Uncommon Descent’s “Science Fictions” Series

Just another cut’n’paste job, from a more informed writer than I:


We are told that naturalism (materialism) in science only says, “You can’t study God.” In reality, naturalism does way more. The popular science media is a good place to observe that. The main thing it does is replace evidence with theory. The result is nothing short of astonishing. Fact gives way to speculation, sense to nonsense. Come on a quick trip with me and view the result. – Denyse O’Leary

Note:Science-Fictions-square.gif The Science Fictions: origin of life series is here. The human evolution series is here. The human mind series is here.

Science-Fictions-square.gif  What has materialism done for science?

It is promoted by many as the very fuel of science, but that turns out to be a fiction. It has in fact been a major stumbling block.

Science-Fictions-square.gif  Big Bang exterminator wanted, will train

The Big Bang stubbornly refused to provide obvious support for materialism. And, thoroughly disliked, it accounts well enough for the evidence that it can’t just be dismissed, exploded, or destroyed. Worse, things got worse. Not only, on the evidence, does the universe look like it was suddenly created, it also looks finely tuned. The whole thing would have to be undermined as a matter of principle, not evidence.

Science-Fictions-square.gif  Copernicus, you are not going to believe who is using your name. Or how.

The “Copernican” Principle or Principle of Mediocrity holds that scientists must assume (not demonstrate) that our planet is mediocre. That means that the existence of habitable planets can merely be asserted; it need not be demonstrated.

Science-Fictions-square.gif  “Behold, countless Earths sail the galaxies … that is, if you would only believe …

Once cosmologists had hit on the Copernican Principle (Earth cannot be special by definition), it was instant orthodoxy. We were told that no well-informed, rational person could doubt it. One hundred million, ten billion, sixty billion habitable planets beyond Earth are guesstimated by various sources, with no evidence for even one.

Science-Fictions-square.gif  Don’t let Mars fool you. Those exoplanets teem with life!

Subjective certainty is the new evidence, so we are assured that these guesstimated planets teem with life. The only planet beyond Earth that we have had a chance to explore in any detail, Mars, seems barren. But the Copernican Principle somehow does not apply to Mars. That is, Earth is a mediocre planet but Mars is somehow not. Never mind; the Principle features assertions, not assessments. If nearby Mars proves stubborn, the exoplanets beckon.

Science-Fictions-square.gif  But surely we can’t conjure an entire advanced civilization?

Are doubts “anti-science”? Certainly, faith is urged on us as a duty. Absent evidence, speculations clash. Paleontologist Simon Conway Morris argues that aliens, if they exist, must be a lot like us. On the contrary, say others, they needn’t be like us at all. In this wilderness of unknowns, how do we decide what’s modern science and what’s modern folklore? What makes ET more believable than Bigfoot, apart from evidence?

Science-Fictions-square.gif  How do we grapple with the idea that ET might not be out there?

What happens when doubt sets in? We are just told that we lack imagination (if not faith), we have searched too narrowly: Moonless planets have been unfairly dismissed and sunless ones could maybe ferry life around the galaxy. Some argue that hardy Earth life forms could have made it to one of Jupiter’s moons and survived there. Jupiter’s moon Europa looks promising to many. NASA has talked of a “flying-saucer-shaped space boat” to Saturn’s moon Titan, some day. And the excitable word about another Saturn moon is, “Enceladus Now Looks Wet, So It May Be ALIVE!” Lastly, encountering hard, doubting hearts, alien life proponents resort to moralizing: It’s presumptuous of us to think Earth is unique. In any event, the Principle merely outgrows our universe.

Science-Fictions-square.gif  Not only is Earth one nice planet among many, but our entire universe is lost in a crowd

What if not just Earth, but our whole universe, is seen as one mere Copernican blip? The Copernican principle, as a principle of interpretation, obviates the need for evidence. As a New Scientist writer has explained,

But the main reason for believing in an ensemble of universes is that it could explain why the laws governing our Universe appear to be so finely turned for our existence … This fine-tuning has two possible explanations. Either the Universe was designed specifically for us by a creator or there is a multitude of universes  – a multiverse.

The reasoning is quite clear: The need to account for fine-tuning without design, not evidence, is the driving force behind the idea.

Science-Fictions-square.gif  The multiverse: Where everything turns out to be true, except philosophy and religion

The extent of the shift in thinking that the multiverse entails is often underestimated. It is now orthodoxy. Stephen Hawking has blessed it, dismissing philosophy and religion in the process. Multiverse cosmologists look out on a bright future, freed from the demands of evidence. Leonard Susskind reportedly told Alan Guth, “You know, the most amazing thing is that they pay us for this,” and Nobelist David Gross (the fellow who “hates” the Big Bang) has admitted about string theory, “We don’t know what we are talking about.” But they do know what they are not talking about, and that is enough.

