, has a mind that is capable of grasping the way in which God constructed this universe.

    Epistemology – Why Should The Human Mind Even Be Able To Comprehend Reality? – Stephen Meyer – video
    http://vimeo.com/32145998

    In fact, on discovering the laws of planetary motion, Johann Kepler declared these very ‘unscientific’ thoughts:

    ‘O God, I am thinking your thoughts after you!’

    “Geometry is unique and eternal, a reflection from the mind of God. That mankind shares in it is because man is an image of God.” [2,2a&2b]
    – Johannes Kepler

    But something very important seems to have been lost since the Judeo-Christian foundation of modern science. This something very important that seems to have been lost in ‘modern science’ is that man seems to have have literally lost his mind in his quest to be ‘scientific’ and stay within ‘conventional notions of science’:

    “Of all the things I’ve lost, I think I miss my mind the most.”
    Anonymous

    Sam Harris’s Free Will: The Medial Pre-Frontal Cortex Did It – Martin Cothran – November 9, 2012
    Excerpt: There is something ironic about the position of thinkers like Harris on issues like this: they claim that their position is the result of the irresistible necessity of logic (in fact, they pride themselves on their logic). Their belief is the consequent, in a ground/consequent relation between their evidence and their conclusion. But their very stated position is that any mental state — including their position on this issue — is the effect of a physical, not logical cause.
    By their own logic, it isn’t logic that demands their assent to the claim that free will is an illusion, but the prior chemical state of their brains. The only condition under which we could possibly find their argument convincing is if they are not true. The claim that free will is an illusion requires the possibility that minds have the freedom to assent to a logical argument, a freedom denied by the claim itself. It is an assent that must, in order to remain logical and not physiological, presume a perspective outside the physical order.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....66221.html

    i.e. How can science be rationally practiced without the ‘consequent reasoning’ that is based outside the material/physical order, i.e. based in our ‘mind’?

    Physicalism and Reason – May 2013
    Summary: So we find ourselves affirming two contradictory propositions:
    1. Everything is governed by cause-and-effect.
    2. Our brains can process and be changed by ground-consequent logical relationships.
    To achieve consistency, we must either deny that everything is governed by cause-and-effect, and open our worldviews to something beyond physicalism, or we must deny that our brains are influenced by ground-consequence reasoning, and abandon the idea that we are rational creatures.
    Ask yourself: are humans like falling dominoes, entirely subject to natural law, or may we stand up and walk in the direction that reason shows us?
    http://www.reasonsforgod.org/2.....nd-reason/

    Imagining that mind simply ’emerges’ from some materialistic basis also leads to the epistemological failure of science itself:

    Is Atheism Irrational? By GARY GUTTING – NY Times – February 9, 2014
    Excerpt: GG: So your claim is that if materialism is true, evolution doesn’t lead to most of our beliefs being true.
    Plantinga: Right. In fact, given materialism and evolution, it follows that our belief-producing faculties are not reliable.
    Here’s why. If a belief is as likely to be false as to be true, we’d have to say the probability that any particular belief is true is about 50 percent. Now suppose we had a total of 100 independent beliefs (of course, we have many more). Remember that the probability that all of a group of beliefs are true is the multiplication of all their individual probabilities. Even if we set a fairly low bar for reliability — say, that at least two-thirds (67 percent) of our beliefs are true — our overall reliability, given materialism and evolution, is exceedingly low: something like .0004. So if you accept both materialism and evolution, you have good reason to believe that your belief-producing faculties are not reliable.
    But to believe that is to fall into a total skepticism, which leaves you with no reason to accept any of your beliefs (including your beliefs in materialism and evolution!). The only sensible course is to give up the claim leading to this conclusion: that both materialism and evolution are true. Maybe you can hold one or the other, but not both. So if you’re an atheist simply because you accept materialism, maintaining your atheism means you have to give up your belief that evolution is true. Another way to put it: The belief that both materialism and evolution are true is self-refuting. It shoots itself in the foot. Therefore it can’t rationally be held.
    http://opinionator.blogs.nytim.....&_r=0

