The photo you’re looking at is a color-composite image of the Helix nebula, also known as the “Eye of God.” I’m sure many skeptics must be thinking that the title of my post was intended as some kind of joke. But I’m perfectly serious. Think I couldn’t possibly be right? Read on!
Recently someone sent me a copy of an interesting article by two creationist scientists (Vardiman, L. and D. R. Humphreys. 2010. A New Creationist Cosmology: In No Time at All Part 1. Acts & Facts. 39 (11): 12-15). Dr. Vardiman is Senior Research Scientist, Astro/Geophysics, at the Institute for Creation Research, and Dr. Humphreys is a Retired Associate Professor of Physics. The two scientists claim to have developed a model which explains how stars can be seen many millions of light years away, even if only a few thousand years have passed since they were created.
Well, it’s an interesting little article, and although I’m extremely skeptical of the claim made by the authors, I look forward to reading the sequel. Not being a scientist, I’m in no position to critique the physics in the article. Even if it is correct, however, young-earth creationists still need to address other problems, such as The top five challenges for creationist geology, highlighted by Paul Garner, a very fair-minded creationist researcher, Fellow of the Geological Society and author of The New Creationism.
As I was reading the article, however, I was struck by an intriguing thought. Obviously, if you’re going to argue for young-earth creationism, you’ll have to invoke some pretty “far-out” models in the fields of astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology and geology, in order to explain how the world came to look the way it does today, even though it was created only 6,000 years ago. Certainly, you’re not going to advocate uniformitarianism. Presumably you’ll want to claim that some of the constants of Nature – and perhaps even the laws of Nature themselves – have varied over time, during the last 6,000 years. And you’re going to invoke a model to describe how they vary, over time. (Notice that I said how, not why. I’m talking about mathematical curves here, not the motives of the Deity.) Because the model will need to incorporate a variety of fields of science – including astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology and geology – in order to explain everything that you’ll want to explain if you’re a young-earth creationist, I’ll call it a super-model. This super-model could be described by a set of initial conditions applying to the universe 6,000 years ago; a set of physical parameters required by each of the sciences incorporated in the super-model (e.g. the Hubble constant, Newton’s gravitational constant and so on) plus a set of mathematical curves showing how these parameters have varied over time, up until now; and finally, a set of physical laws describing the kinds of interactions that are permitted. These laws may be constant, or they may vary over time. By the way, if any reader is worried about the metaphysical question of whether our universe would still be “the same universe” if one or more of its laws changed, I’d like to say at the outset that for the purposes of my argument, it doesn’t matter. This post is about super-models, and any pathway which starts from a defined set of initial conditions, and leads up to the present, via some set of parameters (which may be specified as either fixed or varying over time) and laws (which may also vary over time) is what I call a valid super-model of our universe.
The point I want to make here is that if you think about possible ways in which the constants (and maybe the laws) of Nature could vary, there must be some super-model out there – let’s call it S – that starts with a universe which began 6,000 years ago in the way in which young-earth creationists claim it began, and that finishes with the world as we see it today. The idea I’m getting at here is that there would have to be some set of mathematical curves describing the fundamental parameters of the universe, and how they’ve varied over time, that “does the trick” and explains the present distribution of matter and energy in the universe. (When I say “present distribution,” I mean everything, right down to the last atom – and of course, I’m including all the undiscovered fossils that are still buried in the ground. As most readers will know, young-earth creationists have trouble accounting for certain features of the stratigraphic record. But in an infinite multiverse where both the constants and the laws of Nature are allowed to vary over a 6,000-year period, there must be some combination of (possibly varying) laws and constants that “hits the jackpot” and replicates the geological record we observe today.)
Still, super-model S sounds pretty unlikely at first blush, doesn’t it? The mathematical curves associated with S might have sharp discontinuities – e.g. at the time of the Fall, or immediately after the Flood – and these curves will probably look very inelegant and bumpy. But here’s the thing: if you believe in an multiverse that contains an infinite number of universes (as a devout atheist would definitely want to, in order to avoid the theistic implications of fine-tuning), you have no good grounds for saying that the young-earth scenario described by S is unlikely.
Why not? Well, for starters, S is not unique. There will be many different sets of mathematical curves describing how the parameters required by a super-model have varied over time, which start from a specific set of initial conditions 6,000 years ago (namely, the physical conditions that you postulate to have obtained at the time of the alleged creation-event), and which generate the world as we know it today, with its current distribution of matter and energy. In fact, there will be infinitely many such sets of mathematical curves, associated with infinitely many super-models. After all, only the starting point (the Creation) and the end point (the world today) are fixed, for young-earth creationists. They don’t particularly care what the value of c was in 1,000 B.C., for instance, or whether MOND physics happened to hold true at that time (even if it doesn’t now).
