Popping the Bubble Universes

3132081787_df9045a1fa_zIn yesterday’s post, I claimed that I respect those atheists who defend the multiverse as an explanation for the fine tuning of the universe more than those who refuse to adopt a position on the matter. That is for good reason, their position is clearly stronger. But I should explain why I don’t find it persuasive.

It would be misleading of me not to mention that I suspect that there is a multiverse. I actually leaned toward it on theological grounds (that God would have made multiple universes) long before I’d heard of String Theory. What I have a hard time believing in is the idea that the multiverse gives the naturalist a legitimate alternative to belief in God.

That is, I reject the idea that God and the multiverse are on equal evidentiary grounds. There is no evidence at all that points to a multiverse which does not equally point to a designer of the universe. However, there are a number of good reasons for believing in God which don’t point to a multiverse.

As to those reasons (the arguments for the existence of God), it would take me too far off topic to rehearse them in this post. The point is that the atheist must show that they all fail completely in order to support the claim that the multiverse and God are equally valid. The bold declarations of the New Atheists aside, no one has come close to doing this.

But this would only get us to equality. It would take still more work to get us to the point that the multiverse is the better option. The only argument on this point, so far as I know, is the idea that the multiverse is simple.

The problem with that statement is that it is false. I’m not sure what definition of “simple” is being used, but astronomically high numbers of universes, each with its own set of constants and quantities, and an external mechanism which randomly sets these constants, is not simple by any definition.

But, as complex as it is, the multiverse doesn’t explain nearly so much as people tend to assume. The idea of the multiverse, after all, is that if there were a great number of universes, then we would find ourselves in the universe that can support us (this is known as the anthropic principle).

Of course, this leads us to the problem of the Boltzman Brain: the overwhelming majority of observable universes (given naturalism) would be observed by brains which randomly fluctuate out of quantum vacuum energy, complete with false memories in many cases.

That is to say that the naturalist, if she is a believer in the multiverse, has good reason to think that she is more likely a delusional brain fluctuating out of the quantum vacuum than a person in a relatively stable universe. This, in turn, is reason to doubt everything she believes, including science.

Part of me suspects that the multiverse is protected mostly by a vaguely scientific aura that it wears like armor. It seems to enjoy some of the mythos of science without having any of the supporting evidence which is usually required. And, followed to its logical conclusion (if one is a naturalist), it actually undermines science.

But, once one realizes that it isn’t a scientific theory, it is very hard to believe that this position is intellectually superior (or even equal) to theism.

9 responses to “Popping the Bubble Universes

  • David

    This is a great blog. You’re a very good writer and you seem to really know your stuff. Out of curiosity from the title of the blog, do you know Latin? I’m just wondering because I’ve been trying to learn off and on for a couple years now.

  • makagutu

    You realize the fine tuning idea was started by ID proponents. The universe just is, the constants we observe just are no fine tuning. If another universe were to exist different from ours it would have it’s laws and they would just be. To argue that the universe is just fine tuned for us, is same as arguing that a river was fine tuned for a town that developed later along its banks. To say the least, it is a ridiculous claim!
    All the arguments for the existence of god fail completely. I would want you to show me just one that you think is successful in proving the existence of god. I don’t want two, just one!

    • Debilis

      I don’t claim to know whether that term was first proposed by ID proponents, but the issue is a scientific one. This is the reason why the multiverse was proposed in the first place.

      But simply to say that the universe “just is” does not answer the question “why is it the way it is”. Presumably, any question could be answered in this fashion, but that does not make it a valid scientific response.

      Simply saying that we developed to fit this universe does not seem to respect the problem of the universal constants. That the universe should support anything larger than an atom is astronomically improbable. To shrug at such improbabilities is to quit doing science. As such, it drifts back into the avoiding of the question that I discussed the the previous post.

      Also, I’ve explained above that most observable universes don’t actually support life in anything like a stable way (see the section on Boltzman Brains). That is to say, to be here, one doesn’t actually need to have developed to fit the universe (as in your example). The overwhelming odds, given naturalism, is that one is a delusional brain fluctuating out of a quantum vacuum state.

      So, to take your analogy, consider the (silly) hypothetical that it had been scientifically demonstrated that the odds are billions and billions to one in favor of the idea that rivers will surge up and destroy all buildings near it every day. The fact that all the rivers on earth have never done this in the course of human history would need to be explained.

      In fact, I completely agree that atheism is an unassailable position so long as one feels no responsibility to explain certain things (saying “it just is”). In fact, this tends to be the atheist’s frustration with certain theists.

    • Debilis

      I know it is a couple of days after the fact, but I did just notice that I never answered your final paragraph. (Apologies! I never know how many things I’ve let fall through the cracks.)

      I don’t think I’ll go through any particular argument, though. If you want to have a look at what I would say, I think the earliest posts in the series on Russell are a good place to start. I defend some of the traditional arguments there.

      What I’ll say here is that, in this case, it is not the theists responsibility to establish that these arguments succeed. If the naturalist wants to make the case that the multiverse is as supported as theism, then she must show that these arguments all fail completely. Otherwise, she hasn’t supported the claim.

      Of course, I think the theist can do much better than simply point out that this claim of the naturalist is unsupported. But that is a matter for future posts.

  • Chris

    Good post…I had always wondered about the implications of a multiverse myself…but had never considered the implications of throwing God in the mix…as always, you’ve given me something to chew on. I may revisit this post at a future time to share some thoughts after I’ve thought about it.

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