    There is something else that is very important that seems to have been completely lost in Woit’s ‘conventional notions of science’ that eschew the theological considerations. The considerations upon which modern science was built in the first place. It seems that many scientists/mathematicians are confusing mathematical description with causation. I believe Tegmark did it in his Level IV multiverse, and Hawking did if a few years back in his book ‘The Grand Design”. There is simply no beating Dr. Bruce Gordon’s critique of Hawking’s book:

    BRUCE GORDON: Hawking’s irrational arguments – October 2010
    Excerpt: The physical universe is causally incomplete and therefore neither self-originating nor self-sustaining. The world of space, time, matter and energy is dependent on a reality that transcends space, time, matter and energy. This transcendent reality cannot merely be a Platonic realm of mathematical descriptions, for such things are causally inert abstract entities that do not affect the material world. Neither is it the case that “nothing” is unstable, as Mr. Hawking and others maintain. Absolute nothing cannot have mathematical relationships predicated on it, not even quantum gravitational ones. Rather, the transcendent reality on which our universe depends must be something that can exhibit agency – a mind that can choose among the infinite variety of mathematical descriptions and bring into existence a reality that corresponds to a consistent subset of them. This is what “breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe.,,, the evidence for string theory and its extension, M-theory, is nonexistent; and the idea that conjoining them demonstrates that we live in a multiverse of bubble universes with different laws and constants is a mathematical fantasy. What is worse, multiplying without limit the opportunities for any event to happen in the context of a multiverse – where it is alleged that anything can spontaneously jump into existence without cause – produces a situation in which no absurdity is beyond the pale.
    For instance, we find multiverse cosmologists debating the “Boltzmann Brain” problem: In the most “reasonable” models for a multiverse, it is immeasurably more likely that our consciousness is associated with a brain that has spontaneously fluctuated into existence in the quantum vacuum than it is that we have parents and exist in an orderly universe with a 13.7 billion-year history. This is absurd. The multiverse hypothesis is therefore falsified because it renders false what we know to be true about ourselves. Clearly, embracing the multiverse idea entails a nihilistic irrationality that destroys the very possibility of science.
    Universes do not “spontaneously create” on the basis of abstract mathematical descriptions, nor does the fantasy of a limitless multiverse trump the explanatory power of transcendent intelligent design. What Mr. Hawking’s contrary assertions show is that mathematical savants can sometimes be metaphysical simpletons. Caveat emptor.
    http://www.washingtontimes.com.....arguments/

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    Contrary to what Hawking (or Tegmark) may believe about laws (or mathematical equations) creating universes,,,,

    “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.The universe didn’t need a God to begin; it was quite capable of launching its existence on its own,”
    Stephen Hawking

    ,,the fact of the matter is that laws (or mathematical equations) do not have any causal power within themselves, they are merely mathematical descriptions of a regular event:

    “But contrary to what Hawking claims, physical laws can never provide a complete explanation of the universe. Laws themselves do not create anything, they are merely a description of what happens under certain conditions.
    What Hawking appears to have done is to confuse law with agency.
    – John Lennox

    The Laws of Nature (Have Never ‘Caused’ Anything) by C.S. Lewis – doodle video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_20yiBQAIlk

    Krauss also seems to have made a very similar category error when when he tried to say ‘nothing’ created the universe:

    Not Understanding Nothing – A review of A Universe from Nothing – Edward Feser – June 2012
    Excerpt: A critic might reasonably question the arguments for a divine first cause of the cosmos. But to ask “What caused God?” misses the whole reason classical philosophers thought his existence necessary in the first place. So when physicist Lawrence Krauss begins his new book by suggesting that to ask “Who created the creator?” suffices to dispatch traditional philosophical theology, we know it isn’t going to end well. ,,,
    ,,, But Krauss simply can’t see the “difference between arguing in favor of an eternally existing creator versus an eternally existing universe without one.” The difference, as the reader of Aristotle or Aquinas knows, is that the universe changes while the unmoved mover does not, or, as the Neoplatonist can tell you, that the universe is made up of parts while its source is absolutely one; or, as Leibniz could tell you, that the universe is contingent and God absolutely necessary. There is thus a principled reason for regarding God rather than the universe as the terminus of explanation.
    http://www.firstthings.com/art.....ng-nothing

    In fact, since Dr. Woit thinks (and I agree with him) that testability is paramount to staying within the bounds of true science, I hold that every time a test is performed in quantum mechanics for non-locality and realism (Bell’s and Leggett’s Inequalities respectfully) that a test is being performed on the Theistic claim that the universe is contingent on the infinite mind of almighty God.

