Philosopher of religion Mary-Jane Rubenstein asks at Nautilus, “Why is the universe so well suited to our existence?” She answers herself:
The weakest answer is that it’s just a brute fact. If the constants of nature were any different, then we wouldn’t be here to ask why we’re here. The strongest answer verges on theism: The cosmological constant is so improbably small that a godlike fine-tuner must have fashioned it into existence.
She doesn’t like that “strongest answer” at all. She suggests cosmic pantheism intertwined with the multiverse instead.
When evidence points people away from what they want to believe, they often respond by undermining the evidence. That strategy is particularly difficult in science. Readers may remember the slogan popularized nearly half a century ago by Carl Sagan, to discredit miracles: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” But that won’t work here. As David Deming writes at Philosophia, “Extraordinary evidence is not a separate category or type of evidence — it is an extraordinarily large number of observations.” Fine-tuning of our universe for life easily meets that standard.
Twelve hallmarks of good science theories, noted in Michael Keas’s recent summation at Synthese, are “evidential accuracy, causal adequacy, explanatory depth, internal consistency, internal coherence, universal coherence, beauty, simplicity, unification, durability, fruitfulness, and applicability… ”
The multiverse meets causal adequacy only by sacrificing evidential accuracy (voiding the significance of evidence altogether). It offers explanatory depth by voiding the value of consistency or coherence. It offers unification by voiding the meaning of applicability (the entities to which the concepts are to be applied may or may not exist and it does not matter whether they do). Multiverse theory is perhaps best seen as a bid for an alternative science. Its theories display quite different hallmarks from those of traditional good theories and it can only succeed by undermining those hallmarks.
The multiverse advocates’ project is not to undermine the evidence base as such. There just isn’t any evidence for a multiverse. Their project is rather to undermine the idea that evidence, as used in normal science, should matter in cosmology. String theory, we are told, is useful even if unconfirmed (Quanta). Supersymmetry is beautiful, lacking only supporting evidence (The Economist). The multiverse is a done deal anyway (ScienceBlogs).
It bears repeating: Advocates do not merely propose that we accept faulty evidence. They want us to abandon evidence as a key criterion for acceptance of their theory. Here are some strategies we encounter.
Questioning the importance of testability. Philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci puts the question squarely at Aeon: Must science be testable, as it has been since the time of Galileo? “Are we on the verge of developing a whole new science, or is this going to be regarded by future historians as a temporary stalling of scientific progress?” Whatever, many now prefer “non-empirical science.” If the new approach takes hold, the stall will hardly be temporary. For one thing, as Natalie Wolchover and Peter Byrne explain at Quanta, “Testing the multiverse hypothesis requires measuring whether our universe is statistically typical among the infinite variety of universes. But infinity does a number on statistics.” One outcome is that, even though string theory has routinely failed empirical tests, it remains a major branch of cosmology because its “mathematical insights continue to have an alluring pull” that might “unify physics.” But it does not appear set to unify physics around evidence.
Eliminating falsifiability as a criterion. Falsifiability, a principle developed by philosopher of science Karl Popper (1902–1994), offers this test: A theory is scientific if evidence could disprove it. If a theory is so general as to be consistent with any state of evidence or is constantly undergoing revision to deal with contrary evidence, it is not scientific. Popper was impressed by Einstein’s theories because evidence could disprove them, but didn’t. In 2014, cosmologists George Ellis and Joe Silk warned, citing Popper, that some of their colleagues have begun to argue explicitly that “if a theory is sufficiently elegant and explanatory, it need not be tested experimentally, breaking with centuries of philosophical tradition of defining scientific knowledge as empirical” (Nature). Theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli agrees. When science writer John Horgan asked him, “Do multiverse theories and quantum gravity theories deserve to be taken seriously if they cannot be falsified?” he replied, “No” (Scientific American). But it is becoming clear that Popper defenders like Ellis, Silk, Horgan, and Rovelli are gradually being sidelined (along with Peter Woit and Sabine Hossenfelder) as questionable “Popperazi,” and even “falsifiability police,” on account of their concern that colleagues are succumbing to “wishful thinking.” Indeed, take away traditional science criteria and how do we even distinguish between wishful thinking and raw demands for public assent?
To accomplish the revolution, the new cosmologists must uproot longstanding principles like Occam’s razor. Scholastic philosopher William of Ockham (1285–1347/49) popularized the idea that elements that are not material to an explanation can be discarded. Jason Rosenhouse’s “done deal” multiverse, noted above, relies on an attack on the razor: “It is the people who claim there is only one universe who have some explaining to do. Multiverse proponents are simply saying that whatever created our universe, a quantum fluctuation or whatever, created other universes as well.” But that is like saying that whatever created horses created unicorns as well.
