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Science's Alternative To an Intelligent Creator 683

Hugh Pickens writes "Discover magazine has an interesting article on the multiverse theory — a synthesis of string theory and the anthropic principle that explains why our universe seems perfectly tailored for life without invoking an intelligent creator. Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multiverse. While most of those universes are barren, some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life. The idea that the universe was made just for us — known as the anthropic principle — debuted in 1973 when Brandon Carter proposed that a purely random assortment of laws would have left the universe dead and dark, and that life limits the values that physical constants can have. The anthropic principle languished on the fringes of science for years, but in 2000, new theoretical work threatened to unravel string theory when researchers calculated that the basic equations of string theory have an astronomical number of different possible solutions, perhaps as many as 101,000, with each solution representing a unique way to describe the universe. The latest iteration of string theory provides a natural explanation for the anthropic principle. If there are vast numbers of other universes, all with different properties, at least one of them ought to have the right combination of conditions to bring forth stars, planets, and living things." So far xkcd is simulating just one single universe.
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Science's Alternative To an Intelligent Creator

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:19AM (#25784693)

    If there is a vast multiverse, how did that come to be? Religion is the "answer" to the question of origin. It is what you end up with if you don't accept "it just is" as an answer. All science can't prove that god does or doesn't exist. The whole science or religion discussion is like comparing apples and oranges. They're just not dealing with the same problems. As a scientist I find it insulting that religious people try to pass off religion as some form of science and as a human being I find people who think that science can explain everything rather arrogant.

  • Hunh? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Fractal Dice ( 696349 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:27AM (#25784761) Journal

    anthropic principle: if you find fish that you must be looking in water.

    biologist principle: the system evolves to use whatever the environment has to offer - if you have a world of water, then you can get fish.

    An explanation that requires whole alternative universes fails the occam's razor test for me.

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:27AM (#25784775) Homepage

    Are you kidding?! I have every intention of reading the full article, but I haven't yet. But my knee-jerk reaction to the notion that the universe is perfectly tailored to support life is ridiculous! the universe is rather hostile to life. The universe wants everything to be dead. The fact that life rarely exists indicates this quite well. The combination of factors that lead to life as we know it are extremely rare.

  • by polar red ( 215081 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:28AM (#25784783)

    as a human being I find people who think that science can explain everything rather arrogant.

    i find it even more insulting to think that even if there is a god, why doesn't he show himself? and how do these religious people know for a fact that what they are praying to, really is that god?
    And even if there is a god, then why doesn't he interfere ? is he incapable ? or not willing ? in both cases he loses the right to be prayed to.

  • Re:Bang to Strings (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ShieldW0lf ( 601553 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:39AM (#25784879) Journal

    Imagine time is a 4th spatial dimension. Imagine that the permutations the sum of the energy and mass of a universe can enter are ALL represented in all universes, but that there is a single lowest common denominator, which is the singularity. The singularity is where all the multiverses meet, like petals on a flower. The dark matter, the stuff from outside the universe that is influencing it, those are other universes bumping into our own.

    This is the model towards which all the painstaking math is leading.

  • Re:Misleading (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Yewbert ( 708667 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:40AM (#25784893)


    My first thought was that this hypothesis doesn't "provide[s] a natural explanation for the anthropic principle," so much as provide a natural explanation obviating the anthropic principle (part of that being, don't make teleological assumptions where not needed).

    On the other hand, being a cynic, I have occasionally subscribed to the misanthropic principle - that the universe was made the way it is just to make us miserable.

  • ID and probability (Score:1, Interesting)

    by qmaqdk ( 522323 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:56AM (#25785061)

    The argument of the ID crowd tends to be on the improbability of life. I submit to you:

    How to witness the impossible (without being god)

    Go to a casino and sit down at a roulette table. The probability of a sequence of 1000 specific numbers being rolled on the table is 36^-1000 (or is it 37^-1000). In any case it is about 0.00...01 (with more than 1000 zeros replacing the ...), so effectively impossible. And yet, sitting at the roulette table and witnessing 1000 rolls you have just witnessed the impossible.

    We may be the outcome of such an extremely unlikely event, or it may be very probable that life comes into existence in our universe. The problem is: we don't know. We can't restart the universe to see if it happens again. And even if we were to know the probabilities, fact remains that we are here. The event may or may not have been unlikely, but nevertheless still happened. Invoking god in the scenario is as unnecessary as invoking god when sitting at the roulette table for a few hours.