But it gets worse. Even the starting point is not fixed, if you’re a young-earth creationist. After all, the book of Genesis doesn’t specify exactly what the world was like 6,000 years ago, even on a naive literal reading. It doesn’t say what the value of c was, for instance, or what the laws of Nature were. It constrains rather than defines the possibilities. Thus we have infinitely many possible starting points for the world of 6,000 years ago. The number of possible scenarios compatible with the book of Genesis is really getting big, isn’t it? Infinitely many starting points, and infinitely many ways to get from there to here, for each starting point. Hmmm.
Now, it would certainly be helpful for the skeptics’ case if they could demonstrate that the number of scenarios contradicting a literal reading of the book of Genesis was vastly greater than the number of scenarios compatible with a “naive” literal reading of the book of Genesis. Then they could argue that young-earth creationism, while possible, was nevertheless vastly improbable. The problem, it appears, is that you can’t straightforwardly demonstrate this, in a multiverse with an infinite number of universes. After all, if there are infinitely many scenarios that are compatible with young-earth creationism and infinitely many scenarios that are incompatible with young-earth creationism, which infinity is greater? And if neither is greater, shouldn’t we say that young-earth creationism and an old earth are both equally likely – or at the very least, reject as scientifically meaningless any assertions that one is more likely than the other?
“Wait!” the skeptic will cry. “You’re committing a fallacy. Not all infinities are equal. The cardinality of the set of real numbers, for instance, is a larger infinity than that of the set of integers. Even if the number of scenarios associated with young-earth creationism is infinite, it could still be dwarfed by the number of scenarios that are incompatible with it. And in fact this will be the case. Take any creationist super-model S, and consider the set of mathematical curves describing the manner in which its parameters have changed over the last 6,000 years. Six thousand years means that the curves have a finite length. They have ‘short tails,’ temporally speaking. But if you’re a skeptic, you’re free to believe in an infinitely old universe. We skeptics can take any of those short-tailed curves, starting at 6,000 years ago, and construct an infinite number of possible world-histories leading up to them, and then plug any or all of these histories into the back of each short-tailed curve. This demonstrates that corresponding to each curve describing a parameter in a young-earth creationist supermodel, we can mathematically construct an infinite number of scenarios with a longer history which are incompatible with young-earth creationism. This infinity-to-one mapping shows that young-earth creationism has an infinitesimal probability, compared with an old earth. Ta-da!”
But that’s a cop-out. All it shows is that the number of finite-length curves from time A (6,000 years ago) to time B (the present) is dwarfed by the number of curves of potentially unlimited length leading up to time B. That’s a valid mathematical point, but it’s not scientifically germane. For what we’re comparing here is not mathematical curves, but scientific super-models, which are postulated in order to explain our world today. What we’re attempting to do is start with some initial state of affairs which is taken as a suitable starting point for scientific purposes (i.e. a scientific “given”), and combine it with some set of parameters (which may or may not vary over time) characterizing our super-model, and then try to obtain an end-point corresponding to the world as we know it today, in 2010 A.D. (Of course the story doesn’t stop there, but that’s as far as we can take it for now.) Any given super-model must therefore have a finite temporal length (i.e. age), simply because it has a starting point. So when we’re comparing the number of young-earth creationist super-models to the number of old-earth super-models, each of our super-models has a finite temporal length – even though there’s no upper limit to how long a super-model in general may be.
However, a skeptic could justifiably argue that precisely because there’s no upper limit on the temporal length (i.e. age) of scientific super-models in general, the number of old ones is still going to dwarf the number of models with an age of only 6,000 years, even in a multiverse with infinitely many universes. For instance, there could be scientific super-models which require a trillion years to generate the world as we know it today, starting from their specified initial conditions, and there could be others which require a quadrillion years, or a quintillion years, and so on, back into the past. After all, there is no upper limit to the temporal length (i.e. age) of scientific super-models in general, even if each particular super-model has a finite age.
But that proves too much. For our own universe (which is one of infinitely many in the multiverse) is supposed by scientists to be a mere 13.7 billion years old. If the fact that the number of super-models for our universe which go back only 6,000 years is dwarfed by the number of super-models requiring a longer history in order to generate our current world counts as a valid reason for rejecting a 6,000-year-old universe, then by the same token, the fact that the number of super-models going back 13.7 billion years is dwarfed by the number of super-models requiring an even longer history in order to generate our current world should also count as a valid reason for rejecting a 13.7-billion-year-old universe. So by that logic, we should say that the universe we live in is indefinitely old: for any age we posit, we have a good reason for positing an older one.