Some pretend not to understand (or perhaps genuinely do not understand) what Occam’s razor means. Harvard physics post-grad Tom Rudelius informs us at the Harvard Ichthus that Occam’s razor cannot shave off the multiverse because it “does not say that the simplest idea is usually the right one — it says that the simplest explanation is usually the right one.” Barry Arrington responds at Uncommon Descent:
Yes, the razor is often shaved down to the “simplest explanation is usually the right one,” but that is not the classical formulation, which speaks of multiplying “entities” beyond necessity.
Now I ask you, is there any greater multiplication of entities than the multiverse? If “infinite universes” does not multiply entities beyond necessity, it is hard to imagine what would.
Still, the idea is catching on. Recently, we learned that physicists can now explain quantum theory by discarding Occam’s razor. One struggles to think of anything that could not be explained that way.
Meanwhile, widespread questionable beliefs enable cosmology’s war on evidence by preventing sober evaluation of the issues, for example.
Theory in science arises from masses of evidence. The National Academy of Sciences says that the term “theory” “refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence.” If only that were true. String theory and the multiverse do not rely on evidence at all.
The Academy had directed its collective statement about “theory” noted above to evolution. Acceptance of specifically Darwinian evolution, promoted and defended as an article of faith, probably softened up the public to accept other science claims for which zeal has long since outrun evidence. The very language of Darwinism finds its way into undemonstrable cosmology. We are told that a “cosmic version of Darwinian natural selection could apply, in which the most common universes will be those most suitable for producing black holes” (Science Focus.) Elsewhere we learn that we need not consider such a multiverse if we will accept that the laws of nature evolve (Guardian). It’s challenging to contemplate the damage that would be done to our concept of the laws of nature if they were assumed to evolve, but never mind. We also hear that “’Survival of the fittest’ is bigger than just evolutionary biology,” it embraces quantum mechanics (Inverse Science). There is at least some evidence that explanatory value is becoming more valued in biology these days than defending Darwinism. In that case, Darwinian theorists may find current multiverse cosmology a more natural home. It feels right.
Science is inherently self-correcting. A more honest appraisal can be had from Douglas Allchin at the Minnesota Center for the Philosophy of Science:
First, some errors persist for decades, wholly undetected. Second, many errors seem corrected by independent happenstance, not by any methodical appraisal. Third, some errors have been “corrected” in a cascade of successive errors that did not effectively remedy the ultimate source of the error. Fourth, some errors have fostered further serious errors without the first error being noticed. Finally, some corrections to erroneous theories have themselves been rejected when initially presented. In all these cases, scientists failed to identify and correct the errors in a timely manner, or according to any uniform self-correcting mechanism. These historical perspectives underscore that error correction in science requires epistemic work. We need deeper understanding of errors, through the emerging field of error analytics.
Self-correction is essentially a human moral choice; it is not inherent in any enterprise in principle. If scientist have decided on the multiverse for non-evidence-based philosophical reasons, we need not anticipate self-corrections.
Consensus in science should be accepted because it is based on shared knowledge. This approach appeals to people who want to avoid a troublesome issue. Consensus can certainly be based on shared knowledge but it can also be based on shared ignorance or shared self-interest. Boaz Miller has noted in Synthese:
The existence of agreement in a community of researchers is a contingent fact, and researchers may reach a consensus for all kinds of reasons, such as fighting a common foe or sharing a common bias. Scientific consensus, by itself, does not necessarily indicate the existence of shared knowledge among the members of the consensus community.
The word “consensus,” after all, only means “shared.” The messages from group members, however prominent or eminent, will sound the same to the uninitiated, irrespective of what mainly holds the group together.
Post-modern science is not a blip. It’s part of a general trend toward de-emphasizing fact, evidence, and truth in favor of narrative, spin, and talking points. Plus, proponents have a weapon that defeats all objections: Human beings did not evolve so as to perceive reality correctly anyway. Astrophysicist Adam Frank explains at NPR that he finds that logic, as advanced by cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman, “exciting and potentially appealing” though probably “wrong.”
