Tag Archives: Multiverse

Theism is False Because There is No Explanation?

378890256_640I was delighted to see that, even though he argues against theism, Mackie is not impressed by appeals to the anthropic principle. He sees clearly that, while it is not surprising that we don’t observe a universe that couldn’t have supported life, it is surprising that we do observe a universe that did.

A fairly common analogy goes as follows:

If one were to face a firing squad of fifty crack marksmen at point blank range, and all of them missed, it isn’t good enough to say “If I’d been shot, I wouldn’t be here to wonder why they all missed, so I shouldn’t wonder about that question now”.

This is the reason why those pressing the anthropic argument so often appeal to a multiverse. Of course, it must immediately be noted that a presumption of materialism is the only reason to consider the multiverse more likely than any other explanation. Outside of the fine-tuning itself, there is no evidence for it.

As such, Mackie dismisses the multiverse as a serious challenge to theism; he sees that it concedes the theists key points. (For those interested in that issue, I’ve written about it in the past.) Unfortunately, his alternative is no better. He insists that, the further one goes backward in time, explaining causes, the less there is to explain. Thus, he argues, something like a divine mind is far too much to deal with the little that would be left by the time one reaches the beginning of the universe.

Of course, this idea that there is less to explain as one moves into the past is more controversial than Mackie seems to think. In discussions over it, I’ve not seen it well defended. And it is definitely born out of a lack of appreciation for the actual numbers regarding the fine tuning; to call them astronomical is a wild understatement.

He also relies on the much less interesting, and much more obviously false, “what caused God” objection to insist that we stop our inquiry before getting to God. But, unlike most uses of this argument, he acknowledges the common response: that God is self explanatory in a way that the universe is not.

Unfortunately, he simply dismisses the idea without actually addressing the arguments in its favor. He references to his past discussion of the idea, which (as has already been noted) relied on an argumentum ad ignoratium fallacy and a shifting of goal posts in order to make its case.

Macke then closes with something that borders on the completely weird.  That is, he suggests that the design argument requires a reason to think that matter is contingent.

As is always the case with Mackie, I’m not sure if he’s claiming that this is so, or merely throwing out a possibility. If the former, he needs to defend it; if the latter, he hasn’t actually rebutted the argument.

To be fair, he takes this idea from Kant and Hume. Still, that doesn’t make it a good argument. There are many clear reasons why matter is contingent–not the least of which is the origin of the universe that Mackie has just been discussing. Anything which is not contingent must necessarily exist eternally. The fact that matter has an origin precludes the possibility of it being non-contingent.

The most significant thing this shows, then, is how determined Mackie is to come up with reasons to dismiss theism. I don’t take back my earlier compliments of him–I do find him far more reasonable than most.

Still, if defending his materialism leads him to suggest that matter is logically necessary, and to constantly throw out possibilities that he does not defend, theism seems a far more plausible view.

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.

If You Don’t Think, You Can’t be Wrong

ignorance_of_faculty_answer_2_xlargeAtheist philosopher Alex Rosenberg is confident that the multiverse exists. I suspect this is partially because he realizes that a failure to believe in the multiverse is a failure to engage rationally with theists.

Unfortunately, he’s willing to fudge the facts in order to help make his readers as confident as he is:

Where did the big bang come from? The best current theory suggests that our universe is just one universe in a “multiverse”…

One remarkable thing about this best current cosmological theory is the degree to which physicists have been able to subject it to many empirical tests, including tests of its claims about things that happened even before the big bang (Atheist’s Guide to Reality, pp. 36-37)

Yes, it can now be said that the multiverse has been tested (though the test failed to turn up any evidence whatsoever). But, unless the scientific method has been seriously altered since I’ve last checked, there is a difference between one test and “many”, and between being inconclusively tested and deserving the confidence Rosenberg exudes.

This is relevant because, given the state of cosmology, the multiverse is the only viable option to the idea of a designer of the universe, and there is no empirical evidence to support it. This leaves atheists at something of a crossroads: either accept the multiverse at the cost of admitting that some things can be accepted without evidence, or reject it at the cost of admitting that there is at least one large hole in one’s philosophy.

Personally, I find the former view easier to respect. There are, after all, quite a few things in life that we believe without empirical verification. Adding the multiverse to this list is an issue, but isn’t nearly so much of a sacrifice as failing to offer an alternative to theism on such a fundamental question.

This might run counter to what many assume. Certainly it runs counter to what the New Atheists seem to assume. But, in a world full of uncertainties, we need to chose the most reasonable option available. And simply claiming “I don’t like this question” isn’t an answer.

That is to say, any argument can be countered by saying “I don’t know, but I’m sure there must be some idea out there that is more reasonable than your answer”, but this is closer to an appeal to magic than logical discourse.

Refusing to answer such a basic question about the nature of reality is rather like taking the fifth amendment in court. It adds up to grounds that may incriminate one’s philosophy– that it lacks answers to the questions that theists have always claimed non-theistic views can’t answer. This doesn’t show that any particular theistic answer is correct, of course, but it does mean that the atheist’s position hasn’t even made it into the pool of live options.

But, as Rosenberg sees, none of this applies to the atheist who accepts the multiverse. I’ll have some things to say about that position in a future post.