Intelligent Design

Why a Multiverse proponent should be open to Young-Earth Creationism and skeptical of Man-made Global Warming

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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!

Young-Earth Creationism

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.

Comments, anyone?

31 Replies to “Why a Multiverse proponent should be open to Young-Earth Creationism and skeptical of Man-made Global Warming

  1. 1
    nullasalus says:

    If I recall, Paul Davies, Martin Rees and others openly admit that certain multiverse hypotheses seem to imply disturbing possibilities for our universe – that we live in a simulated universe, etc.

    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.

    Glad to see someone other than myself reach this conclusion. I think you’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg on this issue too – to embrace the multiverse, to start dealing with infinite universes, comes with a cost people don’t yet appreciate.

  2. 2
    Joseph says:

    Is this OP going to come out in movie form any time soon?

  3. 3
    nullasalus says:

    Actually, VJtorley, I’ll throw a thought at you I haven’t yet worked out fully yet.

    Can a multiverse be compatible with Darwinism itself?

    For a moment, let’s consider the most extravagant multiverse scenario – the so-called level 4 Ultimate Ensemble where all possible mathematically describable universes are actual. So all possible timelines do occur.

    In Darwin’s exchanges with Asa Gray, Darwin seemingly claimed that Asa could not believe in an omnipotent, omniscient God and natural selection both, because natural selection absolutely required variation to be unguided in order to work as a theory – otherwise, NS was superfluous and did no ‘work’. Now, obviously there are problems with that (it makes Darwinism, as Darwin viewed it, unmistakably a metaphysical claim and thus renders it unscientific upon the instant.)

    But there seems to be an additional problem in play – “chance” is removed in this multiverse picture as well, in an essential way. Whereas in the omniscient, omnipotent God scenario there is no actual chance variation for NS to act on (because God has orchestrated events from beginning to end, thus NS isn’t really doing any work), in this multiverse scenario there’s no actual chance variation for NS to act on (because there is no ‘chance’ – all possibilities are realized). The only ‘chance’ that seems to really be in effect is ‘why am I in this timeline as opposed to another’ – and even that is unclear.

    Like I said, I haven’t fully worked this out yet. But, on the level 4 multiverse scenario, it seems to not make sense to speak of chance variation being acted upon by natural selection (speaking loosely) because there is no actual chance to speak of. So in what way does it make sense to speak of ‘natural selection’ resulting in one outcome over another, when all possible outcomes are realized in a multiverse sense? NS becomes, at most, a kind of useful or descriptive fiction in the multiverse world, just as it would in the world with the omnipotent, omniscience God.

    Perhaps I’m missing something, but at the same time it seems worth pondering.

  4. 4
    vjtorley says:

    Hi nullasalus,

    Your comment reminded me of a paper by Dr. Eugene Koonin (National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD) at http://www.biology-direct.com/content/2/1/15 :

    Recent developments in cosmology radically change the conception of the universe as well as the very notions of “probable” and “possible”. The model of eternal inflation implies that all macroscopic histories permitted by laws of physics are repeated an infinite number of times in the infinite multiverse. In contrast to the traditional cosmological models of a single, finite universe, this worldview provides for the origin of an infinite number of complex systems by chance, even as the probability of complexity emerging in any given region of the multiverse is extremely low. This change in perspective has profound implications for the history of any phenomenon, and life on earth cannot be an exception.

    There’s a UD post about Koonin’s paper at http://www.uncommondescent.com.....or-design/ .

    Koonin realizes that the origin of life on Earth was astronomically improbable. His solution?

    The MWO version of the cosmological model of eternal inflation could suggest a way out of this conundrum because, in an infinite multiverse with a finite number of distinct macroscopic histories (each repeated an infinite number of times), emergence of even highly complex systems by chance is not just possible but inevitable.

    But if it’s inevitable, can we speak of “chance”? Good question. Depends on how you define chance.

    A classical theist could never believe in pure chance, in my opinion, as it would be imputing autonomy to the cosmos.

    Got to run now. Will be back later.