But wait! Why must Hoffman’s logic be wrong? If naturalists are right about the nature of our universe, the logic can be neither right nor wrong. We are all animals, and animals are never wrong. Or even absurd. As Cathal O’Connell says, citing David Wallace’s The Emergent Multiverse, “our sense of absurdity evolved to help us scratch a living on the savannahs of Africa. ‘The Universe is not obliged to conform to it’” (Cosmos). Which leads us to examine the parallel developments in the study of human consciousness.
Then, the reply:
“To what can science appeal if not evidence?” Rob Sheldon responds
September 9, 2017
Re the ENV post, Question for multiverse theorists: To what can science appeal, if not evidence?, from experimental physicist and our physics color commentator Rob Sheldon:
It is part of the 21st century deconstruction, that it is not enough to oppose the truth, but it is necessary to undermine even the possibility of holding the truth.
In physics it is the multiverse.
In psychology it is the denial of free will or consciousness.
In biology it is denial of teleology, the necessity of naturalism.
In ethics it is not “situational” anymore; it is the desire to see all ethics as “oppressive”.
Consider the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s article on fine-tuning. I tried reading it, and it echoes the same refrain, the same death of philosophy. You can’t do philosophy unless you love the truth. If truth is somehow a product of method, somehow a product of the latest fad in argumentation, then all hope is lost.
Fine tuning is a physicist’s internal debate: Brandon Carter’s definition, John Barrow/Frank Tipler’s “weak anthropic principle”, Victor Stenger’s critique, and Luke Barne’s book are all written by physicists. None of them, I would argue, understand Bayes Theorem and its applicability to fine tuning. Nor did the Stanford article engage them on physics, simply stating that some of them like multiverses/naturalness/inflation and some do not.
Already I see this as a problem. We have become so specialized, that no one feels competent to critique another’s field—despite the glaring fact that m/n/i are not physical theories but metaphysical theories. If a philosopher can’t recognize when physicists are doing metaphysics, then he is failing his training, and might as well let Larry Krauss exterminate them all!
To my delight, the Stanford article does jump into Bayes Theorem, so unlike the physicists, the author has learned something of logic. But to my dismay he totally misses the point of Bayes Theorem. This is a subtle enough point that I will need to write another book on this topic, but the point of probability is not winning card games, nor solving QM problems. The point of probability is to convince us, to affect belief, to subjectively change our conscious behavior. Edwin Jaynes, the physicist who reintroduced the world to Bayes Theorem, kept saying that probability measures the level of our ignorance.
Now pause, and ask yourself—is ignorance an objective property? Can I say confidently, I am 50% ignorant of the results of a test? Or, I’ll trade my ignorance for yours? Rather, is not ignorance a consciousness property, a self-awareness property, a property only humans can understand?
For example, Roy Spencer (a UAH meteorologist who has a blog talking about global warming), said that hurricanes are unpredictable things. He gave the example of a man struck by lightning while golfing, and on his ambulance ride to the hospital, lightning struck the vehicle again, finishing him off. I reply, who, upon hearing that story, doesn’t say “Whoa, what did the man do to deserve that?” Improbable events are events that change our perspective, that speak to our self-consciousness, that appeal to our subjective understanding. The list of sermon illustrations that make this point is endless–I will cite only one. One summer I came within seconds of drowning in a riptide in the Gulf of Mexico–five others died that day, but when 3 rollers failed to materialize, my son was able to dash into the surf and pull me to safety. A few weeks later, I was on the Interstate at 70mph when my driver lost control and skidded over the median strip making a head-on collision with a Suburban. I stepped out of the Camry without a scratch. Then a few weeks after that on Colorado route 84 descending from the top of 12,000 ft Independence Pass approaching a switchback my brakes caught fire and faded away. A few weeks later I asked my wife, “Do you think God is trying to tell me something?”
Probabilities are difficult for scientists (look at the number of interpretations of QM), and are difficult for analytic philosophers (cf this Stanford article), precisely because they are subjective. Everything in Enlightenment objectivity rebels against the thought that “is” might lead to “ought”, that facts produce ethics, that observation leads to teleology. The rebellion against ID is the same rebellion against natural theology, against fine tuning, against the existence of a personal (self-conscious, subjective) Creator. The subjective is bad, is unreliable, is to be avoided at all costs.
Look over the list of objections in this Stanford article on fine-tuning.” They all fall into the category of “So what?”. Only one chance in 10^10^150 that this universe is an accident? So what. Only one chance in 10^40000 that life can accidentally form? So what, I’m here, so impersonal miracles which have nothing to do with God can happen. Other philosophers show that this is a ridiculous argument? So what, there’s no accounting for taste.
