Paul Davies Tuesday June 26, 2007 The Guardian Condensed
Just why is Intelligent Design referred to as a “movement” when Multiverse is called a “theory”?
“The universe looks like a fix. But that doesn’t mean that a god fixed it. We will never explain the cosmos by taking on faith either divinity or physical laws. True meaning is to be found within nature.
Scientists are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth – the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient “coincidences” and special features in the underlying laws of the universe. Change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal. Fred Hoyle once said it was as if “a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics”.
It happens that you need to set thirtysomething well tuned constants to fully describe the world about us. Like Baby Bear’s porridge in the story of Goldilocks, the universe seems to be just right for life.
The intelligent design movement has seized on the Goldilocks enigma as evidence of divine providence, prompting a scientific backlash and boosting the recent spate of God-bashing bestsellers.
An unanswered question is lurking at the very heart of science. Where do the laws of physics come from? Traditionally, scientists have treated the laws of physics as simply “given”, elegant mathematical relationships that were somehow imprinted on the universe at its birth, and fixed thereafter.
The embarrassment of the Goldilocks enigma has prompted the Cambridge cosmologist Martin Rees, president of The Royal Society, to suggests the laws of physics aren’t absolute and universal but more akin to local bylaws, varying from place to place on a mega-cosmic scale. Rees calls this system “the multiverse“, and it is an increasingly popular idea among cosmologists.
Rarely a universe will possess bio-friendly laws and spawn life. It would then be no surprise that we find ourselves in a universe apparently customised for habitation; we could hardly exist in one where life is impossible. If Rees is right, the impression of design is illusory: our universe has simply hit the jackpot in a gigantic cosmic lottery.
The multiverse theory certainly cuts the ground from beneath intelligent design, but the problem of origins has simply been shifted up a level from the laws of the universe to the meta-laws of the multiverse.
Dumping the problem in the lap of a pre-existing designer is no explanation at all, as it merely begs the question of who designed the designer. But appealing to a host of unseen universes and a set of unexplained meta-laws is scarcely any better.
We will never fully explain the world by appealing to something outside it that must simply be accepted on faith, be it an unexplained God or an unexplained set of mathematical laws.
I propose instead that the laws are more like computer software: programs being run on the great cosmic computer. They emerge with the universe at the big bang and are inherent in it, not stamped on it from without like a maker’s mark.
If a law is a truly exact mathematical relationship, it requires infinite information to specify it.
In the first split second of cosmic existence, the laws must have been seriously fuzzy. Then, as the information content of the universe climbed, the laws focused and homed in on the life-encouraging form we observe today. But the flaws in the laws left enough wiggle room for the universe to engineer its own bio-friendliness.
The laws explain the universe even as the universe explains the laws.
If there is an ultimate meaning to existence, the answer is to be found within nature, not beyond it. The universe might indeed be a fix, but if so, it has fixed itself.”
Paul Davies is director of Beyond, a research centre at Arizona State University, and author of The Goldilocks Enigma firstname.lastname@example.org