  • by Artana Niveus Corvum ( 460604 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:08AM (#25785181) Homepage Journal

    It may sound ridiculous initially (NULL != NULL, anyone?) but it's mathematically true. One can have two different infinite series (say "all even integers" and "all odd integers which are multiples of 7"). Clearly, both series are infinite. Just as clearly, there are "more" even integers than there are odd integer multiples of seven. All of this to say that, even with multiverse theory, unless they assume that every single possible iteration exists (which isn't unheard of but...), an infinite number of multiverse layers (universes) could exist and none of them need ever have the possibility of supporting life or even come close to it. Since we're working with infinite possibilities here, there's not even a reliable "it's pretty probable" principle. Just a thought to throw in there.

  • Re:There is no God? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Zarf ( 5735 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:13AM (#25785237) Journal

    Actually, the existence or not of God or Gods is immaterial. We can't prove that 1 + 1 = 2 without the Peno postulates. We can't prove the Peno postulates without taking set theoretic constructs for granted. So even a thing like 1 + 1 = 2 is beyond our ability to prove or disprove empirically. We can merely establish that the Platonic conceptions of 1 and 2 may be understood in the context of 1 + 1 = 2 and remain useful and does not invalidate any other constructs we chose to build related to it. I will support the concept of God as coequal with the concept of 1 or 2. The possibility of empirically proving 1 or 2 exists or does not exist is equally silly as proving that God exists or does not.

    If you say: "there is no such thing as God" you are saying the equivalent of: "there is no such thing as 2." You may in fact argue that 2 does not exist and you would be right in some senses. You would also be right to argue that the concept of "I" is equally an illusion. You may not exist yourself. It is all a matter of strata.

    If God does exist he must exist the same way that 2 exists. Which may be only in our minds... or may be more fundamental to reality than the particles that make up our bodies. Either way God and 2 are beyond the use of microscopes and atom smashers.

  • by joelholdsworth ( 1095165 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:15AM (#25785261)
    If the universe were eternal, why wouldn't it be possible for the universe and God to be co-eternal but distinct? The numbers "1" and "2" are both timeless abstract objects (eternal) but yet distinct.
  • Re:imagine (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Spy der Mann ( 805235 ) <spydermann,slashdot&gmail,com> on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:28AM (#25785407) Homepage Journal

    Interesting premise, after you realize that without first posts, there wouldn't be ANY posts at all.

  • Re:My brane hurts. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:47AM (#25785667)

    I imagine that many of those families may have overlapping domains, so that half of the universes described have strictly increasing entropy,

    Our universe doesn't have strictly increasing entropy. Entropy can and does decrease occasionally. It's simply that there are many more high-entropy states than low-entropy states, so a given system is much more likely to be in a high-entropy state at any given moment than in a low-entropy state; it follows that if the universe was in less than maximally entropic state at any given moment, it is more likely going to be in a higher-entropy state than a lower or equally entropic state at any other moment (future or past; the latter is something people often overlook).

    I don't think it's possible for this to change, no matter what physics are at work behind the scenes. Entropy is really just a measure of how "special" some state is; the lower the entropy, the more special and unique the state. For entropy to be more likely to decrease than to increase in time would require there to be more special than non-special states, which doesn't make sense.

    half of those have light speed as a universal speed limit,

    Again, I don't think this can change. Lightspeed as the limit follows from symmetry; specifically, it follows from the fact that all observers are equal, despite their movement in respect to each other. Since modern physics - including string theory - is built on such symmetries, such a solution would conflict with its own premises.

    only a few of those utilize our particular Lorentz transformation,

    Since Lorentz transformation is simply a mathemathical description of the above mentioned symmetry, I don't think they can change either.

    One could find that a whole series of families of solutions seem to describe our universe, except for some minor variations in the laws which can't hold.

    Based on the above, I don't think that anything besides the values of various constants can vary from universe to universe. But I'm not a physicist, so I could be wrong.

  • by epee1221 ( 873140 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @11:00AM (#25785827)

    If we did not exists, we would not be able to debate the question - we are a biased sample.

    There. That's the important part. The whole point of the anthropic principle is that we shouldn't be surprised to find ourselves in a universe that allows intelligent life. If the universe didn't support it, we wouldn't find ourselves in it.

