Professor Paul Davies is no friend of Intelligent Design. Nevertheless, he puts forward a formidable argument against its best scientific alternative, the multiverse, in an interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn, creator and host of “Closer To Truth,” and author of a recent article titled, Is our universe a fake? (Space.com, July 31, 2015). Kuhn summarizes Davies’ argument as follows:
“If you take seriously the theory of all possible universes, including all possible variations,” Davies said, “at least some of them must have intelligent civilizations with enough computing power to simulate entire fake worlds. Simulated universes are much cheaper to make than the real thing, and so the number of fake universes would proliferate and vastly outnumber the real ones. And assuming we’re just typical observers, then we’re overwhelmingly likely to find ourselves in a fake universe, not a real one.”
So far it’s the normal argument.
Then Davies makes his move. He claims that because the theoretical existence of multiple universes is based on the laws of physics in our universe, if this universe is simulated, then its laws of physics are also simulated, which would mean that this universe’s physics is a fake. Therefore, Davies reasoned, “We cannot use the argument that the physics in our universe leads to multiple universes, because it also leads to a fake universe with fake physics.” That undermines the whole argument that fundamental physics generates multiple universes, because the reasoning collapses in circularity.
Davies concluded, “While multiple universes seem almost inevitable given our understanding of the Big Bang, using them to explain all existence is a dangerous, slippery slope, leading to apparently absurd conclusions.”
Davies’ reductio ad absurdum is a devastating one: the multiverse undercuts the basis of physics itself. And Davies is not alone. Physicist Paul Steinhardt, who helped create the theory of inflation but later came to reject it, declared last September: “Our universe has a simple, natural structure. The multiverse idea is baroque, unnatural, untestable and, in the end, dangerous to science and society.” Steinhardt believes that the multiverse hypothesis leads science away from its task of providing a unique explanation for the properties of nature. Instead, it simply deems them to be random – which, for Steinhardt, feels like giving up on the scientific enterprise. It’s a scientific cop-out. In an interview with John Horgan for Scientific American (Physicist Slams Cosmic Theory He Helped Conceive, December 1, 2014), Steinhardt made no secret of his disdain for both inflation theory and the multiverse (emphases mine – VJT):
Horgan: You were one of the originators of inflation theory. When and why did you start having doubts about it?
Steinhardt: From the very beginning, even as I was writing my first paper on inflation in 1982, I was concerned that the inflationary picture only works if you finely tune the constants that control the inflationary period. Andy Albrecht and I (and, independently, Andrei Linde) had just discovered the way of having an extended period of inflation end in a graceful exit to a universe filled with hot matter and radiation, the paradigm for all inflationary models since. But the exit came at a cost — fine-tuning. The whole point of inflation was to get rid of fine-tuning – to explain features of the original big bang model that must be fine-tuned to match observations. The fact that we had to introduce one fine-tuning to remove another was worrisome. This problem has never been resolved.
But my concerns really grew when I discovered that, due to quantum fluctuation effects, inflation is generically eternal and (as others soon emphasized) this would lead to a multiverse…
To me, the accidental universe idea is scientifically meaningless because it explains nothing and predicts nothing. Also, it misses the most salient fact we have learned about large-scale structure of the universe: its extraordinary simplicity when averaged over large scales…
Scientific ideas should be simple, explanatory, predictive. The inflationary multiverse as currently understood appears to have none of those properties.
These concerns and more, and the fact that we have made no progress in 30 years in addressing them, are what have made me skeptical about the inflationary picture.
Even MIT Professor Alan Guth, a strong supporter of the theory of inflation (which he helped originate) and the multiverse, has acknowledged that it has some philosophically bizarre implications. As he put it in an interview with Natalie Wolchover and Peter Byrne (In a Multiverse, What Are the Odds?, November 3, 2014):
“In a single universe, cows born with two heads are rarer than cows born with one head,” he said. But in an infinitely branching multiverse, “there are an infinite number of one-headed cows and an infinite number of two-headed cows. What happens to the ratio?”
Why I think a transcendent Creator would make computer simulations of consciousness impossible
An interesting question for Intelligent Design proponents to ponder at this point is: supposing that the universe was designed by a Being Who wished to make His existence scientifically knowable to any intelligent life-forms living within the cosmos, and suppose that this Being was not only intelligent but also transcendent, how would He design the universe in such a way as to prevent human beings (and any other intelligent life-forms that might exist in outer space) from drawing the wrong inference about the nature of the Designer, and conceiving of Him as merely super-human (like the Greek and Roman gods of antiquity), rather than transcendent?
In his article, Robert Lawrence Kuhn finds that the argument that our universe might be a simulation rests upon five critical premises: “(i) Other intelligent civilizations exist; (ii) their technologies grow exponentially; (iii) they do not all go extinct; (iv) there is no universal ban or barrier for running simulations; and (v) consciousness can be simulated.” Kuhn goes on to say that the notion that our own universe is a simulation is not incompatible with theism, but he adds that it would be a weak form of theism, as the super-intelligent designer(s) of our universe “wouldn’t need unlimited or infinite minds.” Kuhn wonders how scientists, philosophers and theologians would distinguish between “the traditional creator God and hyper-advanced creator-simulators.”
Here is a prediction I would make. If the transcendent God of traditional theism exists, and wishes to make Himself known to His creatures, then the last thing He’d want to do is give the intelligent life-forms within this universe the power to create other universes. For if these intelligent life-forms discovered that they had this power, then they would also realize that it was highly likely that they, in turn, were created by intelligent life-forms in another universe. This disturbing realization would make it much harder for them to infer the existence of a transcendent God. So my prediction would be that to prevent this from happening, a Transcendent Creator would make it impossible for intelligent life-forms to simulate human consciousness on a computer – and probably animal consciousness, as well. This is just what we find, as I reported in my article, Could the Internet ever be conscious? Definitely not before 2115, even if you’re a materialist. In that article, I calculated that the human brain is 31 orders of magnitude more complex than the entire Internet. And to those who would appeal to Moore’s law as a way for scientists of the future to catch up, I have some bad news: Moore himself declared in 2005 that his law would reach a “fundamental limit” in 10 or 20 years – i.e. by 2025 at the latest – and according to Intel’s former chief architect, Robert Colwell, Moore’s law will be dead by 2022, largely for economic reasons. Darwinist philosopher Daniel Dennett is also skeptical of the Internet ever becoming conscious. In a recent article by Slate journalist Dan Falk (September 20, 2012), he remarked:
“The connections in brains aren’t random; they are deeply organized to serve specific purposes,” Dennett says. “And human brains share further architectural features that distinguish them from, say, chimp brains, in spite of many deep similarities. What are the odds that a network, designed by processes serving entirely different purposes, would share enough of the architectural features to serve as any sort of conscious mind?” (Emphasis mine – VJT.)
Dennett also pointed out that while the Internet had a very high level of connectivity, the difference in architecture “makes it unlikely in the extreme that it would have any sort of consciousness.”
The massive number of assumptions upon which the multiverse hypothesis is built
In addition to the reductio ad absurdum advanced above, Professor Paul Davies has other objections to the multiverse. In an interview last year on Closer to Truth titled, Are There Multiple Universes? (August 23, 2014), Professor Davies explained why he finds the multiverse hypothesis intellectually unsatisfying (emphasis mine – VJT):
It’s not an unreasonable speculation. However, it falls far short of being a complete theory of existence, which it’s often presented as. That is, if there’s a multiverse, we can forget about all the mysteries of the universe because it’s all explained: everything’s out there somewhere. End of story. Well, it’s simply not true, because to get a multiverse, you need a universe-generating mechanism – something has got to make all those Big Bangs go “Bang!” – so you’re going to need some laws of physics to do that. All of the theories of the multiverse assume quantum mechanics, quantum physics, to give the element of spontaneity to make the bangs happen. They assume pre-existing space and time, they assume the normal notion of causality – a whole host of things. You write down a list, there’s about ten different basic assumptions they have to make to get the theory to work. And you can say, well, “Where did they all come from? What about these meta-laws that generate universes and impose effective local by-laws, as Martin Rees would call it, upon these universes? What is this distribution mechanism? How does that work? Where do those rules come from? So all you’ve done is shift the problem of existence up from the level of universe to the level of multiverse. But you haven’t explained it.
Davies’ philosophical misgivings about the multiverse – and Intelligent Design
Continuing in a philosophical vein, Davies explains why he rejects both the multiverse and Intelligent Design (emphases mine – VJT):
I suppose for me, the main problem is that what we’re trying to do is explain why the universe is as it is by appealing to something outside of it – in this case, an infinite number of universes outside of it – that, to me, is no better than traditional religion, that appeals to an unseen, unexplained God that is outside of the universe.
