The right kind of science stopper

An Uncommon Descent blog buried in the Christmas rush drew attention to an article  in that august scientific journal, Harper’s Magazine, by Alan Lightman. It is essentially an overview of multiverse theory in physics, but makes the point that acceptance of the multiverse hypothesis renders science’s quest for ultimate causes meaningless:

Dramatic developments in cosmological findings and thought have led some of the world’s premier physicists to propose that our universe is only one of an enormous number of universes with wildly varying properties, and that some of the most basic features of our particular universe are indeed mere accidents—a random throw of the cosmic dice. In which case, there is no hope of ever explaining our universe’s features in terms of fundamental causes and principles.

Now although it is disputed, most versions of the multiverse suppose that, since different physics applies to each Universe, science is by definition incapable of perceiving and investigating those beyond our own. String theory and so on can at best show the multiverse to be compatible with science, but it is always likely to be beyond our grasp in practice. I have argued elsewhere that this makes it just a modern creation myth, of no more value than the Babylonian Enuma Elish and with demonstrably less predictive power than Genesis 1.

But supposing one could confirm its existence? At least, as Lightman points out, it would mean that the fundamental laws of physics are not fundamental at all – just random values applicable only to our own universe, and therefore of no great interest apart from a mathematical exercise. If one were to discover the truth of the many-worlds multiverse the situation would be worse still: it would mean that absolutely anything is possible, and even science within the parameters of this world dependent on the fluke reproducibility of phenomena, potentially to be overturned at any moment.

In other words, the multiverse is a complete science stopper. Now this accusation is precisely what has been thrown at Intelligent Design (and all theistic models) as a reason for outright rejection. Recourse to a supreme uncreated being renders further investigation futile. Since God and the multiverse are, currently, the only plausible games in town it seems that science comes to end of the road whichever is adopted, so it’s worth looking a little closer at which terminus is actually preferable, scientifically.

If the multiverse is preferred, all options stop here, potentially including, as I have said, the validity of all the science done so far – in the many-worlds setup, one could not rely on human perception or reason, or the internal consistency of the universe itself.

If on the other hand one opts for a supreme being, several other things follow. For a start, the basic assumptions of science (cause and effect and man’s ability to perceive and understand them) remain: a rational being is likely to have produced a comprehensible universe and truly rational beings. The daily pursuit of “low-level” science would therefore be secure, but also one could still look for possible reasons for, and relationships between, the physical laws, knowing that their values were indeed in place for a reason rather than through sheer blind luck.

Furthermore it would open up the possibility of looking for the nature of such a being within creation – the ID project writ large.

Another tangential issue is the quest for other life in the Universe. I don’t know how many physicists take a real interest in extraterrestrial life or the SETI programme, but scientific popularisers like Carl Sagan and Brian Cox give the impression that finding it is an important goal, NASA spends billions on it and, if science blogs are any guide, one of the greatest longings of the human mind is to discover that “We are not alone.” If that’s the case, the acceptance of a rational Creator deals with it at a stroke – not only are we not alone, but the Creator ultimately made us and might be expected to take an interest in us beyond colonisation or destruction in the interests of Galactic peace.

So why, then, is it the case that the multiverse, the ultimate science stopper, is the market leader in cosmology, whereas God in any form, which is a science-enabling concept, has to be excluded at, it would seem, any intellectual cost? Since the science-stopping claim is seen to be no more than an excuse, maybe we need to look to more human reasons. Many scientists have made statements to the effect that they don’t want there to be a God behind the Universe, but perhaps the spirit of the materialist age is best summed up in this quote from Also Spracht Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche:

If there were gods, how could I bear it to be no god myself? Therefore, there are no Gods.

Avatar photo

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
This entry was posted in Politics and sociology, Science, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply