Thursday, December 01, 2005

An obsession with the anthropic principle

Vox Day's latest WorldNetDaily column continues the trend of Christian writers to demonize the "multiple universes" theories of cosmology:
Fortunately, science and religion need no longer be at war, as developments in modern physics have shown, (especially those relating to the significance of the fundamental constants), which may indicate that the time for hostilities may finally be over. It is interesting to note that the "multiple universes" concept which has inspired so many short stories in the past decade is a purely hypothetical theory developed without any experimental basis in an attempt to answer the "anthropic principle," which not only has a solid foundation in current scientific method, but threatens to demolish the entire notion of a random, mechanistic universe.
The anthropic principle is essentially the logical necessity that any cosmological theory must be consistent with observations including the observation that life exists. If we assume that the known fundamental constants and laws of physics are truely universal in scope (let's call this the "single universe" concept, to make my life easier), the anthropic principle allows constraints (presumably rather stringent ones) to be placed on the permitted values of the fundamental constants. On the other hand, the "multiple universes" concept is that the fundamental constants may vary in different domains of the Universe, with the variation of the fundamental constants being such that at least one domain of the Universe consistent with observations is guarenteed to exist.

The "single universe" concept seems to appeal to Christians who see a role for God in the Universe as the being who chooses the fundamental constants for the entire universe. The "multiple universes" concept, by offering an explanation for the value or values of the fundamental constants, thus draws attacks from Christians for presumably denying this role for God. But it's hard to see why the anthropic principle should allow one to favor one of these concepts over the other; both concepts seem to accept that at least the observable part of the Universe should be consistent with what we do observe.

Setting the legitimate scientific criticism of "multiple universes" aside, it also isn't clear why God, assuming that He did create the Universe, could not have choosen to create a Universe in which the "multiple universes" concept is true. Both concepts agree with the anthropic principle, so aside from the scientific evidence there is no rational way of determining which method God used to create the Universe.

2 Comments:

Blogger island said...

You make a good point, (I think), creationists tend to see multiverses as a way to remove the implied significance of the anthropic principle, since atheists claim that the anthropic principle can't be used as an argument for god if there is an infinite number of possible universes and one of them had to be like ours.

Little do they realize that a single, finite, bound, closed, anthropic universe, can be their worst nightmare if some justifying physical need for human attributes to arise can be identified.

5:19 PM  
Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

I don't think some theists may do what you're saying here, but I think for many they aren't opposed in principle to God working through this means. I think it's more that they want to argue against an explanation for the fine-tunedness that doesn't require God, because otherwise the teleological argument for God's existence is unmotivated. If the many universes hypothesis is an alternative explanation, then fine-tuning ceases to be as good an argument for believing in God, because the many universes would explain why things seem fine-tuned in this universe, because we happen to be in a universe that has this set of constants.

4:59 AM  

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