I would like to try to find an explanation for the universe from entirely within it, without appealing to anything external. And as a matter of fact I believe that if somebody did a proper mathematical analysis, they would find that the complexity of the explanation of the multiverse – an infinite number of universes we don’t see – is the same as the explanation of traditional theology: an infinitely complex God outside the universe that we don’t see. They’re really the same thing, in different language, and so my point of view now is: a plague on both your houses. We need to try to find the explanation for the universe from within it, from what we see, and not multiply these unseen entities.
Religious believers will point out, correctly, that the God of classical theism is not complex at all, but utterly simple. However, one needs to distinguish between God’s necessary Being and God’s contingent operations: the former is dogmatically defined to be simple, whereas the latter is not. Even supposing God’s operations to be complex, however, it does not follow that they are infinitely complex. The question that mathematicians should be asking, in my opinion, is: how much information would you need to put into the universe, if you were going to fine-tune not only its laws but also its initial conditions, in such a way that it would be guaranteed to ultimately generate living cells and later on, complex life-forms, some of which would possess consciousness?
More problems with the multiverse
Finally, I should point out that the multiverse is plagued by no less than five severe problems, which I briefly enumerated in a recent post. The first two have already been discussed above; the last three are equally devastating (emphases mine – VJT):
The multiverse hypothesis faces five formidable problems: first, it merely shifts the fine-tuning problem up one level, as a multiverse capable of generating even one life-supporting universe would still need to be fine-tuned; second, the multiverse hypothesis itself implies that a sizable proportion of universes (including perhaps our own) were intelligently designed; third, the multiverse hypothesis predicts that most of the intelligent life-forms that exist should be “Boltzmann brains” that momentarily fluctuate into and out of existence; fourth, the multiverse hypothesis predicts that a universe containing intelligent life should be much smaller than the one we live in; and fifth, the multiverse hypothesis cannot account for the fact that the laws of physics are not only life-permitting, but also mathematically elegant – a fact acknowledged even by physicists with no religious beliefs.
Further discussion of these problems can be found here. The elegance of the laws of Nature has been remarked on by many scientists, including Paul Davies, who wrote in his best-selling book, Superforce: The Search for a Grand Unified Theory of Nature (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster):
A common reaction among physicists to remarkable discoveries of the sort discussed above is a mixture of delight at the subtlety and elegance of nature, and of stupefaction: ‘I would never have thought of doing it that way.’ If nature is so ‘clever’ that it can exploit mechanisms that amaze us with their ingenuity, is that not persuasive evidence for the existence of intelligent design behind the physical universe? (1984, pp. 235-36. Emphasis mine – VJT.)
That was what Davies wrote in 1984. In recent years, sadly, he has changed his mind – not for scientific but for philosophical reasons. In a 2007 article for the <i.New York Times titled, Taking Science on Faith, Davies stated why he now prefers an explanation of the universe’s laws from within the cosmos, even as he candidly acknowledged that no such theory presently exists (emphases mine – VJT):
It seems to me there is no hope of ever explaining why the physical universe is as it is so long as we are fixated on immutable laws or meta-laws that exist reasonlessly or are imposed by divine providence. The alternative is to regard the laws of physics and the universe they govern as part and parcel of a unitary system, and to be incorporated together within a common explanatory scheme.
In other words, the laws should have an explanation from within the universe and not involve appealing to an external agency. The specifics of that explanation are a matter for future research. But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.
The way forward for ID?
For my part, I do think Davies is right about one thing. It is not enough to argue that the laws of the universe must have been designed by some Intelligence. For a hypothesis to be scientifically fruitful, it needs to make predictions. What the Intelligent Design movement needs is physicists who are not afraid to “get inside the mind of God,” and freely speculate about why the universe has the laws, fundamental principles and underlying mathematical structures that it does. Why was the universe designed this way, and not some other way? To say that it was designed to support intelligent life is all well and good, but we need to go further, and explain why alternative life-permitting designs for the cosmos would have been less suitable than the one that we find ourselves in. I have previously suggested that Intelligent Design could be rendered more fruitful if it incorporated the assumption that one of the Designer’s aims was to make His existence known to His intelligent creatures, and I also suggested above that the Designer wants to make His transcendence known to us. Finally, I would suggest that the cosmos is as beautiful in its underlying principles as it possibly can be, while at the same time remaining mathematically comprehensible to the human mind. Taken together, these three assumptions might narrow the range of life-permitting possible universes to the point where we can eventually conclude, on purely scientific grounds, that this universe is the best possible design that a Transcendent Creator could have selected, had He wished to make His existence known to human beings. That, I think, would be a fruitful line of inquiry.
What do readers think?