The peculiar thing is that such people are very sensitive to the slightest 0.05 change in their investments and retirements, but can’t be bothered with calculating the chances for their eternal destiny. They do understand numbers, they simply refuse to let numbers speak to their conscience. They have performed a frontal lobotomy on the ethical center of their brain, they have stuffed cotton in the ears of their conscience, they have sold their soul for a mess of pottage, and reply like the character in “O brother, where art thou”, “well, I wasn’t using it anyway.” Professing to be wise, they have adopted the logic of fools.
We will neither regain the high ground of philosophy nor the fertile results of physics until we can once again find teleology in the cosmos, once again wed physics to metaphysics, once again find “ought” in “is.”
See also: Post-modern physics: String theory gets over the need for evidence
Cosmic inflation theory loses hangups about the scientific method
The multiverse is science’s assisted suicide
What becomes of science when the evidence does not matter?
What does this mean?
It means that atheistic science is entering its death throes.
It will take about a generation for it to be obvious to all, but that day is coming — perhaps a few decades after the bankruptcy of the welfare state.
Note: I said atheistic science is in it’s death throes, not science per se. The fall of the gatekeepers continues: researchers who are not ideologically committed to atheistic materialism will be able to hook up with each other, and support each other in research where evidence actually does matter.
What should Christians do in the meantime? Raise their children to take back the sciences for Christ – who actually does value the need for evidence (see the strong rooting of the Bible in history, or just the direct example of Christ:
The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. — John 20:25-27
And of course, Jesus Christ gave quite a lot of evidence via miracles, for his claims.)
Anyways: back to the raising of a strong and well-rooted generation to retake the land (and the sciences!)
Mabel Tolkien, mother of J.R.R. Tolkien, gives a great example here. To quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Destitute Mom Gave Him One Hell of an Education:
J.R.R. Tolkien’s father died when he was just four years old. The famous author, best known for The Hobbit and his Lord of the Rings trilogy, was raised by his mother, Mabel, who took great pains to see that her young son received a proper education.
Mabel did not disappoint.
Authors Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski, in a new book titled The Fellowship, detail the education young Ronald (as Tolkien was affectionately called by his family) received from his mother. It’s quite impressive.
“Mabel gave Ronald more than a lovely world in which to grow up; she gave him an array of fascinating tools to explore and interpret it. We know little of her own education, but she clearly valued learning and vigorously set about transmitting what she knew to Ronald. She instructed him in Latin, French, German, and the rudiments of linguistics, awakening in him a lifelong thirst for languages, alphabets, and etymologies. She taught him to draw and to paint, arts in which he would develop his own unmistakable style, primitive and compelling, Rousseau with a dash of Roerich. She passed on to him her peculiar calligraphy; he would later master traditional forms and invent his own. She tried to teach him piano, although that proved a failure.”
Mabel also introduced children’s literature to her son at an early age. Titles included Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Princess and the Goblin, Treasure Island, and The Pied Piper of Hamelin. She also shared with her son Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books and the works of George MacDonald, both of which would have a profound impact on young Tolkien.
“…he encountered goblins and, although he did not realize it at the time, Christian mythopoesis; in Lang’s retelling of bits of the Old Norse Volsunga saga he met Fáfnir the dragon, a creature that excited his imagination like no other, and the prototype of Smaug of The Hobbit: ‘The dragon had the trade-mark Of Faerie written plain upon him … I desired dragons with a profound desire.’
It was his first baptism into the enchantments of Faerie, an otherworldly realm just touching the fringes of ordinary life and leading, in its farthest reaches, to the outskirts of the supernatural.”
One might be tempted to believe that Mabel Tolkien was afforded the opportunity to offer her son this wonderful education because the widow had been bequeathed a healthy estate following her husband’s death. Alas, this was not the case.
Arthur Tolkien had left his family almost nothing. Mabel was so poor that she was compelled to take up residence with her parents. The family’s situation was made worse when Mabel converted to Catholicism, prompting family members to cut her off from the small allowance she had been receiving.
Mabel Tolkien did not long outlive her husband. She died in 1904 at age 34 when Ronald was just 12 years old. Her labors, however, kindled the mind of a child; and that mind would go on to inspire millions more, and create a world of unparalleled beauty and imagination.
Homeschooling for the win!
Mabel Tolkien is an example of the work that we are called to do, the quality of children we must raise up, to retake the world for Christ and see off the delusional intellectuals currently leading us into ignorance and darkness.
Victory takes work and commitment: year after year, life after life.
There is no other way.