At this point, the skeptic will object: “But the reason why we believe our universe is 13.7 billion years old has nothing to do with comparisons between the number of old-age and young-age super-models! We believe it because it’s the most scientifically parsimonious way of explaining the astronomical, physical, chemical, biological and geological data that describe our world. There’s no need to postulate any arbitrary changes in the laws of physics, for instance, as young-earth creationists do. Everything just rolls along, from the Big Bang up until the present. Things evolve: galaxies, stars, planets, living things, animals, people, and their ideas, too. That’s the best way to account for the evidence.”
Now, parsimony is indeed a scientific virtue. But it’s one that you can’t avail yourself of, in a multiverse with infinitely many universes. For it’s infinitely more likely that we live in an unparsimonious universe than that we live in a parsimonious one. To see why, consider two points A and B in Euclidean space. We can draw a line between them. That’s the shortest distance between them, and it’s the most parsimonious way of getting from A to B. However, there are infinitely many unparsimonious ways of getting from A to B. Think of all the funny curves we can draw linking the two points. And it gets worse. The number of curves from A to B which contain one or more mathematical discontinuities will be infinitely greater than the number of smooth, continuous curves linking A and B, which contain absolutely no discontinuities. So it seems that if our universe is a typical one in the multiverse, we should expect sudden jumps (over the course of time) or other irregularities in the values of the parameters which describe our universe – which is precisely what young-earth creationists postulate. We would expect to live in a universe with a “bumpy” history, where parameters suddenly change in value from time to time.
The skeptic may counter that even if this is the case, it doesn’t follow that the discontinuities in the historical values of the parameters describing our universe correspond to those postulated by young-earth creationists. Quite so. But it does mean that the probability that we live in a 13.7 billion-year-old universe is infinitesimally low. In that case, we should just say that we don’t know how old our universe is, and that it might be only 6,000 years old.
But the skeptic is not finished yet. There are still two ways in which he/she might seek to discredit young-earth creationism. First, the skeptic might argue that according to young-earth creationism, the whole of creation is only 6,000 years old. It’s not enough for our universe to be young, if it is embedded in an infinitely old multiverse; the whole kit-and-caboodle has to be young. But the multiverse itself is not the sort of thing that can be said to be young; only the individual universes within it can meaningfully be said to be young or old. “So even if the universe isn’t 13.7 billion years old, at least we know that young-earth creationism is still wrong!” the skeptic might crow.
But the skeptic is mistaken. Believing in a multiverse containing infinitely many universes doesn’t entail that the multiverse has been around forever – and in any case, there’s no place you could measure the “forever” from, so the claim that the multiverse is eternal is unverifiable! (Whichever universe you situate yourself in while making your measurements, it’ll still have a finite history.) What’s more, you can consistently believe in a multiverse containing infinitely many universes, which was created at some point. “Infinite in size” does not logically entail “infinite in age.” And a young-earth creationist could (I suppose) believe in a 6,000-year-old multiverse, if he/she were to suppose that all these universes run in parallel, like ticking clocks – in which case, they would be infinite in number, but they wouldn’t exhaust all possible values of the fundamental parameters. (A multiverse of this kind would be infinite but not exhaustive of all possibilities.)
Second, the skeptic might argue that there’s no place for God in the multiverse. After all, which universe does He live in? Even if he lives in all of them, He’s still in them – which means He isn’t God. By definition, God is not contained by anything. Hence even a multiverse would be metaphysically suffocating for a Deity to inhabit. An infinite God cannot live “in” anything – even a multiverse. On this point, the skeptic is right. If you’re going to believe in a God worthy of the name (and I don’t consider a pantheistic deity worthy), then you have to believe in a Being who is greater than even the multiverse. You could believe that the multiverse exists within God, but that God also transcends it (as panentheists do); or you could believe in a totally transcendent God, who created the whole of finite reality (as classical theists do). However, the skeptic’s claim that there’s no place for God in the multiverse does not entail that if the multiverse is real, then God is not real – which is the premise that the skeptic requires, in order to discredit young-earth creationism. So the skeptic’s arguments against young-earth creationism both fail.