  5. 5
    gpuccio says:

    vjtorley:

    Hey, you are rather a poet of the multiverses! Your post is really a masterpiece, I don’t know if of humour or of paradoxical drama 🙂 My compliments!

    Can I at least hope in a personal universe (just one, I have no big pretenses) where ID is the dominating world view, and darwinists blog desperately, hopeless and castaway, to discuss their wholly unconventional views?

    But no, surely that would not be fun…

  6. 6
    Collin says:

    I must be weird, or not very smart, but I don’t see the connection between infinity and inevitability.

    I understand that if you flip a coin an infinite number of times, then at soem point it lands heads 1,000 times in a row, but do an infinite number of universes mean Mozart and philosophy and all that? Why not just an infinite amount of universes all with a bunch of swirling mass? How is humanity and life inevitable? I don’t see the connection. No matter how many times you flip a coin, you will never get Abe Lincoln on a nickle.

  7. 7
    second opinion says:

    I would like to raise two objections:
    1) At least for the recent past the claim that the laws of nature have not changed is not an assertion but a direct observation. This is also the time span that is relevant for anthropogenic climate change. Thus to consider while the relevant laws of nature have not changed during the last thirty years or so that they will change in the next thirty years would be a bit far fetched.
    2) The thing is that if you extrapolate the laws nature back into the past you get a consistent picture of reality. And this is infinitely unlikely to happen if the laws of nature were different in the past.

  8. 8
    Upright BiPed says:

    Great post VJ

  9. 9
    vjtorley says:

    second opinion

    Thank you for your post. You write:

    Thus to consider while the relevant laws of nature have not changed during the last thirty years or so that they will change in the next thirty years would be a bit far fetched.

    True, but there is only one way in which they can stay the same, and that’s for all the parameters not to change, whereas there are infinitely many ways in which the laws can change.

    You also write:

    The thing is that if you extrapolate the laws nature back into the past you get a consistent picture of reality. And this is infinitely unlikely to happen if the laws of nature were different in the past.

    True again, but there are still infinitely many times more consistent pictures of reality in the past where the laws of nature are different than there are pictures of reality in the past where the laws of nature are the same.

  10. 10
    nullasalus says:

    Collin,

    No matter how many times you flip a coin, you will never get Abe Lincoln on a nickle.

    I wonder, considering the famous Carl Sagan example of a car quantum tunneling through a wall and ending up on the other side of it and so on. Stuff gets a bit weird once you start playing with infinities.

  11. 11
    Collin says:

    Nullasalus,

    I guess I’m not saying that it is not impossible, it’s just not anything that we can test, so its not science. Infinity is not really testable so it cannot be Darwinism’s salvation.

  12. 12
    nullasalus says:

    Collin,

    I agree. My suspicion is that not only can’t it be ‘salvation’ for Darwinism because it’s not testable even in principle, but that – given the sort of multiverse I’m mentioning – the truth of such a multiverse scenario would entail the falsity of Darwinism. It’s still something I have to think about, but that’s my hunch.

  13. 13
    markf says:

    vj

    I just read this (or rather skimmed it). You (and Koon) argue that because there are more conceivable universes with property X therefore there is a greater probability of universes with probability X. I know the ID crowd are fond of the principle of indifference (although it is known to be inconsistent) but applying it to universes is a bit over the top don’t you think?

  14. 14
    second opinion says:

    vjtorley

    I think it does not help to think about the infinite number of ways the natural laws could change, because you can make the observation that the laws don’t change itself a law. Then you are left with two possibilites: Either the law of non-changing laws is true or false.

  15. 15
    gpuccio says:

    Mark, second opinion:

    I think vj’s piece is an enjoyable exercise of hyperbole, and I like it for that.

    But, if you want to talk seriously, I would say that there is a fundamental error on all the “multiverse” discussions when they are used to justify what we observe in “our” little universe in terms of probability: an infinite number of universes in no way implies that “anything is possible”.

    I will be more clear: there are always events whose probability, in a system, is 0: they cannot happen. Those events would never happen, even in infinite universes.