Science-Fictions-square.gif  As if the multiverse wasn’t bizarre enough …meet Many Worlds

In 1957 physicist Hugh Everett suggested that the universe constantly splits into different futures each time a subatomic particle goes one way as opposed to the other. In other words, not only is there an infinite number of universes, but they come into existence every time you turn right instead of left. Today, such ideas come thicker, faster. We are told that we are “on the brink of understanding everything,” when our cosmology guarantees that we can understand nothing and there is nothing to understand anyway.

Science-Fictions-square.gif But who needs reality-based thinking anyway? Not the new cosmologists

A question arises: If, in the multiverse (especially the many worlds version) everything possible is true, why do cosmologists trash traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs? Because there is a critical catch: Anything may be true, including contradictory states, except serious dissent from the Copernican principle–the principle that Earth and our universe are nothing special. Physicist Rob Sheldon sums it up:

Multiverse theory is designed for one purpose, and one purpose only, and that is to defend atheism. It makes no predictions, it gives no insight, it provides no control, it produces no technology, it advances no mathematics, it is a science in name only, because it is really metaphysics.

He warns that science cannot thrive outside reality: “Now some will say that this is still a small price to pay for the freedom it provides from a creator-god. But I want to make it very clear what the terms of the exchange will be.” Lest any reader think that the circus outlined in previous instalments of this series is an unfortunate, temporary side effect of the onward march of science, here are some of the terms:

Science-Fictions-square.gif  Multiverse cosmology: Assuming that evidence still matters, what does it say?

The multiverse has always been principally a religious concept. Science writer Marcus Chown underlines this:

Religious people say that, by invoking a multiverse, physicists are going to extraordinary lengths to avoid God. But physicists have to go where the data lead them.

Actually, the data are not leading Chown or any other multiverse advocate. That much is now obvious. Desire alone sustains their faith. It is the sort of religion that is true, Copernicanly speaking, even if the supportive facts never appear and the theories that undergird it fail.

So ridding science of God has turned out to mean ridding it, not of religion, but of the need for evidence. We are not left with nothing, as philosophers and artists have wailed, but rather with everything and its opposite.

Is there a road to reality?

Science-Fictions-square.gif In search of a road to reality

If science finds the universe “uncalculable,” surely the meaning of “anti-science” changes. Isn’t “anti-science” a mere unwillingness to waste valuable time and funds on matters into which no one may usefully inquire?

Here’s an alternative: On the road to reality, evidence must matter again. The weight of the evidence must count. And when it does count, if our cosmos is orderly, new approaches will emerge. They may be emerging now.

Intriguingly, a recent article in Scientific American noted, “Some researchers think that the world, at root, does not consist of material things but of relations or of properties, such as mass, charge and spin.” But information, not matter, is fundamentally relational. More.

Science-Fictions-square.gif The bill arrives for cosmology’s free lunch (and we realize we can’t afford to dine here any more)

Now let us suppose that the ID theorists are right, that the underlying substance of the universe is information. Just as information is measured in different ways from matter or energy (bits and bytes vs. kilograms and joules), information theory is a different way of thinking. It prompts different queries.

If information underlies the universe, the physical laws are most likely information that need not and probably cannot be explained away. Information-based explanations are not reductive. One seeks the right level of information to answer a question, not the lowest level as a matter of principle (because the needed information might not even be at the lowest level). If an information approach is adopted, our way of looking at key questions in cosmology undergoes a radical shift. As such shifts are apt to do, it may well shape a different future.

Science-Fictions-square.gif  If ID theorists are right, how should we study nature?

But now, what if the ID theorists are right, that information rather than matter is the basic stuff of the universe? It is then reasonable to think that meaning underlies the universe. Meaning cannot then be explained away. It is the irreducible core. That is why reductive efforts to explain away evidence that supports meaning (Big Bang, fine-tuning, physical laws) have led to contradictory, unresearchable, and unintelligible outcomes.

The irreducible core of meaning is controversial principally because it provides support for theism. But the alternative has provided support for unintelligibility. Finally, one must choose. If we choose what intelligent design theorist Bill Dembski calls “information realism,” the way we think about cosmology changes.

First, we live with what the evidence suggests. Not simply because it suits our beliefs but because research in a meaningful universe should gradually reveal a comprehensible reality, as scientists have traditionally assumed. If information, not matter, is the substrate of the universe, key stumbling blocks of current materialist science such as origin of life, of human beings, and of human consciousness can be approached in a different way. An information approach does not attempt to reduce these phenomena to a level of complexity below which they don’t actually exist. More.

Note: Science-Fictions-square.gif The Science Fictions origin of life series is here. The human evolution series is here. The : the human mind series is here.

– O’Leary for News

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