    The argument for God's existence from the anthropic principle is a "God of the gaps" (a phrase I found in one of Russell Stannard's books on the subject) argument.

    The argument for God's existence through the anthropic principle is simply "doing it wrong." The point of the anthropic argument is to remove the supposed necessity for an intelligent creator.

    Is this testable in any way? If so, is it science?

    No, the anthropic principle is not science. Of course, it also doesn't rely on the existence of multiple universes.

  • by digitig ( 1056110 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @11:34AM (#25786303)
    The problem is with the singular and definite "The Anthropic Principle". There are at least four Anthropic Principles, the Weak, Strong, Participatory and Final Anthropic Principles (WAP, SAP, PAP and FAP). The Weak Anthropic Principle is so uncontroversial it's virtually a platitude. At the other end of the scale the Final Anthropic Principle is so way out that Martin Gardner suggested it would be better renamed the Completely Ridiculous Anthropic Principle, if only that had a convenient abbreviation. A lot of the argument over "The" Anthropic Principle comes about because people are arguing about different Anthropic Principles.
  • by AlecC ( 512609 ) <> on Monday November 17, 2008 @12:04PM (#25786769)

    No, the principle is still a principle. The principle is that "It is unsurprising that an observer finds his universe suitable for life since only universes suitable for life can contain observers". This is true regardless of how many universes exist and how many of them have life in them. The principle classifies meta-universal models into two classes: one in which there are many different universes, and the existence of life in some of them is unsurprising (but some cause for many universes must be given), and one in which there are few (e.g. one) universes, in which the existence of life is perhaps surprising and needs an explanation.

    Essentially, this article is saying that current physical theory (with all the caveats about string theory being totally unproven) is pointing towards the former, in which no creator is needed, rather than the latter, in which case a creator is one hypothesis to explain why the univers is suitable for life as we know it.

  • Re:Just Two Things (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @12:30PM (#25787139)

    99.99 is being generous. I would think a few more 9's need to be added on there.

    Not to mention, life conditions are temporary. You cant count the earth as being conducive to life; only partially so. Life only exists on earth for its very recent history and may not last much longer, especially if you are working with time scales that are typical of astronomy.

    If people want to start anthropomorphizing cosmology, the we need to admit the universe is incredibly hostile towards life. Anything other is feel good self-delusion.

  • by OeLeWaPpErKe ( 412765 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @01:03PM (#25787631) Homepage

    The problem with paradoxes is simple. If you throw out any theory with paradoxes, you can start by dumping :
    -> big bang theory
    -> quantum mechanics
    -> relativity
    -> newtonian physics

    There wouldn't be much left :

    Indeed if scientist respected the laws of mathematics there would be no paradoxes in physics. Any theory containing even a single paradox would be thrown out the window immediately, like they are in mathematics. You could simply say time travel has the potential to create paradoxes ... and is therefore impossible ...

    It wasn't to be : It wasn't very practical with physics theory. After all, the big bang theory requires FTL travel (faster than light) and a "limited" suspension of at least causality, along with changing a few universal constants here and there (in fact even Genesis is more likely : suppose an "eternal" being, alive or not created our universe, and you don't have any causality problems. Who created the creator ? Nobody, he's always been. Mathematically that's simple to express and quite consistent. Of course the 7-days stuff of Genesis is a bit more problematic). Oops. Physicists weren't quite ready to dump that one.

    Newton's physics would be thrown out, due to the black body radiation paradox (has nothing to do with black holes). But as long as nothing was there to replace it, nobody really thought throwing it out was a good idea.

    Relativity would get thrown out due to Schwarzchild geometry (black holes), and quantum mechanics would get thrown out for a hundred reasons, it's "known paradox count" is somewhat of an embarrassment really.

    So physics just "tries to get along" with paradoxes, which never works in practice, so basically experiments just like to get close to paradoxes, because in the real world they don't exist. Therefore the paradoxes we're seeing in theories are really something that's not described, rather than a real paradox. Sometimes we really can't get close enough to take a look, which is the case with black holes, or the edge of the universe (if there indeed is one, like the big bang theory predicts), in that case we're stuck, and the only option is to search for the needle in the haystack some other place.

    That obviously brings the problem which paradoxes are acceptable and which aren't. Nobody's given even a basic answer to that one though. Apparently paradoxes are acceptable as long as they only manifest in places we know nothing about.