    The problem is simple: are there laws which govern the formation of the infinite universes? I suppose the answer should be yes. Otherwise, why not a multiverse composed of only one instance? Or two?

    If infinite multiverses are generated, that is in itself a law.

    Are those laws constant or can they change?

    I would answer they are constant, for a couple of reasons:

    a) If they change, we are given a chance of infinite regress even Dawkins would be scared by

    b) It is not clear for me in what dimension they would change, being time one of the constituents of the universes themselves. Maybe in a supertime in some superuniverse? Or supermultiverse? Hey, the infinite regress becomes more interesting.

    So, let’s say the superlaws do not change. Then, in the system made by the superlaws and their effects (the multiverses) here will be events with probability 0: all those which are not allowed by the superlaws.

    Therefore, infinite universes does not mean that anything is possible.

  16. 16

    Vjtorley,
    Lovely piece!
    Thanks for the hat tip on cardinality of infinities.

    And while I really liked your image of the discontinuous curve of physical properties that would produce a 6000 yr old universe, you said something else that made me wish, if even for a moment, that I was a young-earth creationist. So I could tell people I studied supermodels.

    Seriously though, you pointed out why in the end, I can’t be a YEC. If supermodels exist, then the multiverse probably also exists, and if the multiverse exists, then induction doesn’t, and if induction doesn’t, then neither does science. I guess I’m addicted to science, and can’t so easily give it up to become a YEC.

  17. 17
    markf says:

    #15

    Gpuccio

    I would say that there is a fundamental error on all the “multiverse” discussions when they are used to justify what we observe in “our” little universe in terms of probability:

    I agree. But I would extend it to discussion of our own universe. To talk of the probability of the universe being the way it is strikes me as a nonsense. It is that way – so the probability is 1.

  18. 18
    vjtorley says:

    gpuccio, markf, second opinion and Robert Sheldon:

    Thank you all for your posts. A few points:

    (1) markf argues that the probability of the universe being the way it is, is exactly 1. But even if we grant that, the question of what the universe was like in the past (or what it will be like in the future), seems to be a completely different one. Given that the universe is the way it is now, there are many more pathways to the present involving scenarios where the laws of nature change at some point(s) in the past than pathways where they always stay the same. Likewise, there are infinitely many more ways in which one or more of the laws of nature can cease to hold at some point in the future than ways in which the laws all remain the same. Unless we simply stipulate in advance that the laws of nature cannot cease to hold, full stop, there is no way for an atheistic multiverse proponent to escape the anti-inductive logic of my parable.

    (2) gpuccio makes a valid point when he declares that “an infinite number of universes in no way implies that ‘anything is possible’.” He asks: “Are there laws which govern the formation of the infinite universes?” and if so, “Are those laws constant or can they change?” I would certainly agree that there is something mind-boggling about supposing that these super-laws can change too. For one thing, it opens up an infinite regress. But if I were in Richard Dawkins’ shoes, that’s the line I’d take. I’d bite the bullet and say, “We all live in a ‘Russian doll’ cosmos, and where each universe is embedded in a bigger one, without end, and where each set of laws can be generated, and changed, by an even more general set of super-laws. Thus any set of laws can be changed by something higher up.”

    The reason why I’d go for this bizarre view is that stopping the regress invites the question, “Why do we have the laws – or super-laws – that we do?” And the only answer that can be given is, “We just do, that’s all.” But that’s conceptually no different from saying that our universe “just is” – which is what atheists used to say, up until the mid-1980s. If you’re going to say that, though, you might as well not bother postulating a multiverse at all. You’re only going to face the same problem one level up. So if I were in Dawkins’ shoes, I’d go for an endless series of universes and an endless series of laws, embedded inside each other.

    (3) While the notion of an endless series of laws is an exciting one, it’s ultimately unintelligible. The conceptual problem it runs into is that you can’t have an infinite regress of explanations, because it explains nothing in the end.

    (4) Once you posit super-laws that are just given, then gpuccio’s point follows automatically: there will be events we can imagine whose probability is zero.

