Michael Battalio


Thursday, July 03, 2008

This I Believe (part 1)

Now that I'm in full summer mode, eight hour workdays, five days a week with nothing much else to do, I can continue my serious blog posts. This is a long one.
We are well into my series of “Serious discussion…” posts (I’m working on part six currently.), and I’d like to begin a new series that I'm calling "This I Believe." I’m going to be spending most of the time delving into my struggles in deciding what it is I actually believe. I have had trouble over the last several years defining exactly what it is I prescribe to as a worldview. I consider myself a man of science (always), but I also consider myself a man of faith (mostly). So, where am I exactly? I intend on defining faith, considering non-overlapping magisteria, and many other topics.

First, a discussion of two books I have read recently.
I think of myself as an equal opportunity offender-someone who can offend not only the religious but the nonreligious as well. So, with that in mind I'd like to comment on some of my reading as of late. Within the last few months, I have read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel. Both have their moments, but it's interesting that both use the same scientific facts to create a thought process that proves their arguments. They are arguing for a dichotomy; there is a God or there isn't. One of them must be wrong. Figuring out who is wrong is a problem. Despite philosophy being logical it's hard to prove wrong. (Which I suppose is the point, if it were easy I certainly wouldn't be worrying about it now.)

The first stepping stone they use is the anthropic principle. I've touched on the anthropic principle before, but I think it bears a second look. Both books spend a chapter or two each touting anthropic reasoning as proof of their argument. How is that possible? What does this have to do with God? What is the anthropic principle?
The universe has some very precise constants, fine-tuned is the clich├ęd phrase for it. So precisely tuned these constants are that the chances for just one of the constants (there are a lot of constants) being supportive of the universe we see today (galaxies, stars, planets made of stable atoms and molecules) are, according to some studies, along the order of one in ten billion raised to the 123 power (Roger Penrose, The Emperor’s New Mind, New York: Oxford 1989, pg 344). Our universe, being more than 1/10,000,000,000123 against us being here, seems rather difficult to be scientifically explained. But wait…
The anthropic principle dates back a few decades, although allusions to it go back as far as 1900ish. A man named Brandon Carter first formally proposed the anthropic principle to defeat an argument for the Steady State Theory of cosmology which contended that not only are all places identical, but all times are also identical. This helped defend the now (mostly) accepted Big Bang theory. The argument comes in two forms, a weak argument and a generalized strong argument (kind of like how special relativity is generalized by general relativity). The weak argument refers to the selection of specific times and spaces in the universe for the development of intelligent life. In summary the weak anthropic principle says our existence coincides perfectly with conditions for intelligent life because life would not be around to measure the perfect conditions for its existence if those conditions did meet the needs of intelligent life. I imagine some of you just went, “What?...” To restate, we would not be here to measure stuff if the stuff we were measuring precluded our existence. The strong argument generalizes the weak argument to include fundamental constants and forces of physics. The conclusion to this is we are in a universe where the forces and constants are such that we can exist. (Which, I know, is rather obvious.) An implication of this is that there are universes where forces and constants do not include our existence. So, we are left with a theory of the multiverse, that we are in one of an infinite number of possible universes. Dawkins proclaims the multiverse as an alternative to the Teleological argument for the existence of God. (To sum up the Teleological argument in a sentence: God exists because the universe is too perfectly designed for there not to be a God. That’s a vast simplification. I suggest a bit of research on the subject - perhaps a topic for a future blog post.)
By introducing this idea of the multiverse, the strong anthropic principle selects our universe as one in which life can exist. This is analogous to the weak version of the anthropic principle selecting our planet at our time for intelligent life, which is also somewhat analogous to the Darwinian theory of Evolution selecting our genes for life. So instead now of exemplifying his atheistic view, Dawkins inadvertently advances an agnostic view of the uni/multiverse. A bit of explanation: Dawkins affirms that the multiverse is an alternative possibility to God having a hand in explaining the implications of anthropic reasoning (i.e. That despite the chances of humanity existing being infinitesimally small, there are an infinite number of universes in the multiverse, so the chances don’t matter. We are in this universe as opposed to the infinite other universes because if our universe didn’t support life we wouldn’t be here to consider it.). The problem with this is there is no way to prove a multiverse exists, just as we have no way to prove the existence of a diving maker. So, instead deifying a multiverse, we have to relegate Dawkins’s argument to an agnostic argument.
Strobel takes a different approach. Strobel asserts that the chances are so small for the conditions to be met for life that there must be some sort of overall intelligence or purpose in creating the universe. To dismiss the multiverse, he sites several scientists (specifically, John Polkinghorne) as discrediting the multiverse theory as “pseudo-science” and “a metaphysical guess” (pg. 140). But again where does this leave us; agnosticism. There is no way to prove God; there is no way to prove the theory of the multiverse. On this Strobel and Dawkins merely redefine the argument.

Confused by my logic? Leave me a comment. Next a short discussion on evolution and irreducible complexity.

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