    Paradoxes are also the real reason for the claim "passing through a black hole makes anything possible", which is simply another way to say that once you've proven 1=2, you can prove anything, no matter how wrong. Of course the problem is in our understanding of black holes, which is mathematically inconsistent, the problem is not that inside black holes anything is possible. Same goes for any other paradox in physics.

    Of course many people believe that since there are many "paradoxes" in physical theories, especially quantum mechanics, everything is really possible, if you only think hard enough about it. However history does show us that every single time we approached a paradox in experiment, it turned out our theories produced the paradox, and the world disagreed with our theories.

    You can resolve the black body paradox of Newton's theories yourself. Google the "black body radiation problem" (the third link is nice). Then heat up a piece of metal until it glows. According to Newton's physics if you do that, the universe should explode (calculate this for yourself). Or to put it mathematically, the energy output in radiation should "approach infinity", which is another way of saying "this should produce a huge bang". There you've just explored one of the great historical paradoxes. All paradoxes are like this.

  • by PiSkyHi ( 1049584 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @02:22PM (#25788981)

    The problem with paradoxes is simple. If you throw out any theory with paradoxes, you can start by dumping : -> big bang theory

    I agree on that one.

    -> quantum mechanics

    Lost me there, quantum mechanics beautifully captures the logic of timeless superposition of all possibilities in uncertainty. Paradoxes are both true and false here and existence is a question of resolution.

    -> relativity

    No, I don't agree here either. Here, time is the process by which existence itself changes - if existence were always true, nothing could change - change is both creation and destruction in 1, relativity is the realm of certainty in spacetime. It is the question of time's existence that causes light speed to be an observable constant regardless of both position and velocity. i.e. speed of light being the same because the question is the same.

    Einstein was very careful to avoid paradoxes. If some still remain, then they must still be consistent with known paradoxes.

    -> newtonian physics

    There wouldn't be much left :

    Indeed if scientist respected the laws of mathematics there would be no paradoxes in physics. Any theory containing even a single paradox would be thrown out the window immediately, like they are in mathematics. You could simply say time travel has the potential to create paradoxes ... and is therefore impossible ...

    ... yes, I would say the creation of such paradoxes gives you no certainty in the consistency of any observations, or even of the density function of matter. The rather high degree of consistency observed is the anthropic principle in action.

  • God (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bonch ( 38532 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @02:32PM (#25789141)

    One of the things that confuses me about this article is its assumption that science is providing an alternative to an intelligent creator. If there are multiple universes, doesn't the question shift to who made the multiple universes? If there are infinite universes, how and why is there an infinity of physical universes existing in the first place? As far back as science goes in describing the origins of things, people will ask, "Okay, but who or what set up the whole process in the first place?" These questions will never be answered and will always exist as long as we do.

    For me, it's weird and disturbing to think there's just this bunch of physical universes here for no reason. It almost feels more illogical that it would exist out of the blue than for there to be something that "made" it all. We'll get better and better at describing the actual physical processes of what created our universe and possibly others, eventually accurately describing the Big Bang and maybe even what came before, but that will always raise the question in my mind, "Great, but I still don't know how or why the hell all these processes are here in the first place! Why is all this stuff here?!" It's a maddening question.

  • by mschuyler ( 197441 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @02:54PM (#25789497) Homepage Journal

    Decades ago: The Last Question: []

  • Re:God (Score:2, Interesting)

    by LarsG ( 31008 ) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @05:21AM (#25799235) Journal

    Since when has truth ever depended on popularity?

    Do you really not see the logic disconnect here? Just above you used popularity and volume of texts as the reason for choosing to believe that the Christian god is the true creator.

    The deepest and most important questions can only be answered by faith. The fact that the humanity is incurably religious, abundantly proves of this.

    That is also truth by popularity. I would consider it abundantly clear that we humans seem hardwired to need to be a part of and believe in something than is bigger than the individual. You see that in everything from religion to political groups to even the supporters of a football club.

    The correct question would be why we have this need. You seem to be of the opinion that the reason is that there really is a god and that we humans need to connect with him. An other explanation might simply be that humans evolved as group/pack animals, and that this pack instinct is what makes us look for something larger.

Nothing succeeds like the appearance of success. -- Christopher Lascl