    (5) If atheism were true, however, it would be deeply mysterious that the laws of nature don’t change. After all, one might ask, why shouldn’t they? Someone might attempt to argue that they don’t change because they’re outside time and space – but that’s Platonism, which is a pretty odd view for an atheist to hold.

    (6) There have been reports that one of the constants of nature, namely the fine structure constant alpha, may have changed over the course of time. So I would ask: if the constants of nature can change, then why not the laws themselves? Also, some physicists are of the opinion that the laws of nature may not be invariant over very large distances – e.g. Newton’s inverse square law of gravitation. So again I would ask: if the laws can change over large distances, then why not over long periods of time? I cannot see how an atheist could rule this out.

    (7) second opinion attempts to boost the odds of the laws of nature being constant in the past by arguing that the super-law that the laws of nature don’t change has a 50% chance of being true and a 50% chance of being false. I would answer that this is an invalid super-law. A valid super-law would have to describe how the laws of nature vary over time, if at all. Thus while the super-law that the laws of nature DON’T change is a valid one, the super-law that the laws of nature DO change is not valid, because it doesn’t stipulate how they change.

    Think of it like this. According to one super-law, the laws of nature don’t change; according to another, the indices in the denominators of the mathematical laws double on Tuesdays; according to another, the numerators and denominators of all mathematical laws flip every 1,000 years; and so on. You can immediately see that there are infinitely many times more super-laws where the laws of nature do change than the single super-law in which they don’t.

    (8) Robert Sheldon:

    I’ve greatly benefited from reading your posts, as they’ve given me lots of ideas, and on occasion changed the direction of my thinking.

    I was hoping someone would get the supermodel joke, and I’m glad you did.

    I quite agree with you that if induction doesn’t work, neither does science – which is why I find YEC a bridge too far, too. Still, I’m worried about these reports that alpha may vary. For instance, here’s a recent report from Australia:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....004112.htm

    What do you make of it, and do you think it creates problems for induction? I’d be interested to hear your views on this question.

  19. 19

    vjtorley,
    I’m glad you’re in agreement, I thought you might want to argue that one can hold a supermodel for YEC without permitting multiverses, which would then be another version of “God just made it look that way”. So no matter how you slice it, YEC appears to undermine induction.

    But this approach assumes that Hebrew translation is as plain as the nose on your face. In other words, Hebrew can be inductively understood, just not Science. For me, this elevation of Linguistic science from the vicissitudes of the natural sciences seems a bit, well, idolatrous actually.

    Okay, what about this result that the fine structure constant might be varying. The article claims that it is under review in the respected journal PRL, but in this field, everyone prepublishes their stuff at arXive, so here’s the link:
    http://arxiv.org/abs/1008.3907

    A quick scan reveals:
    a) noise level at 10^-5
    b) Their best fit to 153 sources is 0.5×10^-5, or a factor of two below the noise level.
    c) their model includes a bunch of assumptions, for example, quasars have:
    i) cosmological red shift
    ii) relativistic beaming “blue” shift
    iii) gravitational lensing red shift
    iv) “saturation” effects broadening the lines that needed to be sharp

    To tame this mess, they assumed an unspecified “tying” of parameters together or else they couldn’t get a solution at all. This “tying” is basically assuming the thing they want to prove.

    d) 60 spectra gave 153 examples, which I think means that roughly 3 samples come from each source. Assuming that sources are independent but not samples, that gives a selection error of sqrt(60)/60 = 13%, which is a lot of wiggle room.

    e) Then they didn’t do a simple fit, but did successively refining fits, which is what you are forced to do when your data is all over the map, and you want to force it to a single solution. It’s a fudge that Baysean sorts decry as using your partial results and priors, and artificially inflates certainty.

    f) But perhaps the biggest problem with this paper, is that they fit their 60 quasars to dipole and monopole models, which is a bias that can’t easily be accounted for. Why not a checkerboard, or a the shape of TIE-fighter? There’s an unknown bias introduced in forward modelling, and this paper had more than the usual amount of forward, backward, filtering and iterative modelling that I will be mildly surprised if PRL publishes it. (This was John Ioannidis’ argument for why medical research is so often overturned.)