    Moreover even math (at least math specific enough to have counting numbers in it), which is Dr. Woit’s bread and butter, through Godel’s incompleteness theorem is shown to be ‘contingent’ on an outside source for any truthfulness inherent within the math:

    THE GOD OF THE MATHEMATICIANS – DAVID P. GOLDMAN – August 2010
    Excerpt: we cannot construct an ontology that makes God dispensable. Secularists can dismiss this as a mere exercise within predefined rules of the game of mathematical logic, but that is sour grapes, for it was the secular side that hoped to substitute logic for God in the first place. Gödel’s critique of the continuum hypothesis has the same implication as his incompleteness theorems: Mathematics never will create the sort of closed system that sorts reality into neat boxes.
    http://www.firstthings.com/art.....ematicians

    Godel and Physics – John D. Barrow
    Excerpt (page 5-6): “Clearly then no scientific cosmology, which of necessity must be highly mathematical, can have its proof of consistency within itself as far as mathematics go. In absence of such consistency, all mathematical models, all theories of elementary particles, including the theory of quarks and gluons…fall inherently short of being that theory which shows in virtue of its a priori truth that the world can only be what it is and nothing else. This is true even if the theory happened to account for perfect accuracy for all phenomena of the physical world known at a particular time.”
    Stanley Jaki – Cosmos and Creator – 1980, pg. 49
    http://arxiv.org/pdf/physics/0612253.pdf

    Even Hawking himself, at one time, acknowledged that there can be no purely mathematical ‘Theory Of Everything”

    The nature and significance of Gödel’s incompleteness theorems – Princeton – 2006
    Excerpt: ,,Stephen Hawking and Freeman Dyson, among others, have come to the conclusion that Gödel’s theorem implies that there can’t be a Theory of Everything.,,
    http://math.stanford.edu/~fefe.....el-IAS.pdf

    Thus any successful theory of everything is going to have to include God so as to provide causal adequacy:

    Two very different ‘eternities’ revealed by physics:
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-489771

    The Center Of The Universe Is Life – General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Entropy and The Shroud Of Turin – video
    http://vimeo.com/34084462

    Verse and Music:

    Colossians 1:15-20
    The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

    Mandisa – Esther – Born For This – music video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxFCber4TDo

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    “Joel Primack, a cosmologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, once posed an interesting question to the physicist Neil Turok: “What is it that makes the electrons continue to follow the laws.” Turok was surprised by the question; he recognized its force. Something seems to compel physical objects to obey the laws of nature, and what makes this observation odd is just that neither compulsion nor obedience are physical ideas. (p.132) In a Landscape in which anything is possible, nothing is necessary. In a universe in which nothing is necessary, anything is possible. It is nothing that makes the electron follow any laws.
    Which, then, is it to be: God, logic, or nothing?
    This is the question to which all discussions of the Land-scape and the Anthropic Principle are tending, and because the same question can be raised with respect to moral thought, it is a question with an immense and disturbing intellectual power.
    For scientific atheists, the question answers itself: Better logic than nothing, and better nothing than God. (…) The laws of nature, as Isaac Newton foresaw, are not laws of logic, nor are they like the laws of logic. Physicists since Einstein have tried to see in the laws of nature a formal structure that would allow them to say to themselves, “Ah, that is why they are true,” and they have failed.” (p.133)
    Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion pg. 132-133

  6. 6
    Joe says:

    Stephen Hawking, for all of his alleged high IQ, says some very stupid things. As if saying our existence is due to luck is science and as if science supports that point of view. But at least Stephen admits in the absence of design all you have are lucky coincidences.

    Lucky Coincidences Built the Universe

    No need to invoke a designer when one has sheer dumb luck at one’s disposal. But just how is that scientific? It can’t be tested- how is it falsified?

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