Sep 29 2010

The Next Great Awakening Part 15: Doubting doubt

Category: philosophy,science,theologyharmonicminer @ 9:00 am

The previous post in this series is here.

Doubts linger over godless multiverse

STEPHEN HAWKING’S new book The Grand Design sparked a furore over whether physics can be used to disprove the existence of God. But few have noted that the idea at the core of the book, M-theory, is the subject of an ongoing scientific debate – specifically over the very aspect of the theory that might scrap the need for a divine creator.

That the laws of nature in our universe are finely tuned for life seems miraculous, leading some to invoke divine involvement. But if there is a multiverse out there – a multitude of universes, each with its own laws of physics – then the conditions we observe may not be unique.

Hawking suggests that M-theory, the leading interpretation of string theory, calls for a multiverse. Others are divided over the strength of this link. “My own opinion is that we don’t understand the theory well enough to be able to say whether there is one single universe or a multitude of universes,” says M-theorist Michael Duff of Imperial College London.

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For now, it is hard enough to test string theory, let alone M-theory. Two weeks ago, Duff and his colleagues made some progress by using string theory to make predictions about the behaviour of entangled quantum bits (Physical Review Letters, DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.105.100507). This demonstrates that aspects of string theory can be tested in the laboratory, but won’t reveal if it is “the right theory to describe all the elementary particles, the big bang – the ‘grand design’ as Stephen describes it”, says Duff.

“It’s dangerous to pin your beliefs on any theory of physics,” Duff adds, “because it might turn out to be wrong. But if Stephen wants to stick his neck out, I wish him good luck.”

But wait!  I thought all right thinking scientists knew that God was a myth, the universe was a grand accident, or has always been here, and humans are accidental bags of water, carbon, nitrogen, calcium and trace elements, containers who process data.  Though why anyone should think the universe is a place where semi-intelligent meat machines should even find it vaguely possible to comprehend its deepest mysteries is beyond me.  Why should the universe be understandable?  And if it is, why should WE be able to understand it with brains evolved to run from carnivores on the savannah, hunt small game and gather fruit and nuts?

The notion that the universe is in principle understandable by primates sharing 95% to 98% of genes with chimps is itself reasonably laughable….  unless, of course, we were designed to be able to understand an intelligently designed universe.

In any case, string theory is not at this time falsifiable, as the article above points out….  which means that, by the rules of those scientists who deride “intelligent design theorists,” it isn’t even science, yet.  It’s just interesting mathematical speculation mixed with philosophy.  M-theory is even farther from fitting the definition of science that is most commonly used, namely testable, falsifiable theories backed with data.

If and when string theory or M-theory become scientifically supported theories, neither will disprove the existence of the Creator, of course.  How could they?  And it is encouraging, at least, that some scientists are becoming skeptical of the ability of science to answer all questions, or to remove any consideration of teleology in the universe.

And as others have pointed out, theories of multiple universes can’t answer final (or fundamental questions) at all.  All they can do is shove them back to an “earlier” “time,” and make it clear that the Creator is even more magnificently powerful than anyone understood.