    So I wouldn’t lose any sleep over this paper.

  20. 20
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Rob,

    Thank you very much for your analysis of the recent paper on possible variations in the fine structure constant. I can see now that the case made by the authors is a shaky one at best. Thank you again.

  21. 21
    bornagain77 says:

    Thanks from me as well Dr. Sheldon.

  22. 22
    nullasalus says:

    vjtorley,

    So if I were in Dawkins’ shoes, I’d go for an endless series of universes and an endless series of laws, embedded inside each other.

    Isn’t something like that Spinoza’s view? And what’s more, isn’t that equally fatal for Dawkins? If our universe is encapsulated in an ‘endless series of universes’, all it takes is 1 universe in the series to be theistic or deistic for atheism to be false. And if those ‘laws’ are not somehow restrained, it’s back to seeming inevitable. But if there’s a superlaw governing the universes…

    So Dawkins is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. (Hey, a little Calvinist humor there.)

  23. 23
    molch says:

    vjtorley:

    “markf argues that the probability of the universe being the way it is, is exactly 1. But even if we grant that, the question of what the universe was like in the past (or what it will be like in the future), seems to be a completely different one. Given that the universe is the way it is now, there are many more pathways to the present involving scenarios where the laws of nature change at some point(s) in the past than pathways where they always stay the same.”

    Really? Examples?

    Much of your analogy between YEC “supermodels” and multiverse theories hinges on your interpretation of parsimony:

    “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.”

    Your problem here is that parsimony or “unparsimony” is not a property of the universe. Instead, it is a tool we use to try and make decisions when judging between competing models for some fact or observation, taking the currently available data into account. So, your bumps and discontinuities in the line between A and B will be taken into account as soon as there is any EVIDENCE for them, and be incorporated into the NEW parsimonious model. Thus, what is thought to be the parsimonious model at time X often turns out to be wrong at a later time Y, when more data is available.

    To illustrate, here is a little excerpt from Wikipedia on parsimony:

    “In the scientific method, parsimony is an epistemological, metaphysical, or heuristic preference, not an irrefutable principle of logic, and certainly not a scientific result. As a logical principle, Occam’s razor would demand that scientists accept the simplest possible theoretical explanation for existing data. However, science has shown repeatedly that future data often supports more complex theories than existing data. Science tends to prefer the simplest explanation that is consistent with the data available at a given time, but history shows that these simplest explanations often yield to complexities as new data becomes available. When scientists use the idea of parsimony, it only has meaning in a very specific context of inquiry. A number of background assumptions are required for parsimony to connect with plausibility in a particular research problem. The reasonableness of parsimony in one research context may have nothing to do with its reasonableness in another. It is a mistake to think that there is a single global principle that spans diverse subject matter. As a methodological principle, the demand for simplicity suggested by parsimony cannot be generally sustained. Parsimony cannot help toward a rational decision between competing explanations of the same empirical facts. One problem in formulating an explicit general principle is that complexity and simplicity are perspective notions whose meaning depends on the context of application and the user’s prior understanding. In the absence of an objective criterion for simplicity and complexity, parsimony itself does not support an objective epistemology”

    So, we don’t live in a “parsimonious” or “unparsimonious” universe, we simply live in a universe in which some realities came about in a more simple and direct way, and others in a more complex roundabout way than others, and the way we decide which is which is by gathering more evidence and adjust which model fits the evidence best. And one of those criteria is traditionally the principle of parsimony.

  24. 24
    kairosfocus says:

    A quick note:

    The concept that the probability that the observed universe is — currently — more or less as we see it may arguably be close to 1, but that has little or nothing to do with the multiverse-context odds of the cosmos we inhabit being at a multi-dimensionally finely tuned operating point that facilitates C-chemistry, cell based life. On a great many parameters,just a little one way or the other, makes the cosmos radically hostile to such life at this point in the universe’s career.

    For instance, with the gravity force in hand, the mass of the universe of about 10^80 atoms [since most are H and most of the rest He] is reportedly tuned to 1 in 10^60 or so, i.e. +/- less than a reasonably sized grain of sand.