I conclude that a skeptic who wishes to deny the reality of God by positing a multiverse containing an infinite number of universes is engaging in scientific and intellectual suicide. Such a skeptic no longer has a reason to believe in a 13.7 billion-year-old universe which unfolded in an orderly fashion, without any changes in either the laws of Nature or the constants of Nature. Indeed, the multiverse destroys the skeptic’s arguments against a 6,000-year-old universe. And finally, the multiverse fails to rule out God anyway – for you could always say that God created it.
Man-Made Climate Change
By now, my readers will have a pretty good idea of where I’m going with climate change. This time, however, we’re projecting into the future, not the past. Even if the latest IPCC model were based on impeccable scientific research, instead of being about as full of holes as a piece of Swiss cheese, the projected values for the Earth’s temperature by the year 2100 are all based on an unverifiable assumption: the constancy of the laws of Nature and of the values of the fundamental physical parameters. Remove that assumption, and all bets are off. Once again, there are infinitely more ways in which the world could go haywire in the future than the relatively small number of ways (one) in which its laws and parameters can remain constant over the next 100 years. And if we postulate a multiverse containing an infinite number of universes, it seems naive in the extreme to make the constancy of Nature our default assumption. Rather, we should expect a cosmic disturbance of some sort – we just don’t know what sort, that’s all. So the temperature could rise by 30 degrees in the coming century, or it could fall, or it could oscillate up and down randomly. But we can be pretty sure it won’t follow the hockey-stick, if the multiverse is real. In that case, putting aside money to fight global warming is likely to be a huge waste.
The foregoing thoughts of mine are not original. They stem from an essay by Professor Robert Koons, entitled, A New Look at the Cosmological Argument (American Philosophical Quarterly, 34 (1997):193-212), which I read many years ago. I shall quote a brief extract from section 8.13:
There is another serious drawback to the junky cosmos hypothesis (i.e the hypothesis that there are infinitely many parallel universes – VJT): if employed globally, it has the consequence that any form of induction is demonstrably unreliable. If we embrace the junky cosmos hypothesis to explain away every appearance of orderedness in the universe, then we should assume that the simplicity and regularity of natural law is also an artifact of observer selection. Universes would be posited to exist with every possible set of natural laws, however complex or inductively ill-behaved. Now take any well-established scientific generalization. Among the universes that agree with all of our observations up to this point in time, the number that go on to break this generalization is far greater than the number that continue to respect it. The objective probability that every generalization we have observed extends no farther than our observations is infinitely close to one. Thus, relying on induction in such a universe is demonstrably futile.
…Moreover, it undermines all subsequent appeals to simplicity or economy of explanation. If the junky cosmos hypothesis is true, it is demonstrable that the simplest hypothesis of astronomy or biology is no more likely to be true of our universe than the most complicated, Rube-Goldberg constructions. We would have absolutely no reason, for instance, to believe that the Copernican hypothesis is more likely to be true than a fantastically complex version of Ptolemy’s system, elaborated as far as necessary to save the astronomical phenomena. (Emphases mine – VJT.)
Now, I personally don’t believe in an infinite multiverse – although I don’t rule out the possibility that God may have created a large but finite number of universes in addition to this one, so that we can perform the sort of mathematical calculations we’ll need to carry out in the future, when everyday life gets a lot more complicated and we’ll be relying a lot more on computer models. (Some theorists believe that our computers already tap into these parallel universes.) The point I want to make here is that a consistent skeptic who believes in the multiverse should be agnostic about the age of the universe, and skeptical of man-made climate change, which is likely to be overwhelmed by other disturbances to the natural order. How curious it is, then, that most anti-religious skeptics are dogmatic about the age of the universe and firmly convinced of the reality of man-made global warming.
If you really want a stable, reliable universe that you can do good science in, you’d be better off positing a God whose very nature entails that He can only will what is good for creatures. (The existence of such a God is compatible with the evil we observe in the world, as God’s creation may have subsequently been sabotaged by other free agents.) Such a God may “intervene” in Nature from time to time (i.e. work in Nature without using secondary causes), when there is a pressing reason to do so. But He cannot disappoint His creatures by capriciously altering the laws of Nature on a whim – for that would be tantamount to God breaking His promise to Creation as a whole, and to the human race in particular. A God whose intentions are predictable is very useful if you’re a climate modeler, too.
Lastly, a God who’s in charge of the universe won’t set His creatures any insoluble problems. If man-made global warming is real – and it may well be – we already have a workable solution. And we should expect to be able to model how effective any proposed solution will be, how long it will require to implement, and how much it will cost to implement for the planet as a whole. And of course, it should be affordable. If it’s not, it’s a pseudo-solution.