Stephen Hawking has achieved the status of 'celebrity scientist'. He writes books that sell well and has both presented and performed in television series. His latest book, The Grand Design, co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow, has been reviewed widely by both popular press and scientific journals. According to Michael Turner, who wrote the Nature review, these authors:
"offer a brief but thrilling account of some of the boldest ideas in physics - including M-theory and the multiverse - and what these have to say about our existence and the nature of the Universe."
"How do we know that the reality we perceive is true?" - or are we like fish seeing the world from a bowl? (Graphic by Barron Storey, source here).
The media appeared to be stimulated primarily by the claim that physics has made God redundant. "God is unnecessary, science can explain the universe without the need for a creator" (BBC News), "Why God Did Not Create the Universe. There is a sound scientific explanation for the making of our world - no gods required." (Wall Street Journal). The Guardian responded by conducting a poll among its readers, asking the question: "Is physicist Stephen Hawking right that physics, not God, created the universe?" This theme is also picked out in the Nature review: "No miracle in the Multiverse". Some might find the argument to be artificially polarised - for did not the pioneers of science link the existence of laws of nature with the reality of a supreme Lawgiver? More recent research has unearthed evidence for the "fine-tuning" of the Cosmos, so the evidences of design have become more prominent with time. Hawking and Mlodinow recognise this when they write:
"Newton believed that our strangely habitable solar system did not "arise out of chaos by the mere laws of nature." Instead, he maintained that the order in the universe was "created by God at first and conserved by him to this Day in the same state and condition." The discovery recently of the extreme fine-tuning of so many laws of nature could lead some back to the idea that this grand design is the work of some grand Designer."
This brings us to the heart of the argument presented by Hawking and Mlodinow: they are endorsing M-theory and the Multiverse cosmological model. This is how Turner puts it:
"In searching for the holy grail, Hawking and others pinned their hopes first on super-gravity and then on string theory. Both are now seen as different regimes of a grander mathematical framework called M-theory, where M is yet to be determined - is it master, miracle or mirage? M-theory unifies gravity with the other fundamental forces (weak and strong nuclear and electromagnetism), predicts seven additional dimensions of space and suggests that space and time might be emergent phenomena rather than fundamental. It is exciting and important, but much of it remains to be explored."
Using M-theory, cosmologists have suggested that our universe is but one of a vast number of universes, all with different physics and with different life-histories. We happen to be in one that has the parameters that favour life. The fine tuning is not by design, but by chance. When you have an infinity of options, anything is theoretically possible! Hawking and Mlodinow explain it this way:
"As recent advances in cosmology suggest, the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going. Our universe seems to be one of many, each with different laws. That multiverse idea is not a notion invented to account for the miracle of fine tuning. It is a consequence predicted by many theories in modern cosmology. If it is true it reduces the strong anthropic principle to the weak one, putting the fine tunings of physical law on the same footing as the environmental factors, for it means that our cosmic habitat - now the entire observable universe - is just one of many. Each universe has many possible histories and many possible states. Only a very few would allow creatures like us to exist. Although we are puny and insignificant on the scale of the cosmos, this makes us in a sense the lords of creation."
Some of us will continue to think that the multiverse advocates are driven by a theological agenda: the need to account for the miracle of fine tuning. The theories of modern cosmology are being selected by intelligent agents: they have other options. But atheism is driving these agents to find responses to the strong evidences of design which are staring them in the face. This blog is arguing that they are on a road that leads to the destruction of all that we value within science. The first casualty is testability and the falsification criterion. This is where Turner finds a problem (and for more on this point, John Horgan's blog is worth reading):
"The multiverse is possibly the most important idea of our time, and may even be right, but it gives me a headache. Is it science if we cannot test it? The different patches are incommunicado, so we will never be able to observe them. The multiverse displaces rather than answers the question about choice and who chooses, and does not explain why there is something rather than nothing."
Secondly, the concept of realism in science is sacrificed. This is the focus of the article Hawking and Mlodinow wrote for Scientific American. In the quest for a theory of everything (that explains our Cosmos), they have adopted a theory with a seemingly infinite number of solutions. M-theory never leads to a unique set of equations. Every implementation of the theory is accompanied by its own dependent reality. Consequently, it does not make sense to talk of what "reality" actually is.
"In our view, there is no picture- or theory-independent concept of reality. Instead we adopt a view that we call model-dependent realism: the idea that a physical theory or world picture is a model (generally of a mathematical nature) and a set of rules that connect the elements of the model to observations. According to model-dependent realism, it is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observation. If two models agree with observation, neither one can be considered more real than the other. A person can use whichever model is more convenient in the situation under consideration."
Thirdly, we are presented with a cosmological extrapolation of quantum mechanics. The authors are so captivated by their theoretical models that they have lost touch with the need to constrain their thinking by reference to empirical data. This is from a review in The Economist:
"The main novelty in "The Grand Design" is the authors' application of a way of interpreting quantum mechanics, derived from the ideas of the late Richard Feynman, to the universe as a whole. According to this way of thinking, "the universe does not have just a single existence or history, but rather every possible version of the universe exists simultaneously." The authors also assert that the world's past did not unfold of its own accord, but that "we create history by our observation, rather than history creating us." They say that these surprising ideas have passed every experimental test to which they have been put, but that is misleading in a way that is unfortunately typical of the authors. It is the bare bones of quantum mechanics that have proved to be consistent with what is presently known of the subatomic world. The authors' interpretations and extrapolations of it have not been subjected to any decisive tests, and it is not clear that they ever could be."
Paradoxically, scientific realism has been used to promote atheism against theism, but Hawking is now leading his band of atheists towards a virtual reality dream-world that is generated by the manipulation of mathematical models. With science developing independently of the empirical world, realism becoming localised and history becoming a construct of observation, post-modernist thinking reigns supreme. Now it is time for theistic realists to quote Sagan's words with conviction:
"For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring." (Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World (1995) Chapter 1)
No miracle in the Multiverse
Nature, 467, 657-658 (7 October 2010) | doi:10.1038/467657a
1st paragraph: Despite publicity to the contrary, The Grand Design does not disprove the existence of God. Science has not had much new to say about God since mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace remarked to Napoleon that he had no need for "that hypothesis" when asked why he had neglected the deity in his treatise Mecanique celeste (Celestial Mechanics, 1799-1825).
The Elusive Theory of Everything
Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
Scientific American, October 2010.
1st paragraph: A few years ago the city council of Monza, Italy, barred pet owners from keeping goldfish in curved fishbowls. The sponsors of the measure explained that it is cruel to keep a fish in a bowl because the curved sides give the fish a distorted view of reality. Aside from the measure's significance to the poor goldfish, the story raises an interesting philosophical question: How do we know that the reality we perceive is true?
Lennox, J., As a scientist I'm certain Stephen Hawking is wrong. You can't explain the universe without God. The Daily Mail, 3rd September 2010.
Tyler, D. The Metaphysics of Multiverse Theory, ARN Literature Blog (20 November 2008).
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