    As BA is fond of saying, go outside, look up at the heavens, then pick up a grain of sand and put it next to your computer monitor and think about it.

    When it comes to Occam’s explanatory simplicity razor, Einstein had an excellent counter-balancing point: everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler than that. So, whether or not VJT’s OP point on YEC cosmological models and Climate Change is solid, the core issue still remains.

    In other words, a simple explanatory argument is only credible when it is coherent and factually adequate. Which brings us back to the comparative difficulties process and challenge that still lies incomplete in this thread, M.

    Moreover, somewhere out there, multiverse models have to account for the underlying cosmos-baking bread factory being capable of tossing out the range and variation of sub-cosmi that makes a life-permitting universe such as we inhabit sufficiently common to make surmounting the odds for not just being life-permitting, but life-existing, possible.

    Going beyond that, there is the classic John Leslie argument about flies on walls.

    Our observed universe is locally fine-tuned, i.e. small shifts in parameters would put it out of the life-permitting operating point we see. So, like when an isolated fly on a wall gets smacked by a bullet, we need to go looking for someone who is armed with a scoped, zeroed rifle and skilled enough to hit the target [think of the size of a fly and the accuracy parameters of a rifle that have to be tuned for it to be precise and accurate!], even if there were other areas or other walls with carpets of flies such that any bullet at random would hit one.

    The fact that we are evidently in isolated fly mode not carpeted fly mode, is itself a matter that needs to be factored into explanation,on pain of setting up a simplistic strawman.

    Which is the basic point Einstein was getting at.

    GEM of TKI

  25. 25
  26. 26
    bornagain77 says:

    As kf pointed out, The clear distinction is to be found in what we observe vs. what we should expect from a atheistic worldview, as this newly pieced together video illustrates:

    What Would The World Look Like If Atheism Were True? – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/w/5486757/

  27. 27
    molch says:

    KF:

    “Which brings us back to the comparative difficulties process and challenge that still lies incomplete in this thread, M.”

    I know – CY never did answer my last post there.

  28. 28
    Clive Hayden says:

    molch,

    I know – CY never did answer my last post there.

    You never answered my question about what you believe or disbelieve about the historical Jesus.

  29. 29
    molch says:

    Clive:

    You’re right, I didn’t. It’s kinda hard for 1 person to answer the 1 – 25 questions each (per post) by at least 6 other posters. It’s hard enough to dig through some of the posts to find out if they contained anything relevant to the discussion I was personally interested in. But I spent quite some time explaining why neither your question nor most of the other questions by other posters I could actually find were relevant to the topic I was interested in discussing with CY.

    Anyway, I am not blaming CY of anything here – we all end our participation in any discussion at some point for various reasons (including, and often primarily, lack of time). KF brought the point up – I am simply commenting on that and basically agreeing with him.

  30. 30
    kairosfocus says:

    Molch:

    Thanks for confirming that you have no answer on the merits — after being asked directly at least four times — by trying to change the subject and playing at turnabout rhetoric.

    GEM of TKI

  31. 31
    molch says:

    KF:

    “The fact that we are evidently in isolated fly mode not carpeted fly mode”

    So, I am assuming the fly you speak of is our currently observed universe? And you seem to describe this fly as “locally” isolated, because it is “fine-tuned” for life. However, all that “fine-tuned” means is that this universe has a very specific set of parameters. In a multiverse model, all the other flies (i.e. all the other universes, presumably in some models an infinite number of them?) should logically be just as isolated, because they obviously all have a unique, very specific set of parameters. So I don’t really see how the fly of our universe could logically be any more isolated than any other possible universe in a hypothetical multiverse?
    And exactly what do you mean by the bullet hitting the fly? Bringing the universe in question into existence? In that case, wouldn’t the multiverse seem to explicitly postulate that every wall is carpeted with bullets until all the flies are hit (which makes it mostly irrelevant how close or far your flies are from each other), since it postulates that all the possible universes do exist?

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